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In 1942, the Allies were losing, Germany seemed unstoppable, and every able man in England was on the front lines. To “set Europe ablaze,” in the words of Winston Churchill, the Special Operations Executive  (SOE), whose spies were trained in everything from demolition to sharpshooting, was forced to do something unprecedented: recruit women. Thirty-nine answered the call, leaving their lives and families to become saboteurs in France.

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I’m talking with Sarah Rose, author of, D-Day Girls about the stories of three of these remarkable women. There’s Andrée Borrel, a scrappy and streetwise Parisian who blew up power lines with the Gestapo hot on her heels; Odette Sansom, an unhappily married suburban mother who saw the SOE as her ticket out of domestic life and into a meaningful adventure; and Lise de Baissac, a fiercely independent member of French colonial high society and the SOE’s unflap­pable “queen.” Together, they destroyed train lines, ambushed Nazis, plotted prison breaks, and gathered crucial intelligence—laying the groundwork for the D-Day invasion that proved to be the turning point in the war.

Machine-Generated Transcript

Below is an AI-generated transcript complete with timecodes. This transcript may contain errors and is not a substitute for listening to the podcast episode.

Scott Rank 0:12
History isn’t just a bunch of names and dates and facts. It’s the collection of all the stories throughout human history that explained how and why we got here. Welcome to the history unplugged Podcast, where we look at the forgotten, neglected, strange, and even counterfactual stories that made our world what it is. I’m your host Scott rank.

Scott Rank 0:40
By 1940, only a year into World War Two Britain was the only democracy left in Europe. Although their army was saved from capture after their evacuation from Dunkirk. It faced critical manpower shortage due to all the deaths that happened a generation earlier in World War One in the Spanish flu. So that caused the government to be resourceful in how they utilize its citizenry to fight the war. Get citizens involved in the war effort who’d never been involved before. So when Winston Churchill created a secret agency called the Special Operations Executive or the soul, he turned to an untapped source for his elite spies, women. Today I’m speaking with Sarah Rose, author of the new book D day girls, about the dozens of women who were involved in the sov. They came from all sorts of backgrounds. Some were mothers, some were workers. All they had in common was that they could pass as a French woman with their language ability. So they received training, then they would parachute down into France, making them the first female paratroopers then set up resistance sells and get involved in warfare by any means imaginable, including murder, kidnapping, demolitions, ransom, and torture. Additionally, in the first paratroopers, these women were the first female commando Raiders and first women signal officers in a war zone. When it came to D day itself. They played a critical role in slowing down the very max ability to reach Normandy due to blowing up bridges blowing up railroads cutting occasions lines and making what would have been a three-day journey into a three-week journey. Some military strategists estimate that their contributions shorten World War Two by as much as six months. So this is an element of world war two that I think merits further exploration. So I hope you enjoyed this discussion with Sarah rose.

Scott Rank 2:17
Sarah, welcome to the show. Thanks for having me.

Scott Rank 2:20
Well, I’m really looking forward to this topic. I know bits and pieces about the story of women involved in espionage and spycraft and World War Two. But there’s a whole lot I don’t know. So I’m glad that you can be here to fill in the gaps. So let’s start off with what introduced you to this topic and what compelled you to want to dig in a lot more into it.

Sarah Rose 2:40
I was interested in women and male spaces as a kind of big topic, a general broad topic, and there is no more male space than the military, right? Nowhere more macho than the military. In the US, I saw that like we have a story coming our way when I sold this book that as of January 1, 2016, our armed forces were fully integrated by sex. There was no combat role a woman couldn’t enter if she could qualify. And that was an executive order that came down again January 1, 2016. So I saw the story coming. And I thought, well, who was the very first woman in combat, right? There’s always a glass ceiling breaker, there’s always a First we have the story coming your way who is the matriarch of this entire movement. And when I started digging, it turns out the first women in combat weren’t Vietnam. And it wasn’t even, you know, Iraq or Afghanistan. It was World War Two. And it was this special agency called the Special Operations Executive that existed specifically to infiltrate people behind enemy lines before the invasion of Europe before D day to arm and train, a resistance force so that there was basically a kind of secret army ready to detonate on D day and Harry the Germans from the rear, just Trying to like, weaken their forces. So, women were recruited as of 1942 for this mission, only because they’d run out of men to do it. It was a pretty specialized skill they needed which was native and kind of habituated French language speaking, and there weren’t enough men. They’ve been at war for three years already.

