Section VII of SIS

The British Resistance organisation

The Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, aka MI6) began planning a nationwide  British Resistance, to operated after any Nazi occupation in Spring 1940.  This was deeply secret, not least because SIS were not supposed to operate within the UK (this being the province of MI5). Even within SIS its existence was concealed, managed under the cover of the SIS accountancy section (Section VII) by long-time SIS oficer David Boyle.  Boyle was a lifelong SIS officer, although no hint of this is given in his autobiography. Those that were recruited to this shadowy organisation were given only the minimum information needed to carry out their individual tasks and were ordered never to speak of their work. Most never did. 

The existing SIS network in Ireland was used as one model for the organisation, comprising a number of cells, some of which were linked by wireless.  At the time this was a novel structure. The primary function was to collect intelligence, which could be transmitted to any government in exile. There were also a number of sabotage cells (whose arms caches can be dated to as late as 1944) and also 'lone wolves' who would carry out individual missions . 

To protect the organisation, its members were ordered not to become involved in opposing the actual invasion. They would only be activated once the country was actually occupied.  For this reason, men and women  who were in reserved occupation or were too old to be called up were selected. Teenagers were also used as couriers (sometimes using roles as ARP  Messengers as cover) and, in at least one case, were trained as wireless operators.  The agents would then serve as a cadre to expand the resistance if and when necessary.  To that end it is highly likely that SIS saw the training of saboteurs at the Osterley Home Guard training school as a useful reservoir of potential recruits.  The focus on making home-made incendiaries, explosives and timing devices was certainly in line with the methodology of Section D (and in sharp contrast to the training of the Auxiliary Units). There are only tantalizing glimpses of the existence of the Resistance but this  was a nationwide organisation with cells  documented in Norfolk, Suffolk, Sussex, Isle of Wight, Somerset, Cornwall and Devon.  Oral testimony includes other cells in Worcester, Birmingham, Nottingham and Manchester.  There is anecdotal evidence for arms caches in Snowdonia and  archaeological evidence for a later war  arms cache from Mellor, near Stockport. 

The existence of the deep cover Section VII Resistance  was protected by what, at first sight seems a confusing muddle of other organisations that had guerrilla or intelligence-gathering function. The ruthless hope was that while the Gestapo were tracking down members of the Auxiliary Units or Section D Home Defence Scheme, they would not realise that there was a hidden layer of British resistance. Indeed, the organisation of the Special Duties Branch of the Auxiliary Units seems almost designed to be sacrificial and quickly broken by an enemy. This layered  methodology was explicitly promoted by SIS in countries about to be occupied, always stressing that any guerrilla activity, assumed to have a very short span of survival, should have no contact with the longer term resistance. 

Britain was not invaded by the Nazis but part of the agreement to allow SIS to operate in Britain was that Section VII would assist MI5 in internal security.  Any spying on the British public made the operation particularly  sensitive and there was also the possibility, that having created a wartime intelligence network in the country, it might prove useful in the on-coming Cold War! This added to the traditional policy of SIS never to comment on its operations, whether present or past. 

 

The existence of the Section VII Resistance was only revealed  (in a single paragraph) in the official history of SIS by Keith Jeffery in  2010 (The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909-49).  The first detailed account was in Fighting Nazi Occupation: British Resistance 1939-45 in 2015.  

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