Tag Archives: BCRA

Bureau Central de Renseignements et d’Action

Intelligence service of the Free French Forces

Sunday, 7 September 1941

Operation STUDENT

The sortie

Jackson and his crew set off at 1954, about half an hour earlier than the previous night and in a different aircraft (Whitley ‘D’ according to Stradishall Ops). They follow the Bomber Command ‘lane’ via Abingdon to avoid the London area, and cross the coast at Worthing on their way to northern France. Jackson is headed east-south-east, and crosses the French coast at the mouth of the River Authie, near Berck-sur-Mer. The crew can see Boulogne under attack from a bombing raid, and a little flak is squirted in their direction, though they are twenty miles further south.
They encounter a low layer of cloud at 22.28 and drop to 3,000 feet to get below it.
At about 22.50 they find the target on the first run, which they complete at about 500 feet. Based on time & flying-speed the target would appear to be somewhere south of Mons, for on the way back they drop pigeons over Valenciennes. Thirty minutes later they recross the French coast at Berck, from where they return to Newmarket via Shoreham and Abingdon.

The agent

Pierre Tillet has identified STUDENT as Sgt Carl Godenne, a wireless-operator sent to join the ‘CLARENCE’ intelligence organisation. According to Emmanuel Debruyne, Godenne addressed his reports to Major Page, who ran SIS’s Belgian section. Tillet claims the target to have been Valenciennes, but Jackson’s report indicates that he dropped the agent and the pigeons some ten minutes apart; at, say 120 mph the separation would be about 20 miles; possibly inside Belgium. Peter Verstraeten has confirmed the identification by definitely linking Carl Godenne with STUDENT and the ‘Clarence’ intelligence network, but is unable to provide a clear indication of the target location where he was dropped.

Operation GLASSHOUSE

P/O Austin and his crew have a go at dropping Cornelis Sporre (‘Cor’) and Albert Homburg (‘Ab’) five nights after their CO’s attempt. W/Cdr Jack Benham from Ringway is acting as the agents’ Conducting Officer. At about 1700 the two agents asked him whether the operation could be delayed so that they would arrive over the target after curfew time in Holland; a reasonable request which would lower their chance of being seen to land in this densely-populated country. Benham cannot contact W/Cdr Knowles until after they arrive at Newmarket; but Knowles refuses to allow take-off to be delayed.

Austin takes off at 20.15. On their way out over the North Sea, the crew spots a light on the water which proves, as they circle it, to be an aircraft’s dinghy. The wireless-operator signals an SOS giving the position (53° 04′ N; 1° 52’E); this is acknowledged by Hull M/F D/F (Medium Frequency Direction-Finding) Station. At 22.55, and having thus delayed their arrival at the target, Austin and his crew resume their course to Terschelling, then to Zwolle. In 1941 Zwolle is much closer to the coast of the Zuider Zee.

The weather is fine and clear past the Dutch coast. They find the target without difficulty (which the wireless-operator records in his logbook as Smilde, north-east of Zwolle) and drop the agents; presumably they have flown up the canal from Meppel. The rear gunner sees the parachute canopies opening, and the crew believe they have seen the agents on the ground before they return to base, landing at 01.45.

Several aircraft, including a Wellington ‘K’ from Stradishall, are despatched to the area of the North Sea, but no dinghy is found, despite the calm sea and good visibility. There are several convoys in the area, and it is assumed by the Stradishall log that whoever signalled has been picked up.

Operations FELIX and DASTARD

After F/Lt Murphy’s encounter with his ‘oleaginous bump’ the previous night, everything goes well on his second attempt. Murphy and his crew set off at 20.00, and cross the French coast at Cabourg at 21.45. They set course for Fontainebleau, which they reach an hour later. They picked up the nearby Seine and a pinpoint is easily found. This is most probably the Seine-Loing junction near Moret, less than five miles from the target. Murphy’s crew find the triangle of lights on the Plateau de Trembleaux, and drop the W/T set to the FELIX reception party at 22.53.

Murphy retraces his tracks to the Seine-Loing junction, then heads east up the Seine, following the straight road from Marolles, and drops Laverdet and Allainmat near Bazoches-Lès-Bray at 23.02. Murphy returns to the Seine-Loing river junction, pinpoints again over Fontainebleau, and sets course for the Normandy coast. Conditions are bright and clear in the moonlight. Some Special Duties crews are keen to carry the fight to the enemy once they have carried out their main tasks. Murphy is disappointed to find no targets for the Whitley’s machine-guns as they fly across the French countryside at 50 feet. Instead they drop pigeons over Caen before leaving the French coast. They land back at Newmarket at 2.25.

Operation FENGLER

This is an operation for SIS related to the Polish intelligence organisation ‘F2’ in Unoccupied France run by General Zarembski (TUDOR), but the agent has not been identified. His escorting officer is F/O Philip Schneidau, whose presence at Newmarket allows him also to supervise the loading of the W/T set for his family’s circuit FELIX, above. The target is near Carcassonne, as recorded in Ron Hockey’s logbook.

