Tag Archives: Nesbitt-Dufort

John Nesbitt-Dufort

Sunday, 1 March 1942

Operation CANTICLE/DUNCAN, MASTIFF/INCOMPARABLE, PERIWIG 1

Sergeant Wilde, a new aircraft captain with 138 Squadron, flies this short-range sortie to Belgium, although the destination is recorded as ‘France’ in the operations summary book. For some unknown reason Sgt Wilde files two separate operations reports which are entered on separate pages in the ORB; this confuses matters further.

Wilde takes off at 18.48. He crosses the French coast north of the river Somme, at about 8,000 feet, pinpoints on Douai at 2,000 feet and descends to 400 feet over the PERIWIG 1 target; in the ATF for PERIWIG 1 it is given as ‘Mons’. He circles the target area from 21.50 to 22.40 (which rather seems to be asking for trouble), but nothing is seen. His PERIWIG report states that he then returns to base, landing at 01.50.

In fact he does no such thing: he goes on to the second target. CANTICLE is originally supposed to have been dropped near Arlon with a W/T set for Joseph Vergucht (DUNCAN). Vergucht, a Belgian merchant navy officer who knows Morse, has been waiting for the means to contact England since autumn of the previous year, having arrived via Lisbon. MASTIFF and INCOMPARABLE are to be dropped to a reception organised by PERIWIG, but a long way south-east from the drop-site for PERIWIG 1.

MASTIFF and INCOMPARABLE are dropped near their target about a mile south of the village of Gondregnies. This is close to the village of Silly, where Armand Campion (PERIWIG) parachuted in August 1941. CANTICLE drops with them. One of the two pigeons he is carrying becomes detached, and travels back in the aircraft. CANTICLE is reported as needing a helping shove down the chute, which may contribute to the pigeon becoming detached.

The Whitley drops leaflets over Douai before returning to Stradishall, landing at 01.50.

Operation MOUSE, VERMILION

Farley takes off from Stradishall in Whitley K9287 at 18.32, and crosses the French coast near Caen, flying at 8,000 feet to be above the light & medium flak defences. He pinpoints on the Loire at about four miles east of Blois. By his own account he drops MOUSE about ten miles SSE from the planned dropping-point, somewhere close to the village of Meillant (Cher), but he gives no explanation as to why he drops the agent so far from the dropping-point. Farley returns to Tangmere rather than Stradishall, and lands at 03.27.

Given that Farley knew where he was, and was not pushed for time, it would seem to have been slapdash not to have drop the agent at the correct place, but it’s possible (though nowhere mentioned) that the agent may be concerned that if they fly north the pilot might drop him in the Occupied Zone; they are less than 30 kilometres west of the demarcation-line, a mere hiccup away in air navigation terms. MOUSE is therefore dropped a short way from the road between Vitray and Meaulne. He makes his way to Meillant the next day, getting a lift in a car to Saint-Amand-Montrond and walking the rest. The crow-flying distance is about 20 kilometres (13 miles), but the agent later says it is thirty; along the road it is 26km.

MOUSE is Edmond Courtin, in his early twenties, intelligent and keen. He may, at Douglas Dodds-Parker’s request (16/1/42), have been given training in laying out Lysander landing-fields during the interval between mid-January and this attempt. He is dropped with two W/T sets, one for himself to work for Jacques Detal (GYPSY), the other set for Detal’s wireless-operator Frederic Wampach (VERMILION) who, as we have seen, is a mental wreck; it’s not his set that has gone wrong. Courtin succeeds in contacting Wampach and passes him the second set.

Courtin’s debriefing report in February 1943 gives valuable information about life in the unoccupied zone. Châteauroux is not a healthy place for an agent to be: Germans ‘double’ with the French police, and two Alsatian policemen are most diligent. The police at Châteauroux check the hotel registers at 7 a.m., and they haul in and interrogate anyone who arouses their least suspicion. Courtin is caught two weeks into his mission through just such a check, red-handed with his wireless antenna laid out round his room. Detal and Wampach are arrested the next day. Detal and Courtin escape from Bergerac prison and Courtin makes it back to the UK in February 1943. Though slated for another mission in April 1943, Courtin’s prospective organiser chooses another wireless-operator.

161 Squadron: Operation BERYL 2, BERYL 3

The Anson that F/Lt Murphy flew to Tangmere on the 25th is now used for perhaps the type’s only operation over enemy-occupied territory. Ansons have been used during the Battle of Britain for anti-invasion patrols over the North Sea close to shore, but this is different.

S/Ldr Nesbitt-Dufort’s month-long absence-without-leave in France is about to come to an end. The agent he was to have brought out in January, Maurice Duclos, has been in charge of his hospitality, hidden by the Issoudun railway station-master and his family. The landing has been arranged by Lt Roger Mitchell, BCRA, who is also needed in London for debriefing. In addition, General Kleeburg of the Polish F2 organisation is to be evacuated. Hence the need for a larger aircraft than a Lysander. In any case, the other Lysander pilot is out on another trip this same night, landing not many miles away.

Murphy takes off from Tangmere in Anson R3316 at 21.00, passing over Cabourg an hour later. Murphy takes P/O Cossar as his wireless-operator/air-gunner. They have good visibility until about 40 miles north of Tours, when they encounter heavy rain, thick low cloud. They have difficulty pinpointing on the Loire, which indicates how poor the weather is. At 23.15 they set course for Châteauroux, which they find with difficulty at 23.55 before heading north-east towards Issoudun. (Châteauroux is much easier to find than Issoudun, being much larger, with a radial road-system.) From Issoudun they fly SSEast to a disused aerodrome where Mitchell, Duclos, Nesbitt-Dufort and General Kleeberg are waiting. (The airfield is now used by the Aero-club Issoudun-le-Fay.) The lights laid out by Roger Mitchell are picked up at 00.10. (There is a slight irony here; eight months before, Nesbitt-Dufort had trained Lt Mitchell in laying out Lysander landing-fields.

