Almost as soon as W/Cdr Knowles’s Whitley leaves the English coast it runs into thick cloud. It is only a few nights after Full Moon, so it is possible to fly at 1,0000 feet under 10/10ths cloud and still see. Enough, it seems, to identify Tours, but as they fly south the weather deteriorates; they are now flying under two thick layers of cloud at 1,200 feet. In the gloom they cannot identify their next pinpoint, somewhere between Chateauroux and Montluçon, so Knowles abandons the operation.
There’s no longer any point in flying low, so they attempt to climb into clear air. Shortly before 03.00 they encounter heavy icing and the port engine cuts. With the other engine running roughly they descend to 4,000 feet, at which the port engine picks up and runs normally. They head back towards England, obtaining a QDM (homing bearing obtained by W/T) from Tangmere. From there they fly back to Newmarket, where they land at about 05.30.
Several sources attest to OUTHAULLE as the operation intended to deliver Pierre Vandermies to the Zéro intelligence group in Belgium, notably Emmanuel Debruyne. The peculiar spelling of the operation comes from Knowles’s report; Knowles is not of a nautical disposition.
F/Lt Jackson and his crew take off at 22.34. (The Ops Officer’s log records 22.45, the difference probably due to Jackson taking his timings from engine-start.) On the first leg to Abingdon they find that the Met. winds are from the opposite direction to the forecast. They climb to 6,500 feet to cross the Channel above thick cloud, but cross the French coast above Le Havre, which has a heavy concentration of searchlights. Flying south, they find Tours at 01.19 but, after finding no improvement in the weather, and knowing a front was approaching, they abandon the operation. The experience of S/Ldr Knowles on OUTHAULLE points to the wisdom of Jackson’s decision.
On the return leg they drop pigeons and leaflets just east of Le Havre, but are held over Newmarket for 48 minutes; Stradishall’s 214 Sqn was operating that night, and several land out at Newmarket. The poor weather has affected bombing operations; the returning bombers take priority.
Operation AUTOGYRO C
The purpose of this operation is to drop two SOE ‘F’ Section agents near Mortaine, in Brittany, to work for the AUTOGYRO circuit. The two agents are Norman Burley and Ernest Bernard.
Sgt Austin and his crew cross the coast near Littlehampton, hoping to make landfall at Isigny. Cloud and rain builds up, so that by the time they are due to reach the French coast it is invisible. On ETA Isigny they change course southwards for Avranches, flying at 6,000 ft. On ETA Avranches they drop to 2,500 ft and set course eastwards for Mortaine. On ETA Mortaine, and still unable to see anything, they start a box search at 3,000 ft. They abandon the attempt and return, dropping pigeons between St Sever and Vire on the way. They land at Newmarket after passing Tangmere and Abingdon.
TNA AIR20/8334, Encl. 24A
Debruyne, LGSEB, p. 146
TNA AIR20/8334, Encl. 22A
TNA AIR20/8334, Encl. 26A