Sunday, December 31, 2023

Late Fall 1944: Uncle Paul Plays with Mines and Foreign Weapons (STS 47?)

After finishing school in Beaulieu, there is an entry in Uncle Paul's UKNA file dated 11 November 1944, that gave his final evaluation for a mines and foreign weapons course, but unusually, it was not labeled with a Specialist Training School (STS) number.  

The entry states that it is a "Group C" course, which means it was an operational school where SOE trainees received specialized training on specific topics.  

I had to dig a little to figure out what school it may have been, but I think it was probably STS 47. According to Denis Rigden in SOE Syllabus, "STS 47 gave advanced training on mines and the use of enemy weapons."  The Wikipedia list of SOE Establishments is less definite: "STS 47 - ??? - advanced training on mines," (the question marks are in the published article).   I found an ARSOF article (link below) about an early OSS agent trained by the SOE that stated that 47 concerned "Foreign Weapons, Booby Traps, Mines, and Sniper Course."  So, STS 47 seems as likely a location as any.

In Secret War, Nigel West states that STS 47 was at Anderson Manor, Blandford, Dorset, and that it was commanded by Major R. J. Metherell.  The village of Anderson is in Dorset County in southern England.

By train, Anderson (red pin) is about
4.5 hours SW of London

Like all other SOE schools, the
location was in a fairly remote area

The town of Anderson is still very small; the population is about 60.

Contemporary photo of Anderson Manor
Source: https://www.british-history.ac.uk/rchme/dorset/vol3/plate-52

CC Attribute: Anderson Manor, Dorset. (2023, June 1). In Wikipedia. 

Charles Briscoe wrote in his article (link below) "Part III: SOE Training & Team HERMIT" about the American OSS agent Major Herbert R. Brucker described life at STS 47 like this:
In STS 47, they trained in British uniforms.33 After a hot tea and milk at wakeup, everyone ran a two to three–mile course through the moors that ended at a small lodge. On a table at the door were daggers. “Running up to the table, you had to grab a dagger and rush inside to attack a sand-filled ‘dummy.’ First, thrust at the face to cause the defender to shield his eyes. Then, with the chest exposed, you made your major knife thrust. Daily PT ended with ju-jitsu ‘chop chopping’ exercises to harden the heels of your hands,” explained Brucker. After cleaning up, they went to breakfast. Then, training began; classroom instruction preceded practical exercises and training was always progressive. Three constants in every course were CW, codes, and cipher practice; hand-to-hand combat, and explosives training. 

Uncle Paul got decent marks at STS 47, though not stellar. He was rated good or average in his instructor's report:


 
Except for a refresher course in parachuting, this was the last of Uncle Paul's SOE training (that was recorded in his UKNA file.  Not long after his assessment at STS 47, he was sent to Belgium (on 20 November, 1944), but I have no details about the trip:


By November of 1944, Belgium had been liberated, so I suspect that this was simply some sort of errand. He was a linguist who had at least 5 languages (French, German, Dutch/Flemish, English, Polish and also a little Spanish), so maybe he was sent as an interpreter. Belgium's national languages are French, German and Flemish so there would have been lots of locals who knew those languages, so I suspect his being sent would have had more to do with his knowledge of those languages plus English or Polish.  Either way, by the spring of 1945, he was assigned to SOE Section X (Germany), and he began preparing for a field mission to Germany.

Links:

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Fall 1944: Uncle Paul Goes to Finishing School ... For Spies (STS 35)

In the fall of 1944, after Uncle Paul finished up his main wireless training at Specialist Training School (STS) 52, he was sent to STS 35 in Hampshire to a place called "The Vineyards" (sometimes spelled "Vinyards") in a town called Beaulieu.  STS 35 was one of the Group B "Finishing Schools" where they were trained in security and "tradecraft" (how to be a spy), and this school seems to have had a focus on French radio and telegraphy.  It was commanded by Captain W. Clark.

Beaulieu (red pin on the southern coast of UK)
is about 3 hours SW of London by train.


