Tag Archives: COLUMBA

Friday, 31 October 1941

Operations LOUIS/BEAVER and EMILE

Murphy and his crew take off in Whitley ‘B’ from Newmarket at 18.45, and Murphy flies via Abingdon to reach Tangmere an hour later. Pinpointing over Abbeville at 20.50, they soon find navigation difficult: unseasonable heavy snowfalls have rendered the roads and rooftops almost invisible. They find the Marne and follow the river to Chalons-sur-Marne, from where they set course to the target. Map-reading is still impossible, and the agents are dropped about 8 miles south-west of the target pinpoint at 22.14.

On their return journey they drop leaflets and some of their pigeons over Noyon, in what Murphy calls ‘our usual diversion’ (Operation Columba, from which one pigeon – No. 81, from agent ‘Hotus 62 B’, near Amiens – is returned with a message), then drop the rest of the pigeons over Abbeville before heading for Tangmere. After landing back at Newmarket at 01.15, they find that one pigeon has ‘hung-up’, his tiny parachute-canopy lodged in the tail-wheel. The pigeon, ‘although somewhat shaken, was released the next morning and returned to its cote’.

There is little information available about this SIS operation for the Belgian intelligence service. The target is near Chalons-sur-Marne, and all are to be dropped together; it is safer to drop agents outside Belgium due to the high probability of informers in both Low Countries. Murphy’s report is headed ‘EMILE, LOUIS’, but Farley’s first summary (which accompanies the October/November reports and identifies EMILE/LOUIS as SIS) pairs LOUIS with BEAVER, with EMILE as a separate operation. This accords with the Air Transport Form, which also pairs LOUIS with BEAVER, but it is originally scheduled for the 28th, with ‘Cancelled’ against it in pencil.

LOUIS/BEAVER is the third pairing of agent and wireless-operator to be sent in, the success of the MILL pairing in August having shown the way forward. The identity of EMILE and LOUIS remained a mystery to me until Pierre Tillet emailed me with details about Maurice LAFRIQUE, a wireless operator dropped as EMILE. From his personal file at SHD, Vincennes (which dates his insertion to 30-31 October), it appears that all three were dropped near Vitry-le-François, to the south-east of Chalons-sur-Marne, which accords with Murphy’s account. Lafrique goes to Lille, but his file does not indicate which organisation he worked for. Most likely this was an SIS-sponsored intelligence circuit, so far unidentified. He realises that the Germans are after him, and attempts to make his return to England via Spain. On 7 March 1942 Lafrique is arrested by the Gestapo while attempting to cross the border into the ZNO at MOULINS. Ten days later he is transferred to Dijon, then to Fresnes, Romainville, and Compiègne before being deported to Germany at the end of April 1943: to Sachsenhausen, then Falkensen. Liberated by the Russians almost exactly two years later, he is returned to France in June 1945.

Pierre has also pointed me towards Belgian historian Emmanuel Debruyne who had turned up the name of Wladimir (or Vladimir) van Damme as BEAVER. Before the war, van Damme had been a policeman in Schaerbeek, a north-eastern suburb of Brussels. Debruyne believes that BEAVER was dropped on 17 November 1941, but this may have been when BEAVER and LOUIS made it to Belgium. They proceed to establish an intelligence service, but don’t last long: they are arrested on 14 February 1942. Debruyne points out that the date is grimly appropriate, for van Damme is arrested at 19 rue du Lac, Ixelles, betrayed to the Germans by a woman jealous over van Damme. This denunciation leads to the arrest of a dozen people, including Edmond Desnerck and Victor Louis.

Sources

TNA AIR20/8334, encl. 98A
TNA AIR 20/8306 (ATFs)
Debruyne, La Guerre Sécrète des Espions Belges, p.28
Debruyne, La_maison_de_verre: agents et reseaux de renseignements en Belgique Occupée 1940-1944, p 129.

Friday, 3 October 1941

Operations LUCKYSHOT, HIRELING, RHOMBOID

Austin’s aircraft (Whitley T4166) is airborne at 18.25, and crosses the English coast at Dungeness at 20.17. Cloud over the Channel means they pass over the French coast without seeing it, and visibility gets worse as they approach Charleroi for the third attempt at LUCKYSHOT.

LUCKYSHOT

Austin flies to the pinpoint via Chimay (Austin and his crew have been there before), then to Namur, Liege and Verviers. Visibility, which has been down to 800 yards, has improved to about two miles, and at 23.23 they sight the LUCKYSHOT reception-committee clearly. (The wireless-operator’s logbook records Surister, about 4 miles south-east of Verviers, as the first target.) Within five minutes, after Austin has circled the triangle of lights several times, flashing his recognition lights, the five packages and one container are dropped.

