Monthly Archives: November 1941

Saturday, 1 November 1941

Operation CHILBLAIN

This operation appears to have been planned for the night of 31 October in Whitley ‘F’, but this aircraft went U/S at 1935, and so the operation had to be postponed. On 1 November Reimer takes Whitley ‘B’, the aircraft Murphy used the night before to deliver SIS operations LOUIS/BEAVER and EMILE. Unfortunately no-one recorded which Whitley a/c ‘B’ was. The Stradishall logbook confirms that this operation takes place on the night of 1 November, not 31 October as recorded in the ops summary that accompanied the pilots’ operations reports for the October/November period.

Sgt Reimer’s report is characteristically brief, but marginally inaccurate in that he appears to have crossed the coast half an hour before he took off. The Stradishall log confirms that take-off was at 18.57, and Reimer therefore crosses the east coast at 19.35. Course is set for a point north of Esjberg, an unhealthy pinpoint due to heavy AA defences, and they climb through freezing cloud to 9,000 feet. The wings and airscrews start icing up, but stops once they are above it. On ETA for Esjberg there is still no break in the cloud sheet below, and they start descending through the cloud. The aircraft starts icing up again, and they have to abandon. They set course for Esjberg, then England. Over the sea they break could, and land back at base at 03.00.

Operation BULLSEYE: Portreath to Gibraltar

The weather over France is still poor. Jackson has obtained permission to proceed to Malta via Gibraltar. This will allow him to fly by daylight over the Atlantic, passing the Bay of Biscay and skirting the west coast of Spain and Portugal.

We have Austin’s detailed report of the outward journey but Jackson’s report, which covers the whole expedition but not his own flight, says little about his own trip. I discussed this operation with Austin several times, and once with my father. They appear to have flown to Gibraltar at about the same time as Jackson, but perhaps not together.

Austin takes off at 08.15, Jackson at 08.30. Austin, in Z9159, flies to the Scilly Isles to get a navigation fix from as far west as possible, then sets course for ‘Point ‘A’ (48° 18’N; 5° 35’W), some 25 miles off Ushant; later turning points are near Cape Finisterre and Cape St Vincent. Austin flies some ten miles off the Portugese and Spanish coastline, keeping it in sight in the now-clear weather. Turning towards the Straits, past Cape Trafalgar, Austin passes the Rock to seaward and lines up to land. After some eight hours in the air the Whitley’s fuel-load has lightened: the centre of gravity is more susceptible to the weight of the additional crew and cargo in the rear fuselage, and has shifted aft.

Gibraltar’s runway is rather short for a bomber aircraft. The runway is currently being lengthened to provide a concrete surface of 1550 yards, but this is still under construction, using rubble from the caves being tunnelled inside the Rock for defence. The winds around the rock are notoriously variable both in strength and direction, entirely without warning. On this occasion the air traffic controller changes the landing direction (either 090 or 270) at least four times, once when Austin is in the final stages of landing, when a Whitley is vulnerable to stall even when normally loaded.

Austin’s aircraft is now very low on fuel. It is loaded with containers intended for Mihailovic’s Cetnicks. With two additional crew aboard, totalling eight, the Whitley’s CofG is dangerously far aft, making a stall and crash a distinct probability. Austin jettisons the containers in the harbour, and summons the crew to move as far forward into the Whitley’s nose as they can. Everyone bar the pilot crams themselves into the front turret, the well beside the pilot, and the bomb-aimer’s compartment. Austin gets a red flare signalling him to go around due to the varying wind velocities; Austin, perhaps uninformed of the Rock’s local turbulence, believes the controller to be drunk. Austin has no choice but to plonk the Whitley down, disregarding yet another red flare. Later the harbourmaster tries to get a new suit out of Austin, claiming that he had to jump into the harbour to avoid Austin’s Whitley. It’s not clear whether Austin’s containers are recovered. From later events I assume not; at least not before the Whitleys leave for Malta.

Sources

CHILBLAIN

TNA AIR 20/8334, Encl. 96A
Stradishall Ops Officers’ log.

