Friday, 10 October 1941

The weather has improved enough for operations to be flown. With several nights already lost there is a considerable backlog. The following narrative demonstrates how the ‘press-on’ spirit (though never ‘press on regardless’) applies to these aircrews. They know the urgency of getting these agents to their destinations, but these cargoes are precious, and more valuable than they are: agents are not bombs to be just dumped when the circumstances dictate. If the weather is as described below, it gives an idea just how bad the previous nights must have been.

Operation MAINMAST

This trip of 11 hours 40 minutes is at the Whitley’s limit of endurance. Its duration is comparable with S/Ldr Keast’s effort to Poland the previous January, though Keast’s trip had been pioneering a new route eastwards, whereas this one flown by P/O Austin is over familiar territory. He crosses the French coast at Isigny, but cloud obscures the ground over France as far as Tours. They fly on dead-reckoning until the cloud clears and they are able to map-read to Toulouse, which they reach at half-past midnight. Austin circles Toulouse to get a good fix for setting course for the target, but although they see several lights in the target area, none fits the bill for a reception-party. They remain circling in the area, looking for the correct light-formation, but have to leave at about 1.15 without success. It’s a long way to come for no result.

Headed for home, they run into 10/10ths cloud almost immediately. They fly some 33° off-course for 15 minutes before Austin realises that he has not engaged the verge ring that physically locks the course into the compass. They cross the French coast at 4.48 but cannot identify precisely where. The wireless-operator picks up a homing beacon for Tangmere and Austin lands there shortly after six.

Operation PEAR

There is no SOE file on this operation, and no agent identified as PEAR, but F/O Hockey’s report tells us that the target was near Ménétréols. Hockey takes off much later, at 21.20, but his is a much shorter trip. He experiences much the same weather as Austin, but he takes a different approach, opting to fly rather low. East of Tours, he attempts to fly up the Cher river to Vierzon at about 2,000 feet beneath 9/10ths cloud, but as the river ascends the cloud descends. Hockey returns to Tours and has another go, this time at 500-600 feet, but has to flew up into the clag at St Julien. Undaunted, he retraces his course, picks up the river at Blère, just short of Tours, and tries again. This time he flies “just above the tree-tops along the river” (which must have been hair-raising for his crew in less-than-perfect visibility beneath cloud, at night; the moon is well past its full brilliance) and reaches Vierzon. He then flies to Neuvy, turns left to follow the Ménétréols road, and drops PEAR somewhere in between the two.

There are a few Ménétréols and Neuvys in the area. Most other SD operations in the area are south-east of Vierzon, but the Ménétréols and Neuvys in this area do not tally with Hockey’s account. The pair that do fit are located north-east of Vierzon: Neuvy-sur Barangeon and Ménétréol-sur-Sauldre.

Operation INTERALLIE, SUZANNE

INTERALLIÉ is the Polish agent Roman Garby-Czerniawski, working semi-independently in Paris for the Polish F2 organisation, based in the Non-Occupied Zone under Colonel Zembinski. SUZANNE is what Czerniawski calls a ‘radio station’: one or more W/T sets parachuted to a reception committee near the Loire, but intended users are not identified. Garby-Czerniawski is briefed on how to use the ‘A’ type parachute by his escorting officer, ‘Captain Philipson’. Czerniawski believes ‘Philipson’ to be a British Army captain, and even after the war, when writing his memoir ‘The Big Network’, Garby-Czerniawski appears unaware that SIS agent Philip Schneidau – ‘Philipson’ being a nom-de-guerre to protect his family in Paris – has already completed two missions. Despite living in France all his life except for his schooling in England, Schneidau speaks French with an English accent; while it might pass without notice to a German, it wouldn’t to a native Frenchman.

Sgt Reimer and his crew take off at 20.55 and head for France via Abingdon and Tangmere. On crossing the French coast, they head for Angers on the Loire. (Reimer mis-spells it as Angiers.) This is their pinpoint for the run-in to SUZANNE. The 2nd Pilot, P/O Smith, map-reads to the target, where they are met by a triangle of lights and the letter ‘K’ flashed by the reception committee. Operation SUZANNE is completed successfully. Reimer’s report indicates that two packages were dropped, both canopies being seen to open.

Reimer then sets course south-east for Berthegon, the pinpoint for dropping INTERALLIÉ. Reimer encounters cloud at 700 feet, but they carry on. Reimer admits that Czerniawski is dropped about three miles north-west of the actual target. (In his memoir Czerniawski is less than complimentary about the navigator: three miles from the pinpoint may be nothing in the air, but on foot it’s a big deal.) Without any real idea where he is, Czerniawski is lost. Eventually he finds a signpost:

The signpost is a beauty; it has three arms showing in three directions! I read the names of the localities, slide down into the roadside,and with a torch covered by my mackintosh try to find my position. Minutes pass, and no trace of even a similar name! I try the alternative area discussed with Phillipson, some thirty miles north. Again no trace of the names. Moving helplessly my finger on the map, by coincidence I find one name, then the second, then the third — just between the two indicated areas . . . I don’t like swearing but i do it now and do it wholeheartedly. I dishonour the navigator’s family for several generations back into the past and forwards onto the future . . . that gives me a bit of relief.

