Spies in Training
The commanding officers of the camp soon realized the impact and importance of Camp X. Requests for more agents and different training programs were coming in daily from London and New York. Not only were they faced with training agents who were going to go behind enemy lines on specialized missions, but now they had been requested to train agents’ instructors as well. These would be recruited primarily from the United States for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and for the FBI. Soon there were trainers training trainers for new camps that would be set up in the U.S.
To ease the demand for experienced trainers, a very successful program of weekend courses for OSS executives was established.
The psychological aspect of the training was most critical. Equally as crucial as the agent’s training in silent killing and unarmed combat was the development of his ability to quickly and accurately assess the suitability of a potential “partisan.” He had to be able to recognize a would-be recruit by being alert at all times and in any situation. He was trained to listen for a comment about the government, the Nazis or how the war was progressing, and to subsequently engage the individual in conversation, perhaps offer him a drink or buy him a meal. In this manner, he could further identify the individual’s philosophy and thoughts about the war.
Paramount among the objectives set for the operation, including the training of Allied agents for the entire catalogue of espionage activities (sabotage, subversion, deception, intelligence and other special means) was the necessity to establish a major communications link between North and South America and European operations of SOE. Code-named Hydra, the resulting short-wave radio and telecommunications centre was the most powerful of its type. Largely created by a few gifted Canadian radio amateurs, Hydra played a magnificent role in the tactical and strategic Allied radio networks.
When you step back and look at the 1940 big picture, you can see exactly why Canada was so important to the SOE as a base for their agents. If the agents were to be recruited in Canada, why not train them there? Soon the BSC had large populations of French Canadians, Yugoslavs, Italians, Hungarians, Romanians, Chinese and Japanese at their disposal and in a concentrated geographical area. It was easier to send a few instructors over to Canada than it was to send 500 or 600 potential agents to Britain only to find that they were not secret agent material.
The agents who trained at Camp X would have no idea as to their future mission behind enemy lines, nor, for that matter, would the instructors or the camp commandant. Camp X’s sole purpose was to develop and train agents in every aspect of silent killing, sabotage, partisan work, recruitment methods for the resistance movement, demolition, map reading, weaponry and Morse code.
It was not until the agent completed the ten-week course that the instructors and commanding officers would assess each individual for his particular expertise and subsequently advise the SOE in London of their recommendations. For example, one agent might excel in the demolition field, while another might be better at wireless telegraph work.
Upon their arrival in Britain, the agents would be reassessed and would be assigned to a finishing school where their expertise would be further refined. Once this task was completed, another branch of the SOE would take over and develop a mission best suited for each individual agent.
Want more war stories? Check out The Battle of Dieppe: 75 Years Later.