The absence of an agent to be dropped may explain why there is no extant information about LUCKYSHOT, with no indication about the circuit, or the organisation to which it belonged. It would have been very close to the German border as it then existed under Nazi occupation, for Germany had annexed much of Belgium’s territory east of Verviers.

HIRELING, RHOMBOID

Austin and his crew then fly about 3 miles north-east to the Lac de Gileppe to get a secure pinpoint before heading towards the village of Verbermont (as Austin and his W/Op writes it; the actual name is Werbomont). The two agents are dropped approximately 2.5km east of the village. This appears to be wooded farmland in a landscape of low, rounded hills.

HIRELING is Jean Cassart, a captain in the Belgian army. His mission is ‘to secure communications with the Army in Belgium’; he is also given a wide-ranging sabotage brief, aimed at disrupting aircraft and military transport, and attacking civil infrastructure such as power-stations and transmission networks, steelworks and coke ovens, canal locks and barges, telephone networks, railway signal boxes,munition works and oil-tanks.

RHOMBOID is Cassart’s wireless-operator, H.P. Verhaegen. Much younger than HIRELING, who is in his mid-thirties, Verhaegen is only about twenty. They hide in the woods until about 7 a.m., then bury their parachutes and the W/T set before finding their container, which has dropped nearby, before walking into Chevron, two miles to the east, and their pre-arranged rendezvous at the hotel ‘Hougardy’. Their subsequent adventures will be told at a later date.

Austin drops nickels over Verbermont/Werbomont and Namur. About an hour later, en route for the coast, they drop pigeons on their dead-reckoning position of 51° 2’N, 3° 10’E, near Lichtervelde. (Subsequent fixes lead Austin to believe they were dropped about 5-7 miles further west.) They are contacted by 3 Group and instructed to land at Tangmere: several bombers from 9 Sqn, 115 Sqn and 218 Sqn have been diverted to land at Newmarket. Austin’s Whitley crosses the English coast at South Foreland, and he follows the coastline to land at Tangmere at 01.50.

Operation COLUMBA

The pigeons dropped by Austin and his crew had been intended for the group of Belgian intelligence-gatherers who styled themselves ‘Leopold Vindictive’. The Debaillie family lived in the village of Lichtervelde. In July 1941 a farmer had brought them a pigeon dropped by 1419 Flight, probably by F/Lt Jackson on the first attempt to carry out Operation MOONSHINE/OPINION. If these October pigeons had been dropped at the correct location the LV group might not have had to make contact with other parties in vain attempts to get their information to England. Though to Austin’s crew the seven-mile distance represented an error of about 2 degrees after flying 90 miles on DR from Namur, To the Debaillies waiting below they might as well have been dropped in France.

Operations SABOT, SPEED

W/Cdr Teddy Knowles flies what is to be his last operational sortie. He has exceeded his total number of hours allowed for operational flying, and his successor as CO of 138 Squadron has already been lined up: W/Cdr Wally Farley, whom Knowles had, in effect, replaced after Farley was shot down the previous November.

Knowles takes most of what had been his regular crew in 1419 Flight: F/Sgt Fisher as W/Op, F/Sgt Atkins to navigate (Knowles observes the niceties by giving Atkins his proper title of Observer), F/O Pulton as Rear Gunner, and F/Lt ‘Sticky’ Murphy as his 2nd Pilot. For good measure he takes along W/Cdr Sofiano from Air Intelligence at the Air Ministry.

They follow the regular route to Tours via Abingdon, Tangmere and Cabourg, but north of Caen: ‘we had the misfortune to witness a Hudson shot down in flames by “flak”-ships’.

They arrive at Tours under 10/10ths cloud at 21.21. They alter course for Chatillon, but over the target there are several bright lights; so, after telling the agents, Knowles drops them some ten miles further east, in an area free of lights.

They drop leaflets over Chateauroux and several other towns and villages on the return leg. They cross the coast at Cabourg at 23.15; while over the Channel they are, like Austin, told to land at Tangmere due to bad weather at base. They land at Tangmere four minutes after midnight.

