Operation CANTICLE/DUNCAN, MASTIFF/INCOMPARABLE, PERIWIG 1
Sergeant Wilde, a new aircraft captain with 138 Squadron, flies this short-range sortie to Belgium, although the destination is recorded as ‘France’ in the operations summary book. For some unknown reason Sgt Wilde files two separate operations reports which are entered on separate pages in the ORB; this confuses matters further.
Wilde takes off at 18.48. He crosses the French coast north of the river Somme, at about 8,000 feet, pinpoints on Douai at 2,000 feet and descends to 400 feet over the PERIWIG 1 target; in the ATF for PERIWIG 1 it is given as ‘Mons’. He circles the target area from 21.50 to 22.40 (which rather seems to be asking for trouble), but nothing is seen. His PERIWIG report states that he then returns to base, landing at 01.50.
In fact he does no such thing: he goes on to the second target. CANTICLE is originally supposed to have been dropped near Arlon with a W/T set for Joseph Vergucht (DUNCAN). Vergucht, a Belgian merchant navy officer who knows Morse, has been waiting for the means to contact England since autumn of the previous year, having arrived via Lisbon. MASTIFF and INCOMPARABLE are to be dropped to a reception organised by PERIWIG, but a long way south-east from the drop-site for PERIWIG 1.
MASTIFF and INCOMPARABLE are dropped near their target about a mile south of the village of Gondregnies. This is close to the village of Silly, where Armand Campion (PERIWIG) parachuted in August 1941. CANTICLE drops with them. One of the two pigeons he is carrying becomes detached, and travels back in the aircraft. CANTICLE is reported as needing a helping shove down the chute, which may contribute to the pigeon becoming detached.
The Whitley drops leaflets over Douai before returning to Stradishall, landing at 01.50.
Operation MOUSE, VERMILION
Farley takes off from Stradishall in Whitley K9287 at 18.32, and crosses the French coast near Caen, flying at 8,000 feet to be above the light & medium flak defences. He pinpoints on the Loire at about four miles east of Blois. By his own account he drops MOUSE about ten miles SSE from the planned dropping-point, somewhere close to the village of Meillant (Cher), but he gives no explanation as to why he drops the agent so far from the dropping-point. Farley returns to Tangmere rather than Stradishall, and lands at 03.27.
Given that Farley knew where he was, and was not pushed for time, it would seem to have been slapdash not to have drop the agent at the correct place, but it’s possible (though nowhere mentioned) that the agent may be concerned that if they fly north the pilot might drop him in the Occupied Zone; they are less than 30 kilometres west of the demarcation-line, a mere hiccup away in air navigation terms. MOUSE is therefore dropped a short way from the road between Vitray and Meaulne. He makes his way to Meillant the next day, getting a lift in a car to Saint-Amand-Montrond and walking the rest. The crow-flying distance is about 20 kilometres (13 miles), but the agent later says it is thirty; along the road it is 26km.
MOUSE is Edmond Courtin, in his early twenties, intelligent and keen. He may, at Douglas Dodds-Parker’s request (16/1/42), have been given training in laying out Lysander landing-fields during the interval between mid-January and this attempt. He is dropped with two W/T sets, one for himself to work for Jacques Detal (GYPSY), the other set for Detal’s wireless-operator Frederic Wampach (VERMILION) who, as we have seen, is a mental wreck; it’s not his set that has gone wrong. Courtin succeeds in contacting Wampach and passes him the second set.
Courtin’s debriefing report in February 1943 gives valuable information about life in the unoccupied zone. Châteauroux is not a healthy place for an agent to be: Germans ‘double’ with the French police, and two Alsatian policemen are most diligent. The police at Châteauroux check the hotel registers at 7 a.m., and they haul in and interrogate anyone who arouses their least suspicion. Courtin is caught two weeks into his mission through just such a check, red-handed with his wireless antenna laid out round his room. Detal and Wampach are arrested the next day. Detal and Courtin escape from Bergerac prison and Courtin makes it back to the UK in February 1943. Though slated for another mission in April 1943, Courtin’s prospective organiser chooses another wireless-operator.
161 Squadron: Operation BERYL 2, BERYL 3
The Anson that F/Lt Murphy flew to Tangmere on the 25th is now used for perhaps the type’s only operation over enemy-occupied territory. Ansons have been used during the Battle of Britain for anti-invasion patrols over the North Sea close to shore, but this is different.
