Tag Archives: Poland

Intelligence organisation of Poland’s government-in-exile

Tuesday, 12 August 1941

Operation PERIWIG/MILL

This second attempt to drop the MILL team is combined with PERIWIG. Why hasn’t this been done in the first place? The previous attempts to complete PERIWIG and MILL have been in two aircraft on the same night, though the targets are only 70 miles apart. Perhaps it is because SIS takes a dim view of sharing air resources with SOE. It has a valid point: SOE’s overt intentions of creating havoc through acts of sabotage and assassination render its agents more likely to get caught. Intelligence agents, often under deep cover, are vulnerable to accidental recognition.

But the 12th is the last opportunity to complete outstanding operations before the end of the moon period. Each service will have provided an accompanying/escorting officer, who will not have been unaware of the situation. Perhaps it is a case of Knowles stating in his characteristically blunt manner to both parties something to the effect of: “There’s one aeroplane for Belgium tonight; if your agent’s on board we’ll try and drop him, otherwise that’s your lot until the end of the month.” That night Ron Hockey is flying SHE to the Dordogne, and Sgt Reimer is taking four separate operations to central France, so even if there were a reserve Whitley there isn’t a reserve crew. (Though W/Cdr Knowles dates two reports to the 12th, he has flown them earlier; he just doesn’t provide the date they are flown.)

PERIWIG is dropped first, Austin pinpointing at Ath before dropping Campion near Silly. They then fly south to Trélon, identifiable by its large surrounding forest, just over the border in France. They pinpoint again at Chimay before dropping the two MILL agents about a mile south of Salles. This target is less than four miles from Momignies, the site of the Leenaerts operation almost exactly a year before. (Verhoeyen records that they were in fact dropped near Cerfontaine, about 11 miles to the north-east.) The rear Gunner sees the two parachutes open, and the canopies are seen on the ground as Austin flies another circuit of the area. It is a night of good weather, with good visibility. On the return leg they are coned by about 20 searchlights as they crossed the coast, probably at Nieuwport. (The typed report has been hole-punched through the name.)

The folly of combining operations is demonstrated by Campion’s capture. Campion proceeds to denounce almost everyone he knows. According to MRD Foot, ‘his brother, his sister-in-law, his nieces, the doctor who had set his ankle’ – he had, unseen by the departing Whitley’s crew, broken it severely on landing – ‘the mother superior of the convent [that had sheltered him], everyone he had met during his training and all the reception committee.’ Sgt Austin’s despatchers – there are two on this sortie, one under training – are most likely instructed to keep the SIS and SOE parties apart, both before embarkation and in the confined space of the Whitley’s rear fuselage. Whatever strategem is used, it appears to work: the MILL party escapes the attentions of the Gestapo, providing an almost constant stream of intelligence material back to London right up to the Liberation. According to Debruyne, MILL is particularly effective at railway-based intelligence, concentrating their efforts in the Hainaut area. Some 700 agents and helpers are involved.

Operation LUMOND, ADJUDICATE, FABULOUS, CHICKEN

This is the first sortie as aircraft captain for Sergeant Alvin Reimer, a Canadian pilot. His reports are concise, and give little away. This night is the last opportunity to complete outstanding operations before the end of the early August moon period, and Sgt Reimer’s record shows that he is the sort to press on and complete his task if it is feasible. The attempt to mount the operations on this sortie, all for SOE, is decided only at the last minute.

Take-off is slightly delayed, therefore, and the Whitley’s rear fuselage is full. There are four agents, four W/T sets, and a single despatcher. ADJUDICATE is scheduled first, to drop Count Dzieřgowski and a W/T set near Limoges. CHICKEN is the Belgian agent Octave Fabri, whose mission is to sabotage an aircraft-engine factory near Antwerp, but the cultural antipathies that still plague Belgium may have ruled out a more direct drop into the Ardennes. He is to be dropped about ten kilometres north of Châteauroux. Finally, FABULOUS and LUMOND are to be dropped about ten kilometres further north. FABULOUS was ‘one man with a large W/T set’ to be dropped for Henri Labit and a new circuit he was trying to set up after the failure of TORTURE. LUMOND was ‘one man with a W/T set, and one large W/T set as a separate package’, but no more is known about this SOE operation.

Reimer and his crew take off at 21.30 and fly via Tangmere to Caen, crossing the French coast at 23.24. They arrive over Limoges an hour and a half later, but low cloud prevents them finding the pinpoint for ADJUDICATE. They set course northwards and drop CHICKEN. Fabri makes his way to Belgium after making a series of beginners’ mistakes that no-one harmful picked up, and he survives the war after a catalogue of misfortunes which would have done away with a less lucky man.

