Monthly Archives: April 1941

Tuesday, 29 April 1941

RAF Stradishall

Air Chief Marshal Ludlow-Hewitt visits RAF Stations Mildenhall and Stradishall in his role as Inspector-General of the RAF. Ludlow-Hewitt had been AOC-in-C Bomber Command until his sacking in April 1940 for insisting on intensive operational training in specialist units (OTUs). Without this training many of Bomber Command’s trainee crews would have been lost on operations learning ‘on the job’ in operational squadrons; Bomber Command would have been poorly trained for the night war ahead.

His report on 1419 Flight is critical of the apparent waste of the Flight’s employment during the ‘dark’ period’, approximately half of each month when to all appearances they are idle. The Flight’s Whitley strength is now three Whitleys, plus one in reserve. He recommends that the Flight be made up to eight Whitleys, with a commensurate increase in crews, so that the Flight can be available for normal bombing operations during the ‘dark period’ and released for their special duties during the moon period.

It might have helped if S/Ldr Knowles had been available; at least he could have explained (or have avoided explaining) exactly what the Flight did, and their operational differences from bomber ops. But Knowles is away on duty, and F/Lt Alan Murphy is the Flight’s senior officer when ACM Ludlow-Hewitt arrives. Murphy is yet to fly his first SD operation; if normal practice has been followed, Murphy won’t have been told much about his duties, if anything, and may appear uninformed Air Chief Marshal. The views the Inspector-General takes away with him are coloured by Stradishall’s Station Commander who, despite being informed of the approximate target before any Special Duties operation, is told nothing more.

Why not just attach the three Whitleys and crews to 214 Squadron? Ludlow-Hewitt is aware that with servicing and training the Flight would not be able to complete its commitments during the moon period. He appears unaware of the specialist skills required by SD operations but, to be fair, at this stage the requirements for SD flying are not so dissimilar from Bomber operations. Within a few months methods increasingly differ: the bombers will fly ever-higher, using astro-navigation and new technology like GEE; the SD crews will fly ever-lower, relying on accurate flying between landmarks en route to the target. Now, bombers now fly individually to the target, as do SD crews, but within two years they will form a concentrated ‘stream’ to the target.

Sources

TNA AIR 2/5203

Monday, 28 April 1941

1419 Flight hut, RAF Stradishall

S/Ldr Knowles writes to an erstwhile colleague at the Air Ministry. The name of this colleague has been withheld under Section 3(4) of the Public Records Act, 1958:


1419 Flight
R.A.F.
Stradishall
28th April, 1941

Dear

With reference to “SKYLARK”, I have looked up the longitude and lattitude (sic), and it is 59 degrees 50 minutes North, and 08 degrees 36 minutes East. I suggest you go down to the Map Section in Air Ministry, and look at a decent map of Norway (1:500,000 Stavanger), and you will find VIKEN if you put three pairs of spectacles on.

(Signed) E.V. Knowles, S/Ldr.


Air Ministry,
A.I.(10)
Whitehall.

Prior to the file’s release a zealous file-weeder has mistaken the Air Intelligence section ‘A.I.(10)’ (the initialism for SOE at the Air Ministry) for A.I.1(c). The latter section of Air Intelligence contains several embedded SIS officers, including W/Cdr Frederick Winterbotham and W/Cdr Vincent Sofiano (mentioned several times by Hugh Verity). To be fair, the ‘0’ in the typed ‘A.I.(10)’ does resemble ‘A.I.(1C)’, but close examination reveals the error. Knowles would have known the SIS section’s proper designation as ‘A.I.1(c)’.

In my view the intended recipient is Knowles’s friend Wally Farley, promoted Squadron Leader on 1 April and currently clumping around the Air Ministry corridors with his leg in plaster. During this period Farley writes as ‘A.I.10’ or ‘A.I.2’ depending on context, but never as A.I.1(c).

The position of ‘VIKEN’ is about three miles south of the hydro-electric station at Rjukan, producer of ‘heavy water’ — deuterium oxide (D2O or 2H2O) — and later target of operations against the German attempts to develop an atomic weapon.

Sources

TNA AIR 20/8334, encl. 6A

Wednesday, 23 April 1941

Intelligence Corps

SIS agent Michel COULOMB, under his nom-de-guerre Michael James CARTWRIGHT (151291), is promoted Lieutenant (War Substantive). This appears to be a routine promotion, exactly six months since he was commissioned, on 23 October 1940).

Wednesday, 16 April 1941

Operation BENJAMIN – Austrian Tyrol

After S/Ldr Knowles had made an abortive attempt in March to complete this operation, he had planned for it to be flown on 4 April. Nor is it flown by 1419 Flight on any other night. By now the nightly period of darkness has shrunk to about 8½ hours. Difficult in March, it is now impossible for a Whitley to be flown to Czechoslovakia and back without still being over Occupied Europe at daybreak.

