Tag Archives: Lysander

Westland Lysander

Friday, 27 February 1942

Operations CARROT/CATARRH

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.

Sources

CARROT/CATARRH

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

BOOT

Hockey logbook
138 Squadron ORB

COLLAR

138 Squadron ORB
Air Transport Forms for Feb ’42.

BACCARAT

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

Friday, 28 November 1941

Farnham, Surrey

F/Lt A. Laurent is a Free French Air Force pilot who has recently joined the squadron as a Lysander pilot, to be trained in pick-up operations. He crashes Lysander T1771, hitting trees on a hill north of Farnham, in poor daylight visibility. His passenger is LAC ‘Ox’ Harkness, a Lysander fitter. Both are killed. Their Flight Commander, Sqn Ldr John Nesbitt-Dufort, mourns the loss of Harkness: Laurent can be replaced, but ‘Ox’ Harkness was one of his best riggers, and has been with 419 Flight since its inception.

Freddie Clark wrote that T1771 was ‘the long-range prototype Lysander III developed for SD work by the A&AEE at Boscombe Down’. This is not inconsistent with Farley’s long-range Lysander R9027 used (and crashed in Scotland) on an operation in October 1941. R9027 and T1508 were equipped with the Mercury XVA engine; T1770 and T1771 were fitted with the Mercury XX.

Sources

Black Lysander, p.112
We Landed by Moonlight, p. 37
Agents by Moonlight, p.29
138 Sqn ORB, TNA AIR 27/956
Air Ministry Forms 78 (Aircraft Record Cards), RAF Museum, Hendon.

Thursday, 6 November 1941

Operation OUTCLASS, FABULOUS II

This operation for the Gaullist French (RF) section of SOE, is flown by Sgt Wilbur Reimer, with P/O Smith, new to the squadron, as his 2nd Pilot. They take off at 18.20, cross the coast at Tangmere, and climb to 8,000 feet to avoid any low-level flak as they crossed the French coast. They then drop to 1,500 feet to map-read their way to the Loire, but run into low cloud as they approach Limoges. Flying above the cloud they set course for Toulouse by DR, and arrive there at 23.15. They find the reception committee almost immediately, for the operation is completed fifteen minutes later. The two containers are dropped by one of the cockpit crew from the bomb-aimer’s position, but the packages, heaved out one at a time through the ventral hatch after the agent, are unlikely to have made a tidy group.

Reimer and his crew retrace their route to Limoges and re-cross the French coast (presumably Normandy) at 02.40, flying on D/R, unable to map-read because of low cloud and ground-haze. Routing via Tangmere and Abingdon they land back at Newmarket at 05.05.

OUTCLASS is Marie Léon Yves Morandat, known as Yves Morandat. A pre-war trade-union official, Morandat is an emissary of de Gaulle. His task is to use his excellent union contacts to foster political resistance in south-west France. FABULOUS is actually FABULOUS II, a drop of two containers and six packages to Henri Labit’s nascent circuit based in Toulouse. The FABULOUS II drop is scattered. The RF Section history puts it thus: ‘they were dispersed over such a wide area that it was decided in future to limit the number of packages rather than endanger the security of agents and reception committeees who collected them.’

Labit himself will be returned to London by sea on the night of 6th January 1942, together with 6 other agents from various réseaux. They are taken off by MGB 314 from the Aber-Benoit estuary in Operation OVERCLOUD. Labit’s detailed debriefing leaves us with a clear picture of his activities since July 1941.

Operation FIREFLY

Murphy flies this operation to the Bergerac region of south-west France. He takes off at 18.31, and he follows the normal route to Tours via Abingdon, Tangmere and Cabourg, before heading further south to Limoges, which they reach at 23.15. From there they set course for Périgueux. Due to ground-haze which obscures the ground, especially close to rivers, they mistake the river l’Isle for the Dordogne, and they waste half an hour flying along the much smaller river before realising their mistake.