Scott Rank 4:22
Something I’m curious about this, as you mentioned, World War Two is a watershed where women get more involved. But they don’t seem to be involved in the same way in wars of the past, even though a lot of the same conditions are present where the male forces are depleted because they’re off on the front. And I think the only other place I’ve seen women actively involved on the frontlines would be a siege where they know that if the walls are broken, raping and pillage will break out and they’re going to be targeted so they will do anything they can to stop him. But wars before World War Two, you don’t see this type of have trained involvements that does this sort of targeted strike. So what do you think it is about World War Two that changes things?

Sarah Rose 5:07
So this is a pretty timely question because what they found in world war two is that they were still dealing with the after-effects of World War One, which is a massive population dip. When you went recruiting for World War two soldiers. You were faced with the lowest population generation because of World War One generation wiped out so many people. So at the same time, you need to recruit for the frontlines, you have very few recruits available to you. So there was a kind of population crunch that was spurned by both World War One and the Spanish flu. There were fewer soldiers available for World War Two than there were, say for World War One second, almost universally, there’s a combat taboo, where basically wars are fought for women and children and women and children don’t belong in words, and that we see across culture across history, time and again. So you’re really swimming upstream against a massive kind of universal human prohibition when you start putting women on the front lines.

Scott Rank 6:07
Okay, so it sounds like there’s larger social structural changes happening here. Then simple just like manpower deployment.

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Sarah Rose 6:14
Yeah. I mean, there was a demographic, the opposite of the bubble burst for the world war two generation. There weren’t enough of them.

Scott Rank 6:21
Yeah, I mean, there’s just practicality right there. And I love Winston Churchill, the naming designations, he comes up with you mentioned Special Operations Executive and also Ministry of ungentlemanly warfare. Haha, classic pun. So how does he get the initial idea to put this together? I guess we touch on that a little bit. But how does this organization come together?

Sarah Rose 6:42
We go back to Dunkirk,

June 1940. The last allied boots steps off the continent. And there’s not a I mean, there’s really there’s no democracy left on the European continent, except for Switzerland, which is its own little asterisk, but like basically Winston Churchill is sitting in Whitehall in May 1942 1940. And there’s no soldiers left. And he’s got like no arrows in his quiver. So he recognizes that the people of Europe don’t actually like being under the Nazi boot. They would prefer to have freedom and democracy and that he could potentially channel that anchor and organize it and turn it into guerrilla warfare. There’s been guerrilla warfare since the beginning of time, right. But

Churchill’s big idea,

as head of both the War Department and head of government was, why not systematize it? Why not build it into your war plans? What if we had this secret army that was trained and equipped and organized and making attacks based on our war plans instead of just willy nilly like an ordinary guerrilla force? And what does he have to lose? Right? There’s no one there. Just kind of throw the spaghetti at the wall moment, and he does and it works. I mean, it really work. So, the sob armed rebels on June 5, right sort of before June 6 1944, before D day even arrives on June 5 at night, a message will go out on the BBC all over France saying this is it. This is the day. We’re coming in the morning, and that night before a single allied boot returns, right, they’ve been gone. For four years. There will be 950 cuts on real roads and bridges and telecom lines, and in the morning normally is almost entirely isolated. A trip that would make Hitler’s tanks three days instead takes three weeks because of this armed and organized underground. That was the result of SLE’s interesting plans.

