Tuesday, 3 September 1940

No. 2 (Army Cooperation) Squadron

According to his logbook, on the night of 3 September 1940 Wing Commander Andrew Geddes, Officer Commanding No. II(AC) Squadron, flew a Lysander to a reception committee near Tours. Hans Onderwater, historian of No. II (AC) Squadron who saw Geddes’ logbook, recorded that the operation was flown in Lysander R9029, but in fact this aircraft serial belonged to an unmodified Lysander belonging to No. 4 Squadron, another Army Co-operation squadron. It is more likely that the aircraft flown was Lysander R9027, the first Lysander to be modified by Westlands with an underslung 150-gallon fuel tank filched from a Bristol Bombay.

Geddes recorded this flight in his logbook as a ‘Long-range air test’ and I have no reason to doubt that this was exactly what it was, a practical range-proving test to validate this modified aircraft for operations. Though Geddes appears to have told Onderwater that the flight’s real purpose was to carry an agent from Newmarket to a reception near Tours, this is unlikely. First, 3 September was in the middle of the ‘dark’ period, with no moonlight: although Tours would have been relatively easy to find, the surrounding countryside would have been pitch dark, although it was unlikely to have been blacked-out; even by 1942 the Germans had not managed to persuade the French to show no lights. Second, any Lysander operational sortie is unlikely to have departed from Newmarket, but from somewhere near the south coast, like Tangmere, in order to maximise the limited effective range. Third, in September 1940 there were no agents ‘in situ’ to organise a reception. Moreover, the RAF had already refused to sanction a ‘blind’ landing on Fontainebleau racecourse, the main concern being that deliberately placed obstacles, such as were currently being placed in fields all over southern England, were thought unlikely to show up in reconnaissance photos. (A Spitfire PRU sortie of 23 August shows Fontainebleau racecourse is considerable detail, with no obstacles.) Fourth, the RAF had already decided that agents were to be parachuted by Whitley.

Geddes does, however, have a definite link with the early days of 419 Flight. In September 1940 F/Lt Walter Farley uses No. 2 Squadron’s alternative landing ground at Somersham to practice night landings with his agent Philip Schneidau, before the latter is parachuted into France. Farley is likely to have received practical Lysander advice from No. 2 Squadron. Moreover, as we shall see, in early 1941 S/Ldr Knowles will borrow two of Geddes’ pilots to carry out Lysander operations: the first, F/O Baker, is shot down on a Whitley operation before he has a chance to fly a Lysander sortie; the second is F/O Gordon Scotter, who carries out two Lysander operations.