Special Planning Unit 22
(a.k.a Special Forces Mission No.22 or Operation Euphemia)
After the D-Day landings and the breakout from the Normandy bridgeheads, SOE launched sabotage and ‘black propaganda’ operations targeting Polish and other nationals held in labour camps, particularly where the TODT Organization was active. A network of houses located in northern France and Belgium were used for a variety of activities ranging from training and infiltration to screening captured documents for forging new identities or simple assassination and demolition training.
The objective of the mission was to infiltrate/ exfiltrate selected agents of different nationalities into Germany and was part of a larger plan by SHAEF’s G-3 Division Operations Sub-Section. There were three key objects:
- Ascertain conditions in the Polish labour camps.
- Setting up regular lines of communication.
- Organizing cells in the camps in order to maintain discipline and ‘take action’ when Germany fell if or when required.
On 26th September 1944 the SF Mission No.22 HQ was originally set up at the Chateau de Chevetogne near Rennes in order to infiltrate small groups of Special Forces and this unit also worked along side the Operation Monica and Operation Dunstable teams. As the invasion rapidly moved inland it was decided to move the base to the Chateau La Fontaine, Croix near Roubaix. In addition the operation had satellite houses used for other purposes. The Polish Special Operations office was based originally located at Verre on the Dinant to Marche road about five miles from the HQ at the Chateau de Chevetogne containing six officers and two other personnel. A holding establishment for the agents was set up at the Chateau Caument in Wanlin for the training and final preparations for infiltration where behind the lines survival skills were honed. The team consisted of seven officers and four other ranks. Nearby other ‘holding’ houses had been set up and contained other nationalities.
The recruitment involved not only the SF Mission No. 22, but also officers from the Psychological Warfare Unit of the First US Army attached to SHAEF. Poles in labour camps in Belgium were recruited direct as this avoided the Polish Government in Exile becoming involved. In terms of mobilization, 12,500 men were to be recruited and sent to the UK for training. The plan also stipulated that at least 3,000 men should be recruited from the area around Lille and southern Belgium. Also, Lt. Colonel Stacy Lloyd of the 12th US Army group worked with OSS Black Propaganda unit recruiting ‘foreign elements’, particularly Russians as early as October 1944, for ‘future use’ and based in Germany after its collapse. Army Staff at SHAEF found these operations to be a bit ‘wishy - washy’ as one memo put it.
The first agents (Code named Mark, Luke and John) were infiltrated on 11th January 1945 through the front held by the US 2nd Army. Agent Luke returned to base on 20th April 1945 having completed a successful operation. He was accompanied by Squadron Leader Walters (RAF Liaison) back to the operational area to pick up agents Job, Abel and John in the Köln area. The first French agents attached to this unit were infiltrated on 9th February through the front held between the US 1st and 3rd Armies. Belgian Commandos attached to this unit went into operations on 5th April, however, no details are listed.
Colonel R. Hazell, MBE with Captain Francis and Major Chalmers-Wright making up the core officers, commanded the unit. Unit No.22 work also included interrogation of Polish POW’s and collection of Nazi documents for clandestine and intelligence work. Collection of documents and other material became imperative for providing viable paperwork for the agents’ cover and aliases. In one instance, while clearing a house in Eupen, valuable blank documents and stamps were found and copies were later sent back to the UK. However, with total warfare comes excessive damage to property and shortages of almost everything. By November 1945 shortages of suitable clothing for agents caused concern. At Geilenkirchen, officers under intermittent fire scavenged through houses looking for clothing, glasses and any other minor items like ration cards to build up their ‘wardrobes’ for the agents. The indiscriminate looting by advancing troops caused complaint to SHAEF HQ as important documents and other valuable goods were either being damaged or stolen. Again, as the US Army entered Aachen, the plundering and damage caused major problems for the unit. It was suggested the unit’s document specialists were attached to front-line troops to verify materials value and lessen the damage/ losses being incurred. US Military Police were suspicious of the unit’s role and special ‘blue passes’ were issued allowing unrestricted movement close to the front line and enabled the intelligence officers to remove a vast array of equipment, uniforms and items like type-writers.
While the Operation Euphemia ‘War Diary’ logs the daily operational events and movements of personnel, it does highlight communication problems with W/T operators and codes. Leo Marks (cipher specialist) arrived on 9th March 1945 with Lt. Colonel Parker to discuss signals problems with Colonel Hazell. In his memoirs ‘Between Silk and Cyanide’ this incident is not recorded.
A fast moving front became hazardous to the agents in the field as the front began to overtake infiltrated operatives who were nicknamed ‘Bonzos’. By April 1945 the unit had agents infiltrated into Bremen, the Ruhr pocket and also picked up escapees from camps such as at Buchenwald. In April 1945 the HQ was located at Eystrup between Hanover and Bremen and with major advances into Germany moved location to Hamburg (Elbhohe) in early May. However, the war was finally drawing to end and on 20th April 1945 the Polish Special Unit was disbanded.
Its activities also included the repatriation of SOE Operatives who had been captured, for example, 7th May 1945 Captain Mower-White and Captain Wilde went to Luneburg S.E of Hamburg to collect the famous French agent Odette Sanson (Mrs. Peter Churchill) who was then flown back to the UK. Odette was part of the ill-fated Spindle network and was later arrested with Peter Churchill by Hugo Bleicher, tortured and then later sent to Ravensbruck.
For security clearance, the backgrounds to all on the nominal roll were meticulously researched. In nearly all cases the agents were Polish born and had immigrated to France prior to the war and had been members of P.O.W.N. In most cases they were miners or worked on farms and many had temporarily worked in Germany or as in some ironic cases, been in the German Army during WW1. In terms of security and ability to evade detection, it is interesting to note that their operational areas were ones they had once lived in and obviously familiar. It is assumed that in the chaos in the collapse of the Nazi empire that this tactic would enhance the survival rate and improve recruitment rather than expose them to the risk of being recognised.
SF Mission No.22 HQ also oversaw Operation Dunstable in terms of funding and personnel logistics. A memo dated 26th September 1944 (PRO HS4/239/223485) indicated that Captain Federo would be transferred from Paris to Lille to head up the running of Operation Dunstable with a budget of £40,000.
The Operation Euphemia ‘War Diary’ logs the final operational day as 27th May 1945. Due to the inconsistent method of recording agents, it is estimated that 18 Polish agents were successfully infiltrated with 15 French sabotage agents and an unknown number of Belgian commandos. Their success or failures are not recorded and in many cases nor their true identity. The following nominal rolls have been compiled from the documents lodged in the Public Record Office, Kew in London (PRO HS4/239/223485).