There were 39 women spies in the SOE, Churchill’s Special Operation Executive. All of them played a part in the success of the Allies in WWII. Their heroic actions are captured in a book by Sarah Rose called “D-Day Girls” that reminded us that there are many heroic actions behind the scenes in WWII that helped lead to the Allied Victory.
Odette Sansom, Lise de Baissac, Andrée Borrel, Women Spies
Andrée Borrel joined the French Resistance, aiding primarily British airmen who had been shot down over Nazi territory. She fled to Portugal and then moved to London to continue the fight. She was recruited by the SOE, and became the first woman paratrooper, jumping out of an airplane over France. She was captured in 1942.
Katie Sanders wrote in WeAreTheMighty:
Nazis, allegedly leveraging intelligence from a double agent, arrested Borrel and fellow Physician leaders in June 1943. After being interrogated and imprisoned around Paris, she was transferred to the Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp in July 1944 with three other female SOE agents and executed a month after D-Day.
Even from prison, she is said to have continued fighting by inserting coded messages about her captors in several letters to her sister. She was 24.
Lise de Baissac, 37, was the jumping partner of Borrel. She helped set up underground networks from an apartment she chose next to Gestapo Headquarters in Poitiers, France.
After her cover was blown, the SOE airlifted her back to England, where she trained other SOE agents. But she jumped once again back into France to meet her brother, Claude de Blaissac. She became the second in command of Resistance troops. Together with other Resistance fighters in Normandy, they attacked numerous Nazi communications, blew up bridges, roads and railways.
On June 5, 1944, “She biked for three days, speeding through Nazi formations, sleeping in ditches, and reaching her brother and their Resistance circuit headquarters in Normandy. As the bloody Normandy campaign raged and the Allies struggled to penetrate the Axis front, the de Baissacs continued leading espionage and sabotage operations. They gathered intelligence on enemy positions and transmitted messages back to England, helping lay the groundwork for Operation Cobra, the Allied breakout in which U.S. Army forces came out of the peninsula and pierced Hitler’s front line seven weeks after D-Day.” Katie Sanders in WeAreTheMighty
Today we remember Lise de Baissac, second in command of resistance troops in Normandy throughout the summer of 1944.
“It was death on one side, life on the other”
#WWII #DDay75 pic.twitter.com/4sS0O0CXaN— Sarah Rose (@thesarahrose) June 6, 2019
Lise survived the war and went to work for the BBC after.
Odette Sansom, also a member of the SOE, set up clandestine radio networks, coordinated parachute drops, and armed Resistance fighters in addition to blowing up Nazi rail lines. She and her commanding officer, Peter Churchill were arrested by the Gestapo in April of 1943.
She was sent to the notorious Ravensbrück Concentration camp. During her incarceration, she was tortured, beaten, her back broken, her toenails pulled out of her body, and her body burned in an attempt to get her to talk. She is said to have told them, “I have nothing to say.”
And yet she survived. After the war, the information she gathered helped to convict the commandant of the camp, Fritz Suhren, and other SS officers of war crimes.
There are literally thousands of heroic acts in the stories of WWII, most of which the average person is unaware. From our troops who landed on the beaches of Normandy to the women spies of the French Resistance, their lives were in jeopardy every day. We owe them all a tremendous debt of gratitude.
Featured photo: Left: Andrée Borrel Center: Lise de Baissac Right- Odette Sansom