The Whitley then carries on towards its next target, about 10 kilometres further north, arriving about ten minutes later, which indicates that Reimer has tried to give his rear team time to prepare. But Sgt Moy, although an experienced despatcher, has had to rearrange and prepare FABULOUS (a wireless-operator and set for Henri Labit) and LUMOND (a wireless operator and two sets) in a cramped fuselage still encumbered with Count Dzieřgowski and his W/T set. Over the FABULOUS/LUMOND target Reimer assumes that his despatcher was ready, and presses the green light, but the two agents and their three sets are still not ready. Reimer is forced to make a circuit of the target, and the crew lose sight of it in the cloud. After this one circuit Reimer is forced to abandon the drop in order to be clear of the French coast before daybreak.

We have this information about the drop because on 14 August SOE writes to the Air Ministry for an explanation. Three days later Group Captain Bradbury passes SOE’s note to W/Cdr Knowles at Newmarket, demanding: ‘Please render your report without delay and return the attachment.’ Knowles’s explanation is not on file, so we have only one side of the story.

Operation SHE

Two nights after Jackson’s attempt at SHE, F/O Hockey flew his first operation as skipper. Hockey now skippers the second attempt at SHE. This is the only operational sortie he flies with his great friend ‘Sticky’ Murphy as his Second Pilot.

They set off shortly after nine p.m. and follow much the same route as Jackson. They make landfall at Grandcamp, a little further west along the Normandy coast. They cross the Loire at Saumur, and reach Périgueux at 00.50. Low and medium cloud have given way to clear weather with a slight haze, and Hockey drops to about 1,500 feet. At 00.58 they identify the target, and 15 minutes later they have completed the operation.

Hockey and his crew make their way to the Atlantic coast, pinpointing at Bigenos in Archachon Bay. Despite the cloud cover over the Bay of Biscay two ships fire at them. They make landfall in West Cornwall, and pass over St Eval before heading for Abingdon and Newmarket. The weather is reportedly poor at Newmarket, and they are now so short of fuel that they land at Abingdon.

Operation SHE isn’t a female agent, or even an agent: it is a W/T set for the ALLIANCE intelligence circuit run by Marie-Madeleine Fourcade. Each W/T set has a three-letter identifying code, such as KVL or OCK. In this case the set has the code ‘SHE’.

This ‘SHE’ set plays an ignominious role in the story of ALLIANCE, for instead of taking it to Brittany to operate with the local ALLIANCE cell, the traitorous agent Bradley Davis, nicknamed ‘Bla’, gives his escort the slip and takes it to the Abwehr in Paris. From there Davis and the Abwehr run a ‘funkspiel’ deception operation using SHE, purporting to pass vital military information about the Atlantic ports to London. Davis operates the set himself to prevent London from suspecting a strange Abwehr hand on the key.

‘Bla’ has been under a degree of suspicion almost from his arrival in France, but London backs him, citing the excellent information they have been receiving. Within ALLIANCE he is known to be a traitor after his network in Brittany is arrested. London confirms this because they have continued to receive information purporting to come from the blown network via SHE. Davis turns up in Marseilles, is trapped in a faked rendezvous, and is executed by the ALLIANCE team.

Wednesday, 6 August 1941

Operation THEOREM/VALIANT

From the point of view of John Austin’s crew this was a smooth, uneventful and successful operation to drop a pair of agents. The journey out is via Dives-sur-Mer, Tours, Chateauroux and Montluçon. The agents are dropped at 01.54, three minutes after reaching the target, near the village of St. Désiré, north of Montluçon. Austin probably pinpointed on Montluçon before backtracking to the target. On the way back COLUMBA pigeons are dropped near Argentan, and Austin lands back at Newmarket at 05.55. One pigeon returns from Flers, a few miles west from Argentan, arriving in the UK on the 16th.

For one of the agents it is a different story: although Jacques de Vaillant Guelis (VALIANT) a senior ‘F’ Section officer, lands without difficulty and is recovered by Lysander on the night of 4 September (Operation ‘Night Embarkation’ as the pilot, S/Ldr John Nesbitt-Dufort, entitles his report), but Gilbert Turck (THEOREM) is knocked out in an awkward landing. He wakes to find himself in a Vichy police station in Montluçon. During the Phoney War he had been a liaison officer between the sabotage-oriented Section ‘D’ of SIS and the similarly-tasked 5ème Bureau; his old boss, now working for Vichy’s intelligence service, has him released. Turck regains contact with de Guelis, and starts his mission.

(Operation ADJUDICATE)

Knowles and his crew take off at 22.07, quite late for a sortie heading for the south of France at that time of year. The rear gunner is a Squadron Leader Stephens, a gunnery instructor from 3 Group’s HQ Flight.

