Winston Churchill was begged to keep spy unit going to counter 'Russian menace'

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But the wartime prime minister inadvertently signed the death warrant of the Special Operations Executive by delaying a decision on it until after the 1945 general election, which he lost to Clement Attlee.

Lord Selborne, who as Minister of Economic Warfare headed up the service, argued against putting the clandestine force under the control of the Foreign Office, which wanted to merge it with the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS).

He argued that to do so would be "madness" and wrote that giving the Foreign Office control of the most secret of Britain's services would be like "putting an abbess in charge of a brothel".

The SOE was set up by Churchill and Baron Dalton in 1940. Operatives were engaged in a wide range of activities throughout World War Two, carrying out assassinations and bombings as well as being involved in espionage and backing resistance groups. They worked in numerous countries, mainly in Europe but also South East Asia.

Their achievements have been fictionalised in films such as Bridge on the River Kwai and Where Eagles Dare.

National Archive files show that Lord Selborne kept on arguing with Churchill to keep the SOE going after the end of the war.

They show that in May 1945, just two months before the election, he stressed it could be instrumental in containing the emerging Russian threat and dealing with what he described as the "smouldering volcanoes" of the Middle East.

Uncharacteristically, Churchill postponed the decision, writing "let someone else settle this" and "after the election" in his files.

However, he lost the election. Lord Selborne continued his campaign with Attlee, but the new Labour prime minister decided to shut it down.

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Randll Reese Besch - 8/29/2008

How much would have been changed if Churchill had worked with Lord Selborne anyway when Churchill would have lost the election? Wouldn't Attle simply have dissolved it anyway? The problem with some of these articles is that such important information isn't addressed!