The Secret Operations Executive Essay
The Secret Operations Executive played an important role in the Asian region during the Second World War. This intelligence agency was crucial in supporting the British war efforts in Asia by inspiring the local people to oppose their occupation by the Japanese forces. They obtained valuable information in Asia and passed this information to the British military administration, which increased the strength of the British in the region. The Secret Operations Executive or SOE was the British agency, which was supposed to promote sabotage and subversion in the occupied areas.
This function of SOE can be seen in the region of Asia and other parts of the world. At one point of time SOE had nearly six hundred employees and it used various weapons and instruments such as ships, air crafts, and radio communications. These instruments were used to infiltrate the agents, arms, and explosives of the enemies who were found in the regions beyond the control of the British administration. These operations can be seen in the region of Asia during the Second World War period.
SOE, during the Second World War, emerged as one of the most popular intelligence gathering agencies due to the use of various techniques of obtaining information and supporting the local people to resist their subjugation by the Japanese forces. It has been argued by some scholars that SOE did not achieve that great of a success, as it failed to maintain close relations with British military and other intelligence operations. It is interesting to note, in this context, that although SOE performed various intelligence related tasks, originally it was not intended as an intelligence organization.
It was also not intended to inspire anti-Japanese movements in the Asian countries. This indicates that the managers of this organization decided, in the middle of war, to change the function and aims of SOE in order to obtain support for the British war effort. SOE played an important role in inspiring the local people to resist against Japanese aggression in Burma, Siam, and Malaya. This local resistance against the Japanese forces assisted the British in getting extra time to obtain men and materials necessary to protect their colonies in Asia from the Japanese aggression.
The fact that the British had to depend on the co-operation of their erstwhile colonies also indicates that Britain had become weak during this period. By using SOE, the British were able to resist their enemies including the Japanese in Asia. This organization was able to achieve success particularly in Burma due to the co-operation given by the anti-fascist organizations, influenced by communist ideology, and the Burma National Guard. With the participation of the local people, SOE was able to protect the lives of many British people in the region.
This allowed the British to obtain control of Rangoon by the end of Second World War. However, the British failed to bring all the intelligence organizations under the banner of SOE, which was established in 1940 to sabotage and destroy the enemy power in the occupied countries. By November 1940, SOE had prepared a plan for the South East Asian region including China, Manchuria, French Indochina, Siam, the Philippines, Burma, Malaya, and Hong Kong. This plan was named Oriental Mission (OM), indicating the interest of Great Britain in South East Asia.
The main aim of this mission was to create and develop a spirit of resistance in these countries, so that the British army could invade them and occupy them without taking greater risks. However, the fall of Singapore and Burma resulted in a need to change the original plan of this mission. Now, OM became known as the Indian Mission and concentrated on Afghanistan, India, and Ceylon. SOE leaders provided training and weapons to the members so that they could resist the Japanese in their regions. SOE faced delay problems due to the official policy, which postponed the operations of this organization in Siam and Burma.
It has been claimed by SOE officials that due to this delay, these regions were invaded and occupied by the Japanese forces. With greater co-operation from the British administration, SOE would have claimed greater achievements. However, it is important to note that in spite of official delays, SOE was able to achieve at least part of its objective of destroying enemy power in the occupied regions. Nevertheless, when compared to other regions, the Chinese operations were not successful as this agency had to suffer many reversals in China. SOE played an important role in the recovery of prisoners of war in the region of Burma and Thailand.
However, usually this task is given to the International Committee of the Red Cross. In this case, SOE was asked to recover the prisoners in order to achieve humanitarian and strategic aims of the British military. The Japanese administration decided to construct the railway line connecting Burma and Thailand. For this, the Japanese used local labour as well as the prisoners of war. By using white labour, the Japanese attempted to prove the racial superiority of the Asians. However, in the process of railway line construction, nearly 12,000 prisoners of war, and 90,000 local people died.
Many prisoners of war died because of the difficult working conditions they were forced to endure. This included long hours in the rain without obtaining any medical attention. The British administration decided to take action against the Japanese, but it did not want to give publicity to these measures. Therefore, SOE was asked to move to this region. During this time SOE had maintained close contact with the Thai resistance movement, which allowed them to obtain the information regarding the movement of Japanese forces in the region.
SOE was in the best position to gather necessary intelligence information in order to help the prisoners of war in Asia. SOE was given this task because “…only an organisation that was experienced in local intelligence gathering and working with resistance groups would be would be able to cope with the urgent demands of the task…” It was realized that SOE was the sole organization capable of handling this task, as it had prior experience working in the region. It was also important to achieve success against the Japanese within a short time span, which could not have been accomplished by conservative agencies.
The Red Cross was not in a position to achieve the task of liberating prisoners of war because Red Cross simply did not possess ability to carry prisoners of war liberation exercise. The British government was also interested in keeping this mission a secret since it did not want the public to react to news of the worse working conditions the prisoners of war faced, especially considering many of them were British. SOE was considered an intelligence gathering agency. In order to release the prisoners of war in Asia there was the need to obtain information regarding the Japanese army’s movement.
In 1941, it was decided to send SOE agents to Thailand in order to gather information regarding the activities of the Japanese troops in the region. Information was obtained by interviewing the prisoners of war who were given small microfilm questionnaires. These questions provided information concerning Japanese morale during the war period. SOE was able to obtain information regarding technological capabilities of the Japanese. For example, they could learn that Japanese had installed wireless stations every thirty miles along the Railway.
While some regions were heavily guarded, remote regions were not given that much importance by the Japanese forces. SOE was able to give information concerning the state of the prisoners, and thereby the government could send the goods that were demanded by the war prisoners in the Japanese camps. This facilitated the relief work of the government, and saved the lives of a large number of prisoners. Another important reason for the keen interest showed by SOE to achieve success in the Burma-Thailand region was its rivalry with the U. S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS).
The Americans were suspicious of the British interest in Thailand. This compelled the British intelligence agency to use its full energy in order to achieve success in this mission. This competition between the US and British agencies resulted in the lack of co-ordination between these two agencies as they competed to achieve their missions in these regions. SOE also noticed the problems that were faced by the prisoners of war. These problems were lack of proper food, malnutrition, lack of financial power to buy food in the market, and lack of medicines.
Humanitarian concerns also forced this agency to take active part in this mission. Through its relationship with Thai national leaders, SOE was able to obtain evidence to prove that Japan had begun transportation of the war prisoners to Japan. This information allowed the British government to make right kind of decision while dealing with the Japanese threat in Asia. This implied that Great Britain could send its army to capture those regions where the Japanese had become weak. It was feared that war prisoners would be taken to Japan, and there they would be killed.
SOE maintained close relationship with leaders of Free Siam Movement, and assured them its help in their struggle against the Japanese in Thailand. This agency was able to obtain the help of nearly 90,000 guerillas who played an important role in rescuing the prisoners of war from the Japanese camps. After the end of war, SOE maintained direct contact with the prisoners of war and obtained information regarding their problems, their personal details, and their immediate needs. Relief was given to the prisoners of war by conducting operation ‘Mastiff’.
These details show that SOE was able to protect the lives of a large number of prisoners of war, many of whom had come close to death due to lack of medicine and malnutrition. In spite of the above achievements, SOE suffered from various internal problems such as competition with Secret Intelligence Services (SIS) which lost its dominant position after the emergence of SOE. This resulted in lack of co-ordination between SOE and SIS. In the end SIS had to concede its defeat at the hands of its sister intelligence agency, as the SOE proved its superiority in Asia.