Tom Secker | Mar 11, 2013
At the end of WW2, as the Allied forces withdrew from continental Europe, the American Office of Strategic Services and the British Special Operations Executive left some paramilitary and intelligence units in place in the host countries. These so-called ‘stay behind’ secret armies had been used successfully against the Axis powers during the war, alongside various other commando-type units. Notably, Ian Fleming (author of James Bond) was loosely in charge of the famed 30 Assault Unit, and his brother was involved in setting up the stay-behinds used during the war.
The purpose of these secret armies in the post-war period was to act as a first resort fall back option in case of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. However they also had an implicit mission of harassing the Soviets pro-actively in time-honoured guerrilla fashion. During the Yalta conference Josef Stalin referred to this, talking about “agents of the London government connected with the so-called resistance” in Poland who had killed 212 Russian soldiers. Franklin Roosevelt suggested that would be a good point to adjourn the meeting, before Winston Churchill, without explicitly denying what Stalin had claimed, said, “I must put on record that both the British and Soviet governments have different sources of information in Poland and get different facts.” Given that it was Churchill who notoriously gave the order that British commando and resistance forces “set Europe ablaze”, the old soak was clearly just covering his back with this remark .
So, when the war ended this mission continued, with secret military and intelligence units operating in all the NATO member states, and even in those countries that were not members of NATO such as Sweden and, at least for a time, France. Only select members of the governments of the host countries were let in on the secret – sometimes even the heads of governments were kept in the dark by those within the military and intelligence institutions who were in the know. As such, the stay behind armies operated in the shadows, with almost no public recognition of their influence until 1990, when then Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti admitted that the units in Italy, codenamed Gladio, did exist and had existed for decades.