At about 17.03 F/Lt Keast (Captain) and F/O Jack Oettle take off in P5029 for RAF Cambridge (now Cambridge Airport) to pick up their passenger, P/O Philip Schneidau, who is to be parachuted on his second mission. This time he is taking a W/T set. They arrive at at Cambridge at about 17.30, but Schneidau does not arrive until about 18.00. They take off almost immediately, and cross the English coast at Selsey Bill an hour later.
They set course for the French coast, but after 30 minutes they run into heavy icing conditions in cloud which extends up to 6,000 ft. Heavy ice forms on the propellers. They try to fly above the cloud, but are forced back down to cloud base at 500 feet. Schneidau’s plan depends on being dropped near Barbizon shortly before curfew, but they now won’t reach the target area until after 21.00 (i.e. 22.00 French time: curfew). After consultation with the agent Keast abandons the operation, and they return to Stradishall, landing at 21.43.
For some unstated reason, possibly a poor weather forecast, 419 Flight operations are cancelled at 14.10. No. 214 Squadron, Stradishall’s resident Wellington bomber squadron, does not operate this night either. At 17.15 a warning is posted about icing conditions on the aircraft at dispersal.
Oettle and Keast fly a five-hour operation in Whitley P5029 to Belgium. This ties in with Debruyne’s mention of Emmanuel Hobben, founder of the ‘Williams’ circuit, who is dropped this night with two radio sets, possibly a transmitter and receiver. P/O Baker, on loan from No. 2(AC) Squadron as a Lysander pilot to replace the injured Farley, accompanies this operation to familiarise himself with night navigation over Occupied Europe. He will be sat in the front turret for much of the time. The navigation methods are broadly the same for Whitley and Lysander operations, but the Lysander pilots have to do their own navigation from large-scale maps on their lap.
Oettle and Keast take off at 23.00, but as they return from their successfully-completed operation, at 03.45 their Whitley is diverted from Stradishall after one of 214 Squadron’s Wellingtons drops a bomb on the runway (possibly a ‘hang-up’) after a bombing operation. Oettle and Keast land at Honington at about 04.00.
Emmanuel Debruyne, ‘La Guerre Secrète des Espions Belges’, p. 165
Stradishall Operations officers’ log book.
S/Ldr F.J. Keast logbook
Stradishall – Châteaumeillant – Operation FITZROY
Oettle and Keast drop Claude Lamirault a little south of Châteaumeillant, Cher. Keast’s target map (a British reproduction of the French pre-war large-scale 1:80,000 series) has survived. It shows the likely drop site on a ridge. Some farm buildings nearby are also indicated in red crayon; Lamirault may have made for these after landing, though it has not been possible to establish a definite connection due to the farm having changed hands since the war.
P/O Baker is also aboard for this operation. As the Flight’s Lysander pilot he is expected to fly a pick-up operation to extract Lamirault when the need arises, so needs to be familiar with the area.
They take off in Whitley P5029 at 22.15, and are routed via Abingdon and Tangmere. On their return they are diverted to Digby because of fog, landing at 07.20.
Claude Lamirault is a controversial figure: only 22 in 1940, before the war he had been involved with ‘Action Française’, a right-wing direct-action group of the 1930s that nowadays would rightly be considered a terrorist organisation. On the outbreak of war he was recalled to the army, serving with the Chasseurs Alpins. Escaping to Britain in October 1940, he met Lt Henri d’Estienne d’Orves, soon to be landed in Brittany to form the ‘Nemrod’ organisation. He was soon recruited by SIS: after his insertion he made contact with the left-wing activist Pierre Hentic.
Some sources have it that Lamirault was parachuted near Rambouillet in December 1940; they may have been confused by one of Lamirault’s later drops as CLAUDIUS – codenames were sometimes laboured puns on real names – most insecure – in December 1941.
Stradishall – Manhay/Grandmenil, Belgium
This sortie to Belgium drops Jean Lamy, code-named ‘Dewar’, a wireless operator for the ‘Clarence’ circuit.
Whitley P5029 takes off from Stradishall at 20.15 on the 12th. An hour-and-a-half later 3 Group phones to ask Stradishall about the endurance of that particular Whitley ‘X’, and is given the answer “12 hours”. The query is unlikely to have had anything to do with that night’s operation to Belgium, which was well within this Whitley’s endurance. More likely it is related to the plans for a re-run of ADOLPHUS to Poland, or perhaps another long-distance operation. By this time Oettle and Keast are over the North Sea and can’t answer for themselves.
In any case the answer is wrong: P5029 has no additional fuel tanks, which limits its operational radius, though they can be fitted. Operations to Norway or Denmark are possible, but only by setting off from the east coast of Scotland or Yorkshire. Twelve hours would be a generous estimate for a Whitley equipped with the full complement of six additional fuel tanks; the maximum recorded length of a Special Duties Whitley sortie fitted with these tanks is still less than eleven hours.
Lamy is dropped near Manhay, in the Ardennes region, a land of rich farmland valleys closely bordered by wooded hills. P5029 lands at Honington at 00.40 on the 13th after a four-hour trip. Keast records the sortie as flown on the 13th, but Stradishall confirms the sortie as taking place on the night of the 12th-13th.
Lamy sends his first message from Grandmenil, the next hamlet along. According to Emmanuel Debruyne, Lamy makes around 120 transmissions from his parents’ home, his speed and confidence increasing, as does the amount of intelligence he gets back to London. But the Abwehr is developing its own skills, in radio triangulation techniques, so Lamy’s luck is never going to last. On 26 March he is arrested at his set. According to Etienne Verhoeyen he succeeds in short-circuiting his set before the Germans arrive, but his codes and a series of coded messages fall into German hands. Under the threat of reprisals against his family, which knows Walter Dewé and other senior figures in the Belgian intelligence service, Lamy allows himself to transmit under German control. Within three months, overconfidence and a training failure to instil strict W/T discipline in these agents have led to the eradication of two circuits (‘Williams’ and ‘Martiny-Daumerie’), and ‘Clarence’ is rendered impotent.