Wednesday, 10 September 1941

Operation SARDINE

This sortie to the Toulouse area by F/Lt Jackson appears to consist of two agents: one from SIS, according to the SOE history of the Gaullist RF Section (HS7/123), and the other a wireless operator for RF’s 20-year-old Henri Labit. Since the failure of Operation TORTURE, Labit has been given a new mission, code-named FABULOUS. A W/T operator, Jacques Furet (alias Mercier) is to join him as FABULOUS P. Recently, Pierre Tillet has identified another wireless operator, Louis Richard, parachuted to set up a network called RONSARD/TROENE. It is not clear which agent is SARDINE; perhaps the operation name refers to them both being dropped close together. There is no other sortie for this moon period that might account for two agents being dropped near each other on separate sorties. Though agents from SIS are not usually dropped with SOE ones, Knowles may have insisted that it was foolhardily wasteful to send two aircraft unnecessarily (from the RAF viewpoint) to the same place on the same night.

The SARDINE target is in the vicinity of Moissac, between Agen and Montauban, north-west of Toulouse. Jackson takes off at 20.10, and follows the usual route via Abingdon and Tangmere to the Normandy coast. He flies south on dead-reckoning, altering course at 22.00 (Perigueux), and is only able to fix his position at 00.17, at Agen. Pinpointing at Moissac, he alters course for the target and descends to dropping-height. Jackson’s crew completes the operation from 500 feet at 00.46 in good visibility. The RF History merely says that Furet is dropped near Toulouse, where Labit has settled; so, according to Tillet, is Richard.

Jackson cannot be far from the city, for four minutes later he starts circling above Toulouse, dropping leaflets from 2,000 feet. He then sets off on the return leg, aiming to pinpoint on some lakes near Niort, on the river Sèvre. He flies over Dieppe above 10/10ths cloud, attracting a little light flak, and reaches Tangmere at 04.40. Abingdon cannot be identified. Poor weather conditions and incorrect W/T information lead them to cross the East Anglian coast at Orfordness at 05.18 before turning back westwards to Newmarket, which they identify at 06.35, and where they land at 06.40.

Operation BARTER

Austin’s Whitley takes off at 19.45, and heads for Dives-sur-Mer via Abingdon and Tangmere. Their target is close to Lac Biscarosse, on the Biscay coast south of Arcachon. Cloud and haze over France prevent them from getting a fix until they pinpoint at Chinon, on the Vienne, at 22.35. The wireless-operator notes the target in his logbook as ‘Lac Biscarosse’, but it is a little further south, about 5 kilometres south of Mimizan. They reach the target at 00.20, where they are greeted by two fires and an intermittent torch signal. Roger Donnadieu and his wireless-operator, Pierre Laurent, are dropped successfully and are seen on the ground, one near a fire, the other some distance away on the sand.

Austin then flies on to Perigueux where three boxes of ‘nickels’ are dropped before the Whitley heads home. Cloud increases until they reached the French coast, from where it remains at 9/10ths across the Channel. They get a fix at Brighton and land back at Newmarket at 07.50. The Whitley has been airborne for 11 hours and 5 minutes.

Lt Donnadieu is on loan from the Free French Army: his purpose is to reconnoitre Merignac airfield just outside Bordeaux, the airfield from which General de Gaulle had been plucked in June 1940, with a view to sabotage of the maritime patrol activities of the Focke-Wulf ‘Condor’ unit based there. These long-range aircraft are a constant menace to the Allies, vectoring U-boat packs towards the Atlantic convoys. However, Laurent’s wireless set is damaged in the landing, and the attack on the airfield is called off. But Donnadieu and Laurent have a secondary purpose, to organise circuits in the Bordeaux area with a view to gaining intelligence and sabotage.


One of the SOE files (in this case TNA HS6/184) recorded this operation as having taken place on the night of 9-10 September; consequently, so did MRD Foot in ‘SOE in the Low Countries’ (p. 259). But F/Lt Murphy’s report on his sortie dates the relevant sortie to 10-11 September, and this is backed by the take-off and landing timings contained in the Stradishall ops log.

Murphy takes off from Newmarket at 20.17 and takes the normal route south via Abingdon and Tangmere. On this sortie Murphy’s rear gunner is S/Ldr Stephens, Gunnery Leader for 3 Group, who flies on several sorties. The planned course is via Cabourg to Tours and Chateauroux, but they drift from their planned course, unexpectedly running into flak. Later they pinpoint on the Loire at Saumur, west of Tours, their intended route. Later, with hindsight, they believe the flak to have come from Cherbourg.
Murphy flies up the Loire to Tours, then to the target near Chateauroux. The target, according to an SOE debriefing report on Detal from 1943, is Chevannes, stated to be ‘about 11 miles NNW of St Amand’; the correct spelling is Chavannes. Though Murphy writes that ‘we had no difficulty in finding our pin point’, the agents are dropped about five miles south-east of Chavannes, at Uzay-le-Venon.

The agents

GYPSY is Julian Detal, and VERMILION his wireless-operator, Frederic Wampach. Before his recruitment to SOE’s Belgian section, Detal had worked in France for the Belgian Sureté; now he is to set up courier lines through France. In ‘SOE in the Low Countries’, pages 259-263, MRD Foot tells the salutary story of Detal’s mission, too complex to summarize effectively here. Wampach is mentally broken thanks to his previous experiences, and only transmits when Detal is standing over him; Wampach eventually makes his way to Belgium. Detal is sent a new operator named Courtin (MOUSE) whose foolhardiness gets Detal arrested. Detal twice escapes Vichy police custody, but he becomes suspected by the Belgian Sureté’s Lepage. Detal returns to London and is given another mission, as a result of which he is captured again and sent to Buchenwald, where he dies.