Monthly Archives: October 1941

Wednesday, 1 October 1941

Operation BINDER

P/O Austin and his regular crew fly this operation to Belgium, the approximate target location only known from the mention of Cambrai in Austin’s report, and of Celles/Champlon in his wireless-operator’s logbook. Pierre Tillet, author of the ‘Infiltrations into France’ document on the the Plan Sussex 1944 website, has directed me to a paragraph in Emmanuel Debruyne’s ‘La Maison de Verre’, a 2006 paper on Intelligence operations in Belgium, which identifies the agent and his organisation.

Austin takes off at 22.25, crosses the English coast at Newhaven and the French coast at Pointe Haut-Banc at 00.10. Flying via Arras and Cambrai, the target is somewhere in the rolling hills of the Ardennes south of Marche-en-Famenne. There is no reception for the agent, who is dropped at 02.32. His parachute is seen to open but he is not seen on the ground.

The agent was Joseph Austraet, the first W/T operator intended for the ‘Zéro’ intelligence circuit, founded by Fernand Kerkhofs early in 1941. Debruyne wrote that it was several months before Austraet became active, and he was arrested shortly after making a few transmissions. Debruyne does not mention Austraet in his later paper, ‘La guerre sécrète des espions Belges’ (though he does write about Kerkhofs and Zéro), which explains why I missed him earlier.

Austin and his crew drop leaflets over Cambrai, and return by the same route. With cloud covering the English coastline, they use an H/F (High-Frequency) fix from Tangmere as a turning point, which takes them there before they return to Newmarket at 05.25.

Operations LUCKYSHOT, HIRELING, RHOMBOID

P/O Smith is also 2nd Pilot on the second attempt to drop LUCKYSHOT; this time he has Sgt Reimer as his skipper. They fly much the same route as Hockey the night before, taking off early at 18.45. Instead of thick cumulus they are faced with low cloud and thick ground-haze over the highly-industrialised area of coalfields and steelworks around Charleroi. They therefore abandon the operation, and set off to drop HIRELING and RHOMBOID. They encounter the same conditions over the second target, so abandon and head for home.

Reimer reports ‘a large belt of searchlights at Florennes’, south-east of Charleroi; not surprising, for there is a Luftwaffe fighter base just outside the town. The same cannot be said for the searchlights they encounter at Beaumont, further west. They experience no flak, so perhaps the Florennes defences hold their fire to avoid giving away the airfield’s existence to a lone enemy aircraft that might be a British night-fighter.

Reimer lands back at Newmarket at 02.30.

Operation BEAU GESTE

This sortie, flown by F/Lt Jackson, follows an unusual route for SD operations: out via Taunton, then south over the Devon coast at Seaton, to make landfall at Le Bréhat, on the north coast of Brittany, at 21.05. The target is reached at 21.33, about half an hour’s flying-time from Le Bréhat; so perhaps 70 miles away, and therefore still within Brittany. This part of France is generally off-limits to SOE: SIS has made clear to the junior organisation that it will brook no activity that might threaten the peaceful passage of spies and information. There is no information available about BEAU GESTE or its purpose, but the operation is completed at 21.36.

Jackson returns the way he came, via Seaton and Taunton. He is guided by an avenue of searchlights for the eight-minute leg from the Devon coast to Taunton, and he lands at Newmarket at 00.30.

Operation COLUMBA

Operations BINDER, LUCKYSHOT, etc.

It is possible that P/O Austin dropped pigeons on his sortie, for a few returned to the UK shortly afterwards, and no other sortie fits. In his report, however, Austin only mentions dropping leaflets. Likewise, Sgt Reimer on LUCKYSHOT, etc. made no mention of pigeon-dropping.

BEAU GESTE

It is possible that Jackson’s sortie may have been related to Operation Columba, but none of the pigeons that returned to the UK in October came from the Brittany area. (This does not, however, definitely rule out pigeons: many could have been dropped, but none returned.)

Sources

BINDER

TNA AIR 20/8334, Encl. 81A
Logbooks, S/Ldrs Austin and Livingstone
Emmanuel Debruyne: ‘La Maison de Verre: agents et reseaux de renseignements en Belgique occupée, 1940-44 (2005-6), p.347.

