Tag Archives: Jones

Wednesday, 28 January 1942

These sorties are attempted on a night of appalling weather, disastrous for Bomber Command, in which a cold front contributes to the loss of 36 bombers. The forecast for the night must have been favourable, for seven aircraft from 138 Squadron are out that night, including a Lysander, and Bomber Command has ordered raids on a wide range of targets. But, as John Nesbitt-Dufort records in his book ‘Black Lysander’, a cold weather front of impassable ferocity moves south-eastwards across northern Europe. Returning bombers are faced with a strong, freezing head-wind on the return leg. Four 138 Squadron Whitleys do not complete their operations due to the weather, with one successful. One Whitley is lost, with all its crew. The Lysander has to make a forced-landing in France, its pilot going into hiding. From the timings recorded it appears that the bad weather does not make itself felt until around midnight, and Nesbitt-Dufort would certainly not have attempted his operation had he known what was to block his return. Weather forecasting was reliant on weather-ship observations out in the Atlantic, with almost no data available from Occupied Europe, and weather-modelling was primitive.

Operation LUCKYSHOT / WEASEL

The target in Belgium may be near Lac Gileppe, recorded on a December ’41 ATF in ink. This confirmed in a December-January ATF, which indicates the target to be Verviers, the nearest town. These show the operations are to drop one agent and four containers, but an ATF for 23 January shows two packages, six containers and six pigeons; no agent.

P/O Anderle takes off at 19.01. He crosses the French coast at 20.52, probably at Berck-sur-Mer or Le Crotoy, and sets course for St Quentin. He describes weather conditions as ‘bad’, and fails to find the target area. He sets course for the French coast, dropping leaflets over a ‘small town some two miles south of Amiens’. He sets course for Stradishall, and lands at 01.44.

Operation BRANDROLL/BALDRIC

Sgt Peterson flies a sortie delivering a pair of SIS operations to France. Unsurprisingly, the identity of both BRANDROLL and BALDRIC remains a mystery. The relevant ATF shows that the sortie was to northern France, and that the ‘cargo’ was to be one man and one ‘A’ type. (The ‘A’ type could be either a cargo parachute (the ‘A’ type had originally been designed as a cargo parachute), or an agent suspended beneath a cargo (usually a W/T set or a rucksack) above his head. In this case it is two agents, one an organiser using an ‘X’ type (the standard paratroop harness & canopy) and the other his W/T operator plus set.

The 138 Squadron ORB records that Sgt Peterson abandons the operation because the target area is unidentifiable, obliterated by snow. He returns to Stradishall and lands at 01.44.

Operations PERIWIG 1/MARMOSET; MANFRIDAY/INTERSECTION

Sgt Wilde is the skipper for this sortie. He takes off in Whitley Z9286 from Stradishall at 19.15. He crosses the French coast at 21.03 hrs, and pinpoints on Valenciennes. He flies a rather wavy course along the canal to Mons, and from there sets course for the target, some 6 km east of Mons. It appears that the reception committee is absent, and the three agents are dropped, to the crew’s satisfaction at least. Wilde then goes on to drop leaflets over Douai on the route out. Slight enemy opposition from the ground before they cross the French coast at 22.56. They land at base at 01.30.

However, according to MRD Foot, the agents are dropped not in Belgium but slightly over the French border, near Mauberge. Undaunted, MANFRIDAY and INTERSECTION cross into Belgium and hide up in Mons without incident. MANFRIDAY is Sgt Oscar Catherine, and his W/T-operator companion Gaston Aarens is code-named INTERSECTION. Aarens lasts almost to the end of March before being caught at his set; and talks. His W/T set is used by the Germans to inveigle other agents to be dropped in a small-scale version of ‘Der Englandspiel’; unsurprising, as Giskes’ responsibilities also run to Belgium. Catherine has a varied career for a year: he plans industrial sabotage and organises a resistance newspaper before his capture in January 1943, his face well-known to the Abwehr. Somehow he survives Dachau.

