Colin Gubbins: Wikis


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Sir Colin McVean Gubbins
July 6, 1896(1896-07-06) – February 11, 1976 (aged 79)
Sir Colin Gubbins
Place of birth Tokyo, Japan
Place of death Stornoway
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Years of service 1914–1946
Rank Major-General
Commands held Executive head of Special Operations Executive, 1943-1946
Awards MC
DSO (1940)
CMG (1944)
KCMG (1946)

Major-General Sir Colin McVean Gubbins KCMG, DSO, MC (2 July 1896 - 2 November 1976) was the prime mover of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in the Second World War.

Gubbins was also responsible for setting up the secret Auxiliary Units, a civilian force to operate behind the German lines if the United Kingdom was invaded during Operation Sealion, the Nazis' planned invasion of England.


Early life

Gubbins was born in Tokyo on 2 July 1896, the younger son and third child of John Harington Gubbins (1852-1929), Oriental Secretary at the British Legation. He was educated at Cheltenham College and at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich.

Military service


World War I

Gubbins was commissioned into the Royal Field Artillery in 1914 and served as a battery officer on the Western Front, where he was wounded, and was awarded the Military Cross.

Interwar period

In 1919 he joined the staff of General Sir Edmund Ironside in northern Russia. His experiences in Civil War Russia and his subsequent experience in Ireland in 1920–1922 stimulated his lifelong interest in irregular warfare.

After a period with signals intelligence at GHQ India, Gubbins graduated from the Staff College at Quetta in 1928, and in 1931 was appointed GSO3 in the Russian section of the War Office. Having been promoted to Brevet Major, in 1935 he joined MT1, the policy making branch of the military training directorate.

In October 1938, in the aftermath of the Munich Agreement, he was sent to the Sudetenland as a military member of the International Commission. Promoted to Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel, he joined G(R) — later to become MI(R) — in April 1939, where he prepared training manuals on irregular warfare, which were later translated and dropped into occupied Europe. He also made a visit to Warsaw to discuss sabotage and subversion with the Polish General Staff.

World War II

When British forces were mobilized in August 1939, Gubbins was appointed Chief of Staff to the military mission to Poland led by Adrian Carton de Wiart. He was among the first people to report on the effectiveness of the German Panzer tactics.

In October 1939, following his return to Britain, Gubbins was sent to Paris as the head of a military mission to the Czech and Polish forces under French command. Gubbins was summoned from France in March 1940 to raise the "Independent Companies" — forerunners of the British Commandos — which he later commanded in the Norwegian Campaign (April 9 – June 10, 1940). Although criticized in some quarters for having asked too much of untried troops, he showed himself to be a bold and resourceful commander, and was awarded the DSO.

Back in Britain, he was directed by General Headquarters Home Forces to form the Auxiliary Units, a civilian force to operate behind German lines if Britain were invaded.

In November 1940 Gubbins became acting Brigadier and, at the request of Hugh Dalton, minister of Economic Warfare, was seconded to the Special Operations Executive (SOE), which had recently been established to "coordinate all action by way of sabotage and subversion against the enemy overseas". Besides maintaining his existing connections with the Poles and Czechs, Gubbins was given three tasks: to set up training facilities; to devise operating procedures acceptable to the Admiralty and Air Ministry; and to establish close working relations with the Joint Planning Staff.

Despite many frustrations and disappointments, mainly due to shortage of aircraft, he persevered with training organizers and dispatching them into the field. The first liaison flight to Poland took place in February 1941, and during 1942 and 1943 European resistance movements aided by SOE scored notable successes, including a raid on a heavy water production plant in Norway.

In September 1943 Sir Charles Hambro resigned as executive head of SOE, and Gubbins, now a Major-General, was appointed as his replacement. He immediately faced an attack on SOE's autonomy mounted by the Foreign Office, GHQ Middle East, and the Joint Intelligence Committee. Despite having the firm support of his Minister, Roundell Palmer, 3rd Earl of Selborne, it was not until 30 September 1943 that a modus operandi was agreed on. Gubbins' position nevertheless remained precarious, and in January 1944 there was a further attempt to dismantle SOE, following the revelation that SOE's operations in the Netherlands had been penetrated by German intelligence.

As head of SOE, Gubbins co-ordinated the activities of resistance movements worldwide. It involved consultation at the highest level with the Foreign Office, the Chiefs of Staff, representatives of the resistance organizations, governments-in-exile, and other Allied agencies including particularly the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS). It turned out that the organized resistance was more effective than Whitehall had expected; in north-west Europe, where SOE's activities were under Gubbins's personal control, General Dwight D. Eisenhower later estimated that the contribution of the French Resistance alone had been worth six divisions.

Later life

When SOE was shut down in 1946 the War Office could offer Gubbins no suitable position, and when he retired from the army he became the managing director of a carpet and textile manufacturer. He remained in touch with people in many of the countries he had helped to liberate, and was invited by Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands to join the Bilderberg group. He was also a supporter of the Special Forces Club, which he had co-founded.

Personal life

Gubbins's first marriage was to Norah Creina (b. 1894) on 22 October 1919. The couple had two sons, the elder of whom was killed at Anzio in 1944. The couple were divorced in 1944 and on 25 September 1950 he married Anna Elise (b. 1914). A shooter and fisherman, Gubbins spent his last years at his home in the Hebrides, on the Isle of Harris. He was appointed Deputy Lieutenant of the islands area of the Western Isles in 1976. Gubbins died at Stornoway in the Hebrides on 11 February 1976.


His star cryptographer at SOE was Leo Marks, whose book Between Silk and Cyanide (1998) contains a detailed portrait of Gubbins and his work as Marks knew it. At one point (p. 222), Marks describes Gubbins:

Described by Tommy [Marks' closest friend] as 'a real Highland toughie, bloody brilliant, should be the next CD', he was short enough to make me feel average, with a moustache which was as clipped as his delivery and eyes which didn't mirror his soul or any other such trivia. The general's eyes reflected the crossed swords on his shoulders, warning all comers not to cross them with him. It was a shock to realize they were focused on me.

In the book Virtual History (1997), British historians Andrew Roberts and Niall Ferguson call Gubbins "one of the war's unsung heroes."

See also



External links


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