The Vineyards was in a fairly remote location,
on the outskirts of a small town, which was itself
on the outskirts of Southhampton


Today it's privately owned. Note the eponymous grapes (lower right).


How the building looked at the time.
Source: Beaulieu Historical Society


Modern stock photo. It hasn't changed much.

If I understand the SOE Syllabus by Denis Rigden correctly, the finishing schools had 5 main sections, each with its own syllabus and instructors, and I believe that whatever finishing school an SOE agent attended, they learned about all 5 sections.

  • Section A: Agent technique; clandestine life, organization, and communication; personal security; recruiting and handling agents in the field; maintaining cover; how to handle being surveilled, arrested, and interrogated.
  • Section B: Exercises relating to Section A above. It would have been like LARPing secret meeting with the resistance units, burglary, lock- and handcuff-picking.
  • Section C: Organization of enemy forces including covert, mainly Wehrmacht, Abwehr, SD, and Gestapo, though it also gave info on Italian, Japanese, and French Vichy groups.
  • Section D: Clandestine dissemination of Allied "morale warfare" propaganda, both "white" (sources came from the Allies, and "black" (sources came from the enemy, but were mostly forged by the Allies).
  • Section E: Codes, Ciphers, invisible inks, etc.

I don't know how long Uncle Paul was at STS 35, but he appears to have done very well in the course:



Links:

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

June 1944: Uncle Paul Passes the Prostitute Test

I occasionally need help making heads or tails of what's in my uncle's UKNA file, and I shared this with a friend of mine:


"Temperate in his habits and not easily attracted to the opposite sex."


He read that phrase and responded, "makes me wonder if they threw women at them just to see how they would react."

I had wondered about that comment as well, but didn't know what the significance was. Why did they take note of that? 

But then I came across the following quote about SOE leadership in A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell (italics are mine):

Baker Street was also finally heeding her warnings about its choice of agents and, in truth, becoming less naïve. It now tested male recruits' suitability by targeting them with professional seducers during training to see how they behaved. A new assessment board of psychologists sought to weed out the uncontrolled egos that had so enthralled it in the early days.

 So yeah, they probably did throw women at the recruits.  There were a number of SOE agents who endangered entire resistance groups because they couldn't keep it in their pants.  

I also have to wonder about Uncle Paul's resistance to the prostitute.  Was he trying to stay true to the love of his life (who had been married off to someone else for her protection) or something else?

The friend offered this perspective: "As far as your uncle just being faithful by nature, it's possible, but men behave oddly when they think they may die without ever having sex again. Or maybe he was just smart enough to figure it was a setup."

Uncle Paul really was extraordinarily intelligent. He might well have spotted the setup (that seems entirely possible given what I know about him). And he might also have wanted to remain true the woman he loved.  And maybe he just felt awkward being approached by a prostitute. I've known plenty of heterosexual men who would have been like deer-in-headlights if sex worker approached them.

Friday, December 22, 2023

Summer 1944: Uncle Paul Learns W/T Security at Thame Park (STS 52)

After parachute training, Uncle Paul was sent to another "other" school category: a six-week signals course at STS 52 for "W/T."

That abbreviation is all through his UK National Archives (UKNA) file, and I've seen it in many other historical sources as well. It means "Wireless/Teletype."

STS 52 was commanded by Major H. J. Byrne, and it was where recruits received "security training for wireless operators." 

In 1988, my grandfather described his brother to me:

In ‘45, I was thirty-five, and he was eight years younger, so he was twenty-seven. He was in uniform. I could tell his story of the war; very heroic, but let's not deviate too much. 

I suspect my grandfather described his brother as heroic for two reasons: Uncle Paul jumped out of airplanes, and he was a radio operator.
 
Grandpa was a radio operator too, but there was a significant difference: Grandpa used a receiver which was far harder (though not impossible) to track.