Scott Rank 8:51
How does the recruitment process work? When the sov comes into force? What type of person are they looking for to be able to do espionage

Sarah Rose 9:00
Well, your ideal candidate is someone who blends in perfectly, and that the French do not recognize as not being French. And the Germans don’t recognize that being French and somebody who was fighting fit by 1942 you couldn’t get your perfect candidate. You could get somebody that the French didn’t recognize, but you couldn’t necessarily get somebody who was a soldier’s age and soldiers body and that’s okay. One of the things I kind of talked about is how we’ve really misconstrued warfare as this utterly male, masculine activity. In World War Two France, the men were gone. occupied France was an almost overwhelmingly female place. Hitler didn’t sign a peace treaty with the Vichy government. The armistice was not let everybody out of the jails he kept all French officers in stocks throughout the entire conflict, and most French men were conscripted for working in Hitler’s factory To build airplanes and trucks and guns, or they were on the Atlantic Wall trying to defend against DNA, so there were very few men in France at that time. Recruiting a woman at that moment meant you were actually recruiting somebody who blended in better than a young fighting fit. Man. That’s something they sort of learned later, the real reason they asked for women was that they just fully out of options. And the thing that women have in common, I mean, they ranged in age from ages 20 to 55. The only thing they really had in common was movement, native, habituated French. They were ordinary women, they were just completely your everyday adult female. They had one critical skill. French,

Scott Rank 10:47
were these mostly women who were either French by background or had some sort of long term residence in France, but we’re now in Great Britain.

Sarah Rose 10:55
So this is interesting. I should put us aside it’s not just that they were spoke French. They needed to not have a French passport. Because Charles de Gaulle was very against the idea of sending Allied soldiers behind enemy lines to do this work. He didn’t want France to be a colony of Britain. At the end of the war, he wanted French people answering to French commanders, and so they could recruit anybody who has perfect, habituated fluent French, and not a French passport that sort of narrows the pool even more for the kind of candy you’re looking for.

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Scott Rank 11:33
Something I’m always interested in is when programs like this happen for the first time when you’re actually building a trained unit of female spies, something that hasn’t happened before. There are always so many rough edges and things that really don’t work at first, and there are expectations and then reality meets it. And I’m sure Churchill had something in his mind to what this would be that was miles away from what it actually was. So what were some of those routes Start so this organization as it’s coming together that stuck out to you

Sarah Rose 12:04
an awful lot. They said never again, it’s never been tried before, it never been systemized before. And so there was an awful lot of on the ground learning. The biggest mistake we can point to with sov is that so it happened in communications that happen in comms. They were hired totally dependent on these radios that were also dropped behind enemy lines, these radio operators and radios and they have their own special codes and this is how you would communicate back to Britain and receive orders and ask for guns and new agents and shipments and it this code of communication was critical to this work. If the Nazis were to capture a radio operator, and get his codes and then capture a radio say, that also had the crystals tuned to frequencies from London. They could imitate a British agent and pretend to be somebody communicating with Britain. Asking for agents asking for money asking for weapons. And no one in London would know the difference. And that happened time and time again, it happened over 50 times. In the Netherlands, we can count at least 17 agents in France that were sacrificed to this kind of double games, these radio games that the Germans would play the July 20 plot against Hitler, the assassination plot, the weapons used in that assassination plot, were all British weapons dropped behind enemy lines to dummy radios that the Nazis were operating that Britain thought was a real radio. So that mistake over and over and over again and there was a lot of evidence that they were making this mistake that people knew. And the Brits just sort of convinced themselves everything was fine, and kept sending arms kept sending people sending bodies behind enemy lines, basically, to their deaths. They were dropped right into Nazi hands.

Scott Rank 13:54
Was this those who are captured or codes that were intercepted? Was this among the savvy or was it a another group Yes,

Sarah Rose 14:00
absolutely. Ladies are among us, Ellie. Okay.

Scott Rank 14:02
Well, I’m curious. So for recruits who answer the call, what’s their training like?

