Saturday, 13 August 2022

Revealed: Hurley’s secret role in defeating the Nazis

FOR more than 70 years, Hurley’s top secret role in helping the Allies defeat Hitler in Europe

FOR more than 70 years, Hurley’s top secret role in helping the Allies defeat Hitler in Europe was unknown — until now.

The village was used as the base for clandestine operations and became the US communications centre controlling foreign agents working in Nazi-occupied Europe.

Known by its codename, Station Victor, its shadowy past has been unearthed by researcher Phil Williams, who has written a book about his discovery.

Established in 1943 by the American Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor to the CIA, Station Victor communicated with secret agents throughout occupied Europe and within the German Reich.

Between 140 and 150 personnel worked on the base which received and sent coded messages in order to obtain vital intelligence on Hitler’s Panzer divisions, secret weapons and industrial war machine.

Villagers simply believed it was a radar station and when they asked what was happening were told the personnel were training.

The book, called OSS Station Victor: Hurley’s Secret War, tells the story of the centre from its conception, construction and operation and about the lives of those agents who risked torture and death in order to rid Europe of Nazi tyranny.

Mr Williams, 55, who lives near Wargrave, said his interest was first piqued by his late father-in-law, boatbuilder Pete Freebody, who grew up in the village.

Mr Freebody could recall the family home being requisitioned during the war to be used as a “blanket store”.

“He said ‘we had the US Navy stationed in the village’ and it was all very odd because it’s a long way from the sea,” said Mr Williams. “When he told me the word ‘officers’ was above the bathroom door you realised it was more than a blanket store.”

He was keen to know why US Navy personnel would have been stationed in the village and began researching the base on the internet until five years ago he stumbled upon an article in a publication called the OSS Society.

Mr Williams said: “There was an advert from a guy called Joe Tully asking for contact with any veterans that served with him during the Second World War at Station Victor in Hurley.

“That was the first time I’d heard two things: that Hurley was known as Station Victor, which was a codename, and that it was related to the Office of Strategic Services.”

Mr Williams joined the OSS Society and began to discover more about Hurley’s long-kept secret, including that an operational diary had been kept. He also studied the local landscape, maps and aerial photographs.

The document, which had started to be declassified in the early Nineties by the CIA, formed the main source for the book.

Mr Williams said: “Anybody who worked for the OSS was told they couldn’t say anything and if they divulged any secrets they would be shot. Even their families didn’t know what they did. Everybody went back to America after the war, nobody could tell, or did tell, any of the locals.”

For nearly 18 months during the war, Station Victor served as a base for many secret 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, helping to decide which targets the Royal Air Force and US Air Force should attack, allowing a greater degree of accuracy and  success.

Even General Dwight D Eisenhower, as supreme commander, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill were seen as visitors.

Mr Williams continued: “Some of the officers and men at Station Victor went on to become experienced field operatives within the CIA. The OSS was in fact the fledgling CIA.

“Everybody likes to blow a secret but it’s such a small village that had such an important role in the intelligence and clandestine world which, without a doubt, saved thousands of lives of Allied soldiers and helped bring the war to an end.” In September 1945 the unit was disbanded and the personnel abandoned the centre.

It was initially taken over by British Intelligence Services under the guise of the General Post Office and later the radar hut by an agricultural research institute and barracks by Hurleyford Farm. Three buildings remain and one is used as a store for the Hurley Regatta.

Mr Williams, who served in the Royal Engineers for nine years and worked for the United Nations as a mine clearance adviser, said he never set out to write a book and he was an “accidental author”.

About 120 people attended his book signing at Hurley village hall earlier this month.

Mr Williams said: “There’s a community out there which is really interested in this stuff. They love it and people are contacting me left, right and centre.”

OSS Station Victor: Hurley’s Secret War by Philip M Williams is published by Amberley Publishing.

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