LUCKYSHOT, HIRELING, RHOMBOID

TNA AIR 20/8334, Encl. 84A

BEAU GESTE

TNA AIR 20/8334, Encl. 91A

Thursday, 2 October 1941

Operation BRICK

‘BRICK’ is the codename of Lt Roger Mitchell, a 27-year-old French artillery officer who has been sent to France partly to arrange and manage landing sites and landings for Lysander operations. He has come to England via North Africa and Martinique, where he evaded via the USA, crossing to England in December 1941. Before his own parachute-insertion on 4 July Mitchell has been trained at Somersham by S/Ldr Nesbitt-Dufort, the pilot tonight. This Lysander operation is given his codename because he has arranged it for another agent.

Strictly speaking the operation should be called WALENTY, for the agent to be transported to England is the Polish intelligence officer Roman Garby-Czerniawski. Having escaped Poland after the 1939 invasion, like so many of his countrymen, during ‘la drôle de guerre’ (which must have seemed heavily ironic to any Pole) he had been based in Lorraine, where he had accommodated himself with a young French widow, Renée Borni. Following the French defeat, and adopting the bicycle and identity of her husband, Armand Borni, Czerniawski cycled to Paris unmolested. Almost immediately he started working for the Polish Intelligence organisation based in the ZNO (the Non-occupied Zone), travelling between Paris and Toulouse. Since late 1940 he has established the Franco-Polish intelligence circuit known as INTERALLIÉ in Paris, aided by the resourceful Mathilde Carré. INTERALLIÉ’s agents throughout Nazi-occupied France have specialized in gathering information about German military units in France, chiefly by observing uniform insignia and vehicle unit-signs. The circuit’s information was initially carried by courier to the ZNO, and from there to London, though W/T sets have increasingly taken over. As leader of perhaps the most successful intelligence circuits in France at this time, Garby-Czerniawski (whose codename with the Poles and SIS is WALENTY) has been called to London for consultation. Czerniawski is escorted by Mitchell and another F2 agent, Auguste Brun, known as ‘Volta’, to a disused airfield near Estrée St Denis, north of Paris. Czerniawski has stuffed papers into an old portable gramophone, and the three travel from Paris by train.

This is the second pick-up operation for S/Ldr John Nesbitt-Dufort. He flies Lysander T1770 from Tangmere, taking off at 21.15. Immediately he is airborne he makes contact with local radar control. The method is later described by Hugh Verity: the Lysander will be tracked by the Chain Home Low defence radar to within a few miles of the French coast. Its pilot can be given coded course-corrections by radio, but he maintains radio silence; thus his passive navigation aid cannot alert the enemy.

Nesbitt-Dufort arrives over the French coast at Le Tréport at 21.55, and sets course for the target, a disused aerodrome just north-east of Estrées St Denis, near Compiègne. Poor visibility means he has to fly an extremely accurate course. At 22.20, after 35 minutes flying on dead-reckoning, he sees the agreed signal lights. These are hard to miss: while two of the lights are torches, Mitchell has rigged up a battery-powered car headlights for signalling which is far too bright for the purpose; it dazzles the pilot during his approach and landing.

Nesbitt-Dufort’s landing, turnaround and take-off are completed within three minutes, facilitated by Mitchell and ‘Volta’. The Lysander crosses the coast somewhat south of track, near Dieppe at about 7,000 feet, high enough not to be threatened by the light flak; only after leaving the coast can Nesbitt-Dufort call up control and be guided home to Tangmere.

Czerniawski is met at Tangmere by his escorting officer Philip Schneidau, who introduces himself as ‘F/Lt Phillipson’, and is whisked up to London by car, where he is installed in the Rubens Hotel, debriefed by Polish intelligence and awarded Poland’s highest decoration for gallantry, the Virtuti Militari.

Mitchell takes over in Paris while Czerniawski is in London, as the fractious relationship between Carré and Borni threatens to destabilise the circuit’s operations.

Sources

S/Ldr Nesbitt-Dufort’s operations report, TNA AIR40/2579, Encl. 10A, also AIR20/8334, encl. 78A
Black Lysander, pp. 111-112
Czerniawski, The Big Network, Chapter 13, pp. 167-183

Friday, 3 October 1941

Operations LUCKYSHOT, HIRELING, RHOMBOID

Austin’s aircraft (Whitley T4166) is airborne at 18.25, and crosses the English coast at Dungeness at 20.17. Cloud over the Channel means they pass over the French coast without seeing it, and visibility gets worse as they approach Charleroi for the third attempt at LUCKYSHOT.

