Tag Archives: Knowles

Edward Vincent Knowles

Saturday, 4 October 1941

RAF Newmarket

Three 138 Sqn aircraft are slated for operations tonight, but at 1505 the Bomber Command SASO (Senior Air Staff Officer) states that if Newmarket operates tonight all aircraft must be back by 20.00. The reason appears to be that fog is forecast to close almost all airfields in the UK. W/Cdr Knowles has learned that Squires Gate and Sealand are forecast to remain open, but he will await the 1700 Met report before making a final decision.

At 16.55 all Bomber Command  operations are cancelled.  Initially 138 Sqn appears to be exempt, and at 1700 138 Sqn confirms that its operations are ‘on’, but at 17.55, after a telephone discussion with the SASO, W/Cdr Knowles cancels all 138 Sqn operations. Group informs Tangmere and Abingdon that they can stand down.

No operations are flown for the next week, until the 10th, due to poor weather. Knowles makes reference to this in his summary which accompanies the moon-period’s reports.

Sources

Stradishall Operations Officers’ log, TNA AIR14/2528

Friday, 3 October 1941

Operations LUCKYSHOT, HIRELING, RHOMBOID

Austin’s aircraft (Whitley T4166) is airborne at 18.25, and crosses the English coast at Dungeness at 20.17. Cloud over the Channel means they pass over the French coast without seeing it, and visibility gets worse as they approach Charleroi for the third attempt at LUCKYSHOT.

LUCKYSHOT

Austin flies to the pinpoint via Chimay (Austin and his crew have been there before), then to Namur, Liege and Verviers. Visibility, which has been down to 800 yards, has improved to about two miles, and at 23.23 they sight the LUCKYSHOT reception-committee clearly. (The wireless-operator’s logbook records Surister, about 4 miles south-east of Verviers, as the first target.) Within five minutes, after Austin has circled the triangle of lights several times, flashing his recognition lights, the five packages and one container are dropped.

The absence of an agent to be dropped may explain why there is no extant information about LUCKYSHOT, with no indication about the circuit, or the organisation to which it belonged. It would have been very close to the German border as it then existed under Nazi occupation, for Germany had annexed much of Belgium’s territory east of Verviers.

HIRELING, RHOMBOID

Austin and his crew then fly about 3 miles north-east to the Lac de Gileppe to get a secure pinpoint before heading towards the village of Verbermont (as Austin and his W/Op writes it; the actual name is Werbomont). The two agents are dropped approximately 2.5km east of the village. This appears to be wooded farmland in a landscape of low, rounded hills.

HIRELING is Jean Cassart, a captain in the Belgian army. His mission is ‘to secure communications with the Army in Belgium’; he is also given a wide-ranging sabotage brief, aimed at disrupting aircraft and military transport, and attacking civil infrastructure such as power-stations and transmission networks, steelworks and coke ovens, canal locks and barges, telephone networks, railway signal boxes,munition works and oil-tanks.

RHOMBOID is his wireless-operator, H.P. Verhaegen. Much younger than HIRELING, who is in his mid-thirties, Verhaegen is only about twenty. They hide in the woods until about 7 a.m., then bury their parachutes and the W/T set before finding their container, which has dropped nearby, before walking into Chevron, two miles to the east, and their pre-arranged rendezvous at the hotel ‘Hougardy’. Their subsequent adventures will be told at a later date.

Austin drops nickels over Verbermont/Werbomont and Namur. About an hour later, en route for the coast, they drop pigeons on their dead-reckoning position of 51deg 2’N, 3deg 10’E, near Lichtervelde. (Subsequent fixes lead Austin to believe they were dropped about 5-7 miles further west.) They are contacted by 3 Group and instructed to land at Tangmere: several bombers from 9 Sqn, 115 Sqn and 218 Sqn have been diverted to land at Newmarket. Austin’s Whitley crosses the English coast at South Foreland, and he follows the coastline to land at Tangmere at 01.50.

Operations SABOT, SPEED

W/Cdr Teddy Knowles flies what is to be his last operational sortie. He has exceeded his total number of hours allowed for operational flying, and his successor as CO of 138 Squadron has already been lined up: W/Cdr Wally Farley, whom Knowles had, in effect, replaced after Farley was shot down the previous November.