Portreath – Gibraltar

TNA AIR 20/8334, Encls 99A (Austin’s report) and 101A (Jackson’s report)
Conversations with S/Ldrs Austin & Livingstone.

Sunday, 2 November 1941

Operation BULLSEYE: Gibraltar to Malta

F/Lt Jackson and P/O Austin continue their expedition the following night. Austin takes off from Gibraltar at 21.15, still with his crew of six plus two ground crew to service the aircraft. Jackson takes off at 21.00.

Austin sets course ENE-ish from Europa Point, the southern tip of Gibraltar, for a position about eight miles off Cabo de Gata (Cape of the Cat, now a National Park), the most south-easterly point of Spain and their last pinpoint before reaching the North African coast. They continue eastwards to a pinpoint off Algiers, but alter course slightly southwards to avoid a thunderstorm, and back again to resume their original course. At 00.36 they reach position off Algiers by ETA, and set course for a position further east. Astro sights taken through the intermittent higher cloud layer indicate they are too far north. With no D/F or radio stations to triangulate on, they set course to 146 degrees to intercept the coast. At 02.55, off to port they spot the light of the lighthouse at Cape Bon. Flying to the light, which they reach at 03.22, course is set for a point off the Tunisian town of Monastir. From there they set course for Malta; at 04.34 they fly on track over the small Italian island of Linosa (which provides a convenient checkpoint) and Gozo is seen ahead at 05.03. Austin orbits Filfla Island, a tiny islet to the south of Malta, at 05.07, and half an hour later circle the airfield at Luqa. Receiving no acknowledgement, they head back to their position off the south coast to keep out of the way of the air raid that is occupying the airfield’s attention, and they eventually land at 06.05.

Jackson’s report says that the towns on the north African coast were well lit up, and made navigation easy.

Sources

TNA AIR 20/8334, Encls. 100A, 103A

Tuesday, 4 November 1941

RAF Luqa, Malta

Three Wellingtons arrive from Egypt. They have attempted, but failed, to find their pinpoint in Yugoslavia, where they were to have dropped an agent and several containers. Jackson’s report states:

Instructions arrived from HQ Middle East that the Wellington Captains were to transfer their loads to the Whitleys who were to attempt the operation.

My orders from D.D.I. (Deputy Director of Intelligence) before leaving England were that I was not to carry out operations other than those for which we had been sent toMalta to do without permission from Air Ministry. I ascertained from Army H.Q. at Malta that the Wellington operations had nothing to do with us, but that the equipment and personnel for our operations would arrive that night by flying boat and submarine. I informed the Station Commander and the S.A.S.O. of the above facts, and they decided that I was to await the arrival of the flying boat and submarine.

This gets Jackson, a junior officer up against some very independently-minded seniors, out of a tricky spot. In any case, as he points out, there is not enough time to transfer the loads from the Wellingtons and re-pack the containers. Not to mention that, if the Wellingtons’ loads were to be dropped in the Whitleys’ containers, Jackson’s own operation would have to be scrubbed.

Sources

TNA AIR 20 / 8334, encl. 103A

Thursday, 6 November 1941

Operation OUTCLASS, FABULOUS II

This operation for the Gaullist French (RF) section of SOE, is flown by Sgt Wilbur Reimer, with P/O Smith, new to the squadron, as his 2nd Pilot. They take off at 18.20, cross the coast at Tangmere, and climb to 8,000 feet to avoid any low-level flak as they crossed the French coast. They then drop to 1,500 feet to map-read their way to the Loire, but run into low cloud as they approach Limoges. Flying above the cloud they set course for Toulouse by DR, and arrive there at 23.15. They find the reception committee almost immediately, for the operation is completed fifteen minutes later. The two containers are dropped by one of the cockpit crew from the bomb-aimer’s position, but the packages, heaved out one at a time through the ventral hatch after the agent, are unlikely to have made a tidy group.

