Monthly Archives: August 1941

Sunday, 3 August 1941

The August moon period starts with three operations. F/Lt Jackson is non-operational after his crash, but F/O Hockey now has his own crew and the Flight is still able to field three crews.

Operation PERIWIG

‘PERIWIG’ is Armand Campion, about 31 years old. In 1940 he served with the French Foreign Legion in the Norway campaign, where he earned the Croix de Guerre. He is a trained wireless operator, so does not need to be dropped with one.

Hockey and his crew, which includes the Flight’s Lysander pilot F/Lt Nesbitt-Dufort, sets off for Belgium via Aldeburgh and Nieuwport. Unsurprisingly they meet with severe searchlight and medium flak opposition. Once the coast is behind them they release their quota of pigeons for Operation COLUMBA and head for Ath, but above cloud. Eight pigeons, re-dispatched from Belgium, appear to have returned to the UK from this drop.

After reaching the dead-reckoning position for Ath they alter course for the target to the east, but continuous low cloud makes it impossible to see what’s beneath them. They abandon the operation, and leave Belgium about three miles east of Nieuwport. If they hope to avoid the searchlights and flak they fail, and are picked up by a blue master-searchlight; the other lights fasten on to Hockey’s Whitley. They are coned and the flak is fierce and close. They make it home unharmed, despite being fired on by shipping off Harwich as a final indignity. Nesbitt-Dufort writes a vivid account of this flight on pages 98-102 of ‘Black Lysander’, but he confuses some of the details of this operation with another sortie he will fly with Hockey on 9 September, to Denmark. But writing after the war Nesbitt-Dufort will not have the benefit of looking at the contemporary pilots’ reports, and has to rely on his logbook to jog his memory. Memories tend to be precise about what happened, but ‘when’ and ‘where’ are different matters entirely.

Operation MILL

‘MILL’ is Adrien Marquet and his wireless Operator René Clippe. (Clippe seems to have been codenamed MILLSTONE, according to Verhoeyen.) They are the vanguard of a Belgian Intelligence Service operation sponsored and facilitated by SIS. As with the failed Leenaerts operation of mid-August 1940, Marquet’s task is to make contact with Belgians recruited by the ‘La Dame Blanche’ veteran Anatole Gobeaux during the ‘Phoney War’ period, when Belgium remained stolidly neutral. The agents are to be dropped near Chimay.

The first attempt is thwarted by low continuous cloud over the target area. Sgt Austin flies to the the target area via Orfordness, and crosses the enemy coast at Veurnes, between Dunkirk and Nieuwport. A 25-minute square search of the target area does not reveal a gap in the low cloud cover, so they are forced to abandon and return to Newmarket.

P/O AGW Livingstone (W/Op) joins Sgt Austin’s crew for his first Special Duties sortie. He has already completed a bomber tour with 115 Squadron.

Operation FELIX

The first attempt to drop a replacement W/t set to the FELIX intelligence circuit had been made on 12 July by Sgt Austin. The target has been changed to the Plateau les Trembleaux, about three miles north of the earlier target, just north of Montigny-sur-Loing. This is the clearing where Philip Schneidau had been parachuted in March, though on that occasion he had been carried by the wind, missed the clearing, and landed half-way up a tree in the dense woods to the west.

Knowles takes off at 22.18 (UK local Double Summer Time) and sets course for Abingdon. At 22.47 both exactors start to give trouble (which probably means that the airscrews cannot be put into coarse pitch after the initial climb), so Knowles abandons the operation; they wouldn’t have got far with the airscrews in fine pitch. They have difficulty finding Newmarket again, but pick up the Newmarket flare-path at 23.30 and land back at base at 23.48. It will be another month before the FELIX circuit receives its new set.

