Monthly Archives: September 1940

Saturday, 21 September 1940

Tangmere — Fontainebleau, France

The third attempt to parachute Philip Schneidau: F/O Jack Oettle makes his debut in 419 Flight as Whitley P5029’s skipper. F/Lt Walter Farley is his Second Pilot, with Sergeants Bernard and Davis as Wireless Operator & Air Gunner, and S/Ldr Ross Shore as Despatcher. Other crew remain unidentified.

Taking off from Tangmere at 23.00, they fly in bright moonlight until 20 minutes from the target, where they run into thick mist. Oettle flies as low as he dares over the target area, but still can’t see the sand pit. Yet again they abandon. On their return to Tangmere, it’s planned to give the agent and crew a night’s rest, then try again the following night. This is the last possible night of the September moon period, but Knowles knows that the weather forecast for the next few days is against them. The next attempt is postponed until the start of the next moon period, probably on 10th October.

Friday, 20 September 1940

RAF Tangmere

After several days of poor weather as forecast, the second attempt to drop Philip Schneidau is made on the night of 20-21 September. F/Lt Walter Farley, who had flown as Second Pilot on the first attempt, appears to be the skipper this time. He does not record the Second Pilot in his logbook. Sgt Savile, listed as Navigator, may also have been the navigator on the first attempt, even though Knowles had assured SIS after the first attempt that the NCO navigator would be replaced by a commissioned officer. S/Ldr Ross Shore and Sergeants Davis and Bernard are all in Farley’s crew. A crossed-out entry in Farley’s logbook lists Sgt Cameron in the crew; he would become the Flight’s first Despatcher, but at the time he was a corporal. (Farley’s logbook for this period appears to have been filled in several months later.)

This time they reach the target area, only to find it wreathed in low cloud. As anyone who has visited the Spa Francorchamps Formula 1 circuit can tell you, elevated forest land in early autumn tends to attract its own low cloud-system even when the surrounding countryside is in bright sunshine (or moonlight in this case). Though the target, a large quarry of white limestone sand, is visible from afar in clear weather, mist or fog renders it invisible within a few feet. even from above.

Farley’s logbook records the sortie as lasting 3 hours 55 minutes, and although Ross Shore’s logbook records a sortie lasting 8 hours (dated incorrectly to the 19th) with Farley as skipper, a reliable source states that take-off was at midnight on the 20-21st, with the aircraft returning at 04.30, after descending to 300 feet over the target area, a risky business given that the analogue altimeter would have been set at base; lower pressure over the target would have caused it to misread upwards. It is not stated where this sortie was mounted from, but it was probably from Tangmere.

Tuesday, 17 September 1940

RAF North Weald

F/Lt Tony O’Neill flies S/Ldr Ross Shore to Dishforth in Lysander R2626.  This Lysander is non-operational: like R2625 (lost on 17-18 August) it is a standard-range Lysander, without the underslung Harrow-derived fuel tank, so cannot be used on operations. It becomes 419 Flight’s unofficial liaison aircraft, but it is also used for training agents in the selection and and laying out of landing-fields in Occupied territory.

According to its AM78 record card, R2626 continues serving with 138 and 161 squadrons until mid-March 1942, when 138 Squadron moves to Tempsford.

Shortly afterwards F/Lt O’Neill is posted away to another squadron within Fighter Command, where he excels as a fighter pilot.

Sunday, 15 September 1940

Battle of Britain Day

The crucial day of the Battle of Britain: until the 15th it is not clear whether the RAF will win; after the 15th it appears unlikely to lose.

Massive daylight raids are launched against London. All of 11 Group’s aircraft are committed to the Battle. Provisional figures of 175 German aircraft downed are given to The Times for publication the next day. On Tuesday the paper increase this figure to 185, against the loss of only 25 British fighters (with 12 pilots safe). Anti-aircraft guns claim seven of the total. (The real figures are about 60 German aircraft losses versus 29 British fighter losses plus 21 damaged.) The large daylight raids cease; the Luftwaffe increasingly turns to night bombing.

RAF North Weald

Whitley V, serial P5029, is taken on charge by No. 419 Flight.

RAF Tangmere

The first attempt to parachute Philip Schneidau into France appears to have been carried out on the night of the 15-16 September. Though some logbook entries differ*, correspondence makes this date the most likely. One night later than originally scheduled (for the 14-15th), the delay is probably due to the late delivery of the Flight’s first Whitley. Whitley P5029 is flown from North Weald to Tangmere, where it is fuelled up for the operation. The agent joins at Tangmere, having been driven down by car.

F/Lt J.A. ‘Tony’ O’Neill, DFC is the Whitley’s skipper, with F/Lt Walter Farley as 2nd Pilot. S/Ldr Shore, AFC, acts as Schneidau’s despatcher and parachuting coach, at the agent’s insistence. Sergeants Davies and Bernard, until recently instructing trainee Wireless Operators at No. 10 OTU, Abingdon, are the Wireless Operator and Rear Gunner, though who was which is not known. The navigator is an unidentified sergeant. Takeoff is scheduled for 2100, but they don’t take off from Tangmere until 0015hrs (i.e. the 16th). S/Ldr Shore’s timings show a flight of 8 hours, while Farley’s shows 6 hours 5 minutes; Shore may have recorded the total flight-time from North Weald. The aircraft experiences high cross-winds over the Channel, and they fail to find the target area, the forest of Fontainebleau. The aircraft returns to Tangmere at 0700hrs.

*Logbook dates differ: F/Lt O’ Neill dated the operation to the 16th, but Farley and Ross Shore recorded it as the 15th. Though a night operation would conventionally be dated as though it were part of the previous day, some aircrew might record a sortie that either takes off after midnight or takes place predominantly during the early hours, as if it is the next day. The convention avoids the problem of a late sortie followed by an early one the next night, otherwise it would appear that two sorties have been flown on the same night. In this case an official report written on the morning of the 16th rules the 16-17th out. Though it is possible that the sortie was flown on the 14-15th as originally planned, the balance of evidence points strongly to the 15-16th. The next attempt will not be made for several nights due to poor weather.

Saturday, 14 September, 1940

RAF Tangmere

P/O Philip Schneidau (recorded in logbooks as ‘Mr “Y”‘) is originally intended to be parachuted near Fontainebleau, in Nazi- occupied France, on the night of the 14-15th September. Take-off is planned for 2100.

The Moon’s First Quarter is a week earlier, on 8 September. The First Quarter marks the beginning of the 15-night operating window later known as the ‘Moon Period’, but no aircraft is available: the two Whitleys allotted to 419 Flight arrived at No. 13 Maintenance Unit on the 9th, but P5029 is not taken on charge by 419 Flight until the 15th. This would appear to rule out the possibility that the operation was mounted on the 14-15th, but it is entirely possible that the AM Form 78 card is filled in later; 419 Flight has no admin staff, and has to rely on Abingdon for Whitley servicing and spares.