Tag Archives: Farley

W/Cdr Walter (Wally) Farley

Saturday, 27 December 1941


This unusual sortie combines a pre-planned precision bombing-attack with parachuting an agent. At Stradishall there appears to be some disquiet over the role of 138 Squadron, when compared with the resident Wellington squadron which operates as part of the strategic bombing campaign. When the SD unit, as 419 Flight, had last been at Stradishall it attracted a little curiosity, but the presence of a squadron equipped with Whitley bombers that did nothing for two weeks in every month, and did no bombing operations during the other two, was going to cause resentment in the Wellington squadron. Wing Commander Wally Farley, 138 Squadron’s new C.O., is in favour of combining light bombing sorties with agent-dropping because they may serve to disguise the squadron’s purpose.

Sgt Jones has flown to Lakenheath to carry out this operation; Stradishall’s runways are fine for a Wellington, but they are too short for a fully-loaded Whitley. Sgt Jones takes off in Whitley Z9825 at 20.40 and heads east. At 21.12 he crosses the Norfolk coast at Happisburgh, flying at 2,000 feet in moderate visibility. About twenty minutes later course is set for the Danish coast; the delay may be due to the wireless-operator attempting to get some decent DF bearings and failing. At 00.06 they cross the Danish coast at 9,400 feet, unable to get a firm pinpoint. At 0037 they pass a pinpoint noted as ‘340 Kiel 30’. (Kiel is only slightly to starboard of a direct line between Happisburgh and the first target.) At 00.52 he alters course for the target and drops to 3,000 feet, then down to 2,000 feet below thin cloud as his navigator map-reads between the islands on the way to the target, the Vordingborg power station, Denmark.

Arriving at the power-station complex at 01.20 Jones attempts a bombing run into the wind at 1,000 feet. He doesn’t drop his bombs on the first run, but does on the second. He misses the target by 150 yards, but optimistically claims that concussion from the bombs, plus aimed fire from the rear gunner, will have damaged the transformers. Course is then set for the second pinpoint. This is recognised at 01.55, so it cannot have been far away, and the two agents (so far unidentified) and a separately-dropped package are dropped from 500 feet. Several canopies are seen, but then the despatcher reports that one of the static lines is missing.

On their return towards the east coast and a blanket of heavy ground fog, the wireless operator realises that he cannot identify any of the beacons because he has been given the wrong list. Smith summons assistance by invoking the emergency landing procedure known as ‘Darkie’: a flare path is lit at RAF oakington, near Cambridge. As if this isn’t enough of a trial, the Whitley starts to suffer from the problem of a too-far aft centre of gravity as the fuel-tanks become empty. As with John Austin at Gibraltar in November, Smith saves the aircraft from stalling by summoning the entire crew and cramming them into the forward part of the fuselage. Even with the combined strength of Smith and his 2nd pilot heaving the control column forward, they have difficulty in preventing the aircraft from stalling. They get down at Oakington with difficulty.

Freddie Clark records that the agents Dr Carl Johan Bruhn and Morgens Hammer are dropped blind, plus a package. Unfortunately the static line left in the aircraft had been attached to Dr Bruhn’s parachute, and he perished.

Unknown operation, abandoned

W/Cdr Farley takes off in Whitley Z6728 at 20.10 with P/O Anderle and a part-Czech crew. Ten minutes later the Whitley displays the symptoms of a cascading electrical systems failure: first the Air Speed Indicator fails, then all the radio systems, then the TR9 R/T system. Without any means of gauging his airspeed – a Whitley is not an aircraft to try flying by the seat of one’s pants – the operation is no longer feasible. They will be lucky to make it down in one piece. Farley (or perhaps it is Anderle in the pilot’s seat) has no means of contacting the control tower to clear the runway. The containers are jettisoned over the airfield, which may serve to alert the control tower, but none of the crew bales out, nor do any of the ‘passengers’ ; even if the Whitley is high enough, as the intercom is not working it’s difficult to warn the crew. As the Whitley is brought in to land the starboard engine is firing on just one magneto; the port engine cuts out altogether. Then they are down, but perhaps not easily stopped: there is ‘nil brake pressure after landing’. The Whitley is blocking the main runway until it can be towed away.

The following day a short report is written by the Navigator, Pilot Officer Buckwell, but he gives no hint about the operation or the target. Whitley Z6728 will next be used for operations on 6 January.


This is a controversial operation, and not just because the two PICKAXE agents belong to the NKVD, the Soviet intelligence agency. Considerable pressure at the diplomatic level is brought to ensure that this operation to succeed, and the circumstances of its tragic failure have remained something of a mystery. (PICKAXE I was the woman agent ‘Anna Frolova’, inserted into France by sea.)

