The resistance movement in Europe during World War Two played an important part in defeating Nazi Germany’s military might. The resistance movement – Europe’s secret armies or partisans – gathered intelligence for the Allies, destroyed communication lines, assisted escaped POW’s and openly attacked the Germans once the retreats on both the western and eastern fronts had started. Their work was vital for both the Russian’s and Allies but it was also extremely dangerous as any slips in security were ruthlessly exploited by the Gestapo. Resistance movements were found in all Nazi-occupied countries.

For two years, from 1939 to the summer of 1941, the resistance movements of Europe had found it hard to make much of an impression on the might of the German military. However, they had been useful in gathering intelligence for the Allies. The devastating Blitzkrieg attacks of 1939 to 1941, taking in Poland, Norway, Western Europe and Russia had given little time for each country to prepare any semblance of a secret army to undermine the invaders. Reports from commanders in the field to the German Army’s headquarters (OKW), indicate that the resistance movements were an irritant but no more than this. The savage repression of local populations usually did enough to put people off of joining any local resistance force.

However, all this changed in June 1941 with Operation Barbarossa – the attack on Russia. Communist groups throughout Europe had done little to assist any resistance movement in Nazi-occupied Europe. Now, with the attack on Russia, this changed.

“Right from the start, communist resistance achieved a remarkable cohesion and efficiency because they had long been used to working underground.”  Jean-Léon Charles

Within Western Europe, many would-be resistance fighters joined the communist resistance simply because it was seen as being the most successful. This, in itself, was to lead to a clash between the ‘normal’ French Resistance and the French Communist Resistance. Clashes between the two separate ideologies of the different wings of the Resistance movement also occurred in Poland, Yugoslavia, Greece and Rumania.

By the end of 1941, the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in Britain realised the potential behind organising the secret armies of occupied Europe as a mass – as opposed to separate blocks. Though complete success was never achieved in this by May 1945, remarkable progress was made in increased organisation, centralisation and planning.

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