Monthly Archives: September 1941

Tuesday, 30 September 1941


Austin flies this short-range SOE operation to Belgium to open proceedings for the September-October moon period. Shortly after crossing the Belgian coast near Furnes both turrets lose power, caused by a sheared hydraulic pump spindle. The Whitley is now, in effect, unarmed, as the turret can only be rotated by hand-cranking it round, far too slow if they come under attack by an enemy fighter. Austin and his crew press on.

Over Courtrai they are held by searchlights and Austin has to resort to violent action to throw them off; no easy feat in the staid Whitley. Hardly surprising that they lose their precise position. It takes them some time to find their next pinpoint, and MUSJID (Stinglhamber) is dropped at his preferred spot near Celles. Jean Nicolas Léon Maus (OUTCASTE) and his wireless-operator André Fonck (BALACLAVA) are supposed to be dropped near Arlon, on the Luxembourg border, but low cloud and rain force a decision to drop them near Champlon, fifty kilometres to the north. The decision on such a drastic change of target would not be taken without discussing it with the agents. OUTCASTE and BALACLAVA are dropped in a large field, and when the Whitley circles back both canopies are seen on the ground, near some woods where they and the harnesses can be concealed. Austin heads for home after dropping leaflets over Champlon. Perhaps because the Whitley has no defensive armament, Austin chooses a longer but safer route home, via Tréport and Tangmere, and lands at Newmarket at 2.40.

Maus’s personal file says that he was reported to have dropped between CHAMPLON and BEAULIEU (possibly Béleu, about 5 km to the east). His mission is to find out what, if anything is happening in Luxembourg: to contact any existing organisations or, failing that, to set up an organisation of his own; to reconnoitre sites for dropping supplies or landing sites for Lysanders. MRD Foot gives the story of their eventual capture:

Operation TEAMAN

While much is known about Austin’s sortie, much less is known about Sticky Murphy’s sortie TEAMAN. MRD Foot does not mention it. It may have been an SIS mission.

The target is in same area as GLASSHOUSE, flown earlier in the month. F/Lt Murphy flies across the Zuider Zee to Zwartsluis and Meppel. (Before the post-war creation of the eastern polders Meppel was almost on the coast.) According to Murphy’s post-operation report the TEAMAN target was only seven minutes flying-time up the canal towards Smilde. Unusually, they drop their leaflets over Meppel before heading for the target, presumably to avoid returning there after the drop. After dropping TEAMAN Murphy then set course for Southwold, but they made landfall at Lowestoft. They fly south to Southwold, which presumably gives them an often-flown track to find base at Newmarket, where they land at 23.32.


Of F/O Hockey’s crew for this sortie, it appears that only P/O Smith, his 2nd Pilot, is a member of the Squadron. So far as I am able to ascertain, his navigator and wireless-operator, F/Sgts Broadley, DFM and F/Sgt Judson, DFM are on the staff of 3 Group’s Training Flight; during this period both fly other operations for 138 Squadron, but only five in total between them. The rear-gunner, F/Sgt Masson, does not appear elsewhere in 138 Squadron’s reports, so he may also be a visitor. S/Ldr Jack Benham (ex-Ringway) is flying as the Despatcher, with a Sgt Kennedy (also possibly a visitor, for this is his only appearance) to assist. Benham has been on the staff of Ringway almost since its formation: in May 1941 he briefly replaced Louis Strange as CO of the Parachute Training Squadron, but was soon superseded by S/Ldr Maurice Newnham. Promoted to Wing Commander, Benham is posted overseas to India to train paratroops there, but fails the medical; he is currently with SOE.

The target for Operation LUCKYSHOT is near Charleroi. Hockey takes off at 18.55 and flies via Abingdon and Tangmere to the French coast at Berck-sur-Mer. Though this is a roundabout route to Belgium, nearly double the straight-line distance, it avoids the heavy flak defences to be encountered anywhere along the coast east of Calais. They cross the French coast at 7,500 feet, a safe height. Encountering 8/10 cumulus cloud shortly after, Hockey drops to 3,500 feet. After 10/10 cloud, and rain, he drops further to 2,000 feet. On ETA over the target area Hockey decides against flying any lower in zero visibility, the ground being not much more than 1,000 feet below. The operation is abandoned and they return via the Somme estuary at Le Crotoy, and thence to Tangmere and base at 01.25.