Knowles takes most of what had been his regular crew in 1419 Flight: F/Sgt Fisher as W/Op, F/Sgt Atkins to navigate (Knowles observes the niceties by giving Atkins his proper title of Observer), F/O Pulton as Rear Gunner, and F/Lt ‘Sticky’ Murphy as his 2nd Pilot. For good measure he takes along W/Cdr Sofiano from Air Intelligence at the Air Ministry.

They follow the regular route to Tours via Abingdon, Tangmere and Cabourg, but north of Caen: ‘we had the misfortune to witness a Hudson shot down in flames by “flak”-ships’.

They arrive at Tours under 10/10ths cloud at 21.21. They alter course for Chatillon, but over the target there are several bright lights; so, after telling the agents, Knowles drops them some ten miles further east, in an area free of lights.

They drop leaflets over Chateauroux and several other towns and villages on the return leg. They cross the coast at Cabourg at 23.15; while over the Channel they are, like Austin, told to land at Tangmere due to bad weather at base. They land at Tangmere four minutes after midnight.

The agents SABOT and his wireless-operator SPEED are Pierre Bourriez, a 35-year-old Captain, and Robert Deweer, a Lieutenant. Bourriez’s mission is to co-ordinate the activities if all Belgian intelligence and escape-line services in France. This centralising tendency is bound to create security concerns to SOE, which has learned to isolate and separate where practicable. Nevertheless, Bourriez sets up seven sous-réseaux, his own being DICK which receives many RAF drops. The escape lines run through Spain, following the route he had taken himself after the Belgian surrender. He is arrested in December 1942, but escapes the following March and makes it to the UK in early May 1943. Unusually, the wireless operator lasts longer than his organiser. The French police arrest him in December 1942, but he manages to escape in March 1943 and make it back to the UK in May.

Operation PERCENTAGE

Operation PERCENTAGE is the first clandestine air operation to Czechoslovakia since the mysterious non-insertion of Otmar Riedl (Operation BENJAMIN) in the spring. A wireless-operator is to be dropped, with a set, in order to re-establish communications with the Czech underground. Since Reinhard Heydrich’s appointment as Reichsprotector of Bohemia and Moravia (the Nazi term for Czechoslovakia), repressive measures have resulted in the capture of most of the working sets and the interrogation of their operators. They have fallen silent; only one remains in action.

According to the operation’s Air Transport Form (ATF2)  the agent, František Pavelka, is to be dropped 100km ESE from Prague, 24 km south from Pardubice. (The form mis-states it as PAPDUBICE.) A reception-committee has apparently been arranged: it is to light a fire, with a red signal-light  to leeward and two white lights, one intermittent, to windward of the fire. There is no alternative target, and in the event the pilot cannot find the dropping-point he is to drop them, provided that they are inside the borders of pre-war Bohemia. The Czechs would prefer the crew to be from their own country, and the ATF asks whether the Czech crew with 138 Squadron is sufficiently trained. It isn’t: P/O Leo Anderle and his crew have just about completed their operational training on Whitleys at No. 10 OTU, Abingdon. (Anderle has just had a crash in a Whitley two days ago; nevertheless he will be posted in to 138 Sqn on the 9th.)

The operation has been postponed from the previous night, but no reason for the cancelled sortie is given. For tonight’s attempt P/O Hockey assembles a crew that is a mix of innocence and experience. The novice is his 2nd Pilot, Richard Wilkin, a Canadian new arrival to the squadron. The experience comes from 3 Group HQ: his navigator is S/Ldr Cousins, Group Navigation Leader, F/Sgt Judson as W/Op, and Sgt Hughes bring up the rear.

Hockey takes off in Whitley Z9158 shortly before 3 p.m. for Tangmere, where he lands an hour later to re-fuel to 1,100 gallons and to pick up agent Pavelka and his set. (Stradishall has already warned Tangmere to fuel the aircraft up with 350 gallons of 100-octane fuel. It also warns that the Whitley has not been fitted with IFF.) Hockey also takes on four 50lb bombs and 120 incendiaries; not enough to cause major damage, or to over-burden the aircraft, but just enough to provide an alibi for the operation. Ever-careful, Hockey records the all-up weight as 33,964lbs, with a centre-of-gravity position calculated as 92.7″ aft of (i.e. nearly 8 feet behind) the datum point. The fuel load shows that he is carrying 6 auxiliary tanks, two in the bomb-bay and four at the forward end of the rear fuselage. The load, 1,364lbs above the overload limit of 32,600lb, explains why Hockey is setting off from Tangmere: its extra-long runway might allow him to get the Whitley airborne; at least it’s a new aircraft. The agent will have to leave the aircraft by the rear door, followed by his W/T set in a separate package, for the ventral hatch is obscured by the fuel tanks.

