Monthly Archives: November 1941

Sunday, 30 November 1941

Operation IRRADIATE 3

Newly-commissioned P/O Gibson, who had been Austin’s 2nd Pilot for the Malta mission earlier in the month, now has his own crew; this is his first recorded operation. He is to drop four containers to an SOE reception. Some 18 months after its formation SOE is still referred to as S.O.2 in the Air Transport Forms (ATFs).

Gibson takes off at 19.10 and flies via Abingdon and Littlehampton to cross the French coast at Berck-sur-Mer. He crosses the French coast at 1,500 feet: no need to climb to 7,000 feet to avoid the coastal flak defences as they are in 10/10ths cloud. It also means that they cannot pinpoint on the coast, so course is set for Cambrai. They next pinpoint on Le Cateau, about 15 miles beyond Cambrai. Conditions improve as they fly towards the next pinpoint at Chimay, where they arrive at 22.17. They divert to investigate lights which prove to be the flarepath of an aerodrome just west of Charleville. They carry on to ‘Mexieres’ (now Charleville-Mezières) at 22.35, and from there they map-read to the target in exceptionally good visibility with bright moonlight. Seven miles from the target they spot a railway tunnel and a bridge over the river Semoy (Semois). They see the clearing at Suxy from some distance, reaching it at 23.10. They circle the area for about 18 minutes, but no recognition lights are seen.

The operation is abandoned and course is set for Berck-sur-Mer. They cross the coast at Littlehampton at 01.17, but instead of continuing to Newmarket they are instructed to land at Abingdon, which they do at 02.30.

Stanton Harcourt – Gibraltar

John Austin, promoted to Flight Lieutenant, flies Whitley Z9159 ‘NF-D’ to Stanton Harcourt. Four months ago Austin was a sergeant: rapid promotion indeed! He is scheduled to take off from Newmarket at 11.45. Newmarket reports the take-off at 13.06, but the wireless operator records the flight starting at 13.45. The flight takes 40 minutes. From Stanton Harcourt Austin comes under 44 Group orders for the direct flight to Gibraltar, and from there to Malta for further operations to Yugoslavia. He takes two passengers. The Stradishall Commanding Officer demands that he be advised of all aircraft movements such as Austin’s.

A Halifax is also to accompany the Whitley, but Austin is in charge of the expedition, having been there and done it before; which explains his promotion. I have been unable to find out the identity of the Halifax or its pilot. The Stradishall log makes no mention of the Halifax (though it does mention Austin and his Whitley), and the Halifax does not appear again in relation to this operation.

At Stanton Harcourt they find that the containers and packages they are due to take to Malta have not arrived. Austin records that there is some confusion. He finally takes off at five minutes to midnight; reading between the lines of his report, he has to depart without the containers, which follow later. The leg to Gibraltar takes 10 hours 40 minutes. As you can read above, Austin has a new 2nd Pilot: P/O Gibson’s replacement is Sgt Fletcher. Sgt Jakeman is the navigator and P/O Livingstone the wireless-operator; Sgt Slatcher is the rear gunner and LAC Lynch the despatcher. They are also taking two passengers, probably maintenance crew for the Whitley.


AIR 20/8334, Encl. 110A
ATFs for November 1941

Stanton-Harcourt, Gibraltar

AIR 14/2529
AIR 20/8504 (138 Squadron: operations from Malta and North Africa)
Conversations with S/Ldr Austin
Logbooks, S/Ldrs Austin and Livingstone (flight times and durations)

Friday, 28 November 1941

Farnham, Surrey

F/Lt A. Laurent is a Free French Air Force pilot who has recently joined the squadron as a Lysander pilot, to be trained in pick-up operations. He crashes Lysander T1771, hitting trees on a hill north of Farnham, in poor daylight visibility. His passenger is LAC ‘Ox’ Harkness, a Lysander fitter. Both are killed. Their Flight Commander, Sqn Ldr John Nesbitt-Dufort, mourns the loss of Harkness: Laurent can be replaced, but ‘Ox’ Harkness was one of his best riggers, and has been with 419 Flight since its inception.

