The Special Operations Executive in Burma, 1941-1945

Duckett, Richard Anthony (2015). The Special Operations Executive in Burma, 1941-1945. PhD thesis The Open University.



In October 1940, in consultation with the Foreign and War Offices, it was decided that the Special Operations Executive (SOE) would establish a mission in Singapore. It was intended that this mission would prepare for war against Japan by organising resistance and sabotage throughout the Far East. This thesis makes an original contribution to knowledge by being the first study to focus exclusively on a history of SOE in Burma during the Second World War, and presenting new conclusions on the military and political role of SOE.

This thesis argues that SOE was able to have significant military impact against the Japanese during the first Burma campaign of 1941-42, despite obstruction from army commanders and colonial officials. In so doing, it challenges the judgment, prevalent in much of the existing literature, that SOE achieved little in the first six months of the war.

The evolution of SOE's supporting infrastructure and exploratory operations between 1942 and 1944 are also explored. Rather than working in a 'functional vacuum' as claimed in the official history of SOE in the Far East, it is shown that this time was of crucial importance to building SOE's reputation, thereby enabling SOE to survive significant challenges to its existence in Southeast Asia.

This period of SOE's evolution has previously received little attention, but these years are presented here as key to understanding how SOE was able to record major successes in the second Burma campaign during 1945. In this context, SOE's two largest operations in Burma, Operations Billet and Character, are used to demonstrate that militarily SOE acted as a force multiplier for Slim's XN Army; and that politically, accusations against SOE for creating post-war civil instability for independent Burma need to be carefully folded within a more nuanced narrative.

Viewing alternatives


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions