French WWII secret agent Robert Maloubier dies at 92
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Robert Maloubier, one of the last surviving French agents from Winston Churchill’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) during World War II, died on Monday night at the age of 92.
Maloubier’s life was marked by adventure, from his days as a sabotage expert with the SOE to his role in helping to establish the military's specialist diving unit, the French equivalent of the Navy Seals.
Born in 1923 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a wealthy suburb west of Paris, Maloubier was still a teenager when he was recruited to join the SOE. The organisation, which is also known as Churchill’s “secret army”, was created in 1940 with orders to “set Europe ablaze” by combating German forces from behind enemy lines.
Maloubier was trained in close combat, weapons and demolition, sabotage, parachuting and underwater warfare. He was dropped into France on two separate occasions during the war, which he once described as “the most beautiful years of my life, simply because I came out alive.”
He was tasked by the SOE with carrying out special missions and sabotage targeting German soldiers in occupied France, especially in the run-up to D-Day.
Maloubier was injured at least twice during the war, including on one occasion when he was shot several times after escaping a German guard by knocking him to the ground and throwing a motorbike at him.
He was still a young man when he left the British military, which awarded him with the rank of captain and the prestigious Distinguished Service Order for his daring wartime exploits.
After the war, he joined the French military, where he worked in intelligence for what was then known as the External Documentation and Counter-Espionage Service, or SDECE. In 1952, he helped found the French equivalent to the Navy Seals alongside French naval officer Claude Riffaud.
He and Riffaud designed the now-quintessential diver’s watch “Fifty Fathom”, which was released by Swiss watchmaker Blancpain in 1953.
Maloubier also spent time in Africa after the war, where he reportedly worked in Gabon as a forest ranger before taking on a position as a member of the country’s then-president Léon Mba’s personal security. He then went on to work for the oil company Shell, before finally retiring at the age of 63.
Maloubier wrote several books after retiring, including the 2011 memoir “Churchill’s Secret Agent” in which he recounted his life as a SOE agent and saboteur during World War II.
He was decorated as an honourary member of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II during a commemoration ceremony in France marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day in June, 2014.
He has also been awarded France’s highest honour, the Légion d’Honneur.