Tag Archives: Hockey

W/Cdr Ron Hockey

Monday, 20 April 1942

Operation WHISKEY

There is considerable mystery about this third attempt to complete Operation WHISKEY: the fate of Halifax V9976, its crew, and the two Soviet NKVD agents it was carrying. The Halifax crashed in the Tyrolean Alps, almost exactly 200 miles short of the target, after — according to German observer reports — making an off-course turn to the south, into the mountains. The Halifax should have had no difficulty crossing the mountains in this area; the highest mountain in the crash area is lower than 6,000 feet.

The sortie has long been the subject of a page on Steve Harris’s Tempsford website. An ATF for the operation (slated for between 28 February and 5 March 1942, made out well before the first attempt on 25 March) states that the drop will consist of two agents and one package. It is a Category ‘A’ operation, the highest priority. A statement elsewhere ensures that this operation is not to be combined with any other. The target is as before, ideally to a small area in the hilly, wooded farmland south-west of Vienna, but such is the pressure to get the agents inserted that anywhere in the Danube valley between Linz and Vienna will do. The agents are Peter Staritsky (alias Peter Schulenberg) and Sevolod Troussevitch (alias Johan Traum). These aliases are probably their cover names while in the UK.

A report in the SOE file for Operation WHISKEY says that the Halifax takes off at 2100 on the 20th. It assumes that the takeoff is from RAF Bourn, an airfield between Tempsford and Cambridge, a satellite for RAF Oakington, but that may be because the previous attempt had taken off from there. In early 1942 Tempsford’s main runway is about 1600 yards, too short for a fully-fuelled four-engined bomber aircraft. It is extended later. For a sortie flying east rather than south to France, Bourn makes more sense than flying south to start from Tangmere’s extra-long runways.

The crew is essentially the same Polish crew that attempted this operation on the 25 March, at the beginning of the previous moon-period. The pilot is Pilot Officer Zygmuntowicz, the Navigator (and skipper) F/Lt Voellnagel, with Sgt Wilmanksi as Wireless-operator and Sgt Wojoleskowski sitting in the front turret. For this trip, however, the rear gunner is P/O Pulton, 138 Squadron’s Gunnery Leader, and 138 Squadron’s Commanding Officer, W/Cdr Wally Farley, flies as 2nd Pilot instead of F/O Dobromirski. A Despatcher and (presumably) a Flight Engineer complete the crew: Sgt Madracki and F/Sgt Karbowski.

The Halifax does not return. On the afternoon of the 21st a German communiqué is issued, which states that:

A single British aircraft which undertook a harrassing flight last night into the Ruhr territory, was shot down in southern Germany.

Bernard O’Connor’s thorough book on the British ‘Pickaxe’ operations quotes the research by Dr Michael Heim. This implies that the Halifax was followed across Germany by conventional tracking; that is to say by echo-location, not radar. German radar resources were concentrated on the approaches to the Ruhr; in 1942 they did not extend to Bavaria. But the Tyrolean guide who found the crash-site was rewarded: if a night-fighter had shot the Halifax down, the pilot who did the deed would almost certainly have been singled out for recognition. If the Halifax was only tracked, not intercepted, then we must look to another cause for its loss. The crew’s course deviation to the south, well off a direct course to the target, may have been a precaution to hide among the lower mountains of the Austrian Tyrol, but this would make sense only if the visibility was perfect and in bright moonlight. Neither condition applied. The crew might have misjudged their own height or the height of the mountains, but this was a highly-experienced crew, well aware of the margins that a change of barometric pressure would make to the altimeter. That night the moon set at 00.45 (BDST and CET, Germany and the UK operating in the same time-zone, GMT+2). The best estimate for the crash is shortly after 01.08 CET, shortly after moon-set. The crash site is not far below the crest of one of the mountains above the village of Kreuth. The crew and two ‘civilians’, Franz Löschl and Lorenz Mraz, are recovered from the wreck, and are eventually buried in the Durnbach military cemetery.

In the 1970s Ron Hockey, the Polish crew’s Flight Commander, wrote about this sortie in a letter to Hugh Verity. Hockey wrote that he was recalled from a 48-hours leave to fly the operation. When he arrived back at Tempsford he found that his CO, W/Cdr Farley, had believed Hockey wouldn’t make it back in time and had instead ordered one of the two Polish crews to carry it out:
“I pleaded with him, but this made him more obstinate and he said he would accompany the crew himself. As their flight commander the Polish crew came and asked me to keep the Wing Commander on the ground, as they did not want to take him, in fact they became quite emotional over this. I thought at the time this was purely due to the fact that Farley was not qualified on type, and had only flown as a passenger in daylight. I had another session with the CO but was unable to change his mind.”

