SOE: Setting Europe Ablaze

  - 0 reviews
And now go and set Europe ablaze.

– Prime Minister Winston Churchill, as per Hugh Dalton, Minister of Economic Warfare (1940-1942)

In the summer of 1940, a pugnacious Winston Churchill ordered his Minister of Economic Warfare Hugh Dalton to create the Special Operations Executive and tasked this secret espionage organization with “setting Europe ablaze.” This is precisely what the SOE did.

Our 10-day SOE: Setting Europe Ablaze Tour will visit the top-secret sites where the brave men and women of the SOE were recruited, trained, and set out on their daring missions as well as the locations where British intelligence agencies masterminded the covert war against Hitler and his cronies.

From visits to the London homes of some of the SOE’s most famous agents including Christine Granville, aka “Churchill’s favorite spy,” to exclusive access to RAF Tempsford (the most top-secret airfield in Britain during WWII) and its private Museum of Military Intelligence, our SOE Tour will give you an in-depth look at the most intriguing and important locations and spies of the espionage war.

There are no user ratings at the moment.

Highlights

  • London's Espionage Sites: Walking tour of the espionage sites throughout London, including the locations of MI5 and MI6 and homes of special agents Violette Szabo, Noor Inayat Kahn, and the “White Rabbit.”
  • London's Baker Street: Visit the sites along Baker Street that gave SOE the name, “The Baker Street Irregulars,” and see where some of the most dangerous and daring special operations of World War II were planned.
  • London Cage: Visit the place where the most recalcitrant Nazis were brought for interrogation.
  • Cambridge American Cemetery: Pay your respects to the 3,811 Americans buried at the Cambridge American Cemetery, in particular those members of the top-secret Carpetbagger aircrews that flew special agents into occupied France.
  • The Firs, Whitchurch: Known as “Winston Churchill’s Toyshop,” some of the most sophisticated intelligence equipment was invented and manufactured here. You'll have a chance to see where the original “Q” worked.
  • Shuttleworth Collection: Get up close with one of the last surviving Lysander aircraft that flew special agents into France.
  • RAF Tempsford: Our group will have exclusive access to RAF Tempsford, the most top-secret airfield in Britain during WWII, and its private Museum of Military Intelligence at Chicksands.
  • Beaulieu and the New Forest: We go deep into New Forest, where Allied troops were hidden away before the D-Day landings, to visit Beaulieu. Today, Beaulieu is the National Motor Museum, but in World War 2 it was the top-secret home of SOE’s “finishing school,” where agents received their final training before deployment on their top-secret missions.
  • Royal Navy Submarine Museum: Get up close to X-24 for a detailed look at one of the last of the top-secret midget submarines that were used to bring agents into and out of France and could be found in the waters of Normandy on the morning of D-Day.

Day-By-Day Itinerary

DAY 1 Overnight flight to London

Guests travel independently to London on an overnight flight from the USA. If you would like to arrive early and have some extra nights in London, we can arrange your hotel for you.

DAY 2 London

Arrive in London, and make your way to the tour hotel. Group will meet for an early dinner/introductory remarks.

DAY 3 London

Today we start our tour of the many sites within London with a connection to the Special Operations Executive set up by Winston Churchill in 1940. Our afternoon tour will begin at Horse Guard’s Parade. We will pass the MI6 HQ and the annexes in Queen Anne’s Gate where the codebreakers had an office before relocating to Bletchley, and where the head of MI6 resided.There are also air-raid shelter directions still visible on the walls.

Standing behind From Queen Anne’s Gate, we will next go to 10 Downing Street and stop near the statue of Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Chief of Combined Operations. From this spot, we can discuss the cabinet meeting at which Winston Churchill tasked Hugh Dalton with setting up the Special Operations Executive and having the new organization “Set Europe Ablaze.” From here we will also talk about the secret tunnels hidden under Whitehall and the Admiralty HQ where Churchill was based when he became Prime Minister.

Next, we will walk through Horse Guards and past the old War Office to 2 Whitehall Court where MI6 had its HQ in WW1. Here, too, is the memorial statue to the Commandos who, like SOE, were formed in 1940. Their job was to “hit back” at Nazi Germany through daring amphibious raids, thus operating overground in parallel to SOE underground.

Following our visits to the area, we will walk to Westminster Abbey where we will have an opportunity to visit the memorial tablet dedicated to the male and female SOE operatives who gave their lives during World War II.

