Tag Archives: Polish AF

Polish Air Force

Monday, 20 April 1942

Operation WHISKEY

There is considerable mystery about this third attempt to complete Operation WHISKEY: the fate of Halifax V9976, its crew, and the two Soviet NKVD agents it was carrying. The Halifax crashed in the Tyrolean Alps, almost exactly 200 miles short of the target, after — according to German observer reports — making an off-course turn to the south, into the mountains. The Halifax should have had no difficulty crossing the mountains in this area; the highest mountain in the crash area is lower than 6,000 feet.

The sortie has long been the subject of a page on Steve Harris’s Tempsford website. An ATF for the operation (slated for between 28 February and 5 March 1942, made out well before the first attempt on 25 March) states that the drop will consist of two agents and one package. It is a Category ‘A’ operation, the highest priority. A statement elsewhere ensures that this operation is not to be combined with any other. The target is as before, ideally to a small area in the hilly, wooded farmland south-west of Vienna, but such is the pressure to get the agents inserted that anywhere in the Danube valley between Linz and Vienna will do. The agents are Peter Staritsky (alias Peter Schulenberg) and Sevolod Troussevitch (alias Johan Traum). These aliases are probably their cover names while in the UK.

A report in the SOE file for Operation WHISKEY says that the Halifax takes off at 2100 on the 20th. It assumes that the takeoff is from RAF Bourn, an airfield between Tempsford and Cambridge, a satellite for RAF Oakington, but that may be because the previous attempt had taken off from there. In early 1942 Tempsford’s main runway is about 1600 yards, too short for a fully-fuelled four-engined bomber aircraft. It is extended later. For a sortie flying east rather than south to France, Bourn makes more sense than flying south to start from Tangmere’s extra-long runways.

The crew is essentially the same Polish crew that attempted this operation on the 25 March, at the beginning of the previous moon-period. The pilot is Pilot Officer Zygmuntowicz, the Navigator (and skipper) F/Lt Voellnagel, with Sgt Wilmanksi as Wireless-operator and Sgt Wojoleskowski sitting in the front turret. For this trip, however, the rear gunner is P/O Pulton, 138 Squadron’s Gunnery Leader, and 138 Squadron’s Commanding Officer, W/Cdr Wally Farley, flies as 2nd Pilot instead of F/O Dobromirski. A Despatcher and (presumably) a Flight Engineer complete the crew: Sgt Madracki and F/Sgt Karbowski.

The Halifax does not return. On the afternoon of the 21st a German communiqué is issued, which states that:

A single British aircraft which undertook a harrassing flight last night into the Ruhr territory, was shot down in southern Germany.

Bernard O’Connor’s thorough book on the British ‘Pickaxe’ operations quotes the research by Dr Michael Heim. This implies that the Halifax was followed across Germany by conventional tracking; that is to say by echo-location, not radar. German radar resources were concentrated on the approaches to the Ruhr; in 1942 they did not extend to Bavaria. But the Tyrolean guide who found the crash-site was rewarded: if a night-fighter had shot the Halifax down, the pilot who did the deed would almost certainly have been singled out for recognition. If the Halifax was only tracked, not intercepted, then we must look to another cause for its loss. The crew’s course deviation to the south, well off a direct course to the target, may have been a precaution to hide among the lower mountains of the Austrian Tyrol, but this would make sense only if the visibility was perfect and in bright moonlight. Neither condition applied. The crew might have misjudged their own height or the height of the mountains, but this was a highly-experienced crew, well aware of the margins that a change of barometric pressure would make to the altimeter. That night the moon set at 00.45 (BDST and CET, Germany and the UK operating in the same time-zone, GMT+2). The best estimate for the crash is shortly after 01.08 CET, shortly after moon-set. The crash site is not far below the crest of one of the mountains above the village of Kreuth. The crew and two ‘civilians’, Franz Löschl and Lorenz Mraz, are recovered from the wreck, and are eventually buried in the Durnbach military cemetery.

