Friday, 31 October 1941


Murphy and his crew take off in Whitley ‘B’ from Newmarket at 18.45, and Murphy flies via Abingdon to reach Tangmere an hour later. Pinpointing over Abbeville at 20.50, they soon find navigation difficult: unseasonable heavy snowfalls have rendered the roads and rooftops almost invisible. They find the Marne and follow the river to Chalons-sur-Marne, from where they set course to the target. Map-reading is still impossible, and the agents are dropped about 8 miles south-west of the target pinpoint at 22.14.

On their return journey they drop leaflets and some of their pigeons over Noyon, in what Murphy calls ‘our usual diversion’ (Operation Columba, from which one pigeon – No. 81, from agent ‘Hotus 62 B’, near Amiens – is returned with a message), then drop the rest of the pigeons over Abbeville before heading for Tangmere. After landing back at Newmarket at 01.15, they find that one pigeon has ‘hung-up’, his tiny parachute-canopy lodged in the tail-wheel. The pigeon, ‘although somewhat shaken, was released the next morning and returned to its cote’.

There is little information available about this SIS operation for the Belgian intelligence service. The target is near Chalons-sur-Marne, and all are to be dropped together; it is safer to drop agents outside Belgium due to the high probability of informers in both Low Countries. Murphy’s report is headed ‘EMILE, LOUIS’, but Farley’s first summary (which accompanies the October/November reports and identifies EMILE/LOUIS as SIS) pairs LOUIS with BEAVER, with EMILE as a separate operation. This accords with the Air Transport Form, which also pairs LOUIS with BEAVER, but it is originally scheduled for the 28th, with ‘Cancelled’ against it in pencil.

LOUIS/BEAVER is the third pairing of agent and wireless-operator to be sent in, the success of the MILL pairing in August having shown the way forward. The identity of EMILE and LOUIS remained a mystery to me until Pierre Tillet emailed me with details about Maurice LAFRIQUE, a wireless operator dropped as EMILE. From his personal file at SHD, Vincennes (which dates his insertion to 30-31 October), it appears that all three were dropped near Vitry-le-François, to the south-east of Chalons-sur-Marne, which accords with Murphy’s account. Lafrique goes to Lille, but his file does not indicate which organisation he worked for. Most likely this was an SIS-sponsored intelligence circuit, so far unidentified. He realises that the Germans are after him, and attempts to make his return to England via Spain. On 7 March 1942 Lafrique is arrested by the Gestapo while attempting to cross the border into the ZNO at MOULINS. Ten days later he is transferred to Dijon, then to Fresnes, Romainville, and Compiègne before being deported to Germany at the end of April 1943: to Sachsenhausen, then Falkensen. Liberated by the Russians almost exactly two years later, he is returned to France in June 1945.

Pierre has also pointed me towards Belgian historian Emmanuel Debruyne who had turned up the name of Wladimir (or Vladimir) van Damme as BEAVER. Before the war, van Damme had been a policeman in Schaerbeek, a north-eastern suburb of Brussels. Debruyne believes that BEAVER was dropped on 17 November 1941, but this may have been when BEAVER and LOUIS made it to Belgium. They proceed to establish an intelligence service, but don’t last long: they are arrested on 14 February 1942. Debruyne points out that the date is grimly appropriate, for van Damme is arrested at 19 rue du Lac, Ixelles, betrayed to the Germans by a woman jealous over van Damme. This denunciation leads to the arrest of a dozen people, including Edmond Desnerck and Victor Louis.


TNA AIR20/8334, encl. 98A
TNA AIR 20/8306 (ATFs)
Debruyne, La Guerre Sécrète des Espions Belges, p.28
Debruyne, La_maison_de_verre: agents et reseaux de renseignements en Belgique Occupée 1940-1944, p 129.