DAY 4 London

Our day will begin at the Cabinet War Rooms where, following an address by Churchill historian Phil Reed, guests will have an opportunity to visit the Prime Minister’s Cabinet War Rooms and the renowned Churchill Museum that is dedicated to the life and work of SOE's founder.

Following our visit to the War Rooms, we will board our bus for the short drive to Baker Street. Best known as the home of the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, during World War II the buildings along this street were at the very heart of SOE operations. In fact, the street was so central to the new espionage organization that its unofficial name was, “The Baker Street Irregulars.”

Starting just next to 221B Baker St., we will do a walking tour that will start with some of the most significant buildings associated with the organization, including its wartime headquarters, the main wartime headquarters of SOE where Colin Gubbins had his wartime office and SOE’s French Section briefed and debriefed agents headed to France, and Chiltern Court, where the Norwegian Section planned the famous telemark missions.

Nearby we will also visit 10 Duke Street, the location of General Charles de Gaulle’s alternate intelligence bureau; Orchard Court, where the men and women who had volunteered for intelligence work were screened and interviewed by the likes of Vera Atkins and Maurice Buckmaster; and Selfridges department store, the site of the vast Sigsaly voice security system that connected the War Rooms to the USA and the very spot where a V2 rocket exploded on December 6, 1944, killing eight and wounding 32 American soldiers and almost cutting the vital communications link between London and Washington, D.C. personnel.

DAY 5 London

Our day will begin in Grosvenor Square-the heart of American activities during World War I and II. We will point out some of the most significant buildings in and around the square including General Dwight Eisenhower’s wartime office, the location of the very first American embassy in Britain, and its embassies during world wars 1 and 2. Nearby we will stop at 68 Brooke Street which, during the war, was the office of William “Wild Bill” Donovan. Donavan was the founder of the OSS, the American equivalent of SOE and the precursor to the CIA. Around the corner at 70 Grosvenor Street, we will also have a look at OSS HQ, 70 Grosvenor Street-OSS HQ.

Next, we will take our bus to the Tower of London. We will stop outside this iconic London Landmark to discuss this medieval fortress’s role in the intelligence war during both world wars. Most importantly we will focus on the Salt Tower, which was used to house German prisoners during both world wars. It was from here to the moat below the tower that prisoners were taken to be executed. The tower was also used as a special interrogation center before the operation grew too large and it was moved to Trent Park.

Following our short stop at the Tower, we will proceed to see the London homes of some of the SOE’s most famous agents including Violette Szabo, YEO Thomas, the “White Rabbit,” Noor Inayat Khan, and Christine Granville, who was known as “Churchill’s favorite spy.” We will finish our day by visiting the SOE Memorial along the Thames and the FANY Memorial at St. Paul’s Church Knightsbridge.

DAY 6 Trent Park, Audley End House, RAF Tempsford

In the morning we will tie up any loose ends in London before driving a short distance to Trent Park. During the war this stately home was used by Lawrence Kendrick as a special interrogation center for top ranking German prisoners. Some of the war’s most startling secrets were revealed to the allies by unwitting German generals who thought they were staying in a five-star prison. We will have a look at the gilded cage where “the walls had ears.

From Trent Park, we will travel to the historic Audley End House. This English Heritage site focuses on the home’s long history. Built by Sir Thomas Audley, Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor, the house is one of the largest, and best-preserved, stately homes in England. The focus of interpretation today is on the house at the height of the Victorian era. We will have a sneak peek at the house’s wartime role as the home for the Polish section of SOE.

Next, we will have an opportunity to see one of the most intriguing and important locations of the entire espionage war, RAF Tempsford. This airfield was once the most top-secret in wartime Britain, RAF Tempsford was the home of 138 (Special Duty) and 161 (Special Duty) Squadrons RAF, which were tasked with transporting special agents to occupied Europe. We will see the remains of the airfield, as well as the site of Gibraltar Farm, where SOE agents like Violette Szabo left for their clandestine missions.

Our day will end with a visit to the American Battle Monuments Commission U.S. cemetery just outside of Cambridge where we will have an opportunity to pay our respects to the 3,811 Americans buried there, as well as the 5,127 names recorded on the wall of the missing. In particular, we will take a moment to remember that U.S. personnel who were killed while taking part in the top-secret “Carpetbagger” missions, which supplied Allied agents operating throughout occupied Europe.

