Hurley's Secret War OSS Station Victor
Hurley's Secret WarOSS Station Victor

History

Hurley is a quiet Thames-side village in the County of Berkshire and between 1943 and 1945 it became the site of a secret communication station used by the Office of Strategic Services or OSS. This intelligence gathering organisation was the forerunner to the post war Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and in 1944 it turned Hurley into a communication centre known to its agents by the codename VICTOR. In fact so secret was Station VICTOR that over the past seventy years it appears to have been somewhat forgotten with little publicised information about its existence and wartime role. It became an essential link between undercover secret agents working in Nazi occupied Europe and the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) based in London and its various offices situated throughout the south of England.

 

For nearly eighteen months of the war, Station VICTOR served as a communications base for many clandestine operations, such as the SUSSEX plan and Operation PROUST, the aims of which were to obtain vital intelligence by spying on the Nazi war machine. This tactical and strategic intelligence was then collated and assessed to decide which targets the Royal Air Force and US Air Force should attack, allowing a greater degree of accuracy and success. The intelligence sent back by these field agents was to prove vital during the forthcoming Battle of Normandy and provided the Allied Commanders with reliable intelligence on the German Army order of battle. Uniquely it was independent from any British military operational requirements so to provide communications for OSS Secret Intelligence (SI) and X-2 counter intelligence units, handling their radio traffic on route to the intelligence masters situated in London.

 

It was towards the end of 1944, once the Allied armies had established themselves on continental Europe that many of the field agent’s area of operations were overrun and liberated so relieving them of their operational duties. Some of these operatives were quickly reassigned, parachuting back behind enemy lines in order to continue their role. But as the front line continued to advance towards the German frontier stretching the lines of communication, a new OSS centre had to be set up in Paris. Station VICTOR’S role changed and it developed into a relay station between London, Paris and each of the US Army Groups advancing towards Berlin.

 

In 1945 the OSS became the only Allied organisation to fund and coordinate the sending of undercover agents into the Reich itself. Station VICTOR became the base station for various teams operating as far as Bavaria & Austria where Hitler’s die hard Nazi’s were feared to make their last stand.

 

Once the war was over and the OSS had completed its operational duties, they had to disband and close VICTOR down. The buildings where the servicemen lived and operated soon became redundant. The equipment was stripped out leaving behind the empty transmitting & receiving huts, control rooms, accommodation and mess blocks along with its engineering workshops. These buildings became the responsibility of the technical arm of the General Post Office (GPO) now part of GCHQ at Cheltenham and slowly sold off. Over time they have blended into the working community of the village parish and now most have since disappeared.

 

Station VICTOR quickly became forgotten. Many of the OSS personnel were never to return due as there was no operational requirement to do so. At the end of the war in Europe they were either shipped back to the United States or redeployed to other operational areas such as China or Burma where the war with Japan was still being fought. Some would later continue with their careers in the CIA never talking about their experiences due to an oath of secrecy. Many of the multinational field agents that communicated through Station VICTOR never knew of its exact location as capture would have compromised Hurley’s importance and risked the area being attacked. All they ever knew was that the radio operator receiving their coded messages was somewhere near to London. VICTOR operations were kept secret and even today parts are still protected by the Official Secrets Act. It was as though the base never existed.

 

But it was with some foresight that the activities of the OSS in the European Theatre of Operations (ETO) were to be recorded on the orders of its commanding officer, General W.J. Donovan. Throughout the ETO the OSS maintained daily war diaries which outlined in some detail the operational activities of all of its various branches including Station VICTOR. It is this secret war diary having been declassified in 1989 and released by the CIA which can be read today as a reference for this publication. This thorough and revealing diary covers the very genesis of VICTOR from its conception & establishment, through to its operational running up until the later stages of the war. Along with other OSS war diaries & documents covering the OSS Communications London, compiled under the direction of Lt. Col Joseph F Lincoln, this diary was copied onto microfilm and released into the public domain. Digital copies of these diaries are kept at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in College Park, Maryland in the United States and along with other declassified OSS documentation and photographs.

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