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Stay-behind Organisations in Europe

The Cold War started immediately at the end of WWII and would last until the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. During this period of great tension between East and West, most European countries developed an underground army of secretly trained agents that would stay-behind in the event of an invasion by the Russians. The task of the stay-behind organisations was to pass important information to the government(s) in exile and to carry out sabotage activities.

This secret stay-behind organisation is often called Gladio after the Italian variant of this underground army. The actual name of the operation varies between countries. For example: in Switzerland it was called Projekt-26 whilst in The Netherlands they went under the name O&I (OperatiŽn en Inlichtingen: Operations and Intelligence). In many countries the organisation was renamed several times over the years.
Stay-behind radios on this website
Post-war version of the UK Type 36/1 (MCR-1) MBLE Philips ZO-47, used by Dutch stay-behind from 1947 onwards ZO-47 USA spy set RS-1 (a.k.a. RT-3 and AN/GRC-109) RS-1 USA spy set RS-6 RS-6 German spy set SP-15 SP-15 German spy set SP-20 SP-20 Racal PRM-4150 (WANTED ITEM) PRM-4150 Telefunken spy set FS-5000 FS-5000

For communication between the agents and their government (in exile), but also between agents themselves, it was necessary to have radio equipment that could be used for long-distance communication. The equipment had to be small so that it could easily be hidden. In many cases the equipment was stored for many years in secret storage facilities (caches), often undergound.

In the early years, morse code (CW) was used as the main operating mode, and operators had to be trained in that 'language'. Furthermore, the operator needed in-depth technical knowledge of antennas and the (complex) operation of the receivers and transmitters of the era. It will not come as a surprise that many operators were in fact radio amateurs (hams). Rumour has it that, in the 1970s, the Russians assembled longs lists of European radio hams that would be eliminated in case western Europe was invaded.

Between the start of the Cold War and the early 1980s, each European country developed its own stay-behind operation, each using a wide variety of radio equipment. In fact it is often not clear when a radio set was used for the the Diplomatic Wireless Service (DWS), for espionage activities, for Special Forces (SF), or for use by stay-behind armies. Some of the popular radio sets are listed on this page, but other spy sets may have been used for stay-behind purposes as well.
Because of the wide variety of (incompatible) radios, and because of the increasing danger of using Radio Amateurs as operators, the ACC (Allied Clandestine Committee) that was attached to NATO headquarters SHAPE in Mons (Belgium), decided in the late 1970s to order the development of a pan-European system for communication between all stay-behind organisations in Europe.
This included some non-NATO countries as well [1]. It was also decided that the equipment should no longer use morse codes but digital data signals, protected by serious cryptography. The equipment had to be fully automatic, so that it could be operated by a non-technical user.

The project was given the codename HARPOON and in late 1980, the order was granted to AEG Telefunken in Ulm (Germany). In 1985 the highly adaptive HF radio set was ready for use and the Field Station became known as the FS-5000 [6]. The complete system was designated SY-5000.
Complete FS-5000 radio station

The system was capable of sending digitally encrypted messages over distances of more than 6000 km in under one second. In 1989 the Dutch stay-behind branch (called O&I) was the first to have fully automated radio traffic handling via their base station NEBAS [6]. By March 1991, all FS-5000 sets had been delivered, just before the various organisations were dismantled.

 More about the FS-5000 (Harpoon)
Cooperating NATO countries
The following NATO countries took part in the pan-European stay-behind network [3]:
  • Belgium
  • Denmark
  • Germany (West)
  • France
  • Greece
  • United Kingdom
  • Iceland
  • Italy
  • Canada
  • Luxemburg
  • Norway
  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • Netherlands
  • Turkey
  • United States
Cooperating neutral countries
The following non-NATO countries took part in the pan-European stay-behind network [3]:
  • Sweden
  • Finland
  • Austria
  • Switzerland
Gladio in The Netherlands
In the Netherlands a secret stay-behind organisation was formed just after WWII had ended. For many years, this organisation was known as O&I (OperatiŽn en Inlichtingen: Operations and Intelligence). Although its name was changed a number of times, it is often called Gladio by the public.

O&I was operational from 1946 right until the end in 1992 when it was dismantled by the Dutch Government. During this time, the network consisted of 100 to 200 agents that were trained in a variety of skills and were able to operate a range of clandestine radio sets. According to several investigations, the Netherlands was the only country that had a completely automonous stay-behind organisation. It was not controlled by NATO, MI6 or the CIA.

 More about the Dutch stay behind organisation O&I
The shield of the Dutch organisation. Click for further information.

  • Leo A. Müller, Das Erben des Kalten Krieges
    1991. 156 pages. ISBN: 3-499-12993-0

  1. Dr. D. Engelen, De Nederlandse stay behind-organisatie in de koude oorlog 1945-1992
    Ministerie van Algemene Zaken, Ministerie van Defensie & Rijksarchiefdienst/PIVOT
    The Netherlands, National Archives, Institutional Investigation, 2005. (Dutch)

  2. Danielle Ganser, The British Secret service in Neutral Switzerland;
    An Unfinished Debate on NATO's Cold War Stay-behind Armies.
    Intelligence and National Security, Vol. 20, No. 4, December 2005, pp. 553-580.

  3. Daniele Ganser, NATO's secret Armies: Operation Gladio and Terrorism in Western Europe
    ISBN 978-071465607-6, 2005.

  4. Geschiedenis van de Sectie Algemene Zaken, Hoofdstuk VI, Consolidatie
    History of the Section General Affairs, Chapter 6, Consolidation. (Dutch)
    Describing the period May 1970 - December 1981. Dutch National Archives. Top Secret. Partly declassified and released in 2007 under the FOI Act.

  5. Geschiedenis van de Sectie Algemene Zaken, Hoofdstuk VII, Voortgang
    History of the Section General Affairs, Chapter 7, Progress. (Dutch)
    Describing the period December 1981 - May 1987. Dutch National Archives. Top Secret. Partly declassified and released in 2007 under the FOI Act.

  6. Geschiedenis van de Sectie Algemene Zaken, Hoofdstuk VIII,
    Van Stroomlijning tot Ofheffing

    History of the Section General Affairs, Chapter 8, From Streamlining to Dissolution. (Dutch) Describing the period May 1987 - January 1994. Dutch National Archives. Top Secret. Partly declassified and released in 2007 under the FOI Act.

  7. Telefunken Racoms, History
    Timeline -> 1985, SY5000 adaptive HF system to NATO special services.
    Telefunken website. Retrieved May 2009.

Further information

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