Tag Archives: Jackson

A.J. (Ashley Duke) Jackson

Tuesday, 8 April 1941

Operation to Belgium

Flt Lt A.D. Jackson (believed to be Ashley Duke Jackson, 33261) flies his first operation with the Special Duties Flight. Jackson was remembered by his fellow-pilots as either South African or Rhodesian. Before coming to 1419 Flight he had been instructing on Whitleys at No. 10 OTU. By the end of 1940 Sqn Ldr Knowles, then at the Air Ministry in charge of planning 419 Flight’s operations, had become something of a nuisance at Abingdon, repeatedly tapping 10 OTU’s instructor-pool for experienced aircrew: first it had been Sergeants Bernard and Davies, both W/T instructors, then F/O Jack Oettle. In December he’d asked Air Commodore Archie Boyle, the Air Ministry’s Director of Intelligence, to use his influence to procure Jackson for 419 Flight. Even with Boyle’s efforts Jackson’s transfer didn’t take place until March.

Jackson’s operational report is undated, but the logbook of Group Captain Ron Hockey, who flew as Jackson’s Second Pilot on this operation, identifies the date of the sortie, their first with the Flight. Jackson’s crew includes a Sergeant Besant as Observer. Sgt Besant does not appear in any later operational reports, so he appears to have been posted out. The Whitley is P5029, repaired after its mishap at Sumburgh in February.

They take off from Stradishall, then set course for the Belgian coast at 21.16, climbing to 5,000 feet for the crossing. With cloud at 3,000 ft, they are unable to see the English coast to see whether they are on track. The wireless operator obtains a back bearing (QDM) from a radio beacon at Stradishall, which verifies that they are. They make landfall in clear weather at Knokke, but as they lose height to 2,000 feet the Whitley is picked up by searchlights and attacked by coastal flak batteries north-east of Zeebrugge, though their firing is wide. Sgt Bramley, the rear gunner, succeeds in putting one of the searchlights out. Jackson flies inland to somewhere he records as ‘Ailtroe’, arriving at 22.23. There they alter course for ‘Watten’, flying slowly at a height of 1,500 feet, and the despatcher is instructed to ‘commence operations’.

Their flight-path takes them across the Franco-Belgian border to ‘Watten’. They return on an reciprocal course, crossing the border at ‘Warhoudt’. They continue on the same course, passing over Bruges. During the whole exercise they fly over several aerodromes, but encounter no searchlight or flak opposition until they leave the coast for the North Sea, when they are engaged by three searchlights.

This operation does not tie in with any known agent; indeed, may have been a leaflet-dropping exercise, to give a new crew valuable experience and to test whether they could do the job later with a real agent. Jackson’s report on this operation is difficult to analyze because many of the locations his report mentions are difficult to identify: while ‘Knock’ can be identified as Knokke with certainty, ‘Ailtroe’ might be Aalter. Or it may not. ‘Watten’ could be the village in France near St Omer, the later site of the V-2 launching base. ‘Warhoudt’ is untraceable, at least by the author.

Sources

TNA AIR 20/8334, encl. 5A.
Pilot’s logbook, Grp Capt. R.C. Hockey


Tuesday 8 April 1941

Operation to Belgium

Flt Lt A.D. Jackson (believed to be Ashley Duke Jackson, 33261) flies his first operation with the Special Duties Flight. Jackson was remembered by his fellow-pilots as either South African or Rhodesian. Before coming to 1419 Flight he had been instructing on Whitleys at No. 10 OTU. By the end of 1940 Sqn Ldr Knowles, then at the Air Ministry in charge of planning 419 Flight’s operations, had become something of a nuisance at Abingdon, repeatedly tapping 10 OTU’s instructor-pool for experienced aircrew: first it had been Sergeants Bernard and Davies, both W/T instructors, then F/O Jack Oettle. In December he’d asked Air Commodore Archie Boyle, the Air Ministry’s Director of Intelligence, to use his influence to procure Jackson for 419 Flight. Even with Boyle’s efforts Jackson’s transfer didn’t take place until March.

