Saturday, 6 September 1941

Operation STUDENT

Jackson’s first attempt to fly this operation is foiled by a faulty compass. This is his first sortie since crashing on take-off in July. For some reason not mentioned in Jackson’s report, Whitley ‘A’ has not been swung to establish the compass deviation, and there is no deviation card aboard when they take off at 20.31. With good visibility they might have been able to continue on this short-range operation to northern France, but tonight it is poor, with cloud-base at 1,300 feet. They decide to return to Newmarket after only 36 minutes in the air, and they land 78 minutes later, at 22.25. Control briefly mistakes Jackson’s Whitley for a ‘hostile’ and the runways are darkened; once the confusion is cleared up Newmarket switches its lights back on for Jackson to land.

Operations FELIX and DASTARD

The FELIX operation, last attempted on 3 August, is re-mounted. The original FELIX W/T set dropped with Philip Schneidau in March is now working well enough for a reception party to receive the set on the Plateau des Trembleaux, above Montigny-sur-Loing. This operation is to be carried out first.

DASTARD is Sergent-chef Raymond Laverdet, of the Gaullist BCRA. (Sergent-chef is approximately equivalent to Staff- or Colour-Sergeant in the British Army, nothing to do with catering.) He is accompanied by a wireless-operator, André Allainmat. They are to be dropped near Bray-sur-Seine, to the east of the Montigny drop and upstream of the easily identifiable river-junction between the Seine and the Loing.

Soon after takeoff F/Lt Murphy is faced with continuous cloud down to 1,000 feet, so he decides to climb above it. He breaks clear at 4,000 feet, but he has to climb to 7,000 feet to stay above the cloud while crossing the English Channel. Still unable to see anything, he changes course on ETA once he believed he had crossed the French coast, and descends through the cloud base. He emerges into clear air but heavy rain at an instrument-height of 1,000 feet, but he is only 300 feet above the ground.

Murphy laconically records: “I decided to climb again”. He sets course for the FELIX target area, where he descends on ETA but cannot identify a pinpoint. He perseveres, but during the search he experiences what he later describes as “an oleaginous bump”, and believes he has collided with another aircraft. The Whitley has hit something, or has been hit, but he can’t work out by what. Enough is enough, and they set course for Cabourg and Newmarket, where they land at 02.53. There they find that the Whitley’s rear wheel has been forced upwards into the fuselage.


The air operation

This operation is one of the notable air operations carried out by Sgt Reimer, RCAF; remarkable because of the number of agents carried in the single Whitley, and for the determination and accuracy with which Reimer and his crew carry it out. In particular it is a challenge for the two despatchers, Sgts Slatcher and Evans, who have an arganisational nightmare of organisation in the cramped, dark fuselage.

Reimer drops the six agents in two passes to avoid too wide a spread, though it necessitates an extra circuit of the landing-field.

The agents

Each code-name stands for an ‘F’ Section agent. They are all going to be dropped at the same target, from where most will go their separate ways. The target is a farm called Le Cerisier, just north of the village of Tendu, some 16 km south of Chateauroux. (Position 46°41’03″N, 1°34’27″E) It is owned by Auguste Chantraine, socialist ex-mayor of Tendu, who has been forced out of his post by the Vichy regime. He had already refused to join the Pétainist ‘Légion française des combattants’, which made him suspect in the eyes of the regime; in July 1941 he was forced to resign because of his hostility to Vichy’s programme of national renewal. He and his wife were recruited by Max Hymans and his friends; ‘Le Cerisier’ is his farm.

Some of the RAF operation codenames are the same as their SOE codenames (which differ from their aliases): DRAFTSMAN is André Bloch (from his SOE personal file), and AUTOGYRO is the Comte du Puy. The others’ codenames differ. In the early days, until late in 1941, the agent’s RAF codename was sometimes a word-association with one of his names; later, agents were given random code-names from a list of – for example – root-vegetables. So, Victor Gerson became VESTIGE, and Michael Trotobas became TROPICAL. A rather more tenuous link might be Georges Langelaan to UKELELE via George Formby, which would make Ben Cowburn DOWNSTAIRS

The reception party consisted of Georges Bégué, Max Hymans (Bégué’s contact in Valençay in May), and Auguste Chantraine. Chantraine continued his involvement with SOE-related activities until his luck ran out in December 1943. He was deported to Gusen concentration camp, where he died in March 1945.