In the 1970s Ron Hockey, the Polish crew’s Flight Commander, wrote about this sortie in a letter to Hugh Verity. Hockey wrote that he was recalled from a 48-hours leave to fly the operation. When he arrived back at Tempsford he found that his CO, W/Cdr Farley, had believed Hockey wouldn’t make it back in time and had instead ordered one of the two Polish crews to carry it out:
“I pleaded with him, but this made him more obstinate and he said he would accompany the crew himself. As their flight commander the Polish crew came and asked me to keep the Wing Commander on the ground, as they did not want to take him, in fact they became quite emotional over this. I thought at the time this was purely due to the fact that Farley was not qualified on type, and had only flown as a passenger in daylight. I had another session with the CO but was unable to change his mind.”

The operation was mounted three nights before First Quarter, the nominal start to the next moon period. The only flying Hockey had done during April was a couple of air tests on 4th and 6th April, and a short flight to Hurn and back on the 7th. All were with a reduced crew in Hockey’s favourite Halifax, L9613. His last operational sortie had been to Czechoslovakia on 25 March, Operation BIVOUAC / ZINC.

Hockey and his crew may have been slated to fly this sortie at the start of the new moon-period. Ron Hockey was the squadron’s only RAF pilot with significant experience of flying operations to eastern Europe. But intense pressure from the USSR, via SOE and the Air Ministry, to carry out the operation appears to have persuaded Farley to make an attempt three nights early. There is even a postponement report for the 17th, six nights before the start of the moon period, a mere three nights after the New Moon. Bad weather was the recorded reason for cancellation that night, but the moon set before 10 p.m. and was only at 3% anyway: useless for operations.

Hockey was recalled from a 48-hour leave to fly the sortie on the 20th, but he arrived too late: Farley had to choose an alternative crew. The Polish crew which had made the previous attempt was ready to operate. Could one of their number have recognised a Russian accent during the earlier sortie? Forewarned, Polish Intelligence may have instructed their crews, through the Polish Inspectorate, to ensure that the Soviet agents did not reach their destination.

From the available evidence I consider Farley’s purpose in accompanying the Polish crew was to ensure that they carried out their duties by dropping the agents correctly. When the Polish crew pleaded with Hockey to persuade Farley against flying, it’s unlikely to have had anything to do with Farley’s lack of experience on the Halifax. Farley was known to be stubborn, and Hockey’s much greater operational experience may have been accentuated this tendency. Hockey, though a Flight Commander, was not privy to the background of these agents, and even if Farley knew their origins (which I doubt) he couldn’t have told Hockey. Hockey only learned about the agents being NKVD long after the war:
“I also discovered much later that the “passengers” were Russians, and this must have been known to the Polish crew through their ‘I’ Branch. That they were instructed internally within the Polish Air Force that their “passengers” should not arrive, cannot be discounted.”

Farley clearly had reservations over the Poles’ reliability, but he couldn’t tell Hockey why, and not because Hockey wold be loyal to his Polish crews. It is even possible that Farley substituted P/O Pulton for the Polish rear gunner in order to forestall any attempt to shoot the agents as they left the aircraft. With Farley aboard the Poles couldn’t prevent the agents’ despatch without making their own return impossible.

A German fighter may have resolved their dilemma, but I doubt it. Dr Heim’s research, quoted by Bernard O’Connor, indicates that the sound of the aircraft was followed from south of Strasbourg at 2 minutes to midnight (German time) at between 1,500 and 3,000 metres altitude, with visibility 10 kilometres. The aircraft’s course was plotted easterly from Ravensburg, and it was last heard at about 01.08 south-east of the Starnberg lake. In Dr Heim’s report there is no indication of any Luftwaffe interception. (I have today, 20 April 2017, learned, through online forum forum.12oclockhigh.net that no German night-fighter claim has been found for this Halifax.)

