Benjamin Cowburn

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Benjamin Cowburn

Birth nameBenjamin Hodkinson Cowburn
Born(1909-03-13)13 March 1909
Lancashire, England
Died17 December 1994(1994-12-17) (aged 85)
Boulogne-Billancourt, France
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Special Operations Executive
Years of service1941–1944
Service number183828
Battles/warsWorld War II

Benjamin Hodkinson Cowburn MC*, Croix de Guerre, Chevalier of the Legion of Honour (1909–1994) was a SOE Officer sent into occupied France on four separate occasions during World War II. He was never detected by the Germans and holds the record for the longest period as an active SOE agent operating in an occupied country.[1]


Cowburn was born on March 3, 1909.[2] He had arrived in Paris, aged eight with his parents, and studied at a British school in Boulogne-sur-Seine and then at a Lycée. He later studied electrical engineering and worked for the American firm, Foster Wheeler, building distillation plants for oil refineries all over France. He was of course a fluent French speaker. He was married to a Frenchwoman. Due to his knowledge of the oil industry in France, he was seen as an excellent acquisition for the Special Operations Executive.

Wartime activities[edit]

Recruited in 1941 into SOE's 'F' (French) Section, Cowburn was trained at Wanborough Manor in the Spring of 1941.

First mission[edit]

Cowburn first parachuted into occupied France from a Whitley bomber on 6 September 1941 with Pierre de Vomecourt (aka 'Lucas'). His mission was to obtain information on the best targets for the sabotage of oil and fuel stocks. He returned to Britain in March 1942 via Spain.

Second mission[edit]

On the night of 1/2 June 1942, Cowburn parachuted from a Halifax bomber and provide direction for the French Resistance TINKER circuit in the Indre area. With the help of Augustus Chanteraine, Cowburn organized the reception of two airdrops of weapons and explosives (which had been prepared by Denis Rake before his arrest) that equipped the first resistance group in that area. He also conducted several sabotage missions, including the power lines from the power plant to Éguzon and disrupted production at the Bloch aircraft factory at Chateauroux by tampering with the machine tools.

He returned to Britain in a Lysander in late October 1943.

Third mission[edit]

Cowburn's third mission was to be his most important. Parachuting again from a Halifax bomber, Cowburn now took control of, and managed the TINKER circuit from Troyes, the capital of the Aube departement.

Cowburn reviews the intelligence gathering in the area and builds up detailed information for a commando-style attack on marshalling yard in Troyes (the largest in eastern France). On the night of 3/4 July 1943, along with other resistance members seriously damage a number of locomotive engines, several of which are put out of commission for several months.

He returned to Britain once again in a Lysander on 17 September 1943.

Fourth mission[edit]

Cowburn's final mission was to set up a new Resistance cell near Amiens. Arriving by parachute on 30 July 1944 he was also looking to see if he could intercept two fellow SOE agents arrested by the Germans (Pierre Mulsant and John Barrett). He was unable to locate the agents and shortly after the British liberated the area.



  1. ^ "Benjamin Cowburn: No Cloak, No Dagger". Archived from the original on 2 May 2012. Retrieved 29 November 2012.
  2. ^ "Benjamin Hodkinson COWBURN (The National Archives - Discovery Service)". Retrieved 25 April 2017.
  3. ^ London Gazette November 1945


  • No Cloak, No Dagger: Allied Spycraft in Occupied France (1958)

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