The operation was mounted three nights before First Quarter, the nominal start to the next moon period. The only flying Hockey had done during April was a couple of air tests on 4th and 6th April, and a short flight to Hurn and back on the 7th. All were with a reduced crew in Hockey’s favourite Halifax, L9613. His last operational sortie had been to Czechoslovakia on 25 March, Operation BIVOUAC / ZINC.

Hockey and his crew may have been slated to fly this sortie at the start of the new moon-period. Ron Hockey was the squadron’s only RAF pilot with significant experience of flying operations to eastern Europe. But intense pressure from the USSR, via SOE and the Air Ministry, to carry out the operation appears to have persuaded Farley to make an attempt three nights early. There is even a postponement report for the 17th, six nights before the start of the moon period, a mere three nights after the New Moon. Bad weather was the recorded reason for cancellation that night, but the moon set before 10 p.m. and was only at 3% anyway: useless for operations.

Hockey was recalled from a 48-hour leave to fly the sortie on the 20th, but he arrived too late: Farley had to choose an alternative crew. The Polish crew which had made the previous attempt was ready to operate. Could one of their number have recognised a Russian accent during the earlier sortie? Forewarned, Polish Intelligence may have instructed their crews, through the Polish Inspectorate, to ensure that the Soviet agents did not reach their destination.

From the available evidence I consider Farley’s purpose in accompanying the Polish crew was to ensure that they carried out their duties by dropping the agents correctly. When the Polish crew pleaded with Hockey to persuade Farley against flying, it’s unlikely to have had anything to do with Farley’s lack of experience on the Halifax. Farley was known to be stubborn, and Hockey’s much greater operational experience may have been accentuated this tendency. Hockey, though a Flight Commander, was not privy to the background of these agents, and even if Farley knew their origins (which I doubt) he couldn’t have told Hockey. Hockey only learned about the agents being NKVD long after the war:
“I also discovered much later that the “passengers” were Russians, and this must have been known to the Polish crew through their ‘I’ Branch. That they were instructed internally within the Polish Air Force that their “passengers” should not arrive, cannot be discounted.”

Farley clearly had reservations over the Poles’ reliability, but he couldn’t tell Hockey why, and not because Hockey wold be loyal to his Polish crews. It is even possible that Farley substituted P/O Pulton for the Polish rear gunner in order to forestall any attempt to shoot the agents as they left the aircraft. With Farley aboard the Poles couldn’t prevent the agents’ despatch without making their own return impossible.

A German fighter may have resolved their dilemma, but I doubt it. Dr Heim’s research, quoted by Bernard O’Connor, indicates that the sound of the aircraft was followed from south of Strasbourg at 2 minutes to midnight (German time) at between 1,500 and 3,000 metres altitude, with visibility 10 kilometres. The aircraft’s course was plotted easterly from Ravensburg, and it was last heard at about 01.08 south-east of the Starnberg lake. In Dr Heim’s report there is no indication of any Luftwaffe interception. (I have today, 20 April 2017, learned, through online forum forum.12oclockhigh.net that no German night-fighter claim has been found for this Halifax.)

Was there some sort of confrontation in the Halifax cockpit? Without Farley aboard the Poles could have ensured the agents were dealt with, and the RAF would never have known. But with Farley aboard the Poles could not serve both the RAF and their own Inspectorate: they would have known, even before takeoff — hence their becoming ‘quite emotional’ — that they could not return if they succeeded in sabotaging the operation; nor could they return having failed.


138 Squadron ORB
TNA HS 4/342: SOE files, Operations WHISKEY, RUM
Imperial War Museum, Private papers of Group Captain R.C. Hockey, DSO, DFC
RAF Museum: Logbook, Group Captain Hockey (fiche)
Churchill and Stalin’s secret agents: Operation Pickaxe at RAF Tempsford, by Bernard O’Connor, p.80.
Steve Harris’s Tempsford website