On the other hand, Uncle Paul used a transmitter, which advertised their presence to the enemy like neon signs, and the Germans were good at finding them, using a combination of advanced technology installed in snooper vans, and clever tricks to find transmitters, and it was just incredibly dangerous work. I read somewhere that the average life expectancy of an SOE radio operator in the field was about six weeks.

Let that sink in. Six weeks.  

They went into the field, and six weeks later (on average), they were executed by the Gestapo. So yeah, it doesn't seem surprising that Grandpa considered his little brother heroic.

STS 52 Location:

STS 52 was located at Thame Park in Oxfordshire, a little northwest of London. Note the red pins:



Like many SOE locations, the school was located
in a rural area, some distance from the nearest town.

STS 52 Thame Park Site:

Here's an aerial photo:

Source: Historic England


I found a floor plan (of the first floor, anyway) of Thame Park:

Source: Aston Rowant


The front of the building, labeled "Hall" along the left side of the floor plan:

Image Source: Movie-Locations.com


I haven't been able to find any photos of the kitchen wing at the top/right of the floor plan, but here's the Abbot's Hall (sometimes called Abbot's Lodge), which is shown in the lower right of the plan.


Source: Aston Rowant

Thame Park as a Filming Location:

Like Highclere Castle, which generates income by serving as the setting for Downton Abbey among other shows and movies, Thame Park has been used as a filming location, too. According to the Dicamillo Site, Thame Park has been the setting of quite a few movies and TV shows:

  • Lady Chatterley (1993)
  • The Madness of King George (1994)
  • The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1996)
  • Emma (1996 - TV mini series, as Abbey Mill Farm, Hartfield interiors, Donwell strawberry beds, derelict cottages, gypsy camp, and the sea at Weymouth)
  • Midsomer Murders (1997 - TV series, hunt scenes in the episode "Death of a Stranger", 1999 - as Tye House in the episode "Death's Shadow")
  • The Governess (1998)
  • Saving Private Ryan (1998 - in the following scenes: storming the machine nest, all the shots of large fields, and the half-track ambush)
  • The Wyvern Mystery (2000 - TV mini series, as Carwell Grange)


Thame Park and Sir Isaac Newton:

Thame Park has one other bit oddball history: part of Isaac Newton's personal library was located there, and in 1919, when the family that owned the house could no longer support two big estates, auctioned off a bunch of Newton's books at bargain prices (evidently neither the buyers nor the sellers knew the significance of the books!).  Fortunately the larger portion of Newton's library remained intact, and according to ThameHistory.net:

In 1943 the Pilgrim Trust bought the remainder of the Newton collection from the Wykeham-Musgraves, thanks to the detective work of Lieutenant-Colonel de Villamil, and placed them in Trinity College Cambridge, where Sir Isaac Newton had originally collected some of them over 200 years before.


Training:

Anyway, what did the training look like? It was longer than many of them, usually lasting six weeks. I was unable to find what the structure of the course as a whole looked like.  SOE Syllabus by Denis Rigden simply said "STS 52 provided security training for wireless operators," though the book did have the outline of one lecture which Uncle Paul must have attended.  I've reprinted the outline at the very end of this article if you'd like to read it.

Uncle Paul's Experience:

Uncle Paul arrived on 19 May 1944, but on 1 June 1944, he was on leave for a week.  The file said he left the school on 26 August 1944, so he was there for more than three months. There is nothing in his file to suggest why the training took more than double the usual time, and his evaluations were very positive (see below). I suspect that D-Day on 6 June 1944 interrupted things and he and his fellow trainees were put to work doing other things (and his UKNA file says he got a promotion to local sergeant on 5 June). Here's what they said about him at STS 52:


He had continued to improve in the eyes of his instructors. They describe him as: "a quick thinker and should be able to take care of himself in an emergency." Or that he has "plenty of common sense" and that he possesses "certain qualities of leadership."

But my absolutely FAVORITE quote is this one: 

Always in a good humour. Takes a few drinks now and again and when he is a little merry sings obscene songs in French, of which he has a huge repertoire. This he does only in the School canteen. When in the village, he is well behaved.