They fly a near-regular route: Abingdon, Tangmere, near-Cabourg, then Tours to Limoges, which they reach at 1.34. They find the target without difficulty, but they are greeted by the signal code ‘MD’, meaning that to land the agent would be dangerous. They circle for about ten minutes, but no further signals are seen. Headlights are seen on the ground and the Whitley leaves the area. Knowles offers to drop the agent elsewhere in Unoccupied France, an offer declined.

They fly back via Tours, landing back at Newmarket at 05.52.

The reason the operation name and agent are in brackets is that the evidence to identify them is circumstantial. In his operations report Knowles incorrectly ascribes it to the FELIX network, which did not operate in that area of south-west France. (Three nights earlier Knowles and his crew had flown an attempt to drop a W/T set to FELIX near Fontainebleau, but had turned back early with engine-trouble.) Characteristically Knowles does not include the date of the sortie in his report, but the take-off and landing times match those recorded in the Stradishall log for an otherwise unascribed sortie by Whitley (letter ‘D’) on 6th August. The target description in Knowles’s report, and the fact that the cargo is an agent not a W/T set, points towards another attempt to insert Count Dzieřgowski into the Unoccupied Zone near Limoges.

Operational cross-country

This Lysander sortie appears in Nesbitt-Dufort’s logbook, with a take-off from Tangmere at 23:00 hrs, and landing 5 hours 40 minutes later.

For all his other operational sorties, Nesbitt-Dufort records them as either ‘Ops as ordered successful or ‘Ops as ordered unsuccessful, and notes the number of passengers. This one is recorded merely as ‘Ops as ordered’, and as a solo effort, with no passengers.

This looks like a similar operation to the one described by Hugh Verity as an ‘operational cross-country’, in which Verity, soon after he joined 161 Squadron, was ordered to fly to a point in France, note what he saw, and to fly back and report. In Verity’s case the target was a brightly-lit prison camp in the countryside south of Saumur. Such sorties provided a realistic test of the pilot’s solo navigational abilities without exposing a valuable agent to any risk. Nesbitt-Dufort has flown several Whitley operations, and has proved himself as a competent map-reader, but those sorties are rather different from flying alone to a pinpoint on the map, several hundred miles into Occupied France. Next time he will do it with an agent aboard.

Sources

THEOREM/VALIANT

TNA AIR 20/8334, encl.53A

(ADJUDICATE)

TNA AIR 20/8334, encl.49A

Op X-country

Logbook, John Nesbitt-Dufort.

Wednesday, 9 July 1941

Operation AUTOGYRO C


The next attempt was made by Austin and his crew in the July moon period, directly after two harrowing nights over Belgium, but this time they were blessed with good visibility, and both AUTOGYRO agents were seen to land successfully. Austin dropped pigeons over St Lô but ran into poor visibility after making landfall at Littlehampton. They landed back at Newmarket at 4.30.

Operation ADJUDICATE

MRD Foot later writes that Count Dzieřgowski, an agent for the Polish Intelligence service based in Unoccupied France, ‘had such bad luck getting away from England that he had put in twenty-eight hours’ flying over occupied territory before he managed to drop, blind in south-west France, on 2/3 September.’ Actually it was more than that, for I have tied another sortie, flown by W/Cdr Knowles to Limoges on 6 August, to ADJUDICATE. It would be nit-picking to point out that only a few of those hours were spent over Nazi-occupied France, but a recalculation of his 35 hours 37 minutes airborne was spread over five separate sorties, with almost two months between the first attempt and the one that will drop him.

Hockey takes along as his second pilot his Russian friend from 24 Squadron, F/Lt Boris Romanoff, who had spent the previous year on the staff of the Parachute Training Squadron at RAF Ringway. F/Lt John Nesbitt-Dufort flies as Navigator, gaining yet more operational experience as preparation for Lysander operations – as though the previous nights with Sgt Austin weren’t enough. There are two Despatchers on this trip: AC Walsh is probably under training ‘on the job’. (There is no formal aircrew trade for the role, which is usually carried out by ground-crew volunteers.)

Take off is at 22.20, and Hockey flies a more easterly route to the coast than normal, via Reading and Littlehampton; a bit close to the London defence rea which the normal Bomber Command route (via Abingdon and Beachy Head) avoids. They make landfall over Merville at 6,000 feet, and set course for Tours, dropping their pigeons en route in a fourteen-mile ‘stick’. They cross the Loire about 6 miles west of Tours, and carry on towards Limoges, which they reach at 01.45.

From Limoges they have to map-read to the target, which means flying at low level, perhaps 1,000 feet. The ground is obscured by a thick layer of cloud above them, which blocks out much of the moonlight. Their night vision is not aided by continual lightning flashes. But the main problem is the same one that Knowles has raised back in May: south of the demarcation line there is no blackout, and they cannot distinguish the reception lights from others shining from houses, car headlights, fires or flares, even by flying over them at 200 feet. Colonel Barrie, presumably Dzieřgowski’s SOE escorting officer, has advised them to abandon the operation in these circumstances; so they return, dropping more pigeons between Lisieux ands the coast. The weather closes in over the Channel, and they let themselves down to 1,500 feet by Abingdon. They land there at 05.20, Newmarket being fogbound.