Tuesday, 5 August 1941

Operation LUMOND

LUMOND is a mysterious operation. The pilot, F/O Ron Hockey, reported it as completed on the night of the 5-6th August, yet a week later it is included with another operation to be dropped nearly 80 miles to the east. The LUMOND sortie on the 5th can be linked chronologically to the SIS-run ALLIANCE organisation, yet a second LUMOND sortie of the 12-13th, not completed, is linked with an SOE operation, FABULOUS. Another failed attempt at LUMOND, in the middle of the mid-August dark period, is linked with another SOE operation, DOWNSTAIRS.

From Hockey’s report and his logbook, the LUMOND operation on the night of the 5th appears to have been pretty straightforward, and he covers it in three short paragraphs. Take-off from Newmarket (22.24); via Abingdon and Tangmere to the coast (23.42) and over the Channel to Cabourg (00.23). Hockey dropped COLUMBA pigeons en route between Cabourg and Saint Pierre (presumably Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives, more or less on course between Cabourg and Saumur). The aircraft reached the target at 01.27, and completed the operation by 01.31. Hockey’s logbook recorded that the target was near Saumur, just down the Loire from Tours. It took Hockey only 1 hour 4 minutes from the Normandy coast, so the target cannot have been further south. They dropped the agent from 300 feet, half the normal height, to minimise the parachute drifting off-target in the strong gusty wind. (A later SOE ‘F’ Section agent, Ben Cowburn, was accidentally dropped from 300 feet. His canopy had barely opened when he hit the ground, and he was fortunate to walk away.) On the return leg Hockey and his crew dropped more COLUMBA pigeons between Vassy and Balleroy. They crossed the coast at Pointe de la Percée to Tangmere and Abingdon, landing at Newmarket at 05.05.

Despite its routine execution, this operation may have been the first parachute drop to ALLIANCE, one of the largest and most effective intelligence circuits of the war. Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, the circuit’s leader and chronicler, dated the arrival of her first agent from London, the agent she called ‘Bla’, to 5 August. The agent’s real name was Bradley Davis: he was dropped with his own set and some spares. Each set had a three-letter code, such as OCK or KVL.

Keith Jeffrey, in his official history of MI6, assumed that the agent was parachuted near Pau in the foothills of the Pyrenees, some 270 miles to the south of Saumur. (Pau was where Marie-Madeleine Fourcade had set up her headquarters. But Fourcade’s ‘l’Arche de Noé’ says that the reception party returned less than 24 hours later with the agent. So the drop-site was not round the corner, and Saumur was at least possible. It seems strange for the RAF to have dropped an agent in the Nazi-occupied zone if he was destined for the Unoccupied Zone, for this would have required the reception party (which SIS insisted on) to run the additional risks of crossing the demarcation line, not once but twice, and carrying W/T sets. In early August the few hours of darkness dictated how far south a sortie could be flown and still enable the aircraft to reach friendly skies before daybreak. Still, targets in the non-occupied Zone such as Chateauroux (target area for two August attempts at a later LUMOND operation, not completed) or Périgueux, (target for the ALLIANCE-related FIREFLY operation in November) would have been preferable to crossing the border.

So was Hockey’s trip to Saumur the right one? Aside from the date, there are some illuminating omissions from the abridged English translation, perhaps because, at the time of publication,  Special Duties operations were still nominally secret. (The preface to the English version of ‘Noah’s Ark’ was provided by SIS’s Kenneth Cohen. Make of that what you will.) The original French text includes a paragraph:

Coustenoble, dans la joie d’avoir aperçu un Whitley — “à moins que ce ne soit un Stirling”, dit-il toujours précis — à cent cinquante mètres.

While 150 metres (an unreliable estimate by a layman at night) was rather more than 300 feet, it was still low. Soon after being brought to Pau, Davis suffered acute appendicitis and was taken to hospital at Marie-Madeleine’s insistence. Some of her lieutenants were in favour of letting him die and stuffing him in a hole in the garden, for they were already suspicious. To Marie-Madeleine the likely cause (also omitted from the translation) was obvious:

On diagnostiquait à première vue une crise d’appendicite, traumatisme, vraisemblement provoqué par le saut en parachute.
(A first diagnosis was acute appendicitis, probably caused by the parachute drop.)