LUCKYSHOT

Austin flies to the pinpoint via Chimay (Austin and his crew have been there before), then to Namur, Liege and Verviers. Visibility, which has been down to 800 yards, has improved to about two miles, and at 23.23 they sight the LUCKYSHOT reception-committee clearly. (The wireless-operator’s logbook records Surister, about 4 miles south-east of Verviers, as the first target.) Within five minutes, after Austin has circled the triangle of lights several times, flashing his recognition lights, the five packages and one container are dropped.

The absence of an agent to be dropped may explain why there is no extant information about LUCKYSHOT, with no indication about the circuit, or the organisation to which it belonged. It would have been very close to the German border as it then existed under Nazi occupation, for Germany had annexed much of Belgium’s territory east of Verviers.

HIRELING, RHOMBOID

Austin and his crew then fly about 3 miles north-east to the Lac de Gileppe to get a secure pinpoint before heading towards the village of Verbermont (as Austin and his W/Op writes it; the actual name is Werbomont). The two agents are dropped approximately 2.5km east of the village. This appears to be wooded farmland in a landscape of low, rounded hills.

HIRELING is Jean Cassart, a captain in the Belgian army. His mission is ‘to secure communications with the Army in Belgium’; he is also given a wide-ranging sabotage brief, aimed at disrupting aircraft and military transport, and attacking civil infrastructure such as power-stations and transmission networks, steelworks and coke ovens, canal locks and barges, telephone networks, railway signal boxes,munition works and oil-tanks.

RHOMBOID is Cassart’s wireless-operator, H.P. Verhaegen. Much younger than HIRELING, who is in his mid-thirties, Verhaegen is only about twenty. They hide in the woods until about 7 a.m., then bury their parachutes and the W/T set before finding their container, which has dropped nearby, before walking into Chevron, two miles to the east, and their pre-arranged rendezvous at the hotel ‘Hougardy’. Their subsequent adventures will be told at a later date.

Austin drops nickels over Verbermont/Werbomont and Namur. About an hour later, en route for the coast, they drop pigeons on their dead-reckoning position of 51° 2’N, 3° 10’E, near Lichtervelde. (Subsequent fixes lead Austin to believe they were dropped about 5-7 miles further west.) They are contacted by 3 Group and instructed to land at Tangmere: several bombers from 9 Sqn, 115 Sqn and 218 Sqn have been diverted to land at Newmarket. Austin’s Whitley crosses the English coast at South Foreland, and he follows the coastline to land at Tangmere at 01.50.

Operation COLUMBA

The pigeons dropped by Austin and his crew had been intended for the group of Belgian intelligence-gatherers who styled themselves ‘Leopold Vindictive’. The Debaillie family lived in the village of Lichtervelde. In July 1941 a farmer had brought them a pigeon dropped by 1419 Flight, probably by F/Lt Jackson on the first attempt to carry out Operation MOONSHINE/OPINION. If these October pigeons had been dropped at the correct location the LV group might not have had to make contact with other parties in vain attempts to get their information to England. Though to Austin’s crew the seven-mile distance represented an error of about 2 degrees after flying 90 miles on DR from Namur, To the Debaillies waiting below they might as well have been dropped in France.

Operations SABOT, SPEED

W/Cdr Teddy Knowles flies what is to be his last operational sortie. He has exceeded his total number of hours allowed for operational flying, and his successor as CO of 138 Squadron has already been lined up: W/Cdr Wally Farley, whom Knowles had, in effect, replaced after Farley was shot down the previous November.

Knowles takes most of what had been his regular crew in 1419 Flight: F/Sgt Fisher as W/Op, F/Sgt Atkins to navigate (Knowles observes the niceties by giving Atkins his proper title of Observer), F/O Pulton as Rear Gunner, and F/Lt ‘Sticky’ Murphy as his 2nd Pilot. For good measure he takes along W/Cdr Sofiano from the SIS section A.I.1(c) in Air Intelligence.

They follow the regular route to Tours via Abingdon, Tangmere and Cabourg, but north of Caen: ‘we had the misfortune to witness a Hudson shot down in flames by “flak”-ships’.

They arrive at Tours under 10/10ths cloud at 21.21. They alter course for Chatillon, but over the target there are several bright lights; so, after telling the agents, Knowles drops them some ten miles further east, in an area free of lights.

