Monthly Archives: December 1941

Friday, 5 December 1941

Gibraltar to Malta

After several days’ delay due to bad weather in the Mediterranean, F/Lt Austin once again takes off in Z9159 for Malta. They take off at 22.35 to arrive on the morning of the 6th. The flight takes 9 hours 40 minutes, making their arrival time shortly after 8 a.m. (probably 9 o’clock local time).

Sunday, 7 December 1941

Newmarket

Ron Hockey, plus 8 crew, flies a 10-hour consumption test in a new Halifax. The Stradishall ops log records that Hockey’s ‘NF-V’ (L9613) and another Halifax identified only as ‘W’, will fly to Lakenheath: “V will do the cross-country as advised. W will fly Base – Linton – Uphaven (sic) – Base for 10 hrs.”

At 15.46 ‘W’ is airborne from Newmarket, followed by ‘V’ at 15.52, but at 18.35 Newmarket advises Stradishall that they have still not taken off from Lakenheath.

L9613 ‘NF-V’ is reported as landing at 05.54 (8/12/41), followed by ‘W’ at 06.20.

Sources

TNA AIR 14/2529
Logbook, R.C. Hockey

Sunday, 7 December 1941

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii USA

At 07.38 local Hawaii time, the Japanese Navy starts its attacks on the American fleet at Pearl Harbour. Attacks are also made upon Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaya. (Publication time is adjusted to account for the time difference; in 1941 Hawaii is 10 hours 30 minutes behind GMT, but the UK is 1 hour ahead of GMT, so the time difference is 11 hours 30 minutes.)

At 23.35 Group HQ reports to Stradishall that the USA has declared war on Japan. Germany subsequently declares war on the United States of America.

Sources

Stradishall Ops Officers’ Log

Monday, 8 December 1941

Operation COD

P/O Gibson writes this sortie up as Operation COOL, but in fact it is Operation COD, caused by a typo somewhere along the clerical chain between SOE and Newmarket. On the Air Transport Form it is clearly COD, in the same group as PLAICE, TROUT and DACE.

Gibson takes off at 20.15, and heads via Abingdon and Tangmere for Pointe de la Percée, near the western end of the Normandy beaches. Heading south for Tours, via Le Mans, he drops to 3,000 feet underneath a sheet of 10/10ths cloud, but the moon is bright enough. Pinpointing on the Loire west of Tours at 23.03, he loses height further to 2,000 feet and heads for Châteauroux. Twenty minutes later he is over Châteauroux and alters course NNE for the target, his navigation no doubt aided by the ruler-straight Roman road to Vatan. The expected reception is not at the target, but the agents are dropped one mile west of Ménétréols-sous-Vatan, at 23.45.

They map-read their way back to Châteauroux, where they drop leaflets a few minutes before midnight. They set course for Pointe de la Percée, flying at 2,000 feet beneath the stratus cloud, but climbing to 6,000 feet shortly before reaching the coast they climb to 6,000 feet to get above any coastal flak. They return to Newmarket via Tangmere and Abingdon, flying at 1,200 feet.

COD is an operation for Dewavrin’s RF organisation, parachuting Lt Edgard Tupët-Thomé (imaginatively codenamed TOM) and his wireless-operator, Joseph Piet (TOM W), near Ménétréols-sous-Vatan, in the heart of SIS’s parachuting and pick-up area. This operation appears to have been organised by SIS, which would have been unlikely to permit an SOE operation to use the same location. (Freddie Clark misidentified the target as near Ménétréol-sur-Sauldre, north-east of the border town of Vierzon, in the Occupied Zone.) Apparently both agents are injured in their landing; Piet breaks his leg.

Operation CLAUDIUS/BERYL

Sgt Alvin Reimer flies this important SIS operation to Blois and Châteauroux. His customarily laconic report provides little colour to describe the sortie, but it must have been interesting: as his 2nd Pilot he is taking his new Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Farley, though Reimer will have had little choice in the matter. Sgt Reimer is ‘Mr Reliable’: he has rarely failed to deliver his agents, even dropping six in one sortie (though in two passes) in September, so Farley may have flown this sortie to learn the secret behind Reimer’s success. The crew also includes P/Os Atkins and Fisher, both experienced men who have been commissioned since joining 1419 Flight.