Sarah Rose 14:08
Women and men ultimately would receive the same training. First Class of women. It’s just when I focus on, we’re given a very shortened version of the training. So by the end of the war, when you’re recruiting just for D day, you know exactly what you’re looking for. It’s very systematized. It’s very militarized. It’s very specialized. The first group of women got only a kind of security course. And that was how to build up a secret identity and how to basically learn how to shoot but it wasn’t, it wasn’t expensive. It’s about three weeks. And the idea was, well, women aren’t as important as men. They’re not going to be doing the bulk of the heavy lifting. They’re just going to be careers. They’re just going to be messengers. So we don’t need to train them at the same level as we would everybody else. Quickly, they found that that was a mistake and that indeed, the women stepped up in a way they weren’t Just couriers, they weren’t just messengers, many of them ended up commanding units basically. And ultimately over time, they were getting much more extensive training. They were also trained to parachute. way to get people in behind enemy lines was to drop them.

Scott Rank 15:14
Alright, so these are probably the first female I suppose we could call them paratroopers that are trained.

Sarah Rose 15:19
Oh, yeah, no, they’re the first female combat paratroopers without question, right?

Scott Rank 15:22
What’s this like then? So after the first class is graduated, are they almost immediately dropped into Vichy France and can you walk me through the process of you graduate from your training, you get on the plane, you pack your parachute. So what happens after you land and you hit the ground?

Sarah Rose 15:40
So the first two women infiltrated by parachute are actually the two women who I focus on two of the three when I focus on in my book from the first class under Burrell was 22 when she was dropped behind in the mountains, and she is the very first combat paratrooper by about three seconds. The second is a woman named these debase ag And Andre had already worked on the French underground railroad escaped to London, and got sent back in the Underground Railroad being getting pilots out of France after back to the allies. So, Andre goes to Paris, where she will be part of setting up all of the Northern networks for sob in France. So, Paris is going to be the communication hub for the French Resistance. All of we know at this point, it’s pretty obvious just looking at a map when the Allies come, they’re going to come across the channel, they’re going to invade France, on its northern coast. We don’t know where Andre was in charge of making sure there were resistant networks all along the French coastline. So that when the Allies came back, there were resistance units there waiting for them, leaves the base, AK was parachuted in. She immediately went south to Plataea, which is a sort of, kind of Middle of Nowhere University church town, but Close to the demarcation line, which is where Vichy France at the time and German-occupied France were divided. And her job was to help get agents across the line and to receive agents and get them clothing and tickets and contacts so that they could set up networks elsewhere along the demarcation line. They were infiltrated in September 1942. And by November 1942, Hitler invades all of France. And it’s not that the demarcation line isn’t important after that, but it certainly doesn’t have the same level politically that it did. So Lee’s supposed to just kind of be a liaison agent. And she finds it utterly boring. Just nothing happens between drops. And so she starts to set up her own network she effectively begins running her own network. She also takes classes in typing in Spanish because she’s so boring. And that’s Louise’s first mission is Just she was sent as liaison agent, she ends up running her own unit. And Andre’s first mission is to Paris. Unfortunately, Andre after about eight months is captured. But all of the networks that were successful on D day in sort of reach back to the original moments where Andre was there setting up that network she’s seated the whole north of France or help seat

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Scott Rank 18:24
I’m really curious like how on earth do you set up a resistance cell? I’m ignorant about this topic. So I imagine sitting next to someone on a park bench and speaking in code, the sparrow flies at midnight or say

Sarah Rose 18:35
something that’s not wrong. You’re meeting in people’s living rooms, you sort of know who the dissidents are, you try and find people who are secure, who aren’t gonna sell you out to the Nazis who aren’t stupid and just going to make dumb mistakes. And it’s a kind of Whisper network. France was against Germany before they were for them. There were still a lot of people who fought in the blitzkrieg who were pissed and wanted France to be free. It wasn’t impossible to find people it was quite hard.

Scott Rank 19:03
Yeah. And I’d love to dig into the mechanics of setting up resistance cells. One other thing to know another focus of your book is on Odette sandstone if I’ve not completely mispronounced that. Does she come in early in the war as well? Or is she on a later drop?

