Major Francis Alfred Suttill DSO (17 March 1910 – 23 March 1945) was a British special agent who worked for the Special Operations Executive (SOE) inside France. He organised and coordinated the Physician network, better known by his own code name Prosper. He was captured and executed by the Nazis.
Suttill was born in Mons-en-Barœul near Lille, France, to an English father, William Francis Suttill, and a French mother, Blanche Marie-Louise Degrave. His father managed a textile manufacturing plant in Lille. Suttill studied at Stonyhurst College, Lancashire, England. For the school year 1927/8, he attended the College de Marcq in Mons-en-Barœul, gaining his Baccalauréat. He then read law at the University of Lille and was accepted as an external student at University College London. In 1931, he moved to London to continue his studies and eventually became a barrister at Lincoln's Inn. He married in 1935 and had 2 sons.
In May 1940, he was commissioned into the East Surrey Regiment of the British Army. He was later recruited by the SOE and, after being trained during the summer of 1942, was chosen to found a new resistance network in northern France, based in Paris, with the operational name, Physician. His code name was Prosper and his assumed identity was "François Desprées".
On 24 September 1942, his courier, Andrée Borrel, alias Denise, was parachuted into France to prepare for his arrival. He himself parachuted into France on 1 October 1942 near La Ferté-sous-Jouarre. Suttill and Borrel, posing as brother and sister, travelled around a large part of northern France to start building their network, known in France as Physician-Prosper. They were joined by wireless operators, Gilbert Norman (Archambaud) in November, and Jack Agazarian (Marcel) in December.
During the first half of 1943, the Prosper network grew considerably, covering a large part of northern France, and involving an increasing number of locally recruited agents. There were parachute reception teams in the Ardennes in Belgium, near Falaise in Normandy, three around Le Mans and two around Troyes, soon to be taken over by the Tinker circuit. Also both the Privet circuit around Nantes and the Musician circuit around Saint-Quentin, Aisne were originally part of the Physician circuit. There were two main clusters: one in the Vernon/Beauvais/Meru triangle to the northwest of Paris and the other between Tours, Orléans and Vierzon, an area known as the Sologne between the Loire and Cher rivers.
68 supply operations were flown to these groups, but the location of 35 of those in June 1943 is not known as the relevant files have been lost.
Although SOE's policy was that circuits should remain separate from each other, circumstances dictated that almost all of the other circuits sent to northern France in the first half of 1943 had to rely on the Prosper organisation for radio communication with London.
On 15 May 1943, Suttill returned to London for reasons which remain obscure. He was parachuted back in France over Romorantin, now Romorantin-Lanthenay, on 21 May 1943, with another SOE agent, France Antelme.
The sequence of events leading to the arrest of Suttill started on the night of 10/11 June 1943 when some parachuted containers exploded during an operation in the Sologne that alerted the Germans. The local leader, Pierre Culioli, asked Suttill to suspend further parachute operations, but he refused.
Five days later, two SOE agents, John Kenneth Macalister and Frank Pickersgill, were dropped to one of Culioli's receptions. On the morning of 21 June, Culioli and his courier, Yvonne Rudellat, set off with the two agents to catch a train to Paris unaware that the Germans had set up extensive roadblocks during the night. They were caught and the Germans found packages of letters and instructions and radio crystals in the car, two of which were clearly labelled "For Archambaud". This led the Germans to Archambaud, for, as Culioli admitted after the war, he had the address of Archambaud in his briefcase when he was caught.
Culioli was taken to Paris on the evening of 23 June and, shortly after midnight, a German officer pretending to be one of the recently parachuted agents came to the apartment where Norman was staying and he and Borrel were arrested. The apartment was full of false papers and new ID cards were needed because the specification had just been changed. Suttill would in any case have needed a new one as he had changed his address on 19 June. The Germans sent a team to Suttill's new address and he was arrested around the middle of the morning of 24 June when he returned there.
Hundreds of local agents were arrested over the next three months, of whom eighty died or were murdered, mostly in concentration camps.
Suttill was sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin where he was held in solitary confinement in the prison block until he was executed in March 1945. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order posthumously.
Francis Suttill is honoured on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorial at Groesbeek in the Netherlands and also on the Roll of Honour on the Valençay SOE Memorial in Valençay, in the Indre département of France.
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- Hugh Verity – We Landed by Moonlight, (revised edition). Manchester: Crecy Publishing, 2000.
- Anthony Cave Brown – Bodyguard of Lies: The Extraordinary True Story Behind D-Day , 1975.
- M. R. D. Foot – S.O.E. in France, Frank Cass Publishers, 2004 (first published London, HMSO 1966). Official history.
- Stella King – Jacqueline, Arms and Armour, 1989.
- Sarah Helm – A Life in Secrets: The Story of Vera Atkins and S.O.E's Lost Agents, Little, Brown, 2005.
- Marcel Ruby – La guerre secrete : les reseaux buckmaster, France Empire, 1991.
- Paul Guillaume – La Sologne au temps de l'heroisme et de la trahaison,, Imprimerie Nouvelle, Orléans, 1950.
- Francis J Suttill – Shadows in the Fog : The True Story of Major Suttill and the Prosper French Resistance Network, The History Press, 2014. ISBN 978 0 7509 5591 1.
- Biography of Francis Suttill at Nigel Perrin's site