Monthly Archives: August 1941

Sunday, 31 August 1941

Operation ‘Smoking Concert’

August 31st is the 61st birthday of Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands. She had been evacuated from Holland with her family in May 1940, even as German tanks were rolling through the neutral Low Countries. Now she is in exile in London with her country’s elected government. To demonstrate her support for the Dutch people in their privations she has commissioned a supply of cigarettes, filled with the aromatic tobacco from the Dutch East Indies, to be dropped over Holland on the night of her birthday.

On 10 August 1941, Group Captain Bradbury writes from the Air Ministry to W/Cdr Knowles, asking him to earmark three aircraft to drop large quantities of cigarettes over the Netherlands on the night of August 31st. Bradbury doesn’t say where the request has come from, but the operation has clearly been under planning for some time. The paper packaging for these loose-pack cigarettes has been specially designed: it carries patriotic emblems of the monarch and a free Holland. The double-V – for ‘Wilhelmina’ – beneath the Dutch royal crown has been printed on orange paper that is also covered with lines of small white ‘V’s (for victory). On each spine is printed: ‘ORANJE ZAL OVERWINNEN’ (Orange shall overcome.). On the reverse of each pack is a large white ‘V’, over printed with ‘Nederland zal herrijzen!’ (The Netherlands shall arise!).

For some reason 138 Squadron is able to provide only two serviceable Whitleys with their crews. At 0933 S/Ldr Stevens, of 3 Group, reports to the Stradishall Ops Room that: ‘3 Group Training Flight is loaning their aircraft “K” for a Nickel Raid tonight.’

One of the Whitley pilots is John Austin, who has returned from spending his leave at an OCTU (Officer Cadet Training Unit), and is now Pilot Officer Austin. This is his first sortie since receiving his commission; he will end the year as a Flight Lieutenant. The pilot of the other Whitley, according to Ken Merrick, is F/Lt Murphy. The pilot of the Training Flight’s Wellington is F/Lt McGillivray, a New Zealander. His second-pilot is Sqn/Ldr Charles Pickard, DSO, DFC. Pickard is being rested after his tour of operations with No. 9 Squadron, and is attached to 3 Group’s Training Flight.

At 2030 a/c ‘Z’ of 138 Squadron takes off from Newmarket, followed a minute later by ‘D’, and at 2055 McGillivray and Pickard in Wellington ‘K’. I have found an intriguing photograph in the Royal Air Force Museum catalogue that includes Pickard and McGillivray, together with S/Ldr M.T Stephens, 3 Group Gunnery Officer, and S/Ldr Alan Cousens, 3 Group Navigation Officer. The catalogue entry states: “Group photograph of late Sqn Ldr M.T. Stephens DFC and other scratch crew members beside Vickers Wellington “K”, circa 1941.” The group stands in front of the rear starboard fuselage of a Wellington, letter ‘K’. Behind them, near the Wellington’s rear door, lie several large cardboard boxes, some opened.

The Wellington was back in just over three hours, at 2356. Whitley ‘D’ landed five minutes later. Whitley ‘Z’ returned at 0208, after 5 hours 38 minutes in the air. This tallies with Austin’s logbook; his W/Op recorded the target as Leeuwarden. Though not that much further than the other two target areas quoted by Grp Capt. Bradbury – about 50 miles East of Utrecht and to the East of the Zuider Zee, – Austin is likely to have taken significant detours to avoid the worst of the flak-belt. Tonight the defences were bound to be alert and active: Stradishall’s resident bomber squadron had been scheduled to attack ‘Whitebait’ (Berlin), but during the day the target was changed to Cologne.

At 0230 F/O Hockey, probably Duty Officer for the night, signalled the Air Ministry: ‘Operation SMOKING CONCERT completed’.

Between August and October 1941 S/Ldrs Pickard, Stephens and Cousens, plus F/Sgts Broadley and Judson (Pickard’s Navigator and W/Op respectively from Nos 311 and 9 Squadrons) appear to have been based at 3 Grp HQ at Exning, less than two miles from RAF Newmarket Heath, as a rest from operations. On several occasions during this period all five are to be found in the crew lists of 138 Squadron operations, moonlighting both literally and metaphorically. Of the five, only Leo Judson survived the war: Stephens was to perish in the North Sea in January 1942 (information from an article in the December 2008 edition of ‘Nightjar’, the 214 Sqn Association newsletter); W/Cdr Cousens was to perish in April 1944 as a Master Bomber with No. 635 Squadron, PFF, during a raid on Laon, France; and Pickard and Broadley died in the Amiens prison raid in February 1944.

Friday, 29 August 1941

This is the first moon period during which operations straddle two calendar months, so we can no longer talk about (for instance) the ‘July moon period’.