Reimer and his crew retrace their route to Limoges and re-cross the French coast (presumably Normandy) at 02.40, flying on D/R, unable to map-read because of low cloud and ground-haze. Routing via Tangmere and Abingdon they land back at Newmarket at 05.05.

OUTCLASS is Marie Léon Yves Morandat, known as Yves Morandat. A pre-war trade-union official, Morandat is an emissary of de Gaulle. His task is to use his excellent union contacts to foster political resistance in south-west France. FABULOUS is actually FABULOUS II, a drop of two containers and six packages to Henri Labit’s nascent circuit based in Toulouse. The FABULOUS II drop is scattered. The RF Section history puts it thus: ‘they were dispersed over such a wide area that it was decided in future to limit the number of packages rather than endanger the security of agents and reception committeees who collected them.’

Labit himself will be returned to London by sea on the night of 6th January 1942, together with 6 other agents from various réseaux. They are taken off by MGB 314 from the Aber-Benoit estuary in Operation OVERCLOUD. Labit’s detailed debriefing leaves us with a clear picture of his activities since July 1941.

Operation FIREFLY

Murphy flies this operation to the Bergerac region of south-west France. He takes off at 18.31, and he follows the normal route to Tours via Abingdon, Tangmere and Cabourg, before heading further south to Limoges, which they reach at 23.15. From there they set course for Périgueux. Due to ground-haze which obscures the ground, especially close to rivers, they mistake the river l’Isle for the Dordogne, and they waste half an hour flying along the much smaller river before realising their mistake.

Murphy and his crew pick up the lights as 23.36, and two minutes later they have completed the drop. The target is listed as being ‘Bergerac’. The date points to a parachute drop to the SIS-organised ALLIANCE circuit: in ‘l’Arche de Nöe’, translated into English in 1973 as ‘Noah’s Ark’, the ALLIANCE leader Marie-Madeleine Fourcade recalls the second parachute drop to the circuit, dropped at the village of Saint-Capraise d’Eymet, about 15 km south of the town of Bergerac: two wireless operators, Julien Bondois and another destined for another circuit, six W/T sets (at least one damaged on landing), and a case with gleaming locks that looked as though it has just arrived from a West End store; it contains a considerable fortune to fund the circuit. Fourcade’s lieutenant Maurice Coustenoble (‘Tiger’ in the ALLIANCE menagerie) has been in charge of the reception.

Murphy immediately heads back for Cabourg, and crosses the English coast at Tangmere at 03.12, with touchdown at Newmarket at 04.21.

Operation EMERALD

There’s no aircraft captain’s report for this operation. Three 138 Squadron Whitleys are out this night (Whitleys ‘F’, ‘A’, and ‘B’). Comparing the take-off and landing times with the Stradishall log, and the intervals between, ‘A’ is Sgt Reimer, and ‘B’ is F/Lt Murphy, so ‘F’ is F/O Hockey in Whitley Z6728. The list of operations accompanying the pilots’ reports assigns the operation as EMERALD – confirmed by another source – but misleadingly states the target location as ‘Verdun’, which leads one to believe it to be in eastern France. Hockey writes up his route as ‘Tangmere, Cabourg, Tours, Toulouse, Base.’ An Air Transport Form for the 28th October is more precise about the target: ‘VERDUN GRENADE’. This points towards the intended target being near the small town of Verdun-sur-Garonne, about 11 km down-river from the equally small town of Grenade. The ATF confirms that this is a ‘C’ operation, and that the agent is to be dropped with a W/T set under a large ‘A’ type parachute. (‘A’-type parachutes came in several sizes, the choice of which depended on the combined weight of the agent and the package above his head.)

The target for EMERALD is only about 23 miles north of Sgt Reimer’s target for SOE’s OUTCLASS/FABULOUS – see above. One aircraft could have carried out both operations, but whenever possible (and, officially, never) SOE and SIS agents are not carried in the same aircraft. There is even an instance where a pilot writes up two reports of the same sortie, one for SIS, the other for SOE, to make it look as though each organisation’s agent was the only one aboard! Hockey’s sortie takes him 10.5 hours. When he flew to the same area in the summer, Hockey had to leave France via the west coast and fly across the Bay of Biscay to St Eval; now, with November’s long nights, he can come straight home.

