Tuesday, 5 August 1941

Operation LUMOND

LUMOND is a mysterious operation. The pilot, F/O Ron Hockey, reported it as completed on the night of the 5-6th August, yet a week later it is included with another operation to be dropped nearly 80 miles to the east. The LUMOND sortie on the 5th can be linked chronologically to the SIS-run ALLIANCE organisation, yet a second LUMOND sortie of the 12-13th, not completed, is linked with an SOE operation, FABULOUS. Another failed attempt at LUMOND, in the middle of the mid-August dark period, is linked with another SOE operation, DOWNSTAIRS.

From Hockey’s report and his logbook, the LUMOND operation on the night of the 5th appears to have been pretty straightforward, and he covers it in three short paragraphs. Take-off from Newmarket (22.24); via Abingdon and Tangmere to the coast (23.42) and over the Channel to Cabourg (00.23). Hockey dropped COLUMBA pigeons en route between Cabourg and Saint Pierre (presumably Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives, more or less on course between Cabourg and Saumur). The aircraft reached the target at 01.27, and completed the operation by 01.31. Hockey’s logbook recorded that the target was near Saumur, just down the Loire from Tours. It took Hockey only 1 hour 4 minutes from the Normandy coast, so the target cannot have been further south. They dropped the agent from 300 feet, half the normal height, to minimise the parachute drifting off-target in the strong gusty wind. (A later SOE ‘F’ Section agent, Ben Cowburn, was accidentally dropped from 300 feet. His canopy had barely opened when he hit the ground, and he was fortunate to walk away.) On the return leg Hockey and his crew dropped more COLUMBA pigeons between Vassy and Balleroy. They crossed the coast at Pointe de la Percée to Tangmere and Abingdon, landing at Newmarket at 05.05.

Despite its routine execution, this operation may have been the first parachute drop to ALLIANCE, one of the largest and most effective intelligence circuits of the war. Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, the circuit’s leader and chronicler, dated the arrival of her first agent from London, the agent she called ‘Bla’, to 5 August. The agent’s real name was Bradley Davis: he was dropped with his own set and some spares. Each set had a three-letter code, such as OCK or KVL.

Keith Jeffrey, in his official history of MI6, assumed that the agent was parachuted near Pau in the foothills of the Pyrenees, some 270 miles to the south of Saumur. (Pau was where Marie-Madeleine Fourcade had set up her headquarters. But Fourcade’s ‘l’Arche de Noé’ says that the reception party returned less than 24 hours later with the agent. So the drop-site was not round the corner, and Saumur was at least possible. It seems strange for the RAF to have dropped an agent in the Nazi-occupied zone if he was destined for the Unoccupied Zone, for this would have required the reception party (which SIS insisted on) to run the additional risks of crossing the demarcation line, not once but twice, and carrying W/T sets. In early August the few hours of darkness dictated how far south a sortie could be flown and still enable the aircraft to reach friendly skies before daybreak. Still, targets in the non-occupied Zone such as Chateauroux (target area for two August attempts at a later LUMOND operation, not completed) or Périgueux, (target for the ALLIANCE-related FIREFLY operation in November) would have been preferable to crossing the border.

So was Hockey’s trip to Saumur the right one? Aside from the date, there are some illuminating omissions from the abridged English translation, perhaps because, at the time of publication,  Special Duties operations were still nominally secret. (The preface to the English version of ‘Noah’s Ark’ was provided by SIS’s Kenneth Cohen. Make of that what you will.) The original French text includes a paragraph:

Coustenoble, dans la joie d’avoir aperçu un Whitley — “à moins que ce ne soit un Stirling”, dit-il toujours précis — à cent cinquante mètres.

While 150 metres (an unreliable estimate by a layman at night) was rather more than 300 feet, it was still low. Soon after being brought to Pau, Davis suffered acute appendicitis and was taken to hospital at Marie-Madeleine’s insistence. Some of her lieutenants were in favour of letting him die and stuffing him in a hole in the garden, for they were already suspicious. To Marie-Madeleine the likely cause (also omitted from the translation) was obvious:

On diagnostiquait à première vue une crise d’appendicite, traumatisme, vraisemblement provoqué par le saut en parachute.
(A first diagnosis was acute appendicitis, probably caused by the parachute drop.)

SIS seems to have had some peculiar ideas as to the correct dress for an agent, for (according to Fourcade) Davis was dressed as for a farcical village wedding – ‘la noce à Bobosse’ – a jacket that was almost a morning coat, striped trousers, a spotted cravat, a stiff shirt and wing-collar, a pointed goatee beard, pince-nez glasses and, to crown it all, a bowler hat. When he had been brought to Pau, Marie Madeleine wondered what British Intelligence thought a typical Frenchman wore. Her companions fell about with laughter.

For all his ludicrous get-up Bradley Davis would prove to be deadly. His pre-war association with Mosley’s Union of British Fascists had not been picked up by MI5’s rudimentary screening process; Davis had worked as a farm manager in France, and MI5’s parochial screening did not investigate beyond the English Channel. Davis betrayed ALLIANCE almost from the start. For more about ALLIANCE and Davis, look at Operation SHE a few nights later, and Operation FIREFLY on 6 November.

The problem with all of this is that on the 12th Sgt Reimer flew a sortie combining several operations. One of these was LUMOND, combined with SOE operations ADJUDICATE, FABULOUS, and CHICKEN. This LUMOND may have been more W/T sets for ALLIANCE using the same operation name. I could be completely wrong through relying on a coincidence of dates, but there is no other recorded air operation in August which remotely tallies with Fourcade’s date.