Friday, 4 July 1941

The July moon period opens with two operations, one to France, the other to Holland. The short nights, with only a few hours of proper darkness, have significantly reduced the range for clandestine operations.

Operation ARAMIS

Sgt Austin takes off at 23.30 DST, nearly two hours after sunset, so there must have been some delay. The nights are so short that every minute counts. The Whitley crosses the English coast at 00.06 over Southwold, and crosses the Dutch coast between the flak-fortified islands of Vlieland and Texel, probably at about 01.00. Accompanying Sgt Austin’s crew that night is F/Lt Boris Romanoff who has spent the previous year dropping trainee parachute troops at Ringway. He is along to learn how to fly the Whitley on operations, and to practise his navigation.

The moon sets at 02.13 DST: they have only a few minutes of moonlight to find the target before it sets. They didn’t find it, but searched in the darkness for an hour and a half. Above the Zuidlaardermeer, south-east of Groningen, the Whitley is caught in three searchlights, which are shot out on the pilot’s orders. The crew locates what they think is the target at 02.55, and drop the agent with his wireless set. They see his parachute open, but didn’t see him land.

Austin’s operational report indicates that the operation is successful, but Alblas has been dropped near Nieuweschans, extremely close to the German border. It’s fair to say that the navigator was lost, and it’s only good fortune that the agent hasn’t been dropped in Germany.

ARAMIS is Aart Hendrik Alblas. Previously a petty-officer with the Dutch merchant navy, Alblas has escaped to England in a motor boat in March. He has been recruited by the Dutch and British intelligence services and given wireless training, though the brief time between his recruitment and insertion indicates that he was already part-trained. In September 1941 he will be commissioned in the Dutch Naval Reserve.

As well as his intelligence work, Alblas appears to have played a valuable part in helping other organisations maintain contact with England. But by early 1942 his other contacts will be penetrated by the Abwehr’s ‘Englandspiel’ against SOE’s agents. In July 1942 he will be arrested and imprisoned in the infamous Oranjehotel. Refusing to collaborate, he will be deported to Mauthausen, where he will be executed on 6 September 1944.

Operation FITZROY (strictly, FITZROY B)

The code name FITZROY is usually associated with Claude Lamirault, the founder of the SIS-sponsored JADE-FITZROY network, formed primarily to gather intelligence on the German Navy based in the Atlantic ports. Lamirault, parachuted in January 1941, needs an agent to select and prepare Lysander landing-fields.

The agent this time is an artillery officer with the Free French, Lieutenant Roger Mitchell. The grandson of a Scottish immigrant to France whose family has retained English as a second language, Mitchell is entirely fluent in both languages, and can pass as a native of either country. According to Hugh Verity, Lt Mitchell has been loaned by de Gaulle to British Intelligence to assist the Polish intelligence networks operating from southern France. This comes later: his first role is to assist Lamirault.

One of Mitchell’s tasks is to arrange landing grounds for pick-up operations. As ‘2nd Lieutenant Fitzroy B’, he has recently been trained in landing-field selection and Lysander night-operations by F/Lt Nesbitt-Dufort, who on the 14th June writes a highly favourable report on his pupil.

The first attempt has been made by F/Lt Jackson on June 11th, in poor weather. Jackson has another go, taking S/Ldr Nesbitt-Dufort as navigator/map-reader. Ron Hockey is Jackson’s regular navigator; Nesbitt-Dufort is a specialist in low-level navigation, having been a fighter-pilot in the 1930s and an exponent of ‘Bradshawing’, the habit of following railway lines and navigating from station to station, reading the platform signs to find out where he was.

They take off at 10.30, arriving over Abingdon after forty minutes. Crossing the Channel at 4,000 feet and 135 mph ASI, they drop half their pigeons shortly after crossing the French coast. They fly on to the Loire, at 163 mph at 3,000 feet. Reading between the lines of Jackson’s report, they appear to follow the river Vienne, then the Creuse, upstream to Le Blanc. Jackson writes that they drop the agent clear of the woods and just north of the lake. The area around Le Blanc is peppered with small lakes so it is not possible to be precise about the landing spot.

On the return journey they drop nickels over Le Blanc, and the remaining pigeons before they cross the coast for home. According to Jackson they land at 6.01, but the Stradishall log records his Whitley ‘A’ landing at 05.00.