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