Operation Jedburgh

'Jedburgh' was an Allied clandestine operation in which teams. usually of three men, from the British Special Operations Executive, US Office of Strategic Services the Free French Bureau Central de Renseignements et d’Action (Central Bureau of Intelligence and Operations), as well as the Free Belgian and Free Dutch armies were parachuted into occupied France, Belgium and the Netherlands with the task of aiding the Allied forces which landed in France in 'Neptune' (iii) and then advanced in 'Overlord' and subsequent operations with sabotage and guerrilla warfare, and leading local resistance forces in actions against the Germans (5 June 1944/August 1945).

The name of the operation was chosen at random from a British War Office code book, although several of those who took part in the operation later reflected that the name was apt as the town of Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders was notorious in the late Middle Ages for the activities of the raiders known as the Border Reivers.

'Jedburgh' represented the first real co-operation in Europe between the SOE and the Special Operations branch of the OSS. By this period in the war, SOE had insufficient resources to mount major operations on its own: for instance, it had access to only 23 Handley Page Halifax four-engined transport aircraft aircraft for dropping agents and stores, which was a total barely sufficient for the maintenance of the SOE’s existing activities. The OSS was able to augment this force with Consolidated B-24 Liberator four-engined transport aircraft operating from the RAF base at Harrington.

The OSS sought to be involved as, in a single swoop, it would be able to insert more agents into north-western Europe than it had during the entire previous period of US involvement in the war. Nevertheless, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the US supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, ensured that the French would lead the operation, and on 9 June 1944 gave overall control of the 'Jedburgh' effort to France.

The SOE and OSS developed the concept of the 'Jedburgh' teams in May 1943. The idea was that small groups of military personnel would be parachuted into German-occupied north-west Europe to assist local resistance forces and also to carry out their own small-scale military operations. Unlike SOE agents already operating in occupied Europe, the 'Jedburgh' teams were to comprise armed and uniformed military personnel. Fluency in the language of the country in which they were to operate was required, although the language requirement was reduced for radio operators. The 'Jeds', as the men involved in 'Jedburgh' teams were called, were all volunteers.

'Jedburgh' operations were also carried out in some Asian countries.

The 'Jedburgh' teams were known by codenames which were usually first names but sometimes medicines, together with a few random names added in an effort to confuse German intelligence. The teams normally consisted of three men: a commander, an executive officer, and a non-commissioned radio operator. One of the officers was British or US while the other would originate from the country to which the team deployed. The radio operator could be of any nationality.

About 300 'Jeds' were selected. After about two weeks of paramilitary training at commando training bases in the Scottish Highlands, they 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. At Milton Hall they received an intensive course in unarmed combat and sabotage techniques.

In addition to their personal weapons, which included an M1 carbine and a Colt automatic pistol for each member, and sabotage equipment, the teams dropped with the Type B Mark II radio, more commonly referred to as the B2 or 'Jed Set', which was of critical importance for communications 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 by four-letter codes to save time in transmission, and one-time pads to encipher their messages. Each officer wore a money belt containing 100,000 francs and 50 US dollars. Radio operators carried only 50,000 francs. The money was for disbursement to resistance personnel, many of whom had families to support. Equipment and supplies were also airdropped with the 'Jedburgh' teams.

France was by far the most important operational country for 'Jedburgh' teams, for 93 of these teams were inserted into that country. The nationalities of 278 'Jeds' on the teams were 89 French officers and 17 radio operators, 47 British officers and 38 radio operators, and 40 US officers and 37 radio operators; 13 of the 'Jeds' undertook a second mission. The 'Jed' officers were lieutenants, captains, and a few majors, and the radio operators were usually sergeants. The teams were parachuted into France from June to September 1944. Several of the teams inserted in August and September landed to find themselves in territory already liberated by the rapid advance of the Allied armies.

The first team to arrive on France was 'Hugh', which was parachuted into central France near Châteauroux on 5/6 June 1944, the night before the 'Neptune' (iii) landings in Normandy. The 'Jedburgh' teams normally parachuted into their operation zones by night and were met by a reception committee from a local maquis or resistance group, and after arrival their first task was to establish contact between the resistance forces and the Allied command network. The men of 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 who operated behind the German lines, the men of the 'Jedburgh' teams were subject to torture and execution in the event of capture. Because the teams normally operated in uniform, the application of Adolf Hitler’s notorious 'Commando Order' was a war crime. Of all the 'Jedburgh' teams dropped into France, however, only one officer, the British Captain Victor A. Gough, suffered this fate: he was shot while a prisoner on 25 November 1944.

From September 1944 to April 1945, eight 'Jedburgh' teams operated in the Netherlands. The first team, codenamed 'Dudley' was parachuted into the east part of of the Netherlands one week before the 'Market' and 'Garden' operations to take Arnhem and allow the Allied forces to 'bounce' across the lower reaches of the Rhine river. The next four teams were attached to the airborne forces which carried out 'Market'. After the failure of his operation, one 'Jedburgh' team was used to train former resistance fighters in the liberated south of the Netherlands.

In April 1945 the last two Dutch Jedburgh teams became operational. 'Gambling' was a combined 'Jedburgh' and Special Air Service group that was dropped into the centre of the Netherlands to assist the Allied advance. The last team was parachuted into the northern part of the Netherlands as part of the SAS’s 'Amherst' undertaking. Despite the fact that operating clandestinely in the flat and densely populated Netherlands was very difficult for the 'Jedburghs', the teams were quite successful.

'Jedburgh' teams, or parties organised on a similar basis, also operated in the areas under the command of Admiral the Lord Mountbatten’s South-East Asia Command during 1945, including Japanese-occupied French Indo-China, where 60 French 'Jedburgh' personnel joined the newly created Corps Léger d’Intervention fighting the Japanese occupation.

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