Sarah Rose 19:19
So actually, during her parachute training, she gets a concussion and cannot be dropped by parachute. After that, they decided that she has to be infiltrated by sea into what was then Vichy France. So she goes the long way around through Gibraltar and pass Spain into southern France. She lands near Cathy’s, and she’s not a super successful agent. As such, she doesn’t really accomplish much by way of recruitment or receiving goods or even liaison she’s captured early on, but the moment she’s captured, she becomes very useful. First of all, she does this thing when I found utterly fascinating and that is, she’s She manages to sort of save her sort of she saves her commanding officers life with a lie. And it’s a very feminine lie. The moment she’s captured by Nazis, she says her commanding officer, whose name is Peter Churchill, she says, he’s Winston Churchill’s nephew. He was not Winston Churchill’s nephew, but she says it anyway. And then she says, and I’m his wife, and at that moment goes from being a spy who has already given orders that all spies are supposed to be basically disappeared, tortured, removed, worst of Nazi cruelty will be enacted on them and they will never be seen or heard from again, she goes from being under those orders the commander orders to being a high-value diplomatic prisoner, saves her commanding officers life, saves her own life and also saves the review officers life in that moment with that lie. Because she is a VIP. She doesn’t suffer the same fate as the other agents who are capturing overwhelmingly, the female agents who are captured 13 of them die Male agents who are captured overwhelmingly diver if you make it back, but she does because she’s a VIP and she was her last year in captivity was in Robins Brook, which is the largest women’s prison in history. And she escapes at the end of the war and she escapes with evidence that will put the commandant of Robins Brook behind bars and condemned him to death. So one of the worst Nazi war criminals. There were so many but she gets one of the worst. She is part of the trial that condemned him to death with evidence she got by surviving by escaping, so not much of a spy under ordinary orders, but making it to the end of the war. She really helped, you know, change the world.

Scott Rank 21:41
One other bid on Odette Samson’s background, I read just briefly about her and she was a mother of three. How does she’s a mother, right and just from a small town area. So what caused her to join this organization?

Sarah Rose 21:56
This is a hard one. This is sort of what got me interested in Odette’s story, in particular, is, um, I can’t imagine leaving three babies behind, right? I mean, very little girls. These aren’t three adult daughters, these are daughter she has a daughter under the age of six. So, but she frames the question about whether or not to go in again, like a kind of feminine language and the language of motherhood. She says, okay, Europe’s gone. There’s no democracy left in Europe, all of your loans to the fascists. And Britain is last hope. Britain is the last hope Island. This is the last democracy in Europe. What happens to my little girls? If Hitler gets Britain to, like, should I as a mother, do everything possible, make any sacrifice so that my girls can grow up under a democratic flag and that is what makes her leave that framing is how she committed As yourself, it’s okay to go. And she puts her kids in boarding school and she leaves and she won’t see them again for over three years.

Scott Rank 23:08
Okay, so she’s in France continuously from when she drops till the end of the war.

Sarah Rose 23:12
She’s in France from 1942 to 1944. After D day, right. Then the Nazis basically transfer all the captured agents to concentration camps. So she ends up in Robins break free. Year.

Scott Rank 23:23
Okay. Well, I’d love to hear how amongst the sov members once they land in France, we mentioned they talk with those who are sympathetic to the French Resistance. What does it look like to set up a resistance sell of training them arming them, getting them into communication? How often do you have meetings with them? What is the liaison network look like? I’m really fascinated by how this all works.

Sarah Rose 23:48
So one of the important things to realize is you’re again, you’re not recruiting the best soldiers in France, you’re recruiting the worst soldiers in France, the best soldiers of France are in jail. The second best soldiers in France are working In more factories, you’re recruiting old men and teenagers, you’re recruiting on the margins of France you’re recruiting the people who are sort of taking care of an entire household of say 10 women in a family farm and you’re asking them to leave their family farm and go live in the hills live badly in the hills, you’re basically camping. And take you to know, get trained as a gorilla with weapons with you know, answering to commands, orders learning how to blow up trained learning how to take down power lines, and you are you don’t know that you will when you don’t know that you’re going to be useful. If you are captured doing this, you will 100% definitely be getting the worst of Nazi cruelty.