The agents SABOT and his wireless-operator SPEED are Pierre Bourriez, a 35-year-old Captain, and Robert Deweer, a Lieutenant. Bourriez’s mission is to co-ordinate the activities if all Belgian intelligence and escape-line services in France. This centralising tendency is bound to create security concerns to SOE, which has learned to isolate and separate where practicable. Nevertheless, Bourriez sets up seven sous-réseaux, his own being DICK which receives many RAF drops. The escape lines run through Spain, following the route he had taken himself after the Belgian surrender. He is arrested in December 1942, but escapes the following March and makes it to the UK in early May 1943. Unusually, the wireless operator lasts longer than his organiser. The French police arrest him in December 1942, but he manages to escape in March 1943 and make it back to the UK in May.

Operation PERCENTAGE

Operation PERCENTAGE is the first clandestine air operation to Czechoslovakia since the mysterious non-insertion of Otmar Riedl (Operation BENJAMIN) in the spring. A wireless-operator is to be dropped, with a set, in order to re-establish communications with the Czech underground. Since Reinhard Heydrich’s appointment as Reichsprotector of Bohemia and Moravia (the Nazi term for Czechoslovakia), repressive measures have resulted in the capture of most of the working sets and the interrogation of their operators. They have fallen silent; only one remains in action.

According to the operation’s Air Transport Form (ATF2)  the agent, František Pavelka, is to be dropped 100km ESE from Prague, 24 km south from Pardubice. (The form mis-states it as PAPDUBICE.) A reception-committee has apparently been arranged: it is to light a fire, with a red signal-light  to leeward and two white lights, one intermittent, to windward of the fire. There is no alternative target, and in the event the pilot cannot find the dropping-point he is to drop them, provided that they are inside the borders of pre-war Bohemia. The Czechs would prefer the crew to be from their own country, and the ATF asks whether the Czech crew with 138 Squadron is sufficiently trained. It isn’t: P/O Leo Anderle and his crew have just about completed their operational training on Whitleys at No. 10 OTU, Abingdon. (Anderle has just had a crash in a Whitley two days ago; nevertheless he will be posted in to 138 Sqn on the 9th.)

The operation has been postponed from the previous night, but no reason for the cancelled sortie is given. For tonight’s attempt P/O Hockey assembles a crew that is a mix of innocence and experience. The novice is his 2nd Pilot, Richard Wilkin, a Canadian new arrival to the squadron. The experience comes from 3 Group HQ: his navigator is S/Ldr Cousins, Group Navigation Leader, F/Sgt Judson as W/Op, and Sgt Hughes bring up the rear.

Hockey takes off in Whitley Z9158 shortly before 3 p.m. for Tangmere, where he lands an hour later to re-fuel to 1,100 gallons and to pick up agent Pavelka and his set. (Stradishall has already warned Tangmere to fuel the aircraft up with 350 gallons of 100-octane fuel. It also warns that the Whitley has not been fitted with IFF.) Hockey also takes on four 50lb bombs and 120 incendiaries; not enough to cause major damage, or to over-burden the aircraft, but just enough to provide an alibi for the operation. Ever-careful, Hockey records the all-up weight as 33,964lbs, with a centre-of-gravity position calculated as 92.7″ aft of (i.e. nearly 8 feet behind) the datum point. The fuel load shows that he is carrying 6 auxiliary tanks, two in the bomb-bay and four at the forward end of the rear fuselage. The load, 1,364lbs above the overload limit of 32,600lb, explains why Hockey is setting off from Tangmere: its extra-long runway might allow him to get the Whitley airborne; at least it’s a new aircraft. The agent will have to leave the aircraft by the rear door, followed by his W/T set in a separate package, for the ventral hatch is obscured by the fuel tanks.

The take off from Tangmere is delayed by 25 minutes owing to the late arrival of the agent and his luggage. Hockey finally takes off at 19.10. Major Sustr, head of the Czech Section D from which the agents are selected, is aboard to act as Despatcher and adviser. Hockey has flown to Tangmere without a despatcher, so Major Sustr’s addition to the crew is probably pre-planned. Hockey flies along the coast to Hastings before crossing the Channel to Le Crotoy: this is in order to avoid the prohibited area Dieppe-Newhaven1. Flying at 6,000 feet, course is set for the Rhine at Stockstadt, where the river has a unique meander, but the ground is obscured by two layers of cloud, one above, the other beneath. At 22.38 they alter course on ETA for the south of Prague. The cloud layer above prevented any astro-navigation, but they made ‘full use of DF loop-bearings’. This meant tuning into several known radio-stations on known wavelengths — if you have ever used medium-wave or long-wave radios you will know there’s a dead-spot when the aerial is in line with the direction of the broadcast — and plotting a course by repeated triangulations.