As ever, the Stradishall log provides some of the context, and an account by a Major Milnes-Gaskell of SOE, quoted by Bernard O’Connor in his book about the PICKAXE operations, gives valuable detail about the sequence of events that night. Sgt Reimer is due to take off at 18.00, but his Whitley has instrument problems. These put back his take-off time to 20.00. He is further delayed by Farley’s Whitley blocking the main runway, forcing a change of runway for Reimer. Perhaps unfamiliar with the perimiter track to the new runway, he puts a main wheel off and has to be towed out by tractor. By the time he takes off for Belgium it is 21.50.

According to Milnes-Gaskell, the first target is for the cargo drop MUSJID, but by the time they get there, some four hours late, the reception committee has left. The PICKAXE target is near Lac Gileppe, the distinctively-shaped lake used as a pinpoint for SIS agents MARINE and ALBION the previous May. Tonight, snow showers and low cloud obscure the ground, which would already have been rendered indistinct by the lying snow.

The Whitley returns at about 04.00 and:

after a circuit of the aerodrome came in as if to land, but when about 50 feet off the ground the engines opened up and it appeared to be about to make another circuit when it spun into the ground and burst into flames. One of the Pickaxes was pinned underneath the wreckage and no doubt killed instantly, as also a number of the crew.

Stradishall’s fire tender becomes bogged down on the airfield, and another tender has to come from Newmarket; by which time it’s too late. Two of the crew are killed, including the despatcher, Sgt Pickering. The despatcher is responsible for the agents’ safety. If they can’t get out, neither will he. The wireless operator and the rear gunner are thrown clear. (One source says they bale out; if so, they would have been far too low for parachutes to have opened.) Reimer is severely injured.

Some have implied that the crash is due to a German night-fighter, but there is no evidence for this. There are no reports in the Stradishall log of any enemy aircraft in the vicinity. Milnes-Gaskell’s report is consistent with the hazards of approaching too high, too slow, in a fuel-light Whitley with passengers in the rear moving the centre of gravity aft: a classic stall of the C-of-G type that plagued Whitleys when returning from operations. There are four examples during this early period of this type of crash, and two known examples of ‘near misses’ when the pilot has crammed everyone forward to reduce the Whitley’s tail-heaviness.

The PICKAXE agents are NKVD agents Pavel Kouznetsov and Pavel Koubitsky. Koubitsky is killed in the crash. Kouznetsov is identified by MRD Foot when writing about his eventual insertion on 29 November 1942:

‘Sauternes’ fell into German hands in Holland in July 1943, and managed to commit suicide.



TNA AIR 20/8223 encl. 124A.

Unidentified operation

TNA AIR 20/8334, encl. 127A
TNA AIR 14/2529


Clark, p. 32
O’Connor, Churchill and Stalin’s Secret Agents, p.55.

Wednesday, 26 November 1941

Operation DACE

This is W/Cdr Farley’s first operation since returning to flying duties. During his recovery from a broken femur incurred after crash-landing his Hurricane, shot down by an Me109 the previous November, Farley was posted to the Air Ministry, where he replaced Sqn Ldr Knowles in managing 1419 Flight’s operations under W/Cdr J. Easton. On 1 April had been promoted Squadron Leader, and in mid-November 1941 he returned to command 138 Squadron, promoted Wing Commander. Though Farley has been remembered as a pioneering SD Lysander pilot, he also flew several of the very early Whitley Special Duties operations. Tonight he has an experienced crew with him: ‘Sticky’ Murphy and the core members of his crew. Also along to gain experience is F/Lt Laurent, a French Air Force Lysander pilot who has recently joined the squadron.

RF agent Sergent-chef Raymond Laverdet (DASTARD) is already in France, inserted in September near Bazoches-lès-Bray to make contact with the newly-active Communist labour organisations, hence his other code-name, RED. He has made contact with a Communist organisation known as the ‘Armée Volontaire’, which appears to provide opportunities for industrial sabotage. (Doubtless for political reasons, the RF History describes this movement as Gaullist; it was nothing of the kind.) Laverdet’s wireless operator André Allainmat (RED W) makes contact with London on 9 October, and in a second message on the 19th Laverdet has asked for an assistant and weapons instructor. The result is DACE (misleadingly recorded by Farley as DASTARD/DACE): Sergent-chef Louis Bourdat.

Farley plots a course over familiar territory from the previous September. At 21.00, ten minutes after crossing the English coast, low cloud forms to block their view of the sea beneath, so they turn on ETA for Cabourg and set course for Auxerre, their target. At 22.00 the cloud begins to disperse, but visibility remains poor. After a further half-hour, because he is still trusting to a dead-reckoning course set over Tangmere, Farley alters course to find Fontainebleau, a town he knows well from the air after his several attempts to land Philip Schneidau more than a year ago. Believing that they have found Fontainebleau — the château, its grounds and surrounding forest are highly recognisable — Farley alters course for Auxerre. On ETA for the town they find a river they take to be the Yonne, but they cannot find Auxerre itself: the valley is shrouded in mist. They follow the mist-covered river downstream until they find themselves over Paris — 150km from Auxerre as the crow flies — whereupon they abandon the operation due to a forecast of poor early-morning weather at Newmarket. They fly on ETA all the way back to base, which they find with difficulty, and land at 03.20.

