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Jedburghs on a high bars at an obstacle course in Milton Hall, England

Operation Jedburgh was a clandestine operation during World War II, in which personnel of the British Special Operations Executive, the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, the Free French Bureau Central de Renseignements et d'Action ("Intelligence and operations central bureau") and the Dutch and Belgian Armies were dropped by parachute into Nazi-occupied France, Holland and Belgium to conduct sabotage and guerilla warfare, and to lead the local resistance forces in actions against the Germans.


The operation took its name, probably assigned at random from a list of pre-approved code names, from the town of 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 near Peterborough, which was much closer to the airfields from which they were to be launched, and to London and Special Force Headquarters.

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; for example, it had access to only 23 Handley Page Halifax aircraft for dropping agents and stores, barely sufficient to maintain SOE's existing networks. OSS was able to augment this force with Consolidated B-24 Liberator aircraft operating from RAF Harrington (see Operation Carpetbagger).[1] The OSS eagerly sought to be involved, since in a single swoop it got more agents into northwestern Europe than it had during the entire previous period of the United States' involvement in the war. Nevertheless, General Eisenhower, the American Supreme Commander, ensured that the French would lead the operation and gave them command on 9 June 1944 of the Jedburgh teams in France.

Jedburgh teams

Jedburghs in front of a B-24 Liberator prior to departure

The Jedburgh teams consisted of three men: a commander, an executive officer, and a non-commissioned radio operator. One of the officers would be British or American while the other would originate from the country to which the team deployed. In addition to their personal weapons (which included an M1 carbine[2] and a Colt automatic pistol[3] for each member)and sabotage equipment, the teams dropped with the Type B Mark II radio, more commonly referred to as the B2 or "Jed Set", which was critical for communicating with Special Force Headquarters in London. They were also issued pieces of silk with five hundred phrases which they were likely to use in radio traffic replaced with four-letter codes to save time in transmission, and one-time pads to encipher their messages.[4]

As the Jedburgh teams' mission was to inspire overt rather than clandestine resistance activity, they wore military uniform and were equipped with a variety of personal equipment such as medical supplies, food such as "K" and "C" Ration packs, sleeping bags, field glasses and detailed maps of their operational areas, which were printed on silk like their radio ciphers.[5] Agents who had previously been dropped to resistance groups had carried only "a gun, a spade (to bury their parachute) and false papers".


The first team in, codenamed "Hugh", parachuted into central France near Châteauroux the night before the Allied landings in Normandy, codenamed Operation Overlord. In total, 93 Jedburgh teams operated in 54 French metropolitan départements between June and December 1944.[6] They were known by codenames which usually were the names of herbs or spices, with a few random names to confuse German intelligence.[7]

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 guerrillas and the Allied command. They could provide liaison, advice, expertise and leadership, but their most powerful asset was their ability to arrange airdrops of arms and ammunition.

Like all Allied forces who operated behind Nazi lines, the Jedburghs were subject to torture and execution in the event of capture, under Hitler's notorious Commando Order. Because the teams normally operated in uniform, to apply this order to them was a war crime. However, of the Jedburgh teams dropped into France, only British Captain Victor A. Gough met that fate, being shot while a prisoner on 25 November 1944.

Jedburgh operations in the Far East

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Jedburgh teams, or parties organised on a similar basis, also operated in the South East Asia Command (SEAC) in 1945, including Japanese-occupied French Indochina, where sixty French Jedburghs joined the newly created C.L.I. fighting the Japanese occupation in French Indochina. In Burma, Jedburgh teams were used in operations 'Billet' and 'Character'. Operation Billet was the plan to raise Burman resistance to the Japanese, primarily through the largely communist Anti Fascist Organisation (AFO). Operation 'Character' was the scheme to raise the Karens in the Karen Hills between the Sittang and Salween Rivers. The first Jeds to go on Character operations were flown into Burma in February 1945 with Lt/Col Peacock's Special Groups.

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


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Many of the surviving American "Jeds" later held various positions of great responsibility in the US Army or the CIA. Examples include William Colby, who became director of the CIA, Lucien Conein, who was a key CIA officer in Vietnam, General John Singlaub and Colonel Aaron Bank (founder of United States Army Special Forces).

Among French Jedburghs were Paul Aussaresses, later founder of the SDECE's 11e RPC, and counter-insurgency expert in French Algeria; Jean Sassi, another who later served in the 11e RPC, who pioneered conventional guerrilla commandos GCMA with Roger Trinquier during the First Indochina War; Guy Le Borgne, commander of the 8e Choc Parachute Battalion in Indochina, the 3rd Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment in Algeria and 11th Parachute Division.


  1. Boyce and Everett (2003), p.205
  2. Foot (1984), p.77
  3. Beavon (2006), p.12
  4. Foot (1984), p.124
  5. Walters, Anne-Marie. Moondrop to Gascony. Wiltshire: Moho Books. p. 219. ISBN 978-0-9557208-1-9. 
  6. Inquimbert, Les Equipes Jedburgh: Juin 1944 - Décembre 1944, Lavauzelle, 2006[page needed]
  7. Foot (1984), p.127

Further reading

  • Beavan, Colin (2006). Operation Jedburgh: D-Day and America's First Shadow War. New York: Viking. ISBN 0-670-03762-1. 
  • Boyce, Frederic; Everett, Douglas (2003). SOE – the Scientific Secrets. Sutton Publishing. ISBN 0-7509-4005-0. 
  • Foot, M.R.D. (1999). The Special Operations Executive 1940–1946. Pimlico. ISBN 0-7126-6585-4. 
  • Funk, Arthur Layton (1992). Hidden Ally: The French Resistance, Special Operations and the Landings in Southern France, 1944. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-27995-0. 
  • Irwin, Will (2005). The Jedburghs: The Secret History of the Allied Special Forces, France 1944. PublicAffairs. ISBN 1-58648-307-2. 
  • Inquimbert (2006). Les Équipes Jedburgh: Juin 1944 - Décembre 1944. Lavauzelle. ISBN 2-7025-1307-7. 

External links

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