By these methods, and flying an accurate course, they reach the southern suburbs of Prague at 00.35. The low cloud has dispersed but has left a thick ground-haze. The flak is poor and inaccurate. Flying east, they found the Elbe and Kolin where the flak is more accurate. They reach Pardubice at 01.03, and set course south. At the target position they can identify nothing that resembles a lighting system, and under the guidance of Major Sustr (who is acting as Despatcher) the agent is dropped at a position estimated to be within 2 to 3 miles of the target. (In fact he lands near Chotusice, some 32 km WNW of the target.)

Hockey then sets course west for Stockstadt, looking for a suitable target for his bombs on the way. They are dropped near a railway line spotted through a gap in the clouds. Over his ETA position for the Rhine, course Is set for Le Crotoy, and on the following leg they are subjected to accurate flak.

Hockey lands at Tangmere, having had to fly his approach beneath the cloud at 200 feet, and is guided into Tangmere by a searchlight shining up into the clouds. The Whitley has been aloft for 11 hours 20 minutes; not quite the longest operational sortie, but one of them.

1The reason for the area prohibition is given in the Stradishall Ops Officers’ log: it is an agreed corridor to allow Red-Cross-sponsored repatriations to be carried out between 3 and 10 October; both Dieppe and Newhaven harbours are out-of-bounds and may be lit, and a 20-mile corridor across the Channel between the two is prohibited to all aircraft. However, negotiations between the British and German authorities and the Red Cross break down, and no exchanges take place.)

Sources

HIRELING, RHOMBOID

TNA AIR20/8334, Encl. 80A
Logbooks, JB Austin and AGW Livingstone
TNA HS6/104 (HIRELING)
TNA HS6/187 (RHOMBOID)

SABOT, SPEED

TNA AIR20/8334, Encl. 85A

PERCENTAGE

TNA AIR20/8334, Encl. 139A
Pilot’s logbook, RC Hockey
TNA HS4/39 (ATF2 for operation)
Stradishall Ops log TNA AIR14/2527
Lifeline across the Sea, by David L. Williams, The History Press (2015)
AP 1522E Whitley Pilot’s Notes, section 18.
www.army.cz/images/id_7001_8000/7419/assassination-en.pdf

Wednesday, 1 October 1941

Operation BINDER

P/O Austin and his regular crew fly this operation to Belgium, the approximate target location only known from the mention of Cambrai in Austin’s report, and of Celles/Champlon in his wireless-operator’s logbook. Unfortunately I have been able to find no mention of either location in the Belgian espionage literature.

Austin takes off at 22.25, crosses the English coast at Newhaven and the French coast at Pointe Haut-Banc at 00.10. Flying via Arras and Cambrai, the target is somewhere in the rolling hills of the Ardennes south of Marche-en-Famenne. There is no reception for the unidentified agent, who is dropped at 02.32. His parachute is seen to open but he is not seen on the ground.

They drop leaflets over Cambrai, and return by the same route. With cloud covering the English coastline, they use an H/F (High-Frequency) fix from Tangmere as a turning point, which takes them there before they return to Newmarket at 05.25.

Operations LUCKYSHOT, HIRELING, RHOMBOID

P/O Smith is also 2nd Pilot on the second attempt to drop LUCKYSHOT; this time he has Sgt Reimer as his skipper. They fly much the same route as Hockey the night before, taking off early at 18.45. Instead of thick cumulus they are faced with low cloud and thick ground-haze over the highly-industrialised area of coalfields and steelworks around Charleroi. They therefore abandon the operation, and set off to drop HIRELING and RHOMBOID. They encounter the same conditions over the second target, so abandon and head for home.

Reimer reports ‘a large belt of searchlights at Florennes’, south-east of Charleroi; not surprising, for there is a Luftwaffe fighter base just outside the town. The same cannot be said for the searchlights they encounter at Beaumont, further west. They experience no flak, so perhaps the Florennes defences hold their fire to avoid giving away the airfield’s existence to a lone enemy aircraft that might be a British night-fighter.

Reimer lands back at Newmarket at 02.30.

Operation BEAU GESTE

This sortie, flown by F/Lt Jackson, follows an unusual route for SD operations: out via Taunton, then south over the Devon coast at Seaton, to make landfall at Le Bréhat, on the north coast of Brittany, at 21.05. The target is reached at 21.33, about half an hour’s flying-time from Le Bréhat; so perhaps 70 miles away, and therefore still within Brittany. This part of France is generally off-limits to SOE: SIS has made clear to the junior organisation that it will brook no activity that might threaten the peaceful passage of spies and information. There is no information available about BEAU GESTE or its purpose, but the operation is completed at 21.36.