Bibliography:


W/T Security Lecture:


September 1943
1. INTRODUCTION

Lecture deals with special aspects of security for WT/ Operators apart from general principles laid down in "Individual Security".

2. CHOOSING OF PREMISES FOR WORKING SET

    a) Choice depends on:

        i) Security considerations.

        ii) Technical considerations.

        iii) Combination of i. and ii. and district.

    b) Security.

Safer to have number of sets dispersed over wide area with owners or occupants of premises recruited (see further below)

    c) Technical.

Avoid steel-framed buildings. Key click easily audible in next room or if radio receiver working off same circuit. Consider aerial camouflage.

    d) District.

i) Thinly populated country districts, possibility for isolated buildings, e.g. farms, etc. 
 
ii) Towns - private house or place of occupation. 

    e) In case of d) ii) above, consider following factors:

        i) Accessibility.

Operator must be able to get to and from premises without arousing suspicions of neighbours or passers by.

        ii) Cover.

Must have "genuine" reason for frequent visits (e.g. doctor). Use existing household.

        iii) Facilities, defensive.

For concealing self and set. 
For escape (exits). 
Vulnerability to surveillance.

iv) Control of Access. 
 
Limit to number and type of people with possible access to premises. 
 
3. GENERAL SECURITY PRECAUTIONS
To be taken in any premises including place of residence.  
 
a) Precautions against search during absence - tidiness, leaf in keyhole, hair, etc.

b) Minimum incriminating material, coded writings destroyed, etc.

N.B: Traces on blotting paper and writing blocks.   

c) Hiding places prepared, particularly for set. 
 
i) Inside House - advantages and disadvantages. 
 
ii) Outside House - advantages and disadvantages. 
 
Possibility of working set from hiding places. 
 
d) Preparation for destroying incriminating material.

e) Where possible room with 2 doors and light switch near while operating.

f) Guard while operating, e.g. possibility of hall porter.

g) Al clear and danger signals, visual and/or oral.

h) Check on surveillance of premises, or when entering or leaving.

 i) Alternative premises in case of emergency.

j) No casual visitors at premises - only possible ones are cut-outs.

 4. CUT-OUTS

a) Definition.

Intermediary. Link between two agents. May only carry messages, knowing nothing about Organization, or act as liaison officer.
Should undertake no other subversive activity.

b) Reason for employment (In case of W/T Operator).

i) Dangerous for operator to be seen with Organizer.

ii) May not want another member to know him.

iii) Barrier between himself and authorities, e.g. telegram, official enquiry, hiring flat.

iv) Transfer of suspicion, delayed or prevented.


c) Cover.

Must be able to contact inconspicuously people of different social positions, e.g. doctor, dentist, priest, waiter, postman, etc.


5. SECURITY RULES FOR OPERATOR.

a) Must never undertake other subversive activity. Danger of over enthusiasm.

b) Must not attempt to find out more about Organization than he is told, nor know one or two members.  
 
c) Christian names only should be used. Numbering dangerous.

d) Never carry arms unless in situation for which no cover story (e.g. working the set). 

e) Must report suspicious incident immediately, e.g. if followed.

f) Emergency measures, e.g. warning signals, hide-out, contacts to drop, how to re-establish contact.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

1945: Uncle Paul's SOE Uniform

I've got a couple of photos of my Uncle Paul, taken in December of 1945, and he was wearing a uniform. 

Click on the images to enlarge:

Paul Lubinski with his niece Liliane and sister-in-law Roma

That's my grandmother on the right. She was almost certainly about nine months pregnant with my mother in this photo. 

Note Lieutenant Lubinski's uniform insignia

Under his left lapel, there is a patch, two wings with a parachute between them. That indicates he qualified as a parachutist.  

The parachute badge with wings is still in use today:

Given the sepia tones, I can't tell what color the coat or his shirt and tie were, but I did find this page at the UK Imperial War Museum site: Jacket, Service Dress: Major, Special Operations Executive (SOE). Note the second photo on the IWM page that focuses on the left shoulder.  Same parachute insignia and similar styling.  The right front pocket flap might be different in shape, though. Unfortunately, it doesn't answer the question of what color the shirt and tie or his trousers were.  

