Tag Archives: Peterson

Wednesday, 1 April, 1942

161 Squadron, RAF Graveley: Operation MACKEREL

Sergeant Peterson is one of the pilots and crews transferred from 138 Squadron to 161 Squadron. He has the privilege of carrying out 161 Squadron’s first Whitley operation. It’s more likely to be an SIS operation than anything for SOE, for the new squadron has been formed specifically to provide SIS with a dedicated air-transport resource in the face of increased demand from SOE. While 138 Squadron will be dedicated solely to SOE operations, 161 Squadron will carry out a share of SOE operations, but not at the expense of SIS.

The target is about 6 miles south-east of Arles. He takes off from Tangmere to get as far south before starting this long-range sortie; it’s also unlikely that Graveley has any of the infrastructure required for handling agent departures. Flying on ETA over France, Peterson’s pinpoint is near ‘L’Etang d’Or (Golden Lake) on the French coast, but he crosses the coast about 20 miles west, somewhere near the town of Sète. He flies eastward along the coast until he picks up the correct pinpoint, and then sets course for the target, nearly thirty miles away in the flatlands that border the mouth of the Rhône.

Sgt Peterson submits the following report, which is reproduced in the 161 Squadron ORB:
Airborne TANGMERE 2045 hrs, set course for CAEN and crossed the French coast on course at 2138 and set course for Tours. I crossed the River Loire at 2229 hrs and altered course for point ‘A’, position 43 degrees 32 minutes N, 04 degrees 08 minutes E. On ETA 0021 hrs broke cloud 2000 feet over Southern French coast. Pinpointed 20 miles west of Point ‘A’, followed coast to Point ‘A’ and map read to target. Pinpointed target 43 degrees 36 minutes N, 04 degrees 42 minutes East at 0050 hrs.

Decreased height to 500 feet, airspeed 100 mph and made run upwind 250 degrees T. Despatched the passenger and the package which were observed by the rear gunner to land safely on the target. Made second circuit at same height and air speed and despatched two other passengers again observed by rear gunner to land on the target. Crossed English coast at 0610 hrs and landed at 0630 hrs.


Operations Record Book, 161 Squadron: AIR 27/1068, p.20

Monday, 2 March 1942


The report for Sergeant Thompson’s sortie to drop three agents is almost too short to appear worth recording. Thompson takes off in Whitley T4166 at 22.50, crosses the French coast near Abbeville, drops all his passengers successfully, and returns to base. End of story for Sergeant Thompson.

The three agents cannot be dispensed with so quickly.

TIGER is Roger Cerf, a Belgian upper-class twerp whose social ego is his downfall. As soon as he lands he just goes home to his parents and tells all his friends exactly what he is doing. His self-importance leads, unsurprisingly, to his almost immediate arrest. Despite some heavy aristocratic lobbying on the young man’s behalf, the Germans shoot him in August 1942.

COLLIE is Philippe de Liedekerke, a 27-year-old engineer, the son of a count. Intended to work with Cerf, he separates from his unreliable partner almost as soon as he lands. Somehow he has kept enough about himself back from Cerf for the Germans to be unable to find him. His mission is to contact the various existing organisations in Belgium, such as the Legion Belge, and ascertain their loyalties and intentions. COLLIE is highly successful. Not only does he return to London with one of the legion’s leaders, Charles Claser, he returns to Belgium twice more on clandestine operations. He is awarded the Military Cross; after the war he becomes a distinguished diplomat.

Jacques van Horen (or van Hoven) is TERRIER. He is dropped into deep snow somewhere south-west of Marche-en-Famenne, not far from where the Abbé Jourdain had been dropped in July the previous year. So far I have been unable to find out where the other two agents are dropped. The brevity of the ORB entry about this sortie might lead one to believe that the agents were dropped together, but in ‘SOE in the Low Countries’, MRD Foot appeared unaware that TERRIER had been dropped from the same aircraft as TIGER and COLLIE.

Van Horen is intended to be a wireless-operator for Jean Pierre Absil, who was still in France and inactive thanks to a warning from Maurice Simon, a Section D agent whose circumstances had forced him to become a Gestapo agent. He takes up his pre-war occupation and lived with his parents; on finding out that Absil’s replacement was in prison, van Horen plans an escape: the hour-long W/T conversation leads to his arrest and severe interrogation. Placed in St Gilles prison in Brussels, he learns that Cerf is two cells along, but the occupant of the intermediate cell is a stool-pigeon. Somehow van Horen survives the war.