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.

Saturday, 15 February 1941

At 0853 S/Ldr Knowles tells Ops that at 0930 he is to take off for Linton-on-Ouse & will return immediately.

At 0920 Operation SAVANNA is cancelled for tonight. At 1440 Keast reports that 419 Flight is operating tonight. At 1820 sortie information is passed to 3 Group. (From this and similar entries on other nights it would appear that SAVANNA has priority over all other SD operations; only after SAVANNA’s cancellation are other operations given the go-ahead.)

Operation ADOLPHUS – Poland

This operation, planned for the previous December but postponed because the Flight’s aircraft had not been equipped with long-range tanks, is given the green light. The purpose of the operation is to drop three Polish agents and their equipment into the Cracow area of Poland. A suitably-prepared Whitley, Z6473, has arrived on the 10th. In addition to the Whitley’s normal complement of fuel tanks in the wings and behind the cockpit, it carries six removable 66-gallon (300 litre) petrol tanks in addition to the normal tanks. These tanks are installed in pairs: two in the bomb-bay, and two pairs in the forward section of the rear fuselage.

The agents have to contend with a novel method of exit, from the narrow crew-door in the rear of the fuselage. Like all other agents and paratroops, they have been trained at Ringway to drop through ‘the hole’, a 3.5-foot circular hatch cut in the fuselage floor where the Whitley’s ventral turret used to be. In the COLOSSUS raid only two tanks were carried in the rear fuselage, which had allowed the ventral hatch to be used. But four tanks (plus the two in the bomb-bay) are necessary for Keast to make it to Poland and back. The rear fuselage door has been adapted to open inwards, and the agents have to crouch in the doorway and be ‘assisted’ through the narrow aperture by a strategically-positioned Despatcher’s boot in each agent’s back. The agents have to open their parachutes manually to ensure that their exit doesn’t foul the tailplane. The agents have been mystified about this change to their procedure but, proud of their role as the vanguard of the Free Polish Army, they just get on with it.

F/Lt Keast takes off in Whitley Z6473 at 1837, soon after sunset (GMT+1). At 2130 S/Ldr Knowles briefs the Ops Office that it is to be brought back to Stradishall if the weather allows; he is to be woken when the aircraft is approaching the English coast; if it is diverted he wishes to know where. Stradishall Flight Control is informed and asked to ring the Officers’ Mess when the aircraft is known to be approaching the coast. This is an immensely important operation politically, and Knowles will want to debrief the pilot as soon as he lands.

Keast has to fly above 10,000 feet to maximise the Whitley’s range. In February the rear fuselage is very cold indeed. A Polish account claims that Keast turned the heating off to prevent the fuselage tanks from heating up. This must have been Keast’s joke: the Whitley’s heating system – such as it is – is focused on the main cockpit. Trunking runs through the fuselage to the rear turret, but in such conditions and at that height (still low for a bomber) it is largely ineffective. When used as a bomber — it wasn’t designed to be anything else — in flight, the rear fuselage of the Whitley is unoccupied except for dropping leaflets and flares, so there is no heating; the rear gunner is sealed in, with his own ineffective warm-air supply. Keast’s route takes them over Berlin, which the Whitley’s wireless operator, Sgt David Bernard, later remembers as lit up beneath them like a giant star.

Keast flies as far as he dare before dropping the three agents and their containers, but the Polish government later claims that Keast has dropped them short, in Germany. Up to a point this is true: the agents have been dropped over a region of Poland annexed by Nazi Germany after their invasion in 1939; now it is part of Germany itself (the Reichsgau Wartheland, to be exact) as distinct from the ‘General Government’. It is possible that Keast and his crew (and their masters in London) are unaware of these fine distinctions, which prove so important to the agents.

At 02.55 a message from 3 Group asks for the Control Officer to be informed as soon as the Whitley asks for a D/F bearing. At 03.16 Group asks if the Whitley has been fitted with IFF (Identification Friend or Foe). It hasn’t, so they have to wait until Sgt Bernard makes contact. At ten to six Stradishall receives a report that a Ju88 has landed at RAF Bassingbourne, 25 miles away, and the crew captured. Three minutes later Keast’s Whitley lands at Stradishall after 11 hours 16 minutes in the air.

The operation is a great morale-booster for the Poles in England, but unfortunately its success raises Polish expectations of the RAF’s capabilities. The Poles assume it can easily be repeated; in reality it is an exceptional feat in a slow aircraft that can only fly such operations in the winter when the nights are long enough for the aircraft to return to the North Sea before daylight.