Monthly Archives: May 1941

Thursday, 22 May 1941

RAF Stradishall – RAF Newmarket Heath

1419 Flight is moved from RAF Stradishall to Newmarket Heath. The move will allow the SD Flight to operate in greater secrecy, as it no longer has to share its airfield with a front-line bomber squadron. Bomber crews get shot down; if captured, they are questioned: skilled interrogators have little difficulty in overcoming the ‘name, rank and serial number’ barrier.

Facilities are rudimentary at Newmarket. When the RAF originally took over the Rowley Mile part of the racecourse, some of the ‘erks’ found themselves sleeping in the open air, on beds placed on the terraces of the Centenary Grandstand. The Officers take over Sefton Lodge, one of Newmarket training establishments. (It has recently been bought by Martin Meade Racing.). The officers are lodged in the lads’ quarters and the stables, and in the main house which functions as their Mess they are waited on by out-of-work jockeys and stable-lads. The sergeants, with their natural aptitude for bagging a comfortable billet, establish themselves in the Jockey Club and its royal retiring rooms: they have running hot water, a luxury. When Sergeant Austin commissioned in August, it’s a bit of a come-down.

Fortunately for the historian, Newmarket comes under Stradishall for operational control, and its Operations Officer’s logbook continues to record the SD Flight’s activities right up until the move to Tempsford in March 1942.

Wednesday, 21 May 1941

RAF Ringway

The May moon-period has ended on the 18th. Today, Sgt John Austin and his new crew fly Whitley Z6473 to Ringway to undergo a parachute-dropping course. Sgt Austin had flown with F/Lts Jackson and Murphy on operation AUTOGYRO B to France on 13 May. At Ringway he and his mainly NCO crew will learn how to drop agents by the book, probably the first SD crew to have been on a structured course.

Tuesday, 13 May 1941

Operation AUTOGYRO A

Roger Cottin was dropped three nights later by F/Lt Jackson and his crew. Cottin was dropped to set up his own organisation, but eventually became No. 2 to Pierre de Vomecourt. (One oddity: MRD Foot indicates that Cottin met Pierre de Vomecourt in Paris later, and only then was ‘swept up’ into AUTOGYRO; yet the operation name indicates that Cottin was dropped already linked to AUTOGYRO. Nevertheless, Begue did not mention this drop in his report; it was clearly ‘blind’.)

Jackson’s report gives no indication of the location of his target. He does say that a low, late-rising moon on the wane, partially obscured by thin cloud, made it difficult to identify a crucial turning point, then the target itself. Cottin was dropped, and they saw that his canopy was in a tree. They made another circuit, and believed he had made a safe landing. They later realised that Cottin had been dropped in a spot visually similar to the target, but about 6 – 8 miles distant.

Jackson’s report omits the presence aboard of a new 1419 Flight pilot, Sgt John Austin, for operational experience. He is already an experienced Whitey pilot, having already flown a bomber tour with No 51 Squadron.


TNA AIR20/8334, Encl. 14A.
Logbook, S/Ldr J.B. Austin, DFC*

Monday, 12 May 1941


Despite the mis-spelling, this may be one of the few military operations named after a horse race. The Cesarewitch is a race run at Newmarket as part of the October festival, finishing at the Rowley Mile grandstands. During the next ‘dark’ period 1419 Flight is to be moved to RAF Newmarket Heath, taking over the Rowley Mile Grandstand area and the gallops on its north side, though the race course was left relatively undisturbed. The grass ‘runway’ formed from the northern gallops is over 3,000 yards long, making it useful as an emergency landing ground for damaged bombers.

The operation is to parachute Emile Tromme, an agent recruited from the Belgian Army regiment the ‘Chasseurs Ardennais’. Vielsalm appears to be the intended target for dropping CEZAREWITCH, but the operations goes almost entirely awry. The night is clear, but mist and industrial haze – a significant problem over northern Europe before post-war smoke-control measures – makes it impossible for S/Ldr Knowles to be certain of the target.

After a half-hour search, Knowles returns to the Meuse to try and pick up a pinpoint, but haze and searchlights make this impossible. The crew thinks they are near Namur. They have another go at finding Vielsalm, spending 45 minutes in the search.

Eventually Tromme is asked if he wants to return to England or be dropped in a field. He chooses to be dropped. Knowles estimates that, based on his course after dropping the agent, Tromme appears to have been parachuted about 30 km north of the target, about 7 km south-east of Verviers, into some woodland. Both the target, and the place where he appears to have been dropped, are within the borders of an expanded Germany after its annexation of part of Belgium. As with MARINE/ALBION, it’s a moot point as to whether Tromme’s masters in London are aware of the annexation.

According to Tromme, he is dropped thirty miles to the north-east, near the German town of Düren. He claims to have landed inside a prison-camp from which he appears to find it remarkably easy to escape. It is probably fortunate that finger-trouble on the part of F/Lt Murphy (2nd Pilot acting as ‘container-aimer’) prevents the container from dropping; he had forgotten to switch the bomb-release circuit from ‘Safe’, and by the time he realises his mistake they are long past the spot where they have dropped Tromme.


TNA AIR20/8334, Encl. 12A