Monthly Archives: June 1941

Sunday, 1 June 1941

The Air Ministry, London

Air Vice Marshal Norman Bottomley formally takes over as Deputy Chief of the Air Staff (DCAS) from AVM Harris, who has already left for the USA as head of a mission to procure aircraft from a sympathetic but still-neutral country.

As DCAS, Air Marshal Harris had taken an unsympathetic view of the Special Duties Flight, mainly because the Whitley aircraft required for the Flight diverted front-line bomber aircraft from Bomber Command’s prime strategic purpose to carry the fight to the enemy, the bombing of German industry. The SD case has been poorly made by his opponents. Harris has done his best to foist the Handley Page Harrow, the Whitley’s predecessor as a bomber, on the SD Flight. If the Whitley is an imperfect vehicle for transporting agents, the Harrow makes the Whitley look good. The Harrow has a fixed undercarriage, it does not have self-sealing fuel tanks, and its defensive armament is rudimentary. It is even slower than the Whitley, and has a poor range.

Bottomley is less unsympathetic to SD operations than Harris, and is more attuned to the political nuances of the situation, especially regarding the Polish and Czechoslovak governments-in-exile. It is not long before the proposal to expand the SD Flight to a full squadron gathers momentum.

In theory two Harrows are being converted for SD operations at Tollerton, but with the departure of Harris the proposal is quietly shelved, and they are not heard of again.

Wednesday, 11 June 1941


Almost as soon as W/Cdr Knowles’s Whitley leaves the English coast it runs into thick cloud. It is only a few nights after Full Moon, so it is possible to fly at 1,0000 feet under 10/10ths cloud and still see. Enough, it seems, to identify Tours, but as they fly south the weather deteriorates; they are now flying under two thick layers of cloud at 1,200 feet. In the gloom they cannot identify their next pinpoint, somewhere between Chateauroux and Montluçon, so Knowles abandons the operation.

There’s no longer any point in flying low, so they attempt to climb into clear air. Shortly before 03.00 they encounter heavy icing and the port engine cuts. With the other engine running roughly they descend to 4,000 feet, at which the port engine picks up and runs normally. They head back towards England, obtaining a QDM (homing bearing obtained by W/T) from Tangmere. From there they fly back to Newmarket, where they land at about 05.30.

Several sources attest to OUTHAULLE as the operation intended to deliver Pierre Vandermies to the Zéro intelligence group in Belgium, notably Emmanuel Debruyne. The peculiar spelling of the operation comes from Knowles’s report; Knowles is not of a nautical disposition.

Operation FITZROY

F/Lt Jackson and his crew take off at 22.34. (The Ops Officer’s log records 22.45, the difference probably due to Jackson taking his timings from engine-start.) On the first leg to Abingdon they find that the Met. winds are from the opposite direction to the forecast. They climb to 6,500 feet to cross the Channel above thick cloud, but cross the French coast above Le Havre, which has a heavy concentration of searchlights. Flying south, they find Tours at 01.19 but, after finding no improvement in the weather, and knowing a front was approaching, they abandon the operation. The experience of S/Ldr Knowles on OUTHAULLE points to the wisdom of Jackson’s decision.

On the return leg they drop pigeons and leaflets just east of Le Havre, but are held over Newmarket for 48 minutes; Stradishall’s 214 Sqn was operating that night, and several land out at Newmarket. The poor weather has affected bombing operations; the returning bombers take priority.

Operation AUTOGYRO C

The purpose of this operation is to drop two SOE ‘F’ Section agents near Mortaine, in Brittany, to work for the AUTOGYRO circuit. The two agents are Norman Burley and Ernest Bernard.

Sgt Austin and his crew cross the coast near Littlehampton, hoping to make landfall at Isigny. Cloud and rain builds up, so that by the time they are due to reach the French coast it is invisible. On ETA Isigny they change course southwards for Avranches, flying at 6,000 ft. On ETA Avranches they drop to 2,500 ft and set course eastwards for Mortaine. On ETA Mortaine, and still unable to see anything, they start a box search at 3,000 ft. They abandon the attempt and return, dropping pigeons between St Sever and Vire on the way. They land at Newmarket after passing Tangmere and Abingdon.



TNA AIR20/8334, Encl. 24A
Debruyne, LGSEB, p. 146


TNA AIR20/8334, Encl. 22A


TNA AIR20/8334, Encl. 26A

Thursday, 12 June 1941

Operation ZEBRA – Holland

This sortie is to the eastern Dutch province of Friesland, with the target near the village of Vledder. It demonstrates the roundabout route that SD crews often took in order to be sure of finding a pinpoint.