Freddie Clark wrote that T1771 was ‘the long-range prototype Lysander III developed for SD work by the A&AEE at Boscombe Down’. This is not inconsistent with Farley’s long-range Lysander R9027 used (and crashed in Scotland) on an operation in October 1941. R9027 and T1508 were equipped with the Mercury XVA engine; T1770 and T1771 were fitted with the Mercury XX.


Black Lysander, p.112
We Landed by Moonlight, p. 37
Agents by Moonlight, p.29
138 Sqn ORB, TNA AIR 27/956
Air Ministry Forms 78 (Aircraft Record Cards), RAF Museum, Hendon.

Thursday, 27 November 1941

Operation DACE

P/O Gibson has recently received his commission. Whereas it is normal RAF practice to post NCO aircrew to a new unit on receiving their commission, the specialist skills of SD aircrew means that many return directly to their previous squadron and carry on as before. The only appreciable difference is that they eat and drink in a different Mess, have less disposable income, and are more senior on the ground than they had been.

This operation is the second attempt to drop Sergent-chef Bourdat. Same target, different route: in the veteran Whitley T4166, Gibson also flies via Cabourg, but heads further south to pick up the Loire at Beaugency. Pinpointing there, he tracks eastwards to re-cross the Loire at Gien (spelled Gion in Gibson’s report). Continuing eastwards to Auxerre, he finds the town but the river is again mist-covered. Nevertheless the crew finds the target and circles the area for 30 minutes, but they see no sign of the expected reception committee. They take a more direct course to Cabourg, and return to Newmarket via Tangmere (which they never see but overfly) and Stradishall. They land at 03.40, having never flown above 2,000 feet the whole time because of what Gibson calls ‘the inclement weather’.

Operation to Chimay, Belgium

The information for this sortie comes again solely from the logbooks of P/O Austin and F/O Livingstone, his Wireless Operator. Livingstone records a sortie of 7.30 hours, with the aircraft as Whitley Z6728 and the target as Chimay, whereas Austin records the Whitley as Z9288; the flight duration is the same. There is a plausible explanation for the non-recording of these two sorties by Austin. Three nights later Austin and his crew will be despatched to Malta; writing up their recent operations will not have been a priority. They will not reappear until February, so Austin is absent from the customary frenzy of report-writing at the end of the moon period.

Unknown operation

The Stradishall Operation log records three Whitley sorties taking off and landing this night: aircraft ‘J’, ‘B’, and ‘F’. Which was which is unimportant, but it indicates another unrecorded sortie, about which nothing at all is known.



TNA AIR 20/8334, Encl. 112A

Operation to Chimay

Logbooks, S/Ldrs Austin & Livingstone

Unknown operation

TNA AIR 14/2529

Wednesday, 26 November 1941

Operation DACE

This is W/Cdr Farley’s first operation since returning to flying duties. During his recovery from a broken femur incurred after crash-landing his Hurricane, shot down by an Me109 the previous November, Farley was posted to the Air Ministry, where he replaced Sqn Ldr Knowles in managing 1419 Flight’s operations under W/Cdr J. Easton. On 1 April had been promoted Squadron Leader, and in mid-November 1941 he returned to command 138 Squadron, promoted Wing Commander. Though Farley has been remembered as a pioneering SD Lysander pilot, he also flew several of the very early Whitley Special Duties operations. Tonight he has an experienced crew with him: ‘Sticky’ Murphy and the core members of his crew. Also along to gain experience is F/Lt Laurent, a French Air Force Lysander pilot who has recently joined the squadron.

RF agent Sergent-chef Raymond Laverdet (DASTARD) is already in France, inserted in September near Bazoches-lès-Bray to make contact with the newly-active Communist labour organisations, hence his other code-name, RED. He has made contact with a Communist organisation known as the ‘Armée Volontaire’, which appears to provide opportunities for industrial sabotage. (Doubtless for political reasons, the RF History describes this movement as Gaullist; it was nothing of the kind.) Laverdet’s wireless operator André Allainmat (RED W) makes contact with London on 9 October, and in a second message on the 19th Laverdet has asked for an assistant and weapons instructor. The result is DACE (misleadingly recorded by Farley as DASTARD/DACE): Sergent-chef Louis Bourdat.