When Murphy tries to take off, the Anson becomes bogged down in the soft, now-soggy ground. (He does not mention this in his official report.) Nesbitt-Dufort encourages the other passengers to jump up and down in sympathy, to bounce the aircraft out of the soft ground, while Murphy applies full throttle. This rather unconventional approach works.
Nesbitt-Dufort, in his ‘Black Lysander’, writes another account of his month in France and of the air operation. Both he and his friend Sticky Murphy take a light-hearted view of their adventures, but Murphy’s new CO takes a dim view of their mutual levity in official correspondence. Nesbitt-Dufort, now in possession of too much knowledge about the people who looked after him in France, is posted to the Central Landing School at Ringway, where he flies tug and glider combinations, an experience which frightens him more than being on operations. He is then posted to Fighter Command HQ.

161 Squadron: Operation CREME

Flying Officer Guy Lockhart takes off from Tangmere at 20.25 in Lysander V9428. Lockhart has been a fighter pilot. Shot down over France while serving with No. 74 Squadron in July 1941, he evades and returns to the UK in October. Apparently posted to 138 Squadron soon after his return, no record of his serving there exists, though the first page of 161 Squadron’s ORB records that he has been posted from 138 Squadron; he becomes F/Lt Murphy’s other Lysander pilot.

Just under an hour after takeoff Lockhart crosses the French coast at about 9,500 feet, slightly west of Cabourg, but soon loses height to stay under the thickening cloud. He has difficulty finding the landing site; having to stay low would have reduced his range of vision, but once he sees the lights he is down and away within two minutes, having taken aboard two Gaullist agents, Louis Andlauer and Stanislas Mangin. He flies back to the coast at low-ish level, the cloud base between 1,000′ and 3,000′ with patches even lower. He crosses the French coast east of Cherbourg at 1,500 feet and is homed back to Tangmere by R/T once he is over the Channel.

Louis Andlauer writes an account of this pick-up operation from his perspective. It is reproduced in full in Verity’s book. The location of the pick-up is in the small area north of Châteauroux used by SIS for many of its operations; these included its sorties, like this, for Dewavrin’s intelligence- gathering agents; SOE agents were picked up from elsewhere, and at this stage of the war, rarely.

Sources

CANTICLE/DUNCAN, MASTIFF/INCOMPARABLE, PERIWIG 1

138 Squadron ORB
CANTICLE file: TNA HS6/58
MASTIFF personal file: TNA HS9/351/1
INCOMPARABLE operations file: TNA HS6/113
MRD Foot, SOEILC, pp. 270-1, 274-5

MOUSE, VERMILION

138 Squadron ORB
TNA AIR 20/8334, Encl. 132A

161 Squadron: BERYL 2, BERYL 3

John Nesbitt-Dufort, ‘Black Lysander’, pp 133-4

161 Squadron: CREME

Verity, WLBM, pp. 47-48.
TNA AIR 20/84554 Lysander operations reports, 161 Squadron

Wednesday, 28 January 1942

These sorties are attempted on a night of appalling weather, disastrous for Bomber Command, in which a cold front contributes to the loss of 36 bombers. The forecast for the night must have been favourable, for seven aircraft from 138 Squadron are out that night, including a Lysander, and Bomber Command has ordered raids on a wide range of targets. But, as John Nesbitt-Dufort records in his book ‘Black Lysander’, a cold weather front of impassable ferocity moves south-eastwards across northern Europe. Returning bombers are faced with a strong, freezing head-wind on the return leg. Four 138 Squadron Whitleys do not complete their operations due to the weather, with one successful. One Whitley is lost, with all its crew. The Lysander has to make a forced-landing in France, its pilot going into hiding. From the timings recorded it appears that the bad weather does not make itself felt until around midnight, and Nesbitt-Dufort would certainly not have attempted his operation had he known what was to block his return. Weather forecasting was reliant on weather-ship observations out in the Atlantic, with almost no data available from Occupied Europe, and weather-modelling was primitive.

Operation LUCKYSHOT / WEASEL

The target in Belgium may be near Lac Gileppe, recorded on a December ’41 ATF in ink. This confirmed in a December-January ATF, which indicates the target to be Verviers, the nearest town. These show the operations are to drop one agent and four containers, but an ATF for 23 January shows two packages, six containers and six pigeons; no agent.

P/O Anderle takes off at 19.01. He crosses the French coast at 20.52, probably at Berck-sur-Mer or Le Crotoy, and sets course for St Quentin. He describes weather conditions as ‘bad’, and fails to find the target area. He sets course for the French coast, dropping leaflets over a ‘small town some two miles south of Amiens’. He sets course for Stradishall, and lands at 01.44.

Operation BRANDROLL/BALDRIC

Sgt Peterson flies a sortie delivering a pair of SIS operations to France. Unsurprisingly, the identity of both BRANDROLL and BALDRIC remains a mystery. The relevant ATF shows that the sortie was to northern France, and that the ‘cargo’ was to be one man and one ‘A’ type. (The ‘A’ type could be either a cargo parachute (the ‘A’ type had originally been designed as a cargo parachute), or an agent suspended beneath a cargo (usually a W/T set or a rucksack) above his head. In this case it is two agents, one an organiser using an ‘X’ type (the standard paratroop harness & canopy) and the other his W/T operator plus set.

