Monthly Archives: October 1940

Thursday, 31 October 1940

RAF Silloth

Flight Lieutenant Farley starts a conversion course on the Lockheed Hudson at RAF Silloth; as we have already seen, Silloth is a Coastal Command OTU. The Hudson is a twin-engined aircraft already employed on long-range maritime patrols. This would appear an odd course for Farley, but the Hudson has several characteristics that recommend it for clandestine operations: it can carry several passengers, has a relatively short take-off run, and carries a turret for defence. It also has a much greater operating range than the long-range Lysander and the standard-range Whitley, able to reach anywhere in France and beyond. Most important in the light of Farley’s recent exploit, the Hudson can carry a navigator and wireless operator, both essential for plotting a course in the absence of visual references. Farley’s landing in Scotland has demonstrated that once a Lysander pilot has lost his position and bearings (in this case, his compass) he can no longer plot even a moderately accurate course.

Saturday, 26 October 1940

RAF Abingdon

The October moon period ended two days ago. F/O Keast is scheduled to fly Whitley P5025 to Abingdon at 14.45, landing at 15.30. The purpose is probably for routine maintenance of the Whitley: Stradishall was a base in No. 3 Group, which operated Wellingtons, and lacked the equipment and trained personnel to service Whitleys. Abingdon is home to No. 10 Operational Training Unit (OTU), which prepares crews for bombing operations with No. 4 Group. 4 Group’s bases are north of the Humber, in Yorkshire.

The Stradishall Ops Officer’s log notes that the aircraft is not expected to return today.

Tuesday, 22 October 1940

RAF Stradishall

F/O Jack Oettle is awarded the DFC. This is almost certainly for his tour of bomber operations with No. 51 Squadron which he had completed in the summer. One of these had been a reconnaissance which took in Vienna and Prague. The operation and the crew made the newspapers. Of his other operations, he was forced to bale out over England on one occasion, and was involved in a serious crash on another.

Monday, 21 October 1940

RAF Connel

At about 7 a.m. Farley and Schneidau are considering what to do – they have no idea where they really are – when they see two men running towards them, who tell them that they are near RAF Connel, about eight miles north of Oban, in Scotland. They are taken to the nearest house, from where they telephone Connel for transport and a guard for the wrecked Lysander. Once they have convinced a sceptical duty officer of their identity, they signal the Air Ministry and Tangmere as to their whereabouts, and are then allowed to sleep. Several attempts by London to talk to the two men by phone are rebuffed by RAF Connel’s Station Commander.

At about 4 p.m. Farley and Schneidau catch the train for Edinburgh, where they catch the night train for London.

Sunday, 20 October 1940

RAF Tangmere

At 15.25 F/Lt Farley flies to Farnborough in Lysander R9027 to get the W/T set fixed; he returns to Tangmere shortly after 8 p.m.

By the evening the weather is little better. The forecast is for cloud base down to 2,000 feet, down to 500 feet over the Paris area. It looks unpromising, but Farley is determined to help his stranded friend. Schneidau has no wireless transmitter and, having despatched his two pigeons, now has no means of contacting London. As yet there is no system of coded messages broadcast on the radio.

Farley takes off at 22.00. F/Lt Keast estimates that Farley has fuel for a little more than 6 hours’ flying. The earliest he is expected to make contact is 02.15, with earliest return to base at 03.00.

France

Farley lands west of Montigny at about 00.15 hours BST. He lands on the three-torch layout agreed with Schneidau beforehand. The format is a simplified version of the layout recommended in the RAF Army Cooperation manual. Farley would have known about it from his early service in two Army Cooperation squadrons.

While Schneidau clambers aboard, Farley reset the flaps and tailplane for take-off; it is also standard drill to reset the gyro. Soon after they take off, Farley realises that the tailplane has somehow been damaged, for he has no elevator control. He will have to control the aircraft’s climb and descent on the throttle. Soon after takeoff there is a loud noise: Farley believes they have been fired on from below. The compass is damaged. They make their way north-west. The gyro becomes less accurate, so they have to fly by the stars and the moon, now risen. Farley has to climb above the thick blanket of cloud to keep them in view, but once up there he has to fly on a low throttle to maintain level flight. It is also very economical on fuel. Farley descends through a cloud-gap above a coast-line running roughly east-west, which they take for the French coast. It is unfriendly, and they come under heavy anti-aircraft fire. Once clear, Farley attempts to make contact with Tangmere, but with no response. There is a strong south-westerly wind, but they have no way of telling how strong it is; it pushes their track to a more northerly direction.

RAF Tangmere and RNAS Ford

At 03.20 Keast and Schneidau’s escorting officer are told that a faint transmission has been received, but it is unintelligible. They hear nothing more. The weather is still poor, strong wind and heavy rain. Shortly after 4.15, they assume that the Lysander will have run out of fuel, and must have come down somewhere. They issue a signal to warn all airfields to look out for a Lysander, and at daybreak set about organising a search party. Three Blenheim crews, one of whom has just returned from a patrol, to take them up and search along the coast. They are still in the air when they are contacted by Tangmere control and informed that a Lysander has recently landed near Oban.

RAF Connel, Oban

Farley and Schneidau have continued northwards. The unbroken cloud beneath them gives no clue as to their position. At about 04.30 they descend and see a coastline with islands. Initially they guess they might be over the Frisian islands, but the height of the hills leads them to conclude they are probably somewhere off the Irish coast. They decide to land as soon as possible after daylight. At 06.45 the Lysander runs out of fuel, and they aim for a level field. They realise, too late, that the field is studded with poles, a precaution against an enemy landing. Farley tells his passenger to get his head down. Just as well: in the crash one of the Lysander’s wings hits a pole and folds backwards above the rear cockpit.