This is a container-drop to André Fonck, the wireless-operator for OUTCAST (Jean Nicolas Léon Maus). Sergeant Peterson crosses the French coast south of Abbeville at 5,000 feet, and drops to 2,500 feet on his route towards Sedan. His only description of the target is that he flies between woods to the aiming point. After an hour circling the area he sees a white torch carried by a man, who presumably gives the correct Morse signal to persuade Peterson to drop the six containers, which he does in one pass. (The Whitley’s observer (or the pilot) can drop them all at once by selecting ‘Salvo’ on the control panel.) Peterson then returns to base, landing at 23.30.

Both agents have broken one of SOE’s cardinal rules, to stay away from one’s family. They have each returned home, Maus to his wife near Namur, Fonck to his parents at Grapfontaine. Perhaps Fonck disposes of the container casings by donating them as raw materials for his father’s forge. Fonck always transmits from home, and ‘la goniométrie’ gets him on 2 May. Maus is picked up, only indirectly through Fonck, on 13 May, and is tried and shot less than two months later. Fonck survives the war — just — as a slave labourer in Sachsenhausen, Auschwitz and Buchenwald.


S/Ldr Davies, DFC, has a more successful attempt at dropping the two SIS agents that Sgt Peterson had attempted to drop on 28 January. (The 138 Squadron Summary identifies it as an SIS operation.) Several other SIS operations for northern France appear on the same Air Transport Form (ATF): MORRIS/COWLEY, BEAUFORT, BOON and BURR, about which nothing is known.

Davies takes off at 18.56 in Whitley Z9230 and flies via Tangmere to the French coast north of the Somme estuary. Half-way to Douai he drops down to 800 feet over the pinpoint, which is ‘clearly visible’. The agents are dropped and Davies returns to base and lands at 00.22.

Davies and his crew will be shot down in the same Whitley on 29 July, by a night-fighter over Holland while approaching the LETTUCE target. All are killed. Freddie Clark was sure this was linked to ‘der Englandspiel’.



138 Squadron ORB
MRD Foot: SOEILC, pp. 279-83 (TERRIER), 285-6 (TIGER, COLLIE)


138 Squadron Ops Summary
ATFs for Jan-Feb ’42.
MRD Foot, SOEILC, pp. 265-6
Freddie Clark, ABM, p. 80


138 Squadron ORB,
138 Squadron Ops Summary

Saturday, 31 January 1942

These OVERCLOUD operations can easily be confused with the maritime OVERCLOUD operations reported in Brooks Richards’s ‘Secret Flotillas’. They relate to the same organisation, set up by the Free French (RF) section of SOE, and involved several figures who had been instrumental in some of the very early SOE sabotage operations. It operated in Brittany, and was therefore under the watchful eye, and control where naval activities were concerned, of SIS.

The first OVERCLOUD air sortie has already been carried out by P/O Anderle on 12 December, a container-drop near to the Meucon airfield near Vannes.

Operation OVERCLOUD 2

P/O Simmonds takes off at 19.36 in Whitley ‘L’, Z9232. He is over the target at 23.35 and drops four containers. (The report does not mention the two packages on the ATF.) Due to poor visibility they land at Steeple Morden at 02.00. There is no information available about the target.

Operation OVERCLOUD 3

Sgt Peterson takes off at 21.04 in Whitley ‘M’ Z9282. Over the target at 00.55; four containers are dropped. Peterson returns without encountering any enemy opposition (encounters are rare anyway at this period of the war) and lands at Stradishall at 03.54.

The timings of these two sorties indicate the possibility that these sorties formed a ‘double’, though if both targets were at the same location the second drop would have been risky to those on the ground. The organisation had several experienced personnel, easily enough to man two separate landing-sites; this would also have facilitated the disposal of the containers and the dispersal of their contents.

Takeoff and landing times are from the Stradishall log.



Stradishall Ops Officers’ Log
138 Squadron ORB
TNA AIR 20/8334, encl. 115A
TNA HS 7/123 (SOE RF History)

Wednesday, 28 January 1942

These sorties are attempted on a night of appalling weather, disastrous for Bomber Command, in which a cold front contributes to the loss of 36 bombers. The forecast for the night must have been favourable, for seven aircraft from 138 Squadron are out that night, including a Lysander, and Bomber Command has ordered raids on a wide range of targets. But, as John Nesbitt-Dufort records in his book ‘Black Lysander’, a cold weather front of impassable ferocity moves south-eastwards across northern Europe. Returning bombers are faced with a strong, freezing head-wind on the return leg. Four 138 Squadron Whitleys do not complete their operations due to the weather, with one successful. One of the squadron’s Whitleys is lost, with an especially valuable crew. The Lysander has to make a forced-landing in France, its pilot going into hiding. From the timings recorded it appears that the bad weather does not make itself felt until around midnight, and Nesbitt-Dufort would certainly not have attempted his operation had he known what was to block his return. Weather forecasting was reliant on weather-ship observations out in the Atlantic, with almost no data available from Occupied Europe, and weather-modelling was primitive by today’s standards.