John Austin takes off from Newmarket just before 01.00 (strictly speaking, therefore, on 13 June – confirmed by the Stradishall Ops Officers’ log) and pinpoints on Southwold as the Whitley flies over the English coast for Holland. They aim for the island of Vlieland which is less dangerous than Texel to the west. They set course for the other side of the Zuiderzee (now the IJsselmeer). On reaching it they fly north seeking a recognisable pinpoint, which they find on seeing a white beacon signalling LW – presumably this is Leeuwarden airbase, occupied by the Luftwaffe. Austin is flying at about 8,000 feet to stay above any light flak, which they encounter between Minnertsga and Harlingen. They then pinpoint at the eastern end of the Afsluitdijk near Makkum, and set course for Urk, reducing height to 2,000 feet. The Noordoostpolder is still being reclaimed, and Urk is still an island, though linked to the mainland by a causeway.

Austin then flies ENE, his navigator map-reading from the front turret. They pinpoint at Steenwijk and then at Vledder. They follow the road from Vledder and drop their ‘passengers’ in a field at 03.28, seeing them land in the centre of the field. They circle and see that the agents have dragged their parachute to a hedge. This shows how bright it is and how low they are.

They then set course for Vlieland, and at 03.43 drop their pigeons over the town of Sneek, which lies directly on their course. After passing Vlieland at 3.54, over the North Sea they reduce height to 1,000 feet ‘to make use of cloud cover in the event of interception’ as twilight has increased visibility to 8 miles. This is the danger of flying operations later in the moon period during high summer, with a late-night take-off: it doesn’t leave a great margin for returning under cover of darkness. Civil Twilight over Vlieland was at 04.21 DST, so they make it out of Holland just in time. They land at Newmarket at 05.54, and at 0610 they report Operation ZEBRA successful.

The agents are Johan Jacob Zomer and Wiecher Bote Schrage. MRD Foot, in his ‘SOE in the Low Countries’, relates their brief career. Zomer appears to be the wireless-operator, for he is arrested on 31 August 1941, caught by wireless triangulation. He will be sent to Sachsenhausen, and he will die there on 11 May 1942. Schrage manages to avoid capture, and meets up with one half of the SOE operation GLASSHOUSE (Cornelis Sporre) who will be parachuted on 7 September, also by Austin. Together Schrage and Sporre attempt to escape to England by sea on 13-14 November, setting off from Peeten, south of Den Helder. They are never seen again.

Friday, 13 June 1941

Operation AUTOGYRO

Sgt Austin and his crew make the second attempt to drop SOE ‘F’ Section agents Norman Burley and Ernest Bernard near Mortaine, in Normandy.

This night is near the end of the moon period, with light only during the second part of the night. They took off later, at half past midnight, and two hours later pinpointed at Isigny. They dropped pigeons at St Lô en route for Avranches, and when they reached Avranches they flew west ot the coast to check their position. At this point they were flying at about 3,000 feet, with a layer of cloud beneath them at 1,000 ft. They then headed for the target, but ran into 9/10ths cloud. 6 miles before Mortaine they pinpointed St Osvin through a break in the clouds, and pinpointed again at 4 miles from Mortaine by flying around another cloud-gap. But over Mortaine there were no gaps, and as the top of the cloud layer was 500 feet, 100 ft lower than the safe parachuting height, they abandon the operation, and headed for home.

This night is cited by MRD Foot (in SOE in France, page 163) as the delivery, by Austin, of two parachuted containers to Pierre de Vomécourt’s chateau, ‘Bas Soleil’; as Foot put it, ‘the very first supply drop of warlike stores to be made to France’. His information came from the Stradishall Operations Record Book. At best an incomplete source, this was probably all that was made available to him in the early 1960s about air operations. Austin could not have been in two places at once, and his logbook is clear; his five hours in the air were insufficient for a sortie to Limoges.

Operation Outhaulle

Knowles flies his second attempt to drop Pierre Vandermies near Montluçon. This sortie shows how different the same operation could be when flown under the right weather conditions with good visibility.

Knowles, with Murphy as navigator, take off at 22.23. The route flown is via Abingdon and Tangmere. At 23.25, after an hour’s flying, they set off across the Channel, reaching Cabourg just after midnight and Tours 40 minutes later. They find Châteauroux and Montuçon without difficulty. Near the target area a car is seen on the main road, so Vandermies is dropped about three miles further on. The agent’s parachute is seen to open and he appears to have made a good landing, at 01.33. On the return journey they reach the French coast about three miles west of Cabourg, and cross the English coast at 04.00, landing at Newmarket at 05.13 (05.15 according to the Strad log). There is no mention of heights flown or other data.

It is possible that Knowles dropped the two containers to de Vomécourt, but he is specific about coming home immediately after dropping Vandermies. He mentions no additional task in his report. It would have added at least another 45 minutes to his sortie, assuming perfect navigation, and the time aloft (6hrs 45mins) fits a trip to Montluçon and back. In any case Knowles would not have wished to tarry, given the short nights of June.

Monday, 16 June 1941

Lodo van Hamel

After the guilty verdict from his trial by German military court, Lt Lodewijk van Hamel, Royal Dutch Navy, is executed by firing squad on the Bussumerheide, near the barracks in the north-east corner.