The story of Virginia Hall reads like the script of a Hollywood spy film, except that her exploits were true. She was an operative for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), later the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and finally the CIA.

Despite the loss of her lower leg in a hunting accident, Hall was a daring operative who was hunted and feared by the Gestapo, the German secret police during World War II. The Germans published wanted posters of a woman matching her description, this “unknown woman with a limp” who set up and operated resistance networks, set up drop zones for air drops of critical supplies of equipment, reported on German troop movements, trained three battalions of French Resistance fighters for sabotage missions. And much more.

The German Gestapo’s orders were quite clear on this unknown woman. Putting all their known double-agents on trying to learn her identity, they said, “She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies. We must find and destroy her.”

So, who was this “unknown woman with a limp” who was so dangerous to the Germans? Some of her code names were “Marie Monin”, “Germaine”, “Diane”, “Camille”, and even “Nicolas”, but this extraordinary brave woman was just known to her friends as Virginia Hall.

Hall was born in a well-to-do family in Baltimore in 1906 and studied languages at Radcliffe and at Barnard College. Finishing her studies abroad, she attended schools in France, Germany, and Austria before landing a job as an American Consular Service clerk at the American Embassy in Warsaw, Poland.  She wanted to become a Foreign Service Officer but those hopes were dashed after she lost her lower leg in a hunting accident.

Rejected in her quest, she resigned from the State Department in 1939 and immediately was recruited for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE). While fleeing France after its fall from the German invasion in 1940, she met a British SOE operative in a chance meeting on the train. She was recruited and would become the first woman SOE operative sent into France.

And despite her missing leg, she quickly mastered the lessons of weapons, explosives, communications, the training of resistance groups and security. The British smuggled her in Lyon which was part of the Vichy French territory where she quickly developed contacts with the French resistance groups and helped smuggle Allied escaped POWs out of France. She worked under the cover as a reporter for the New York Post.

Forged French papers for Virginia Hall during her days as an operative for the OSS in WWII

Her work was successful for two years until the Americans invaded North Africa during Operation Torch late in 1942. In response, the Germans occupied the remainder of Vichy France and Hall now had to get out or face certain death.