Thursday, 12 June 1941

Operation ZEBRA – Holland

This sortie is to the eastern Dutch province of Friesland, with the target near the village of Vledder. It demonstrates the roundabout route that SD crews often took in order to be sure of finding a pinpoint.

John Austin takes off from Newmarket just before 01.00 (strictly speaking, therefore, on 13 June – confirmed by the Stradishall Ops Officers’ log) and pinpoints on Southwold as the Whitley flies over the English coast for Holland. They aim for the island of Vlieland which is less dangerous than Texel to the west. They set course for the other side of the Zuiderzee (now the IJsselmeer). On reaching it they fly north seeking a recognisable pinpoint, which they find on seeing a white beacon signalling LW – presumably this is Leeuwarden airbase, occupied by the Luftwaffe. Austin is flying at about 8,000 feet to stay above any light flak, which they encounter between Minnertsga and Harlingen. They then pinpoint at the eastern end of the Afsluitdijk near Makkum, and set course for Urk, reducing height to 2,000 feet. The Noordoostpolder is still being reclaimed, and Urk is still an island, though linked to the mainland by a causeway.

Austin then flies ENE, his navigator map-reading from the front turret. They pinpoint at Steenwijk and then at Vledder. They follow the road from Vledder and drop their ‘passengers’ in a field at 03.28, seeing them land in the centre of the field. They circle and see that the agents have dragged their parachute to a hedge. This shows how bright it is and how low they are.

They then set course for Vlieland, and at 03.43 drop their pigeons over the town of Sneek, which lies directly on their course. After passing Vlieland at 3.54, over the North Sea they reduce height to 1,000 feet ‘to make use of cloud cover in the event of interception’ as twilight has increased visibility to 8 miles. This is the danger of flying operations later in the moon period during high summer, with a late-night take-off: it doesn’t leave a great margin for returning under cover of darkness. Civil Twilight over Vlieland was at 04.21 DST, so they make it out of Holland just in time. They land at Newmarket at 05.54, and at 0610 they report Operation ZEBRA successful.

The agents are Johan Jacob Zomer and Wiecher Bote Schrage. MRD Foot, in his ‘SOE in the Low Countries’, relates their brief career. Zomer appears to be the wireless-operator, for he is arrested on 31 August 1941, caught by wireless triangulation. He will be sent to Sachsenhausen, and he will die there on 11 May 1942. Schrage manages to avoid capture, and meets up with one half of the SOE operation GLASSHOUSE (Cornelis Sporre) who will be parachuted on 7 September, also by Austin. Together Schrage and Sporre attempt to escape to England by sea on 13-14 November, setting off from Peeten, south of Den Helder. They are never seen again.