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And so, it

it’s very hard to recruit. It turns out women were pretty exceptionally good at this but also better than men. In some ways because they’re born listeners, they’re born caretakers, right? They are if not born, they are very early acculturated to doing this kind of caretaking work listening to sermons of someone else. The man on the ground had to learn this skill. And, and they did. So a lot of what you’re doing by way of recruitment is controlled. Once they’re in the hills, you’re treating them training them is any guerilla army would. And again, you’re not getting the best soldiers, you’re getting goobers, soldiers, you’re doing it on supplies that are dropped from the sky, and they’re dropped irregularly. And you’re waiting for a day that may or may not come I mean, and there was reason to be very discouraged about it because France really expected D day would arrive in the summer of 1943.

It was a total shock when the first arrival of troops goes to Sicily instead.

All the people Training up into that point thought it was a kind of short term endeavor. They didn’t think they had another year left. But they did. So it was very much a kind of fool’s errand. There was no reason to believe it would work.

Once you were there, you’re getting paramilitary training with scant resources. And that said they were incredibly effective. That Eisenhower at the end of the war said that these resistance troops could probably shorten the war by six months. because of things like that three-week delay of Hitler’s tanks getting to the beaches. Also, say on D day, the French Resistance took out underground telecoms cables and telephone wires, and by doing so they forced the Nazis to broadcast their troop movements. At that point, we had absolutely already decrypted an egg bomb So we could anticipate where they were going. The French Resistance was. So part of what you’re learning is not just how to blow up the train, but why taking out these underground wire cables matter and doing it on this day and why that is important to the overall warplanes?

Scott Rank 27:17
Yeah, one other thing too, with those who are recruited, who are not the ideal soldiers, they’re in the third tier of people that you would want to be recruited. In a way it sort of fits the mold of the sob soldiers themselves, where the Nazis wouldn’t suspect a female network of spies and the people who are recruited maybe wouldn’t fit the mold either. Tell me if this lines up with what you research and if it doesn’t, I’m happy to know either way, but it seems like the people who did really well at spycraft they’re not the sexy dashing James Bond type while maybe like disco Popo could sort of fit that mold that he’s for like real-life James Bond topic for another day. But a lot of times spies are just boring people that you want to ignore and not just spies, but people who seem to know what’s going on are the people that everyone ignores but overhear things because everyone ignores them like the butler or the guy in the cloakroom, or even in the past slaves would be part of spiring because everyone just ignored them and treated like wallpaper. It was there a sort of an element of that where people could get away with things or maybe they got buy clothes scrapes because they didn’t fit what Nazi soldiers would think of as being part of a resistance cell.

Sarah Rose 28:24
I mean, absolutely. You know, there was a basic kind of chauvinism all over Europe, but certainly, within Nazi command, no one expected a girl on a bicycle might have explosives in high school basket. There were so many girls on bicycles in France. So yes, you’re looking for people who aren’t gonna stand out. James Bond stands out all too much, but it’s

Scott Rank 28:46
his real name on missions. That’s a strategy.

Sarah Rose 28:49
But you know,

in Fleming was an intelligence officer during World War Two for the Navy and he absolutely knew about sov and in fact, Miss Moneypenny is believed to be based on On your Atkins who was kind of the center of SLP. In France, she was second in command there but considered the brains of the operation. So he was working off the model of SLE when he came up with his high flying and dashing James Bond.

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Scott Rank 29:15
Well, I’m really curious about the commando raids and other things at the zoo he gets involved with what are some of the things they do before D day or D day Eve to help out with the French underground and slow things down for the Nazis and you mentioned doing things to help track German troop movements.