The 138 Squadron ORB records that Sgt Peterson abandons the operation because the target area is unidentifiable, obliterated by snow. He returns to Stradishall and lands at 01.44.

Operations PERIWIG 1/MARMOSET; MANFRIDAY/INTERSECTION

Sgt Wilde is the skipper for this sortie. He takes off in Whitley Z9286 from Stradishall at 19.15. He crosses the French coast at 21.03 hrs, and pinpoints on Valenciennes. He flies a rather wavy course along the canal to Mons, and from there sets course for the target, some 6 km east of Mons. It appears that the reception committee is absent, and the three agents are dropped, to the crew’s satisfaction at least. Wilde then goes on to drop leaflets over Douai on the route out. Slight enemy opposition from the ground before they cross the French coast at 22.56. They land at base at 01.30.

However, according to MRD Foot, the agents are dropped not in Belgium but slightly over the French border, near Mauberge. Undaunted, MANFRIDAY and INTERSECTION cross into Belgium and hide up in Mons without incident. MANFRIDAY is Sgt Oscar Catherine, and his W/T-operator companion Gaston Aarens is code-named INTERSECTION. Aarens lasts almost to the end of March before being caught at his set; and talks. His W/T set is used by the Germans to inveigle other agents to be dropped in a small-scale version of ‘Der Englandspiel’; unsurprising, as Giskes’ responsibilities also run to Belgium. Catherine has a varied career for a year: he plans industrial sabotage and organises a resistance newspaper before his capture in January 1943, his face well-known to the Abwehr. Somehow he survives Dachau.

MARMOSET, 20-year-old Achille Hottia, is being sent out to assist Armand Campion, parachuted in August 1941. PERIWIG 1 is a W/T set for Campion. Hottia makes his own way over the border into Belgium. Coincidentally, on this same night Campion is captured at his set; fortunate for Hottia that his delivery by the RAF has been delayed. However, Campion immediately betrays everyone he has met since he parachuted. Once in Belgium Hottia learns of Campion’s arrest and makes himself scarce, attempting to return to the UK via France and Spain along an escape-line. He narrowly escapes an ambush on France, returns to Belgium and meets up to Octave Fabri, who had helped to train him in England. The two work together for a while before Hottia makes another attempt to get back to the UK. This time, in April 1943, he is captured. He is shot in September.

Operation BALACLAVA I / CANTICLE / DUNCAN

P/O W.R. Austin flies this sortie to Arlon, to deliver 6 containers to André Fonck (BALACLAVA), and to drop an agent Alphonse Delmeire (CANTICLE); Delmeire is to provide DUNCAN (F. Vergucht) with a W/T set dropped in an ‘A’ type cargo parachute.

The recently-commissioned P/O Austin takes off in Whitley Z9232 at 19.10. In a brief report in the ORB (there is no other): ‘Weather conditions not satisfactory, so operation abandoned.’ Leaflets are dropped over Lens — apparently on both the outward and return legs — and he lands back at Stradishall at 23.16.

The BALACLAVA drop is to Etalle, to the west of Arlon, and will eventually be dropped on 2 March, but as it is not combined with any other operation, Fonck is able to continue operating; at least until the ‘Gonio’ (French slang for the German wireless interception teams) surround his parents’ farm in May 1942.

But it is interesting to speculate on the situation had CANTICLE/DUNCAN been delivered on this night, for they are dropped on 1 March with Operation PERIWIG, which means a W/T set for Armand Campion. By this time Campion has been caught, squeezed and his set hijacked. The reception is organised by the Germans. Delmeire is dropped well off-target courtesy of poor navigation, so he evades capture, but as soon as he tries to contact Campion at a pre-arranged meeting, he is arrested and disappears for ever. The other set for DUNCAN does not lead the Germans to Vergucht, but without a W/T set he cannot operate; he makes his way to England, arriving by the end of 1943.

Operation BERYL 1

This sortie by Nesbitt-Dufort is well-documented, having been recounted in several books with varying degrees of accuracy. Dufort’s own post-war account in ‘Black Lysander’ doesn’t quite square with the report that he wrote shortly afterwards. This is not surprising: he is unlikely to have had access to the official report once he had submitted it.

Dufort is to deliver one agent (identity unknown) with a suitcase, and pick up two important Free French (BCRA) intelligence figures: Lt Roger Mitchell (BRICK) and Maurice Duclos (SAINT-JACQUES) for consultations in London.

All goes well for the outward journey and the landing: Nesbitt-Dufort takes off from Tangmere in T1508 at 19.15, and sets course for Trouville, just far enough west of the Seine estuary not to come under Le Havre’s fierce anti-aircraft defences, but at 9,000 feet he’s above all but the heaviest flak. He encounters a little icing, but nothing serious. He pinpoints on the Loire and map-reads to the target, Issoudun aerodrome, currently disused, where he lands. He disembarks his single passenger and the two others take his place.

He takes off and heads north, setting course for Fécamp, aiming to cross the English coast at Beachy Head. After about an hour in the air, he sees an angry wall of cloud ahead of him, barring the way home. The cloud extends from about 700 feet upwards, beyond 30,000 feet, well beyond the ceiling of a Lysander. First he flies west to see if he can find a gap, then east for double the time: no way through. He then tries to fly beneath the 10/10ths cloud, but is forced lower and lower until he is almost hedge-hopping. His windscreen and the leading-edges of his wings ice up; this low down it is suicidal. He turns south and exits the cloud. At this point he estimates that he is south of the Seine, level with Bernay, south-west of Rouen.

