Monday, 13 October 1941

Operation MAINMAST

The operation

Three nights after P/O Austin’s strenuous effort at the limit of a Whitley’s endurance, F/Lt Murphy makes a final attempt to complete this operation at the very end of the moon period. Murphy and his crew takes off from Newmarket at 18.10 and they fly via Cabourg for Tours, but due to what Murphy later refers to as ‘varying wind velocities’ the Whitley crosses the Loire 20 miles up-river. He flies down-river to Tours before heading south to Limoges. Murphy notes that there is no blackout over Tours (which is in the Occupied Zone but close to the border with the ZNO) but when the Whitley arrives over Toulouse just after 11.30, in the Unoccupied Zone which might reasonably be assumed less unfriendly, the town lights below go out street by street, and Murphy believes he sees flak bursting above the aircraft.

They set course for the target. It appears that the reception party is using a car’s headlamps 3 km north of the pinpoint to act as a final reference point before the triangle of lights at the target. Murphy does a quick circuit and then straight into his run-up to drop the two agents and a pair of containers. The crew sees only one parachute, but the canopies are camouflaged, and there is no moon; they have arrived at the target before the moon, in its last-quarter, has risen. They check and find that the container containing mail has hung up in the racks. By this time the triangle of lights has gone out, so they attempt to drop it by the car headlights. The container stays hung-up. They make one more attempt without success, then return to Toulouse where the blackout is now complete. A searchlight lights up, but fails to find them. They head for home, and land back at Newmarket at 05.10.

The agents

The two agents are Sgt Jean Forman and his wireless-operator René Periou; both are Free French soldiers of Dewavrin’s BCRA. Forman has been on both the SAVANNA and the JOSEPHINE B operations, and has made his way back to England each time. This time they are received on the ground by Henri Labit, Forman’s comrade from SAVANNA, and Labit’s chef du réseau Professor Pierre Bertaux of Toulouse University.

Forman’s new task is to contact the several home-grown resistance groups in south-west France and mould them into a cohesive organisation under De Gaulle’s control. This is a tall order for a young man like Forman, for the only common link between these groups is a focus on preserving themselves and their different political beliefs for the day when France is liberated. To these groups the idea that their authority should be ceded to a self-appointed leader of the French who has chosen exile in Britain is anathema. It will take more than a young firebrand like Forman to achieve anything. It will take someone whose authority has been based on France’s pre-Armistice civilian government to mould the disparate groups into an effective organisation, one that can speak for that France which has refused to collaborate. In September that man has already fled France for England: his name is Jean Moulin.



TNA AIR20/8334, Encl. 92A
History of ‘RF’ Section, SOE: TNA HS7/123