Sarah Rose 29:34
So strategy changes over time, as it should In any war, when the women are dropped in 1942. There’s a very distinct difference in strategy between Vichy France and occupied France and occupied France. They called it the strategy was banks, we would blow stuff up, we would try and you know, the problems for the Nazis. In Vichy France, there was a strategy of no bangs, you are trying To recruit underground officers who are trying to sort of getting an underground together, you’re trying to sort of be more useful than actually hiring anybody. Over time once Hitler invaded France in November 1942, it’s bangs all around, and you’re trying to be strategic about it. You want to get the submarine pins, you want to get certain railroad crossings, you want to get certain telephones and telecoms taken out. Frequently, it was just little raves, but often enough, they were had grand strategic games.

Scott Rank 30:40
So what were some of the biggest commando raids that you see in this time period?

Sarah Rose 30:44
Oh, that’s a good question. I’m not I’m really not an expert on like all 400 agents of SLE. So I want to bracket it by saying I probably not a great strategist to talk to you on that front. I know that for instance, Least sex brother, who was in Bordeaux, was attacking submarine pens and the port in Bordeaux. And also managed to get out a bunch of intelligence that basically stopped gun-running to Japan from the Nazis. So if you can be in your report, you will attack the ports. Some of the things they did were kind of hilarious, for instance, so we managed to get curtains and itching powder into uniforms that were being sent to submarines. So, the entire submarine would be like, plagued by the uniforms. There was a wide variety. There were some of that kind of James Bond toys that we use like aging powder. Once D day is on the horizon, everything bends in the direction of D day. From that moment on, they know what their goal is. Their goal is to be useful when the invasion comes and they want to spare their you know, their material for you. The big invasion.

Scott Rank 32:01
Let’s look at that because it seems like everything is leading up to this moment. So what resources were set in place and once they get the notification from BBC France, that invasion is imminent, it will happen tomorrow. What happens? What are all these different resistance cells doing?

Sarah Rose 32:19
So all they didn’t want to organize the resistant cells by geography, they didn’t want to say that the North should do this, and the South should do this. They thought that was giving too much information to the Nazis. So it was a blanket order. Tonight’s the night, everybody goes out everybody. So they took out the major roads, and they took out railroads, which meant the tanks that ordinarily could have just had an easy trip from elsewhere, getting deployed to Normandy took almost three extra weeks. Normandy itself was almost completely isolated. You couldn’t make any lateral movement across Normandy, because there were trees across the road strategic roads and bridges. were taken out.

And that, again, was all coordinated, centrally, but they didn’t want to give individual orders. They didn’t want to tip off their hats too much to the Nazis. So at that point, everybody really knew that they’d be coming in the summer of 94. They just didn’t know where or when.

Scott Rank 33:18
Right, and do you have a sense of how many people were involved if we tally up all those within the resistance cells that were set up by the SNP and I imagine be substantial with Jillian Nazi to three weeks?

Sarah Rose 33:32
Yeah, I think it’s about 300,000 troops. I can’t remember the number of divisions that around 300,000 was is the number that started sticking. I can look it up. I don’t have my book right in front of me, but it was substantial.

Scott Rank 33:45
Yeah, that’s huge. Because in the sov it’s one a few hundred people

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Scott Rank 33:49
total and then 400.

Scott Rank 33:51
Yeah, so from this, I mean, one person could be indirectly in command of over 1000 people.

Sarah Rose 33:57
Oh, absolutely. You would expect any unit and Sort of Central with an organizer who has a radio and say, a career, one or two lieutenants, they might have 20,000 to 30,000 men that they are organizing for.

