This is W/Cdr Farley’s first operation since returning to flying duties. During his recovery from a broken femur incurred after crash-landing his Hurricane, shot down by an Me109 the previous November, Farley was posted to the Air Ministry, where he replaced Sqn Ldr Knowles in managing 1419 Flight’s operations under W/Cdr J. Easton. On 1 April had been promoted Squadron Leader, and in mid-November 1941 he returned to command 138 Squadron, promoted Wing Commander. Though Farley has been remembered as a pioneering SD Lysander pilot, he also flew several of the very early Whitley Special Duties operations. Tonight he has an experienced crew with him: ‘Sticky’ Murphy and the core members of his crew. Also along to gain experience is F/Lt Laurent, a French Air Force Lysander pilot who has recently joined the squadron.
RF agent Sergent-chef Raymond Laverdet (DASTARD) is already in France, inserted in September near Bazoches-lès-Bray to make contact with the newly-active Communist labour organisations, hence his other code-name, RED. He has made contact with a Communist organisation known as the ‘Armée Volontaire’, which appears to provide opportunities for industrial sabotage. (Doubtless for political reasons, the RF History describes this movement as Gaullist; it was nothing of the kind.) Laverdet’s wireless operator André Allainmat (RED W) makes contact with London on 9 October, and in a second message on the 19th Laverdet has asked for an assistant and weapons instructor. The result is DACE (misleadingly recorded by Farley as DASTARD/DACE): Sergent-chef Louis Bourdat.
Farley plots a course over familiar territory from the previous September. At 21.00, ten minutes after crossing the English coast, low cloud forms to block their view of the sea beneath, so they turn on ETA for Cabourg and set course for Auxerre, their target. At 22.00 the cloud begins to disperse, but visibility remains poor. After a further half-hour, because he is still trusting to a dead-reckoning course set over Tangmere, Farley alters course to find Fontainebleau, a town he knows well from the air after his several attempts to land Philip Schneidau more than a year ago. Believing that they have found Fontainebleau — the château, its grounds and surrounding forest are highly recognisable — Farley alters course for Auxerre. On ETA for the town they find a river they take to be the Yonne, but they cannot find Auxerre itself: the valley is shrouded in mist. They follow the mist-covered river downstream until they find themselves over Paris — 150km from Auxerre as the crow flies — whereupon they abandon the operation due to a forecast of poor early-morning weather at Newmarket. They fly on ETA all the way back to base, which they find with difficulty, and land at 03.20.
Operation PLAICE (really TROUT)
It’s not quite clear why Sgt Reimer entitles this operation PLAICE in his report. A simple explanation is that Reimer gets his fish-names mixed up. The RF history and the locations mentioned by Reimer in his report make clear that this was Operation TROUT.
Sgt Reimer flies via Abingdon, Tangmere and the French coast — Reimer being his laconic self, says little — to the Loire river at 23.10. He flies up the river Allier, a Loire tributary, and pinpoints on the town of Moulins, which he reaches at midnight. It takes him another 45 minutes to find the reception committee; the RF History gives the dropping point as ‘near Vichy’, which is further up the Allier.
This sortie being right at the start of the moon period, the moon has descended behind cloud near the horizon. The reception committee’s torches are faint, and are not lit until Reimer is right overhead. (Batteries are rare as hens’ teeth in France, and their brief life carefully husbanded.) Reimer and his crew drop the agent, whose parachute is seen to open, before heading home, dropping leaflets in the Tours area and over ‘Mortaine’. (This is more likely to be nearby Mortagne). They find their way home above 10/10th cloud, and land at 06.35.
The Free French agent is called Koenigswerther, a W/T operator for Laverdet (TROMBONE), dropped in late August. Laverdet has made contact with London through the OVERCLOUD organisation, but he needs his own W/T operator.
Somehow TROUT fails to meet up with his reception committee. (The faint torches seen by Reimer’s crew may have been house-lights that coincidentally made the same pattern. There is no blackout in the Unoccupied Zone, and Knowles had commented on this possibility of misidentification back in May.) TROUT’s safe house proves unsafe: his W/T set is soon in the hands of the Vichy authorities, his identity as a M. Blacharden blown. He manages to make contact with an SIS agent EMERAUDE (EMERALD), who has been dropped on 6 November by P/O Hockey near Toulouse, and (according to the RF history) has been operating from Marseilles. EMERALD signals London to see if he might make use of Koenigswerther, but Dewavrin wants him to continue with his original mission – a little ungrateful of Dewavrin as without EMERALD’s help Koenigswerther would be a busted flush.
MRD Foot makes no mention of this agent in his ‘SOE in France’. He may have been inhibited (or prohibited) from mentioning it because of the contact with SIS agent ‘EMERALD’.
Operation to Virton, Belgium
This operation by Austin cannot be tied to any operation, SOE or SIS. The target for this one appears in P/O Livingstone’s logbook as ‘Vitron’, which is probably Virton, but no more is known about it than the sortie’s duration, 6 hours 45 minutes, and that it is flown by P/O Austin in Whitley Z9288. There is no operations report, which means that it is absent from the 138 Squadron ORB, created much later from the pilots’ reports. Austin’s sudden deployment back to Malta may explain that absence of a report.