Now he attempts to climb as high as the Lysander will let him, bearing in mind that he has two passengers and their valuable suitcases of documents. He is reluctant to try this, not least because he is far from sure of his position. His intercom and R/T have packed up: not only can he not talk with his passengers, but he won’t be able to get a homing bearing from base once he is clear of the French coast. His position (and he may know something about it from Wally Farley, who recruited him to the job) is similar to that faced by Farley in October 1940; who was fortunate to end up in Scotland.

But Nesbitt-Dufort has no alternative if he is to get his passengers back to England. He climbs to 10,000 feet and enters the boiling mass of cloud. Almost immediately the Lysander is tossed about like an autumn leaf; the air-speed indicator ices up, the gyro-compass fails in the electrical storm and the aircraft ices up, almost stalling the engine. He loses height to seven thousand feet, then six, and only just retains control of the aircraft. Fortunately the magnetic compass still works well enough for him to coax the Lysander onto an approximately southerly course, and he emerges from the cloud at less than 1,000 feet.

He has been flying for nearly six hours, much of it at high engine-boost. He reckons he has about 50 gallons of petrol left. It is about 1 a.m. and they are not going to make it back. He makes the decision to fly south, past the demarcation line and back into Vichy France, into the countryside around Châteauroux. He crosses the Loire at Orleans, and crosses the demarcation line at Bourges, heading for Issoudun. He knows he cannot return to the same airfield, even if he can find it, so he decides to put down in a large field. Unfortunately the field is several smaller fields, with a raised road running between. The ground is frozen and the brakes have little effect; what may have been more relevant is his direction, The undercarriage meets the raised edge to the field and the Lysander capsizes on to its nose. From photos taken shortly after by a local photographer it appears that he has landed in a south-easterly direction, downwind, making his landing run much longer.

The IFF destruction charge has detonated when they crashed (probably by a Graviner inertia trigger). Nesbitt-Dufort tries to set the Lysander on fire by stabbing at the petrol tanks with a knife borrowed from Duclos, but the self-sealing fuel tanks hamper the process. Three times, with three flares he manages to get a small trickle of petrol ablaze, but eventually they have to give up and make tracks.

Duclos goes into Issoudun, makes contact with the station-master, and returns to the other two in a car. Dufort, Duclos and Mitchell are soon hidden by the station-master’s family, at great risk, concealed for much of the time in a cubby-hole beneath the railway platform.

Operation MOUSE / VERMILION / WHITSUN

At 19.00 P/O Smith takes off in Whitley Z9287, but less then two hours later, at 20.40, he abandons the sortie due to ‘icing and electrical disturbances’. He lands back at Stradishall at 23.16.

This is another attempt to drop Edmond Courtin (MOUSE), with one set for himself, another for the discouraged Frederic Wampach (VERMILION). A rather plaintive memo dated January 15th sums up the situation as it is known in London:

VERMILION’s W/T set has never functioned, though we heard him once very faintly on the 29th October 1941. We made arrangements to send over another radio operator, i.e. MOUSE, who was taking 2 W/T sets with him, one for himseLf and a new one for VERMILION.
MOUSE was scheduled to leave by the November moon, but owing to the RAF not playing, he has been hanging around here, and is still awaiting departure. We have been expecting him to go off at any time, and that is the reason why you have not been informed that VERMILION was definitely out of action. We hope that MOUSE will leave at the beginning of the moon period in about a week’s time.

WHITSUN appears to be Claude Lamirault with a new codename; this is another instance of an SIS operation being combined with an SOE one, albeit concerned with different countries.

Operation MUSJID / MANDAMUS / MAJORDOMO

At 19.34 Sgt E.E. Jones takes off from Stradishall in Whitley Z6728, ‘F’. His aircraft is lost on the return leg. Ken Merrick wrote of a report of engine trouble and a fading radar plot out to sea. Though several aircraft from No. 11 Group go out searching for it the next day, they find nothing. Freddie Clark wrote that the Whitley was ditched 20 miles off the coast; two bodies were apparently washed up in a dinghy in mid-February, though he gave no details about where this information came from. Wing Commander Jack Benham had acted as the Despatcher on this sortie and the Moulin one. One of the pioneers on the staff of the parachute school at Ringway, in the summer of 1941 Benham had been due for a posting to India to develop parachute training there but had been found medically unfit for an overseas posting, so came to Stradishall, though in what official capacity is not entirely clear. An obituary published by the Harrington Museum indicates that he was a Despatch Officer, but considering his expertise, his role may have been to oversee the training of the squadron’s despatchers, which had
no official RAF ‘trade’.

Sergeant Jones and several of his crew had delivered Jean Moulin to France in January. Their last sortie would not be in vain: far from it. They were to drop six containers to Guy Stinglhamber (MUSJID) who had been in Belgium since the previous September, and to insert two agents, André Wendelen (MANDAMUS) and his wireless operator, Jean Brion (MAJORDOMO). We have no way of knowing whether MUSJID received his containers, but we do know that the two agents were dropped successfully. Brion was active for nearly five months before being caught by the German direction-finders. Wendelen and Brion were to work in the Liège area on sabotage and propaganda, but the forty-year-old Wendelen met a like-minded but younger Jean Burgers and together they started a formidable sabotage organisation that came to be known as ‘Groupe G’. Wendelen was effective until the Liberation, operating under different identities until Belgium was overrun by Allied forces in 1944.

