Monthly Archives: January 1942

Thursday, 1 January 1942

Operations MAINMAST, ROBERT, and PERCH)

Though he will have been entirely unaware of its significance, Sergeant Jones is given one of the most far-reaching operations of the clandestine war: the insertion of General de Gaulle’s chosen emissary to the French Resistance, then still half-formed and largely ineffective, to mould and weld them into an effective force for the restitution of France and the recovery of its pride. Jean Moulin, a French Deputy tortured and sacked for his acts of defiance against the Nazi regime, has made his way to England in the autumn of 1941. He is now to be returned to France by air. The Despatcher’s identity is a clue to the operation’s importance, for he is the highly-experienced W/Cdr Jack Benham, who has left the staff of Ringway for 138 Squadron.

This operation has been postponed several times. Originally scheduled to be flown on Christmas night (25-26 December), unfavourable weather forecasts for that and the following four nights were succeeded by the aircraft (Whitley Z9125) becoming unserviceable for the 29th & 30th.

Sgt Jones takes off from Stradishall at 16.20 on the 1st January. The importance of this operation may have dictated a route that spends a minimum of time over Nazi-occupied France, for it is unusual: to RAF St Eval, where they refuel before apparently flying either across or round the western end of Brittany to cross the French coast from the Bay of Biscay. For much of this section they are plagued by thin stratus cloud which renders the sea and ground beneath indistinguishable. It is hard to make complete sense of Smith’s report, but he appears to have flown across the south-west corner of France, identifying Mt Canigou in the Pyrenees ahead, then flying east along the Mediterranean coast in order to establish pinpoint at the mouth of the Rhone. From there they map-read their way to the target.

Moulin would prefer to be dropped close to a house he owns on the north slopes of the Alpilles, an isolated ridge of limestone hills south of Avignon. According to Patrick Marnham, Moulin has asked to be dropped ‘on the north slopes of the Alpilles range of hills, near St. Andiol’, with two other agents, Raymond Fassin (PERCH) and Hervé Montjaret (W/Op), logically ROBERT.

According to Marnham, they jump from 1,500 feet into a strong wind. Moulin ends up in a bog called the Marais des Baux (now drained farmland) south of the Alpilles, about 2-3 km WSW from Mouriès. It is a 15 kilometre walk across the Alpilles: a few minutes by air, but several hours hard walking in mid-winter, the discomfort exacerbated by Moulin becoming soaked through from a combination of landing in soggy ground and the mistral turning into a hailstorm. Given how far they had come, and the relative inexperience of the crew, the sort of pinpoint navigation that the agents appear to have expected would only have been likely with a pilot who already knew the area intimately;  no previous operations have been flown to this part of France. Given the navigation difficulties, the agents were fortunate to land within 50 miles of their target. The rear gunner sees four canopies open.

Sgt Jones heads the Whitley across France, passing Limoges on their route home. The cloud is 10/10ths and they fly at 2,000 feet. They must climb to cross the coast, but after that they get a radio fix for St Eval and drop from 6,000 feet to 1,500, landing at 08.55. They take off for Stradishall at 14.21, landing at 16.15.

Sources

TNA AIR 20/8334, Encl. 136A
www.petit-patrimoine.com (for location and photos of Moulin’s property)
ATF for Op. MAINMAST 25/12/41 – 7/1/42 (TNA File unknown), provided by courtesy of Pierre Tillet.
‘Resistance & Betrayal’, Patrick Marnham, p.144.

Friday, 2 January 1942

Operation CHEESE/FASTING

Operations to Norway would normally be flown from an RAF station in the far north, such as Wick or Kinloss. But this sortie is well within a Whitley’s range from Stradishall, for the target is near the south-west tip of Norway, a distance of less than 500 miles. The target is near the farm of Gunvald Tomstad at Helle, a small hamlet south of Flekkefjord.

The agents to be dropped are Odd Starheim and a wireless-operator, Andreas Fasting. (The use of the latter’s real surname as his RAF codename is an uncharacteristic lapse, though early codenames were sometimes a laboured pun on some aspect of the agent, perhaps to help desk-officers remember which codename applied to which agent.) Mark Seaman notes that his correct codename was ‘Biscuit’. They are to be dropped with two packages, presumably W/T sets.

Starheim had escaped from Norway to Scotland by sea in August 1940, and had been landed back in December 1940 as Operation Cheese, an intelligence operation by SOE. He recruited Tomstad in early 1941, and warned the British of the Bismarck’s sortie to the Atlantic in April. He escaped via Sweden in June 1941. Now he was to return to Tomstad’s farm.

P/O Smith takes off in Whitley T4166 from Stradishall at 20.25, and crosses the Norfolk coast at Cromer at 20.31. This is his first trip as skipper, and he was fortunate not to have been flying with Sgt Reimer on the 27th. The port airscrew has been giving him trouble, which may be a characteristic failure of the exactor control system for the airscrew pitch. Smith is able to climb to 8,500 feet, rather less than normal, before levelling out above scattered strato-cumulus.