Reimer takes off at 20.35 and heads for Tangmere. They cross the Channel, but without getting a firm fix on their position they set course for Blois, up-Loire from Tours. Pinpointing on Blois, the first drop is to the east, with a reception committee waiting for them east of the village of Huisseau-sur-Cosson. The correct signals are exchanged and CLAUDIUS is dropped. Two parachutes are dropped: one ‘A’ type and one ‘X’ type, both with the large-size canopies. It’s likely that CLAUDIUS drops using the ‘A’ type, with a W/T set above his head, and another package is dropped using an ‘X’ type parachute.

Reimer flies back to Blois and drops leaflets to give plausible ‘cover’ to their presence, before heading for Châteauroux: BERYL is dropped nearby, though the Air Transport Form gives no details. Reimer then drops leaflets over Châteauroux before heading home to Newmarket, where they land at 03.44.

‘CLAUDIUS’ is Claude Lamirault, first parachuted in January as FITZROY, and originally scheduled for return to France on 29 November. His circuit ‘JADE/FITZROY’ is now a large intelligence-gathering organisation. ‘BERYL’ is BCRA Lt Roger Mitchell. As BRICK, Mitchell was parachuted in early July to help Lamirault’s FITZROY circuit as an early air landing officer (the RAF operation was called FITZROY) responsible for setting up Lysander landing-sites. Both Lamirault and Mitchell have been extracted by Lysander on November 8th for consultation, and are being returned to the field. Mitchell’s visit to London is opportune, for it helps SIS make some sense of the break-up of INTERALLIE after 17 November and its aftermath. In October Mitchell had acted as babysitter for the Polish F2 organisation INTERALLIE while its chief, Roman Garby-Czerniawski, was in London during October. Mitchell had the unenviable task of keeping Renée Borni, Garby-Czerniawski’s mistress, and Mathilde Carré, his second-in-command, at arms’ length from each other’s eyes.

Operation OVERCLOUD

OVERCLOUD is that rare thing, a seaborne SOE operation into Brittany. On 14 October 1941 Gerry Holdsworth’s launch RAF360 left the Helford river for the Aber Benoit estuary. RAF360 had been a seaplane tender and was unsuitable for cross-Channel operations, but it was all that Holdsworth could obtain. Aboard were Joël le Tac and his wireless operator, Comte Alain de Kergorley. They were to set up reception facilities for infiltrating SOE agents via Brittany, and were put ashore that night.

So where does the RAF come in, aside from supplying the craft? Brooks Richards’ account of the sea operation provides the context. The agents and their equipment were loaded into two collapsible Folboat canoes lashed together, and paddled ashore. The canoes could carry a very limited amount of kit, a W/T set and little more. The rest will have to come by air in a container-drop.

The purpose of the OVERCLOUD mission is rather greater than providing a shore base for SOE landing parties. Le Tac’s additional mission is to penetrate a number of possible targets as reconnaissance for sabotage:

  • Railways, port installations and shipyards
  • Electric power stations
  • Transformers and switching stations
  • Telecommunications
  • German aerodromes (essentially, all aerodromes)
  • R.D.F.(i.e. radar) stations

The RAF has also asked if the two agents can provide information about the two German battleships in Brest, for the smoke-pots that the Germans set off whenever aircraft are overhead effectively conceals the ships from the air. The agents are to restrict their activities to the western part of Brittany, as SOE already has another agent in the Ile de Vilaine, around Rennes. OVERCLOUD makes its first radio contact on 30 October.

Sgt Wilde’s sortie on 8 December is the first RAF attempt to supply OVERCLOUD, though it was originally scheduled for 27 November. He is also to drop an agent, codenamed CARP. (It can be impossible to trace the identity of agents on sorties that were not completed; the agent might be sent in later by another route; another may be sent instead; or the requirements may change and the agent is no longer required.)

