Operation AUTOGYRO C
The next attempt was made by Austin and his crew in the July moon period, directly after two harrowing nights over Belgium, but this time they were blessed with good visibility, and both AUTOGYRO agents were seen to land successfully. Austin dropped pigeons over St Lô but ran into poor visibility after making landfall at Littlehampton. They landed back at Newmarket at 4.30.
MRD Foot later writes that Count Dzieřgowski, an agent for the Polish Intelligence service based in Unoccupied France, ‘had such bad luck getting away from England that he had put in twenty-eight hours’ flying over occupied territory before he managed to drop, blind in south-west France, on 2/3 September.’ Actually it was more than that, for I have tied another sortie, flown by W/Cdr Knowles to Limoges on 6 August, to ADJUDICATE. It would be nit-picking to point out that only a few of those hours were spent over Nazi-occupied France, but a recalculation of his 35 hours 37 minutes airborne was spread over five separate sorties, with almost two months between the first attempt and the one that will drop him.
Hockey takes along as his second pilot his Russian friend from 24 Squadron, F/Lt Boris Romanoff, who had spent the previous year on the staff of the Parachute Training Squadron at RAF Ringway. F/Lt John Nesbitt-Dufort flies as Navigator, gaining yet more operational experience as preparation for Lysander operations – as though the previous nights with Sgt Austin weren’t enough. There are two Despatchers on this trip: AC Walsh is probably under training ‘on the job’. (There is no formal aircrew trade for the role, which is usually carried out by ground-crew volunteers.)
Take off is at 22.20, and Hockey flies a more easterly route to the coast than normal, via Reading and Littlehampton; a bit close to the London defence rea which the normal Bomber Command route (via Abingdon and Beachy Head) avoids. They make landfall over Merville at 6,000 feet, and set course for Tours, dropping their pigeons en route in a fourteen-mile ‘stick’. They cross the Loire about 6 miles west of Tours, and carry on towards Limoges, which they reach at 01.45.
From Limoges they have to map-read to the target, which means flying at low level, perhaps 1,000 feet. The ground is obscured by a thick layer of cloud above them, which blocks out much of the moonlight. Their night vision is not aided by continual lightning flashes. But the main problem is the same one that Knowles has raised back in May: south of the demarcation line there is no blackout, and they cannot distinguish the reception lights from others shining from houses, car headlights, fires or flares, even by flying over them at 200 feet. Colonel Barrie, presumably Dzieřgowski’s SOE escorting officer, has advised them to abandon the operation in these circumstances; so they return, dropping more pigeons between Lisieux ands the coast. The weather closes in over the Channel, and they let themselves down to 1,500 feet by Abingdon. They land there at 05.20, Newmarket being fogbound.