World War II Women Spies: British Spies, American Spies, French Resistance

During World War II, when all of the able-bodied men were enlisted but more help was needed, women volunteered and were recruited to serve their country. A select few became spies.

American and British women worked in France with the Resistance as secret agents helping in numerous ways. They became radio operators and couriers, helped train new soldiers, and found safe houses for Allied supporters and spies among other tasks.

This timeline of World War II provides specific dates of events in the following areas of the world: Pacific/Asia, Europe, America, and Holocaust.

Photo Credit: Violette Szabo, British Spy, who was shot at age 23 in a German concentration camp after being captured. Photo is in the public domain.

Lingo and Abbreviations

of Spies During World War II

Here are a few of the acronyms, abbreviations, and lingo used by spies during World War II.
  • FFI: Free French Intelligence (French)
  • OSS: Office of Strategic Services (American), which preceded the CIA
  • CIA: Central Intelligence Agency (American)
  • SOE: Special Operations Executive (British)
  • Radios were called pianos, and radio operators were called pianists.
  • Maquis: rural French Resistance fighters

The Wolves at the Door

The True Story of America’s Greatest Female Spy

Virginia Hall was an American who was a spy for both the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the British Special Operations Executive (SOE). She shot herself in the leg during a hunting accident and her leg was amputated below the knee. She was fitted with a wooden leg, which caused her to limp. She named her artificial leg Cuthbert.

Despite this setback, Ms. Hall, who was studying in France when World War II broke out, volunteered first with the French Ambulance Service. When fighting stopped in Vichy France, she traveled to London and there joined the SOE and was sent back to Vichy France under the cover as a New York Times correspondent. She later worked for the American OSS undercover in Vichy France helping organize and supply French Resistance fighters.

In her time as a female spy, she helped the French Resistance with supply drops, radioed messages to London, found safe houses for fellow Allied members, and trained French soldiers in fighting tactics.

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