Operations had been scheduled for Monday 1 September, but these had been cancelled at 1430 hours. There is no explanation in the Stradishall log, but from the foul weather experienced the following night, that is a likely explanation. No Stradishall-based bombers are out either.
At 1115 on the 2nd, W/Cdr Knowles informs the Ops room that 138 Squadron will be operating four aircraft tonight. At 1130 W/Cdr Knowles is to be reminded that he has not informed the Station Commander of 138 Squadron’s upcoming operations. This is a requirement stretching back to October 1940.
Little is known about this operation to Belgium, except that two agents were dropped near Virton, after Austin had pinpointed on Bruges. My father’s logbook and Austin’s shows that take-off in Whitley Z7628 was at 20:40, and they returned 6 hours 10 minutes later. Five of these hours were spent in cloud, so weather is likely to have been a factor in the previous night’s cancellations. I have been unable to find any reference to the operation-name, so presume it was for SIS. The agents’ parachutes were seen to open, but they weren’t seen on the ground once they had landed.
On the return leg Austin takes pity on their pigeons, and they are not dropped into the filthy weather to walk home. (Austin called it ‘unfavourable’.)
This is Count Dzieřgowski’s lucky night, for he ends on the ground, in France. The Whitley takes off at 2000, course is set for Abingdon and Tangmere, but at 21.07 the coast is crossed near Selsey Bill in poor visibility at about 3,000 ft.
They cross the French coast at Grandcamp, after climbing to about 5,000 feet to avoid any light flak that might get a lucky hit through the 10/10th cloud beneath the Whitley. By the time they reach the Loire the cloud has thinned, and they follow the river downstream to Saumur. (This is a more logical course of action than flying upstream hoping to find Tours.) They then set course for Limoges. They could have followed the Vienne river all the way there, but it’s more likely they rely on accurate straight-line navigation and course-flying; Limoges is large enough and well-lit to be seen from some distance. They reach there just after midnight.
Jackson’s report indicates that they have flown a direct course from Limoges to the target. This doesn’t work, for although they see several flashing lights – a regular bugbear for crews trying to find reception-parties in the Unoccupied Zone – but none are for them. Jackson retraces his course to Limoges, and this time he flies up the Vienne, first north-east, then south-east after the river forks at Saint-Priest-Taurion. The target is close to the village of Saint Léonard-de-Noblat, close to where the SIS agent ‘Lt Cartwright’ (Michel Coulomb) had been dropped on 7 May. The de Vomécourt estate of Bassoleil is only four kilometres away, but this is a Polish Intelligence operation, and most unlikely to have involved the de Vomécourts.
This time the crew sees the triangle of lights and the prearranged flashed signal-letter ‘D’, which disproves Professor Foot assertion that Dzieřgowski was dropped ‘blind’. He is dropped at 01.37 from 800 feet.
They return to Limoges to get a firm ‘fix’ before setting course for the coast. On the return leg visibility is poor, and when they reach the French coast at 02.27 on ETA it is invisible beneath them. They return via Tangmere and Abingdon, and touch down at Newmarket at 04.13.
Albert Homburg, and Cornelius Sporre his wireless operator, are being sent to Holland by R.V. Laming, head of ‘N’ Section, SOE. Several attempts have been made during the summer to land agents on the Dutch and Frisian islands by small boat, but they have all failed. This pair are the first Dutch section SOE agents to be inserted by parachute. M.R.D. Foot says they were dropped near Utrecht, but the pilots’ reports for both attempts make it clear that the target was east of the Ijsselmeer. (Squadron reports still referred to the Ijsselmeer as the Zuider Zee.)
W/Cdr Knowles and his crew take off at 20.15. Their course is via Cromer and the island of Terschelling, then over the Zuider Zee. (Knowles reports that they pinpointed over the Zuider Zee, which is somewhat imprecise.) The eastern side is covered by 10/10ths fog, which makes it impossible to find the target, so they abandon the attempt. The Whitley is illuminated by searchlights and fired on as they pass over Den Helder; they then set course for Cromer. Twenty miles out from Cromer, as the Whitley overflies a British coastal convoy the Royal Navy upholds its tradition of firing at anything within range: in his report Knowles drily notes that ‘it was observed that we were by no means welcome’, thus putting the passive tense approved by the Air Ministry for official reports to effective use.
W/Cdr Knowles’s previous boss from his days at the Air Ministry, Group Captain Bradbury, DFC, is along on this sortie for the experience. In one way this is sound practice, to ensure that staff officers understood the nature of the tasks they were commissioning, but allowing Bradbury over enemy territory is highly risky for SIS and SOE security: had Bradbury been captured and his role discovered, his knowledge of SIS and SOE activities would have compromised much of Britain’s clandestine activity.