They drop leaflets over Chateauroux and several other towns and villages on the return leg. They cross the coast at Cabourg at 23.15; while over the Channel they are, like Austin, told to land at Tangmere due to bad weather at base. They land at Tangmere four minutes after midnight.

The agents SABOT and his wireless-operator SPEED are Pierre Bourriez, a 35-year-old Captain, and Robert Deweer, a Lieutenant. Bourriez’s mission is to co-ordinate the activities of all Belgian intelligence and escape-line services in France. This centralising tendency is bound to create security concerns to SOE, which has learned to isolate and separate where practicable. Nevertheless, Bourriez sets up seven sous-réseaux, his own being DICK which receives many RAF drops. The escape lines run through Spain, following the route he had taken himself after the Belgian surrender. He is arrested in December 1942, but escapes the following March and makes it to the UK in early May 1943. Unusually, the wireless operator lasts longer than his organiser. The French police arrest him in December 1942, but he manages to escape in March 1943 and make it back to the UK in May.

Operation PERCENTAGE

Operation PERCENTAGE is the first clandestine air operation to Czechoslovakia since the mysterious non-insertion of Otmar Riedl (Operation BENJAMIN) in the spring. A wireless-operator is to be dropped, with a set, in order to re-establish communications with the Czech underground. Since Reinhard Heydrich’s appointment as Reichsprotector of Bohemia and Moravia (the Nazi term for Czechoslovakia), repressive measures have resulted in the capture of most of the working sets and the interrogation of their operators. They have fallen silent; only one remains in action.

According to the operation’s Air Transport Form (ATF2)  the agent, František Pavelka, is to be dropped 100km ESE from Prague, 24 km south from Pardubice. (The form mis-states it as PAPDUBICE.) A reception-committee has apparently been arranged: it is to light a fire, with a red signal-light  to leeward and two white lights, one intermittent, to windward of the fire. There is no alternative target, and in the event the pilot cannot find the dropping-point he is to drop them, provided that they are inside the borders of pre-war Bohemia. The Czechs would prefer the crew to be from their own country, and the ATF asks whether the Czech crew with 138 Squadron is sufficiently trained. It isn’t: P/O Leo Anderle and his crew have just about completed their operational training on Whitleys at No. 10 OTU, Abingdon. (Anderle has just had a crash in a Whitley two days ago; nevertheless he will be posted in to 138 Sqn on the 9th.)

The operation has been postponed from the previous night, but no reason for the cancelled sortie is given. For tonight’s attempt P/O Hockey assembles a crew that is a mix of innocence and experience. The novice is his 2nd Pilot, Richard Wilkin, a Canadian new arrival to the squadron. The experience comes from 3 Group HQ: his navigator is S/Ldr Cousins, Group Navigation Leader, F/Sgt Judson as W/Op, and Sgt Hughes brings up the rear.

Hockey takes off in Whitley Z9158 shortly before 3 p.m. for Tangmere, where he lands an hour later to re-fuel to 1,100 gallons and to pick up agent Pavelka and his set. (Stradishall has already warned Tangmere to fuel the aircraft up with 350 gallons of 100-octane fuel. It also warns that the Whitley has not been fitted with IFF.) Hockey also takes on four 50lb bombs and 120 incendiaries; not enough to cause major damage, or to over-burden the aircraft, but just enough to provide an alibi for the operation. Ever-careful, Hockey records the all-up weight as 33,964lbs, with a centre-of-gravity position calculated as 92.7″ aft of (i.e. nearly 8 feet behind) the datum point. The fuel load shows that he is carrying 6 auxiliary tanks, two in the bomb-bay and four at the forward end of the rear fuselage. The load, 1,364lbs above the overload limit of 32,600lb, explains why Hockey is setting off from Tangmere: its extra-long runway might allow him to get the Whitley airborne; at least it’s a new aircraft. The agent will have to leave the aircraft by the rear door, followed by his W/T set in a separate package, for the ventral hatch is obscured by the fuel tanks.