Was there some sort of confrontation in the Halifax cockpit? Without Farley aboard the Poles could have ensured the agents were dealt with, and the RAF would never have known. But with Farley aboard the Poles could not serve both the RAF and their own Inspectorate: they would have known, even before takeoff — hence their becoming ‘quite emotional’ — that they could not return if they succeeded in sabotaging the operation; nor could they return having failed.


138 Squadron ORB
TNA HS 4/342: SOE files, Operations WHISKEY, RUM
Imperial War Museum, Private papers of Group Captain R.C. Hockey, DSO, DFC
RAF Museum: Logbook, Group Captain Hockey (fiche)
Churchill and Stalin’s secret agents: Operation Pickaxe at RAF Tempsford, by Bernard O’Connor, p.80.
Steve Harris’s Tempsford website

Wednesday, 25 March 1942

I include this PICKAXE sortie for the NKVD, which takes place after 138 Squadron has moved to Tempsford, because it is the first attempt to carry out Operation WHISKEY.

Operation WHISKEY

This first attempt at WHISKEY is piloted by Flying Officer Zygmuntowicz. In accordance with normal protocols in the Polish Air Force, the aircraft captain is the Navigator, F/Lt Voellnagel.

The report written in the 138 Squadron ORB is very brief. However, a copy of the aircrew debriefing report has been kept in the WHISKEY SOE file.

At 20.00 F/O Zygmuntowicz takes off in Halifax V9976 from RAF Bourne, about ten miles north east of Tempsford. The Halifax crosses the French coast at Le Touquet at 21.27. The weather is fine as far as Mannheim, but the visibility deteriorates east of 12° East. Mist fills the valleys, and surrounds the target area, which they reach at 01.30. The target is at 48°04’N, 16°06’E, south-west of Vienna. Only the mountain-tops are visible above the valley-mist. They fly around the target area for about an hour, but nothing is seen and the operation is abandoned. The French coast is re-crossed at 04.45, and they land at Tangmere at 06.00.

The two agents are NKVD officers: Peter Staritsky (alias Peter Schulenberg) and Vsevolod Troussevitch (alias Johan Traum). There is no indication in the files as to their mission in Austria. This sortie may have provided the Polish crew with the suspicion that the agents are Soviet agents; before or during the flight it would have taken only an unguarded word or two from the agents to alert the crew to their origins. The Poles are closely in touch with the Polish Inspectorate and with Polish Intelligence, the latter being a most formidable organisation. Interference by the Polish Inspectorate in 138 Squadron’s operations has only recently been lanced by a conference held at Tempsford by the Deputy CAS, Air Marshal Bottomley.

It is clearly stated that the final possible date for an attempt in this moon-period is 5 April. Considerable pressure is brought to bear, even implying that they operation should be attempted after the end of the moon period, the agents prepared to be dropped anywhere in the Danube valley east of Linz. The Soviets regard the crew and aircraft as expendable. The British don’t.


TNA HS4/342: SOE file for PICKAXE operations WHISKEY and RUM
TNA AIR 2/5203: Formation of Special Duties Flight: No. 138 Squadron
Freddie Clark: ‘Agents by Moonlight’, p. 60
Bernard O’Connor: Churchill and Stalin’s secret agents : Operation Pickaxe at RAF Tempsford

Friday, 7 November 1941

This night is a busy one for the squadron: one Lysander pickup operation for SIS, one Whitley operation to Holland, consequential for SOE; another to Yugoslavia, a first; and the squadron’s first Halifax operation to Poland, flown by a Polish crew. The night is a heavy one for Bomber Command: it is a ‘maximum effort’ against Berlin, Mannheim, Cologne, Essen and Ostend. 392 aircraft set out, 37 do not return; many are casualties of bad weather over the North Sea.