At midnight he makes landfall ten miles south of Flekkefjord. The 2nd Pilot guides Smith to the target area: the agents are dropped at 00.23 from 2,900 feet, which implies that the target is on high ground. Two camouflaged canopies and one white one are seen to open, but the despatcher reports that he has four static lines; there is no repeat of the static-line failure (or failure to be clipped on) that caused the loss of Dr Carl Bruhn in December.

To disguise the aircraft’s purpose, leaflets are dropped over nearby towns Fede and Rôrvig (the latter unidentified). Seventeen minutes after dropping the agents the Whitley crosses the cast south of Flekkefjord, and they set course for base, climbing back to 8,500 feet for the return trip across the North Sea. Unsurprisingly they encounter icing, and gradually descend. They cross the north Norfolk coast at 2,000 feet just after 4 a.m., landing back at Stradishall at 04.45.

Sources

TNA AIR 20/8334, encl. 138A
‘Special Operations Executive: A new instrument of war’, Mark Seaman, p. 80

Monday, 5 January 1942

Three operations, possibly four, are planned for this night. All are to Norway, and the targets are distant enough to require the aircraft to set off from the UK’s far north. W/Cdr Farley, CO of 138 Squadron, flies one of the two Whitleys, and Sgt E.E. Jones the other. We have only Farley’s report on his attempt, plus data from Air Transport Forms (ATFs). Sgt Jones either does not write one or it has been lost. Other information comes from SOE and MI5 files and post-war history of the Norwegian resistance.

Operation ANVIL/LARK

According to an Air Transport Form (ATF) from December 1941, ANVIL consists of two agents. The target is given as Lillehammer, and the departure date is an optimistic 4 December. A later ATF, with a ‘delivery date’ of 23/12, identifies ANVIL’s target as ‘E.NE. Lillehammer’, deep in the hinterland of Norway’s southern bulge, near the Swedish border. LARK, on the other hand, is on the coast, south-west of Trondheim and some 180 miles west of ANVIL. They are both some 350 miles further north than CHEESE/FASTING of a few nights before.

The operation is to be flown by W/Cdr Walter Farley from RAF Wick, almost at the north-eastern tip of Scotland. Sgt E.E. Jones is to fly another operation (ANCHOR) to the same area of Norway as ANVIL, possibly to the same drop site, so it is baffling as to why they are not combined, especially as the targets for ANVIL and LARK are so far apart.

The two pilots and their crews attempt to fly to Wick in preparation for the attempt. At 11.12 W/Cdr Farley asks the Ops Room to signal Wick for permission to operate two Whitleys from there tonight. Twenty five minutes later Wick signals back that they can accommodate two Whitleys and their crews. Farley will fly NF-K (Z9158) and Sgt Jones will take NF-A (Z9125), both taking off at 13.30; they plan to reach Wick at 16.30, the route being Peterborough – York – Sterling (sic) – Westerdale – Wick.

They take off about an hour later than planned. Farley (who has swapped into Whitley NF-C) gets as far as Linton-on-Ouse, and plans to operate from there. He takes off at

It is hard to believe, given Britain’s capabilities at the start of 1942, but LARK was intended to prepare the ground for an invasion of Norway about half-way along the west coast, with the aim of bisecting the country and isolating German forces north of Trondheim.

Operation ANCHOR (probably also CROW)

There is no report by Sgt Jones on his operation, to which Farley refers only obliquely in his report. We can, however, trace Jones’s progress through the Stradishall ops log. At 08.35 Stradishall is told that Sgt Jones is to fly a cross-country to Middleton St George at 09.45, but this is cancelled ten minutes later. (This may have been for some technical modifications, postponed.)

Jones takes off three minutes after Farley and somehow gets through to Wick, though briefly he is mis-understood to have landed at Leuchars. He plans to operate from Wick: at 21.10 Wick’s Station-Commander asks Stradishall for clarification about his responsibility for Sgt Jones’s Whitley; F/Lt Hockey signals back that he has full discretion regarding the weather. The operation is cancelled.

At 15.17 the next day there is a favourable Met. forecast for that night (the 6th). Unfortunately, as Jones taxies out he damages a wing and has to abandon. On the 7th, at about midday, Jones is signalled to standby for operations that night and for the 8-9th, and therefore ordered to return to Stradishall at the first opportunity. (It would appear that ANCHOR has been cancelled.) At 15.36 a cypher signal arrives from Wick indicating that Sgt Jones was returning. Actually he takes off at 13.30. Wick later signals that Jones has been ordered to land at Thornaby, but an aircraft that does there, initially reported to be Jones’s, turns out to be a Hudson. By six p.m. there is no news of Jones, and the log shows that everyone fears the worst; at 18.55 the Air Ministry is informed that he is overdue. At 19.30 Group wants to know Jones’s call-sign. At 20.20 a signal comes in that Whitley ‘A’ has force-landed at Prestwick with all its instruments U/S (unserviceable). His passengers have been accommodated and they are all returning tomorrow.

