At 1047 S/Ldr Knowles advises the Ops Room that 419 Flight will not operate tonight. At 1220 S/Ldr Knowles says that 419 Flight may operate tonight, but not before midnight, a short trip of approximately five hours. (Bear in mind that the only 419 Flight crew available has just returned from an 11-hour operation.) An hour later 3 Group cancels all operations for tonight, and at 1400 this is reinforced by a request to inform S/Ldr Knowles that all Groups in Bomber Command are standing down tonight. This appears to be due to a forecast of extreme weather.
At 1420 Operation SAVANNA is cancelled. At 1650 3 Group enquires if 419 Flight are operating & in what direction; they point out that the wind-strength will be dangerous for baling out if that should be necessary, a coded hint about parachute operations. (Baling out in emergency is not a problem; the landing is.) At 1820 S/Ldr Knowles provides sortie info for 419 Flight subject to a decision at 1900. At 1948 the trip is cancelled.
S/Ldr Knowles states his intention to fly to Sumburgh in T4264 the following morning, leaving Stradishall at 1000 on the 17th & staying the night at Sumburgh, doubtless to assess the situation with Oettle and his damaged Whitley.
At 0250 Keast phones Stradishall to confirm that he has completed the operation. Sqn Ldr Knowles is to phone Tangmere if Keast is needed for operations tonight. At 0918 F/L Keast is phoned and asked to return to Stradishall. F/Lt Keast flies T4264 to Hendon, and from there to Stradishall.
At 0615 Stradishall receives a signal from Sumburgh that F/Lt Oettle’s operation to Norway has been completed.
At 0925 2 Group calls to ask whether Operation SAVANNA is on; S/Ldr Knowles tells the Earl of Bandon that the operation is ‘off’ for tonight.
Stradishall – Dordogne
F/Lt Keast flies an operation to France. Keast writes a summary of operations since October, in which he records this trip’s target as a successful sortie to Fontainebleau, but as Philip Schneidau will not be dropped until March, this is erroneous.
The operation appears instead to be the drop of BCRA agent Maurice Duclos (‘Saint-Jacques’), with a wireless operator. The target is near the village of Saint-Cirq, 6 kilometres west of Bugue, in the Dordogne. Duclos’s wireless operator is John McLennan, the nom-de-guerre of John Mulleman. Duclos lands awkwardly, breaking his right leg, and he is arrested almost immediately by the French authorities.
Keast takes off in Whitley T4264 at about 1830, and lands at Tangmere at 0158, about 7.5 hours, Although his logbook records the flight duration as 5 hours 30 minutes, this is way too short for a trip to the Dordogne; the independent Stradishall times are about right.
Jack Oettle flies an 11-hour operation in Whitley P5029 to Norway, where he drops the SIS agent Sverre Midtskau*. (Mark Seaman confirms the agent and the date as 13-14 February.) He lands at Sumburgh in the Shetlands, but the Whitley sustains damage to the tail when landing. Oettle, his crew and aircraft are therefore stranded, and are unavailable for operations in the immediate future.
*Mark Seaman: ‘Special Duties operations in Norway’, article No. 18 in ‘Britain and Norway in the Second World War’, ed. Patrick Salmon (HMSO), p. 170.
Seaman’s principal sources are:
- TNA AIR 20/8224, and
- the Air Historical Branch summary ‘Special Duties Operations in Europe’, in TNA AIR 41/84
TNA AIR 14/2527 Stradishall Ops Officer’s log
At 1110 Keast informs the Ops Office that Operation SAVANNA is cancelled for today.
At 1315 3 Group agrees that Wing Commander Mulholland should go tonight with 419 Flight. The Flight Commander is to go over to 3 Group at Exning (just outside Newmarket) to explain why he is unable to make up his crews.
The Flight is always operating on a shoestring, with barely two crews for two aircraft. One of the pilots on the Flight’s strength, F/O Ron Hockey, is recovering from ‘exhaustion’ and is still non-operational. Jack Oettle is with the other Whitley and its crew at Dishforth, waiting to operate. Keast has to scrounge a Second Pilot in order to carry out an operation tonight.
Wing Commander Mulholland, DFC, has recently completed a tour with 115 Squadron at Marham, another 3 Group Wellington squadron. A 32-year-old Australian who flew with Imperial Airways before the war, Mulholland was recently awarded the DFC for a raid in January, in which he made repeated runs over the Kiel Canal in the face of heavy flak before dropping his bombs. He has been given command of 3 Group’s Training Flight.
At 1357 F/Lt Keast informs the Ops Office that a Whitley is going up to drop containers in 10 mins time.
At 1510 Dishforth calls to ask if a/c can operate tomorrow. Presumably this means Jack Oettle. Dishforth is given the OK for the 11th only: Keast is informed.
At 1015 the Ops officer asks S/Ldr Knowles about 419 Flight and Blenheim operations. Operation SAVANNA has been planned so that a squadron of Blenheims from No. 2 Group, No. 107 Sqn, will bomb the port of Vannes as diversionary cover while 419 Flight drop the SOE/Free-French assassination team in the countryside nearby. The Blenheims will operate from Newmarket, presumably to aid coordination. The Ops Officer informs 3 Group that the operation is off.
Stradishall – ‘Brussels’
At 1105 the Station Commander states that two 419 Flight operations may be flown tonight, one of five hours’ duration, the other of six; weather permitting. (Stradishall has only one runway operational.)
At 0011 an unidentified Whitley takes off for Belgium, but the operation is abandoned early, presumably due to poor weather; the Whitley lands back at Stradishall at 0335. Keast’s logbook shows no record of such a flight, so this sortie was probably flown by Jack Oettle and his crew.