|23/8/40||“Mr X”||F/Lt E.B. Fielden||Whitley III “T”, K7218||Lt Lodo van Hamel, Royal Dutch Navy||Leiden||Netherlands||Abandoned: searchlight site near target|
|Pilot||F/Lt Earl B. Fielden|
|2nd Pilot||S/Ldr Louis Strange, DSO, MC, DFC*|
|Wireless Operator||None – no W/T|
|Rear Gunner||None – no rear turret|
|Despatcher||S/Ldr D. Ross Shore, AFC|
|Agent||Lt. Lodo van Hamel|
Lodo van Hamel
Van Hamel, a Lieutenant in the Royal Dutch Navy, has escaped to England after arranging for the evacuation of Princess Juliana to England by sea. He has also acted creditably in command of a Dutch Navy sloop during the Dunkirk evacuation, defiantly flying the Dutch ensign near the beaches. François van ‘t Sant, head of the Dutch government-in-exile’s intelligence service and a controversial Dutch courtier, asks for a volunteer to return to Holland and gather information about conditions in Holland under Nazi rule. Van ‘t Sant has had dealings with the Dutch section of SIS before the war, and he offers his government’s services. The Dutch Navy is asked to provide a volunteer. Kicking his heels in London, Van Hamel steps forward without hesitation.
Early attempts to land agents on the exposed beaches of Holland and Belgium have met with mixed success. By the end of July German control of the coast is tight. Van Hamel agrees to be dropped by parachute. He is given rudimentary parachute training at Ringway. The parachute school’s Commandant, S/Ldr Louis Strange, writes many years later: “We had given him a drop or two at Ringway and one at night, so off we went to North Weald to fill up and await final orders from the Air Ministry.”
F/Lt Earl Bateman Fielden, known as ‘Batty’, is chosen to fly the operation. He is already experienced at dropping parachutists: he has flown with Sir Alan Cobham’s Flying Circus during the 1930s, when a key part of its act involved the dropping of dare-devil parachutists such as Harry Ward. During the ‘Phoney War’ both Fielden and Strange served in No.24 Squadron, ferrying senior officers and politicians between Hendon and the BEF in France. One of S/Ldr Strange’s early acts as commandant of the Parachute Training School was to request F/Lt Fielden’s posting to Ringway. Fielden is now Strange’s Chief Flying Instructor.
Louis Strange, not one to pass up an opportunity for action, flies as Fielden’s Second Pilot. His logbook records F/Lt Marsh as the navigator. S/Ldr Donald Ross Shore, now recovered from his parachuting injury, flies in the rear fuselage as van Hamel’s despatcher.
The aircraft is one of Ringway’s own Whitley IIIs. Identified by the letter “T” in Strange’s logbook, a Ringway photo from 1941 shows that ‘T’ was K7218. The photo also shows that this particular Whitley’s rear turret has been removed and replaced by an experimental parachuting platform. This explains Strange’s later comment that the Whitley was defenceless. At North Weald, Strange scrounges a machine-gun for the front turret before they set off for Holland. There is no W/T operator, and probably no W/T set. As they approach the Dutch coast they encounter strengthening winds and cloud. They cross the Dutch coast near Bergen, quite a way north of the target. The forecast winds have been inaccurate in both strength and direction. Eventually they find the dropping-point near Sessenheim, about five kilometres north-east of Leiden. It is raining and gusty. Strange and Fielden have just decided that the wind is too strong for the man they call ‘Mr X’ to be parachuted when the Whitley is illuminated by ‘a powerful searchlight’ shining from near the spot where they have been about to drop the agent. They climb away to safety and return to North Weald, reaching it at about 7 a.m.
TNA AIR 29/520: ORB, Central Landing School, Ringway.
Typescript for ‘More Recollections of an Airman’, Louis Strange, RAF Museum.
Logbooks: Louis Strange, Donald Ross Shore.