MARMOSET, 20-year-old Achille Hottia, is being sent out to assist Armand Campion, parachuted in August 1941. PERIWIG 1 is a W/T set for Campion. Hottia makes his own way over the border into Belgium. Coincidentally, on this same night Campion is captured at his set; fortunate for Hottia that his delivery by the RAF has been delayed. However, Campion immediately betrays everyone he has met since he parachuted. Once in Belgium Hottia learns of Campion’s arrest and makes himself scarce, attempting to return to the UK via France and Spain along an escape-line. He narrowly escapes an ambush on France, returns to Belgium and meets up to Octave Fabri, who had helped to train him in England. The two work together for a while before Hottia makes another attempt to get back to the UK. This time, in April 1943, he is captured. He is shot in September.

Operation BALACLAVA I / CANTICLE / DUNCAN

P/O W.R. Austin flies this sortie to Arlon, to deliver 6 containers to André Fonck (BALACLAVA), and to drop an agent Alphonse Delmeire (CANTICLE); Delmeire is to provide DUNCAN (F. Vergucht) with a W/T set dropped in an ‘A’ type cargo parachute.

The recently-commissioned P/O Austin takes off in Whitley Z9232 at 19.10. In a brief report in the ORB (there is no other): ‘Weather conditions not satisfactory, so operation abandoned.’ Leaflets are dropped over Lens — apparently on both the outward and return legs — and he lands back at Stradishall at 23.16.

The BALACLAVA drop is to Etalle, to the west of Arlon, and will eventually be dropped on 2 March, but as it is not combined with any other operation, Fonck is able to continue operating; at least until the ‘Gonio’ (French slang for the German wireless interception teams) surround his parents’ farm in May 1942.

But it is interesting to speculate on the situation had CANTICLE/DUNCAN been delivered on this night, for they are dropped on 1 March with Operation PERIWIG, which means a W/T set for Armand Campion. By this time Campion has been caught, squeezed and his set hijacked. The reception is organised by the Germans. Delmeire is dropped well off-target courtesy of poor navigation, so he evades capture, but as soon as he tries to contact Campion at a pre-arranged meeting, he is arrested and disappears for ever. The other set for DUNCAN does not lead the Germans to Vergucht, but without a W/T set he cannot operate; he makes his way to England, arriving by the end of 1943.

Operation BERYL 1

This sortie by Nesbitt-Dufort is well-documented, having been recounted in several books with varying degrees of accuracy. Dufort’s own post-war account in ‘Black Lysander’ doesn’t quite square with the report that he wrote shortly afterwards. This is not surprising: he is unlikely to have had access to the official report once he had submitted it.

Dufort is to deliver one agent (identity unknown) with a suitcase, and pick up two important Free French (BCRA) intelligence figures: Lt Roger Mitchell (BRICK) and Maurice Duclos (SAINT-JACQUES) for consultations in London.

All goes well for the outward journey and the landing: Nesbitt-Dufort takes off from Tangmere in T1508 at 19.15, and sets course for Trouville, just far enough west of the Seine estuary not to come under Le Havre’s fierce anti-aircraft defences, but at 9,000 feet he’s above all but the heaviest flak. He encounters a little icing, but nothing serious. He pinpoints on the Loire and map-reads to the target, Issoudun aerodrome, currently disused, where he lands. He disembarks his single passenger and the two others take his place.

He takes off and heads north, setting course for Fécamp, aiming to cross the English coast at Beachy Head. After about an hour in the air, he sees an angry wall of cloud ahead of him, barring the way home. The cloud extends from about 700 feet upwards, beyond 30,000 feet, well beyond the ceiling of a Lysander. First he flies west to see if he can find a gap, then east for double the time: no way through. He then tries to fly beneath the 10/10ths cloud, but is forced lower and lower until he is almost hedge-hopping. His windscreen and the leading-edges of his wings ice up; this low down it is suicidal. He turns south and exits the cloud. At this point he estimates that he is south of the Seine, level with Bernay, south-west of Rouen.

Now he attempts to climb as high as the Lysander will let him, bearing in mind that he has two passengers and their valuable suitcases of documents. He is reluctant to try this, not least because he is far from sure of his position. His intercom and R/T have packed up: not only can he not talk with his passengers, but he won’t be able to get a homing bearing from base once he is clear of the French coast. His position (and he may know something about it from Wally Farley, who recruited him to the job) is similar to that faced by Farley in October 1940; who was fortunate to end up in Scotland.

