Monthly Archives: March 1942

Wednesday, 25 March 1942

I include this PICKAXE sortie for the NKVD, which takes place after 138 Squadron has moved to Tempsford, because it is the first attempt to carry out Operation WHISKEY.

Operation WHISKEY

This first attempt at WHISKEY is piloted by Flying Officer Zygmuntowicz. In accordance with normal protocols in the Polish Air Force, the aircraft captain is the Navigator, F/Lt Voellnagel.

The report written in the 138 Squadron ORB is very brief. However, a copy of the aircrew debriefing report has been kept in the WHISKEY SOE file.

At 20.00 F/O Zygmuntowicz takes off in Halifax V9976 from RAF Bourne, about ten miles north east of Tempsford. The Halifax crosses the French coast at Le Touquet at 21.27. The weather is fine as far as Mannheim, but the visibility deteriorates east of 12° East. Mist fills the valleys, and surrounds the target area, which they reach at 01.30. The target is at 48°04’N, 16°06’E, south-west of Vienna. Only the mountain-tops are visible above the valley-mist. They fly around the target area for about an hour, but nothing is seen and the operation is abandoned. The French coast is re-crossed at 04.45, and they land at Tangmere at 06.00.

The two agents are NKVD officers: Peter Staritsky (alias Peter Schulenberg) and Vsevolod Troussevitch (alias Johan Traum). There is no indication in the files as to their mission in Austria. This sortie may have provided the Polish crew with the suspicion that the agents are Soviet agents; before or during the flight it would have taken only an unguarded word or two from the agents to alert the crew to their origins. The Poles are closely in touch with the Polish Inspectorate and with Polish Intelligence, the latter being a most formidable organisation. Interference by the Polish Inspectorate in 138 Squadron’s operations has only recently been lanced by a conference held at Tempsford by the Deputy CAS, Air Marshal Bottomley.

It is clearly stated that the final possible date for an attempt in this moon-period is 5 April. Considerable pressure is brought to bear, even implying that they operation should be attempted after the end of the moon period, the agents prepared to be dropped anywhere in the Danube valley east of Linz. The Soviets regard the crew and aircraft as expendable. The British don’t.


TNA HS4/342: SOE file for PICKAXE operations WHISKEY and RUM
TNA AIR 2/5203: Formation of Special Duties Flight: No. 138 Squadron
Freddie Clark: ‘Agents by Moonlight’, p. 60
Bernard O’Connor: Churchill and Stalin’s secret agents : Operation Pickaxe at RAF Tempsford

Saturday, 14 March 1942


The Main Party of 138 Squadron moves to RAF Tempsford. This consists of a road party travelling by trucks, and an air party travelling in the squadron’s aircraft.

The schedule for the Air Party is an indication, no more than that, of the aircrew strength at that time. As the only reports since January 1942 are those entered in the Squadron ORB, which doesn’t mention anyone except the aircraft captains, there are several names that are not mentioned elsewhere. Most of these personnel are allotted to specified crews; F/Sgt Howard may be flying the squadron’s ‘hack’, Lysander R2626, with Sgt Jones in the rear. I can think of no other reason for these two to be listed in isolation.

Air Party

The nominal roll is as follows:
S/Ldr Hockey
P/O Wilkin
P/O Holden
F/Sgt Burke
Sgt Meikle
Sgt Hughes
Sgt Berwick
Sgt Walton
F/O Livingstone, though not listed, flew in Hockey’s aircraft in the Front Gunner position
P/O W.R Austin
P/O D. Gibson
P/O Petrie
F/Sgt Fish, DFM
F/Sgt Bramley
Sgt Grimwade
Sgt Pieniazek
Sgt Klosowski
P/O Wodziki
P/O Bator
Sgt Nowinski
P/O Tajchman
Sgt Klosowski (Maybe there were two.)
Sgt Karbowski
F/Lt Davies
P/O Kingsford-Smith
Sgt Franklin
Sgt Kerry
F/Sgt Lee
Sgt Hill
F/Sgt Howard
Sgt Jones
P/O Rymills
Sgt Walker
F/Sgt Charlton
Sgt Stokes
Sgt Rock
Sgt Flint
P/O Zygmuntowicz
P/O Dobromirski
P/O Voellnagel
Sgt Wilmanski
Sgt Wojchiechowski
Sgt Zuk
Sgt Madrecki
Sgt Madejski
Sgt Thompson
P/O Widdup
P/O Franklin
Sgt Hailstone
Sgt Wood
Sgt Farquarson
P/O Smith (Advance Party)
Sgt Owen
P/O McFadden
Sgt Oldham
F/Sgt Bruton
Sgt Evans
Sgt Wilde
Sgt Hayhoe
Sgt Charrot
F/Sgt Wall
Sgt Scotney
Sgt Weatherston
F/Sgt Ward
F/Sgt Davidston
Sgt Alexander
P/O Simmonds
Sgt Harvey
P/O Middlemass
Sgt Ramsay
F/Sgt Todd
St Janek
Sgt Politzer
P/O Jelinek
Sgt Fornusek
Sgt Vaverka
Sgt Jelinek
P/O Russell
Sgt Miller
Sgt Lines
F/Sgt Marly
Sgt Avery
P/O Anderle
Sgt Knaifl
P/O Krcha
Sgt Vanicek
Sgt Siska
Sgt Tesar

I shall endeavour to add the full lists for the advance party and the main party of the ground staff as soon as practicable.

Wednesday, 11 March 1942


The Advance Party of 138 Squadron moves to Tempsford. S/Ldr Romanoff would have been in charge, with P/O A.B. Smith as his deputy. The party of 40 includes a pair of representatives from each of the many Ground sections.
The move of the Main Party to Tempsford, including the aircraft and crews, is to be carried out on 14 March, and is to be completed by 23.59 on the same day.

Monday, 9 March 1942

Operation FRENSHAM 1

S/Ldr Romanoff takes off on his first sortie, at six minutes past midnight. Strictly, therefore, the sortie takes place on the 10th, but by convention it should be dated to the 9th; in essence the night after the previous attempt. Romanoff has an all-Czech crew.

Ron Hockey watches from the control-tower. He sees the Whitley climb away, too steeply. It may be the first time Romanoff, who has flown Whitleys at Ringway since the late summer of 1940, has taken off with a full load of fuel, agents and containers. The Whitley stalls, and crashes. There are no survivors. Hockey and others rush to the wreck, but the fire and explosions are so fierce that they cannot get close. Hockey is peppered with shrapnel through his greatcoat.

This is the second attempt to drop the FRENSHAM agents, one night after the previous attempt. I have found no mention of FRENSHAM in the SOE archive. Whoever they were, and whatever their mission, it has escaped the record.

Sunday, 8 March 1942

Operation FRENSHAM

At 23.20 Sgt Wilde takes off in Whitley Z9286. He crosses the English coast at 4,000 feet, but the altimeter becomes unserviceable and the sortie is abandoned. Wilde re-crosses the English coast at 01.18 and lands at Tangmere two minutes later, still carrying his containers.

Normally he would have jettisoned the containers over the airfield before landing in order to keep the Centre of Gravity forward. He must be glad to get down in one piece, for a still-loaded Whitley is prone to stalling. Tangmere’s long runway allows the aircraft to be ‘landed-on’ at a higher speed with the tail still up, a method which forestalls a stall.