SIS seems to have had some peculiar ideas as to the correct dress for an agent, for (according to Fourcade) Davis was dressed as for a farcical village wedding – ‘la noce à Bobosse’ – a jacket that was almost a morning coat, striped trousers, a spotted cravat, a stiff shirt and wing-collar, a pointed goatee beard, pince-nez glasses and, to crown it all, a bowler hat. When he had been brought to Pau, Marie Madeleine wondered what British Intelligence thought a typical Frenchman wore. Her companions fell about with laughter.

For all his ludicrous get-up Bradley Davis would prove to be deadly. His pre-war association with Mosley’s Union of British Fascists had not been picked up by MI5’s rudimentary screening process; Davis had worked as a farm manager in France, and MI5’s parochial screening did not investigate beyond the English Channel. Davis betrayed ALLIANCE almost from the start. For more about ALLIANCE and Davis, look at Operation SHE a few nights later, and Operation FIREFLY on 6 November.

The problem with all of this is that on the 12th Sgt Reimer flew a sortie combining several operations. One of these was LUMOND, combined with SOE operations ADJUDICATE, FABULOUS, and CHICKEN. This LUMOND may have been more W/T sets for ALLIANCE using the same operation name. I could be completely wrong through relying on a coincidence of dates, but there is no other recorded air operation in August which remotely tallies with Fourcade’s date.

Wednesday, 6 August 1941

Operation THEOREM/VALIANT

From the point of view of John Austin’s crew this was a smooth, uneventful and successful operation to drop a pair of agents. The journey out is via Dives-sur-Mer, Tours, Chateauroux and Montluçon. The agents are dropped at 01.54, three minutes after reaching the target, near the village of St. Désiré, north of Montluçon. Austin probably pinpointed on Montluçon before backtracking to the target. On the way back COLUMBA pigeons are dropped near Argentan, and Austin lands back at Newmarket at 05.55. One pigeon returns from Flers, a few miles west from Argentan, arriving in the UK on the 16th.

For one of the agents it is a different story: although Jacques de Vaillant Guelis (VALIANT) a senior ‘F’ Section officer, lands without difficulty and is recovered by Lysander on the night of 4 September (Operation ‘Night Embarkation’ as the pilot, S/Ldr John Nesbitt-Dufort, entitles his report), but Gilbert Turck (THEOREM) is knocked out in an awkward landing. He wakes to find himself in a Vichy police station in Montluçon. During the Phoney War he had been a liaison officer between the sabotage-oriented Section ‘D’ of SIS and the similarly-tasked 5ème Bureau; his old boss, now working for Vichy’s intelligence service, has him released. Turck regains contact with de Guelis, and starts his mission.

(Operation ADJUDICATE)

Knowles and his crew take off at 22.07, quite late for a sortie heading for the south of France at that time of year. The rear gunner is a Squadron Leader Stephens, a gunnery instructor from 3 Group’s HQ Flight.

They fly a near-regular route: Abingdon, Tangmere, near-Cabourg, then Tours to Limoges, which they reach at 1.34. They find the target without difficulty, but they are greeted by the signal code ‘MD’, meaning that to land the agent would be dangerous. They circle for about ten minutes, but no further signals are seen. Headlights are seen on the ground and the Whitley leaves the area. Knowles offers to drop the agent elsewhere in Unoccupied France, an offer declined.

They fly back via Tours, landing back at Newmarket at 05.52.

