Monthly Archives: February 1942

Tuesday, 3 February 1942

Operation EPSOM, Malta-Sarajevo

The operation, though substantially different in execution from the December attempt, has the same code-name: EPSOM. The target has been changed, and is much further north, and the quantity of goods to be dropped has increased.

Austin takes off from Luqa, Malta, in Whitley Z9159 at 20.32. (The Wireless-Operator records 21.10, the difference may be that between engine-start as recorded by the pilot, and actual take-off recorded by the Wireless-Operator.) Aside from the Rear-Gunner, Sergeant Smart, who doubles as Despatcher, Austin’s crew consists of commissioned officers. As it had been the NCOs of his pre-Christmas crew who pilfered the containers for their gold sovereigns, one could understand any distrust on Austin’s part, but it is more likely that he has had to select local aircrew who can be trusted to keep their mouths shut about the nature of their activity. He may have been given instructions to this effect. The only member of his original crew is the Wireless-Operator; the Second Pilot is P/O Scott and the Navigator is P/O Lambert.

The navigator sets a course for ‘Sasene Island’ (now Sazan, off the Albanian town of Vlorê). On ETA it is obscured by strato-cumulus cloud. They change course for Point Platomen (which I have been unable to identify) but at 00.40, through a gap in the clouds, they are able to pinpoint on a town which Austin records as ‘Idjoka'(also unidentified). On ETA for Sarajevo they start a square search for the city. It is thought to be some fifteen miles west of their position. They fly the first leg due west; after eight minutes they see Sarajevo, previously obscured by its surrounding mountains (some of them 5,000 feet high) and by thick cloud.

They set course for the pinpoint, which is Mount Romanija, about thirteen miles east of Sarajevo. At this point, as Austin prepares to drop the two agents, he realises that his air-speed indicator, his altimeter and his rate-of-climb indicator are no longer functioning, at all. He writes later: ‘Consequently the height and speed could only be gauged roughly.’ An understatement.

They are not expecting a reception committee, and after making two circuits of the area Austin selects a clearing in the woods that cover the mountain. On one of the circuits the Navigator spots whot looks like the flashes of rifle fire about a mile and a half from the clearing. The agents are warned about this before they jump, but it’s not enough to put them off. They know they would not be given a second chance. Austin makes the first run-up at 02.10, dropping the two agents, eight containers and a W/T set in a single stick from about 600-700 feet above the ground. He flies in a shallow dive at about 100 mph, rather faster than normal, and from higher than normal; as he has no instruments he needs extra margins of height and speed.

They make a second circuit, and the Navigator sees a flashing white light, a pre-arranged signal as a guide for dropping the second stick. The second run was made slightly lower, at about 500 feet, and two more men and another W/T were dropped, again in a shallow dive at the same speed. As they leave the target area for the coast the Navigator thinks he sees a green light from the ground, another pre-arranged signal that all is well, but he cannot be certain.

They soon run into a continuous layer of strato-cumulus at 7,000 feet, which gives them cover until they are within 250 miles of Malta, which they reach at 07.30. They land at Luqa fifteen minutes later. Oddly, the Wireless-Operator records the sortie lasting until 11.05.


TNA AIR 20/8504
Logbooks, S/Ldrs JB Austin, DFC, and AGW Livingstone, DFC.

Friday, 13 February 1942

Operation NUTMEG

The sum of knowledge about this operation is contained in the 138 Squadron summary book of operations, which notes this as an SIS operation to France; it was not completed. The pilot is not identified.

Freddie Clark believed that P/O Simmonds had first attempted NUTMEG on the 31 January, the same sortie as his operation OVERCLOUD II, but I have found no evidence to support this. Nor have I found any evidence that P/O Simmonds was the pilot who flew NUTMEG on 13 February. Freddie may have linked P/O Simmonds to NUTMEG because the OVERCLOUD II operation of 31 January is listed immediately above in the squadron summary.

P/O Simmonds is a relative newcomer to the squadron, and is most unlikely to have been detailed to fly an SIS sortie to be carried out at the New Moon, i.e. with no moonlight. Such sorties are very rare, even when requested by SIS.


TNA AIR 27/956: Operations Record Book, 138 Squadron
TNA AIR 20/8459: 138 Squadron, Rough diary of operations.
Freddie Clark, Agents by Moonlight, p. 43.

Saturday, 14 February 1942

161 Squadron

No. 161 Squadron is officially formed at RAF Newmarket Heath. It is to take over the Lysander Flight and one Flight of Whitleys from No. 138 Squadron. It will receive more Whitleys as well. The squadron’s Commanding Officer is to be W/Cdr E.H. Fielden, MVO, who has been the King’s personal pilot and commander of the King’s Flight, which has been disbanded. The King’s Flight’s Royal responsibilities will now be carried out by No. 24 (Communications) Squadron, based at Hendon.

The existence of the new squadron will ensure that the relatively small operational requirements of the Secret Intelligence Service SIS are not swamped by the rapid expansion of SOE. SIS has always enjoyed official priority over SOE when it comes to allocating scarce air resources, and this policy has caused considerable resentment. The Lysanders have always been (officially at least) exclusively allocated for SIS purposes, and only two sorties (‘Night Embarkation’ in September 1941, and STOAT in December) have involved SOE personnel. The Whitley Flight is intended for parachuting SIS agents, but in practice it will also take on a fair share of the burden of SOE parachuting operations. In fact No. 138 Squadron does drop a few SIS agents; these operations are marked in the operations summary books.

A Lockheed Hudson belonging to the King’s Flight is to join No. 161 Squadron; the purpose is not clear, for at this stage there is no intention to use this twin-engined aircraft for clandestine operations into Occupied Europe, or indeed into Unoccupied France. In fact it is another year before Hudsons are used operationally in this role.


The 138 Squadron Operations Record Book notes that S/Ldr A.M. ‘Sticky’ Murphy is posted to the newly-formed 161 Squadron, RAF Gravelly, but the 161 Squadron ORB records 161 Squadron’s formation at Newmarket on the same date. The 138 Squadron ORB will be written up from scratch at some time in the future: the fact that it gets Murphy’s destination and rank wrong — he is atill a Flight Lieutenant — is one of many pointers towards 138 Squadron’s ORB being created after the move to Tempsford.

Sunday, 22 February 1942

Bomber Command

Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris is appointed to command Bomber Command.

He has spent the previous nine months in the United States, where he has been heading the RAF delegation to the USA to purchase American aircraft for the RAF. His previous hostility to SOE, when Deputy Chief of the Air Staff, was not directed towards SIS, the gathering of intelligence being a legitimate activity of war. He, like many of his contemporaries, regards SOE as an impostor, but his main beef is that the demands for bomber aircraft as the only aircraft that can deliver agents to Occupied Europe – no specification for armed transport aircraft having been issued, let alone any aircraft built – weaken the RAF’s offensive capabilities.

The demands of the clandestine services are not his only foes: Coastal Command also pinches his Whitleys and Wellingtons which, though by now obsolescent, are still in front-line service until the new ‘heavies’ reach the squadrons. The RAF’s possession of a strategic bomber force, the only force that can currently carry the fight to the Germans where it hurts them, the Fatherland,  keeps the Navy and Army from being able to divide the RAF between them: the Navy wants control of Coastal Command which guards the sea-lanes and the convoys within air-patrol range, and command over the bomber force to force it to attack German battleships. The Army would subordinate Bomber Command to tactical needs, as will in fact happen in the lead-up to D-Day and during the Normandy campaign.