Tag Archives: E B Fielden

Ft/Lt Earl Bateman Fielden

Monday, 26 August 1940

Date Operation Name Pilot Aircraft Agent Target Country Outcome
26/8/40 “Mr X” F/Lt E.B. Fielden Whitley III Lt Lodo van Hamel, Royal Dutch Navy Leiden Netherlands Completed

Aircrew Details

Pilot F/Lt E. B. Fielden
2nd Pilot Unknown
Navigator Unknown, but probably F/Lt Marsh
Wireless Operator Sgt David Bernard
Rear Gunner Unknown, if any
Despatcher S/Ldr D. Ross Shore, AFC
Agent Lt. Lodo van Hamel

F/Lt E.B. Fielden made a second attempt to drop Lodo van Hamel on the night of the 26-27th. Louis Strange was not on this sortie, but he wrote that Fielden:

shut his engines right off at 8,000 feet about four miles out at sea, glided right on to the D.Z. near Leiden without touching his engines, dropped Mr X down wind landing him twenty yards from the mark, and was away round Leiden and on his way back before the searchlight opened up on him.

If this account sounds a little glib, it’s still likely to have been essentially true. In any case Strange’s account is the only one there is. Louis Strange was not above embellishing an account to improve the narrative. His own life had been full of adventures, his accounts scarcely credible. Historians have tended to seize upon such irregularities — often, as here, in the cause of others — to cast doubt on the whole. Some may have found it galling to learn of evidence that proved its essential truth. Even allowing for Strange to have improved upon the facts — his narrative of the first attempt allows a morning air raid on North Weald that actually did not turn up until mid-afternoon, by which time he, Fielden and their now-unarmed Whitley were safely back at Ringway — his basic narrative is borne out by official records.

F/O J.A. ‘Tony’ O’Neill accompanied Fielden to North Weald on the second attempt. The Ringway ORB records that he flew to North Weald with Fielden on the 26th, and back the next day. But there’s no entry in his logbook to indicate he flew on the operational sortie, though he had recorded the first attempt on the 23rd and a short test-flight on the 26th. Whoever flew as Fielden’s Second Pilot, if he took one, has not been recorded.

S/Ldr Donald Ross Shore definitely flew on both attempts, but he didn’t record the names of his fellow-aircrew. In 2004 I interviewed Wing Commander David Bernard at his home. His memories, unassisted by his logbook which had been impounded after his capture in 1941, dovetail with Strange’s account of the successful attempt. (I later found that he had made a recording for the Imperial War Museum.) At the time of this interview neither David Bernard nor I knew of the Ringway record, or of Louis Strange’s account.

The date for van Hamel’s parachute drop has been generally assumed to have been the 28th, but the several items of evidence pointing to the night of the 26-27th is contemporary, and therefore most likely to be correct. I have no explanation for the discrepancy: I can only speculate that van Hamel may have lain low before getting in touch with his contacts, to ensure he hadn’t been followed after landing.

Sources

TNA AIR 20/2263: Operations Record Book, RAF Ringway.
RAF Museum, Hendon: Typescript for ‘More Recollections of an Airman’, Louis Strange’s unpublished second volume of memoirs.
Logbook: S/Ldr D. Ross Shore
Personal interviews: W/Cdr David Bernard, 2004.

Saturday, 24 August 1940

RAF North Weald

F/Lt Fielden’s unarmed Whitley takes off from North Weald in the morning, well before a substantial German bombing attack at 3 p.m. This causes severe damage and kills several airmen.

F/Lt Walter Farley and Sgt David Bernard are posted to North Weald. Sgt Bernard’s posting order is to one of the resident Fighter squadrons, and it’s likely that Farley’s order is similar.

Farley arrives from RAF Watchfield, near Swindon. At North Weald he takes up a Miles Master, an advanced training aircraft with a performance not far below that of the Hurricane. Farley takes two young pilots, P/O Ambrose and Sgt Goodenham, on separate flights before he takes up a Hurricane for the first time.

Sgt Bernard has been travelling from RAF Abingdon by rail, having been woken in the early hours, given a posting order and rail warrant at the guardroom. The train journey, interrupted by air raid alarms, takes all day. He arrives at North Weald in the evening, to find the base recovering after the German raid. Exhausted, he finds a vacant bed in the deserted Sergeants’ quarters. Only next morning does he discover why they were deserted: an unexploded bomb at the other end of the building.