The reason the operation name and agent are in brackets is that the evidence to identify them is circumstantial. In his operations report Knowles incorrectly ascribes it to the FELIX network, which did not operate in that area of south-west France. (Three nights earlier Knowles and his crew had flown an attempt to drop a W/T set to FELIX near Fontainebleau, but had turned back early with engine-trouble.) Characteristically Knowles does not include the date of the sortie in his report, but the take-off and landing times match those recorded in the Stradishall log for an otherwise unascribed sortie by Whitley (letter ‘D’) on 6th August. The target description in Knowles’s report, and the fact that the cargo is an agent not a W/T set, points towards another attempt to insert Count Dzieřgowski into the Unoccupied Zone near Limoges.

Operational cross-country

This Lysander sortie appears in Nesbitt-Dufort’s logbook, with a take-off from Tangmere at 23:00 hrs, and landing 5 hours 40 minutes later.

For all his other operational sorties, Nesbitt-Dufort records them as either ‘Ops as ordered successful or ‘Ops as ordered unsuccessful, and notes the number of passengers. This one is recorded merely as ‘Ops as ordered’, and as a solo effort, with no passengers.

This looks like a similar operation to the one described by Hugh Verity as an ‘operational cross-country’, in which Verity, soon after he joined 161 Squadron, was ordered to fly to a point in France, note what he saw, and to fly back and report. In Verity’s case the target was a brightly-lit prison camp in the countryside south of Saumur. Such sorties provided a realistic test of the pilot’s solo navigational abilities without exposing a valuable agent to any risk. Nesbitt-Dufort has flown several Whitley operations, and has proved himself as a competent map-reader, but those sorties are rather different from flying alone to a pinpoint on the map, several hundred miles into Occupied France. Next time he will do it with an agent aboard.

Sources

THEOREM/VALIANT

TNA AIR 20/8334, encl.53A

(ADJUDICATE)

TNA AIR 20/8334, encl.49A

Op X-country

Logbook, John Nesbitt-Dufort.

Tuesday, 12 August 1941

Operation PERIWIG/MILL

This second attempt to drop the MILL team is combined with PERIWIG. Why hasn’t this been done in the first place? The previous attempts to complete PERIWIG and MILL have been in two aircraft on the same night, though the targets are only 70 miles apart. Perhaps it is because SIS takes a dim view of sharing air resources with SOE. It has a valid point: SOE’s overt intentions of creating havoc through acts of sabotage and assassination render its agents more likely to get caught. Intelligence agents, often under deep cover, are vulnerable to accidental recognition.

But the 12th is the last opportunity to complete outstanding operations before the end of the moon period. Each service will have provided an accompanying/escorting officer, who will not have been unaware of the situation. Perhaps it is a case of Knowles stating in his characteristically blunt manner to both parties something to the effect of: “There’s one aeroplane for Belgium tonight; if your agent’s on board we’ll try and drop him, otherwise that’s your lot until the end of the month.” That night Ron Hockey is flying SHE to the Dordogne, and Sgt Reimer is taking four separate operations to central France, so even if there were a reserve Whitley there isn’t a reserve crew. (Though W/Cdr Knowles dates two reports to the 12th, he has flown them earlier; he just doesn’t provide the date they are flown.)

PERIWIG is dropped first, Austin pinpointing at Ath before dropping Campion near Silly. They then fly south to Trélon, identifiable by its large surrounding forest, just over the border in France. They pinpoint again at Chimay before dropping the two MILL agents about a mile south of Salles. This target is less than four miles from Momignies, the site of the Leenaerts operation almost exactly a year before. (Verhoeyen records that they were in fact dropped near Cerfontaine, about 11 miles to the north-east.) The rear Gunner sees the two parachutes open, and the canopies are seen on the ground as Austin flies another circuit of the area. It is a night of good weather, with good visibility. On the return leg they are coned by about 20 searchlights as they crossed the coast, probably at Nieuwport. (The typed report has been hole-punched through the name.)