The take off from Tangmere is delayed by 25 minutes owing to the late arrival of the agent and his luggage. Hockey finally takes off at 19.10. Major Sustr, head of the Czech Section D from which the agents are selected, is aboard to act as Despatcher and adviser. Hockey has flown to Tangmere without a despatcher, so Major Sustr’s addition to the crew is probably pre-planned. Hockey flies along the coast to Hastings before crossing the Channel to Le Crotoy: this is in order to avoid the prohibited area Dieppe-Newhaven1. Flying at 6,000 feet, course is set for the Rhine at Stockstadt, where the river has a unique meander, but the ground is obscured by two layers of cloud, one above, the other beneath. At 22.38 they alter course on ETA for the south of Prague. The cloud layer above prevented any astro-navigation, but they made ‘full use of DF loop-bearings’. This meant tuning into several known radio-stations on known wavelengths — if you have ever used medium-wave or long-wave radios you will know there’s a dead-spot when the aerial is in line with the direction of the broadcast — and plotting a course by repeated triangulations.

By these methods, and flying an accurate course, they reach the southern suburbs of Prague at 00.35. The low cloud has dispersed but has left a thick ground-haze. The flak is poor and inaccurate. Flying east, they found the Elbe and Kolin where the flak is more accurate. They reach Pardubice at 01.03, and set course south. At the target position they can identify nothing that resembles a lighting system, and under the guidance of Major Sustr (who is acting as Despatcher) the agent is dropped at a position estimated to be within 2 to 3 miles of the target. (In fact he lands near Chotusice, some 32 km WNW of the target.)

Hockey then sets course west for Stockstadt, looking for a suitable target for his bombs on the way. They are dropped near a railway line spotted through a gap in the clouds. Over his ETA position for the Rhine, course Is set for Le Crotoy, and on the following leg they are subjected to accurate flak.

Hockey lands at Tangmere, having had to fly his approach beneath the cloud at 200 feet, and is guided into Tangmere by a searchlight shining up into the clouds. The Whitley has been aloft for 11 hours 20 minutes; not quite the longest operational sortie, but one of them.

1The reason for the area prohibition is given in the Stradishall Ops Officers’ log: it is an agreed corridor to allow Red-Cross-sponsored repatriations to be carried out between 3 and 10 October; both Dieppe and Newhaven harbours are out-of-bounds and may be lit, and a 20-mile corridor across the Channel between the two is prohibited to all aircraft. However, negotiations between the British and German authorities and the Red Cross break down, and no exchanges take place.)

Sources

HIRELING, RHOMBOID

TNA AIR20/8334, Encl. 80A
Logbooks, JB Austin and AGW Livingstone
TNA HS6/104 (HIRELING)
TNA HS6/187 (RHOMBOID)

SABOT, SPEED

TNA AIR20/8334, Encl. 85A

PERCENTAGE

TNA AIR20/8334, Encl. 139A
Pilot’s logbook, RC Hockey
TNA HS4/39 (ATF2 for operation)
Stradishall Ops log TNA AIR14/2527
Lifeline across the Sea, by David L. Williams, The History Press (2015)
AP 1522E Whitley Pilot’s Notes, section 18.
www.army.cz/images/id_7001_8000/7419/assassination-en.pdf

Tuesday, 2 September 1941

Operations had been scheduled for Monday 1 September, but these had been cancelled at 1430 hours. There is no explanation in the Stradishall log, but from the foul weather experienced the following night, that is a likely explanation. No Stradishall-based bombers are out either.

At 1115 on the 2nd, W/Cdr Knowles informs the Ops room that 138 Squadron will be operating four aircraft tonight. At 1130 W/Cdr Knowles is to be reminded that he has not informed the Station Commander of 138 Squadron’s upcoming operations. This is a requirement stretching back to October 1940.