Jackson’s operational report is undated, but the logbook of Group Captain Ron Hockey, who flew as Jackson’s Second Pilot on this operation, identifies the date of the sortie, their first with the Flight. Jackson’s crew includes a Sergeant Besant as Observer. Sgt Besant does not appear in any later operational reports, so he appears to have been posted out. The Whitley is P5029, repaired after its mishap at Sumburgh in February.

They take off from Stradishall, then set course for the Belgian coast at 21.16, climbing to 5,000 feet for the crossing. With cloud at 3,000 ft, they are unable to see the English coast to see whether they are on track. The wireless operator obtains a back bearing (QDM) from a radio beacon at Stradishall, which verifies that they are. They make landfall in clear weather at Knokke, but as they lose height to 2,000 feet the Whitley is picked up by searchlights and attacked by coastal flak batteries north-east of Zeebrugge, though their firing is wide. Sgt Bramley, the rear gunner, succeeds in putting one of the searchlights out. Jackson flies inland to somewhere he records as ‘AILTROE’, arriving at 22.23. There they alter course for ‘WATTEN’, flying slowly at a height of 1,500 feet, and the despatcher is instructed to ‘commence operations’.

Their flight-path takes them across the Franco-Belgian border to ‘WATTEN’. They return on an reciprocal course, crossing the border at ‘WARHOUDT’. They continue on the same course, passing over Bruges. During the whole exercise they fly over several aerodromes, but encounter no searchlight or flak opposition until they leave the coast for the North Sea, when they are engaged by three searchlights.

This operation does not tie in with any known agent; indeed, may have been a leaflet-dropping exercise, to give a new crew valuable experience and to test whether they could do the job later with a real agent. Jackson’s report on this operation is difficult to analyze because many of the locations his report mentions are difficult to identify: while ‘Knock’ can be identified as Knokke with certainty, ‘Ailtroe’ might be Aalter. Or it may not. ‘Watten’ could be the village in France near St Omer, the later site of the V-2 launching base. ‘Warhoudt’ is untraceable, at least by the author.

Update March 2018 – Operation Columba

The purpose of this sortie has now become clear: it was not pamphlets that the crew dropped in a line across the Franco-Belgian border, but pigeons. This sortie was the first operation in a programme to drop small packages over Nazi-occupied Europe. Each package contained a homing-pigeon, food and water (for the pigeon), rice-paper, a pencil and a tiny green container for a written message. Anyone finding one of these might provide British Intelligence with useful information about the occupiers, but for anyone caught with one of these pigeons the result would have been a death-sentence. Many of these containers were handed over to the authorities, but several brave individuals wrote messages and released the pigeon to return to England. Of those pigeons dropped this night, two made it back to England.

From the COLUMBA file in the National Archive, the Belgian place-names, once elusive, become clear. The end-point of the Whitley’s dropping-run is indeed the French village of Watten; later in the war a vast blockhouse to house a V-2 launching complex will be built in the woods nearby. The first pigeon to returned is sent from the Belgian village of Herzeele. By drawing a line from Watten through Herzeele, the two towns of AALTER and WORMHOUT are on the track.

Sources

TNA AIR 20/8334, encl. 5A.
Pilot’s logbook, Grp Capt. R.C. Hockey

Gordon Corera, ‘Secret Pigeon Service’, pp. 24, 37-8.
TNA AIR 20/8457 (Operation COLUMBA)

Tuesday, 6 May 1941

Operation MARINE/ALBION

This is the second attempt, flown by the same crew. This time they are carrying two packets of ‘nickels’, which implies neither pigeons nor bombs. The weather is considerably worse: after take-off they flew under 10/10th cloud to the Belgian coast, which they see through a break in the continuous layer beneath them. Flying above continuous cloud at 6,500 feet to the target area, they try to descend, but icing forces them to climb again. They achieve this ‘with difficulty’, and the operation is abandoned. On the return journey they see the mining town of Charleroi through a cloud-gap, and drop their leaflets before heading for the coast and home.

