The Jedburghs: Spies, Espionage, and Sabotage!

29 Jan

Operation Jedburgh:

Spies, Espionage, and Sabotage

WWII was a war unlike any the world had seen before, and not just in the monstrous brutality so viciously enacted in the course of those few years.  There was also the fact that, for the first time in history, this was a war focused upon covert operations and guerrilla warfare.

In other words. . . this was a war of spies.  


After attacking France in 1940, Germany quickly established their foothold over the French population, ruling with a deadly and brutal fist. Faced with diminished forces and a new government headed by German-supporters, the French Resistance could not afford to face the German head-to-head on the battle-field.  So, they went underground and started up a new undercover war that would  become the stuff of legends, Hogan’s Heroes tales, and James Bond-esque movies (1,2,3,4).

When World War II began, Britain led the rest of the world in the practice of undercover espionage and intelligence operations. This was largely due to the brilliance and devoted efforts of Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Sir William Stephenson.  Churchill had charged Stephenson with creating and developing Britain’s spy and undercover operations long before the war began.  Remember the good old MI-5, etc. teams so popular in films and movies?  They came out of Stephenson’s work during WWII.

As such, it was Churchill who first suggested using the imprisoned people of German-occupied nations to fight a guerrilla war against German forces (2).  The goal was to tie up German forces in smaller battles away from the front lines; thus giving the Allies more opportunity to overwhelm them (2, 5).    These undercover troops would “sabotage railways and ambush enemy columns, delaying reinforcements from reaching the front and improving the prospect for Allied victory and a reduction in Allied casualties.” (2).

By the time the United States became involved with the French Resistance,  Eisenhower was already planning Operation Overlord, the Invasion of France by Allied forces at Normandy (D-Day). (4).  Eisenhower and Churchill realized that Allied forces and the Resistance would have to work together if the mission was to be successful, and thus came about the mission known as Operation Jedburgh (6, 2).

The primary goal of Operation Jedburgh was to send mobile teams of specialists (technicians/professional demolition experts/spies)  “inside enemy-occupied territory” to organize the French troops and to complete sabotage tasks.  (5).  Each  team would include three men: a radio officer, an officer who spoke French, and a French officer to act as a guide and liaison with local groups. (5, 6, 7).  In the end, the Jedburghs included 97 “flying squads” parachuting into France (4,5).  It was definitely an international effort; there would be (4, 5):

  • 89 French officers
  • 17 French radio operators
  • 47 British officers
  • 38 British radio operators
  • 40 American officers
  • 37 American radio operators

There were approximately 300 men in total, an amazing feat of international communication and cooperation, between Allies and resistance forces (2, 6).

1-2 months before Allied troops would attach a location, the Jedburgh teams were sent in ahead to “orchestrate the sabotage and guerrilla warfare activities” so as to limit the German response (2, 7).  In other words, they blew up railroads, stole supplies, and generally hindered the German troops from using their full force to defend the territory against Allied attacks.  They worked to down “telephone lines, blow bridges, derail trains, sabotage factories, hit and run assaults on German” troops (4).  Then the action stepped up as D-Day neared.

Seven teams were sent in ahead of D-day, including Frederick, George, Hamish, and Ian. (9).  Frederick “conducted attacks against enemy communications; Hamish interfered with troop movements, and arranged reception of supplies; Ian likewise interfered with troop movements, but was effectively uncontrolled due to wireless difficulties; George was largely thwarted by enemy action, and compromised by an enemy agent among its Resistance colleagues.” (4, 9).

Team Frederick:

Image of Team Frederick

Jedburgh Team Frederick (From Left): Kehoe, Wise, Bloch-Auroch

OSS Sergeant Robert Kehoe
British Major Adrian Wise
and French Lieutenant Paul Bloch-Auroch

was discovered by German forces, who threatened any who aided their cause; however, the local resistance group worked to hide them. They ultimately managed to organize supply drops for the resistance and trained more than 4,000 Resistance troops in weapon use and demolition work. (10, 11).  In one of their greatest victories the Germans lost 500 men; the Resistance only 27 (5).

Team George 

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French Captain Philippe Ragueneau
French Second Lieutenant Christan Gay
American Officer Paul Cyr

This team had to deal with many problems from the very beginning, including traitors within the Resistance.  However, they still managed to gather information on the German coastal defenses, allowing the Allies to “bomb the U-boat facilities and significantly reduce the effectiveness of German submarine operations in the Atlantic” (10).  They also protected and guided the forces that entered France on D-Day. (10).