In the RAF argot of the era, Nesbitt-Dufort’s second attempt at this operation is a ‘piece of cake’. He takes off an hour later than last night, at 9.20 p.m. (GMT+1), possibly because the moon rises about 40 minutes later. Following the same R/T procedure with the south-coast radar stations, he crosses the French coast between Criel-sur-Mer and Le Treport at 8,000 feet, pinpoints at Compiègne, picks up the target lights inside seven minutes, and lands three minutes later in a field a couple of kilometres WSW of Soissons, close to the village of Ambleney.

He is stationary on the ground for about two minutes and twenty seconds, during which time the A.3. (Belgian section) agent SAGA is disembarked with his luggage, and Claude Lamirault (FITZROY) and Roger Mitchell (BRICK) are embarked with theirs. Take-off and the journey home are uneventful, and Nesbitt-Dufort crosses the French coast a little east of Le Treport. He is given homing instructions by MUNGA and lands back at Tangmere at 20 minutes after midnight, just three hours after take-off.

FITZROY and BRICK are both returning to the UK for debrief and a brief respite from the clandestine life: they will be dropped back on 8 December as CLAUDIUS and BERYL. Roger Mitchell, who has recently stood in for Roman Garby-Czerniawski as head of INTERALLIE during the latter’s own visit to London in October, will be on hand to assist in the assessment of the fallout from the capture of the INTERALLIE circuit in ten days time, specifically to interpret the bogus messages received from Mathilde Carré in her new guise as VICTOIRE, purportedly having evaded capture in the roundup.

Operation CATARRH

This operation has the most grave consequences for SOE, for the agents parachuted are Thijs Taconis and Huub Lauwers. Their capture will trigger the Dutch tragedy known as ‘Der Englandspiel’, the luring of several dozen agents to immediate capture, some to their eventual death.

From F/Lt Murphy’s report, there is nothing portentous about the operation: Murphy and his usual crew, with two Leading Aircraftmen aboard as despatchers, cross the Suffolk coast at Southwold. Half an hour later, over the North Sea, two aircraft close to within 500 yards, but Murphy loses them by turning sharply to port. Flying under a dense bank of cloud they cross the Dutch coast at Ymuiden and fly over the Zuiderzee to Meppel, reaching it at 23.57. From there they fly south-east to the target near Ommen, where they drop the two agents shortly after midnight. They return to Meppel, retracing their outward route, dropping leaflets along their homeward route from 100 feet up — only possible over Holland!

The story of Lauwers and Taconis is too well-known for me to repeat in detail. Lauwers was captured in March 1942 at his set, and was forced to transmit. He used his security-check, but this was ignored by SOE’s Dutch section, which transmitted details of agents to be parachuted. These were met by Major Herman Giskes of the Abwehr and his team. Soon Giskes had lured several agents and their W/T sets to Holland; in essence, he came to run SOE’s activities in Holland until he tired of the game in 1944. The RAF had ceased operations to Holland several months before, due to unreasonable losses.

I recommend reading MRD Foot’s ‘SOE in the Low Countries’ and Leo Marks’s ‘Between Silk and Cyanide’ for the British side of the story, and Herman Giskes’ ‘Operation North Pole’ for the German Abwehr’s side of the story. (Early editions of the Giskes book may also have Huub Lauwers’ own account in an appendix.) Giskes was a highly-experienced operator: before his posting to the Netherlands in October 1941 he’d had considerable success in Paris by infiltrating British-sponsored intelligence organisations.

Operation BULLSEYE (Yugoslavia)

On the morning of the 7th the submarines have arrived in Malta — probably sneaking in during the previous night — with the equipment for Jackson and Austin to drop over Yugoslavia. Jackson attends a morning conference chaired by the SASO, with two Army officers, the two experienced Serbian pilots who are to act as navigation guides, the officer i/c/ the Wellington Flight. The Serbian pilots claim that the winds in the mountains at this time of year make the operation too hazardous by night, and the Wellington Flight commander states that the pinpoints would be impossible to find. A signal was to be sent to the Air Ministry saying that any attempt would be made by day.