Wilde’s Whitley runs into 10/10th cloud soon after takeoff, and is at 8,700 feet when it crosses the French coast on ETA. At 23.20 the crew briefly sees a flashing beacon which they cannot identify. They carry on to their turning-point, still cannot see to map-read, and so abandon the operation.

On the return leg they climb to 7,000 feet. Near the coast the weather clears and they get a fix on Bayeux. They are about 4 miles east of track. Wilde heads for Tangmere, dropping to about 1,000 feet in case the weather closes in again. They cross the coast at Selsey bill. The weather closes in again and, ‘discretion being the better part of valour’ (as he puts it in his report), Wilde lands at Tangmere.

Malta

F/Lt Austin is informed that his orders are to come directly from the AOC Malta.

Sources

COD

TNA AIR20/8334, Encl. 109A
TNA AIR20/8306: ATF for COD

CLAUDIUS/BERYL

TNA AIR20/8334, Encl. 116A
TNA AIR20/8306: ATFs for CLAUDIUS

OVERCLOUD

TNA AIR 20/8334, encl. 130A.
TNA AIR20/8306: ATF for OVERCLOUD I
SOE RF Section History

Malta

F/Lt Austin’s report, 16 February 1942

Thursday, 11 December 1941

Yugoslavia – Operation EPSOM

Six days (or nights) after landing at Luqa, Austin makes the first attempt to drop the two agents plus a pair of containers. The containers are loaded on to Austin’s Whitley immediately he lands in Malta, and on the 8th he is told by the AOC (Air Officer Commanding) Malta that his orders are to come directly from the AOC. A Halifax also arrives to be tasked with the same operation, though which aircraft it was, where it had come from, and who was flying it, remains unknown.

Austin takes off from Luqa at 20.10 in fine weather. He flies a course similar to his November sortie, pinpointing on Saseno Island (now called Sazan Island) and Durazzo (now Durres) on the Albanian coast, where he heads inland for Mitrovicë. The target is close to Cacak, in Serbia, not the Cetnik citadel at Ravna Gora.

Shortly after midnight Austin and his crew arrive over the target, which they positively identify. They circle for 35 minutes, flashing the recognition signal ‘R’, but they see no lights that might be interpreted as a signal. However, they do see the Halifax over the target area, a good indication that they’re in the right place. Like Austin’s Whitley the Halifax is flashing Morse letter ‘R’ with its downward-facing signal-lamp, but a like response is not forthcoming from the ground. In Austin’s Whitley the Second Pilot claims to see a red light on the ground in the target area, but it isn’t confirmed by anyone else in the crew. The Whitley leaves the target area with both containers and the two agents still aboard. Course is set for Malta, where they land at 07:00.

The reception-committee no-show might be explained by the state of Partisan-Chetnik-German relations in early November 1941. The Partisans and Chetniks are hidden in the mountains with their respective headquarters less than twenty miles apart. They have cooperated on attacks against the Germans in September and October. The Partisans are more active in attacking the Germans and Croat militias, but German reprisals are brutal in the extreme. A Führer-order has demanded 100 hostages to be executed for each German soldier killed, and 50 for each one wounded: in October more than five thousand hostages have been murdered, from just two towns. The Partisans appear to treat this as the price that has to be paid, but the scale of German atrocity persuades Mihailovic, who relies more on local support, to seek some sort of accommodation with the occupiers while saving his powder and energies for action against the Partisans, the Royalists’ real enemy. Once the Russians and British have defeated the Germans the Partisans will have to be dealt with. So why wait?

Mihailovic and Tito have met on October 27, but they agreed only on minor matters. Mihailovic strikes at Partisan troops on November 1. Two days later he postpones a planned meeting with the Germans, but meets them at Divci on December 11th, offering cooperation and making clear that the Communists were his main enemy. The Halifax and Whitley arrive over the mountains that very night, just when the Chetniks might have their hands full.