Operation PORTER

Little is known about this operation to Belgium, except that two agents were dropped near Virton, after Austin had pinpointed on Bruges. My father’s logbook and Austin’s shows that take-off in Whitley Z7628 was at 20:40, and they returned 6 hours 10 minutes later. Five of these hours were spent in cloud, so weather is likely to have been a factor in the previous night’s cancellations. I have been unable to find any reference to the operation-name, so presume it was for SIS. The agents’ parachutes were seen to open, but they weren’t seen on the ground once they had landed.

On the return leg Austin takes pity on their pigeons, and they are not dropped into the filthy weather to walk home. (Austin called it ‘unfavourable’.)

Operation ADJUDICATE

This is Count Dzieřgowski’s lucky night, for he ends on the ground, in France. The Whitley takes off at 2000, course is set for Abingdon and Tangmere, but at 21.07 the coast is crossed near Selsey Bill in poor visibility at about 3,000 ft.

They cross the French coast at Grandcamp, after climbing to about 5,000 feet to avoid any light flak that might get a lucky hit through the 10/10th cloud beneath the Whitley. By the time they reach the Loire the cloud has thinned, and they follow the river downstream to Saumur. (This is a more logical course of action than flying upstream hoping to find Tours.) They then set course for Limoges. They could have followed the Vienne river all the way there, but it’s more likely they rely on accurate straight-line navigation and course-flying; Limoges is large enough and well-lit to be seen from some distance. They reach there just after midnight.

Jackson’s report indicates that they have flown a direct course from Limoges to the target. This doesn’t work, for although they see several flashing lights – a regular bugbear for crews trying to find reception-parties in the Unoccupied Zone – but none are for them. Jackson retraces his course to Limoges, and this time he flies up the Vienne, first north-east, then south-east after the river forks at Saint-Priest-Taurion. The target is close to the village of Saint Léonard-de-Noblat, close to where the SIS agent ‘Lt Cartwright’ (Michel Coulomb) had been dropped on 7 May. The de Vomécourt estate of Bassoleil is only four kilometres away, but this is a Polish Intelligence operation, and most unlikely to have involved the de Vomécourts.

This time the crew sees the triangle of lights and the prearranged flashed signal-letter ‘D’, which disproves Professor Foot assertion that Dzieřgowski was dropped ‘blind’. He is dropped at 01.37 from 800 feet.

They return to Limoges to get a firm ‘fix’ before setting course for the coast. On the return leg visibility is poor, and when they reach the French coast at 02.27 on ETA it is invisible beneath them. They return via Tangmere and Abingdon, and touch down at Newmarket at 04.13.

Operation GLASSHOUSE

Albert Homburg, and Cornelius Sporre his wireless operator, are being sent to Holland by R.V. Laming, head of ‘N’ Section, SOE. Several attempts have been made during the summer to land agents on the Dutch and Frisian islands by small boat, but they have all failed. This pair are the first Dutch section SOE agents to be inserted by parachute. M.R.D. Foot says they were dropped near Utrecht, but the pilots’ reports for both attempts make it clear that the target was east of the Ijsselmeer. (Squadron reports still referred to the Ijsselmeer as the Zuider Zee.)

W/Cdr Knowles and his crew take off at 20.15. Their course is via Cromer and the island of Terschelling, then over the Zuider Zee. (Knowles reports that they pinpointed over the Zuider Zee, which is somewhat imprecise.) The eastern side is covered by 10/10ths fog, which makes it impossible to find the target, so they abandon the attempt. The Whitley is illuminated by searchlights and fired on as they pass over Den Helder; they then set course for Cromer. Twenty miles out from Cromer, as the Whitley overflies a British coastal convoy the Royal Navy upholds its tradition of firing at anything within range: in his report Knowles drily notes that ‘it was observed that we were by no means welcome’, thus putting the passive tense approved by the Air Ministry for official reports to effective use.

W/Cdr Knowles’s previous boss from his days at the Air Ministry, Group Captain Bradbury, DFC, is along on this sortie for the experience. In one way this is sound practice, to ensure that staff officers understood the nature of the tasks they were commissioning, but allowing Bradbury over enemy territory is highly risky for SIS and SOE security: had Bradbury been captured and his role discovered, his knowledge of SIS and SOE activities would have compromised much of Britain’s clandestine activity.

