Monthly Archives: October 1941

Friday, 31 October 1941

Operations LOUIS/BEAVER and EMILE

Murphy and his crew take off in Whitley ‘B’ from Newmarket at 18.45, and Murphy flies via Abingdon to reach Tangmere an hour later. Pinpointing over Abbeville at 20.50, they soon find navigation difficult: unseasonable heavy snowfalls have rendered the roads and rooftops almost invisible. They find the Marne and follow the river to Chalons-sur-Marne, from where they set course to the target. Map-reading is still impossible, and the agents are dropped about 8 miles south-west of the target pinpoint at 22.14.

On their return journey they drop leaflets and some of their pigeons over Noyon, in what Murphy calls ‘our usual diversion’, then drop the rest of the pigeons over Abbeville before heading for Tangmere. After landing back at Newmarket at 01.15, they find that one of the pigeons has ‘hung-up’, his tiny parachute-canopy lodged in the tail-wheel. The pigeon, ‘although somewhat shaken, was released the next morning and returned to its cote’.

There is little information available about this SIS operation for the Belgian intelligence service. The target is near Chalons-sur-Marne, and all are to be dropped together; it is safer to drop agents outside Belgium due to the high probability of informers in both Low Countries. Murphy’s report is headed ‘EMILE, LOUIS’, but Farley’s first summary (which accompanies the October/November reports and identifies EMILE/LOUIS as SIS) pairs LOUIS with BEAVER, with EMILE as a separate operation. This accords with the Air Transport Form, which also pairs LOUIS with BEAVER, but it is originally scheduled for the 28th, with ‘Cancelled’ against it in pencil.

LOUIS/BEAVER is the third pairing of agent and wireless-operator to be sent in, the success of the MILL pairing in August having shown the way forward. The identity of EMILE and LOUIS remained a mystery to me until Pierre Tillet emailed me with details about Maurice LAFRIQUE, a wireless operator dropped as EMILE. From his personal file at SHD, Vincennes (which dates his insertion to 30-31 October), it appears that all three were dropped near Vitry-le-François, to the south-east of Chalons-sur-Marne, which accords with Murphy’s account. Lafrique goes to Lille, but his file does not indicate which organisation he worked for. Most likely this was an SIS-sponsored intelligence circuit, so far unidentified. He realises that the Germans are after him, and attempts to make his return to England via Spain. On 7 March 1942 Lafrique is arrested by the Gestapo while attempting to cross the border into the ZNO at MOULINS. Ten days later he is transferred to Dijon, then to Fresnes, Romainville, and Compiègne before being deported to Germany at the end of April 1943: to Sachsenhausen, then Falkensen. Liberated by the Russians almost exactly two years later, he is returned to France in June 1945.

Pierre has also pointed me towards Belgian historian Emmanuel Debruyne who had turned up the name of Wladimir (or Vladimir) van Damme as BEAVER. Before the war, van Damme had been a policeman in Schaerbeek, a north-eastern suburb of Brussels. Debruyne believes that BEAVER was dropped on 17 November 1941, but this may have been when BEAVER and LOUIS made it to Belgium. They proceed to establish an intelligence service, but don’t last long: they are arrested on 14 February 1942. Debruyne points out that the date is grimly appropriate, for van Damme is arrested at 19 rue du Lac, Ixelles, betrayed to the Germans by a woman jealous over van Damme. This denunciation leads to the arrest of a dozen people, including Edmond Desnerck and Victor Louis.

Sources

TNA AIR20/8334, encl. 98A
TNA AIR 20/8306 (ATFs)
Debruyne, La Guerre Sécrète des Espions Belges, p.28
Debruyne, La_maison_de_verre: agents et reseaux de renseignements en Belgique Occupée 1940-1944, p 129.

Thursday, 30 October 1941

Newmarket to Portreath

Jackson, in Whitley Z9158, takes off for Portreath at 10.30, but has to land at RAF Abingdon to change his Whitley’s W/T transmitter which has become unserviceable. Austin, in Z9159, flies to Portreath direct, taking off at 10.50 and landing at 13.05. Jackson arrives at 13.30. Both land on the cliff-top airfield in the teeth of a storm. The runways at Portreath are less than half a mile inland from the Atlantic cliffs; the gusts must have made the landings interesting.