From the RHOMBOID SOE file, Hockey’s sortie also includes HIRELING and RHOMBOID, Jean Cassart and Henri Verhaegen. Hockey does not mention these in his report, perhaps because he abandons the operation in the knowledge that their target would be equally inaccessible.

As with TEAMAN, the identity of LUCKYSHOT appears to have evaded the record. There is no mention of LUCKYSHOT by MRD Foot or Etienne Verhoeyen, two principal sources for SOE and intelligence agents, or any file in the National Archive.



TNA AIR20/8334, encls 82A, 83A, 87A.
TNA HS6/158, Personal File for Jean Nicolas Léon Maus (OUTCASTE)
MRD Foot, ‘SOE in the Low Countries’, pp. 265-7.


TNA HS 6/187 (RHOMBOID mission)
Hockey logbook
Article about Jack Benham by Walter Kahn, MBE, in ‘The Dropzone’, the magazine of Harrington Aviation Museums; volume 10, Issue 1 (2012).

Wednesday, 24 September 1941

RAF Hatfield

F/O Hockey’s logbook records a flight to Hatfield for a demonstration to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), Sir John Dill. It’s probably safe to assume many other spectators are present. On the 21st Hockey had flown to Ringway and back in Whitley Z9159, with P/Os Halcro and Livingstone and 4 crew. Now, with P/O Austin as 2nd Pilot, and with P/Os Pulton & Livingstone, and Sgts McAlister & Moy, they fly Z9125 to Hatfield.

Hockey’s 20-minute demonstration flight drops a stick of parachutists and containers over the airfield The paratroops have probably been borrowed from Ringway on Monday; Jack Benham from Ringway is aboard, presumably as Despatcher to ensure a tidy stick-drop. Two days later, on the 26th, Hockey and Austin will repeat the exercise over Hatfield for the benefit of the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Chief Marshal Charles Portal.

Friday, 19 September 1941

HQ No. 3 Group, Exning

The AOC No. 3 Group writes that the move to Tempsford will be delayed due to labour shortages.

RAF Newmarket – Farnborough – Hendon

P/O Austin flies Z6728 for 1hr 30 mins for W/T experiments. He also flies for 1hr 30mins as 2nd pilot to F/O Hockey in Z9159 (though Hockey records it as Z9125) from Base to Farnborough to Hendon. These experiments continue over the following two days. They may be related to either the S-phone or the Rebecca/Eureka systems.

Thursday, 11 September 1941


The first attempt to drop Tommy Sneum (ESMOND) and Sigfred Christophersen (COLUMBUS) had failed due to atrocious weather. Just how much difference could be made by a piece of clear weather is seen from this sortie, flown by the comparatively inexperienced Sgt Reimer and his crew.

Taking off at 19.45, they get a ‘fix’ at Great Yarmouth and set course for Esjberg, the main port on Jutland’s west coast. They climb to 8,000 feet for the North Sea crossing, and descend on ETA to pinpoint at Esjberg, where they are greeted by searchlights and flak. They then fly on to the target near Brorfelde, where they drop Sneum and Christophersen shortly after 23.33. They land back at Newmarket just over three hours later.

Tommy Sneum told his story to Mark Ryan, and Ryan’s book ‘The Hornet’s Sting’ was published in 2008, the year after Sneum died.

Wednesday, 10 September 1941

Operation SARDINE

This sortie to the Toulouse area by F/Lt Jackson appears to consist of two agents: one from SIS, according to the SOE history of the Gaullist RF Section (HS7/123), and the other a wireless operator for RF’s 20-year-old Henri Labit. Since the failure of Operation TORTURE, Labit has been given a new mission, code-named FABULOUS. A W/T operator, Jacques Furet (alias Mercier) is to join him as FABULOUS P. Recently, Pierre Tillet has identified another wireless operator, Louis Richard, parachuted to set up a network called RONSARD/TROENE. It is not clear which agent is SARDINE; perhaps the operation name refers to them both being dropped close together. There is no other sortie for this moon period that might account for two agents being dropped near each other on separate sorties. Though agents from SIS are not usually dropped with SOE ones, Knowles may have insisted that it was foolhardily wasteful to send two aircraft unnecessarily (from the RAF viewpoint) to the same place on the same night.

The SARDINE target is in the vicinity of Moissac, between Agen and Montauban, north-west of Toulouse. Jackson takes off at 20.10, and follows the usual route via Abingdon and Tangmere to the Normandy coast. He flies south on dead-reckoning, altering course at 22.00 (Perigueux), and is only able to fix his position at 00.17, at Agen. Pinpointing at Moissac, he alters course for the target and descends to dropping-height. Jackson’s crew completes the operation from 500 feet at 00.46 in good visibility. The RF History merely says that Furet is dropped near Toulouse, where Labit has settled; so, according to Tillet, is Richard.