S/Ldr Nesbitt-Dufort’s month-long absence-without-leave in France is about to come to an end. The agent he was to have brought out in January, Maurice Duclos, has been in charge of his hospitality, hidden by the Issoudun railway station-master and his family. The landing has been arranged by Lt Roger Mitchell, BCRA, who is also needed in London for debriefing. In addition, General Kleeburg of the Polish F2 organisation is to be evacuated. Hence the need for a larger aircraft than a Lysander. In any case, the other Lysander pilot is out on another trip this same night, landing not many miles away.
Murphy takes off from Tangmere in Anson R3316 at 21.00, passing over Cabourg an hour later. Murphy takes P/O Cossar as his wireless-operator/air-gunner. They have good visibility until about 40 miles north of Tours, when they encounter heavy rain, thick low cloud. They have difficulty pinpointing on the Loire, which indicates how poor the weather is. At 23.15 they set course for Châteauroux, which they find with difficulty at 23.55 before heading north-east towards Issoudun. (Châteauroux is much easier to find than Issoudun, being much larger, with a radial road-system.) From Issoudun they fly SSEast to a disused aerodrome where Mitchell, Duclos, Nesbitt-Dufort and General Kleeberg are waiting. (The airfield is now used by the Aero-club Issoudun-le-Fay.) The lights laid out by Roger Mitchell are picked up at 00.10. (There is a slight irony here; eight months before, Nesbitt-Dufort had trained Lt Mitchell in laying out Lysander landing-fields.
When Murphy tries to take off, the Anson becomes bogged down in the soft, now-soggy ground. (He does not mention this in his official report.) Nesbitt-Dufort encourages the other passengers to jump up and down in sympathy, to bounce the aircraft out of the soft ground, while Murphy applies full throttle. This rather unconventional approach works.
Nesbitt-Dufort, in his ‘Black Lysander’, writes another account of his month in France and of the air operation. Both he and his friend Sticky Murphy take a light-hearted view of their adventures, but Murphy’s new CO takes a dim view of their mutual levity in official correspondence. Nesbitt-Dufort, now in possession of too much knowledge about the people who looked after him in France, is posted to the Central Landing School at Ringway, where he flies tug and glider combinations, an experience which frightens him more than being on operations. He is then posted to Fighter Command HQ.
161 Squadron: Operation CREME
Flying Officer Guy Lockhart takes off from Tangmere at 20.25 in Lysander V9428. Lockhart has been a fighter pilot. Shot down over France while serving with No. 74 Squadron in July 1941, he evades and returns to the UK in October. Apparently posted to 138 Squadron soon after his return, no record of his serving there exists, though the first page of 161 Squadron’s ORB records that he has been posted from 138 Squadron; he becomes F/Lt Murphy’s other Lysander pilot.
Just under an hour after takeoff Lockhart crosses the French coast at about 9,500 feet, slightly west of Cabourg, but soon loses height to stay under the thickening cloud. He has difficulty finding the landing site; having to stay low would have reduced his range of vision, but once he sees the lights he is down and away within two minutes, having taken aboard two Gaullist agents, Louis Andlauer and Stanislas Mangin. He flies back to the coast at low-ish level, the cloud base between 1,000′ and 3,000′ with patches even lower. He crosses the French coast east of Cherbourg at 1,500 feet and is homed back to Tangmere by R/T once he is over the Channel.
Louis Andlauer writes an account of this pick-up operation from his perspective. It is reproduced in full in Verity’s book. The location of the pick-up is in the small area north of Châteauroux used by SIS for many of its operations; these included its sorties, like this, for Dewavrin’s intelligence- gathering agents; SOE agents were picked up from elsewhere, and at this stage of the war, rarely.
CANTICLE/DUNCAN, MASTIFF/INCOMPARABLE, PERIWIG 1
138 Squadron ORB
CANTICLE file: TNA HS6/58
MASTIFF personal file: TNA HS9/351/1
INCOMPARABLE operations file: TNA HS6/113
MRD Foot, SOEILC, pp. 270-1, 274-5
138 Squadron ORB
TNA AIR 20/8334, Encl. 132A
161 Squadron: BERYL 2, BERYL 3
John Nesbitt-Dufort, ‘Black Lysander’, pp 133-4
161 Squadron: CREME
Verity, WLBM, pp. 47-48.
TNA AIR 20/84554 Lysander operations reports, 161 Squadron