Tag Archives: Oettle

Albert John Oettle

Thursday, 30 October 1941

Newmarket to Portreath

Jackson, in Whitley Z9158, takes off for Portreath at 10.30, but has to land at RAF Abingdon to change his Whitley’s W/T transmitter which has become unserviceable. Austin, in Z9159, flies to Portreath direct, taking off at 10.50 and landing at 13.05. Jackson arrives at 13.30. Both land on the cliff-top airfield in the teeth of a storm. The runways at Portreath are less than half a mile inland from the Atlantic cliffs; the gusts must have made the landings interesting.

Portreath is home to the recently-formed Overseas Air Dispatch Unit (OADU) which prepares crews and aircraft for the long delivery flights to the Middle East. The OADU informs them that heavy icing is forecast over France, and they will be re-routed via Gibraltar. It examines both aircraft and finds that both fall well short of being serviceable. On both aircraft the D/F (direction-finding) loops need swinging, and they are deficient in much of a normal Whitley’s equipment, such as IFF (Identification Friend or Foe); Z9159’s W/T transmitter, too, fails during the flight to Portreath.

It is interesting to note that neither aircraft is equipped with oxygen equipment — hardly surprising, since there is rarely any reason for SD aircraft to fly above 10,000 feet — nor are they fitted with airscrew de-icing.

Jackson’s intercom fails, and at the last moment Austin’s wireless operator discovers that there is no Syko machine (a fairly basic encoding/decoding device) aboard his aircraft; one is supplied by Portreath. OADU subsequently sends a scathing, detailed memo to 44 Group (and from thence to 3 Group) about the poor preparation of these aircraft. The Stradishall Signals Officer’s reply — Newmarket Heath comes under Stradishall for admin and control purposes — gives a good picture of the problems routinely faced by 138 Squadron, which has been warned of the operation only at lunchtime on the 29th.

Newmarket – Stradishall

F/Lt Jack Oettle has recently returned to Special Duties, having recovered from his injuries sustained in the Operation JOSEPHINE crash at Tangmere on 10 April. He takes off from Newmarket for Stradishall at about 1150 in Whitley Z9223, accompanied by another Whitley. He has two crew aboard, F/Sgt Rochford, DFM, RNZAF, and LAC Lee.

Approaching Stradishall to land shortly before midday, Oettle stalls the Whitley in a similar manner to his previous accident, and it crashes in flames. This time it is fatal; all three on board are killed. At 1630 Hockey reports that ‘dental records of the three are insufficient for identification purposes’. An NCO questioned is certain that only those three were aboard the aircraft. The other aircraft, pilot unrecorded, lands safely.

There has been some confusion over the date of this crash, possibly caused by an incautious date entry in the Stradishall log.

Sources

Newmarket – Portreath

TNA AIR14/2527
Source of 44 Group correspondence
Logbooks: P/Os JB Austin and AGW Livingstone

Newmarket – Stradishall

Flights of the Forgotten, p.36
Agents by Moonlight, pp.24 & 303. (Appendix of losses has correct date.)
TNA AIR14/2527

Thursday, 10 April 1941

Operation JOSEPHINE

The Pessac power station supplies electrical power to the Bordeaux area, which hosts a submarine base built for the Italian Navy known as ‘BETASOM’, from which its submarines will account for more than half a million tons of Allied shipping. Damaging the power station would cripple both base and local industry: the Bloch aircraft company and Ford France have factories in the area. Bomber Command has attacked Bordeaux several times in 1940 and 1941. The local airfield at Merignac, home to Condor long-range bombers that another menace to the Atlantic convoys, would also be disrupted.

Six Polish Army saboteurs are selected for the operation. Though they might seem an odd choice, a considerable portion of the Polish Army had escaped to France during the ‘Phoney War’ of 1939-40, and during the collapse General Sikorski had established his headquarters at Libourne, 25 km to the east. The presence of Poles in that part of France is therefore not uncommon, even after the armistice, and many soldiers who have escaped to England with Sikorski know their way around the area. Explosives expertise cannot be acquired quickly, and at the time the Free French Forces do not have such experts to hand.

The Whitley, T4165, is one of the pair from the Tragino Aqueduct raid, Operation COLOSSUS. These aircraft had been prepared in haste for COLOSSUS at Ringway, and on that raid there had been several container hang-ups over the target; one, crucially, had held many of the explosive charges. On this night, however, the problem isn’t a hang-up but a falling-off: en route to the target, shortly before midnight, an electrical fault releases one of the containers. Without the limpet-mines it carries there is no point in continuing with the operation, and Oettle returns to Tangmere.

By the time the Whitley arrives over Tangmere at about 03.30 much of its fuel has been used up. On take-off the heavy fuel load has masked the effect of the saboteurs’ weight on the Whitley’s centre-of-gravity (C-of-G). Now that most of the fuel had been used up, the C-of-G has moved dangerously aft.

As the Whitley approaches the runway Oettle is too high, too slow. Even if he elects to go around this is a dangerous procedure in a Whitley: the Merlin X engines are underpowered and cannot be wound up quickly. Also, in the final stages of a normal landing there is little elevator control, for the tailplane falls into the turbulent wash behind the wings. The Whitley stalls, and crashes heavily.