Sources

LUCKYSHOT/WEASEL

138 Squadron ORB
138 Squadron Operational Summary

PERIWIG 1/MARMOSET/MANFRIDAY/INTERSECTION

MRD Foot, SOEILC, pp.271-4

BALACLAVA/CANTICLE/DUNCAN

MRD Foot, SOEILC, pp. 252-3, 265-7, 270

BERYL 1

Didier Dubant: 50 Ans d’Aviation dans le Ciel de l’Indre, 1909-1959, Editions Sutton.
Personal on-site research

MOUSE/VERMILION/WHITSUN

TNA HS6/184, Encl. 20B
Alya Aglan, Histoire du Réseau JADE-FITZROY (copy In British Library, cited by Pierre Tillon.
MRD Foot, SOEILC, pp. 259-62

MUSJID/MANDAMUS/MAJORDOMO

Stradishall Ops log
MRD Foot, SOEILC, pp.277-9
Jack Benham obituary in the Harrington Museum magazine Dropzone, Vol. 10, Issue 1 (2012)

Friday, 7 November 1941

This night is a busy one for the squadron: one Lysander pickup operation for SIS, one Whitley operation to Holland, consequential for SOE; another to Yugoslavia, a first; and the squadron’s first Halifax operation to Poland, flown by a Polish crew. The night is a heavy one for Bomber Command: it is a ‘maximum effort’ against Berlin, Mannheim, Cologne, Essen and Ostend. 392 aircraft set out, 37 do not return; many are casualties of bad weather over the North Sea.

Operation SAGA, BRICK, FITZROY

In the RAF argot of the era, Nesbitt-Dufort’s second attempt at this operation is a ‘piece of cake’. He takes off an hour later than last night, at 9.20 p.m. (GMT+1), possibly because the moon rises about 40 minutes later. Following the same R/T procedure with the south-coast radar stations, he crosses the French coast between Criel-sur-Mer and Le Treport at 8,000 feet, pinpoints at Compiègne, picks up the target lights inside seven minutes, and lands three minutes later in a field a couple of kilometres WSW of Soissons, close to the village of Ambleney.

He is stationary on the ground for about two minutes and twenty seconds, during which time the A.3. (Belgian section) agent SAGA is disembarked with his luggage, and Claude Lamirault (FITZROY) and Roger Mitchell (BRICK) are embarked with theirs. Take-off and the journey home are uneventful, and Nesbitt-Dufort crosses the French coast a little east of Le Treport. He is given homing instructions by MUNGA and lands back at Tangmere at 20 minutes after midnight, just three hours after take-off.

FITZROY and BRICK are both returning to the UK for debrief and a brief respite from the clandestine life: they will be dropped back on 8 December as CLAUDIUS and BERYL. Roger Mitchell, who has recently stood in for Roman Garby-Czerniawski as head of INTERALLIE during the latter’s own visit to London in October, will be on hand to assist in the assessment of the fallout from the capture of the INTERALLIE circuit in ten days time, specifically to interpret the bogus messages received from Mathilde Carré in her new guise as VICTOIRE, purportedly having evaded capture in the roundup.

Operation CATARRH

This operation has the most grave consequences for SOE, for the agents parachuted are Thijs Taconis and Huub Lauwers. Their capture will trigger the Dutch tragedy known as ‘Der Englandspiel’, the luring of several dozen agents to immediate capture, some to their eventual death.

From F/Lt Murphy’s report, there is nothing portentous about the operation: Murphy and his usual crew, with two Leading Aircraftmen aboard as despatchers, cross the Suffolk coast at Southwold. Half an hour later, over the North Sea, two aircraft close to within 500 yards, but Murphy loses them by turning sharply to port. Flying under a dense bank of cloud they cross the Dutch coast at Ymuiden and fly over the Zuiderzee to Meppel, reaching it at 23.57. From there they fly south-east to the target near Ommen, where they drop the two agents shortly after midnight. They return to Meppel, retracing their outward route, dropping leaflets along their homeward route from 100 feet up — only possible over Holland!

The story of Lauwers and Taconis is too well-known for me to repeat in detail. Lauwers was captured in March 1942 at his set, and was forced to transmit. He used his security-check, but this was ignored by SOE’s Dutch section, which transmitted details of agents to be parachuted. These were met by Major Herman Giskes of the Abwehr and his team. Soon Giskes had lured several agents and their W/T sets to Holland; in essence, he came to run SOE’s activities in Holland until he tired of the game in 1944. The RAF had ceased operations to Holland several months before, due to unreasonable losses.

I recommend reading MRD Foot’s ‘SOE in the Low Countries’ and Leo Marks’s ‘Between Silk and Cyanide’ for the British side of the story, and Herman Giskes’ ‘Operation North Pole’ for the German Abwehr’s side of the story. (Early editions of the Giskes book may also have Huub Lauwers’ own account in an appendix.) Giskes was a highly-experienced operator: before his posting to the Netherlands in October 1941 he’d had considerable success in Paris by infiltrating British-sponsored intelligence organisations.

Operation BULLSEYE (Yugoslavia)

On the morning of the 7th the submarines have arrived in Malta — probably sneaking in during the previous night — with the equipment for Jackson and Austin to drop over Yugoslavia. Jackson attends a morning conference chaired by the SASO, with two Army officers, the two experienced Serbian pilots who are to act as navigation guides, the officer i/c/ the Wellington Flight. The Serbian pilots claim that the winds in the mountains at this time of year make the operation too hazardous by night, and the Wellington Flight commander states that the pinpoints would be impossible to find. A signal was to be sent to the Air Ministry saying that any attempt would be made by day.

