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Operation Gladio
Stay-Behind Organisations in Europe

After WWII, the Cold War was a state of political and military tension between the powers in the Western-Block (USA, NATO and allied countries) and the powers in the Eastern-Block (USSR and Warsaw Pact countries), starting around 1947. The virtual line between the two powers became known as the Iron Curtain [8][9].

As the countries in the West were constantly afraid of an imminent attack by the East, many western countries developed a secret underground army that would stay behind in the event of an invasion by the Soviet Union and their partners.
  
The emblem of the Italian SBO 'Gladio'

It was thought that after a Soviet invasion, the government of the invaded country would make its way to a 'safe' country, like the UK or ultimately the USA. The Stay Behind Organisation (SBO) had the task to pass strategic information to its government in exile, setup a resistance organisation and carry out sabotage activities, as to undermine the authority and morale of the aggressor.

Many European countries had such an SBO and although it had a different name in each country, they are commonly called Gladio by the public, after the Italian branch of the network. The Swiss SBO, for example, was called Projekt-26 or P26 whilst in The Netherlands it was first known as O&I (Operatiën en Inlichtingen: Operations and Intelligence) and later as A en B. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 [10] and subsequently the collapse of the Soviet Union (USSR) and the Iron Curtain in 1991, the Cold War came to an end and the SBOs were gradually dismantled.
 
Stay-behind radio sets on this website
Post-war version of the UK Type 36/1 (MCR-1) Philips ZO-47, used by Dutch stay-behind from 1947 onwards Spy radio set built for the Austrian Abwehr USA spy set RS-1 (a.k.a. RT-3 and AN/GRC-109) USA spy set RS-6 KSG-Sender (transmitter) developed by the BND in 1957 (wanted item) German spy set SP-15 Dutch version of the SP-15 with synthesizer
German spy set SP-20 Racal PRM-4150 (WANTED ITEM) Telefunken spy set FS-5000

In order to maintain contact between the SBO, its government in exile and the SBOs of the other countries, the secret agents used radio transceivers which were often hidden in caches, along with frequency charts, code material, money, weapons and ammunition. Such radio equipment is commonly known as spy radio sets, some of which are described in more detail on this website.
 
The Iron Curtain
During the Cold War, Europe was divided into two separate areas by an ideological and physical border, known as the Iron Curtain. To the west of this border was the free Western Block, consisting of NATO and the neutral West-European countries. To the east of the border was the communist Eastern Block, consisting of the Soviet Union (USSR) and its Soviet-controlled satellites of the Warsaw Pact. In the drawing below, the Iron Curtain is represented by a thick black line.

Europe during the Cold War with the Iron Curtain at the centre. Based on original drawing from Wikipedia.

Throughout the Cold War, Yugoslavia (here shown in green) was communist, but managed to remain independent of the USSR, whilst Albiania initially was part of the USSR, but became independent in 1960. Berlin, the former German capital that was divided in East and West Berlin, is shown as a black dot at the heart of East-Germany (DDR).
 
History
For communication between the agents and their government (in exile), but also between agents themselves, it was necessary to have radio equipment that could be used for long-distance communication. The equipment had to be small so that it could easily be hidden. In many cases the equipment was stored for many years in secret storage facilities (caches), often undergound.

In the early years, morse code (CW) was used as the main operating mode, for which operators had to take a long training. Furthermore, the operator had to have in-depth technical knowledge about antennas and the (complex) operation of the receivers and transmitters of the era. It will not come as a surprise that many operators were in fact radio amateurs (HAMs). Rumour has it that, in the 1970s, the Soviets had assembled longs lists of European radio HAMs that would be eliminated in case they (the Soviets) would invade Western Europe.

Between the start of the Cold War and the early 1980s, each European country developed its own stay-behind organisation and choose its own radio equipment. As a result, a wide variety of (in­compatible) radios, cipher systems and burst encoder was used for many years. When discussing 'spy radio sets', it is often unclear whether a radio set was used for diplomatic traffic, for special forces, for espionage or for stay-behind use. Some popular stay-behind radio sets are listed at the top of this page, but other spy radio sets may have been used for this purpose as well.
 
HARPOON
Because of the wide variety of (incompatible) radios, and because of the increasing danger of using Radio Amateurs as operators, the ACC (Allied Clandestine Committee) that was attached to NATO headquarters SHAPE in Mons (Belgium), decided in the late 1970s to order the development of a pan-European system for communication between all stay-behind organisations in Europe.
 
This included some non-NATO countries as well [1]. It was also decided that the equipment should no longer use morse codes but digital data signals, protected by serious cryptography. The equipment had to be fully automatic, so that it could be operated by a non-technical user.

The project was given the codename HARPOON and in late 1980, the order was granted to AEG Telefunken in Ulm (Germany). In 1985 the highly adaptive HF radio set was ready for use and the Field Station became known as the FS-5000 [6]. The complete system was designated SY-5000.
  
