Operation EPSOM, Malta-Sarajevo
The operation, though substantially different in execution from the December attempt, has the same code-name: EPSOM. The target has been changed, and is much further north, and the quantity of goods to be dropped has increased.
Austin takes off from Luqa, Malta, in Whitley Z9159 at 20.32. (The Wireless-Operator records 21.10, the difference may be that between engine-start as recorded by the pilot, and actual take-off recorded by the Wireless-Operator.) Aside from the Rear-Gunner, Sergeant Smart, who doubles as Despatcher, Austin’s crew consists of commissioned officers. As it had been the NCOs of his pre-Christmas crew who pilfered the containers for their gold sovereigns, one could understand any distrust on Austin’s part, but it is more likely that he has had to select local aircrew who can be trusted to keep their mouths shut about the nature of their activity. He may have been given instructions to this effect. The only member of his original crew is the Wireless-Operator; the Second Pilot is P/O Scott and the Navigator is P/O Lambert.
The navigator sets a course for ‘Sasene Island’ (now Sazan, off the Albanian town of Vlorê). On ETA it is obscured by strato-cumulus cloud. They change course for Point Platomen (which I have been unable to identify) but at 00.40, through a gap in the clouds, they are able to pinpoint on a town which Austin records as ‘Idjoka'(also unidentified). On ETA for Sarajevo they start a square search for the city. It is thought to be some fifteen miles west of their position. They fly the first leg due west; after eight minutes they see Sarajevo, previously obscured by its surrounding mountains (some of them 5,000 feet high) and by thick cloud.
They set course for the pinpoint, which is Mount Romanija, about thirteen miles east of Sarajevo. At this point, as Austin prepares to drop the two agents, he realises that his air-speed indicator, his altimeter and his rate-of-climb indicator are no longer functioning, at all. He writes later: ‘Consequently the height and speed could only be gauged roughly.’ An understatement.
They are not expecting a reception committee, and after making two circuits of the area Austin selects a clearing in the woods that cover the mountain. On one of the circuits the Navigator spots whot looks like the flashes of rifle fire about a mile and a half from the clearing. The agents are warned about this before they jump, but it’s not enough to put them off. They know they would not be given a second chance. Austin makes the first run-up at 02.10, dropping the two agents, eight containers and a W/T set in a single stick from about 600-700 feet above the ground. He flies in a shallow dive at about 100 mph, rather faster than normal, and from higher than normal; as he has no instruments he needs extra margins of height and speed.
They make a second circuit, and the Navigator sees a flashing white light, a pre-arranged signal as a guide for dropping the second stick. The second run was made slightly lower, at about 500 feet, and two more men and another W/T were dropped, again in a shallow dive at the same speed. As they leave the target area for the coast the Navigator thinks he sees a green light from the ground, another pre-arranged signal that all is well, but he cannot be certain.
They soon run into a continuous layer of strato-cumulus at 7,000 feet, which gives them cover until they are within 250 miles of Malta, which they reach at 07.30. They land at Luqa fifteen minutes later. Oddly, the Wireless-Operator records the sortie lasting until 11.05.
TNA AIR 20/8504
Logbooks, S/Ldrs JB Austin, DFC, and AGW Livingstone, DFC.