Operation Jedburgh

This was the designation of the Allied programme of clandestine operations in which personnel of the British Special Operations Executive, the US Office of Strategic Services, Free French Bureau Central de Renseignements et d’Action (intelligence and operations central bureau) and the Dutch and Belgian armies were dropped by parachute into Nazi-occupied France, and then later into Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway, to conduct sabotage and guerrilla warfare, and to lead the local resistance forces in actions against the Germans (June 1944/December 1944).

The operation took its name, assigned at random from a list of pre-approved codenames, from the town of Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders.

After two weeks of para-military training at commando training bases in the Scottish Highlands, the ‘Jedburgh’ teams moved to Milton Hall near Peterborough, which was much closer to the airfields from which they were to be launched, and to London and Special Force Headquarters.

‘Jedburgh’ was the first fruit of real co-operation in Europe between the SOE and the Special Operations branch of the OSS. By this period in the war, in the period leading top the 'Overlord' invasion for north-west France, the SOE lacked adequate resources to mount an operation of the size now envisaged on its own. The SOE had access, for example, to a force of only 23 Handley Page Halifax adapted heavy bombers with which to drop agents and stores, and this was barely sufficient to maintain SOE’s existing networks in German-occupied Europe. The OSS was able to augment this force with Consolidated B-24 Liberator aircraft operating from RAF Harrington largely in the 'Carpetbagger' role, and for this among other reasons the OSS wished to become involved in ‘Jedburgh’ as it opened the possibility of delivering more agents into North-West Europe than it had during the entire involvement of the USA in such activities up to this time. Nevertheless, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Allied supreme commander, ensured that the French, whose disparate resistance forces had been combined as the Forces Françaises de l’Intérieur (French forces of the interior) in March 1944 under the leadership of Général de Corps d’Armée Pierre Koenig from 23 June, would lead the operation within France, and gave them command on 9 June of the ‘Jedburgh’ teams already in France.

A typical ‘Jedburgh’ team comprised three men in the form of a commander, an executive officer and a non-commissioned radio operator: one of the officers was British or US and the other of the country into which the specific team was to be deployed, while the radio operator could be of any Allied nationality. Occasionally slightly larger teams were dropped

In addition to their personal weapons, which included an M1 carbine and a Colt M1911 automatic pistol for each man, and sabotage equipment, the teams dropped with the Type B Mk II radio equipment, which was essential for communicating with Special Force Headquarters in London. They were also issued pieces of silk with 500 phrases that they were likely to use in radio traffic replaced with four-letter codes to save time in transmission, and one-time pads to encipher their messages.

As the mission of the ‘Jedburgh’ team was to inspire overt rather than clandestine resistance activity, they wore military uniform and were equipped with a variety of personal equipment such as medical supplies, ration packs, sleeping bags, field glasses and detailed maps of their operational areas also printed on silk.

The first ‘Jedburgh’ team to be delivered was 'Hugh', which was parachuted into central France near Châteauroux during the night preceding 'Overlord'. In overall terms, 93 ‘Jedburgh’ teams operated in 54 French metropolitan départements between June and December 1944, and 21 of their men were killed. The teams' codenames were usually first names, though a number of other names (herbs or spices and a few random names) were also used to confuse German intelligence.

The ‘Jedburgh’ teams were normally delivered by parachute at night, and were met by a reception committee from a local resistance or maquis group. The team’s primary role was to serve as a communications link between the resistance fighter groups and the Allied command, and thereby ensure that the French resistance units and their operations were co-ordinated in the best interests of Allied strategy. The teams could also provide liaison, advice, expertise and leadership, but their most powerful asset was their ability to arrange airdrops of arms and ammunition.

Like all Allied forces which operated behind the German lines, the men of the ‘Jedburgh’ teams faced torture and execution in the event of capture in accordance with Adolf Hitler’s infamous 'Commando Order'.

‘Jedburgh’ teams were also used, with Dutch rather than French personnel, during the ‘Market’ and ‘Garden’ operations of September 1944 to co-ordinate the efforts of the Dutch resistance, and in Norway with a Norwegian-speaking member.

The ‘Jedburgh’ concept, using teams organised on an essentially similar basis, also operated in the South-East Asia Command are during 1945, including Japanese-occupied French Indo-China, where 60 French ‘Jedburgh’ men joined the Corps Léger d’Intervention (light intervention corps) inter-arm corps of the Far East French Expeditionary Forces commanded by Général de Corps d’Armée Roger Blaizot and using guerrilla warfare tactics against the Japanese occupation forces in French Indo-China.

In Burma, 'Jedburgh' teams were used in the 'Billet' and 'Character' operations: the former was the plan to raise Burman resistance to the Japanese, primarily through the largely communist Anti-Fascist Organisation, and the latter the scheme to raise the Karens in the Karen Hills between the Sittang and Salween rivers. The first ‘Jedburgh’ personnel to go on 'Character' operations were flown into Burma in February 1945 with Lieutenant Colonel Peacock’s Special Groups.