Murphy and his crew pick up the lights as 23.36, and two minutes later they have completed the drop. The target is listed as being ‘Bergerac’. The date points to a parachute drop to the SIS-organised ALLIANCE circuit: in ‘l’Arche de Nöe’, translated into English in 1973 as ‘Noah’s Ark’, the ALLIANCE leader Marie-Madeleine Fourcade recalls the second parachute drop to the circuit, dropped at the village of Saint-Capraise d’Eymet, about 15 km south of the town of Bergerac: two wireless operators, Julien Bondois and another destined for another circuit, six W/T sets (at least one damaged on landing), and a case with gleaming locks that looked as though it has just arrived from a West End store; it contains a considerable fortune to fund the circuit. Fourcade’s lieutenant Maurice Coustenoble (‘Tiger’ in the ALLIANCE menagerie) has been in charge of the reception.

Murphy immediately heads back for Cabourg, and crosses the English coast at Tangmere at 03.12, with touchdown at Newmarket at 04.21.

Operation EMERALD

There’s no aircraft captain’s report for this operation. Three 138 Squadron Whitleys are out this night (Whitleys ‘F’, ‘A’, and ‘B’). Comparing the take-off and landing times with the Stradishall log, and the intervals between, ‘A’ is Sgt Reimer, and ‘B’ is F/Lt Murphy, so ‘F’ is F/O Hockey in Whitley Z6728. The list of operations accompanying the pilots’ reports misleadingly states the target location as ‘Verdun’, which leads one to believe it is in eastern France, but the dropping-point is Verdun-sur-Garonne, about 33 kilometres up-river (NNW) from Toulouse. Hockey writes up his route as ‘Tangmere, Cabourg, Tours, Toulouse, Base.’ An Air Transport Form for the 28th October is more precise about the target: ‘VERDUN GRENADE’. The correct target is near the small town of Verdun-sur-Garonne, about 11 km down-river from the equally small town of Grenade. The ATF also confirms that this is a ‘C’ operation, and that the agent is to be dropped with a W/T set under a large ‘A’ type parachute. (‘A’-type parachutes came in several sizes, the choice of which depended on the combined weight of the agent and the package above his head.)

The target for EMERALD is only about 23 miles north of Sgt Reimer’s target for SOE’s OUTCLASS/FABULOUS – see above. One aircraft could have carried out both operations, but whenever possible (and, officially, never) SOE and SIS agents are not carried in the same aircraft. There is even an instance where a pilot writes up two reports of the same sortie, one for SIS, the other for SOE. Hockey’s sortie takes him 10.5 hours. When he flew to the same area in the summer, Hockey had to leave France via the west coast and fly across the Bay of Biscay to St Eval; now, with November’s long nights, he can come straight home.

Operation SAGA, BRICK, FITZROY

This is Nesbitt-Dufort’s third Lysander operation. This time he is to bring Claude Lamirault (FITZROY) and Lt Roger Mitchell (BRICK) back to the UK for consultation. Dufort is also to land an agent for SIS’s Belgian section, code-named SAGA. Nothing more is known about SAGA. Agents are normally parachuted, so SAGA, like SOE’s Gerry Morel, may have an essential role but is not fit enough to be parachuted.

From a midday weather forecast Nesbitt-Dufort judges that the operation might be feasible, and asks for SAGA to be brought to Tangmere from London, and for FITZROY and BRICK to be warned by W/T signal. (It is too late to arrange for a coded BBC message.) By 5 p.m. the forecast weather doesn’t look so good, but as he has warned the agents in France that he is coming, and knows they’ll be waiting for him, he feels he ought to try.