Reimer and his crew head for home, landing at 3.35. After burying his parachute equipment, Czerniawski walks carefully in the moonlight, carrying his gramophone and stopping often to check he is not being followed. He reaches the edge of a small village and waits for the village to wake up. He risks asking a local about the next bus for Tours, and is told that he has half an hour to wait, time to enjoy an ersatz coffee. He reaches Paris the same afternoon. He carries two letters: one from a Major Heath written to his family in Paris; the other handed to him by ‘Captain Philipson’ for delivery to his wife. The envelope is blank, so Czerniawski writes the dictated address in his diary ‘in a conspiratorial manner’. Phillipson’s letter is delivered to his wife’s apartment in Paris by Czerniawski’s mistress, Renée Borni. This tenuous link with the InterAllié network will bring severe consequences for the Schneidau family.

Operation CORSICAN, TRIPOD, DIVINER, TRIPOD III, HICCUP

The CORSICAN mission consists of four ‘F’ section agents: CORSICAN (Jack Hayes), DIVINER (Daniel Turberville), and HICCUP (Jean le Harivel). Though TRIPOD appears – by deduction – to be 2/Lt Clément Marc Jumeau, a planter from the Seychelles, other TRIPOD operations have been container-drops. (In his SOE file Jumeau is frequently referred to as REPORTER, but REPORTER is his code-name for a later operation in 1943, not this one.) The codenames HICCUP and TRIPOD III are added in ink to Jackson’s report. TRIPOD III may refer to the two containers of weapons and sabotage materials.

F/Lt Jackson’s Whitley takes off at 18.12, and the French coast is reached two hours later, about 45 minutes after moonrise. Headed for Bergerac, the Whitley runs into thick layers of cloud: 10/10ths below 5,000 feet, and 9/10ths above 6,000. (Presumably they are flying between the layers to know this.) Heavy rain showers make matters worse. At 22.40 they incorrectly identify the town of Bergerac, on the Dordogne river, but return there after failing to see any identifiable lights at the target. (The pattern is a triangle of lights, two white and one red.) They then fly 40 miles south to Aiguillon (Jackson writes it up as ‘Augillon’), a pinpoint at the junction of the Lot and Garonne rivers, to verify their position. They return to identify Bergerac, this time correctly. Nine minutes later, at 23.50, they identify the target. The reception committee (Jean Pierre-Bloch, Edouard Dupuy and Albert Rigoulet) are near a cross-roads called Lagudal, in the commune of Beleymas. Jackson’s report states that they drop all four agents, but French sources indicate that only three went down on this first pass.

Another run to drop the containers is abandoned, for the crew loses sight of the lights, but the lights are seen again at 11.03 after circling the target area, and the containers are dropped three minutes later. However, Turberville is dropped with the two containers some 10 km north of the reception committee, and is completely isolated from the others. The Whitley then returns to England, experiencing similar poor weather across France.

There seems to have been two causes of the error: first, that the red light could be seen from only one direction, and in the absence of blackout the other two white ones didn’t stand out on their own; second, at low level the lights could easily be obscured by the area’s undulating hills, dotted with woods, as the Whitley circled the area. One wonders what lights the crew saw just before they dropped the containers and Turberville.

All this effort is in vain. Turberville is arrested the next morning by the Gendarmerie, and the containers are found a little later. The others don’t stay free for long, but their capture is due to other factors. Gilbert Turck has rented a ‘safe house’ in Marseilles called the Villa des Bois. London has given this address to the CORSICAN agents, including Turberville, and thus to the Vichy police, who lay a trap and net, in rapid succession, Clément Jumeau, Jean Pierre-Bloch, Jack Hayes and Georges Bégué. They are incarcerated until the summer of 1942, when they all escape in a mass breakout engineered by Bégué and resourced by Pierre-Bloch’s gallant wife Denise.

In December 1941 Turberville jumps from the train as he is being transferred to Lyon, and is hidden for over a year by farmers in a village near Roanne. He makes his way to England via the Pyrenees and Spain, and reaches England in April 1943.

Lieutenant Jumeau, commissioned into the Intelligence Corps, is promoted to Captain shortly before he leaves on another mission on 12 April 1943, now codenamed as REPORTER and destined for the Lyon area. The Halifax delivering him crashes at Douvres-la-Délivrande, north of Caen. Jumeau and another agent, Lt Louis Lee-Graham (SURGEON), a Durham Light Infantryman, survive the crash but are captured almost immediately in civilian clothes. To protect Jumeau’s relatives in France, Lee-Graham loans him part of his name, so Jumeau becomes Captain Mark Graham and Lee-Graham becomes Captain Louis Lee.

They are taken to Germany for interrogation and are imprisoned in a civilian prison in Frankfurt under terrible conditions of solitary confinement. Jumeau contracts tuberculosis, and Lee-Graham also becomes seriously ill. In March 1944 they are force-marched to the military prison at Torgau. After a short spell in a prison hospital without treatment Jumeau dies on 26 March 1944. Lee-Graham survives.