Farley plots a course over familiar territory from the previous September. At 21.00, ten minutes after crossing the English coast, low cloud forms to block their view of the sea beneath, so they turn on ETA for Cabourg and set course for Auxerre, their target. At 22.00 the cloud begins to disperse, but visibility remains poor. After a further half-hour, because he is still trusting to a dead-reckoning course set over Tangmere, Farley alters course to find Fontainebleau, a town he knows well from the air after his several attempts to land Philip Schneidau more than a year ago. Believing that they have found Fontainebleau — the château, its grounds and surrounding forest are highly recognisable — Farley alters course for Auxerre. On ETA for the town they find a river they take to be the Yonne, but they cannot find Auxerre itself: the valley is shrouded in mist. They follow the mist-covered river downstream until they find themselves over Paris — 150km from Auxerre as the crow flies — whereupon they abandon the operation due to a forecast of poor early-morning weather at Newmarket. They fly on ETA all the way back to base, which they find with difficulty, and land at 03.20.

Operation PLAICE (really TROUT)

It’s not quite clear why Sgt Reimer entitles this operation PLAICE in his report. A simple explanation is that Reimer gets his fish-names mixed up. The RF history and the locations mentioned by Reimer in his report make clear that this was Operation TROUT.

Sgt Reimer flies via Abingdon, Tangmere and the French coast — Reimer being his laconic self, says little — to the Loire river at 23.10. He flies up the river Allier, a Loire tributary, and pinpoints on the town of Moulins, which he reaches at midnight. It takes him another 45 minutes to find the reception committee; the RF History gives the dropping point as ‘near Vichy’, which is further up the Allier.

This sortie being right at the start of the moon period, the moon has descended behind cloud near the horizon. The reception committee’s torches are faint, and are not lit until Reimer is right overhead. (Batteries are rare as hens’ teeth in France, and their brief life carefully husbanded.) Reimer and his crew drop the agent, whose parachute is seen to open, before heading home, dropping leaflets in the Tours area and over ‘Mortaine’. (This is more likely to be nearby Mortagne). They find their way home above 10/10th cloud, and land at 06.35.

The Free French agent is called Koenigswerther, a W/T operator for Laverdet (TROMBONE), dropped in late August. Laverdet has made contact with London through the OVERCLOUD organisation, but he needs his own W/T operator.

Somehow TROUT fails to meet up with his reception committee. (The faint torches seen by Reimer’s crew may have been house-lights that coincidentally made the same pattern. There is no blackout in the Unoccupied Zone, and Knowles had commented on this possibility of misidentification back in May.) TROUT’s safe house proves unsafe: his W/T set is soon in the hands of the Vichy authorities, his identity as a M. Blacharden blown. He manages to make contact with an SIS agent EMERAUDE (EMERALD), who has been dropped on 6 November by P/O Hockey near Toulouse, and (according to the RF history) has been operating from Marseilles. EMERALD signals London to see if he might make use of Koenigswerther, but Dewavrin wants him to continue with his original mission – a little ungrateful of Dewavrin as without EMERALD’s help Koenigswerther would be a busted flush.

MRD Foot makes no mention of this agent in his ‘SOE in France’. He may have been inhibited (or prohibited) from mentioning it because of the contact with SIS agent ‘EMERALD’.

Operation to Virton, Belgium

This operation by Austin cannot be tied to any operation, SOE or SIS. The target for this one appears in P/O Livingstone’s logbook as ‘Vitron’, which is probably Virton, but no more is known about it than the sortie’s duration, 6 hours 45 minutes, and that it is flown by P/O Austin in Whitley Z9288. There is no operations report, which means that it is absent from the 138 Squadron ORB, created much later from the pilots’ reports. Austin’s sudden deployment back to Malta may explain that absence of a report.