Tag Archives: Belgian Intelligence

Intelligence organisation of the Belgian Government in Exile

Monday, 12 May 1941

Operation CEZAREWICH

Despite the mis-spelling, this may be one of the few military operations named after a horse race. The Cesarewitch is a race run at Newmarket as part of the October festival, finishing at the Rowley Mile grandstands. During the next ‘dark’ period 1419 Flight is to be moved to RAF Newmarket Heath, taking over the Rowley Mile Grandstand area and the gallops on its north side, though the race course was left relatively undisturbed. The grass ‘runway’ formed from the northern gallops is over 3,000 yards long, making it useful as an emergency landing ground for damaged bombers.

The operation is to parachute Emile Tromme, an agent recruited from the Belgian Army regiment the ‘Chasseurs Ardennais’. Vielsalm appears to be the intended target for dropping CEZAREWITCH, but the operations goes almost entirely awry. The night is clear, but mist and industrial haze – a significant problem over northern Europe before post-war smoke-control measures – makes it impossible for S/Ldr Knowles to be certain of the target.

After a half-hour search, Knowles returns to the Meuse to try and pick up a pinpoint, but haze and searchlights make this impossible. The crew thinks they are near Namur. They have another go at finding Vielsalm, spending 45 minutes in the search.

Eventually Tromme is asked if he wants to return to England or be dropped in a field. He chooses to be dropped. Knowles estimates that, based on his course after dropping the agent, Tromme appears to have been parachuted about 30 km north of the target, about 7 km south-east of Verviers, into some woodland. Both the target, and the place where he appears to have been dropped, are within the borders of an expanded Germany after its annexation of part of Belgium. As with MARINE/ALBION, it’s a moot point as to whether Tromme’s masters in London are aware of the annexation.

According to Tromme, he is dropped thirty miles to the north-east, near the German town of Düren. He claims to have landed inside a prison-camp from which he appears to find it remarkably easy to escape. It is probably fortunate that finger-trouble on the part of F/Lt Murphy (2nd Pilot acting as ‘container-aimer’) prevents the container from dropping; he had forgotten to switch the bomb-release circuit from ‘Safe’, and by the time he realises his mistake they are long past the spot where they have dropped Tromme.

Sources

TNA AIR20/8334, Encl. 12A

Monday, 17 February 1941

Stradishall – Namur

Shortly before 6 p.m. Keast tells Ops that he is planning to take off at 0030; this will only be confirmed after he receives the weather forecast at 10.30. At 2346 he confirms that the operation is ‘on’. He plans to take off at 0100, and estimates his return for 0500, though with a possible diversion to Tangmere.

Keast and his crew takes off in Whitley ‘A’ (T4264) at 0115. F/O McMurdie is the 2nd Pilot, but Keast does his own navigation. The wireless-operator and Rear Gunner are Sgt Dai Davies and David Bernard; Bernard has acquired an experimental parachute-harness from Henlow. Also aboard, flying as ‘Front Gunner’ is F/O Baker, a Lysander pilot on loan from No. II(AC) Squadron. As on his previous sorties, his job is to learn the routes and pinpoints, as he may have to fly this way on his own.

Shortly after they drop the agent, Gaston Poplimon, near Namur, their Whitley is hit by flak, losing at least one engine. Still at low level, Keast has no option but to belly-land in a field by the Namur-Louvain road, near the hamlet of Cognolée. The aircraft lands so close to the road that the wings are only yards from the line of trees by the road-edge. Though unhurt, they cannot escape as they are too close to the village and the road. They are taken to Namur for interrogation. The Germans think Sgt Bernard is the agent due to his unconventional parachute-harness; he is given dental work he doesn’t need. The Germans find documents in the Whitley that link the crew with the trip to Poland two nights before.

At 0445 Knowles is told that the runway had been bombed, and that the returning aircraft would be diverted to Mildenhall. An hour later he is told that there has been no news of S/Ldr Keast.

Sunday, 12 January 1941

Stradishall – Manhay/Grandmenil, Belgium

This sortie to Belgium drops Jean Lamy, code-named ‘Dewar’, a wireless operator for the ‘Clarence’ circuit.

Whitley P5029 takes off from Stradishall at 20.15 on the 12th. An hour-and-a-half later 3 Group phones to ask Stradishall about the endurance of that particular Whitley ‘X’, and is given the answer “12 hours”. The query is unlikely to have had anything to do with that night’s operation to Belgium, which was well within this Whitley’s endurance. More likely it is related to the plans for a re-run of ADOLPHUS to Poland, or perhaps another long-distance operation. By this time Oettle and Keast are over the North Sea and can’t answer for themselves.

In any case the answer is wrong: P5029 has no additional fuel tanks, which limits its operational radius, though they can be fitted. Operations to Norway or Denmark are possible, but only by setting off from the east coast of Scotland or Yorkshire. Twelve hours would be a generous estimate for a Whitley equipped with the full complement of six additional fuel tanks; the maximum recorded length of a Special Duties Whitley sortie fitted with these tanks is still less than eleven hours.

Lamy is dropped near Manhay, in the Ardennes region, a land of rich farmland valleys closely bordered by wooded hills. P5029 lands at Honington at 00.40 on the 13th after a four-hour trip. Keast records the sortie as flown on the 13th, but Stradishall confirms the sortie as taking place on the night of the 12th-13th.

Lamy sends his first message from Grandmenil, the next hamlet along. According to Emmanuel Debruyne, Lamy makes around 120 transmissions from his parents’ home, his speed and confidence increasing, as does the amount of intelligence he gets back to London. But the Abwehr is developing its own skills, in radio triangulation techniques, so Lamy’s luck is never going to last. On 26 March he is arrested at his set. According to Etienne Verhoeyen he succeeds in short-circuiting his set before the Germans arrive, but his codes and a series of coded messages fall into German hands. Under the threat of reprisals against his family, which knows Walter Dewé and other senior figures in the Belgian intelligence service, Lamy allows himself to transmit under German control. Within three months, overconfidence and a training failure to instil strict W/T discipline in these agents have led to the eradication of two circuits (‘Williams’ and ‘Martiny-Daumerie’), and ‘Clarence’ is rendered impotent.

Thursday, 9 January 1941

Stradishall

Oettle and Keast fly a five-hour operation in Whitley P5029 to Belgium. This ties in with Debruyne’s mention of Emmanuel Hobben, founder of the ‘Williams’ circuit, who is dropped this night with two radio sets, possibly a transmitter and receiver. P/O Baker, on loan from No. 2(AC) Squadron as a Lysander pilot to replace the injured Farley, accompanies this operation to familiarise himself with night navigation over Occupied Europe. He will be sat in the front turret for much of the time. The navigation methods are broadly the same for Whitley and Lysander operations, but the Lysander pilots have to do their own navigation from large-scale maps on their lap.

Oettle and Keast take off at 23.00, but as they return from their successfully-completed operation, at 03.45 their Whitley is diverted from Stradishall after one of 214 Squadron’s Wellingtons drops a bomb on the runway (possibly a ‘hang-up’) after a bombing operation. Oettle and Keast land at Honington at about 04.00.

Sources

Emmanuel Debruyne, ‘La Guerre Secrète des Espions Belges’, p. 165
Stradishall Operations officers’ log book.
S/Ldr F.J. Keast logbook