Friday, 20 December 1940

RAF Stradishall

F/Lt Keast takes Whitley P5029 for a 15 minute flight, ‘NFT’ (Night Flying Training).

As the crew prepares for the operation, the navigator realises that the target is 920 miles away. The Whitley’s agreed operational radius is 750 miles. Even if they make the target, they will run out of fuel somewhere over the upper Ruhr valley, for the target is in East Silesia, now annexed by Germany but which had been Poland. Stradishall’s Station Commander is informed, according to the protocol established in October when Bomber Command had taken over 419 Flight. Bomber Command had not been satisfied over the Air Ministry’s retention of operational control, and it insisted on the Station Commander retaining a veto to cater for just this kind of eventuality. The Station Commander duly cancels the operation.

The source for this episode is a letter written on 9 January 1941 by Air Vice Marshal Saundby, Bomber Command’s Senior Air Staff Officer (SASO) at Bomber Command to the Under-Secretary of State for Air.

This operation is the first attempt to drop a team of Polish agents into eastern Silesia, code-named ADOLPHUS. The entry for the Whitley in “Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft”, a standard reference for Air Intelligence (which is where my six-year-old former self obtained my copy, through my father, as a colouring book), may be the indirect cause. In “Jane’s” the Whitley’s range is cited at 2,220 miles, but it omits to mention that this range can only be achieved with the addition of six 66-gallon (300-litre) fuel tanks in the bomb-bay and rear fuselage. These tanks are not supplied by default, and require considerable effort to install even when they are available. An additional problem for this operation is that when all six tanks are fitted, the ventral hatch used for parachuting is blocked by the rearmost pair of tanks. The agents will have to be dropped by some other method.