Operation SAGA, BRICK, FITZROY

This is Nesbitt-Dufort’s third Lysander operation. This time he is to bring Claude Lamirault (FITZROY) and Lt Roger Mitchell (BRICK) back to the UK for consultation. Dufort is also to land an agent for SIS’s Belgian section, code-named SAGA. Nothing more is known about SAGA. Agents are normally parachuted, so SAGA, like SOE’s Gerry Morel, may have an essential role but is not fit enough to be parachuted.

From a midday weather forecast Nesbitt-Dufort judges that the operation might be feasible, and asks for SAGA to be brought to Tangmere from London, and for FITZROY and BRICK to be warned by W/T signal. (It is too late to arrange for a coded BBC message.) By 5 p.m. the forecast weather doesn’t look so good, but as he has warned the agents in France that he is coming, and knows they’ll be waiting for him, he feels he ought to try.

Nesbitt-Dufort takes off at about 8.20 p.m. and aims for the French coast at Criel-sur-Mer, a town almost directly in line with his course for Compiègne, his reference pinpoint. In this he receives guidance via R/T from radar stations on the south coast code-named BEETLE and MUNGA. (The procedure is described by Hugh Verity: it allows Lysander pilots to be tracked almost to the French coast; the radar station gives coded instructional ‘nudges’ to the pilot. The pilot does not transmit; that might reveal his presence and position.) He plans then to head up the Aisne on a compass-bearing eastwards towards the target, a plateau of slightly higher ground between Pernant and Saconin-et-Breuil (recorded as SIS landing site No. 5). He follows a compass-course set at Compiègne, the last pinpoint, with the river Aisne an additional reference. As Verity will write two years later in his guide to Lysander operations:

But once in the air, don’t forget that map reading must never take precedence over the D.R. and that even when you decide to follow a definite feature you must check the course of this feature with your compass.

Unfortunately there is heavy cloud as Nesbitt-Dufort crosses the French coast. He enters the cloud-base at 1,500 feet and flies on instruments until five minutes before his ETA over Compiègne. He descends to emerge below the cloud base at 1,300 feet and finds himself sandwiched between two layers of continuous cloud. Though visibility is still good – it is only two nights after full moon – it is very dark and he can make out nothing on the ground. He sets course for Soissons, to the east, and flies along that course for five minutes during which he should see any signals. But he sees nothing. (The agents beneath hear the Lysander overhead, but see nothing.) Nesbitt-Dufort flies methodically over the target area for about an hour before he gives up and heads home.

Sources

OUTCLASS, FABULOUS II

TNA HS 7/123 History of SOE RF (République Française) Section

FIREFLY

TNA AIR 20 / 8334, Encl. 105A.
l’Arche de Noé, by Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, p. 116; Noah’s Ark (translation), p.77.

EMERALD

Logbook, G/Capt R.C. Hockey
TNA AIR 20/8334, Summary list of operations for October/November moon period, 1941

SAGA, BRICK, FITZROY

TNA AIR 40/2579: Lysander Operations, 419 Flight & 138 Squadron.
‘Black Lysander’, John Nesbitt-Dufort, Whydown Press, p.111.
‘We Landed by Moonlight’ (WLBM), by Hugh Verity, pp.23-24.
‘Some RAF pick-ups for French Intelligence’ by Hugh Verity: article in ‘War, Resistance & Intelligence: Essays in Honour of M.R.D. Foot’, ed K.G. Robertson (1999, Leo Cooper), p. 172.

Friday, 7 November 1941

This night is a busy one for the squadron: one Lysander pickup operation for SIS, one Whitley operation to Holland, consequential for SOE; another to Yugoslavia, a first; and the squadron’s first Halifax operation to Poland, flown by a Polish crew. The night is a heavy one for Bomber Command: it is a ‘maximum effort’ against Berlin, Mannheim, Cologne, Essen and Ostend. 392 aircraft set out, 37 do not return; many are casualties of bad weather over the North Sea.