Scott Rank 34:11
Yeah. So do you have a sense of what it looks like on the night before D day that perhaps the sell of one or 2000 people the order comes through then the sob soldier says to her lieutenants All right, get to work and then this village starts to cut down trees are cut down? bridges are

Sarah Rose 34:27
absolutely everybody’s listening in France to their radios. By June 1944. Everyone is stuck to the radio every single night, they know something’s happening. And least a basic who ends up this is the most she was really the biggest sort of lightning bolt to me, as I was researching. These were second in command of a unit in Normandy right behind enemy lines, like right behind the beaches on D day. She had been in Paris when she hears the alert and she gets on a bicycle and she bicycles Three days through German formation, sleeping in a ditch when she needs to sleep, she bicycles three days to get back to her unit in Normandy, and she will do a lot of resections of material. So whereas early in the war receiving so what you’re doing is you’re waiting in a field one night, say, and a plane will come by and we’ll drop containers of guns and then ordinary drop might be five containers of guns, grenades, weapons, explosives. By the time D day comes, they’re gonna start dropping 60 containers a night to her operations. So she will be on the ground in some field receiving 60 containers with enough men to roll those into a farm somewhere to distribute them to the resistance and be back again a night or two later and receive another 60 containers. She’s also coordinating one and we have to remember that today’s one day, right but that’s The battle for France takes all summer 1944. And for the first six weeks,

the

allies are just sort of trapped on the beaches, they don’t move anywhere. They take the contentment students a lot and that’s it right you’ve got your board and you can’t go anywhere. They don’t break out until operation Cobra at the end of July. Once they get the breakout end of July, the front starts to move very, very fast through friends. They were stuck, you know, either because in those thick thickets, and then suddenly they can start going, like, you know, bulldozers to France, it moves so fast. The front is sort of progressing so fast at that point, no one knew where it was. The generals couldn’t find it. It moves so fast. London couldn’t tell. And so part of what leads would be doing at that moment is she would send runners to the front to find out where it was, and they would either report back to her run over and cross into our Light lines and let them know. So it’s kind of like a modern-day CFDs at the marathon, she is the one giving this very critical kinetic intelligence back to the allies.

Scott Rank 37:10
Yeah, what’s really interesting is you saying this reminds me I had a guest who was in Ramadi, in 2003. And he said, the breakthrough of them being able to gather intelligence was they would have women in their unit who would speak to Iraqi women mothers, typically, because their kids would run around and play all over the place and then come back. And they were this sort of honing beam or this human radar that would see everything that was going on and tell them everything. And they would be the hub of all the information that could then relay it back and he said, that was what gave us intelligence on the ground in the town of who was an insurgent who wasn’t and just made everything crystal clear. So yeah, reminds me it sounds like that.

Sarah Rose 37:49
And this is critical. This is a really key point. I mean, I try to make up my book, we have Miss theorized, or like this other the masculine activity and it makes our Guys less safe now to say it should only be men in combat units and on the frontline, if it weren’t for the females in those units in Iraq, right, they would not have that communication with the mothers. Having women in traditional cultures is critical for the safety of our combat units. And that is part of why we’ve been fighting these forever wars for 20 years. It’s part of why we finally gave the military full sexual integration because it made our guys safer today. And these are lessons that we sort of learned and forgot, in World War Two, because overwhelmingly, it was men writing the histories of World War Two, the story of what women were doing, and the story of the way women’s work in the war and the story of how feminized France was, has been lost by the men reading the story. And it’s not just a story. I mean, it’s a leadership failure to General de Gaulle at the end of the wars trying to craft a narrative of the Fourth Republic. He doesn’t want France to be a humiliated nation. And he definitely doesn’t want France to be a nation that collaborative. So he uses the French Resistance is kind of the spine of the Fourth Republic, France was a nation of resistors. Everybody was in the French Resistance. It’s not true. But he used it towards that end, and he built a new nation. And he thought that women were they weren’t, they didn’t fit that story. He needed to project a strong France and women are frail and fragile. And so he left women out of a story intentionally and to that and he also wouldn’t allow himself to be photographed in the shop. So is a with black African soldiers who were a key part of the liberation of France because blacks to projected a kind of desperation that he didn’t want as part of this new national narrative. So there are lots of Reasons We forgot this lesson and 75 years, but the lesson remained true in France in World War Two as it does in traditional cultures in our forever wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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"D-Day Girls: The Female Spies Who Armed the French Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Made the Normandy Invasion Possible" History on the Net
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