Thursday, 6 November 1941

Operation OUTCLASS, FABULOUS II

This operation for the Gaullist French (RF) section of SOE, is flown by Sgt Wilbur Reimer, with P/O Smith, new to the squadron, as his 2nd Pilot. They take off at 18.20, cross the coast at Tangmere, and climb to 8,000 feet to avoid any low-level flak as they crossed the French coast. They then drop to 1,500 feet to map-read their way to the Loire, but run into low cloud as they approach Limoges. Flying above the cloud they set course for Toulouse by DR, and arrive there at 23.15. They find the reception committee almost immediately, for the operation is completed fifteen minutes later. The two containers are dropped by one of the cockpit crew from the bomb-aimer’s position, but the packages, heaved out one at a time through the ventral hatch after the agent, are unlikely to have made a tidy group.

Reimer and his crew retrace their route to Limoges and re-cross the French coast (presumably Normandy) at 02.40, flying on D/R, unable to map-read because of low cloud and ground-haze. Routing via Tangmere and Abingdon they land back at Newmarket at 05.05.

OUTCLASS is Marie Léon Yves Morandat, known as Yves Morandat. A pre-war trade-union official, Morandat is an emissary of de Gaulle. His task is to use his excellent union contacts to foster political resistance in south-west France. FABULOUS is actually FABULOUS II, a drop of two containers and six packages to Henri Labit’s nascent circuit based in Toulouse. The FABULOUS II drop is scattered. The RF Section history puts it thus: ‘they were dispersed over such a wide area that it was decided in future to limit the number of packages rather than endanger the security of agents and reception committeees who collected them.’

Labit himself will be returned to London by sea on the night of 6th January 1942, together with 6 other agents from various réseaux. They are taken off by MGB 314 from the Aber-Benoit estuary in Operation OVERCLOUD. Labit’s detailed debriefing leaves us with a clear picture of his activities since July 1941.

Operation FIREFLY

Murphy flies this operation to the Bergerac region of south-west France. He takes off at 18.31, and he follows the normal route to Tours via Abingdon, Tangmere and Cabourg, before heading further south to Limoges, which they reach at 23.15. From there they set course for Périgueux. Due to ground-haze which obscures the ground, especially close to rivers, they mistake the river l’Isle for the Dordogne, and they waste half an hour flying along the much smaller river before realising their mistake.

Murphy and his crew pick up the lights as 23.36, and two minutes later they have completed the drop. The target is listed as being ‘Bergerac’. The date points to a parachute drop to the SIS-organised ALLIANCE circuit: in ‘l’Arche de Nöe’, translated into English in 1973 as ‘Noah’s Ark’, the ALLIANCE leader Marie-Madeleine Fourcade recalls the second parachute drop to the circuit, dropped at the village of Saint-Capraise d’Eymet, about 15 km south of the town of Bergerac: two wireless operators, Julien Bondois and another destined for another circuit, six W/T sets (at least one damaged on landing), and a case with gleaming locks that looked as though it has just arrived from a West End store; it contains a considerable fortune to fund the circuit. Fourcade’s lieutenant Maurice Coustenoble (‘Tiger’ in the ALLIANCE menagerie) has been in charge of the reception.

Murphy immediately heads back for Cabourg, and crosses the English coast at Tangmere at 03.12, with touchdown at Newmarket at 04.21.

Operation EMERALD

There’s no aircraft captain’s report for this operation. Three 138 Squadron Whitleys are out this night (Whitleys ‘F’, ‘A’, and ‘B’). Comparing the take-off and landing times with the Stradishall log, and the intervals between, ‘A’ is Sgt Reimer, and ‘B’ is F/Lt Murphy, so ‘F’ is F/O Hockey in Whitley Z6728. The list of operations accompanying the pilots’ reports misleadingly states the target location as ‘Verdun’, which leads one to believe it is in eastern France, but the dropping-point is Verdun-sur-Garonne, about 33 kilometres up-river (NNW) from Toulouse. Hockey writes up his route as ‘Tangmere, Cabourg, Tours, Toulouse, Base.’ An Air Transport Form for the 28th October is more precise about the target: ‘VERDUN GRENADE’. The correct target is near the small town of Verdun-sur-Garonne, about 11 km down-river from the equally small town of Grenade. The ATF also confirms that this is a ‘C’ operation, and that the agent is to be dropped with a W/T set under a large ‘A’ type parachute. (‘A’-type parachutes came in several sizes, the choice of which depended on the combined weight of the agent and the package above his head.)