Jackson cannot be far from the city, for four minutes later he starts circling above Toulouse, dropping leaflets from 2,000 feet. He then sets off on the return leg, aiming to pinpoint on some lakes near Niort, on the river Sèvre. He flies over Dieppe above 10/10ths cloud, attracting a little light flak, and reaches Tangmere at 04.40. Abingdon cannot be identified. Poor weather conditions and incorrect W/T information lead them to cross the East Anglian coast at Orfordness at 05.18 before turning back westwards to Newmarket, which they identify at 06.35, and where they land at 06.40.

Operation BARTER

Austin’s Whitley takes off at 19.45, and heads for Dives-sur-Mer via Abingdon and Tangmere. Their target is close to Lac Biscarosse, on the Biscay coast south of Arcachon. Cloud and haze over France prevent them from getting a fix until they pinpoint at Chinon, on the Vienne, at 22.35. The wireless-operator notes the target in his logbook as ‘Lac Biscarosse’, but it is a little further south, about 5 kilometres south of Mimizan. They reach the target at 00.20, where they are greeted by two fires and an intermittent torch signal. Roger Donnadieu and his wireless-operator, Pierre Laurent, are dropped successfully and are seen on the ground, one near a fire, the other some distance away on the sand.

Austin then flies on to Perigueux where three boxes of ‘nickels’ are dropped before the Whitley heads home. Cloud increases until they reached the French coast, from where it remains at 9/10ths across the Channel. They get a fix at Brighton and land back at Newmarket at 07.50. The Whitley has been airborne for 11 hours and 5 minutes.

Lt Donnadieu is on loan from the Free French Army: his purpose is to reconnoitre Merignac airfield just outside Bordeaux, the airfield from which General de Gaulle had been plucked in June 1940, with a view to sabotage of the maritime patrol activities of the Focke-Wulf ‘Condor’ unit based there. These long-range aircraft are a constant menace to the Allies, vectoring U-boat packs towards the Atlantic convoys. However, Laurent’s wireless set is damaged in the landing, and the attack on the airfield is called off. But Donnadieu and Laurent have a secondary purpose, to organise circuits in the Bordeaux area with a view to gaining intelligence and sabotage.


One of the SOE files (in this case TNA HS6/184) recorded this operation as having taken place on the night of 9-10 September; consequently, so did MRD Foot in ‘SOE in the Low Countries’ (p. 259). But F/Lt Murphy’s report on his sortie dates the relevant sortie to 10-11 September, and this is backed by the take-off and landing timings contained in the Stradishall ops log.

Murphy takes off from Newmarket at 20.17 and takes the normal route south via Abingdon and Tangmere. On this sortie Murphy’s rear gunner is S/Ldr Stephens, Gunnery Leader for 3 Group, who flies on several sorties. The planned course is via Cabourg to Tours and Chateauroux, but they drift from their planned course, unexpectedly running into flak. Later they pinpoint on the Loire at Saumur, west of Tours, their intended route. Later, with hindsight, they believe the flak to have come from Cherbourg.
Murphy flies up the Loire to Tours, then to the target near Chateauroux. The target, according to an SOE debriefing report on Detal from 1943, is Chevannes, stated to be ‘about 11 miles NNW of St Amand’; the correct spelling is Chavannes. Though Murphy writes that ‘we had no difficulty in finding our pin point’, the agents are dropped about five miles south-east of Chavannes, at Uzay-le-Venon.

The agents

GYPSY is Julian Detal, and VERMILION his wireless-operator, Frederic Wampach. Before his recruitment to SOE’s Belgian section, Detal had worked in France for the Belgian Sureté; now he is to set up courier lines through France. In ‘SOE in the Low Countries’, pages 259-263, MRD Foot tells the salutary story of Detal’s mission, too complex to summarize effectively here. Wampach is mentally broken thanks to his previous experiences, and only transmits when Detal is standing over him; Wampach eventually makes his way to Belgium. Detal is sent a new operator named Courtin (MOUSE) whose foolhardiness gets Detal arrested. Detal twice escapes Vichy police custody, but he becomes suspected by the Belgian Sureté’s Lepage. Detal returns to London and is given another mission, as a result of which he is captured again and sent to Buchenwald, where he dies.