The target in Belgium may be near Lac Gileppe, recorded on a December ’41 ATF in ink. This confirmed in a December-January ATF, which indicates the target to be Verviers, the nearest town. These show the operations are to drop one agent and four containers, but an ATF for 23 January shows two packages, six containers and six pigeons; no agent.

P/O Anderle takes off at 19.01. He crosses the French coast at 20.52, probably at Berck-sur-Mer or Le Crotoy, and sets course for St Quentin. He describes weather conditions as ‘bad’, and fails to find the target area. He sets course for the French coast, dropping leaflets over a ‘small town some two miles south of Amiens’. He sets course for Stradishall, and lands at 01.44.


Sgt Peterson flies a sortie delivering a pair of SIS operations to France. Unsurprisingly, the identity of both BRANDROLL and BALDRIC remains a mystery. The relevant ATF shows that the sortie was to northern France, and that the ‘cargo’ was to be one man and one ‘A’ type. (The ‘A’ type could be either a cargo parachute (the ‘A’ type had originally been designed as a cargo parachute), or an agent suspended beneath a cargo (usually a W/T set or a rucksack) above his head. In this case it is two agents, one an organiser using an ‘X’ type (the standard paratroop harness & canopy) and the other his W/T operator plus set.

The 138 Squadron ORB records that Sgt Peterson abandons the operation because the target area is unidentifiable, obliterated by snow. He returns to Stradishall and lands at 01.44.


Sgt Wilde is the skipper for this sortie. He takes off in Whitley Z9286 from Stradishall at 19.15. He crosses the French coast at 21.03 hrs, and pinpoints on Valenciennes. He flies a rather wavy course along the canal to Mons, and from there sets course for the target, some 6 km east of Mons. It appears that the reception committee is absent, and the three agents are dropped, to the crew’s satisfaction at least. Wilde then goes on to drop leaflets over Douai on the route out. Slight enemy opposition from the ground before they cross the French coast at 22.56. They land at base at 01.30.

However, according to MRD Foot, the agents are dropped not in Belgium but slightly over the French border, near Mauberge. Undaunted, MANFRIDAY and INTERSECTION cross into Belgium and hide up in Mons without incident. MANFRIDAY is Sgt Oscar Catherine, and his W/T-operator companion Gaston Aarens is code-named INTERSECTION. Aarens lasts almost to the end of March before being caught at his set; and talks. His W/T set is used by the Germans to inveigle other agents to be dropped in a small-scale version of ‘Der Englandspiel’; unsurprising, as Giskes’ responsibilities also run to Belgium. Catherine has a varied career for a year: he plans industrial sabotage and organises a resistance newspaper before his capture in January 1943, his face well-known to the Abwehr. Somehow he survives Dachau.

MARMOSET, 20-year-old Achille Hottia, is being sent out to assist Armand Campion, parachuted in August 1941. PERIWIG 1 is a W/T set for Campion. Hottia makes his own way over the border into Belgium. Coincidentally, on this same night Campion is captured at his set; fortunate for Hottia that his delivery by the RAF has been delayed. However, Campion immediately betrays everyone he has met since he parachuted. Once in Belgium Hottia learns of Campion’s arrest and makes himself scarce, attempting to return to the UK via France and Spain along an escape-line. He narrowly escapes an ambush on France, returns to Belgium and meets up to Octave Fabri, who had helped to train him in England. The two work together for a while before Hottia makes another attempt to get back to the UK. This time, in April 1943, he is captured. He is shot in September.


P/O W.R. Austin flies this sortie to Arlon, to deliver 6 containers to André Fonck (BALACLAVA), and to drop an agent Alphonse Delmeire (CANTICLE); Delmeire is to provide DUNCAN (F. Vergucht) with a W/T set dropped in an ‘A’ type cargo parachute.