The target for EMERALD is only about 23 miles north of Sgt Reimer’s target for SOE’s OUTCLASS/FABULOUS – see above. One aircraft could have carried out both operations, but whenever possible (and, officially, never) SOE and SIS agents are not carried in the same aircraft. There is even an instance where a pilot writes up two reports of the same sortie, one for SIS, the other for SOE. Hockey’s sortie takes him 10.5 hours. When he flew to the same area in the summer, Hockey had to leave France via the west coast and fly across the Bay of Biscay to St Eval; now, with November’s long nights, he can come straight home.

Operation SAGA, BRICK, FITZROY

This is Nesbitt-Dufort’s third Lysander operation. This time he is to bring Claude Lamirault (FITZROY) and Lt Roger Mitchell (BRICK) back to the UK for consultation. Dufort is also to land an agent for SIS’s Belgian section, code-named SAGA. Nothing more is known about SAGA. Agents are normally parachuted, so SAGA, like SOE’s Gerry Morel, may have an essential role but is not fit enough to be parachuted.

From a midday weather forecast Nesbitt-Dufort judges that the operation might be feasible, and asks for SAGA to be brought to Tangmere from London, and for FITZROY and BRICK to be warned by W/T signal. (It is too late to arrange for a coded BBC message.) By 5 p.m. the forecast weather doesn’t look so good, but as he has warned the agents in France that he is coming, and knows they’ll be waiting for him, he feels he ought to try.

Nesbitt-Dufort takes off at about 8.20 p.m. and aims for the French coast at Criel-sur-Mer, a town almost directly in line with his course for Compiègne, his reference pinpoint. In this he receives guidance via R/T from radar stations on the south coast code-named BEETLE and MUNGA. (The procedure is described by Hugh Verity: it allows Lysander pilots to be tracked almost to the French coast; the radar station gives coded instructional ‘nudges’ to the pilot. The pilot does not transmit; that might reveal his presence and position.) He plans then to head up the Aisne on a compass-bearing eastwards towards the target, a plateau of slightly higher ground between Pernant and Saconin-et-Breuil (recorded as SIS landing site No. 5). He follows a compass-course set at Compiègne, the last pinpoint, with the river Aisne an additional reference. As Verity will write two years later in his guide to Lysander operations:

But once in the air, don’t forget that map reading must never take precedence over the D.R. and that even when you decide to follow a definite feature you must check the course of this feature with your compass.

Unfortunately there is heavy cloud as Nesbitt-Dufort crosses the French coast. He enters the cloud-base at 1,500 feet and flies on instruments until five minutes before his ETA over Compiègne. He descends to emerge below the cloud base at 1,300 feet and finds himself sandwiched between two layers of continuous cloud. Though visibility is still good – it is only two nights after full moon – it is very dark and he can make out nothing on the ground. He sets course for Soissons, to the east, and flies along that course for five minutes during which he should see any signals. But he sees nothing. (The agents beneath hear the Lysander overhead, but see nothing.) Nesbitt-Dufort flies methodically over the target area for about an hour before he gives up and heads home.

Sources

OUTCLASS, FABULOUS II

TNA HS 7/123 History of SOE RF (République Française) Section

FIREFLY

TNA AIR 20 / 8334, Encl. 105A.
l’Arche de Noé, by Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, p. 116; Noah’s Ark (translation), p.77.

EMERALD

Logbook, G/Capt R.C. Hockey
TNA AIR 20/8334, Summary list of operations for October/November moon period, 1941

SAGA, BRICK, FITZROY

TNA AIR 40/2579: Lysander Operations, 419 Flight & 138 Squadron.
‘Black Lysander’, John Nesbitt-Dufort, Whydown Press, p.111.
‘We Landed by Moonlight’ (WLBM), by Hugh Verity, pp.23-24.
‘Some RAF pick-ups for French Intelligence’ by Hugh Verity: article in ‘War, Resistance & Intelligence: Essays in Honour of M.R.D. Foot’, ed K.G. Robertson (1999, Leo Cooper), p. 172.