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Reclaiming the Ungentlemanly Arts: The Global Origins of SOE and OSS

By Aaron Linderman


Sir Colin McV. Gubbins, former director of Britain's Special Operations Executive (SOE), explained in 1966 to a Danish audience that it is much easier to pronounce a new organization than to actually create it. This dissertation examines the processes whereby SOE was created, including how its doctrine was formulated and subsequently disseminated, both to its own agents and to its American counterpart, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Traditional narratives, which imply that SOE had no precedents, fail to appreciate that Gubbins and his colleagues consciously looked to past and contemporary examples for inspiration. This dissertation follows Gubbins's career, examining his experience of unconventional warfare in the Allied Intervention in Russia, in Ireland during the Irish Revolution, and in India. To personal experience was added the experience of colleagues and the knowledge he gained by study of several other historical and contemporary conflicts. Pragmatically synthesizing this information, Gubbins authored two brief guides in 1939: the Art of Guerilla Warfare and the Partisan Leader's Handbook. In 1940 Gubbins joined the new SOE and was given charge of both operations and training, allowing his ideas to shape SOE's agents and form their thinking. Even before the entry of the United States into the Second World War, OSS turned to Britain for training in intelligence and sabotage. SOE played a substantial role in this process, propagating Gubbins's ideas even further. Although the Americans drew upon their own sources of inspiration as well, SOE and Gubbins's doctrines were significant, arguably central, to American thinking

Topics: Colin Gubbins, Special Operations Executive
Year: 2012
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