In 1940, a year into World War II, Britain was locked in a battle for its—and possibly Europe’s—continued existence. Germany seemed unstoppable, the Americans refused to help, and, with the Nazis’ entry into Paris, Britain was the only country in Europe left to fight Hitler. Winston Churchill needed a way to infiltrate the Continent. He decided to create a secret agency, the Special Operations Executive (SOE), to “set Europe ablaze.” But by 1942, with most soldiers at war, he had run out of men. So he turned to an untapped source for his elite spies: women.
D-DAY GIRLS: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II by Sarah Rose (on sale April 23), tells the largely unknown story of the women who engaged in clandestine warfare in enemy territory to pave the way for the Allied victory on D-Day.
Churchill believed the spark of resistance was waiting to be ignited on the Continent; he just needed an organization to fuel, fund, and arm it, which is where the SOE came in. “Though Churchill liked to call the secret department his ‘Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare,’ the pretty phrase belied the kind of war he had in mind,” says Rose. “It was to be the dirtiest war, beyond the rules of engagement—warfare by every available means, including murder, kidnappings, demolitions, ransoms, and torture.” The dark agency would become the direct predecessor of America’s CIA and the model for James Bond’s exploits.
D-DAY GIRLS focuses on the inspiring, dramatic story of three of the women who were recruited to lay the groundwork for the D-Day invasion: Odette Sansom, an energetic mother of three eager to escape the safe countryside; Lise de Baissac, a composed leader with an analytic mind; and Andrée Borrel, a scrappy tomboy. Called upon to lead the resistance in occupied France, each of them was sent, by parachute or by ship through a sea of U-boats, to infiltrate from within. Among their many firsts, they were the first women deployed in close combat, first women paratroopers to infiltrate enemy territory, first women in active duty special forces, first female commando raiders, and first women signals officers in a war zone.
Rose conducted extensive research in Britain, France, and the United States, reviewing diary entries and recently declassified documents, and interviewing SOE veterans to piece together their incredible stories. To gain an even deeper understanding of what the women of SOE went through, she learned French, parachuted from a plane, went to boot camp, practiced shooting, and tried to learn Morse code—every effort only increasing her respect for what they had endured and accomplished. “Thirty-nine women of SOE went to war, and fourteen of them never came home. These women broke barriers, smashed taboos, and altered the course of history,” says Rose. “They were sent undercover, so they never expected glory, and their story was classified for almost seventy years after the war. With the seventy-fifth anniversary of D-Day approaching this June, it is an honor to tell their story now.”