But Nesbitt-Dufort has no alternative if he is to get his passengers back to England. He climbs to 10,000 feet and enters the boiling mass of cloud. Almost immediately the Lysander is tossed about like an autumn leaf; the air-speed indicator ices up, the gyro-compass fails in the electrical storm and the aircraft ices up, almost stalling the engine. He loses height to seven thousand feet, then six, and only just retains control of the aircraft. Fortunately the magnetic compass still works well enough for him to coax the Lysander onto an approximately southerly course, and he emerges from the cloud at less than 1,000 feet.

He has been flying for nearly six hours, much of it at high engine-boost. He reckons he has about 50 gallons of petrol left. It is about 1 a.m. and they are not going to make it back. He makes the decision to fly south, past the demarcation line and back into Vichy France, into the countryside around Châteauroux. He crosses the Loire at Orleans, and crosses the demarcation line at Bourges, heading for Issoudun. He knows he cannot return to the same airfield, even if he can find it, so he decides to put down in a large field. Unfortunately the field is several smaller fields, with a raised road running between. The ground is frozen and the brakes have little effect; what may have been more relevant is his direction, The undercarriage meets the raised edge to the field and the Lysander capsizes on to its nose. From photos taken shortly after by a local photographer it appears that he has landed in a south-easterly direction, downwind, making his landing run much longer.

The IFF destruction charge has detonated when they crashed (probably by a Graviner inertia trigger). Nesbitt-Dufort tries to set the Lysander on fire by stabbing at the petrol tanks with a knife borrowed from Duclos, but the self-sealing fuel tanks hamper the process. Three times, with three flares he manages to get a small trickle of petrol ablaze, but eventually they have to give up and make tracks.

Duclos goes into Issoudun, makes contact with the station-master, and returns to the other two in a car. Dufort, Duclos and Mitchell are soon hidden by the station-master’s family, at great risk, concealed for much of the time in a cubby-hole beneath the railway platform.

Operation MOUSE / VERMILION / WHITSUN

At 19.00 P/O Smith takes off in Whitley Z9287, but less then two hours later, at 20.40, he abandons the sortie due to ‘icing and electrical disturbances’. He lands back at Stradishall at 23.16.

This is another attempt to drop Edmond Courtin (MOUSE), with one set for himself, another for the discouraged Frederic Wampach (VERMILION). A rather plaintive memo dated January 15th sums up the situation as it is known in London:

VERMILION’s W/T set has never functioned, though we heard him once very faintly on the 29th October 1941. We made arrangements to send over another radio operator, i.e. MOUSE, who was taking 2 W/T sets with him, one for himseLf and a new one for VERMILION.
MOUSE was scheduled to leave by the November moon, but owing to the RAF not playing, he has been hanging around here, and is still awaiting departure. We have been expecting him to go off at any time, and that is the reason why you have not been informed that VERMILION was definitely out of action. We hope that MOUSE will leave at the beginning of the moon period in about a week’s time.

WHITSUN appears to be Claude Lamirault with a new codename; this is another instance of an SIS operation being combined with an SOE one, albeit concerned with different countries.

Operation MUSJID / MANDAMUS / MAJORDOMO

At 19.34 Sgt E.E. Jones takes off from Stradishall in Whitley Z6728, ‘F’. His aircraft is lost on the return leg. Ken Merrick wrote of a report of engine trouble and a fading radar plot out to sea. Though several aircraft from No. 11 Group go out searching for it the next day, they find nothing. Freddie Clark wrote that the Whitley was ditched 20 miles off the coast; two bodies were apparently washed up in a dinghy in mid-February, though he gave no details about where this information came from. Wing Commander Jack Benham had acted as the Despatcher on this sortie and the Moulin one. One of the pioneers on the staff of the parachute school at Ringway, in the summer of 1941 Benham had been due for a posting to India to develop parachute training there but had been found medically unfit for an overseas posting, so came to Stradishall, though in what official capacity is not entirely clear. An obituary published by the Harrington Museum indicates that he was a Despatch Officer, but considering his expertise, his role may have been to oversee the training of the squadron’s despatchers, which had
no official RAF ‘trade’.