The take off from Tangmere is delayed by 25 minutes owing to the late arrival of the agent and his luggage. Hockey finally takes off at 19.10. Major Sustr, head of the Czech Section D from which the agents are selected, is aboard to act as Despatcher and adviser. Hockey has flown to Tangmere without a despatcher, so Major Sustr’s addition to the crew is probably pre-planned. Hockey flies along the coast to Hastings before crossing the Channel to Le Crotoy: this is in order to avoid the prohibited area Dieppe-Newhaven1. Flying at 6,000 feet, course is set for the Rhine at Stockstadt, where the river has a unique meander, but the ground is obscured by two layers of cloud, one above, the other beneath. At 22.38 they alter course on ETA for the south of Prague. The cloud layer above prevented any astro-navigation, but they made ‘full use of DF loop-bearings’. This meant tuning into several known radio-stations on known wavelengths — if you have ever used medium-wave or long-wave radios you will know there’s a dead-spot when the aerial is in line with the direction of the broadcast — and plotting a course by repeated triangulations.

By these methods, and flying an accurate course, they reach the southern suburbs of Prague at 00.35. The low cloud has dispersed but has left a thick ground-haze. The flak is poor and inaccurate. Flying east, they found the Elbe and Kolin where the flak is more accurate. They reach Pardubice at 01.03, and set course south. At the target position they can identify nothing that resembles a lighting system, and under the guidance of Major Sustr (who is acting as Despatcher) the agent is dropped at a position estimated to be within 2 to 3 miles of the target. (In fact he lands near Chotusice, some 32 km WNW of the target.)

Hockey then sets course west for Stockstadt, looking for a suitable target for his bombs on the way. They are dropped near a railway line spotted through a gap in the clouds. Over his ETA position for the Rhine, course Is set for Le Crotoy, and on the following leg they are subjected to accurate flak.

Hockey lands at Tangmere, having had to fly his approach beneath the cloud at 200 feet, and is guided into Tangmere by a searchlight shining up into the clouds. The Whitley has been aloft for 11 hours 20 minutes; not quite the longest operational sortie, but one of them.

1The reason for the area prohibition is given in the Stradishall Ops Officers’ log: it is an agreed corridor to allow Red-Cross-sponsored repatriations to be carried out between 3 and 10 October; both Dieppe and Newhaven harbours are out-of-bounds and may be lit, and a 20-mile corridor across the Channel between the two is prohibited to all aircraft. However, negotiations between the British and German authorities and the Red Cross break down, and no exchanges take place.)

Sources

HIRELING, RHOMBOID

TNA AIR20/8334, Encl. 80A
Logbooks, JB Austin and AGW Livingstone
TNA HS6/104 (HIRELING)
TNA HS6/187 (RHOMBOID)

SABOT, SPEED

TNA AIR20/8334, Encl. 85A

PERCENTAGE

TNA AIR20/8334, Encl. 139A
Pilot’s logbook, RC Hockey
TNA HS4/39 (ATF2 for operation)
Stradishall Ops log TNA AIR14/2527
Lifeline across the Sea, by David L. Williams, The History Press (2015)
AP 1522E Whitley Pilot’s Notes, section 18.
www.army.cz/images/id_7001_8000/7419/assassination-en.pdf

Saturday, 4 October 1941

RAF Newmarket

Three 138 Sqn aircraft are slated for operations tonight, but at 1505 the Bomber Command SASO (Senior Air Staff Officer) states that if Newmarket operates tonight all aircraft must be back by 20.00. The reason appears to be that fog is forecast to close almost all airfields in the UK. W/Cdr Knowles has learned that Squires Gate and Sealand are forecast to remain open, but he will await the 1700 Met report before making a final decision.

At 16.55 all Bomber Command  operations are cancelled.  Initially 138 Sqn appears to be exempt, and at 1700 138 Sqn confirms that its operations are ‘on’, but at 17.55, after a telephone discussion with the SASO, W/Cdr Knowles cancels all 138 Sqn operations. Group informs Tangmere and Abingdon that they can stand down.

No operations are flown for the next week, until the 10th, due to poor weather. Knowles makes reference to this in his summary which accompanies the moon-period’s reports.

Sources

Stradishall Operations Officers’ log, TNA AIR14/2528

Thursday, 9 October 1941

RAF Newmarket Heath

P/O Leo Anderle arrives with his Czech crew from No. 10 OTU, Abingdon. His is the first Czech crew to be allotted to 138 Sqn for Special Duties work. There are also three Polish crews under training for SD work, and they will be converted to the Halifax. Bohemia, the western part of Czechoslovakia, is within the Whitley’s operating range, but Operation ADOLPHUS had shown the impracticability of using a Whitley for Polish operations. In 1939 the western border of Poland was considerably further east than it is now – much of what is now western Poland was then part of Germany.