Only two containers are ready for dropping. Jackson has three crew off sick. Austin thinks a night attempt is feasible: he volunteers to make an attempt that night, and takes Jackson’s Z9158 up for a test flight at 11.00. He takes off for Yugoslavia at 21.50, and sets course for his first turning-point at Saseno (Sazan) Island, at the entrance to the Adriatic. The next pinpoint is at Cap Bodoni (Cape of Rodon), on the coast further north. From there he heads inland to Mitrovice, in modern-day Kosovo. Cacac is the final pinpoint, with the target in the nearby hills to the north-east.

In the event the weather is fine, with isolated cloud over the sea up to 6,500 feet. Austin flies at 10,000 feet to keep well above any high ground. The three or four signal-fires are clearly visible. Austin signals with the letter ‘R’, which is returned, and several more fires are lit. A green flare is fired from some fires in the form of a cross indicating the wind-direction. At 02.56 the containers are dropped from 3,600 feet to keep the Whitley well above the terrain; at this distance from base their instrument-height may be considerably inaccurate. The rear gunner sees a parachute open.

Austin and his crew immediately make their return to Luqa, arriving at 07.15, and they land 25 minutes later.

Operation RUCTION

RUCTION is the first operation to Poland carried out by an all-Polish crew, so there is a lot riding on it. General Sikorski has pushed hard for the Polish Home Army and underground to be supplied from the air by Polish crews. The aircraft are still British, but there is no doubt that, had Sikorski not agitated strongly for four-engined aircraft, 138 Squadron could have whistled in vain for the Halifax. The bomber is still very new: so far only No. 35 Squadron had been equipped with the type. On 23rd October the Poles have been sent to Linton-on-Ouse for three days’ Halifax conversion-training.

The agents are: Capt. Niemir Stanislaw Bidzinski (ZIEGE), 2/Lt Napoleon Segieda (WERA), and Lt Jan Piwnik (PONURY). There is no operation report on RUCTION, because the crew deliberately crash-lands in Sweden, near Tormelilla. Their version is that they have dropped their agents over Poland when the hydraulic system fails and the undercarriage is lowered. The crew cannot raise it. By now over Denmark, the crew realise that, with the undercart locked down there is no prospect of the Halifax making it back across the North Sea, so they turn towards neutral Sweden, and crash-land. The crew is taken into custody by the Swedish authorities, and they are eventually repatriated to the UK.

W/Cdr Farley’s comments on the operation, contained in an exasperated letter to the Air Ministry after another operation to Poland in January, is revealing:

It has now been established that the loss of the first aircraft was due to mishandling. Colonel Rudowski (sic), who accompanied the crew against orders, did not fully understand the undercarriage system. They have stated that they could not raise the undercarriage as there was no emergency hand pump. There is, of course, a hand pump and the fluid could have been lost only by leaving the selector in the “up” position instead of the “neutral” position during the flight.

As the Poles’ Commanding Officer, Farley has every right to enquire why one of his squadron’s rare and precious Halifaxes has come to a sticky end on its first operation. Though at the time of writing he has yet to fly the Halifax on operations, he will have familiarised himself with his squadron’s aircraft. He also has an experienced Halifax pilot in Sqn Ldr Ron Hockey, who has (by the time Farley writes this report) flown the ANTHROPOID operation at the end of December, and has a thorough knowledge of the Halifax’s controls and systems.

In his ‘Poland, SOE and the Allies’, Josef Garlinksi does not mention this episode, despite its importance.

Sources
SAGA, BRICK, FITZROY

TNA AIR 40/2579: Lysander Operations, 419 Flight & 138 Squadron.

CATARRH

TNA AIR 20/8334, Encl. 104A

BULLSEYE

TNA AIR20/8334, Encls 97A, 103A

RUCTION

TNA AIR 2/5203, Farley letter to DDI2 dated 13 January 1942.

Thursday, 6 November 1941

Operation OUTCLASS, FABULOUS II

This operation for the Gaullist French (RF) section of SOE, is flown by Sgt Wilbur Reimer, with P/O Smith, new to the squadron, as his 2nd Pilot. They take off at 18.20, cross the coast at Tangmere, and climb to 8,000 feet to avoid any low-level flak as they crossed the French coast. They then drop to 1,500 feet to map-read their way to the Loire, but run into low cloud as they approach Limoges. Flying above the cloud they set course for Toulouse by DR, and arrive there at 23.15. They find the reception committee almost immediately, for the operation is completed fifteen minutes later. The two containers are dropped by one of the cockpit crew from the bomb-aimer’s position, but the packages, heaved out one at a time through the ventral hatch after the agent, are unlikely to have made a tidy group.

Reimer and his crew retrace their route to Limoges and re-cross the French coast (presumably Normandy) at 02.40, flying on D/R, unable to map-read because of low cloud and ground-haze. Routing via Tangmere and Abingdon they land back at Newmarket at 05.05.

OUTCLASS is Marie Léon Yves Morandat, known as Yves Morandat. A pre-war trade-union official, Morandat is an emissary of de Gaulle. His task is to use his excellent union contacts to foster political resistance in south-west France. FABULOUS is actually FABULOUS II, a drop of two containers and six packages to Henri Labit’s nascent circuit based in Toulouse. The FABULOUS II drop is scattered. The RF Section history puts it thus: ‘they were dispersed over such a wide area that it was decided in future to limit the number of packages rather than endanger the security of agents and reception committeees who collected them.’