Friday, 27 February 1942


Pilot Officer D.J. Simmonds takes off in Whitley Z9232 at 21.38, on a sortie to the eastern Netherlands. He is to complete two operations attempted two nights earlier by two aircraft. First he crosses the Dutch coast north of Alkmaar at 5,000 feet and crosses the ZuiderZee to Harderwijk, which in 1942, before the post-war creation of Flevoland from the Ijsselmeer, was on the southern coast of the inland sea. The agent is to be woken 15 minutes before the drop, and given some food and drink; he is not being met, so it may be the last time he eats for some time. Over the Ijsselmeer Simmonds has dropped to about 1,500 feet, then 500, before dropping CARROT somewhere near Harderwijk. CARROT recognises the spot, so the crew are confident he has been dropped in the right place. Simmonds then returns to Harderwijk before setting course at 2,000 ft for Meppel, which in 1942 is also only just inland. From Meppel he flies up a railway line; the target is a clearing in a wood. The reception torches are seen, and the two containers are dropped to the CATARRH group, which is yet to be rumbled by the Abwehr.

Simmonds and his crew return to Stradishall, landing at 02.50. Unusually, the crew includes a Flight Engineer, not normally part of a Whitley crew. This consists of P/O Simmonds as skipper, Sgt Harvey as 2nd Pilot, F/Sgt Howard as Air Observer (i.e. Navigator), Sgt Flint as Flight Engineer, Sgt Ramsay as Wireless Operator, F/Sgt Todd as Rear Gunner, and Sgt Farquharson as Despatcher. None of these appear in any other 138 Squadron operations records.

CARROT is George Dessing, a thirty-two year old, independently-minded Dutchman accountant who has lived in Vienna and South Africa. His independent spirit is what saves him, for he is given a solo mission. He is therefore unusual among Dutch agents in that he avoids becoming entangled with existing circuits. He makes contact with trade-unionists and underground writers, gathers some useful intelligence, and returns to London successfully, though MRD Foot does not say when he returns.

Operation BOOT

Hockey flies towards Poland to drop six agents, 1 package and four containers; originally planned for a month earlier, priority ‘A’ (high). He takes off at 18.55, but encounters 10/10ths cloud 50 miles from the English coast. This persists over Denmark and the German coast, with icing, too. He returns to base with his load, and lands at 04.05.

For 26 February the 138 Squadron Operations Record Book notes: ‘No. 532269 Corporal D.F. White, Fitter IIa, killed in taxying accident.’ After the war Hockey remembered the accident happening as he was taxying on an icy runway after landing from Operation BOOT: the unfortunate fitter was somehow beneath the aircraft, out of Hockey’s field of vision; and of course it was dark. He rolled instinctively outward, falling under one of the undercarriage wheels. While a fading memory cannot be relied on for a firm date, neither can the ORB; it got Corporal V.F. White’s initials wrong, too.

Operation COLLAR

Sergeant Pieniasek is the pilot, but in the Operations summary book the name against the sortie is F/O Vol — possibly short for Voelnagel, as there is no ‘Vol’ listed). The Polish Air Force follows the continental practice of the Navigator as aircraft captain, the pilot’s role being that of a chauffeur. The target is given as RADOM but, as with BOOT, the pinpoints are stated on the ATF as changed daily. The Poles are wary of British security, which is surprisingly since they report visiting the Air Ministry Air Intelligence section and seeing a wall-map littered with target flags.

Pieniasek takes off in Halifax L9618 at 18.50. He reaches the Danish coast at 21.23, but turns back owing to engine trouble. They return to Stradishall with their load, landing at 00.45. The ‘five X-type’ indicates five agents, with four containers. It’s also likely that they take off from RAF Lakenheath, as also stated in the ATF.

Though the ORB lists Pieniasek as a Flight Sergeant, this is another indication that the ORB is constructed later, for several aircrew are given ranks that they attain only some months afterward.

161 Squadron: Operation BACCARAT

Another twelve men, probably the entire complement of 161 Squadron, arrive at Tangmere Cottage and join F/Lt Murphy and the squadron’s CO, W/Cdr E.H. Fielden.

Murphy flies 161 Squadron’s first pick-up operation. On the outward journey he takes out a female agent known only as ‘ANATOLE’. In Lysander V9428 (a new one) he takes off from Tangmere at 21.45. Fifteen minutes later he is over Beachy Head, and sets course for Abbeville. This should involve flying over the Somme estuary and up the river. Met by 10/10th cloud over the Channel, he climbs above it to 8,000 feet. Three minutes before his ETA for Abbeville he loses height through the cloud. He should be near Le Crotoy, but when he emerges there is no sign of the coast. He is at less than 1,000 feet with less than two miles visibility. He heads north-west to cross the coast, but when he reaches it there is nothing to be recognised. The cloud-base has dropped to 700 feet, and the weather is closing in.