Operation SAGA, BRICK, FITZROY

In the RAF argot of the era, Nesbitt-Dufort’s second attempt at this operation is a ‘piece of cake’. He takes off an hour later than last night, at 9.20 p.m. (GMT+1), possibly because the moon rises about 40 minutes later. Following the same R/T procedure with the south-coast radar stations, he crosses the French coast between Criel-sur-Mer and Le Treport at 8,000 feet, pinpoints at Compiègne, picks up the target lights inside seven minutes, and lands three minutes later in a field a couple of kilometres WSW of Soissons, close to the village of Ambleney.

He is stationary on the ground for about two minutes and twenty seconds, during which time the A.3. (Belgian section) agent SAGA is disembarked with his luggage, and Claude Lamirault (FITZROY) and Roger Mitchell (BRICK) are embarked with theirs. Take-off and the journey home are uneventful, and Nesbitt-Dufort crosses the French coast a little east of Le Treport. He is given homing instructions by MUNGA and lands back at Tangmere at 20 minutes after midnight, just three hours after take-off.

FITZROY and BRICK are both returning to the UK for debrief and a brief respite from the clandestine life: they will be dropped back on 8 December as CLAUDIUS and BERYL. Roger Mitchell, who has recently stood in for Roman Garby-Czerniawski as head of INTERALLIE during the latter’s own visit to London in October, will be on hand to assist in the assessment of the fallout from the capture of the INTERALLIE circuit in ten days time, specifically to interpret the bogus messages received from Mathilde Carré in her new guise as VICTOIRE, purportedly having evaded capture in the roundup.

Operation CATARRH

This operation has the most grave consequences for SOE, for the agents parachuted are Thijs Taconis and Huub Lauwers. Their capture will trigger the Dutch tragedy known as ‘Der Englandspiel’, the luring of several dozen agents to immediate capture, some to their eventual death.

From F/Lt Murphy’s report, there is nothing portentous about the operation: Murphy and his usual crew, with two Leading Aircraftmen aboard as despatchers, cross the Suffolk coast at Southwold. Half an hour later, over the North Sea, two aircraft close to within 500 yards, but Murphy loses them by turning sharply to port. Flying under a dense bank of cloud they cross the Dutch coast at Ymuiden and fly over the Zuiderzee to Meppel, reaching it at 23.57. From there they fly south-east to the target near Ommen, where they drop the two agents shortly after midnight. They return to Meppel, retracing their outward route, dropping leaflets along their homeward route from 100 feet up — only possible over Holland!

The story of Lauwers and Taconis is too well-known for me to repeat in detail. Lauwers was captured in March 1942 at his set, and was forced to transmit. He used his security-check, but this was ignored by SOE’s Dutch section, which transmitted details of agents to be parachuted. These were met by Major Herman Giskes of the Abwehr and his team. Soon Giskes had lured several agents and their W/T sets to Holland; in essence, he came to run SOE’s activities in Holland until he tired of the game in 1944. The RAF had ceased operations to Holland several months before, due to unreasonable losses.

I recommend reading MRD Foot’s ‘SOE in the Low Countries’ and Leo Marks’s ‘Between Silk and Cyanide’ for the British side of the story, and Herman Giskes’ ‘Operation North Pole’ for the German Abwehr’s side of the story. (Early editions of the Giskes book may also have Huub Lauwers’ own account in an appendix.) Giskes was a highly-experienced operator: before his posting to the Netherlands in October 1941 he’d had considerable success in Paris by infiltrating British-sponsored intelligence organisations.

Operation BULLSEYE (Yugoslavia)

On the morning of the 7th the submarines have arrived in Malta — probably sneaking in during the previous night — with the equipment for Jackson and Austin to drop over Yugoslavia. Jackson attends a morning conference chaired by the SASO, with two Army officers, the two experienced Serbian pilots who are to act as navigation guides, the officer i/c/ the Wellington Flight. The Serbian pilots claim that the winds in the mountains at this time of year make the operation too hazardous by night, and the Wellington Flight commander states that the pinpoints would be impossible to find. A signal was to be sent to the Air Ministry saying that any attempt would be made by day.

