Saturday, December 30, 2023

Late Summer 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.

Surprisingly, the students were not told until they reached the finishing schools that that they were in training to become agents.  Several sources indicate that they would have suspected well before this point what they were being trained for, but this is the point their instructors were open about it.

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, as the UK National Archives file isn't clear, and I don't know how long the training course generally lasted, so I cannot use that to draw any conclusions.  I know the following dates:

  • August 24, 1944: STS HQ indicated that Paul was scheduled to begin training at a Group B school on August 27th. Notes like this are sprinkled throughout the file, and they don't always match up with his actual start dates, though in this case, I think it was correct.  "STSHQ to Group B 24.8.44: Will attend course at STS 35 on 27.8.44."
  • August 25, 1944: There is a note in the file suggesting that Paul was approved to move on: "D/CEM.2 to T/TA 25.8.44: No security objection to the above."
  • August 26, 1944: STS 52 instructors indicated that he departed STS 52 as part of his final evaluation. "Sgt.Ronnfeldt STS 52-26.8.44. Departed 26.8.44. Previous impressions are confirmed. His morale is excellent. Furthermore, I believe him to possess certain qualities of leadership."
  • August 28, 1944: Paul received a cover identity. I think this was likely used as part of his spycraft training, and may never have been used in the field.
  • September 12, 1944: His STS 35 instructors gave him an evaluation.  While the wording suggests a final evaluation, that is not a certainty. And given the complexity and extent of the subject matter, I think the course may well have lasted longer than 3 weeks.

  • November 5, 1944: Paul was was given his final evaluation for a Group C mines and foreign weapons course (probably STS 47). 
  • November 7, 1944: There's an entry for this date: "SD Signed."  I believe SD is "Secrecy Declaration."  There is also a signed and dated copy of the Official Secrecy Act Declaration that Paul signed. I think this is associated with being given a new assignment.
  • November 20, 1944: Paul left the UK for Brussels. Belgium had already been liberated at this point, however, so this was probably just an errand of some sort - perhaps they needed a translator?
So, my best guess is that Uncle Paul was at STS 35 from August 27, 1944, to perhaps as late as the third week of October 1944 before being sent on for foreign weapons training.


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