The recently-commissioned P/O Austin takes off in Whitley Z9232 at 19.10. In a brief report in the ORB (there is no other): ‘Weather conditions not satisfactory, so operation abandoned.’ Leaflets are dropped over Lens — apparently on both the outward and return legs — and he lands back at Stradishall at 23.16.

The BALACLAVA drop is to Etalle, to the west of Arlon, and will eventually be dropped on 2 March, but as it is not combined with any other operation, Fonck is able to continue operating; at least until the ‘Gonio’ (French slang for the German wireless interception teams) surround his parents’ farm in May 1942.

But it is interesting to speculate on the situation had CANTICLE/DUNCAN been delivered on this night, for they are dropped on 1 March with Operation PERIWIG, which means a W/T set for Armand Campion. By this time Campion has been caught, squeezed and his set hijacked. The reception is organised by the Germans. Delmeire is dropped well off-target courtesy of poor navigation, so he evades capture, but as soon as he tries to contact Campion at a pre-arranged meeting, he is arrested and disappears for ever. The other set for DUNCAN does not lead the Germans to Vergucht, but without a W/T set he cannot operate; he makes his way to England, arriving by the end of 1943.

Operation BERYL 1

This sortie by Nesbitt-Dufort is well-documented, having been recounted in several books with varying degrees of accuracy. Dufort’s own post-war account in ‘Black Lysander’ doesn’t quite square with the report that he wrote shortly afterwards. This is not surprising: he is unlikely to have had access to the official report once he had submitted it.

The operation is for the Free French intelligence ,organisation BCRA. Dufort is to deliver one agent with a suitcase, and pick up two important BCRA intelligence figures: Lt Roger Mitchell (BRICK) and Maurice Duclos (SAINT-JACQUES) for consultations in London. The outbound BCRA agent is Philippe Valat (alias Philippe Franc, code-named SAPIN), a wireless operator his suitcase presumably a new set.

All goes well for the outward journey and the landing: Nesbitt-Dufort takes off from Tangmere in T1508 at 19.15, and sets course for Trouville, just far enough west of the Seine estuary not to come under Le Havre’s fierce anti-aircraft defences, but at 9,000 feet he’s above all but the heaviest flak. He encounters a little icing, but nothing serious. He pinpoints on the Loire and map-reads to the target: Issoudun aerodrome, currently disused, where he lands. He disembarks Valet and the two others take his place.

He takes off and heads north, setting course for Fécamp, aiming to cross the English coast at Beachy Head. After about an hour in the air, he sees an angry wall of cloud ahead of him, barring the way home. The cloud extends from about 700 feet upwards, beyond 30,000 feet, well beyond the ceiling of a Lysander. First he flies west to see if he can find a gap, then east for double the time: no way through. He then tries to fly beneath the 10/10ths cloud, but is forced lower and lower until he is almost hedge-hopping. His windscreen and the leading-edges of his wings ice up; this low down it is suicidal. He turns south and exits the cloud. At this point he estimates that he is south of the Seine, level with Bernay, south-west of Rouen.

Now he attempts to climb as high as the Lysander will let him, bearing in mind that he has two passengers and their valuable suitcases of documents. He is reluctant to try this, not least because he is far from sure of his position. His intercom and R/T have packed up: not only can he not talk with his passengers, but he won’t be able to get a homing bearing from base once he is clear of the French coast. His situation is similar to that faced by Farley in October 1940, who was fortunate to end up in Scotland. Nesbitt-Dufort will almost certainly know about it direct from Wally Farley, who recruited him to the job.

But Nesbitt-Dufort has no alternative if he is to get his passengers back to England. He climbs to 10,000 feet and enters the boiling mass of cloud. Almost immediately the Lysander is tossed about like an autumn leaf; the air-speed indicator ices up, the gyro-compass fails in the electrical storm and the aircraft ices up, almost stalling the engine. He loses height to seven thousand feet, then six, and only just retains control of the aircraft. Fortunately the magnetic compass still works well enough for him to coax the Lysander onto an approximately southerly course, and he emerges from the cloud at less than 1,000 feet.

He has been flying for nearly six hours, much of it at high engine-boost. He reckons he has about 50 gallons of petrol left. It is about 1 a.m. and they are not going to make it back. He makes the decision to fly south, past the demarcation line and back into Vichy France, into the countryside around Châteauroux. He crosses the Loire at Orleans, and crosses the demarcation line at Bourges, heading for Issoudun. He knows he cannot return to the same airfield, even if he can find it, so he decides to put down in what appears to be a large field. Unfortunately it consists of several smaller fields, with a raised road running between. The ground is frozen and the brakes have little effect. He is almost out of fuel. The undercarriage meets the raised roadside edge of the field and the Lysander capsizes on to its nose. From photos taken shortly after by a local photographer it appears that he has landed in a south-easterly direction, downwind, making his landing run much longer.