Sergeant Jones and several of his crew had delivered Jean Moulin to France in January. Their last sortie would not be in vain: far from it. They were to drop six containers to Guy Stinglhamber (MUSJID) who had been in Belgium since the previous September, and to insert two agents, André Wendelen (MANDAMUS) and his wireless operator, Jean Brion (MAJORDOMO). We have no way of knowing whether MUSJID received his containers, but we do know that the two agents were dropped successfully. Brion was active for nearly five months before being caught by the German direction-finders. Wendelen and Brion were to work in the Liège area on sabotage and propaganda, but the forty-year-old Wendelen met a like-minded but younger Jean Burgers and together they started a formidable sabotage organisation that came to be known as ‘Groupe G’. Wendelen was effective until the Liberation, operating under different identities until Belgium was overrun by Allied forces in 1944.

Sources

LUCKYSHOT/WEASEL

138 Squadron ORB
138 Squadron Operational Summary

PERIWIG 1/MARMOSET/MANFRIDAY/INTERSECTION

MRD Foot, SOEILC, pp.271-4

BALACLAVA/CANTICLE/DUNCAN

MRD Foot, SOEILC, pp. 252-3, 265-7, 270

BERYL 1

Didier Dubant: 50 Ans d’Aviation dans le Ciel de l’Indre, 1909-1959, Editions Sutton.
Personal on-site research

MOUSE/VERMILION/WHITSUN

TNA HS6/184, Encl. 20B
Alya Aglan, Histoire du Réseau JADE-FITZROY (copy In British Library, cited by Pierre Tillon.
MRD Foot, SOEILC, pp. 259-62

MUSJID/MANDAMUS/MAJORDOMO

Stradishall Ops log
MRD Foot, SOEILC, pp.277-9
Jack Benham obituary in the Harrington Museum magazine Dropzone, Vol. 10, Issue 1 (2012)

Monday, 5 January 1942

Three operations, possibly four, are planned for this night. All are to Norway, and the targets are distant enough to require the aircraft to set off from the UK’s far north. W/Cdr Farley, CO of 138 Squadron, flies one of the two Whitleys, and Sgt E.E. Jones the other. We have only Farley’s report on his attempt, plus data from Air Transport Forms (ATFs). Sgt Jones either does not write one or it has been lost. Other information comes from SOE and MI5 files and post-war history of the Norwegian resistance.

Operation ANVIL/LARK

According to an Air Transport Form (ATF) from December 1941, ANVIL consists of two agents. The target is given as Lillehammer, and the departure date is an optimistic 4 December. A later ATF, with a ‘delivery date’ of 23/12, identifies ANVIL’s target as ‘E.NE. Lillehammer’, deep in the hinterland of Norway’s southern bulge, near the Swedish border. LARK, on the other hand, is on the coast, south-west of Trondheim and some 180 miles west of ANVIL. They are both some 350 miles further north than CHEESE/FASTING of a few nights before.

The operation is to be flown by W/Cdr Walter Farley from RAF Wick, almost at the north-eastern tip of Scotland. Sgt E.E. Jones is to fly another operation (ANCHOR) to the same area of Norway as ANVIL, possibly to the same drop site, so it is baffling as to why they are not combined, especially as the targets for ANVIL and LARK are so far apart.

The two pilots and their crews attempt to fly to Wick in preparation for the attempt. At 11.12 W/Cdr Farley asks the Ops Room to signal Wick for permission to operate two Whitleys from there tonight. Twenty five minutes later Wick signals back that they can accommodate two Whitleys and their crews. Farley will fly NF-K (Z9158) and Sgt Jones will take NF-A (Z9125), both taking off at 13.30; they plan to reach Wick at 16.30, the route being Peterborough – York – Sterling (sic) – Westerdale – Wick.

They take off about an hour later than planned. Farley (who has swapped into Whitley NF-C) gets as far as Linton-on-Ouse, and plans to operate from there. He takes off at

It is hard to believe, given Britain’s capabilities at the start of 1942, but LARK was intended to prepare the ground for an invasion of Norway about half-way along the west coast, with the aim of bisecting the country and isolating German forces north of Trondheim.

Operation ANCHOR (probably also CROW)

There is no report by Sgt Jones on his operation, to which Farley refers only obliquely in his report. We can, however, trace Jones’s progress through the Stradishall ops log. At 08.35 Stradishall is told that Sgt Jones is to fly a cross-country to Middleton St George at 09.45, but this is cancelled ten minutes later. (This may have been for some technical modifications, postponed.)