According to Czech sources Otmar Riedl is parachuted on the 16-17 April 1941. But he is dropped nowhere near Czechoslovakia: instead Riedl is dropped 286 miles (460km) short of the target, near Landeck in the Austrian Tyrol.

From Stradishall there is nothing: no operational report, no entry in an aircrew log-book. Nor is there any related correspondence in Air Ministry or Bomber Command files. Nothing in the Stradishall Ops Officers’ log or the Watch Office log hints at any clandestine operation being flown that night, though normal bombing sorties by 214 Squadron were carried out. Riedl may have been flown there by another RAF unit, but no candidate unit has so far been identified. Surely no-one would have deliberately dropped Riedl over the Tyrol knowing the target was in Bohemia. Even the dimmest navigator could not have mistaken the Austrian Tyrol for one of the flatter parts of Bohemia. Nor is the Austrian Tyrol on any plausible route to the target.

It is possible that the pilot and crew may have been briefed with a deliberately incorrect target. By mid-March the Austrian Tyrol is about the furthest possible distance that would have allowed a Whitley or Hudson to return before daylight. One unit which had flown the earliest SD operations is the Parachute Training Squadron at Ringway. Stradishall records Knowles flying to Ringway and back on the 16th, but Ringway’s ORB has no record of an aircraft flying an operation on this night. Whoever carried it out, from whatever unit and from which airfield (for Riedl must have got there somehow), it is perhaps not surprising that no record exists. It strikes me as being an deliberate action to avoid an impossible situation: to deliver an agent to eastern Europe without making the sortie a one-way trip for the aircraft and crew involved. One possibility is that Knowles flew to Ringway, borrowed a crew sworn to secrecy, and flew the operation himself.

In ‘Gubbins and SOE’, Peter Wilkinson states that the agent ‘succeeded in reaching Prague and came on the air’. The facts are otherwise. Otmar Riedl is arrested shortly after landing in the snow, but he succeeds in hiding his equipment. He manages to convince the Austrian authorities that he has crossed the border to escape from the German invasion of Yugoslavia. Vouched-for by his pre-war employer in Yugoslavia, the Czech footwear company Bata, he serves a two-month sentence in Innsbruck for illegal border-crossing before returning to Czechoslovakia. He attempts to make contact with the Czech resistance, but is rebuffed. He works for Bata until 1945. On making contact with the Allies, he learns that he has been assumed to have died.

Friday, 11 April 1941

CARTWRIGHT pick-up operation

This is the second Lysander pick-up operation. F/O Gordon Scotter, on loan from No II(AC) Squadron, is to extract SIS agent Michel Charles COULOMB, commissioned into the Intelligence Corps in October 1940 as Lt Michael James Cartwright. Coulomb has already completed at least one mission, inserted by sea in early August 1940 and recovered by the same means in October. He was parachuted on the night of 15th January, and is now being recovered.

Scotter takes off from Tangmere at 2300 hrs, and climbs steadily over the Channel until he crosses the French coast at Fécamp at about 13,500 feet; this is rather higher than the 7,000 ft necessary to avoid the light flak on the coast. He also flies an unusual course, taking him east of Le Havre. He sets course for Blois, where he changes course for Levroux. From Leveroux he sets course south-east for the target. There he sees Cartwright’s torch, and lands.

According to Hugh Verity, but not included in Scotter’s later report, the agent climbs up to the cockpit and tells Scotter to take off smartly, without the luxury of turning downwind before making a proper take-off run into wind. Two suitcases are thrown into the rear cockpit, and Scotter takes off using full boost, which is only to be used for an emergency take-off. Car headlights are seen approaching the field as they leave. Scotter has seen several enemy aircraft on the way out, and they see more on the return leg, but he is easily able to avoid them by diving away.

In June 1941 Scotter will be awarded the DFC for this operation.

On 28 May 1942, more than a year after the events he describes, F/Lt Gordon Scotter will submit an operations report. Scotter has since been posted to 161 Squadron, and it appears that he has been asked to write a report, though who asks him is not known. It is typed on the now-standard operations-report proforma for 161 Squadron, so W/Cdr Fielden, 161 Squadron’s Commanding Officer, may have asked him to record the details of his action as a guide for the squadron’s Lysander pilots. (S/Ldr Nesbitt-Dufort has been posted away after his involuntary holiday in France.) Scotter gives the position for the pick-up as about a mile WSW of the village of Brion, north of Châteauroux.

Sources

TNA: several versions of the Army List from late 1940
TNA AIR 20/8455 Pikot reports for 161 Operations (Lysander)
‘We landed by Moonlight’, by Hugh Verity, Ch. 3