Nesbitt-Dufort takes off at about 8.20 p.m. and aims for the French coast at Criel-sur-Mer, a town almost directly in line with his course for Compiègne, his reference pinpoint. In this he receives guidance via R/T from radar stations on the south coast code-named BEETLE and MUNGA. (The procedure is described by Hugh Verity: it allows Lysander pilots to be tracked almost to the French coast; the radar station gives coded instructional ‘nudges’ to the pilot. The pilot does not transmit; that might reveal his presence and position.) He plans then to head up the Aisne on a compass-bearing eastwards towards the target, a plateau of slightly higher ground between Pernant and Saconin-et-Breuil (recorded as SIS landing site No. 5). He follows a compass-course set at Compiègne, the last pinpoint, with the river Aisne an additional reference. As Verity will write two years later in his guide to Lysander operations:

But once in the air, don’t forget that map reading must never take precedence over the D.R. and that even when you decide to follow a definite feature you must check the course of this feature with your compass.

Unfortunately there is heavy cloud as Nesbitt-Dufort crosses the French coast. He enters the cloud-base at 1,500 feet and flies on instruments until five minutes before his ETA over Compiègne. He descends to emerge below the cloud base at 1,300 feet and finds himself sandwiched between two layers of continuous cloud. Though visibility is still good – it is only two nights after full moon – it is very dark and he can make out nothing on the ground. He sets course for Soissons, to the east, and flies along that course for five minutes during which he should see any signals. But he sees nothing. (The agents beneath hear the Lysander overhead, but see nothing.) Nesbitt-Dufort flies methodically over the target area for about an hour before he gives up and heads home.

Sources

OUTCLASS, FABULOUS II

TNA HS 7/123 History of SOE RF (République Française) Section

FIREFLY

TNA AIR 20 / 8334, Encl. 105A.
l’Arche de Noé, by Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, p. 116; Noah’s Ark (translation), p.77.

EMERALD

Logbook, G/Capt R.C. Hockey
TNA AIR 20/8334, Summary list of operations for October/November moon period, 1941

SAGA, BRICK, FITZROY

TNA AIR 40/2579: Lysander Operations, 419 Flight & 138 Squadron.
‘Black Lysander’, John Nesbitt-Dufort, Whydown Press, p.111.
‘We Landed by Moonlight’ (WLBM), by Hugh Verity, pp.23-24.
‘Some RAF pick-ups for French Intelligence’ by Hugh Verity: article in ‘War, Resistance & Intelligence: Essays in Honour of M.R.D. Foot’, ed K.G. Robertson (1999, Leo Cooper), p. 172.

Thursday, 4 September 1941

Operation LEVEE/FACADE, aka ‘Night Embarkation’

This is the first Lysander pickup carried out by F/Lt John Nesbitt-Dufort; it is also the first pick-up operation for SOE. (The previous three operations have been for SIS.) Its narrative is one of the best-known of the hundreds of Lysander operations, first described publicly in Jerrard Tickell’s ‘Moon Squadron’, a carefully disguised ‘authorised-version’ of clandestine air operations published in the early 1950s. Nesbitt-Dufort wrote about it in his book, ‘Black Lysander’, and so did Hugh Verity in ‘We Landed by Moonlight’.

John Nesbitt-Dufort was posted to 1419 Flight in May 1941. Before flying any Lysander operations he was educated in the finer points of Lysander flying by the Commanding Officer of No. II(AC) Squadron, W/Cdr Andrew Geddes; he flew the short-range Lysander that was one of the pair first allotted to the Flight, R2626. It has never been used on operations, and is the squadron ‘hack’. During the spring and summer of 1941 F/Lt Dufort (as he was named in the operations reports) has also accompanied several Whitley sorties in order to familiarise himself with the most widely-used routes and pinpoints, meanwhile gaining experience of clandestine operations. Fighter-pilots are rarely renowned for their navigation skills, but from his inter-war experience in a Fighter squadron, of pinpointing exercises and  ‘Bradshawing’ – the fighter-pilot’s recourse to following railway-lines at low-level as a substitute for proper navigation, descending to read the station name-boards – Nesbitt-Dufort has become an expert in low-level map-reading. In 1419 Flight he is considered a valuable map-reader by the Whitley pilots. Now he has to do it on his own, at night. Before joining the Flight he had commanded No. 23 Squadron, equipped with Douglas Havocs as intruder night-fighters.

