Wednesday, 12 March 1941

Czechoslovakia: Operation BENJAMIN

S/Ldr Knowles pilots Z6473 in an attempt to drop the Czech agent Otmar Riedl about 50 km east of Prague, near the town of Kolin.

Sparse details for the sortie flown by S/Ldr Knowles come from the logbook of Sgt (later F/Sgt) Fisher, a Wireless Operator who has just joined the Flight. Fisher flies on several of 1419 Flight’s early operations as a member of S/Ldr Knowles’s crew; when Ken Merrick was doing his research for ‘Flights of the Forgotten’ he did have sight if Fisher’s logbook, and it gave Knowles’s target for this sortie as Czechoslovakia.

The sortie was to attempt Brigadier Gubbins’s SOE Operation BENJAMIN. This had been ‘bumped’ on February 17th in favour of an SIS operation to Belgium. BENJAMIN was important (though clearly not to SIS): a Czech soldier, Otmar Riedl, had been trained to provide a W/T link, independent of Moravec’s intelligence organisation, between the Czech government-in-exile in London and other Czech resistance groups. Riedl was to be dropped in the Kolin district of central Bohemia, near the village of Křečhoř. This is a crucial operation for Gubbins: he has to show that his fledgling organisation is a serious outfit: in the only SOE operation attempted to date the agent refused to jump.

Delayed by a technical fault, S/Ldr Knowles and his crew take off late, at 20.09. They turn back shortly after passing Frankfurt, having calculated that they cannot make it to the target and return to friendly skies before daybreak. Fisher’s logbook and the Ops Officers’ log agree that the trip lasted 6 hours 10 minutes, the Whitley returning at 02.18 on the 13th.

France: Operations FITZROY & FELIX

The sortie is flown by F/Lt Oettle. His Whitley leaves the English coast over Selsey Bill and reaches Chateauroux, via Tours, at 0145. Eugène Pérot, a wireless operator for Claude Lamirault, is dropped about 5 kilometres south-west of Chateauroux. To disguise the aircraft’s purpose the crew drops three packages of ‘Nickels’ (propaganda leaflets) over Chateauroux before heading north-east at about 0235 towards the Fontainebleau area.

Philip Schneidau is dropped at about 03.20 on to a large piece of open ground on the Plateau les Trembleaux, just to the north of Montigny-sur-Loing. The crew reports that he has made a successful landing, but a fresh breeze carries him over dense woods to the west of the clearing. He falls through the tree-tops and crashes into tree-trunks well above the ground, and becomes entangled. The wireless set is suspended in the branches above his head. It takes several hours to cut himself and the W/T set free. The parachute canopy is tangled high in the tree-tops, and he has to cut down this rather obvious advertisement before he can make his way off the plateau. He has been injured, first by the fall and then through his strenuous efforts to free himself and recover his equipment. He has fractured a tooth and damaged a leg from being bashed against tree-trunks during his landing.

F/Lt Oettle and his crew returned to Stradishall via Fécamp and Tangmere, landing at about 0550. Schneidau makes his way off the plateau to the cottage where his friend and pre-war neighbour Henri Glepin has been waiting, warned by hearing the aircraft overhead.