Portreath is home to the recently-formed Overseas Air Dispatch Unit (OADU) which prepares crews and aircraft for the long delivery flights to the Middle East. The OADU informs them that heavy icing is forecast over France, and they will be re-routed via Gibraltar. It examines both aircraft and finds that both fall well short of being serviceable. On both aircraft the D/F (direction-finding) loops need swinging, and they are deficient in much of a normal Whitley’s equipment, such as IFF (Identification Friend or Foe); Z9159’s W/T transmitter, too, fails during the flight to Portreath.

It is interesting to note that neither aircraft is equipped with oxygen equipment — hardly surprising, since there is rarely any reason for SD aircraft to fly above 10,000 feet — nor are they fitted with airscrew de-icing.

Jackson’s intercom fails, and at the last moment Austin’s wireless operator discovers that there is no Syko machine (a fairly basic encoding/decoding device) aboard his aircraft; one is supplied by Portreath. OADU subsequently sends a scathing, detailed memo to 44 Group (and from thence to 3 Group) about the poor preparation of these aircraft. The Stradishall Signals Officer’s reply — Newmarket Heath comes under Stradishall for admin and control purposes — gives a good picture of the problems routinely faced by 138 Squadron, which has been warned of the operation only at lunchtime on the 29th.

Newmarket – Stradishall

F/Lt Jack Oettle has recently returned to Special Duties, having recovered from his injuries sustained in the Operation JOSEPHINE crash at Tangmere on 10 April. He takes off from Newmarket for Stradishall at about 1150 in Whitley Z9223, accompanied by another Whitley. He has two crew aboard, F/Sgt Rochford, DFM, RNZAF, and LAC Lee.

Approaching Stradishall to land shortly before midday, Oettle stalls the Whitley in a similar manner to his previous accident, and it crashes in flames. This time it is fatal; all three on board are killed. At 1630 Hockey reports that ‘dental records of the three are insufficient for identification purposes’. An NCO questioned is certain that only those three were aboard the aircraft. The other aircraft, pilot unrecorded, lands safely.

There has been some confusion over the date of this crash, possibly caused by an incautious date entry in the Stradishall log.

Sources

Newmarket – Portreath

TNA AIR14/2527
Source of 44 Group correspondence
Logbooks: P/Os JB Austin and AGW Livingstone

Newmarket – Stradishall

Flights of the Forgotten, p.36
Agents by Moonlight, pp.24 & 303. (Appendix of losses has correct date.)
TNA AIR14/2527

Wednesday, 29 October 1941

Newmarket to Portreath

Jackson, in Whitley Z9158, takes off for Portreath at 10.30, but has to land at RAF Abingdon to change his Whitley’s W/T transmitter which has become unserviceable. Austin, in Z9159 ‘D’, flies to Portreath direct, taking off at 10.50 and landing at 13.05. Jackson arrives at 13.30. Both aircraft land on the cliff-top airfield in the teeth of a storm. The runways at Portreath are less than half a mile inland from the Atlantic cliffs; the gusts must have made the landings interesting.

Portreath is home to the recently-formed Overseas Air Dispatch Unit (OADU) which prepares crews and aircraft for the long delivery flights to the Middle East. The OADU informs them that heavy icing is forecast over France, and they will be re-routed via Gibraltar. It examines both aircraft and finds that both fall well short of being serviceable. On both aircraft the D/F (direction-finding) loops need swinging, and they are deficient in much of a normal Whitley’s equipment, such as IFF (Identification Friend or Foe); Z9159’s W/T transmitter, too, fails during the flight to Portreath.

It is interesting to note that neither aircraft is equipped with oxygen equipment — hardly surprising, since there is rarely any reason for SD aircraft to fly above 10,000 feet — nor are they fitted with airscrew de-icing.

Jackson’s intercom fails, and at the last moment Austin’s wireless operator discovers that there is no Syko machine (a rudimentary encoding/decoding device) aboard his aircraft; one is supplied by Portreath. OADU subsequently sends a scathing, detailed memo to 44 Group (and from thence to 3 Group) about the poor preparation of these aircraft. The Stradishall Signals Officer’s reply — Newmarket Heath comes under Stradishall for admin and control purposes — gives a good picture of the problems routinely faced by 138 Squadron, which had been warned of the operation only at lunchtime on the 29th.