Jackson returns the way he came, via Seaton and Taunton. He is guided by an avenue of searchlights for the eight-minute leg from the Devon coast to Taunton, and he lands at Newmarket at 00.30.

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. Two COLUMBA pigeons are returned from the Zwolle area on the 8th, arriving in the UK on the 10th and the 17th; sent from the UK loft to Newmarket on the 7th. While Austin doesn’t mention pigeons in his report, his is the only SD aircraft that fits the time-frame.

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.

Wednesday, 6 August 1941

Operation THEOREM/VALIANT

From the point of view of John Austin’s crew this was a smooth, uneventful and successful operation to drop a pair of agents. The journey out is via Dives-sur-Mer, Tours, Chateauroux and Montluçon. The agents are dropped at 01.54, three minutes after reaching the target, near the village of St. Désiré, north of Montluçon. Austin probably pinpointed on Montluçon before backtracking to the target. On the way back COLUMBA pigeons are dropped near Argentan, and Austin lands back at Newmarket at 05.55. One pigeon returns from Flers, a few miles west from Argentan, arriving in the UK on the 16th.

For one of the agents it is a different story: although Jacques de Vaillant Guelis (VALIANT) a senior ‘F’ Section officer, lands without difficulty and is recovered by Lysander on the night of 4 September (Operation ‘Night Embarkation’ as the pilot, S/Ldr John Nesbitt-Dufort, entitles his report), but Gilbert Turck (THEOREM) is knocked out in an awkward landing. He wakes to find himself in a Vichy police station in Montluçon. During the Phoney War he had been a liaison officer between the sabotage-oriented Section ‘D’ of SIS and the similarly-tasked 5ème Bureau; his old boss, now working for Vichy’s intelligence service, has him released. Turck regains contact with de Guelis, and starts his mission.

(Operation ADJUDICATE)

Knowles and his crew take off at 22.07, quite late for a sortie heading for the south of France at that time of year. The rear gunner is a Squadron Leader Stephens, a gunnery instructor from 3 Group’s HQ Flight.

They fly a near-regular route: Abingdon, Tangmere, near-Cabourg, then Tours to Limoges, which they reach at 1.34. They find the target without difficulty, but they are greeted by the signal code ‘MD’, meaning that to land the agent would be dangerous. They circle for about ten minutes, but no further signals are seen. Headlights are seen on the ground and the Whitley leaves the area. Knowles offers to drop the agent elsewhere in Unoccupied France, an offer declined.

They fly back via Tours, landing back at Newmarket at 05.52.

The reason the operation name and agent are in brackets is that the evidence to identify them is circumstantial. In his operations report Knowles incorrectly ascribes it to the FELIX network, which did not operate in that area of south-west France. (Three nights earlier Knowles and his crew had flown an attempt to drop a W/T set to FELIX near Fontainebleau, but had turned back early with engine-trouble.) Characteristically Knowles does not include the date of the sortie in his report, but the take-off and landing times match those recorded in the Stradishall log for an otherwise unascribed sortie by Whitley (letter ‘D’) on 6th August. The target description in Knowles’s report, and the fact that the cargo is an agent not a W/T set, points towards another attempt to insert Count Dzieřgowski into the Unoccupied Zone near Limoges.

Operational cross-country

This Lysander sortie appears in Nesbitt-Dufort’s logbook, with a take-off from Tangmere at 23:00 hrs, and landing 5 hours 40 minutes later.

For all his other operational sorties, Nesbitt-Dufort records them as either ‘Ops as ordered successful or ‘Ops as ordered unsuccessful, and notes the number of passengers. This one is recorded merely as ‘Ops as ordered’, and as a solo effort, with no passengers.

This looks like a similar operation to the one described by Hugh Verity as an ‘operational cross-country’, in which Verity, soon after he joined 161 Squadron, was ordered to fly to a point in France, note what he saw, and to fly back and report. In Verity’s case the target was a brightly-lit prison camp in the countryside south of Saumur. Such sorties provided a realistic test of the pilot’s solo navigational abilities without exposing a valuable agent to any risk. Nesbitt-Dufort has flown several Whitley operations, and has proved himself as a competent map-reader, but those sorties are rather different from flying alone to a pinpoint on the map, several hundred miles into Occupied France. Next time he will do it with an agent aboard.

Sources

THEOREM/VALIANT

TNA AIR 20/8334, encl.53A

(ADJUDICATE)

TNA AIR 20/8334, encl.49A

Op X-country

Logbook, John Nesbitt-Dufort.