Stradishall – Marham
At 17.20 Aircraft ‘X’ of 419 Flight takes off for RAF Marham in preparation for an operation that is cancelled at 17.57. There is no corresponding entry in Keast’s logbook, but the summary that he writes on 15 February includes it as a cancelled operation to Brussels.
Stradishall Ops Officers’ log TNA AIR 14 / 2527
TNA AIR 20 / 8334, Encl. 3A
Stradishall – Non-occupied zone (ZNO), France
Oettle and Keast fly a 7 hour 10 minute sortie to the non-occupied Zone of France, with Oettle as Captain. Keast characteristically dates the operation to the 16th. Take-off is recorded by the Watch Office at approximately 10.20, and they land at 05.25 the following morning. (Keast will have recorded it from taxi out to engines off, whereas the Watch Office log will have noted its observation times from take-off to landing. This would account for the difference.)
This operation parachutes the SIS agent Michel Charles Joseph COULOMB into the Chateauroux area in the French Unoccupied Zone. A French citizen, he has been recruited the previous June by Commander Dunderdale’s A.4 section, which maintains links with Vichy intelligence. Coulomb has already completed at least one mission, having been landed by fishing boat in August 1940 and extracted in October. On 23 October 1940 he is commissioned into the Intelligence Corps as 2nd Lieutenant Michael James CARTWRIGHT (151291). His circuit has a strong aviation flavour and purpose, with links to several pre-war French aviation figures, including the aircraft designer Maurice DELANNE. At some unknown date in late 1940, his circuit has joined up with a group run by Robert IVERNEL, a subset of the Vichy French circuit ‘SR Air’.
The Flight attempts to fly two Whitley operations this night, but Oettle’s (a/c ‘B’, Whitley P5029) develops engine trouble before takeoff. The other Whitley (a/c ‘A’) is delayed with similar problems until 02.55 when F/Lt Keast takes off in Whitley T4264. An unusual feature of this operation is that S/Ldr Knowles, whose role is non-operational, flies as Keast’s ‘Second Dickey’, with F/O Baker along as ‘Front Gunner’ to gain navigational experience; he is on loan from No. II(AC) Squadron. The makeup of Oettle’s crew remains unknown.
Keast and Knowles run into cloud at Selsey Bill and climb above it. On ETA they descend near Rouen, to find the Seine valley covered in fog.
They return, landing at Stradishall at 0905. If this seems late, in October 1940 UK clocks have been kept at British Summer Time (GMT +1) over the winter. Sunrise at the French coast won’t have been until about 0830 (UK time), about an hour after the Whitley has left the area.
Stradishall – Coventry
The January moon period has ended; the last night on standby was the 20th.
F/Lt Keast flies Whitley P5029 to the Armstrong Whitworth’s factory at Baginton, on the south-east outskirts of Coventry). He takes five crew. (The airfield was built on the site of Whitley Abbey Farm, hence the aircraft’s name; nothing to do with Whitley Bay.)
There is no recorded explanation for the trip. Maintenance and repair/replacement of a Whitley’s normal equipment – engines, etc. – would have been carried out at an RAF base operating Whitleys, but almost all of these are in 4 Group, based north of the Humber. The exception is the training base (No. 10 OTU) at RAF Abingdon. RAF Stradishall is in 3 Group, and its resident squadron (No. 214 Sen) operates Wellingtons. The SD Flight therefore uses Abingdon’s facilities for maintenance. This trip to Baginton would have been necessary to fit or modify non-standard kit, such as a shroud to cover the tail wheel (to prevent parachute canopies from snagging), or to modify and test the parachute cable mounting points inside the fuselage. It is also possible that two or more long-range tanks are fitted to extend the range; although part of a Whitley’s range of optional equipment, fitting them is a non-trivial task, well outside the capabilities of the Flight’s ground-crew. Abingdon’s fitters might be unfamiliar with the procedure, as long-range tanks are not required on a Training base.
FJB Keast logbook
Royal visit to RAF Stradishall
The King and Queen visit RAF Stradishall. Part of the visit’s purpose is to award decorations. One of the recipients of a DFC is to be Sqn Ldr Douglas Bader, who has already earned a DSO for his leadership during the Battle of Britain. A principal organiser of the visit is the King’s pilot and equerry, Wing Commander E.H. Fielden, MVO: in two years’ time ‘Mouse’ Fielden will start to play his leading part in clandestine operations, initially as No. 161 Squadron’s first Commanding Officer, and later as Tempsford’s Station Commander.
The Royal party is scheduled to arrive at midday. The Royal Party is first scheduled to visit Station HQ and the Ops Room. There the King will meet, among others, F/Lt Keast as OC 419 Flight. The King is to be told about the Flight’s activities, and Keast is also instructed to ‘describe Farley’s show’; presumably his unplanned trip to Oban. F/O Jack Oettle is to be awarded the DFC for his earlier bombing operations with No. 51 Squadron.
After an informal lunch there is a parade at 1400 in 419 Flight’s hangar, but with representative personnel from all units based at Stradishall. At 1445 the Royal party is to leave the Station:
‘Road and gateway to be lined with those available, including Army. Spontaneous cheers.’