Monthly Archives: February 1941

Monday, 10 February 1941

Stradishall

At 1110 Keast informs the Ops Office that Operation SAVANNA is cancelled for today.

At 1315 3 Group agrees that Wing Commander Mulholland should go tonight with 419 Flight. The Flight Commander is to go over to 3 Group at Exning (just outside Newmarket) to explain why he is unable to make up his crews.

The Flight is always operating on a shoestring, with barely two crews for two aircraft. One of the pilots on the Flight’s strength, F/O Ron Hockey, is recovering from ‘exhaustion’ and is still non-operational. Jack Oettle is with the other Whitley and its crew at Dishforth, waiting to operate. Keast has to scrounge a Second Pilot in order to carry out an operation tonight.

Wing Commander Mulholland, DFC, has recently completed a tour with 115 Squadron at Marham, another 3 Group Wellington squadron. A 32-year-old Australian who flew with Imperial Airways before the war, Mulholland was recently awarded the DFC for a raid in January, in which he made repeated runs over the Kiel Canal in the face of heavy flak before dropping his bombs. He has been given command of 3 Group’s Training Flight.

At 1357 F/Lt Keast informs the Ops Office that a Whitley is going up to drop containers in 10 mins time.

At 1510 Dishforth calls to ask if a/c can operate tomorrow. Presumably this means Jack Oettle. Dishforth is given the OK for the 11th only: Keast is informed.

Monday, 10 February 1941

Operation SAVANNA is cancelled at 1110, and at 1315 3 Group agrees to allow W/Cdr Mulholland to fly tonight with 419 Flight.

At 1315 F/Lt Keast warns the Ops Office that a Whitley is going up to drop containers in ten minutes.
Stradishall has asked Dishforth if P5029 can operate from there tomorrow (11th). Dishforth answers: OK for the 11th only.

Stradishall

According to the Ken Merrick’s record from the Stradishall Watch Office, Whitley T4264 takes off at 2105 and returns at 0156. There is no other record of this sortie, or of the target. The pilot is F/O Oettle.

Stradishall – Fontainebleau

F/Lt Keast, with W/Cdr Mulholland as Second Pilot, takes off in P5029 at 00.40 (i.e. in the early hours of the 11th) and his route is to Caen via Abingdon and Selsey Bill. The weather is clear, but as they approach the French coast at 10,000 ft they can see cloud forming ahead. From there they fly on ETA towards Chartres. Approaching the city they descend through cloud, which extends from 6,000 ft down to 2,000 ft, and they are engaged by light flak and picked up by searchlights while they try to confirm their position. They then set course for Fontainebleau; on the way they are picked up by another searchlight at Etampes. Visibility deteriorates over the forest surrounding Fontainebleau. The cloud comes right down to the ground in places, and map-reading is impossible. They search the area for about 30 minutes before abandoning the operation. They set course for Stradishall, landing at 0645.

Thursday, 13 February 1941

Stradishall – Dordogne

F/Lt Keast flies an operation to France. Keast writes a summary of operations since October, in which he records this trip’s target as a successful sortie to Fontainebleau, but as Philip Schneidau will not be dropped until March, this is erroneous.

The operation appears instead to be the drop of BCRA agent Maurice Duclos (‘Saint-Jacques’), with a wireless operator. The target is near the village of Saint-Cirq, 6 kilometres west of Bugue, in the Dordogne. Duclos’s wireless operator is John McLennan, the nom-de-guerre of John Mulleman. Duclos lands awkwardly, breaking his right leg, and he is arrested almost immediately by the French authorities.

Keast takes off in Whitley T4264 at about 1830, and lands at Tangmere at 0158, about 7.5 hours, Although his logbook records the flight duration as 5 hours 30 minutes, this is way too short for a trip to the Dordogne; the independent Stradishall times are about right.

Norway

Jack Oettle flies an 11-hour operation in Whitley P5029 to Norway, where he drops the SIS agent Sverre Midtskau*. (Mark Seaman confirms the agent and the date as 13-14 February.) He lands at Sumburgh in the Shetlands, but the Whitley sustains damage to the tail when landing. Oettle, his crew and aircraft are therefore stranded, and are unavailable for operations in the immediate future.

Sources

*Mark Seaman: ‘Special Duties operations in Norway’, article No. 18 in ‘Britain and Norway in the Second World War’, ed. Patrick Salmon (HMSO), p. 170.
Seaman’s principal sources are:

  1. TNA AIR 20/8224, and
  2. the Air Historical Branch summary ‘Special Duties Operations in Europe’, in TNA AIR 41/84

TNA AIR 14/2527 Stradishall Ops Officer’s log

Friday, 14 February 1941

Tangmere

At 0250 Keast phones Stradishall to confirm that he has completed the operation. Sqn Ldr Knowles is to phone Tangmere if Keast is needed for operations tonight. At 0918 F/L Keast is phoned and asked to return to Stradishall. F/Lt Keast flies T4264 to Hendon, and from there to Stradishall.

RAF Sumburgh

At 0615 Stradishall receives a signal from Sumburgh that F/Lt Oettle’s operation to Norway has been completed.

Operation SAVANNA

At 0925 2 Group calls to ask whether Operation SAVANNA is on; S/Ldr Knowles tells the Earl of Bandon that the operation is ‘off’ for tonight.