Sunday, 31 August 1941

Operation ‘Smoking Concert’

August 31st is the 61st birthday of Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands. She had been evacuated from Holland with her family in May 1940, even as German tanks were rolling through the neutral Low Countries. Now she is in exile in London with her country’s elected government. To demonstrate her support for the Dutch people in their privations she has commissioned a supply of cigarettes, filled with the aromatic tobacco from the Dutch East Indies, to be dropped over Holland on the night of her birthday.

On 10 August 1941, Group Captain Bradbury writes from the Air Ministry to W/Cdr Knowles, asking him to earmark three aircraft to drop large quantities of cigarettes over the Netherlands on the night of August 31st. Bradbury doesn’t say where the request has come from, but the operation has clearly been under planning for some time. The paper packaging for these loose-pack cigarettes has been specially designed: it carries patriotic emblems of the monarch and a free Holland. The double-V – for ‘Wilhelmina’ – beneath the Dutch royal crown has been printed on orange paper that is also covered with lines of small white ‘V’s (for victory). On each spine is printed: ‘ORANJE ZAL OVERWINNEN’ (Orange shall overcome.). On the reverse of each pack is a large white ‘V’, over printed with ‘Nederland zal herrijzen!’ (The Netherlands shall arise!).

For some reason 138 Squadron is able to provide only two serviceable Whitleys with their crews. At 0933 S/Ldr Stevens, of 3 Group, reports to the Stradishall Ops Room that: ‘3 Group Training Flight is loaning their aircraft “K” for a Nickel Raid tonight.’

One of the Whitley pilots is John Austin, who has returned from spending his leave at an OCTU (Officer Cadet Training Unit), and is now Pilot Officer Austin. This is his first sortie since receiving his commission; he will end the year as a Flight Lieutenant. The pilot of the other Whitley, according to Ken Merrick, is F/Lt Murphy. The pilot of the Training Flight’s Wellington is F/Lt McGillivray, a New Zealander. His second-pilot is Sqn/Ldr Charles Pickard, DSO, DFC. Pickard is being rested after his tour of operations with No. 9 Squadron, and is attached to 3 Group’s Training Flight.

At 2030 a/c ‘Z’ of 138 Squadron takes off from Newmarket, followed a minute later by ‘D’, and at 2055 McGillivray and Pickard in Wellington ‘K’. I have found an intriguing photograph in the Royal Air Force Museum catalogue that includes Pickard and McGillivray, together with S/Ldr M.T Stephens, 3 Group Gunnery Officer, and S/Ldr Alan Cousens, 3 Group Navigation Officer. The catalogue entry states: “Group photograph of late Sqn Ldr M.T. Stephens DFC and other scratch crew members beside Vickers Wellington “K”, circa 1941.” The group stands in front of the rear starboard fuselage of a Wellington, letter ‘K’. Behind them, near the Wellington’s rear door, lie several large cardboard boxes, some opened.

The Wellington was back in just over three hours, at 2356. Whitley ‘D’ landed five minutes later. Whitley ‘Z’ returned at 0208, after 5 hours 38 minutes in the air. This tallies with Austin’s logbook; his W/Op recorded the target as Leeuwarden. Though not that much further than the other two target areas quoted by Grp Capt. Bradbury – about 50 miles East of Utrecht and to the East of the Zuider Zee, – Austin is likely to have taken significant detours to avoid the worst of the flak-belt. Tonight the defences were bound to be alert and active: Stradishall’s resident bomber squadron had been scheduled to attack ‘Whitebait’ (Berlin), but during the day the target was changed to Cologne.

At 0230 F/O Hockey, probably Duty Officer for the night, signalled the Air Ministry: ‘Operation SMOKING CONCERT completed’.

Between August and October 1941 S/Ldrs Pickard, Stephens and Cousens, plus F/Sgts Broadley and Judson (Pickard’s Navigator and W/Op respectively from Nos 311 and 9 Squadrons) appear to have been based at 3 Grp HQ at Exning, less than two miles from RAF Newmarket Heath, as a rest from operations. On several occasions during this period all five are to be found in the crew lists of 138 Squadron operations, moonlighting both literally and metaphorically. Of the five, only Leo Judson survived the war: Stephens was to perish in the North Sea in January 1942 (information from an article in the December 2008 edition of ‘Nightjar’, the 214 Sqn Association newsletter); W/Cdr Cousens was to perish in April 1944 as a Master Bomber with No. 635 Squadron, PFF, during a raid on Laon, France; and Pickard and Broadley died in the Amiens prison raid in February 1944.