Bombs are not carried again on Special Duties operations for more than a year, and then the circumstances are quite different. It may have been decided that dropping bombs would put the valuable passengers at increased risk: a ‘Joe’ primed for dropping is the result of several months’ training; in some cases they were irreplaceable. The possible benefit to the war from a few bombs is negligible.

Operation COLUMBA

A pigeon arrives back in the UK on 7th May from West Flanders. This could have been one of those dropped by Jackson on 8 April, but a month would have been a very long time to keep a pigeon, unless it had been injured in dropping.

Friday, 9 May 1941

Operation MARINE/ALBION

Richard van de Walle and Albert Thiou are successfully parachuted into the Eupen district of north-eastern Belgium on the third attempt.

This time the weather is better. Jackson and his crew also take along a passenger: S/Ldr Jack Benham of the parachute training staff at Ringway. A week later Benham will take command of the Parachute Training Squadron at Ringway. As Ringway is responsible for agents’ parachute training, he is getting first-hand experience of the operational side.

Soon after the Whitley crosses the coast at Knokke it is bracketed by accurate and simultaneous searchlights and flak, but remains undamaged. Ground haze makes visibility difficult as they fly south, then east, but eventually they pick up a pinpoint, do their timed run and drop the two agents. They return to the coast via Poperinghe, where they drop their quota of COLUMBA pigeons; six return to the UK. They return to Stradishall at just after 4 a.m.

Aftermath

On 5th June, Gp/Capt. John Bradley, DFC, S/Ldr Knowles’s boss at the Air Ministry (for the Flight receives its operational orders direct from Air Intelligence), writes asking for clarification about two operations. One of these is MARINE/ALBION. It has been reported back to SIS that the aircraft had flown over the pre-selected spot, was seen by people waiting for them on the ground, but the agents were dropped elsewhere. Neither agent has made contact. Worse, the two agents are reported to have been dropped over Germany.

Knowles assures Bradley that the crew has made every effort to drop the agents at the correct place. F/Lt Jackson writes a second report detailing his actions precisely: they had positively identified the Gileppe reservoir before flying for two minutes on a bearing of about 326 degrees true, (the ‘about’ because the observer was guiding the pilot from the bomb-aimer’s position, using a large-scale map). This is somewhat undermined by Knowles’s covering note, which asserts that they steered due north from the reservoir.

The map that accompanies Jackson’s memo (of which only a file copy exists) has not survived, at least publicly. The dropping-point appears to have been the high ground to the north or north-east of Limbourg, the exact position being dependent on the Whitley’s speed of between 80 and 100 knots, and its position over the lake, which is over a mile long.

If they were dropped in the right place, on target, they may still have landed in Germany. On 29 July 1940 the districts of Eupen, Malmedy and Sankt Vith had been annexed to Germany. Even a western-most placement of the target would still have been in Germany. It is entirely possible that neither the agents nor their handlers in the UK were aware of the boundary changes. There’s certainly no indication in the correspondence.

It may be significant that the crew had not reported any lights from a ground-party; according to the Air Ministry correspondence there were people on the ground waiting for the agents. But these were very early days, and almost all drops were done ‘blind’; a ground-party with torches for guidance and signalling would have been exceptional.

There is another possibility, but an unlikely one. What they took for Lac de Gileppe might just have been Lake Eupen, a smaller but similar lake about 8 km (5 miles) further east. It. too, has a dam at the western end, but the lake is smaller, its shape and orientation is very different, and there is no marshland on the south shore. Built in 1938, the reservoir was not inaugurated until 1950 by Prince Charles of Belgium. It may not have been filled in May 1941.

In a biography of Leopold III, mention is made of two agents dropped in May 1941, Richard Van de Walle, with Albert Thiou as his W/T operator. De Walle’s mission was to enter the service of an un-named Belgian aristocrat who would act as an intermediary with the King, to allow the King to have a link with his government-in-exile. Debruyne says that Van de Walle was arrested within hours of his landing in Belgium.

Operation FELIX (pick-up)

Philip Schneidau is picked up by Lysander from south of Montigny by Gordon Scotter. This third Lysander pick-up operation is Philip Schneidau’s second. Parachuted in on the night of 12-13 March his main purpose has been to provide his FELIX circuit with a W/T set.