Only two containers are ready for dropping. Jackson has three crew off sick. Austin thinks a night attempt is feasible: he volunteers to make an attempt that night, and takes Jackson’s Z9158 up for a test flight at 11.00. He takes off for Yugoslavia at 21.50, and sets course for his first turning-point at Saseno (Sazan) Island, at the entrance to the Adriatic. The next pinpoint is at Cap Bodoni (Cape of Rodon), on the coast further north. From there he heads inland to Mitrovice, in modern-day Kosovo. Cacac is the final pinpoint, with the target in the nearby hills to the north-east.

In the event the weather is fine, with isolated cloud over the sea up to 6,500 feet. Austin flies at 10,000 feet to keep well above any high ground. The three or four signal-fires are clearly visible. Austin signals with the letter ‘R’, which is returned, and several more fires are lit. A green flare is fired from some fires in the form of a cross indicating the wind-direction. At 02.56 the containers are dropped from 3,600 feet to keep the Whitley well above the terrain; at this distance from base their instrument-height may be considerably inaccurate. The rear gunner sees a parachute open.

Austin and his crew immediately make their return to Luqa, arriving at 07.15, and they land 25 minutes later.

Operation RUCTION

RUCTION is the first operation to Poland carried out by an all-Polish crew, so there is a lot riding on it. General Sikorski has pushed hard for the Polish Home Army and underground to be supplied from the air by Polish crews. The aircraft are still British, but there is no doubt that, had Sikorski not agitated strongly for four-engined aircraft, 138 Squadron could have whistled in vain for the Halifax. The bomber is still very new: so far only No. 35 Squadron had been equipped with the type. On 23rd October the Poles have been sent to Linton-on-Ouse for three days’ Halifax conversion-training.

The agents are: Capt. Niemir Stanislaw Bidzinski (ZIEGE), 2/Lt Napoleon Segieda (WERA), and Lt Jan Piwnik (PONURY). There is no operation report on RUCTION, because the crew deliberately crash-lands in Sweden, near Tormelilla. Their version is that they have dropped their agents over Poland when the hydraulic system fails and the undercarriage is lowered. The crew cannot raise it. By now over Denmark, the crew realise that, with the undercart locked down there is no prospect of the Halifax making it back across the North Sea, so they turn towards neutral Sweden, and crash-land. The crew is taken into custody by the Swedish authorities, and they are eventually repatriated to the UK.

W/Cdr Farley’s comments on the operation, contained in an exasperated letter to the Air Ministry after another operation to Poland in January, is revealing:

It has now been established that the loss of the first aircraft was due to mishandling. Colonel Rudowski (sic), who accompanied the crew against orders, did not fully understand the undercarriage system. They have stated that they could not raise the undercarriage as there was no emergency hand pump. There is, of course, a hand pump and the fluid could have been lost only by leaving the selector in the “up” position instead of the “neutral” position during the flight.

As the Poles’ Commanding Officer, Farley has every right to enquire why one of his squadron’s rare and precious Halifaxes has come to a sticky end on its first operation. Though at the time of writing he has yet to fly the Halifax on operations, he will have familiarised himself with his squadron’s aircraft. He also has an experienced Halifax pilot in Sqn Ldr Ron Hockey, who has (by the time Farley writes this report) flown the ANTHROPOID operation at the end of December, and has a thorough knowledge of the Halifax’s controls and systems.

In his ‘Poland, SOE and the Allies’, Josef Garlinksi does not mention this episode, despite its importance.


TNA AIR 40/2579: Lysander Operations, 419 Flight & 138 Squadron.


TNA AIR 20/8334, Encl. 104A


TNA AIR20/8334, Encls 97A, 103A


TNA AIR 2/5203, Farley letter to DDI2 dated 13 January 1942.