Sgt Austin and his crew make the second attempt to drop SOE ‘F’ Section agents Norman Burley and Ernest Bernard near Mortaine, in Normandy.
This night is near the end of the moon period, with light only during the second part of the night. They took off later, at half past midnight, and two hours later pinpointed at Isigny. They dropped pigeons at St Lô en route for Avranches, and when they reached Avranches they flew west ot the coast to check their position. At this point they were flying at about 3,000 feet, with a layer of cloud beneath them at 1,000 ft. They then headed for the target, but ran into 9/10ths cloud. 6 miles before Mortaine they pinpointed St Osvin through a break in the clouds, and pinpointed again at 4 miles from Mortaine by flying around another cloud-gap. But over Mortaine there were no gaps, and as the top of the cloud layer was 500 feet, 100 ft lower than the safe parachuting height, they abandon the operation, and headed for home.
This night is cited by MRD Foot (in SOE in France, page 163) as the delivery, by Austin, of two parachuted containers to Pierre de Vomécourt’s chateau, ‘Bas Soleil’; as Foot put it, ‘the very first supply drop of warlike stores to be made to France’. His information came from the Stradishall Operations Record Book. At best an incomplete source, this was probably all that was made available to him in the early 1960s about air operations. Austin could not have been in two places at once, and his logbook is clear; his five hours in the air were insufficient for a sortie to Limoges.
Knowles flies his second attempt to drop Pierre Vandermies near Montluçon. This sortie shows how different the same operation could be when flown under the right weather conditions with good visibility.
Knowles, with Murphy as navigator, take off at 22.23. The route flown is via Abingdon and Tangmere. At 23.25, after an hour’s flying, they set off across the Channel, reaching Cabourg just after midnight and Tours 40 minutes later. They find Châteauroux and Montuçon without difficulty. Near the target area a car is seen on the main road, so Vandermies is dropped about three miles further on. The agent’s parachute is seen to open and he appears to have made a good landing, at 01.33. On the return journey they reach the French coast about three miles west of Cabourg, and cross the English coast at 04.00, landing at Newmarket at 05.13 (05.15 according to the Strad log). There is no mention of heights flown or other data.
It is possible that Knowles dropped the two containers to de Vomécourt, but he is specific about coming home immediately after dropping Vandermies. He mentions no additional task in his report. It would have added at least another 45 minutes to his sortie, assuming perfect navigation, and the time aloft (6hrs 45mins) fits a trip to Montluçon and back. In any case Knowles would not have wished to tarry, given the short nights of June.