The Special Operations Executive (SOE) was a British World War II organisation. Following Cabinet approval, it was officially formed to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe (and later, in South East Asia also) against the Axis powers, and to aid local resistance movements.
Few people were aware of SOE’s existence. To those who were part of it or liaised with it, it was sometimes referred to as “the Baker Street Irregulars”, after the location of its London headquarters. It was also known as “Churchill’s Secret Army” or the “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare”.
SOE operated in all countries or former countries occupied by or attacked by the Axis forces, except where demarcation lines were agreed with Britain’s principal allies (the Soviet Union and the United States). It also made use of neutral territory on occasion, or made plans and preparations in case neutral countries were attacked by the Axis. The organisation directly employed or controlled just over 13,000 people, about 3,200 of whom were women.