Tonight, Dufort is taking one agent out to central France, just over the demarcation line in the ZNO (the Non-Occupied Zone) and bringing another back. The returning agent is Jacques de Guelis, an SOE ‘F’ section staff officer who has been sent to reconnoitre for new circuits and to find people to run them. Born in Wales to French parents, he holds dual British-French nationality, having completed his French national service as a young man. SOE staff officers are normally barred from field activity as they know too much about other agents and the SOE organisation, but de Guelis has been given special dispensation to undertake this operation in France. He is to be picked up from a prearranged spot in the flat fields near the hamlet of La Champenoise, north-east of Châteauroux.

Replacing de Guelis in France is another ‘F’ section officer on a similar mission. Gerard (‘Gerry’) Morel. Morel’s health is too poor for him to parachute: captured in the 1940 campaign, he was repatriated to France after the armistice, eventually making his way to England. His parachute training at Ringway aggravated an old riding injury, inducing sciatica – so he is to be landed.

The operation

The information comes mainly from Nesbitt-Dufort’s post-operation report, and is probably more accurate than any of the post-war accounts. He takes off from Ford aerodrome at 20.52. He checks his radio-telephone (R/T) before shutting down — he will not use it again until he is clear of the enemy coast on the return leg — and sets a course of 152 degrees. At 21.35 he crosses the French coast at 9,000 feet in poor weather, his dead-reckoning position being about 6 miles east of Fécamp. He sets course for La Champénoise, at 170 degrees, and drops to 2,000 feet because the poor visibility means he did not see the Seine when he crossed it. At 22.55 he checks his course as he crosses the Loire, probably using Blois as a pinpoint check. At 23.15 he arrives at the field to find no lights visible. He circles for about ten minutes before he sees the Morse signal from another field. He lands, and the agents exchange places.

On his way to the agreed landing field, de Guelis has been stopped by a zealous gendarme, who checks de Guelis’s papers thoroughly. The agent is late reaching the rendezvous. As he approaches the area on his bicycle he can hear the Lysander overhead, searching for his torch signal. De Guelis dashes into a nearby field, flashes the recognition-letter and hurriedly lays out his torches. The field is smaller than the selected one at La Champenoise. (Because of de Guelis’s escapade with the gendarme I have been unable to identify exactly where the actual pick-up took place.) Nesbitt-Dufort lands without difficulty, but the Lysander needs a longer run for take-off.

Nesbitt-Dufort climbs away steeply on full boost from a very short take-off run. He narrowly misses some trees at the field’s edge, but runs into telephone wires, and possibly some HT cables; a length of telephone cable wraps itself around the propellor-shaft, fortunately without adverse effect.

At 23.30 Nesbitt-Dufort sets a course of 356 degrees for home, and climbs to 8,000 feet. After twenty minutes the intercom, R/T and his cockpit lights fail; the encounter with the cables has damaged the electrics, and the Lysander’s accumulators have run flat. The weather deteriorates, and ‘difficulty was experienced in map-reading by the light of the moon’ – something of an understatement. An hour later he sets course at 314 degrees. As his R/T has failed he cannot be given a homing bearing to Tangmere, but is arrival has been expected, and is announced by the Lysander’s IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) transmissions. Nesbitt-Dufort is guided by searchlights to Tangmere aerodrome, where he lands. Nesbitt-Dufort keeps a length of the cable as a souvenir.

Nesbitt-Dufort’s contemporary report, written on 7 September, is on file in the National Archive. It differs in several respects from his later account in ‘Black Lysander’, and from Tickell’s and Verity’s versions. None of the three would have had access to the report Nesbitt-Dufort had submitted in 1941, so could not have checked. A recent conversation with his son Richard has revealed the solo sortie on the night of 6 August. In ‘Black Lysander’ Nesbitt-Dufort dated LEVEE/FACADE to 6 August, taking off at 23:00, and his timings and route do not resemble the report he submitted in September 1941. For instance, there is no mention of an encounter with an enemy aircraft, but this may have been on another sortie.