Of F/Lt Oettle’s crew, Sergeants Cowan (Observer) and Morris (Rear Gunner) are killed. Jack Oettle is seriously injured, as are P/O Wilson (2nd Pilot) and Sgt Briscoe (Wireless Operator). The agents escape serious injury: the rear fuselage is an inherently safer place to be than the cockpit area, but their escape may also be due to the cushioning effect of their swaddling parachute gear, the sorbo-rubber floor-mats, and stacks of bundled propaganda leaflets. Stradishall does not list P/O Molesworth among the injured; he is probably the Despatcher, back in the rear fuselage with the Poles. Although most despatchers are airmen volunteers from the ground trades, it is not uncommon for an officer from Ringway to perform this role.

Tangmere is a busy Fighter airfield, and there are many witnesses to the accident. The several personnel seen emerging from the rear fuselage are bound to arouse comment. One of the witnesses is Jimmy McCairns, a fighter pilot at Tangmere, later a noted Lysander pilot with 161 Squadron: the fiction put out is that the six agents are newspaper correspondents returning from covering a raid. Thin cover, given the eastern-European accents of the ‘newspapermen’, but it has to do.

Monday, 24 March 1941

Stradishall to Sumburgh

At 0915 S/Ldr Knowles requests permission to fly Whitley ‘Z’ Z6473 to Sumburgh via Finningley, Catterick, Grangemouth, Perth, Diss, Lossiemouth, Helmsdall, Thurso, Ross Head, Sumbro – 1430 hrs. Taking off 0945 hrs. The sortie information is passed to 3 Group; one assumes he is flying up to see what progress has been made with the Flight’s stranded Whitley P5029.

Wednesday, 12 March 1941

Czechoslovakia: Operation BENJAMIN

S/Ldr Knowles pilots Z6473 in an attempt to drop the Czech agent Otmar Riedl about 50 km east of Prague, near the town of Kolin.

Sparse details for the sortie flown by S/Ldr Knowles come from the logbook of Sgt (later F/Sgt) Fisher, a Wireless Operator who has just joined the Flight. Fisher flies on several of 1419 Flight’s early operations as a member of S/Ldr Knowles’s crew; when Ken Merrick was doing his research for ‘Flights of the Forgotten’ he did have sight if Fisher’s logbook, and it gave Knowles’s target for this sortie as Czechoslovakia.

The sortie was to attempt Brigadier Gubbins’s SOE Operation BENJAMIN. This had been ‘bumped’ on February 17th in favour of an SIS operation to Belgium. BENJAMIN was important (though clearly not to SIS): a Czech soldier, Otmar Riedl, had been trained to provide a W/T link, independent of Moravec’s intelligence organisation, between the Czech government-in-exile in London and other Czech resistance groups. Riedl was to be dropped in the Kolin district of central Bohemia, near the village of Křečhoř. This is a crucial operation for Gubbins: he has to show that his fledgling organisation is a serious outfit: in the only SOE operation attempted to date the agent refused to jump.

Delayed by a technical fault, S/Ldr Knowles and his crew take off late, at 20.09. They turn back shortly after passing Frankfurt, having calculated that they cannot make it to the target and return to friendly skies before daybreak. Fisher’s logbook and the Ops Officers’ log agree that the trip lasted 6 hours 10 minutes, the Whitley returning at 02.18 on the 13th.

France: Operations FITZROY & FELIX

The sortie is flown by F/Lt Oettle. His Whitley leaves the English coast over Selsey Bill and reaches Chateauroux, via Tours, at 0145. Eugène Pérot, a wireless operator for Claude Lamirault, is dropped about 5 kilometres south-west of Chateauroux. To disguise the aircraft’s purpose the crew drops three packages of ‘Nickels’ (propaganda leaflets) over Chateauroux before heading north-east at about 0235 towards the Fontainebleau area.

Philip Schneidau is dropped at about 03.20 on to a large piece of open ground on the Plateau les Trembleaux, just to the north of Montigny-sur-Loing. The crew reports that he has made a successful landing, but a fresh breeze carries him over dense woods to the west of the clearing. He falls through the tree-tops and crashes into tree-trunks well above the ground, and becomes entangled. The wireless set is suspended in the branches above his head. It takes several hours to cut himself and the W/T set free. The parachute canopy is tangled high in the tree-tops, and he has to cut down this rather obvious advertisement before he can make his way off the plateau. He has been injured, first by the fall and then through his strenuous efforts to free himself and recover his equipment. He has fractured a tooth and damaged a leg from being bashed against tree-trunks during his landing.

F/Lt Oettle and his crew returned to Stradishall via Fécamp and Tangmere, landing at about 0550. Schneidau makes his way off the plateau to the cottage where his friend and pre-war neighbour Henri Glepin has been waiting, warned by hearing the aircraft overhead.

Friday, 21 February 1941

Sumburgh, Shetland Islands

The Flight now has only one operational Whitley, the long-range Z6473, but there is no operational crew to fly it. F/O Hockey is still not fit to fly. Fortunately it is the start of the ‘dark’ period. S/Ldr Knowles orders F/Lt Oettle to return to the mainland and base by boat train.