ANCHOR is Torbjorn Gulbrandsen, and CROW is his wireless-operator, Ernst Kirkby Jacobsen. They are eventually inserted by sea on the 24th February 1942. In May 1942 ANCHOR is captured, and after interrogation by the Gestapo he escapes and makes a successful return to the UK. Later, CROW also manages to return to the UK, and it soon becomes clear that ANCHOR has been allowed to escape by the Germans.  The Gestapo gained ANCHOR’s co-operation, at considerable cost to the Norwegian resistance, after the Gestapo threatened Gulbrandsen with action against his family. He spends the rest of the war at STS26.

Sources

Pilots’ Ops reports: TNA AIR 20/8334, Encl. 129A (Another copy of the first page at Encl. 137A.)
Stradishall Log: TNA AIR 14/2529
TNA HS 2/159 & 160 Operation LARK
TNA HS 2/149 Operation ANCHOR
TNA HS 2/152 Operation CROW
TNA KV2/ 829 MI5 file on ANCHOR

Tuesday, 6 January 1942

Operation SHIRT/JACKET

For this sortie Wodsicki’s Halifax is substantially overloaded by more than 1,000 lbs (61,198 lbs).
The aircraft is flown to Lakenheath for embarkation and fuelling befpre taking off at 1955 for Esjberg. Wodsicki reports the take-off hazardous: the runway is slippery and (for some reason not explained) the take-off has to be out of wind. They cross the English coast at 20.26 and course is set for the Danish west-coast port of Esjberg.

They arrive over Esjberg 23.07 and cross Denmark and the Baltic sea, pinpointing on the Swedish island of Bornholm at 00.25. At the target there is no sign of a reception committee, but the agents are dropped anyway. In fairness to the crew, it is still an achievement to have reached Poland and the target area, so the normal procedure for a sortie to France, of returning to base with the agents to try again another night, may have seemed a poor option. Of course we don’t know exactly what Wodzicki’s orders may have been.

He lands back at Attlebridge, short of petrol. The next day he takes off for Stradishall, apparently without informing anyone without gaining permission, despite his instruction to awairt orders from Stradishall.

The Air Transport Form identifies the target for both SHIRT and JACKET as ‘RADOM?’, which is some 100 km south of Warsaw. A likely candidate for the forest where the agents are dropped is the Kozienicki Park, a substantial area to the east of Radom.

In March 1942, Major Perkins, based in Room 96, Horse Guards, writes to Lt Colonel Rudnicki, the head of the VIth Bureau (Polish Intelligence) for details on the RUCTION, COLLAR, SHIRT and JACKET drops, especially their accuracy. Rudnicki’s reply, in Polish but helpfully translated, shows that the JACKET drop was made about 36 km west of the target, on the border between the German Reich and the General Government (in German hands but administratively separate from the areas annexed in 1939). It appears that there was no reception committee for this drop. The agents landed on a forest, and were immediately spotted and engaged by a German patrol, with consequent casualties to both sides. Though the Poles gave more than they got, the area was compromised for future activity.

For SHIRT the Halifax arrived an hour later than specified, by which time the committee had dispersed. The drop was made 5-6 km from the correct point, right over a village; three containers fell into German hands, which rather gave the game away. Though the agents and the money that was dropped with them was recovered by the Poles, this district also had been compromised and could no longer be used.

Operation to Saumur area

Ron Hockey’s logbook shows a sortie to the Saumur area. Based on previous sorties to the area, it’s a fair chance that it was to Marie-Madeleine Fourcade’s ALLIANCE circuit, also known as ‘Noah’s Ark’.
Hockey takes Sgt Wilde as his 2nd Pilot. Sgt Wilde is a new pilot to the squadron, flying a few trips as ‘Second Dicky’ to gain experience before taking on sorties as skipper.

Hockey takes off from Stradishall in Whitley Z6728, and flies a route via Tangmere and Cabourg to Saumur, on the lower Loire (lower than Tours, anyway) and from there to the target. There is no report for this sortie on file or in the 138 Squadron Opersations Record Book. Hardly surprising as the ORB for the entire four-month period for 1941 is compiled later, taking direct transcriptions of the pilots’ reports. Reports from January to March 1942 appear now to exist only in the ORB, the original pilots’ reports having been lost.

Hockey returns via Cabourg, but flies a westerly course to land at St Eval after a six-and-a-half hour trip. St Eval is rather a long way out of the way; but the station had been warned to expect him. Coltishall reports that their airfield is ‘out’ due to weather, so we can assume that poor weather is to blame.

Sea evacuation

On the same night several agents of the SOE RF Section OVERCLOUD team are extracted by MGB 314 from Ile-Guénnoc. Several of these agents have previously been parachuted in: Forman, Labit, Chenal, Paul Simon, and Joêl and Yves Le Tac. The episode is fully described by Brooks Richards (who was in MGB 314’s crew) in ‘Secret Flotillas’.

Sources

Operation SHIRT/JACKET

TNA AIR 20/8334, Encl. 135A
TNA HS4/177

Operation to Saumur area

Ron Hockey logbook

Sea evacuation OVERCLOUD III

Brooks Richards, ‘Secret Flotillas Vol. I’, pp 115-116; Appendix A, p.313.