Complete FS-5000 radio station

The system was capable of sending digitally encrypted messages over distances of more than 6000 km in under one second. In 1989 the Dutch stay-behind branch (called O&I) was the first to have fully automated radio traffic handling via their base station NEBAS [6]. By March 1991, all FS-5000 sets had been delivered, just before the various organisations were dismantled.

 More about the FS-5000 (Harpoon)
 
Cooperating NATO countries
The following NATO countries took part in the pan-European stay-behind network [3]:
 
  • Belgium
  • Denmark
  • Germany (West)
  • France
  • Greece
  • United Kingdom
  • Iceland
  • Italy
  • Canada
  • Luxemburg
  • Norway
  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • Netherlands
  • Turkey
  • United States
Cooperating neutral countries
The following non-NATO countries took part in the pan-European stay-behind network [3]:
 
  • Sweden
  • Finland
  • Austria
  • Switzerland
Netherlands
In the Netherlands a secret stay-behind organisation was formed just after WWII had ended. For many years, this organisation was known as O&I (Operatiën en Inlichtingen: Operations and Intelligence). Although its name was changed a number of times, it is often called Gladio by the public.

O&I was operational from 1946 right until the end in 1992 when it was dismantled by the Dutch Government. During this time, the network consisted of 100 to 200 agents that were trained in a variety of skills and were able to operate a range of clandestine radio sets. According to several investigations, the Netherlands was the only country that had a completely automonous stay-behind organisation. It was not controlled by NATO, MI6 or the CIA.

 More about the Dutch stay behind organisation O&I
  
The shield of the Dutch organisation. Click for further information.

 
Austria
After WWII, Austria was a liberated but controlled nation, occupied by the WWII Allies: the United States (USA), the Soviet Union (USSR), the United Kingdom (UK) and France, until 1955. As the Cold War had meanwhile begun, the Western Allies were afraid that Austria would be invaded by the Soviets once they themselves had left. In order to protect Austria's autonomy, its was decided to setup a secret underground stay-behind army, that could be actived in case of an escalation.

The secret stay-behind organisation became known under different names, such as Militärisches Sonderprojekt (Special Military Project), Einsatztruppe (Action Group) and Österreichischer Wander-, Sport- und Geselligkeitsverein (Austrian Association of Hiking, Sports and Society).

 More about the Austrian stay-behind organisation OwWSGV

 
Publications
  1. Leo A. Müller, Das Erben des Kalten Krieges
    1991. 156 pages. ISBN: 3-499-12993-0

References
  1. Dr. D. Engelen, De Nederlandse stay behind-organisatie in de koude oorlog 1945-1992
    Ministerie van Algemene Zaken, Ministerie van Defensie & Rijksarchiefdienst/PIVOT
    The Netherlands, National Archives, Institutional Investigation, 2005. (Dutch)

  2. Danielle Ganser, The British Secret service in Neutral Switzerland;
    An Unfinished Debate on NATO's Cold War Stay-behind Armies.
    Intelligence and National Security, Vol. 20, No. 4, December 2005, pp. 553-580.

  3. Daniele Ganser, NATO's secret Armies: Operation Gladio and Terrorism in Western Europe
    ISBN 978-071465607-6, 2005.

  4. Geschiedenis van de Sectie Algemene Zaken, Hoofdstuk VI, Consolidatie
    History of the Section General Affairs, Chapter 6, Consolidation. (Dutch)
    Describing the period May 1970 - December 1981. Dutch National Archives. Top Secret. Partly declassified and released in 2007 under the FOI Act.

  5. Geschiedenis van de Sectie Algemene Zaken, Hoofdstuk VII, Voortgang
    History of the Section General Affairs, Chapter 7, Progress. (Dutch)
    Describing the period December 1981 - May 1987. Dutch National Archives. Top Secret. Partly declassified and released in 2007 under the FOI Act.

  6. Geschiedenis van de Sectie Algemene Zaken, Hoofdstuk VIII,
    Van Stroomlijning tot Ofheffing

    History of the Section General Affairs, Chapter 8, From Streamlining to Dissolution. (Dutch) Describing the period May 1987 - January 1994. Dutch National Archives. Top Secret. Partly declassified and released in 2007 under the FOI Act.

  7. Telefunken Racoms, History
    Timeline -> 1985, SY5000 adaptive HF system to NATO special services.
    Telefunken website. Retrieved May 2009.

  8. Wikipedia, Cold War
    Retrieved January 2013.

  9. Wikipedia, Iron Curtain
    Retrieved January 2013.

  10. Wikipedia, Berlin Wall
    Retrieved January 2013.

Further information

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Crypto Museum. Created: Friday 02 October 2009. Last changed: Friday, 23 December 2016 - 07:52 CET.
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