Sources

Logbooks, L.A. Strange, W.R. Farley
Interview with W/Cdr David Bernard, 2004
Recorded interviews of David Bernard, IWM
ORB, Central Landing School, Ringway

Friday, 23 August 1940

Date Operation Name Pilot Aircraft Agent Target Country Outcome
23/8/40 “Mr X” F/Lt E.B. Fielden Whitley III “T”, K7218 Lt Lodo van Hamel, Royal Dutch Navy Leiden Netherlands Abandoned: searchlight site near target

Aircrew Details

Pilot F/Lt Earl B. Fielden
2nd Pilot S/Ldr Louis Strange, DSO, MC, DFC*
Navigator F/Lt Marsh
Wireless Operator None – no W/T
Rear Gunner None – no rear turret
Despatcher S/Ldr D. Ross Shore, AFC
Agent Lt. Lodo van Hamel

Lodo van Hamel

Van Hamel, a Lieutenant in the Royal Dutch Navy, has escaped to England after arranging for the evacuation of Princess Juliana to England by sea. He has also acted creditably in command of a Dutch Navy sloop during the Dunkirk evacuation, defiantly flying the Dutch ensign near the beaches. François van ‘t Sant, head of the Dutch government-in-exile’s intelligence service and a controversial Dutch courtier, asks for a volunteer to return to Holland and gather information about conditions in Holland under Nazi rule. Van ‘t Sant has had dealings with the Dutch section of SIS before the war, and he offers his government’s services. The Dutch Navy is asked to provide a volunteer. Kicking his heels in London, Van Hamel steps forward without hesitation.

Early attempts to land agents on the exposed beaches of Holland and Belgium have met with mixed success. By the end of July German control of the coast is tight. Van Hamel agrees to be dropped by parachute. He is given rudimentary parachute training at Ringway. The parachute school’s Commandant, S/Ldr Louis Strange, writes many years later: “We had given him a drop or two at Ringway and one at night, so off we went to North Weald to fill up and await final orders from the Air Ministry.”

F/Lt Earl Bateman Fielden, known as ‘Batty’, is chosen to fly the operation. He is already experienced at dropping parachutists: he has flown with Sir Alan Cobham’s Flying Circus during the 1930s, when a key part of its act involved the dropping of dare-devil parachutists such as Harry Ward. During the ‘Phoney War’ both Fielden and Strange served in No.24 Squadron, ferrying senior officers and politicians between Hendon and the BEF in France. One of S/Ldr Strange’s early acts as commandant of the Parachute Training School was to request F/Lt Fielden’s posting to Ringway. Fielden is now Strange’s Chief Flying Instructor.

Louis Strange, not one to pass up an opportunity for action, flies as Fielden’s Second Pilot. His logbook records F/Lt Marsh as the navigator. S/Ldr Donald Ross Shore, now recovered from his parachuting injury, flies in the rear fuselage as van Hamel’s despatcher.

The aircraft is one of Ringway’s own Whitley IIIs. Identified by the letter “T” in Strange’s logbook, a Ringway photo from 1941 shows that ‘T’ was K7218. The photo also shows that this particular Whitley’s rear turret has been removed and replaced by an experimental parachuting platform. This explains Strange’s later comment that the Whitley was defenceless. At North Weald, Strange scrounges a machine-gun for the front turret before they set off for Holland. There is no W/T operator, and probably no W/T set. As they approach the Dutch coast they encounter strengthening winds and cloud. They cross the Dutch coast near Bergen, quite a way north of the target. The forecast winds have been inaccurate in both strength and direction. Eventually they find the dropping-point near Sessenheim, about five kilometres north-east of Leiden. It is raining and gusty. Strange and Fielden have just decided that the wind is too strong for the man they call ‘Mr X’ to be parachuted when the Whitley is illuminated by ‘a powerful searchlight’ shining from near the spot where they have been about to drop the agent. They climb away to safety and return to North Weald, reaching it at about 7 a.m.

Sources

TNA AIR 29/520: ORB, Central Landing School, Ringway.
Typescript for ‘More Recollections of an Airman’, Louis Strange, RAF Museum.
Logbooks: Louis Strange, Donald Ross Shore.