DAY 7 Shuttleworth Collection, Military Intelligence Museum, Bletchley Park, Chichley Hall/Portsmouth

Our first stop of the day will be a visit to the Shuttleworth Collection. This world-renowned private aviation museum houses some of the rarest surviving aircraft in the world. What is most wonderful about the collection, however, is that most of the planes at Shuttleworth are still in flying condition. Of particular interest to the group is V9552-a rare Westland Lysander Mk. II Aircraft of the type used to transport SOE agents into and out of occupied France. We will have an opportunity to experience an exclusive up-close tour of the aircraft that is generally only offered to a lucky few.

After our time at Shuttleworth, we will drive a short distance down the road to the Museum of Military Intelligence at Chicksands. Located on an active military base, we will have a rare opportunity to explore some of the museum’s incredibly diverse collections which include rare examples of SOE memorabilia actually used on operations. Special items from the collection not normally seen will also be brought out and made available to guests. Drive 20 minutes to the Museum of Military Intelligence, Chicksands for an exclusive private tour of the Military Intelligence Museum, which traces the long history of British military intelligence-gathering operations from the Napoleonic Wars until today. Of particular interest will be the special displays devoted to the SOE.

We will finish the day at Bletchley Park, 20 minutes away, which is most well known as the home of the Government Code and Cypher School and the place where the famous Enigma code was finally broken. During our visit we will focus on the work of “Section D,” which was the precursor of SOE and the close connection between signals and human intelligence-gathering efforts.

DAY 8 Beaulieu and Portsmouth

In the morning we will leave our hotel and travel to Beaulieu and the New Forest. Today, Beaulieu is the home of the National Motor Museum and the place where the BBC Television Top Gear is filmed. While we will give guests time to explore one of Europe’s largest auto museums, the real reason for our visit will be to see the Secret Army Exhibition. Known as the “SOE Finishing School,” some 3,000 SOE agents trained at Beaulieu during the war, including Nancy Wake, the most highly decorated female operative of the war.

Driving back toward Portsmouth, we will stop to visit the Royal Navy Submarine Museum. During the visit, we will have a chance to get inside the last World War 2-British Submarine. More importantly, we will have an opportunity to see X24, the last of the midget-class of submarines from the war. These British midgets were used on a number of highly dangerous missions during the war, including Operation Postage Able, which was the pre-invasion survey of Omaha Beach. Submarines of this type were also used on D-Day as navigational beacons on D-Day.

We will then drive just outside of Portsmouth to visit Admiral Ramsey’s headquarters at Southwick House and the site of the famous D-Day map room. Inside the map room, we will discuss the critical role played by SOE Agents and the Jedburgh Teams they supported in conducting vital intelligence-gathering and espionage operations prior to the Normandy landings.

Time permitting the group will have time in the Historic Naval Dockyard to view the Royal Navy Museum and its original copy of the D-Day plan, HMS Victory, and the many other fine exhibits inside the site.

DAY 9 Portsmouth, Tangmere, Chartwell

Our final day will begin at RAF Tangmere. Legendary as a front-line airstrip during the darkest day of the Battle of Britain, in the later years of the war it was used as the final stop for agents on their way to occupied Europe. After taking off from RAF Tempsford, Lysanders taking agents to France would stop at RAF Tangmere for a refueling and final briefings before flying to France. While they waited, agents would stay at the famous “Cottage.” For many, it would be the last little bit of England they enjoyed. Our visit to this historic airfield will include stops at the old airstrip and control tower as well as the famous cottage. Our visit will end at the Tangmere aviation museum, which houses a world renown collection of Battle of Britain and SOE artifacts.

After finishing up at Tangmere, we will travel to Chartwell. Before we reach the wartime prime minister’s beloved wartime home, we will stop along the way to visit the grave of William “Billy” Fisk, the first American killed during World War 2.

At Chartwell we will have a private guided visit of the museum and collections and to have a chance to reflect on the contributions made by Britain’s wartime prime minister to the SOE and the “Secret War.” Our tour will conclude at the little churchyard at Bladon to pay our respects to Churchill, the father of SOE, at the family burial plot.

DAY 10 Home

One morning transfer to London Heathrow Airport for the return home.

 

FacebookTwitterEmail

Tour Dates

  • Tenatively April 29 - May 8, 2022
Book This Tour

Historians

$4,790 per person based on double occupancy. If rooming alone, there is a $1,500 single occupancy supplement.

Book This Tour
FacebookTwitterEmail