And yes, I wrote to the museum to ask about that. :-) 

1940s: WW2 Bibliography (Books, Movies, TV, URLs)

I've consumed a fair amount of WWII stuff in my lifetime, but I'm only counting the stuff I've read, watched, or consulted since I started this project in the fall of 2021.

* Red asterisk indicates an important source. I either finished the entire work, or consulted it a LOT.

Nonfiction:


Fiction:

Movies and TV*:

Monday, December 18, 2023

1920s-1960s: Biscuit (AKA "Grandpa Arthur's Story")

Arthur and Roma Lubinski, 1970s

    Arthur Lubinski was my grandfather.  He was a well-known petroleum engineer based in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the United States, but before that, he was a maquisard, fighting to rid France of the Nazis.

    Grandpa was born 30 March 1910 in Antwerp, Belgium, the son of two Polish-born naturalized Belgian citizens.  His family went to Poland to see family in the summer of 1914, and when WWI broke out, they were stranded in Poland for thirteen years.  

    My grandfather fell in love with my grandmother when they were teenagers in Poland. After he went back to Belgium in 1927, they continued their relationship via letters and the occasional visit. Eventually, my grandmother moved to Belgium to attend the university (unusual for the time - most women did not pursue higher education). They married in 1935.

    In 1939, Grandma Roma fell pregnant with my Aunt Lilly, who was born May 8, 1940, two days before the Nazis invaded Western Europe.

    Some of the articles are early drafts of chapters I wrote for the book. I've marked those with "(chapter)." I've since revised them, and the revisions are not reflected here. In some cases I had to change them significantly due to discovering new information about what happened after I wrote it.


    Here is a list of my articles about my grandparents:


    Here is a list of other articles of mine that are related:

Bibliography

1940s: Termite (AKA "Uncle Paul's Story")

Paul Lubinski, with his niece Liliane, Valence, France, 1945

    Paul Lubinski was my great-uncle, my Grandpa Arthur's younger brother.  He was born 18 February 1918 in Lodz, Poland (his parents and brother had gone to Poland to visit family in the summer of 1914, and when WWI broke out, were stranded in Poland ... for thirteen years.

    Unlike my grandfather, Uncle Paul was single when WWII broke out (though he was very much in love with Lisa Schein), and his life took a very different path during the war.  He escaped Belgium in the fall of 1942, and made it to the UK by February of 1944.

    Within a few months, he was working for the SOE.

    These are my articles about Uncle Paul:

    These are my articles about Grandpa Arthur, in which Uncle Paul is mentioned:

May 1944: Uncle Paul Learns to Jump out of Airplanes (STS 51)

After Uncle Paul finished up at Rhubana, he was sent down to Manchester in the central UK to one of the "other" SOE schools: parachute school at Specialist Training School (STS) 51.  

Manchester: red pin in central UK

Red pin marks Fulshaw Hall, where he stayed.


STS 51 was at the RAF Ringway (today, the Manchester Airport), which was where the RAF trained parachutists.

RAF Ringway in 1946. Source Britain from Above


Confusingly, his UKNA file lists both STS 51 and 51b, and I had to do some digging to understand the difference.  Denis Rigden in SOE Syllabus explained it pretty well:

It was provided at Ringway airfield, Manchester. The SOE students jumped alongside other trainees but they lodged an isolation from them in two secure houses (STSs 51a and 51b) near the airfield. At any one time the parachute school (STS 51) gave at least five days' training to the 70 SOE students, but many had their training stopped without warning and were sent to London for operational briefing after only two or three days at Ringway.
With a bit more digging, I found that Major C. J. Edwards, MBE commanded both STS 51a which was Dunham House, and STS 51b at Fulshaw Hall which is where Uncle Paul lived when he was learning to parachute.