Murphy then does something that is definitely against standard procedure, which is to call up Tangmere on his R/T and request a fix. Normally an SD Lysander pilot is instructed never to use the R/T until he is clear of the enemy coast on his return journey. The Chain Home Low radar system can track Murphy nearly all the way over the Channel, but not inland; by flying in a certain identifiable pattern he can be identified, then given a bearing which will enable him to pinpoint his position. I can only think that Murphy’s action is justifiable because of the poor weather and low visibility. Ten minutes later he gets his fix and sets course for Abbeville, which he reaches at 23.43. He then flies the nearly 40 miles south-west to the village of Saint-Saens, where nearby at midnight he is met by the torches of the reception party, and lands.

ANATOLE is disembarked. Some time is then spent on the ground while bags of ‘courier’ (i.e. intelligence-related documents) are loaded aboard, and two agents clamber aboard. They are BCRA agent Pierre Julitte (JULIE) and film-maker Gilbert Renault-Roulier, better-known by his code-name (and the name under which he wrote a series of post-war memoirs, ‘REMY’. Nothing appears to be known about ‘ANATOLE”, only Rémy’s comment that: “She laughs, very happy to be back in France. I understand that she totally vanished.”

The landing-site is about 32 kilometres SSE from Dieppe, near the village of Saint-Saens. It is such a short trip that it could have been flown by the short-range Lysander R2626 had it still been operational. The reason for Murphy to fly via Abbeville, well east of a direct route to the target, I initially put down to Dieppe being an unhealthy place to be at any height. His strange route may have more to do with the Bruneval raid which takes place on the same night, north of Le Havre, enforcing separation to minimise the chance for any interference.



Dessing PF: TNA HS9/428/3
138 Squadron ORB
138 Squadron Ops Summary
MRD Foot, SOEILC, pp. 119-20


Hockey logbook
138 Squadron ORB


138 Squadron ORB
Air Transport Forms for Feb ’42.


Verity, WLBM p.46.
TNA AIR 20/8455
Noguères, HRF Vol 2, p. 359 (as quoted in Verity notes, p. 224.)

Wednesday, 25 February 1942

The February-March moon-period starts with one sortie to Norway, two to Holland, and a Polish Air Force sortie to Poland.

Operation CATARRH

F/Lt Davies flies an operation to drop two containers to Thjis Taconis, who had parachuted in November with his wireless operator, Hubertus Lauwers. Taking off at 20.59, Davies encounters nothing but cloud beneath him, so he abandons the operation and returns, landing at 01.20.

Operation CARROT

P/O Smith has no more luck with the weather than F/Lt Davies. Taking off at 21.08, he flies via Southwold, past the offshore island of Vlieland, then across the Zuidersee to Zwolle. The crew is unable to distinguish detail on the ground beneath due to cloud, and so the operation is abandoned. They return by the same route, and land fifteen minutes behind F/Lt Davies.

Operation COLLAR

This an altogether more ambitious sortie, to Poland, with F/Sgt Pieniszek noted as the Captain of Halifax L9618. Like the others, he runs into continuous cloud along the route which persists until he is in the target area. He therefore abandons. He encounters heavy flak over Stettin (now the Polish city of Szczecin), Kiel and Sylt, but no searchlights. He lands back at Stradishall at 06.25.

It cannot be overstressed how hazardous it was for these Polish crews flying over Germany to their homeland. If shot down and captured, not only would their own lives be forfeit, but those of their families in Poland.


At 0950 a warning order is issued: ‘Clairvoyant “on” tonight’. At 11.00 plans are made for two 138 Squadron aircraft to use Lakenheath, which has longer runways for a fully-fuelled Halifax. They plan to arrive there at 13.00.

At 18.57 S/Ldr Hockey takes off from Lakenheath in his Halifax L9613 ‘V’ for the Kjosnesfjord, inland from the west coast of Norway. But the target area was obscured by 10/10ths cloud and in freezing conditions it was only prudent to abandon the operation. They return to Stradishall, landing at 03.26.

Operation CLAIRVOYANT appears to have been a large programme intended to sabotage power supplies, targeting the water-pipes that supplied the hydro-electric stations. It appears to have never been carried out.