Jones takes off three minutes after Farley and somehow gets through to Wick, though briefly he is mis-understood to have landed at Leuchars. He plans to operate from Wick: at 21.10 Wick’s Station-Commander asks Stradishall for clarification about his responsibility for Sgt Jones’s Whitley; F/Lt Hockey signals back that he has full discretion regarding the weather. The operation is cancelled.

At 15.17 the next day there is a favourable Met. forecast for that night (the 6th). Unfortunately, as Jones taxies out he damages a wing and has to abandon. On the 7th, at about midday, Jones is signalled to standby for operations that night and for the 8-9th, and therefore ordered to return to Stradishall at the first opportunity. (It would appear that ANCHOR has been cancelled.) At 15.36 a cypher signal arrives from Wick indicating that Sgt Jones was returning. Actually he takes off at 13.30. Wick later signals that Jones has been ordered to land at Thornaby, but an aircraft that does there, initially reported to be Jones’s, turns out to be a Hudson. By six p.m. there is no news of Jones, and the log shows that everyone fears the worst; at 18.55 the Air Ministry is informed that he is overdue. At 19.30 Group wants to know Jones’s call-sign. At 20.20 a signal comes in that Whitley ‘A’ has force-landed at Prestwick with all its instruments U/S (unserviceable). His passengers have been accommodated and they are all returning tomorrow.

ANCHOR is Torbjorn Gulbrandsen, and CROW is his wireless-operator, Ernst Kirkby Jacobsen. They are eventually inserted by sea on the 24th February 1942. In May 1942 ANCHOR is captured, and after interrogation by the Gestapo he escapes and makes a successful return to the UK. Later, CROW also manages to return to the UK, and it soon becomes clear that ANCHOR has been allowed to escape by the Germans.  The Gestapo gained ANCHOR’s co-operation, at considerable cost to the Norwegian resistance, after the Gestapo threatened Gulbrandsen with action against his family. He spends the rest of the war at STS26.

Sources

Pilots’ Ops reports: TNA AIR 20/8334, Encl. 129A (Another copy of the first page at Encl. 137A.)
Stradishall Log: TNA AIR 14/2529
TNA HS 2/159 & 160 Operation LARK
TNA HS 2/149 Operation ANCHOR
TNA HS 2/152 Operation CROW
TNA KV2/ 829 MI5 file on ANCHOR

Thursday, 1 January 1942

Operations MAINMAST, ROBERT, and PERCH)

Though he will have been entirely unaware of it, Sergeant Jones is given one of the most far-reaching operations of the clandestine war: the insertion of General de Gaulle’s chosen emissary to the French Resistance, then still half-formed and largely ineffective, to mould an weld them into an effective force for the restitution of France and the recovery of its pride. Jean Moulin, a French Deputy tortured and sacked for his acts of defiance against the Nazi regime, has made his way to England in the autumn of 1941. He is now to be returned to France by air. The Despatcher’s identity is a clue to the operation’s importance, for he is the higghly-experienced W/Cdr Jack Benham, who has left Ringway for 138 Squadron.

Sgt Jones takes off from Stradishall at 16.20. The importance of this operation may dictate a route that spends a minimum of time over Nazi-occupied France, for it is an unusual route: to St Eval, where they refuel before apparently flying either across or round the western end of Brittany to cross the French coast from the Bay of Biscay. For much of this section they are plagued by thin stratus cloud which renders the sea and ground beneath indistinguishable. It is hard to make complete sense of Smith’s report, but he appears to have flown across the south-west corner of France, identifying Mt Canigou in the Pyrenees ahead, then flying east along the Mediterranean coast to finding the mouth of the Rhone. From there they map-read their way to the target.

Moulin would prefer to be dropped close to a house he owns on the north slopes of the Alpilles, an isolated ridge of limestone hills south of Avignon. According to Patrick Marnham, Moulin has asked to be dropped ‘on the north slopes of the Alpilles range of hills, near St. Andiol’, with two other agents, Raymond Fassin (PERCH) and Hervé Montjaret (W/Op), logically ROBERT.