STS 51b at Fulshaw Hall (pin at the bottom of the map)
is only 5 miles from STS 51 at RAF Ringway/Manchester Airport
(pin/gray area toward the top of the map).

Fulshaw in 1913 postcard. Public Domain.

Once a secret agent dormitory, now it's office space.
From the Wilmslow Website (link below)


Major C. J. Edwards MBE

Uncle Paul attended STS 51 twice, in May 1944, and again in February 1945 for additional training, though the file doesn't specify where he stayed the second time, or how long he was there.

Here's what they had to say about him in May of 1944:




There was a typo on the date, but it looks to me that he started the training on 14 or 15 May, 1944. When I blow up the high-resolution version, it looks to me like it had been 15, but the typist went back over it with a 4 a couple of times to make it darker, so I'm taking that as 14 May.  He left the school on or before the 19th (later in the file, it states that he arrived at STS 52 on 19 May).

Here's what they said in February of 1945 as he was preparing for his second SOE mission to Germany:



From the BBC SOE Training page in the links below: 
When undergoing parachute training at Ringway, students did at least two jumps, one from a plane and one from a static balloon. They were all equipped with a little spade attached to their leg, for the purpose of burying their parachute and SOE jump suit after they had landed. In the 'field' they had to jump from altitudes as low as 300-400 feet, and would hit the ground within 10-15 seconds. The plane's pilot was compelled to drop them at such low altitudes in order to avoid enemy radar detection.

It was a little hard to find more detailed descriptions of the training, but I finally found a bit more on this page:

Each RAF Parachute Jump Instructor (PJI) was in charge of a ‘stick’ of ten trainee parachutists at RAF Ringway. ‘Synthetic’ ground training was normally conducted in aircraft hangars using unconventional gymnastic-like apparatus to simulate the conditions a parachutist could expect to encounter from exiting the aircraft to flight and landing.

In one hangar there were mock-ups of the interior and jump-hole or door of all types of aircraft used for parachuting. The student was taught how to exit the aircraft.

In the other hangar were different types of ground equipment used to simulate landing. Trapeze swings simulated flight drills and students slid down chutes or jumped from platforms to practice parachute rolls on landing. The ‘Fan’, a platform apparatus 25-feet high, had a parachute harness connected to a ‘fan’ that used the body weight of the jumper to slow the rate of descent when he ‘jumped’ from the platform.

Certain devices such as the ‘Gallows’ and jumping from the backs of moving lorries to practice landings were discontinued due to excessive injury rates.


"Synthetic" ground training.
Paratrooper learning to land properly. Public Domain.
 
"Parachute Training at Ringway" by Patrick Hall, 1945.
See https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/11961 for bigger version.


In the Special Forces World War II Secret Operations Handbook by Stephen Hart and Chris Mann, they had this to say about the training:

Agents' first sessions were spent being dropped from special harnesses on to crash mats to simulate landings. This then progressed to jumping from a 23m (75ft) tower and then to a static balloon 213m (700ft) up. Finally, there came three daylight drops from an aircraft and two at night. The students needed to master basic parachute landing technique and learn the necessity of keeping both legs together to lessen the chance of breaking something.  This had to become instinctive as there would be no time to think when the time came for real.

Evidently there were even parachute songs used during training, mostly sung to common tunes, like "I'm Dreaming of a Soft Landing," sung to the tune of "White Christmas."  Here's a whole list of them:  https://www.3para1945-48palestine.com/parasongs.html

SOE agents were given a different jumpsuit than RAF parachutists: they used an easy-to-get-out-of suit (hence its off-color nickname "the striptease suit"). It was made of either white or camo canvas with lots of zippers and pockets.  It was designed to be worn over civilian clothes, and big enough to accommodate two great coats underneath it.  They carried a spade with them and buried the suit, helmet, and chute when they reached the ground.





Surviving example of a striptease suit.

Note: The source of the four jumpsuit images above is:  


Surviving suit in a museum. See Warrelics site for source.


Ringway Links:

Fulshaw Links:

Parachute Training Links:
SOE Jumpsuit (the "Striptease" suit):