Labit himself will be returned to London by sea on the night of 6th January 1942, together with 6 other agents from various réseaux. They are taken off by MGB 314 from the Aber-Benoit estuary in Operation OVERCLOUD. Labit’s detailed debriefing leaves us with a clear picture of his activities since July 1941.

Operation FIREFLY

Murphy flies this operation to the Bergerac region of south-west France. He takes off at 18.31, and he follows the normal route to Tours via Abingdon, Tangmere and Cabourg, before heading further south to Limoges, which they reach at 23.15. From there they set course for Périgueux. Due to ground-haze which obscures the ground, especially close to rivers, they mistake the river l’Isle for the Dordogne, and they waste half an hour flying along the much smaller river before realising their mistake.

Murphy and his crew pick up the lights as 23.36, and two minutes later they have completed the drop. The target is listed as being ‘Bergerac’. The date points to a parachute drop to the SIS-organised ALLIANCE circuit: in ‘l’Arche de Nöe’, translated into English in 1973 as ‘Noah’s Ark’, the ALLIANCE leader Marie-Madeleine Fourcade recalls the second parachute drop to the circuit, dropped at the village of Saint-Capraise d’Eymet, about 15 km south of the town of Bergerac: two wireless operators, Julien Bondois and another destined for another circuit, six W/T sets (at least one damaged on landing), and a case with gleaming locks that looked as though it has just arrived from a West End store; it contains a considerable fortune to fund the circuit. Fourcade’s lieutenant Maurice Coustenoble (‘Tiger’ in the ALLIANCE menagerie) has been in charge of the reception.

Murphy immediately heads back for Cabourg, and crosses the English coast at Tangmere at 03.12, with touchdown at Newmarket at 04.21.

Operation EMERALD

There’s no aircraft captain’s report for this operation. Three 138 Squadron Whitleys are out this night (Whitleys ‘F’, ‘A’, and ‘B’). Comparing the take-off and landing times with the Stradishall log, and the intervals between, ‘A’ is Sgt Reimer, and ‘B’ is F/Lt Murphy, so ‘F’ is F/O Hockey in Whitley Z6728. The list of operations accompanying the pilots’ reports misleadingly states the target location as ‘Verdun’, which leads one to believe it is in eastern France, but the dropping-point is Verdun-sur-Garonne, about 33 kilometres up-river (NNW) from Toulouse. Hockey writes up his route as ‘Tangmere, Cabourg, Tours, Toulouse, Base.’ An Air Transport Form for the 28th October is more precise about the target: ‘VERDUN GRENADE’. The correct target is near the small town of Verdun-sur-Garonne, about 11 km down-river from the equally small town of Grenade. The ATF also confirms that this is a ‘C’ operation, and that the agent is to be dropped with a W/T set under a large ‘A’ type parachute. (‘A’-type parachutes came in several sizes, the choice of which depended on the combined weight of the agent and the package above his head.)

The target for EMERALD is only about 23 miles north of Sgt Reimer’s target for SOE’s OUTCLASS/FABULOUS – see above. One aircraft could have carried out both operations, but whenever possible (and, officially, never) SOE and SIS agents are not carried in the same aircraft. There is even an instance where a pilot writes up two reports of the same sortie, one for SIS, the other for SOE. Hockey’s sortie takes him 10.5 hours. When he flew to the same area in the summer, Hockey had to leave France via the west coast and fly across the Bay of Biscay to St Eval; now, with November’s long nights, he can come straight home.

Operation SAGA, BRICK, FITZROY

This is Nesbitt-Dufort’s third Lysander operation. This time he is to bring Claude Lamirault (FITZROY) and Lt Roger Mitchell (BRICK) back to the UK for consultation. Dufort is also to land an agent for SIS’s Belgian section, code-named SAGA. Nothing more is known about SAGA. Agents are normally parachuted, so SAGA, like SOE’s Gerry Morel, may have an essential role but is not fit enough to be parachuted.

From a midday weather forecast Nesbitt-Dufort judges that the operation might be feasible, and asks for SAGA to be brought to Tangmere from London, and for FITZROY and BRICK to be warned by W/T signal. (It is too late to arrange for a coded BBC message.) By 5 p.m. the forecast weather doesn’t look so good, but as he has warned the agents in France that he is coming, and knows they’ll be waiting for him, he feels he ought to try.

Nesbitt-Dufort takes off at about 8.20 p.m. and aims for the French coast at Criel-sur-Mer, a town almost directly in line with his course for Compiègne, his reference pinpoint. In this he receives guidance via R/T from radar stations on the south coast code-named BEETLE and MUNGA. (The procedure is described by Hugh Verity: it allows Lysander pilots to be tracked almost to the French coast; the radar station gives coded instructional ‘nudges’ to the pilot. The pilot does not transmit; that might reveal his presence and position.) He plans then to head up the Aisne on a compass-bearing eastwards towards the target, a plateau of slightly higher ground between Pernant and Saconin-et-Breuil (recorded as SIS landing site No. 5). He follows a compass-course set at Compiègne, the last pinpoint, with the river Aisne an additional reference. As Verity will write two years later in his guide to Lysander operations:

But once in the air, don’t forget that map reading must never take precedence over the D.R. and that even when you decide to follow a definite feature you must check the course of this feature with your compass.