When Schneidau made his perilous parachute-landing in March, his transmitter/receiver was damaged. The set was left with Felix Jond, who found a wireless repair shop in Paris prepared to mend it. The set was still not working properly, and communication with England has been difficult. Eventually Schneidau has got through on the repaired wireless, and arrangements have been made for 9 May. Philip had been adamant that his wife and young son should be evacuated, too, and the RAF had agreed, eventually. Scotter has lined the rear canopy with blackout curtains in case the boy became frightened during the trip; which must have confused Michel COULOMB, for they had been in place for the earlier pick-up.

A plateau south of Montigny, between La Genevraye and Moncourt-Fromonville, is an almost ideal location for a landing site. Not far from a road, a landed aircraft would have been invisible behind the rise. Scotter arrives from Tangmere and starts searching an area slightly to the north. Philip’s torches lead him to the right place, and Scotter lands after exchanging signals. After his earlier episode with Coulomb/Cartwright, Scotter is understandably nervous. When a single figure he does not recognise hoists himself level with the cockpit Scotter draws his service revolver and waves it at the intruder. Perhaps he has been expecting someone resembling the dapper RAF officer he’d met two months before, with a wife and child ready to board. But Schneidau may have re-adopted the bearded disguise he’d used on his first mission, and he’s alone.

Schneidau tells Scotter to “put that bloody thing away”, gathers up his torches into a rucksack, and climbs aboard. They take off and the return journey is uneventful. They have a night fighter escort for the final stage of the journey, which Schneidau may have misinterpreted as enemy fighters which they ‘dodged’.

Sunday, 11 May 1941

Operation JOSEPHINE B

The first attempt at Operation JOSEPHINE had ended badly for the Whitley’s crew, with two fatalities and three seriously wounded, including the pilot, F/Lt Jack Oettle. The Polish agents had not been seriously harmed, but the delay had allowed time for three Frenchmen from Brigadier Gubbins’s newly-established RF Section of SOE to be prepared for the operation. Sgt J. Forman (who had made it back remarkably quickly from Operation SAVANNA), Sous-Lt Raymond Varnier, and Sous-Lt Raymond Cabard were the agents. The scale of the operation was half that of the earlier attempt, but the intended outcome wasn’t impeded.

Jackson and his crew took off from Stradishall half an hour before midnight, but had to circle Abingdon while the wireless-operator checked out a fault with his set. On such a long-range flight the W/T equipment was essential for navigation, it being used to take bearings from home-based radio beacons and, once over France, from foreign radio stations. These were fed to the Navigator. A strong German Forces’ transmitter at Rennes, in Brittany, was especially useful.

Once over Tangmere, course was set for ‘Ile Deke’ (Jackson’s version of the Île d’Aix, between the Île d’Oléron and the mainland). They flew at 8,000 feet above 10/10th cloud until they passed 48°30’N (roughly level with Avranches), the cloud cleared, replaced by low mist and haze.

They eventually spotted La Rochelle to port, and changed course for the target area. Once over the Bordeaux area the crew was expecting some kind of diversionary raid (such as 2 Group had laid on for SAVANNA) to cover their parachuting activity, but there was none. The three agents were dropped at about 01.30, and were seen to have dropped safely with their container near a wood.

After dropping the agents the Whitley headed west, away from trouble into the Bay of Biscay, then north to Ushant, and so to St. Eval, which they spotted by searchlights playing on the underside of the cloud-base. It’s not clear whether St Eval was guiding them in; it was quite common practice for searchlights to shepherd an errant bomber to its base in this manner.

A final comment in the report: “the W/T installation was unreliable for HF/DF assistance” indicates that their only navigation aid beside the aircraft compass was little use. All things considered, the crew did well to find their target, and almost as well to find their way back. It took only a small error, or series of small errors, for an aircraft without W/T aids to miss the south-west peninsula and end up in the Irish Sea. Hence the searchlights over St Eval.

To find out how the operation went after the agents’ landing, I suggest you look at the Wikipedia page on Operation JOSEPHINE.