Tag Archives: Lysander

Westland Lysander

Wednesday, 6 August 1941

Operation THEOREM/VALIANT

From the point of view of John Austin’s crew this was a smooth, uneventful and successful operation to drop a pair of agents. The journey out is via Dives-sur-Mer, Tours, Chateauroux and Montluçon. The agents are dropped at 01.54, three minutes after reaching the target, near the village of St. Désiré, north of Montluçon. Austin probably pinpointed on Montluçon before backtracking to the target. On the way back COLUMBA pigeons are dropped near Argentan, and Austin lands back at Newmarket at 05.55. One pigeon returns from Flers, a few miles west from Argentan, arriving in the UK on the 16th.

For one of the agents it is a different story: although Jacques de Vaillant Guelis (VALIANT) a senior ‘F’ Section officer, lands without difficulty and is recovered by Lysander on the night of 4 September (Operation ‘Night Embarkation’ as the pilot, S/Ldr John Nesbitt-Dufort, entitles his report), but Gilbert Turck (THEOREM) is knocked out in an awkward landing. He wakes to find himself in a Vichy police station in Montluçon. During the Phoney War he had been a liaison officer between the sabotage-oriented Section ‘D’ of SIS and the similarly-tasked 5ème Bureau; his old boss, now working for Vichy’s intelligence service, has him released. Turck regains contact with de Guelis, and starts his mission.

(Operation ADJUDICATE)

Knowles and his crew take off at 22.07, quite late for a sortie heading for the south of France at that time of year. The rear gunner is a Squadron Leader Stephens, a gunnery instructor from 3 Group’s HQ Flight.

They fly a near-regular route: Abingdon, Tangmere, near-Cabourg, then Tours to Limoges, which they reach at 1.34. They find the target without difficulty, but they are greeted by the signal code ‘MD’, meaning that to land the agent would be dangerous. They circle for about ten minutes, but no further signals are seen. Headlights are seen on the ground and the Whitley leaves the area. Knowles offers to drop the agent elsewhere in Unoccupied France, an offer declined.

They fly back via Tours, landing back at Newmarket at 05.52.

The reason the operation name and agent are in brackets is that the evidence to identify them is circumstantial. In his operations report Knowles incorrectly ascribes it to the FELIX network, which did not operate in that area of south-west France. (Three nights earlier Knowles and his crew had flown an attempt to drop a W/T set to FELIX near Fontainebleau, but had turned back early with engine-trouble.) Characteristically Knowles does not include the date of the sortie in his report, but the take-off and landing times match those recorded in the Stradishall log for an otherwise unascribed sortie by Whitley (letter ‘D’) on 6th August. The target description in Knowles’s report, and the fact that the cargo is an agent not a W/T set, points towards another attempt to insert Count Dzieřgowski into the Unoccupied Zone near Limoges.

Operational cross-country

This Lysander sortie appears in Nesbitt-Dufort’s logbook, with a take-off from Tangmere at 23:00 hrs, and landing 5 hours 40 minutes later.

For all his other operational sorties, Nesbitt-Dufort records them as either ‘Ops as ordered successful or ‘Ops as ordered unsuccessful, and notes the number of passengers. This one is recorded merely as ‘Ops as ordered’, and as a solo effort, with no passengers.

This looks like a similar operation to the one described by Hugh Verity as an ‘operational cross-country’, in which Verity, soon after he joined 161 Squadron, was ordered to fly to a point in France, note what he saw, and to fly back and report. In Verity’s case the target was a brightly-lit prison camp in the countryside south of Saumur. Such sorties provided a realistic test of the pilot’s solo navigational abilities without exposing a valuable agent to any risk. Nesbitt-Dufort has flown several Whitley operations, and has proved himself as a competent map-reader, but those sorties are rather different from flying alone to a pinpoint on the map, several hundred miles into Occupied France. Next time he will do it with an agent aboard.

Sources

THEOREM/VALIANT

TNA AIR 20/8334, encl.53A

(ADJUDICATE)

TNA AIR 20/8334, encl.49A

Op X-country

Logbook, John Nesbitt-Dufort.

Monday, 21 October 1940

RAF Connel

At about 7 a.m. Farley and Schneidau are considering what to do – they have no idea where they really are – when they see two men running towards them, who tell them that they are near RAF Connel, about eight miles north of Oban, in Scotland. They are taken to the nearest house, from where they telephone Connel for transport and a guard for the wrecked Lysander. Once they have convinced a sceptical duty officer of their identity, they signal the Air Ministry and Tangmere as to their whereabouts, and are then allowed to sleep. Several attempts by London to talk to the two men by phone are rebuffed by RAF Connel’s Station Commander.

At about 4 p.m. Farley and Schneidau catch the train for Edinburgh, where they catch the night train for London.

Sunday, 20 October 1940

RAF Tangmere

At 15.25 F/Lt Farley flies to Farnborough in Lysander R9027 to get the W/T set fixed; he returns to Tangmere shortly after 8 p.m.