The folly of combining operations is demonstrated by Campion’s capture. Campion proceeds to denounce almost everyone he knows. According to MRD Foot, ‘his brother, his sister-in-law, his nieces, the doctor who had set his ankle’ – he had, unseen by the departing Whitley’s crew, broken it severely on landing – ‘the mother superior of the convent [that had sheltered him], everyone he had met during his training and all the reception committee.’ Sgt Austin’s despatchers – there are two on this sortie, one under training – are most likely instructed to keep the SIS and SOE parties apart, both before embarkation and in the confined space of the Whitley’s rear fuselage. Whatever strategem is used, it appears to work: the MILL party escapes the attentions of the Gestapo, providing an almost constant stream of intelligence material back to London right up to the Liberation. According to Debruyne, MILL is particularly effective at railway-based intelligence, concentrating their efforts in the Hainaut area. Some 700 agents and helpers are involved.

Operation LUMOND, ADJUDICATE, FABULOUS, CHICKEN

This is the first sortie as aircraft captain for Sergeant Alvin Reimer, a Canadian pilot. His reports are concise, and give little away. This night is the last opportunity to complete outstanding operations before the end of the early August moon period, and Sgt Reimer’s record shows that he is the sort to press on and complete his task if it is feasible. The attempt to mount the operations on this sortie, all for SOE, is decided only at the last minute.

Take-off is slightly delayed, therefore, and the Whitley’s rear fuselage is full. There are four agents, four W/T sets, and a single despatcher. ADJUDICATE is scheduled first, to drop Count Dzieřgowski and a W/T set near Limoges. CHICKEN is the Belgian agent Octave Fabri, whose mission is to sabotage an aircraft-engine factory near Antwerp, but the cultural antipathies that still plague Belgium may have ruled out a more direct drop into the Ardennes. He is to be dropped about ten kilometres north of Châteauroux. Finally, FABULOUS and LUMOND are to be dropped about ten kilometres further north. FABULOUS was ‘one man with a large W/T set’ to be dropped for Henri Labit and a new circuit he was trying to set up after the failure of TORTURE. LUMOND was ‘one man with a W/T set, and one large W/T set as a separate package’, but no more is known about this SOE operation.

Reimer and his crew take off at 21.30 and fly via Tangmere to Caen, crossing the French coast at 23.24. They arrive over Limoges an hour and a half later, but low cloud prevents them finding the pinpoint for ADJUDICATE. They set course northwards and drop CHICKEN. Fabri makes his way to Belgium after making a series of beginners’ mistakes that no-one harmful picked up, and he survives the war after a catalogue of misfortunes which would have done away with a less lucky man.

The Whitley then carries on towards its next target, about 10 kilometres further north, arriving about ten minutes later, which indicates that Reimer has tried to give his rear team time to prepare. But Sgt Moy, although an experienced despatcher, has had to rearrange and prepare FABULOUS (a wireless-operator and set for Henri Labit) and LUMOND (a wireless operator and two sets) in a cramped fuselage still encumbered with Count Dzieřgowski and his W/T set. Over the FABULOUS/LUMOND target Reimer assumes that his despatcher was ready, and presses the green light, but the two agents and their three sets are still not ready. Reimer is forced to make a circuit of the target, and the crew lose sight of it in the cloud. After this one circuit Reimer is forced to abandon the drop in order to be clear of the French coast before daybreak.

We have this information about the drop because on 14 August SOE writes to the Air Ministry for an explanation. Three days later Group Captain Bradbury passes SOE’s note to W/Cdr Knowles at Newmarket, demanding: ‘Please render your report without delay and return the attachment.’ Knowles’s explanation is not on file, so we have only one side of the story.

Operation SHE

Two nights after Jackson’s attempt at SHE, F/O Hockey flew his first operation as skipper. Hockey now skippers the second attempt at SHE. This is the only operational sortie he flies with his great friend ‘Sticky’ Murphy as his Second Pilot.

They set off shortly after nine p.m. and follow much the same route as Jackson. They make landfall at Grandcamp, a little further west along the Normandy coast. They cross the Loire at Saumur, and reach Périgueux at 00.50. Low and medium cloud have given way to clear weather with a slight haze, and Hockey drops to about 1,500 feet. At 00.58 they identify the target, and 15 minutes later they have completed the operation.