Monday, 5 August 1940

No. 24 Squadron

F/O E.B. Fielden is posted to RAF Ringway, at the express request of S/Ldr Louis Strange. By the immediacy of his request, and by it being almost a fait-accompli, Strange attracts the ire of the RAF’s Personnel Branch, not for the first or last time.

No. 10 OTU, Abingdon, and RAF Silloth, Cumbria

Flying Officer A.J. Oettle, an instructor at RAF Abingdon, takes a trainee bomber crew on a navigation training flight to Anglesey, then across the Irish Sea to Stranraer and Silloth, thereby mimicking a bomber route across the North Sea to bomb a target in Germany. Their route even includes some practice bombing near Workington, before returning across the Irish Sea to Llandudno and home to Abingdon.

As they pass over RAF Silloth, the relief duty officer interprets the Whitley’s meanderings as suspicious, and scrambles two Blenheim fighters to investigate. Two other Hurricanes take off to investigate entirely independently from the duty officer, but only one makes contact with the Whitley. The three fighters crowd the Whitley, flashing their recognition lights. One Blenheim has had the foresight to have taken off with a navigator equipped with an Aldis lamp. He is able to make contact with the Whitley, which eventually fires off the colours of the day, two yellow flares.

In the meantime, the duty officer has returned from lunch, and despatches the duty Hurricane pilot, Sgt Parrott. On a previous occasion he has been instructed to shoot down a British-marked aircraft if he considers it to be acting suspiciously, though on this occasion he is ordered to only investigate and report. Sgt Parrott arrives on the scene shortly after the other three aircraft have left. It has been practising bombing runs over Workington, and is now heading out over the Irish Sea for Llandudno.

Sgt Parrott flies around the Whitley, flashing his recognition lights and trying to attract its attention. Jack Oettle, piloting the Whitley, sees the Hurricane, but believes it to be one of the earlier aircraft practising dummy attacks, and ignores it. Sgt Parrott opens fire on the Whitley’s engine nacelles, damaging the aircraft enough to cause Oettle to force-land at RAF Squires Gate, Blackpool. His Whitley has been hit by more than 400 rounds from the Hurricane. None of the crew has been injured.

Sgt Parrott returns to Silloth to report. The Hurricane he has been flying is from 22 Maintenance Unit, a new aircraft destined for a Fighter squadron. Its number is R4118. Seventy-five years later it is still flying, for it is the Hurricane found in 1982 by Peter Vacher in India, returned to the UK and fully restored. It is currently housed at the Shuttleworth Collection, Old Warden aerodrome.

If you want to read my fuller article on this incident, read the September 2015 issue of Aeroplane Monthly

Monday, 17 June 1940

Merignac aerodrome, Bordeaux

General de Gaulle is rescued by air from Bordeaux in a D.H.89 Dragon Rapide loaned to General Spears on Churchill’s orders. It lands at Jersey to refuel, where General de Gaulle first samples what the British belive passes for coffee. The aircraft is probably from No. 24 Squadron, but the squadron Operations Record Book does not record this operation. After the war a 24 Squadron pilot, F/Lt E.B. Fielden, claims to have been the pilot, and is interviewed by General Spears, whose findings are inconclusive.

Nantes, France

From Nantes, Air Marshal Barratt despatches W/Cdr Duncan Grinnell-Milne, MC, DFC*, a liaison officer attached to the French Air Force, ‘to deliver letters of assurance to the French air marshals that Britain was determined to continue fighting to the end, and that the end was victory.’ He is also given a W/T set and codes so that he may continue to act as liaison with General Vuillemin, Chief of the Air Staff, on the assumption that France will continue fighting from North Africa. This is a forlorn hope: five days earlier, fearful of Italian retaliation, Vuillemin had thwarted Operation Haddock, the RAF’s bombing of Italy by Wellingtons from a temporary base in France, by ordering the runways at Marseille to be blocked by lorries.
Air Marshal Barratt also detaches his driver and interpreter Sgt Schneidau on a special mission to escort the British Ambassador, currently with the French Government in Bordeaux, to the coast for safe embarkation at the appropriate time. Air Marshal Barratt then leaves Nantes for England by air at 1830. Sgt Schneidau leaves Nantes for Bordeaux at 0430 the following morning.

RAF Llandow, Wales

Whitley No P5029 is taken on charge by No. 38 Maintenance Unit before being sent to an operational squadron.