Unfortunately there is heavy cloud as Nesbitt-Dufort crosses the French coast. He enters the cloud-base at 1,500 feet and flies on instruments until five minutes before his ETA over Compiègne. He descends to emerge below the cloud base at 1,300 feet and finds himself sandwiched between two layers of continuous cloud. Though visibility is still good – it is only two nights after full moon – it is very dark and he can make out nothing on the ground. He sets course for Soissons, to the east, and flies along that course for five minutes during which he should see any signals. But he sees nothing. (The agents beneath hear the Lysander overhead, but see nothing.) Nesbitt-Dufort flies methodically over the target area for about an hour before he gives up and heads home.

Sources

OUTCLASS, FABULOUS II

TNA HS 7/123 History of SOE RF (République Française) Section

FIREFLY

TNA AIR 20 / 8334, Encl. 105A.
l’Arche de Noé, by Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, p. 116; Noah’s Ark (translation), p.77.

EMERALD

Logbook, G/Capt R.C. Hockey
TNA AIR 20/8334, Summary list of operations for October/November moon period, 1941

SAGA, BRICK, FITZROY

TNA AIR 40/2579: Lysander Operations, 419 Flight & 138 Squadron.
‘Black Lysander’, John Nesbitt-Dufort, Whydown Press, p.111.
‘We Landed by Moonlight’ (WLBM), by Hugh Verity, pp.23-24.
‘Some RAF pick-ups for French Intelligence’ by Hugh Verity: article in ‘War, Resistance & Intelligence: Essays in Honour of M.R.D. Foot’, ed K.G. Robertson (1999, Leo Cooper), p. 172.

Thursday, 2 October 1941

Operation BRICK

‘BRICK’ is the codename of Lt Roger Mitchell, a 27-year-old French artillery officer who has been sent to France partly to arrange and manage landing sites and landings for Lysander operations. He has come to England via North Africa and Martinique, where he evaded via the USA, crossing to England in December 1941. Before his own parachute-insertion on 4 July Mitchell has been trained at Somersham by S/Ldr Nesbitt-Dufort, the pilot tonight. This Lysander operation is given his codename because he has arranged it for another agent.

Strictly speaking the operation should be called WALENTY, for the agent to be transported to England is the Polish intelligence officer Roman Garby-Czerniawski. Having escaped Poland after the 1939 invasion, like so many of his countrymen, during ‘la drôle de guerre’ (which must have seemed heavily ironic to any Pole) he had been based in Lorraine, where he had accommodated himself with a young French widow, Renée Borni. Following the French defeat, and adopting the bicycle and identity of her husband, Armand Borni, Czerniawski cycled to Paris unmolested. Almost immediately he started working for the Polish Intelligence organisation based in the ZNO (the Non-occupied Zone), travelling between Paris and Toulouse. Since late 1940 he has established the Franco-Polish intelligence circuit known as INTERALLIÉ in Paris, aided by the resourceful Mathilde Carré. INTERALLIÉ’s agents throughout Nazi-occupied France have specialized in gathering information about German military units in France, chiefly by observing uniform insignia and vehicle unit-signs. The circuit’s information was initially carried by courier to the ZNO, and from there to London, though W/T sets have increasingly taken over. As leader of perhaps the most successful intelligence circuits in France at this time, Garby-Czerniawski (whose codename with the Poles and SIS is WALENTY) has been called to London for consultation. Czerniawski is escorted by Mitchell and another F2 agent, Auguste Brun, known as ‘Volta’, to a disused airfield near Estrée St Denis, north of Paris. Czerniawski has stuffed papers into an old portable gramophone, and the three travel from Paris by train.

This is the second pick-up operation for S/Ldr John Nesbitt-Dufort. He flies Lysander T1770 from Tangmere, taking off at 21.15. Immediately he is airborne he makes contact with local radar control. The method is later described by Hugh Verity: the Lysander will be tracked by the Chain Home Low defence radar to within a few miles of the French coast. Its pilot can be given coded course-corrections by radio, but he maintains radio silence; thus his passive navigation aid cannot alert the enemy.

Nesbitt-Dufort arrives over the French coast at Le Tréport at 21.55, and sets course for the target, a disused aerodrome just north-east of Estrées St Denis, near Compiègne. Poor visibility means he has to fly an extremely accurate course. At 22.20, after 35 minutes flying on dead-reckoning, he sees the agreed signal lights. These are hard to miss: while two of the lights are torches, Mitchell has rigged up a battery-powered car headlights for signalling which is far too bright for the purpose; it dazzles the pilot during his approach and landing.

Nesbitt-Dufort’s landing, turnaround and take-off are completed within three minutes, facilitated by Mitchell and ‘Volta’. The Lysander crosses the coast somewhat south of track, near Dieppe at about 7,000 feet, high enough not to be threatened by the light flak; only after leaving the coast can Nesbitt-Dufort call up control and be guided home to Tangmere.

Czerniawski is met at Tangmere by his escorting officer Philip Schneidau, who introduces himself as ‘F/Lt Phillipson’, and is whisked up to London by car, where he is installed in the Rubens Hotel, debriefed by Polish intelligence and awarded Poland’s highest decoration for gallantry, the Virtuti Militari.

Mitchell takes over in Paris while Czerniawski is in London, as the fractious relationship between Carré and Borni threatens to destabilise the circuit’s operations.

Sources

S/Ldr Nesbitt-Dufort’s operations report, TNA AIR40/2579, Encl. 10A, also AIR20/8334, encl. 78A
Black Lysander, pp. 111-112
Czerniawski, The Big Network, Chapter 13, pp. 167-183