Operation TROMBONE

F/O Ron Hockey opens the new moon period by dropping a Free French agent into the Unoccupied Zone. Hockey’s crew for this operation is unusual. As his second pilot he has taken along S/Ldr Charles Pickard, DSO, DFC, from 3 Group HQ at RAF Exning, just to the north of Newmarket. Pickard is one of Hockey’s wide circle of personal friends, possibly from his pre-war days at Farnborough. Already nationally famous as the laconic pilot of ‘F for Freddie’ in the film ‘Target for Tonight’, Pickard has recently been awarded the DSO for his leadership of No. 311 (Czech) Squadron, and is being ‘rested’. The sortie also appears to have been an opportunity for a spot of on-the-job Despatcher training, with three on board to launch one agent; the novice is LAC Bolt. There is no RAF aircrew ‘trade’ of Despatcher, and therefore no formal training; many are volunteer ground crew, flying on operations in addition to their normal duties.

Hockey takes off in Whitley ‘D’ Z6473, the aircraft prone to exactor problems, at 20.33. They cross the French coast at Grandcamp, near Isigny-sur-Mer, and fly via Tours to Châteauroux, which they reach at 23.42. Ten minutes flying-time east of Châteauroux they drop the agent from 500 feet. (The agent’s SOE personal file says 900 feet.) Hockey returns to base via Tangmere, landing at Newmarket at 03.54.

TROMBONE is Robert Lencement, a 34-year-old electrical engineer in a research job at the time of the Franco-German Armistice. He has taken a month’s holiday from his job at Vichy with the broadcasting service Radiodiffusion Nationale. He has made his way via Spain and Portugal to England, which he reaches on 12 August on only the eighth day of his holiday. He has been in touch with a Polish organisation, probably the intelligence organisation F2 which has links with Vichy Intelligence. In London he makes contact with ‘Colonel Passy’ and therefore becomes an RF agent. SOE’s aim is to return him to France before his leave is up, so that he can resume normal life without his absence being noticed.

With only a couple of weeks in England there has been no real time to give Lencement the training he needs as a clandestine agent. He has been debriefed on his telecommunications knowledge, and given a short parachuting course at Ringway (which he completes with ease). He is dropped about ten minutes’ flying-time to the east of Châteauroux. MRD Foot’s assertion that Lencement was dropped back near Vichy ‘without a moon to help him’ is doubly inaccurate: the moon would have set there at about 01.46 local time (GMT+3); Hockey drops Lencement at 23.52 Double Summer Time (GMT+2), 00.52 local, so the solo agent will have had about 50 minutes in which to get his bearings, bury or hide his parachute and harness, and get going before he loses the moonlight.

In December Lencement will be arrested by Vichy and sentenced to four years imprisonment. During his time in Clermont-Ferrand prison he makes contact with agents from the ALLIANCE intelligence circuit run by SIS. He is released in May 1942 and works for ALLIANCE. That circuit’s difficulties leads to his attempt to repeat his journey to England, but is arrested at Perpignan, interned at Fresnes and deported to Buchenwald and DORA. He survives, and is awarded the King’s Medal for Courage in the Cause of Freedom, a decoration awarded to several non-military resistance figures, especially those who survived Nazi hospitality.


TNA AIR 20/8334, Encl. 69A
TNA HS9/913/8: Lencement Personal File

Monday, 25 August 1941

No. 1419 Flight becomes No. 138 Squadron

For months, almost as far back as March when the Flight had been forced to add an extra digit for the Canadians’ administrative convenience, several senior officers had been manoeuvring for the creation of a Special Duties unit of squadron strength to service the increasing level of demand by SOE. Air Marshal Harris, who as Deputy Chief of the Air Staff (DCAS) had effectively blocked any expansion of SD air operations, had departed for the USA in June, leaving his post to AVM Norman Bottomley.

Teddy Knowles had been promoted to Wing Commander on 27 June, and would continue to command the unit, now to become No. 138 Squadron. In the First World War it had been a bomber squadron, disbanded with the peace. Knowles had played a full part in the Flight’s operational schedule. From now he would fly fewer operations, not least because he was running out of operational flying hours.

For those at Newmarket little would change for some time: the squadron was to be operated on an ‘enhanced Flight’ basis. This meant, in effect, that expansion would be gradual, with only one or two additional crews available for operations. Meanwhile, General Sikorski had been agitating for the creation of a Polish SD Flight intended create an ‘air bridge’ to supply the Home Army in Poland. Nor was the Czech government-in-exile to be left out. The joint pressure resulted in Bottomley allocating one Polish and one Czech crew to 138 Squadron. On 11 August two Polish crews had been sent to OTU for conversion, and a Czech crew followed. They would be tasked as all the other members of the squadron, according to the operational needs, not just to targets in eastern Europe.

Wednesday, 20 August 1941


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.

Tuesday, 12 August 1941


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.


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.