At this time of year Carcassonne is about as distant as a Whitley can operate and still reach the relatively safe skies of the Bay of Biscay before daybreak; by day the Bay is regularly patrolled by Luftwaffe seaplanes. Accordingly Hockey is airborne at 2000, and flies via Abingdon, Tangmere, Selsey Bill, and crosses the Normandy coastline at 21.53. They fly southwards via the Loire and Toulouse. South of the Loire they have to fly below 800 feet to stay underneath the cloud. At the target they drop the agent between 01.15 and 01.19.

After leaving the target area they head north-west for the Atlantic coast. They exit France just south of Lac Biscarosse, over the giant sand-dunes. (Hockey records the exit-point as nearby Arcachon.) Out over the Bay of Biscay they frequently encounter thick fog, and above them 10/10th cloud at 4,000 feet. They pass Ushant and make landfall over The Lizard, landing at St Eval at 06.37 (Strad Log), with visibility at 4,000 yards. The Stradishall Ops Officer’s log lists this as ‘Operation No. 7’, and notes that Hockey’s aircraft has landed back at Newmarket at 10.40.

S/Ldr Nesbitt-Dufort is flying as 2nd Pilot on this operation. Though he had been posted in as a Lysander pilot, he has more than sufficient hours on twin-engined aircraft flying 23 Squadron’s Blenheims and Havocs.

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.

Operations DRAFTSMAN, AUTOGYRO E, DOWNSTAIRS, VESTIGE/TROPICAL, UKELELE

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.

Thursday, 13 February 1941

Stradishall – Dordogne

F/Lt Keast flies an operation to France. Keast writes a summary of operations since October, in which he records this trip’s target as a successful sortie to Fontainebleau, but as Philip Schneidau will not be dropped until March, this is erroneous.

The operation appears instead to be the drop of BCRA agent Maurice Duclos (‘Saint-Jacques’), with a wireless operator. The target is near the village of Saint-Cirq, 6 kilometres west of Bugue, in the Dordogne. Duclos’s wireless operator is John McLennan, the nom-de-guerre of John Mulleman. Duclos lands awkwardly, breaking his right leg, and he is arrested almost immediately by the French authorities.

Keast takes off in Whitley T4264 at about 1830, and lands at Tangmere at 0158, about 7.5 hours, Although his logbook records the flight duration as 5 hours 30 minutes, this is way too short for a trip to the Dordogne; the independent Stradishall times are about right.

Norway

Jack Oettle flies an 11-hour operation in Whitley P5029 to Norway, where he drops the SIS agent Sverre Midtskau*. (Mark Seaman confirms the agent and the date as 13-14 February.) He lands at Sumburgh in the Shetlands, but the Whitley sustains damage to the tail when landing. Oettle, his crew and aircraft are therefore stranded, and are unavailable for operations in the immediate future.

Sources

*Mark Seaman: ‘Special Duties operations in Norway’, article No. 18 in ‘Britain and Norway in the Second World War’, ed. Patrick Salmon (HMSO), p. 170.
Seaman’s principal sources are:

  1. TNA AIR 20/8224, and
  2. the Air Historical Branch summary ‘Special Duties Operations in Europe’, in TNA AIR 41/84

TNA AIR 14/2527 Stradishall Ops Officer’s log

Monday, 1 July 1940

Ringway

Pilot Officer Louis Strange, DSO, MC, DFC* takes command of the Parachute Training School at Ringway, as Acting Squadron Leader.

London

Squadron Leader E.V. Knowles relinquishes command of No. 56 Squadron, and is posted to the Air Ministry. At some point before 10 July S/Ldr Knowles is assigned to the Admiralty to act as assistant to Group Captain Geoffrey Bowman, the Deputy Director (Air) at Combined Operations.

Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, calls a meeting in which he requires a centralised control of all the clandestine operations.

France

A French motor torpedo-boat (MTB) returns at night to a beach near Brest and picks up an unidentified agent it had landed on 20th June.

Friday, 7 June 1940

Norway

British and French forces are evacuated from Narvik, in northern Norway, despite being close to local victory. The catastrophic progress of events in France have persuaded the British Cabinet to make a decision to abandon Norway to German forces.

Ten Hurricanes of No. 46 Squadron are landed on the aircraft-carrier HMS Glorious for evacuation to Britain. This is a considerable feat of airmanship, as the Hurricanes have no arrester-hooks, but have had their tails weighted with sandbags; this allows the brakes to be applied hard without tipping the nose over.

Two French army officers with the Allied forces in nearby Harstad, Captain André Dewavrin and artillery Lieutenant Maurice Duclos, are evacuated on the SS Arandora Star. The ship docks in Glasgow on 13 June. Another French soldier, Michel Coulomb, is also evacuated from Norway, but not necessarily on the same ship.