Newmarket: 161 Squadron

At 14.58 Stradishall Ops is warned by Newmarket that at 19.45 S/Ldr Murphy is to take off from RAF Newmarket in an Anson, letter “L”. It is routed via Abingdon to Tangmere, aiming to land there an hour later. Murphy actually takes off at 20.07, landing at 21.35.


Newmarket: 161 Squadron

TNA AIR 14/2530 Stradishall Ops Officers’ logbook

Tuesday, 6 January 1942


For this sortie Wodsicki’s Halifax is substantially overloaded by more than 1,000 lbs (61,198 lbs).
The aircraft is flown to Lakenheath for embarkation and fuelling befpre taking off at 1955 for Esjberg. Wodsicki reports the take-off hazardous: the runway is slippery and (for some reason not explained) the take-off has to be out of wind. They cross the English coast at 20.26 and course is set for the Danish west-coast port of Esjberg.

They arrive over Esjberg 23.07 and cross Denmark and the Baltic sea, pinpointing on the Swedish island of Bornholm at 00.25. At the target there is no sign of a reception committee, but the agents are dropped anyway. In fairness to the crew, it is still an achievement to have reached Poland and the target area, so the normal procedure for a sortie to France, of returning to base with the agents to try again another night, may have seemed a poor option. Of course we don’t know exactly what Wodzicki’s orders may have been.

He lands back at Attlebridge, short of petrol. The next day he takes off for Stradishall, apparently without informing anyone without gaining permission, despite his instruction to awairt orders from Stradishall.

The Air Transport Form identifies the target for both SHIRT and JACKET as ‘RADOM?’, which is some 100 km south of Warsaw. A likely candidate for the forest where the agents are dropped is the Kozienicki Park, a substantial area to the east of Radom.

In March 1942, Major Perkins, based in Room 96, Horse Guards, writes to Lt Colonel Rudnicki, the head of the VIth Bureau (Polish Intelligence) for details on the RUCTION, COLLAR, SHIRT and JACKET drops, especially their accuracy. Rudnicki’s reply, in Polish but helpfully translated, shows that the JACKET drop was made about 36 km west of the target, on the border between the German Reich and the General Government (in German hands but administratively separate from the areas annexed in 1939). It appears that there was no reception committee for this drop. The agents landed on a forest, and were immediately spotted and engaged by a German patrol, with consequent casualties to both sides. Though the Poles gave more than they got, the area was compromised for future activity.

For SHIRT the Halifax arrived an hour later than specified, by which time the committee had dispersed. The drop was made 5-6 km from the correct point, right over a village; three containers fell into German hands, which rather gave the game away. Though the agents and the money that was dropped with them was recovered by the Poles, this district also had been compromised and could no longer be used.

Operation to Saumur area

Ron Hockey’s logbook shows a sortie to the Saumur area. Based on previous sorties to the area, it’s a fair chance that it was to Marie-Madeleine Fourcade’s ALLIANCE circuit, also known as ‘Noah’s Ark’.
Hockey takes Sgt Wilde as his 2nd Pilot. Sgt Wilde is a new pilot to the squadron, flying a few trips as ‘Second Dicky’ to gain experience before taking on sorties as skipper.

Hockey takes off from Stradishall in Whitley Z6728, and flies a route via Tangmere and Cabourg to Saumur, on the lower Loire (lower than Tours, anyway) and from there to the target. There is no report for this sortie on file or in the 138 Squadron Opersations Record Book. Hardly surprising as the ORB for the entire four-month period for 1941 is compiled later, taking direct transcriptions of the pilots’ reports. Reports from January to March 1942 appear now to exist only in the ORB, the original pilots’ reports having been lost.

Hockey returns via Cabourg, but flies a westerly course to land at St Eval after a six-and-a-half hour trip. St Eval is rather a long way out of the way; but the station had been warned to expect him. Coltishall reports that their airfield is ‘out’ due to weather, so we can assume that poor weather is to blame.

Sea evacuation

On the same night several agents of the SOE RF Section OVERCLOUD team are extracted by MGB 314 from Ile-Guénnoc. Several of these agents have previously been parachuted in: Forman, Labit, Chenal, Paul Simon, and Joêl and Yves Le Tac. The episode is fully described by Brooks Richards (who was in MGB 314’s crew) in ‘Secret Flotillas’.



TNA AIR 20/8334, Encl. 135A
TNA HS4/177

Operation to Saumur area

Ron Hockey logbook

Sea evacuation OVERCLOUD III

Brooks Richards, ‘Secret Flotillas Vol. I’, pp 115-116; Appendix A, p.313.