Team Hamish 

American Lieutenant Robert M. Anstett
French Lieutenant Rene Schmitt
American Sergeant Lee J. Watters

Team Hamish worked diligently to organize the Resistance forces in their area into three operational companies. (5).  They managed to block several significant attempts by the German to retreat and evacuate , and killed more than 300 enemy soldiers in the process. (5).

Team Ian 

Photo of Jedburgh Team Ian

Jedburgh Team Ian (from left): Gildee, Bourgoin, and Desfarges


Team Ian worked to sabotage the important Niort-Poitiers railway and launched several attacks against German forces, clearing their territory of the Germans so effectively that the Resistance and Jedburgh teams could travel openly. (5).  Unfortunately, Bourgoin died during ne of the battles. (5).



In the end, the Jedburgh teams were highly successful, delaying the German response, including that of the 2nd SS Panzer Division, the reinforcement of tanks Rommel so desperately needed after the D-Day invasion. (12, 4).  In fact, the tanks didn’t arrive until 17 days later! (4).  In total the teams managed to stall the Germans by an average of 2 whole days! (4) Amazing!  They attacked the Germans from behind, providing information on German movements, and kept the Germans from destroying the bridges behind them. (4).

Eisenhower even remarked, “I consider that the disruption of enemy rail communications, the harassing of German road moves and the continual and increasing strain placed on the German war economy and internal security services throughout occupied Europe by the organized forces of resistance, played a very considerable part in our final and complete victory.” (13)

What an accomplishment!  






  1. Patrick K. O’Donnell, Operatives, Spies, and Saboteurs: The Unknown Story of the Men and Women of WWII’s OSS (New York, NY: Free Press, 2004)
  2. Will Irwin, The Jedburghs: The Secret History of the Allied Special Forces, France 1944 (New York, NY: Public Affairs, 2005)
  3. U.S. Department of State, Peace and War: United States Foreign Policy, 1931-1941” (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1943)
  4. Stephen E. Ambrose, “Eisenhower, the Intelligence Community, and the D-Day Invasion, The Wisconsin Magazine of History 64:4 (Summer, 1981)
  5. Roger Ford, Steel From the Sky: The Jedburgh Raiders, France 1944 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004)
  6. Nelson MacPherson, American Intelligence in War-Time London: The Story of the OSS (Portland, Oregon: Frank Cass Publishers, 2003)
  7. Al Johnson, “One Small Part,” Office of Strategic Service Operational Groups, (Accessed April 21, 2010)
  8. William Colby, “Team Bruce After-Action Report,” Bruce/Bruce01.htm (Accessed April 22, 2010)
  9. Colin Beavan, Operation Jedburgh: D-Day and America’s First Shadow War (New Yok: Viking, 2006)
  10. John Whiteclay Chambers II,  OSS Training in the National Parks and Service Abroad in World War II (Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Park Service, 2008)
  11. Robert R. Kehoe, “1944: An Allied Team with the French Resistance, 1997,” Central Intelligence Agency, Center for the Study of Intelligence., (Accessed April 25, 2010)
  12. David K. K. Bruce, and Nelson D. Lankford, OSS Against the Reich: The World War II Diaries of Colonel David K. E. Bruce (Kent: Ohio Kent State U.P., 1991)
  13. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Dwight D. Eisenhower to Colin Gubbins, May 31, 1945



One Response to “The Jedburghs: Spies, Espionage, and Sabotage!”

  1. jean-marc.valentini June 4, 2014 at 5:40 pm #

    chère Blonde
    Sylvie RAGUENEAU fille de Philippe et moi Jean-Marc. Valentini fils DE PAUL VALENTINI JEDBURGH équipe gavin VOULONS pouvoir réaliser le rêve des “jeds ” un mémorial des jeds morts au combat quelque soient leurs nationalités .en FRANCE
    je ne sais combien de jeds srestent vivants vivants
    Pour pouvoir LE RéALISER IL FAUT PASSER soit par les Etats UNIS soit par LA grande BRETAGNE pour pouvoir l’imposer en FRANCE La DGSE semble ne pas connaitre puisqu’elle n’ a pas daigné nous inviter pour les 70 ans du BCRA
    MERCI déjà de porter une attention à ce message
    jean marc

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