Sources

TNA AIR14/2527

Logbooks: P/Os JB Austin and AGW Livingstone

Tuesday, 28 October 1941

Newmarket: warning order for operations to the Middle East

F/Lt Jackson and P/O Austin are given orders to fly to Portreath. How much they are initially told one has no way of knowing, but they are to fly from Portreath to Malta across France, for operations into Yugoslavia. It is not clear why they are being routed to Portreath, as the distance to Malta is no shorter, and the Stradishall log shows that Wellingtons are regularly transported to the Middle East from Stradishall via Malta; also, the Whitleys carrying the paratroops for Operation COLOSSUS back in February had flown direct to Malta from Mildenhall.

Correspondence in November from Portreath and Stradishall shows that the warning order is signalled to Newmarket at about midday on the 29th, but the Stradishall log (which is entirely contemporary) shows that its Ops office is informed by Newmarket at 19.15 on the 28th, so the warning order must have been received at Newmarket on the 28th.

Both aircraft have to be quickly equipped with a complete set of six auxiliary 66-gallon/300 litre fuel tanks, two in the bomb-bay, four in the rear fuselage. The aircraft are in the workshops for the conversion, which makes it impossible for the crew to do the necessary equipment checks on other equipment; this has consequences at Portreath. Initially operating on an ‘enhanced Flight’ basis, 138 Squadron is still well below nominal strength in all aspects, including engineering staff. Two ground staff are to accompany the expedition.

Monday, 13 October 1941

Operation MAINMAST

The operation

Three nights after P/O Austin’s strenuous effort at the limit of a Whitley’s endurance, F/Lt Murphy makes a final attempt to complete this operation at the very end of the moon period. Murphy and his crew takes off from Newmarket at 18.10 and they fly via Cabourg for Tours, but due to what Murphy later refers to as ‘varying wind velocities’ the Whitley crosses the Loire 20 miles up-river. He flies down-river to Tours before heading south to Limoges. Murphy notes that there is no blackout over Tours (which is in the Occupied Zone but close to the border with the ZNO) but when the Whitley arrives over Toulouse just after 11.30, in the Unoccupied Zone which might reasonably be assumed less unfriendly, the town lights below go out street by street, and Murphy believes he sees flak bursting above the aircraft.

They set course for the target. It appears that the reception party is using a car’s headlamps 3 km north of the pinpoint to act as a final reference point before the triangle of lights at the target. Murphy does a quick circuit and then straight into his run-up to drop the two agents and a pair of containers. The crew sees only one parachute, but the canopies are camouflaged, and there is no moon; they have arrived at the target before the moon, in its last-quarter, has risen. They check and find that the container containing mail has hung up in the racks. By this time the triangle of lights has gone out, so they attempt to drop it by the car headlights. The container stays hung-up. They make one more attempt without success, then return to Toulouse where the blackout is now complete. A searchlight lights up, but fails to find them. They head for home, and land back at Newmarket at 05.10.

The agents

The two agents are Sgt Jean Forman and his wireless-operator René Periou; both are Free French soldiers of Dewavrin’s BCRA. Forman has been on both the SAVANNA and the JOSEPHINE B operations, and has made his way back to England each time. This time they are received on the ground by Henri Labit, Forman’s comrade from SAVANNA, and Labit’s chef du réseau Professor Pierre Bertaux of Toulouse University.

Forman’s new task is to contact the several home-grown resistance groups in south-west France and mould them into a cohesive organisation under De Gaulle’s control. This is a tall order for a young man like Forman, for the only common link between these groups is a focus on preserving themselves and their different political beliefs for the day when France is liberated. To these groups the idea that their authority should be ceded to a self-appointed leader of the French who has chosen exile in Britain is anathema. It will take more than a young firebrand like Forman to achieve anything. It will take someone whose authority has been based on France’s pre-Armistice civilian government to mould the disparate groups into an effective organisation, one that can speak for that France which has refused to collaborate. In September that man has already fled France for England: his name is Jean Moulin.

Sources

MAINMAST

TNA AIR20/8334, Encl. 92A
History of ‘RF’ Section, SOE: TNA HS7/123