Friday, 9 May 1941

Operation MARINE/ALBION

Richard van de Walle and Albert Thiou are successfully parachuted into the Eupen district of north-eastern Belgium on the third attempt.

This time the weather is better. Jackson and his crew also take along a passenger: S/Ldr Jack Benham of the parachute training staff at Ringway. A week later Benham will take command of the Parachute Training Squadron at Ringway. As Ringway is responsible for agents’ parachute training, he is getting first-hand experience of the operational side.

Soon after the Whitley crosses the coast at Knokke it is bracketed by accurate and simultaneous searchlights and flak, but remains undamaged. Ground haze makes visibility difficult as they fly south, then east, but eventually they pick up a pinpoint, do their timed run and drop the two agents. They return to the coast via Poperinghe, where they drop their quota of COLUMBA pigeons; six return to the UK. They return to Stradishall at just after 4 a.m.

Aftermath

On 5th June, Gp/Capt. John Bradley, DFC, S/Ldr Knowles’s boss at the Air Ministry (for the Flight receives its operational orders direct from Air Intelligence), writes asking for clarification about two operations. One of these is MARINE/ALBION. It has been reported back to SIS that the aircraft had flown over the pre-selected spot, was seen by people waiting for them on the ground, but the agents were dropped elsewhere. Neither agent has made contact. Worse, the two agents are reported to have been dropped over Germany.

Knowles assures Bradley that the crew has made every effort to drop the agents at the correct place. F/Lt Jackson writes a second report detailing his actions precisely: they had positively identified the Gileppe reservoir before flying for two minutes on a bearing of about 326 degrees true, (the ‘about’ because the observer was guiding the pilot from the bomb-aimer’s position, using a large-scale map). This is somewhat undermined by Knowles’s covering note, which asserts that they steered due north from the reservoir.

The map that accompanies Jackson’s memo (of which only a file copy exists) has not survived, at least publicly. The dropping-point appears to have been the high ground to the north or north-east of Limbourg, the exact position being dependent on the Whitley’s speed of between 80 and 100 knots, and its position over the lake, which is over a mile long.

If they were dropped in the right place, on target, they may still have landed in Germany. On 29 July 1940 the districts of Eupen, Malmedy and Sankt Vith had been annexed to Germany. Even a western-most placement of the target would still have been in Germany. It is entirely possible that neither the agents nor their handlers in the UK were aware of the boundary changes. There’s certainly no indication in the correspondence.

It may be significant that the crew had not reported any lights from a ground-party; according to the Air Ministry correspondence there were people on the ground waiting for the agents. But these were very early days, and almost all drops were done ‘blind’; a ground-party with torches for guidance and signalling would have been exceptional.

There is another possibility, but an unlikely one. What they took for Lac de Gileppe might just have been Lake Eupen, a smaller but similar lake about 8 km (5 miles) further east. It. too, has a dam at the western end, but the lake is smaller, its shape and orientation is very different, and there is no marshland on the south shore. Built in 1938, the reservoir was not inaugurated until 1950 by Prince Charles of Belgium. It may not have been filled in May 1941.

In a biography of Leopold III, mention is made of two agents dropped in May 1941, Richard Van de Walle, with Albert Thiou as his W/T operator. De Walle’s mission was to enter the service of an un-named Belgian aristocrat who would act as an intermediary with the King, to allow the King to have a link with his government-in-exile. Debruyne says that Van de Walle was arrested within hours of his landing in Belgium.

Operation FELIX (pick-up)

Philip Schneidau is picked up by Lysander from south of Montigny by Gordon Scotter. This third Lysander pick-up operation is also Philip Schneidau’s second. Parachuted in on the night of 12-13 March for a two-week mission, the main purpose of which has been to provide his FELIX circuit with a W/T set, and for him to train up Felix Jond, an ex-army wireless operator who is now a commercial traveller in children’s clothing, in protocols and coding.

When Schneidau made his perilous parachute-landing in March, his transmitter/receiver had been damaged. The set was left with Felix Jond, who found Marcel Cornelis, an assistant at a wireless repair shop in Paris, prepared to mend it. Despite Marcel’s efforts the set was still not working properly, and communication with England has been difficult. Philip had brought a pair of pigeons, as on his first mission, for just this eventuality. In early April he had released them bpth, each carrying a message asking to be picked up. On the nights of the 9th and 10th April he waited in the fields south of Montigny, but no Lysander came; the pigeons hadn’t made it home. Eventually Schneidau has got through on the repaired wireless, and arrangements have been made for 9 May. Philip had been adamant that his wife and young son should be evacuated, too, and the RAF had agreed, eventually. Scotter has lined the rear canopy with blackout curtains in case the boy became frightened during the trip; which must have confused Michel COULOMB, for they had been in place for the earlier pick-up.

A plateau south of Montigny, between La Genevraye and Moncourt-Fromonville, is an almost ideal location for a landing site. Not far from a road, a landed aircraft would have been invisible behind the rise. It had been the site originally planned for the previous October’s pick-up, but in England they had not anticipated that Schneidau would have had to walk through the centre of Montigny after curfew, negotiating two waterway bridges, probably guarded, before he could reach the site. (There really is no other way across without getting wet; I’ve reconnoitred the area thoroughly.)

In October Philip changed the landing site to one south of Bourron-Marlotte. But it was far from ideal, with small fields. This time he does not get off the train from Paris until Nemours, where he eats a decent meal in a local restaurant, before making his way after curfew over the fields to the landing site.

Scotter arrives from Tangmere and starts searching an area slightly to the north. Philip’s torches lead him to the right place, and Scotter lands after exchanging signals. After his earlier episode with Coulomb/Cartwright, Scotter is understandably nervous. When a single figure he does not recognise hoists himself level with the cockpit Scotter draws his service revolver and waves it at the intruder. He has perhaps been expecting someone resembling the dapper RAF officer he’d met two months before, with a wife and child ready to board. But Schneidau may have re-adopted the bearded disguise he’d had on his first mission, and he’s alone. Simone, his wife, has refused to be evacuated: her place as a Frenchwoman is with her parents, organising and running the intelligence circuit they had built up since the previous October. Their son Peter also remains in Paris.

Schneidau tells Scotter to “put that bloody thing away”, gathers up his torches into a rucksack, and climbs aboard. They take off and the return journey is uneventful. They have a night fighter escort for the final stage of the journey, which Schneidau misinterprets as enemy fighters which they ‘dodged’.