The IFF destruction charge has detonated when they crashed (probably by a Graviner inertia trigger). Nesbitt-Dufort tries to set the Lysander on fire by stabbing at the petrol tanks with a knife borrowed from Duclos, but the self-sealing fuel tanks hamper the process. Three times, with three flares, he manages to get a small trickle of petrol ablaze, but eventually they have to give up and make tracks.

They hide up while Duclos goes into Issoudun, makes contact with the station-master, and returns to the other two in a car. Dufort, Duclos and Mitchell are soon hidden by the station-master’s family, at great risk, concealed for much of the time in a cubby-hole beneath the railway platform.


At 19.00 P/O Smith takes off in Whitley Z9287, but less then two hours later, at 20.40, he abandons the sortie due to ‘icing and electrical disturbances’. He lands back at Stradishall at 23.16.

This is another attempt to drop Edmond Courtin (MOUSE), with one set for himself, another for the discouraged Frederic Wampach (VERMILION). A rather plaintive memo dated January 15th sums up the situation as it is known in London:

VERMILION’s W/T set has never functioned, though we heard him once very faintly on the 29th October 1941. We made arrangements to send over another radio operator, i.e. MOUSE, who was taking 2 W/T sets with him, one for himseLf and a new one for VERMILION.
MOUSE was scheduled to leave by the November moon, but owing to the RAF not playing, he has been hanging around here, and is still awaiting departure. We have been expecting him to go off at any time, and that is the reason why you have not been informed that VERMILION was definitely out of action. We hope that MOUSE will leave at the beginning of the moon period in about a week’s time.

WHITSUN appears to be Claude Lamirault with a new codename; this is another instance of an SIS operation being combined with an SOE one, albeit concerned with different countries.


At 19.34 Sgt E.E. Jones takes off from Stradishall in Whitley Z6728, ‘F’. His aircraft is lost on the return leg. Ken Merrick wrote of a report of engine trouble and a fading radar plot out to sea. Though several aircraft from No. 11 Group go out searching for it the next day, they find nothing. Freddie Clark wrote that the Whitley was ditched 20 miles off the coast; two bodies were apparently washed up in a dinghy in mid-February, though he gave no details about where this information came from. Wing Commander Jack Benham had acted as the Despatcher on this sortie and the Moulin one. One of the pioneers on the staff of the parachute school at Ringway, in the summer of 1941 Benham had been due for a posting to India to develop parachute training there but had been found medically unfit for an overseas posting, so came to Stradishall, though in what official capacity is not entirely clear. An obituary published by the Harrington Museum indicates that he was a Despatch Officer, but considering his expertise, his role may have been to oversee the training of the squadron’s despatchers, which had
no official RAF ‘trade’.

Sergeant Jones and several of his crew had delivered Jean Moulin to France in January. Their last sortie would not be in vain: far from it. They were to drop six containers to Guy Stinglhamber (MUSJID) who had been in Belgium since the previous September, and to insert two agents, André Wendelen (MANDAMUS) and his wireless operator, Jean Brion (MAJORDOMO). We have no way of knowing whether MUSJID received his containers, but we do know that the two agents were dropped successfully. Brion was active for nearly five months before being caught by the German direction-finders. Wendelen and Brion were to work in the Liège area on sabotage and propaganda, but the forty-year-old Wendelen met a like-minded but younger Jean Burgers and together they started a formidable sabotage organisation that came to be known as ‘Groupe G’. Wendelen was effective until the Liberation, operating under different identities until Belgium was overrun by Allied forces in 1944.



138 Squadron ORB
138 Squadron Operational Summary


MRD Foot, SOEILC, pp.271-4


MRD Foot, SOEILC, pp. 252-3, 265-7, 270


Didier Dubant: 50 Ans d’Aviation dans le Ciel de l’Indre, 1909-1959, Editions Sutton.
Personal on-site research


TNA HS6/184, Encl. 20B
Alya Aglan, Histoire du Réseau JADE-FITZROY (copy In British Library, cited by Pierre Tillon.
MRD Foot, SOEILC, pp. 259-62


Stradishall Ops log
MRD Foot, SOEILC, pp.277-9
Jack Benham obituary in the Harrington Museum magazine Dropzone, Vol. 10, Issue 1 (2012)