Tag Archives: O’Neill

F/Lt Tony O’Neill

Tuesday, 17 September 1940

RAF North Weald

F/Lt Tony O’Neill flies S/Ldr Ross Shore to Dishforth in Lysander R2626.  This Lysander is non-operational: like R2625 (lost on 17-18 August) it is a standard-range Lysander, without the underslung Harrow-derived fuel tank, so cannot be used on operations. It becomes 419 Flight’s unofficial liaison aircraft, but it is also used for training agents in the selection and and laying out of landing-fields in Occupied territory.

According to its AM78 record card, R2626 continues serving with 138 and 161 squadrons until mid-March 1942, when 138 Squadron moves to Tempsford.

Shortly afterwards F/Lt O’Neill is posted away to another squadron within Fighter Command, where he excels as a fighter pilot.

Sunday, 15 September 1940

Battle of Britain Day

The crucial day of the Battle of Britain: until the 15th it is not clear whether the RAF will win; after the 15th it appears unlikely to lose.

Massive daylight raids are launched against London. All of 11 Group’s aircraft are committed to the Battle. Provisional figures of 175 German aircraft downed are given to The Times for publication the next day. On Tuesday the paper increase this figure to 185, against the loss of only 25 British fighters (with 12 pilots safe). Anti-aircraft guns claim seven of the total. (The real figures are about 60 German aircraft losses versus 29 British fighter losses plus 21 damaged.) The large daylight raids cease; the Luftwaffe increasingly turns to night bombing.

RAF North Weald

Whitley V, serial P5029, is taken on charge by No. 419 Flight.

RAF Tangmere

The first attempt to parachute Philip Schneidau into France appears to have been carried out on the night of the 15-16 September. Though some logbook entries differ*, correspondence makes this date the most likely. One night later than originally scheduled (for the 14-15th), the delay is probably due to the late delivery of the Flight’s first Whitley. Whitley P5029 is flown from North Weald to Tangmere, where it is fuelled up for the operation. The agent joins at Tangmere, having been driven down by car.

F/Lt J.A. ‘Tony’ O’Neill, DFC is the Whitley’s skipper, with F/Lt Walter Farley as 2nd Pilot. S/Ldr Shore, AFC, acts as Schneidau’s despatcher and parachuting coach, at the agent’s insistence. Sergeants Davies and Bernard, until recently instructing trainee Wireless Operators at No. 10 OTU, Abingdon, are the Wireless Operator and Rear Gunner, though who was which is not known. The navigator is an unidentified sergeant. Takeoff is scheduled for 2100, but they don’t take off from Tangmere until 0015hrs (i.e. the 16th). S/Ldr Shore’s timings show a flight of 8 hours, while Farley’s shows 6 hours 5 minutes; Shore may have recorded the total flight-time from North Weald. The aircraft experiences high cross-winds over the Channel, and they fail to find the target area, the forest of Fontainebleau. The aircraft returns to Tangmere at 0700hrs.

*Logbook dates differ: F/Lt O’ Neill dated the operation to the 16th, but Farley and Ross Shore recorded it as the 15th. Though a night operation would conventionally be dated as though it were part of the previous day, some aircrew might record a sortie that either takes off after midnight or takes place predominantly during the early hours, as if it is the next day. The convention avoids the problem of a late sortie followed by an early one the next night, otherwise it would appear that two sorties have been flown on the same night. In this case an official report written on the morning of the 16th rules the 16-17th out. Though it is possible that the sortie was flown on the 14-15th as originally planned, the balance of evidence points strongly to the 15-16th. The next attempt will not be made for several nights due to poor weather.

Monday, 26 August 1940

Date Operation Name Pilot Aircraft Agent Target Country Outcome
26/8/40 “Mr X” F/Lt E.B. Fielden Whitley III Lt Lodo van Hamel, Royal Dutch Navy Leiden Netherlands Completed

Aircrew Details

Pilot F/Lt E. B. Fielden
2nd Pilot Unknown
Navigator Unknown, but probably F/Lt Marsh
Wireless Operator Sgt David Bernard
Rear Gunner Unknown, if any
Despatcher S/Ldr D. Ross Shore, AFC
Agent Lt. Lodo van Hamel

F/Lt E.B. Fielden made a second attempt to drop Lodo van Hamel on the night of the 26-27th. Louis Strange was not on this sortie, but he wrote that Fielden:

shut his engines right off at 8,000 feet about four miles out at sea, glided right on to the D.Z. near Leiden without touching his engines, dropped Mr X down wind landing him twenty yards from the mark, and was away round Leiden and on his way back before the searchlight opened up on him.

If this account sounds a little glib, it’s still likely to have been essentially true. In any case Strange’s account is the only one there is. Louis Strange was not above embellishing an account to improve the narrative. His own life had been full of adventures, his accounts scarcely credible. Historians have tended to seize upon such irregularities — often, as here, in the cause of others — to cast doubt on the whole. Some may have found it galling to learn of evidence that proved its essential truth. Even allowing for Strange to have improved upon the facts — his narrative of the first attempt allows a morning air raid on North Weald that actually did not turn up until mid-afternoon, by which time he, Fielden and their now-unarmed Whitley were safely back at Ringway — his basic narrative is borne out by official records.

F/O J.A. ‘Tony’ O’Neill accompanied Fielden to North Weald on the second attempt. The Ringway ORB records that he flew to North Weald with Fielden on the 26th, and back the next day. But there’s no entry in his logbook to indicate he flew on the operational sortie, though he had recorded the first attempt on the 23rd and a short test-flight on the 26th. Whoever flew as Fielden’s Second Pilot, if he took one, has not been recorded.

S/Ldr Donald Ross Shore definitely flew on both attempts, but he didn’t record the names of his fellow-aircrew. In 2004 I interviewed Wing Commander David Bernard at his home. His memories, unassisted by his logbook which had been impounded after his capture in 1941, dovetail with Strange’s account of the successful attempt. (I later found that he had made a recording for the Imperial War Museum.) At the time of this interview neither David Bernard nor I knew of the Ringway record, or of Louis Strange’s account.

The date for van Hamel’s parachute drop has been generally assumed to have been the 28th, but the several items of evidence pointing to the night of the 26-27th is contemporary, and therefore most likely to be correct. I have no explanation for the discrepancy: I can only speculate that van Hamel may have lain low before getting in touch with his contacts, to ensure he hadn’t been followed after landing.

Sources

TNA AIR 20/2263: Operations Record Book, RAF Ringway.
RAF Museum, Hendon: Typescript for ‘More Recollections of an Airman’, Louis Strange’s unpublished second volume of memoirs.
Logbook: S/Ldr D. Ross Shore
Personal interviews: W/Cdr David Bernard, 2004.

Friday, 28 June 1940

North Weald

Squadron Leader E.V. Knowles flies his last operational patrol as CO of No. 56 Squadron, this one over Manston. To his contemporaries he is ‘Teddy’ Knowles, but his young pilots like Geoffrey Page have nicknamed him ‘Führer’.  Knowles has commanded 56 Squadron since September 1939, and is due to be posted.

Ringway

P/O Louis Strange flies to Hendon to visit the Air Ministry, to find out what he is supposed to be doing at Ringway. F/Lt O’Neill has already had a go, and returned to Ringway with no answer.