Sunday, 11 May 1941


The first attempt at Operation JOSEPHINE had ended badly for the Whitley’s crew, with two fatalities and three seriously wounded, including the pilot, F/Lt Jack Oettle. The Polish agents had not been seriously harmed, but the delay had allowed time for three Frenchmen from Brigadier Gubbins’s newly-established RF Section of SOE to be prepared for the operation. Sgt J. Forman (who had made it back remarkably quickly from Operation SAVANNA), Sous-Lt Raymond Varnier, and Sous-Lt Raymond Cabard were the agents. The scale of the operation was half that of the earlier attempt, but the intended outcome wasn’t impeded.

Jackson and his crew took off from Stradishall half an hour before midnight, but had to circle Abingdon while the wireless-operator checked out a fault with his set. On such a long-range flight the W/T equipment was essential for navigation, it being used to take bearings from home-based radio beacons and, once over France, from foreign radio stations. These were fed to the Navigator. A strong German Forces’ transmitter at Rennes, in Brittany, was especially useful.

Once over Tangmere, course was set for ‘Ile Deke’ (Jackson’s version of the Île d’Aix, between the Île d’Oléron and the mainland). They flew at 8,000 feet above 10/10th cloud until they passed 48°30’N (roughly level with Avranches), the cloud cleared, replaced by low mist and haze.

They eventually spotted La Rochelle to port, and changed course for the target area. Once over the Bordeaux area the crew was expecting some kind of diversionary raid (such as 2 Group had laid on for SAVANNA) to cover their parachuting activity, but there was none. The three agents were dropped at about 01.30, and were seen to have dropped safely with their container near a wood.

After dropping the agents the Whitley headed west, away from trouble into the Bay of Biscay, then north to Ushant, and so to St. Eval, which they spotted by searchlights playing on the underside of the cloud-base. It’s not clear whether St Eval was guiding them in; it was quite common practice for searchlights to shepherd an errant bomber to its base in this manner.

A final comment in the report: “the W/T installation was unreliable for HF/DF assistance” indicates that their only navigation aid beside the aircraft compass was little use. All things considered, the crew did well to find their target, and almost as well to find their way back. It took only a small error, or series of small errors, for an aircraft without W/T aids to miss the south-west peninsula and end up in the Irish Sea. Hence the searchlights over St Eval.

To find out how the operation went after the agents’ landing, I suggest you look at the Wikipedia page on Operation JOSEPHINE.