Only two containers are ready for dropping. Jackson has three crew off sick. Austin thinks a night attempt is feasible: he volunteers to make an attempt that night, and takes Jackson’s Z9158 up for a test flight at 11.00. He takes off for Yugoslavia at 21.50, and sets course for his first turning-point at Saseno (Sazan) Island, at the entrance to the Adriatic. The next pinpoint is at Cap Bodoni (Cape of Rodon), on the coast further north. From there he heads inland to Mitrovice, in modern-day Kosovo. Cacac is the final pinpoint, with the target in the nearby hills to the north-east.

In the event the weather is fine, with isolated cloud over the sea up to 6,500 feet. Austin flies at 10,000 feet to keep well above any high ground. The three or four signal-fires are clearly visible. Austin signals with the letter ‘R’, which is returned, and several more fires are lit. A green flare is fired from some fires in the form of a cross indicating the wind-direction. At 02.56 the containers are dropped from 3,600 feet to keep the Whitley well above the terrain; at this distance from base their instrument-height may be considerably inaccurate. The rear gunner sees a parachute open.

Austin and his crew immediately make their return to Luqa, arriving at 07.15, and they land 25 minutes later.

Operation RUCTION

RUCTION is the first operation to Poland carried out by an all-Polish crew, so there is a lot riding on it. General Sikorski has pushed hard for the Polish Home Army and underground to be supplied from the air by Polish crews. The aircraft are still British, but there is no doubt that, had Sikorski not agitated strongly for four-engined aircraft, 138 Squadron could have whistled in vain for the Halifax. The bomber is still very new: so far only No. 35 Squadron had been equipped with the type. On 23rd October the Poles have been sent to Linton-on-Ouse for three days’ Halifax conversion-training.

The agents are: Capt. Niemir Stanislaw Bidzinski (ZIEGE), 2/Lt Napoleon Segieda (WERA), and Lt Jan Piwnik (PONURY). There is no operation report on RUCTION, because the crew deliberately crash-lands in Sweden, near Tormelilla. Their version is that they have dropped their agents over Poland when the hydraulic system fails and the undercarriage is lowered. The crew cannot raise it. By now over Denmark, the crew realise that, with the undercart locked down there is no prospect of the Halifax making it back across the North Sea, so they turn towards neutral Sweden, and crash-land. The crew is taken into custody by the Swedish authorities, and they are eventually repatriated to the UK.

W/Cdr Farley’s comments on the operation, contained in an exasperated letter to the Air Ministry after another operation to Poland in January, is revealing:

It has now been established that the loss of the first aircraft was due to mishandling. Colonel Rudowski (sic), who accompanied the crew against orders, did not fully understand the undercarriage system. They have stated that they could not raise the undercarriage as there was no emergency hand pump. There is, of course, a hand pump and the fluid could have been lost only by leaving the selector in the “up” position instead of the “neutral” position during the flight.

As the Poles’ Commanding Officer, Farley has every right to enquire why one of his squadron’s rare and precious Halifaxes has come to a sticky end on its first operation. Though at the time of writing he has yet to fly the Halifax on operations, he will have familiarised himself with his squadron’s aircraft. He also has an experienced Halifax pilot in Sqn Ldr Ron Hockey, who has (by the time Farley writes this report) flown the ANTHROPOID operation at the end of December, and has a thorough knowledge of the Halifax’s controls and systems.

In his ‘Poland, SOE and the Allies’, Josef Garlinksi does not mention this episode, despite its importance.

Sources
SAGA, BRICK, FITZROY

TNA AIR 40/2579: Lysander Operations, 419 Flight & 138 Squadron.

CATARRH

TNA AIR 20/8334, Encl. 104A

BULLSEYE

TNA AIR20/8334, Encls 97A, 103A

RUCTION

TNA AIR 2/5203, Farley letter to DDI2 dated 13 January 1942.