Operation PLAICE (really TROUT)

It’s not quite clear why Sgt Reimer entitles this operation PLAICE in his report. A simple explanation is that Reimer gets his fish-names mixed up. The RF history and the locations mentioned by Reimer in his report make clear that this was Operation TROUT.

Sgt Reimer flies via Abingdon, Tangmere and the French coast — Reimer being his laconic self, says little — to the Loire river at 23.10. He flies up the river Allier, a Loire tributary, and pinpoints on the town of Moulins, which he reaches at midnight. It takes him another 45 minutes to find the reception committee; the RF History gives the dropping point as ‘near Vichy’, which is further up the Allier.

This sortie being right at the start of the moon period, the moon has descended behind cloud near the horizon. The reception committee’s torches are faint, and are not lit until Reimer is right overhead. (Batteries are rare as hens’ teeth in France, and their brief life carefully husbanded.) Reimer and his crew drop the agent, whose parachute is seen to open, before heading home, dropping leaflets in the Tours area and over ‘Mortaine’. (This is more likely to be nearby Mortagne). They find their way home above 10/10th cloud, and land at 06.35.

The Free French agent is called Koenigswerther, a W/T operator for Laverdet (TROMBONE), dropped in late August. Laverdet has made contact with London through the OVERCLOUD organisation, but he needs his own W/T operator.

Somehow TROUT fails to meet up with his reception committee. (The faint torches seen by Reimer’s crew may have been house-lights that coincidentally made the same pattern. There is no blackout in the Unoccupied Zone, and Knowles had commented on this possibility of misidentification back in May.) TROUT’s safe house proves unsafe: his W/T set is soon in the hands of the Vichy authorities, his identity as a M. Blacharden blown. He manages to make contact with an SIS agent EMERAUDE (EMERALD), who has been dropped on 6 November by P/O Hockey near Toulouse, and (according to the RF history) has been operating from Marseilles. EMERALD signals London to see if he might make use of Koenigswerther, but Dewavrin wants him to continue with his original mission – a little ungrateful of Dewavrin as without EMERALD’s help Koenigswerther would be a busted flush.

MRD Foot makes no mention of this agent in his ‘SOE in France’. He may have been inhibited (or prohibited) from mentioning it because of the contact with SIS agent ‘EMERALD’.

Operation to Virton, Belgium

This operation by Austin cannot be tied to any operation, SOE or SIS. The target for this one appears in P/O Livingstone’s logbook as ‘Vitron’, which is probably Virton, but no more is known about it than the sortie’s duration, 6 hours 45 minutes, and that it is flown by P/O Austin in Whitley Z9288. There is no operations report, which means that it is absent from the 138 Squadron ORB, created much later from the pilots’ reports. Austin’s sudden deployment back to Malta may explain that absence of a report.

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.


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.


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


TNA AIR 20/8334, Encl. 104A


TNA AIR20/8334, Encls 97A, 103A


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

Monday, 28 April 1941

1419 Flight hut, RAF Stradishall

S/Ldr Knowles writes to an erstwhile colleague at the Air Ministry. The name of this colleague has been withheld under Section 3(4) of the Public Records Act, 1958:

1419 Flight
28th April, 1941


With reference to “SKYLARK”, I have looked up the longitude and lattitude (sic), and it is 59 degrees 50 minutes North, and 08 degrees 36 minutes East. I suggest you go down to the Map Section in Air Ministry, and look at a decent map of Norway (1:500,000 Stavanger), and you will find VIKEN if you put three pairs of spectacles on.

(Signed) E.V. Knowles, S/Ldr.

Air Ministry,

Prior to the file’s release a zealous file-weeder has mistaken the Air Intelligence section ‘A.I.(10)’ (the initialism for SOE at the Air Ministry) for A.I.1(c). The latter section of Air Intelligence contains several embedded SIS officers, including W/Cdr Frederick Winterbotham and W/Cdr Vincent Sofiano (mentioned several times by Hugh Verity). To be fair, the ‘0’ in the typed ‘A.I.(10)’ does resemble ‘A.I.(1C)’, but close examination reveals the error. Knowles would have known the SIS section’s proper designation as ‘A.I.1(c)’.

In my view the intended recipient is Knowles’s friend Wally Farley, promoted Squadron Leader on 1 April and currently clumping around the Air Ministry corridors with his leg in plaster. During this period Farley writes as ‘A.I.10’ or ‘A.I.2’ depending on context, but never as A.I.1(c).

The position of ‘VIKEN’ is about three miles south of the hydro-electric station at Rjukan, producer of ‘heavy water’ — deuterium oxide (D2O or 2H2O) — and later target of operations against the German attempts to develop an atomic weapon.


TNA AIR 20/8334, encl. 6A