By the evening the weather is little better. The forecast is for cloud base down to 2,000 feet, down to 500 feet over the Paris area. It looks unpromising, but Farley is determined to help his stranded friend. Schneidau has no wireless transmitter and, having despatched his two pigeons, now has no means of contacting London. As yet there is no system of coded messages broadcast on the radio.

Farley takes off at 22.00. F/Lt Keast estimates that Farley has fuel for a little more than 6 hours’ flying. The earliest he is expected to make contact is 02.15, with earliest return to base at 03.00.

France

Farley lands west of Montigny at about 00.15 hours BST. He lands on the three-torch layout agreed with Schneidau beforehand. The format is a simplified version of the layout recommended in the RAF Army Cooperation manual. Farley would have known about it from his early service in two Army Cooperation squadrons.

While Schneidau clambers aboard, Farley reset the flaps and tailplane for take-off; it is also standard drill to reset the gyro. Soon after they take off, Farley realises that the tailplane has somehow been damaged, for he has no elevator control. He will have to control the aircraft’s climb and descent on the throttle. Soon after takeoff there is a loud noise: Farley believes they have been fired on from below. The compass is damaged. They make their way north-west. The gyro becomes less accurate, so they have to fly by the stars and the moon, now risen. Farley has to climb above the thick blanket of cloud to keep them in view, but once up there he has to fly on a low throttle to maintain level flight. It is also very economical on fuel. Farley descends through a cloud-gap above a coast-line running roughly east-west, which they take for the French coast. It is unfriendly, and they come under heavy anti-aircraft fire. Once clear, Farley attempts to make contact with Tangmere, but with no response. There is a strong south-westerly wind, but they have no way of telling how strong it is; it pushes their track to a more northerly direction.

RAF Tangmere and RNAS Ford

At 03.20 Keast and Schneidau’s escorting officer are told that a faint transmission has been received, but it is unintelligible. They hear nothing more. The weather is still poor, strong wind and heavy rain. Shortly after 4.15, they assume that the Lysander will have run out of fuel, and must have come down somewhere. They issue a signal to warn all airfields to look out for a Lysander, and at daybreak set about organising a search party. Three Blenheim crews, one of whom has just returned from a patrol, to take them up and search along the coast. They are still in the air when they are contacted by Tangmere control and informed that a Lysander has recently landed near Oban.

RAF Connel, Oban

Farley and Schneidau have continued northwards. The unbroken cloud beneath them gives no clue as to their position. At about 04.30 they descend and see a coastline with islands. Initially they guess they might be over the Frisian islands, but the height of the hills leads them to conclude they are probably somewhere off the Irish coast. They decide to land as soon as possible after daylight. At 06.45 the Lysander runs out of fuel, and they aim for a level field. They realise, too late, that the field is studded with poles, a precaution against an enemy landing. Farley tells his passenger to get his head down. Just as well: in the crash one of the Lysander’s wings hits a pole and folds backwards above the rear cockpit.

Saturday, 19 October 1940

RAF Stradishall

In the early afternoon of 19 October, F/Lt Farley flies Lysander P9027 to Tangmere, ready to fly to Montigny-sur-Loing that night to recover P/O Philip Schneidau from his mission. Stradishall also records that the Met officers are required to send the weather report (presumably for northern France) to Tangmere over the secure Ops line at 18.00; this is passed to F/Lt Farley via 3 Group and Bomber Command at 18.20.

RAF Tangmere

F/Lt Keast has also travelled to Tangmere. He has been posted from No. 24 Squadron on the 10th, after Schneidau has been parachuted in. From Keast’s airline experience he is understood to be a navigation expert. He advises Farley of the methods and routes he should follow. The weather forecast is dire, and the Lysander’s VHF set is not working. The Lysander is equipped the standard Mercury XVA engine: the pilot has the use of a VHF radio-telephone (R/T), but he is under orders to contact Tangmere only after he has left the French coast on the return journey. The aircraft is equipped with a long-range tank underneath the fuselage and a Heath-Robinson-style ladder on the port side, specified by Schneidau before he left. (Clambering up the side of a Lysander’s rear fuselage to gain the rear cockpit, trusting to small semi-circular footholds, is no picnic even in daylight; not a practicable proposition in the dark.) The operation is postponed until the following night, due to the poor forecast and the unserviceable radio set.

Montigny-sur-Loing, France

Philip Schneidau prepares to meet the Lysander. After curfew he walks towards an area of fields to the west of the village, south of Bourron-Marlotte. (The only feasible route to the original landing-site, between La Genevraye and Moncourt-Fromonville, is across a river and a canal. Both bridges may be guarded.) He waits in the fields, in vain. Shortly before dawn he gives up and starts walking back to the village. He hears a low-flying aircraft and rushes back to the fields, but by the time he gets there it has gone. He returns and releases his two pigeons, each carrying a short message.