Operation IRRADIATE 3
Newly-commissioned P/O Gibson, who had been Austin’s 2nd Pilot for the Malta mission earlier in the month, now has his own crew; this is his first recorded operation. He is to drop four containers to an SOE reception. Some 18 months after its formation SOE is still referred to as S.O.2 in the Air Transport Forms (ATFs).
Gibson takes off at 19.10 and flies via Abingdon and Littlehampton to cross the French coast at Berck-sur-Mer. He crosses the French coast at 1,500 feet: no need to climb to 7,000 feet to avoid the coastal flak defences as they are in 10/10ths cloud. It also means that they cannot pinpoint on the coast, so course is set for Cambrai. They next pinpoint on Le Cateau, about 15 miles beyond Cambrai. Conditions improve as they fly towards the next pinpoint at Chimay, where they arrive at 22.17. They divert to investigate lights which prove to be the flarepath of an aerodrome just west of Charleville. They carry on to ‘Mexieres’ (now Charleville-Mezières) at 22.35, and from there they map-read to the target in exceptionally good visibility with bright moonlight. Seven miles from the target they spot a railway tunnel and a bridge over the river Semoy (Semois). They see the clearing at Suxy from some distance, reaching it at 23.10. They circle the area for about 18 minutes, but no recognition lights are seen.
The operation is abandoned and course is set for Berck-sur-Mer. They cross the coast at Littlehampton at 01.17, but instead of continuing to Newmarket they are instructed to land at Abingdon, which they do at 02.30.
Stanton Harcourt – Gibraltar
John Austin, promoted to Flight Lieutenant, flies Whitley Z9159 ‘NF-D’ to Stanton Harcourt. Four months ago Austin was a sergeant: rapid promotion indeed! He is scheduled to take off from Newmarket at 11.45. Newmarket reports the take-off at 13.06, but the wireless operator records the flight starting at 13.45. The flight takes 40 minutes. From Stanton Harcourt Austin comes under 44 Group orders for the direct flight to Gibraltar, and from there to Malta for further operations to Yugoslavia. He takes two passengers. The Stradishall Commanding Officer demands that he be advised of all aircraft movements such as Austin’s.
A Halifax is also to accompany the Whitley, but Austin is in charge of the expedition, having been there and done it before; which explains his promotion. I have been unable to find out the identity of the Halifax or its pilot. The Stradishall log makes no mention of the Halifax (though it does mention Austin and his Whitley), and the Halifax does not appear again in relation to this operation.
At Stanton Harcourt they find that the containers and packages they are due to take to Malta have not arrived. Austin records that there is some confusion. He finally takes off at five minutes to midnight; reading between the lines of his report, he has to depart without the containers, which follow later. The leg to Gibraltar takes 10 hours 40 minutes. As you can read above, Austin has a new 2nd Pilot: P/O Gibson’s replacement is Sgt Fletcher. Sgt Jakeman is the navigator and P/O Livingstone the wireless-operator; Sgt Slatcher is the rear gunner and LAC Lynch the despatcher. They are also taking two passengers, probably maintenance crew for the Whitley.
AIR 20/8334, Encl. 110A
ATFs for November 1941
AIR 20/8504 (138 Squadron: operations from Malta and North Africa)
Conversations with S/Ldr Austin
Logbooks, S/Ldrs Austin and Livingstone (flight times and durations)