The SFHQ Patch
by Les Hughes
© 2003 by the author
The OSS was formed in June of 1942, its creation inspired to a significant degree by General Donovan's exposure to Britain's Special Operations Executive (SOE). As a result of an agreement between the British and American chiefs of staff in September of that year, the London Group of SOE fused with components of the Special Operations Branch (SO) of OSS to form SOE/SO, the purview of which was special operations in northwestern Europe. Of SOE/SO Foot writes: "In practice this fusion meant that American officers were introduced into many sections of SOE; their intelligence, enthusiasm, and originality made up for their lack of equipment, training or experience. They kept what remained an essentially British organization lively..."1 On 1 May 1944 SOE/SO was re-designated Special Force Headquarters (SFHQ). SHAEF and SFHQ shared control of the Eta-major des Forces Françaises de l'Interieur (EMFFI), the organization formed from SOE's F and RF sections to operate agents in and conduct special operations on France. Among the sections of EMFFI was the Sixième Bureau (Special Units) under whose control fell the Jedburghs and the OSS Operational Groups that conducted operations on (primarily) France from England.
What would an organization such as SFHQ be without its own identifying emblem? While I doubt very much that this question was posed within either SOE or OSS, someone surely has done, though by whom and when is an issue I would debate. For there exists a sleeve patch attributed to SFHQ, two examples of which are illustrated here.
The reader will have discerned a degree of skepticism on my part regarding the SFHQ patch. This derives from a couple of considerations. First, SFHQ must have been a secretive organization, dealing as it did with clandestine activities in occupied northwestern Europe. And yet we are to believe that its personnel were allowed to advertise their assignment through the use of a special insigne. Foot describes SFHQ as essentially a British organization, which effectively meant essentially an SOE organization. SOE as an organization did not possess its own unique emblem, and neither, for that matter, did OSS. In short, I find it difficult to believe that SFHQ personnel, drawn from two secretive organizations and engaged in sensitive matters, would have been allowed, for reasons of security, the use of a unique insigne. Second, there is precious little documented evidence of the use of this insigne. Indeed, I would go further and say I have yet to see any evidence that I find compelling. One bit of evidence, however, merits discussion.
In 1989 there appeared The Trading Post, the quarterly publication of The American Society of Military Insignia Collectors (ASMIC), an article in which the author claimed that the SF wing sleeve insigne had originated with the Special Duties Squadrons of the RAF. That article was written in rebuttal of an article of mine in which I presented the history of the SF wing as conveyed to me by individuals involved with Operation Jedburgh.2 Reproduced in the article claiming an RAF origin of the SF wing is a photo purported to be that of an American officer who is clearly wearing an SFHQ patch on his left sleeve. Why do I not find this photo to be compelling evidence that the SFHQ patch was worn by SFHQ personnel? First, there is the veracity of other claims made in the article. And, second, there are aspects of the photo itself.
To bolster his claim of an RAF origin of the SF wing, the author reproduced in his article a letter purported to be from an unnamed veteran of 138 Special Duties Squadron describing how the SF wing was formed by cutting down the RAF pilot's wing. I spent nearly two years researching this claim, and in doing so corresponded with numerous veterans (including former commanding officers) of 138 and 161 Special Duties Squadrons (both based at RAF Tempsford), as well as with two SOE Liaison Officers to the squadrons. And I made inquiries of individuals living in the small English town where the veteran supposedly lived. The responses I received left no doubt in my mind that the letter from the unnamed RAF veteran was a fraud, and I said so in print and detailed my evidence.3
Illustrated in the article was an SF wing that had been given to the author by a man whom he named and identified as a close friend of his uncle’s and as an OSS veteran who had kept the author “enthralled with well-told takes of OSS operations.” In 2008, the National Archives and Records Administration released to the public the OSS’s personnel files. There is no file for the individual named by the author as the source of his wing and well-told tales of OSS operations.
These facts alone, I believe, render suspect the author's other claims. But there are aspects of the photo itself that make me skeptical. First, the face of the officer is blacked out. I cannot think of any legitimate reason why this would have been done. Second, the photo is attributed to the "CSCH Archives," an organization that is unknown to all researchers whom I have queried. I believe no such organization exists. (The author admitted as much in a privately circulated letter attributed to him in which he described the CSCH Archives as a "Clearing House" to which ordinary civilians have no legitimate access and which, as a matter of policy, obliterates the faces of individuals in the images it holds. In order to spare his contact at the Clearing House requests for images from others, the author chose to cloak the organization's identity in the attribution CSCH Archives. It is an explanation that I find implausible, and I am left to wonder why, if the photo is genuine, the secrecy about its source.) Third, I found myself asking, why was the photo taken? What was it meant to illustrate? It appears to me the answer is, the SFHQ patch. The author makes other claims that are puzzling. He states that the most commonly found version of the SFHQ patch is a printed version, and yet no collector I know, and I know many in the US and in the UK with a keen interest in OSS and SOE, has ever seen a printed version of this patch. (The author illustrates in his article a printed version of the SF wing, the only one that I have ever seen or heard of. Silk-screening is a simple and inexpensive method of printing on cloth and was used to manufacture cloth insignia, usually in quantity. Why, I wonder, do the printed versions of these patches insignia seem to be known to only one collector?) He illustrates an example of the SFHQ patch in his collection and names the veteran from whom he acquired it. In his privately circulated letter he stated that this veteran had worn the patch while temporarily assigned to SFHQ and that he had not been a member of the OSS, a claim that strikes me as false given the fact that SFHQ was a fusion of elements of the SOE and of the SO Branch of the OSS. Given the sensitive nature of the work of SFHQ, why would it have utilized personnel who had not undergone the rigorous vetting of SOE and OSS personnel?
Until someone provides compelling evidence of the SFHQ patch having been worn by members of that organization, I will continue to view the patch as one that most likely was created for collectors.
1. Foot, M. R. D., SOE in France, H. M. Stationery Office, London 1966.
2. Hughes, Les, "The SF Wing," The Trading Post, July-September 1988.
3. Hughes, Les, "RAF Special Duties Operations: The RAF/SF Wing Hoax," The Trading Post, January-March 1992.