According to Marnham, they jump from 1,500 feet into a strong wind. Moulin ends up in a bog called the Marais des Baux on the southern slopes of the Alpilles, which I have been unable to identify on a present-day map. It is a 15 kilometre walk across the Alpilles: a few minutes by air, but several hours hard walking in mid-winter, the discomfort exacerbated by Moulin bcoming soaked from a combination of landing in a bog and the mistral turning into a hailstorm. Given how far they had come, and the relative inexperience of the crew, the sort of pinpoint navigation that the agents expected would only have been likely with a pilot who already knew the area intimately. Given the navigation difficulties, the agents were fortunate to land within 50 miles of their target. The rear gunner sees four canopies open.

Sgt Jones heads the Whitley for Limoges on their route home. The cloud is 10/10ths and they fly at 2,000 feet. They must climb to cross the coast, but after that they get a fix for St Eval and drop from 6,000 feet to 1,500, landing at 08.55. They take off for Stradishall at 14.21, landing at 16.15.

Sources

TNA AIR 20/8334, Encl. 136A
‘Resistance & Betrayal’, Patrick Marnham, p.144.

Saturday, 27 December 1941

Operation CHILBLAIN

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.

Operation MUSJID, PICKAXE II

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.

Sources

CHILBLAIN

TNA AIR 20/8223 encl. 124A.

Unidentified operation

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

MUSJID, PICKAXE II

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

Wednesday, 24 December 1941

The start of the December-January moon period has been brought forward slightly. Winter weather puts a premium on those nights that are suitable for conducting operations. Flyable
conditions on a fourteen-hour night (of which slightly more than the first six hours will be moonlit) will trump a less-than-brilliant moon.

Operations MUSJID, PERIWIG

The Air Transport Form for this operation says the target for both operations is near Dinant, Belgium, the load six containers + six pigeons. It is therefore not an agent-dropping exercise. The narrative below makes clear that there are two separate operations.

Sgt Reimer, this time with an all-NCO crew, is airborne at 20.00. Course is set for Tangmere, the Whitley crossing the coast at 21.07 and reaching Le Crotoy at 21.44. After crossing the French coast, Reimer drops to 1500 feet but once inland he is confronted by 10/10ths cloud with its base at 1800′.
He heads for the target: on ETA he is over the target area, and circles, but no reception signals are seen. They set course for the second pinpoint in the hope that the weather will clear enough to see the lights of a reception party, but the cloud is still at 10/10ths. He’s probably running out of moonlight, too. Reimer abandons, and course is set for base.

Two packs of leaflets are dropped on the way home, one packet over Beaumont, the other over Cambrai. At 01.05 Reimer’s Whitley arrives over Tangmere, and he lands at Stradishall at 02.36.

Operation PERIWIG, probably PICKAXE II

Sgt Jones takes off in Whitley ‘F’ at 20.33 for Abingdon and Tangmere, flying at 2,000 feet in moderate visibility. At 21.24 (which seems rather a long time later) Jones sees Abingdon beacon and alters course for Tangmere. Twenty five minutes later he pinpoints on Southampton water and at 21.57 a recall signal is received on a 3 Group frequency. (At Stradishall S/Ldr Nesbitt-Dufort records the recall sent at 21.26, and recorded the signal’s acknowledgement.) Sgt Jones returns to Stradishall via Abingdon: he lands at 23.45, just in time for Christmas.

I suspect that Sgt Jones has been delayed for some reason, and takes off rather later than planned. The moon is due to set just after midnight (UK time is GMT+1). Someone at Stradishall may have realised that the moon will set before Jones’s aircraft can reach the target area; hence the recall signal.

At 03.33 the Stradishall log records that 138 Squadron has sent a signal to the Air Ministry:
– Periwig unsuccessful
– Musjid          ”
– Pickaxe         ”

The mention of PICKAXE implies that Sgt Jones has mis-titled his report, and Sgt Reimer’s sortie is correctly titled MUSJID / PERIWIG. (With very few exceptions, pilots and crew have no knowledge of the agents or their missions, and make a deliberate point of not knowing, either.) PERIWIG and MUSJID are Belgian SOE operations; PICKAXE is a highly-secret programme of operations to drop Soviet NKVD agents. It may be a first attempt at the operation flown by Sgt Reimer on the 28th.

Sources

United States Naval Observatory, Astronomical Applications Department, Data Services.

MUSJID, PERIWIG

TNA AIR 20/8334, encl. 125A
Stradishall Ops Officers’ log.

PERIWIG

TNA AIR 20/8334, encl. 117A, duplicate at 123A
Stradishall Ops Officers’ log.