Hockey and his crew make their way to the Atlantic coast, pinpointing at Bigenos in Archachon Bay. Despite the cloud cover over the Bay of Biscay two ships fire at them. They make landfall in West Cornwall, and pass over St Eval before heading for Abingdon and Newmarket. The weather is reportedly poor at Newmarket, and they are now so short of fuel that they land at Abingdon.

Operation SHE isn’t a female agent, or even an agent: it is a W/T set for the ALLIANCE intelligence circuit run by Marie-Madeleine Fourcade. Each W/T set has a three-letter identifying code, such as KVL or OCK. In this case the set has the code ‘SHE’.

This ‘SHE’ set plays an ignominious role in the story of ALLIANCE, for instead of taking it to Brittany to operate with the local ALLIANCE cell, the traitorous agent Bradley Davis, nicknamed ‘Bla’, gives his escort the slip and takes it to the Abwehr in Paris. From there Davis and the Abwehr run a ‘funkspiel’ deception operation using SHE, purporting to pass vital military information about the Atlantic ports to London. Davis operates the set himself to prevent London from suspecting a strange Abwehr hand on the key.

‘Bla’ has been under a degree of suspicion almost from his arrival in France, but London backs him, citing the excellent information they have been receiving. Within ALLIANCE he is known to be a traitor after his network in Brittany is arrested. London confirms this because they have continued to receive information purporting to come from the blown network via SHE. Davis turns up in Marseilles, is trapped in a faked rendezvous, and is executed by the ALLIANCE team.

Wednesday, 20 August 1941

Operation DOWNSTAIRS/LUMOND

F/Lt ‘Sticky’ Murphy’s first sortie as aircraft captain is unusual, as befits an extraordinary airman, for it is carried out in the middle of the dark period when the moon is on the sunlit side of the planet. At 11.30 a.m. the operation is to be DOWNSTAIRS only, and Ron Hockey is due to fly it, but at 14.50 the pilot is changed to F/Lt Murphy. At 17.00 Bomber Command cancels its planned operations to WHITEBAIT (Berlin) due to a poor weather forecast. Knowles is asked about the status of 1419 Flight and he replied that the operation would go ahead.

Murphy has several aids in the darkness: a red navigation beacon at Tours, poor blackout discipline so close to the Unoccupied Zone, no blackout once he has crossed the demarcation line (and not much close to it), and his own ability to fly an accurate course on instruments.

Murphy takes off at 20.40, and flies the regular route to Tours. It is a clear night, and Murphy’s crew sees the Tours beacon twenty minutes before they reach it. At Tours they alter course for Châteauroux, which they reach shortly before midnight.

They are, however, unable to see any signals over the target. They return to Châteauroux twice and try again, but no signals are seen on the ground, so they abandon the attempt and return via Tangmere and Abingdon. On the way back they overfly Caen aerodrome, where Sergeant Bramley shoots out two searchlights that attempt to pick them up. They land at Newmarket at 03.50, and five minutes later the airfield beacon is doused. At 04.05 a message is sent to 3 Group: ‘Operation “DOWNSTAIRS LUMOND” uncompleted’, with a similar message to Air Intelligence at the Air Ministry.

DOWNSTAIRS appears to have been either Ben Cowburn or Michael Trotobas. Of the operation-names listed by Sgt Reimer for his large, successful drop on 6 September, DRAFTSMAN, AUTOGIRO E, VESTIGE and UKULELE can be tied to Georges Bloch, the Comte du Puy, Victor Gerson and George Langelaan, but neither Cowburn nor Trotobas can be tied down to being DOWNSTAIRS or TROPICAL. Deducing the identity of DOWNSTAIRS would be valuable, for it might reveal the real LUMOND, who remains anonymous.

Thus ends the last operation flown by No. 1419 Flight.