Special Operations

Operation Jedburgh (1944)

Jedburgh was an operation in World War II in which men from the British Special Operations Executive, the U.S. Office of Strategic Services joined with men from the Free French Bureau Central de Renseignements et d’Action (“Intelligence and operations central bureau”), and the Dutch or Belgian Army to parachute into Nazi occupied France, Holland, or Belgium to conduct sabotage and guerilla warfare, and to lead the local resistance forces against the Germans.

The operation took its name, probably assigned at random from a list of pre-approved code names, from the town Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders. After about two weeks of paramilitary training at commando training bases in the Scottish highlands, the Jeds moved to Milton Hall, which was much closer to London and Special Forces Headquarters.

The Jedburgh teams comprised three men: a leader, an executive officer, and a non-commissioned radio operator. One of the officers would be British or American while the other would hail from the country to which the team deployed. The Type B Mark II radio, more commonly referred to as the B2 or “Jed Set” was critical for communicating with Special Force Headquarters in London.

The first team dropped into the Brittany Peninsula prior to D-Day and the invasion of Europe, codenamed Operation Overlord. 91 Jedburgh teams operated in 54 French metropolitan d├ępartements between June and December 1944.

Jedburgh teams typically included three men: a leader, an executive officer, and a NCO radio operator.
Jedburgh teams typically included three men: a leader, an executive officer, and a NCO radio operator.

The Jedburgh teams normally parachuted in by night to meet a reception committee from a local Resistance or Maquis group. Their main function was to provide a link between the guerillas and the Allied command. They could provide liaison, advice, expertise, leadership, and — their most powerful ability — they could arrange airdrops of arms and ammunition.

Like all Allied forces who operated behind Nazi lines, the Jedburghs or Jeds as they called themselves, were subject to torture and execution in the event of capture, under Hitler‘s notorious Commando Order. Because the Jeds normally operated in uniform, to apply this order to them was a war crime.

Operation Jedburgh represented the first real cooperation in Europe between SOE and the Special Operations branch of OSS. By this period in the war, SOE had insufficient resources to mount the huge operation on its own; OSS jumped at the chance to be involved since in a single swoop it got more Special Operations agents into northwestern Europe than it had during the entire period of the United States’ involvement in the war.

Jedburgh teams also operated in the Pacific circa 1945, including Japanese occupied French Indochina.

Many of the surviving American Jeds went on to great responsibility in the US Army or the CIA. Examples include CIA director William Egan Colby, Lucien Conein, later a key CIA officer in Vietnam, General John Singlaub and Colonel Aaron Bank (founder of United States Army Special Forces).

Among French commandos, Paul Aussaresses, later founder of the SDECE’s 11e r├ęgiment parachutiste de choc, and counter-insurgency expert in French Algeria. Another BCRA Jedburgh and former 11e RPC, Jean Sassi, pioneered in conventional guerrilla commandos GCMA with Roger Trinquier during the First Indochina War. Guy Le Borgne, commander of the 8e Choc Parachute Battalion in Indochina, 3rd Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment in Algeria and 11th Parachute Division.

France and the United States would both use similar operations a few years later in Vietnam.


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