Tag Archives: Reimer

Flight Sergeant Alvin Wilbert Reimer, RCAF

Monday, 12 January 1942

Kabrit – Heliopolis return

F/Lt Austin accompanies P/O Munroe in Whitley Z9146 to RAF Heliopolis, taking 3 passengers for parachute training. They return the same day.


Flight Sergeant Sgt Alvin Wilbert Reimer, RCAF, dies from his injuries at Haverhill hospital. He is buried in the local cemetery. He is twenty-one years old.

Saturday, 27 December 1941


This unusual sortie combines a pre-planned precision bombing-attack with parachuting an agent. At Stradishall there appears to be some disquiet over the role of 138 Squadron, when compared with the resident Wellington squadron which operates as part of the strategic bombing campaign. When the SD unit, as 419 Flight, had last been at Stradishall it attracted a little curiosity, but the presence of a squadron equipped with Whitley bombers that did nothing for two weeks in every month, and did no bombing operations during the other two, was going to cause resentment in the Wellington squadron. Wing Commander Wally Farley, 138 Squadron’s new C.O., is in favour of combining light bombing sorties with agent-dropping because they may serve to disguise the squadron’s purpose.

Sgt Jones has flown to Lakenheath to carry out this operation; Stradishall’s runways are fine for a Wellington, but they are too short for a fully-loaded Whitley. Sgt Jones takes off in Whitley Z9825 at 20.40 and heads east. At 21.12 he crosses the Norfolk coast at Happisburgh, flying at 2,000 feet in moderate visibility. About twenty minutes later course is set for the Danish coast; the delay may be due to the wireless-operator attempting to get some decent DF bearings and failing. At 00.06 they cross the Danish coast at 9,400 feet, unable to get a firm pinpoint. At 0037 they pass a pinpoint noted as ‘340 Kiel 30’. (Kiel is only slightly to starboard of a direct line between Happisburgh and the first target.) At 00.52 he alters course for the target and drops to 3,000 feet, then down to 2,000 feet below thin cloud as his navigator map-reads between the islands on the way to the target, the Vordingborg power station, Denmark.

Arriving at the power-station complex at 01.20 Jones attempts a bombing run into the wind at 1,000 feet. He doesn’t drop his bombs on the first run, but does on the second. He misses the target by 150 yards, but optimistically claims that concussion from the bombs, plus aimed fire from the rear gunner, will have damaged the transformers. Course is then set for the second pinpoint. This is recognised at 01.55, so it cannot have been far away, and the two agents (so far unidentified) and a separately-dropped package are dropped from 500 feet. Several canopies are seen, but then the despatcher reports that one of the static lines is missing.

On their return towards the east coast and a blanket of heavy ground fog, the wireless operator realises that he cannot identify any of the beacons because he has been given the wrong list. Smith summons assistance by invoking the emergency landing procedure known as ‘Darkie’: a flare path is lit at RAF oakington, near Cambridge. As if this isn’t enough of a trial, the Whitley starts to suffer from the problem of a too-far aft centre of gravity as the fuel-tanks become empty. As with John Austin at Gibraltar in November, Smith saves the aircraft from stalling by summoning the entire crew and cramming them into the forward part of the fuselage. Even with the combined strength of Smith and his 2nd pilot heaving the control column forward, they have difficulty in preventing the aircraft from stalling. They get down at Oakington with difficulty.

Freddie Clark records that the agents Dr Carl Johan Bruhn and Morgens Hammer are dropped blind, plus a package. Unfortunately the static line left in the aircraft had been attached to Dr Bruhn’s parachute, and he perished.

Unknown operation, abandoned

W/Cdr Farley takes off in Whitley Z6728 at 20.10 with P/O Anderle and a part-Czech crew. Ten minutes later the Whitley displays the symptoms of a cascading electrical systems failure: first the Air Speed Indicator fails, then all the radio systems, then the TR9 R/T system. Without any means of gauging his airspeed – a Whitley is not an aircraft to try flying by the seat of one’s pants – the operation is no longer feasible. They will be lucky to make it down in one piece. Farley (or perhaps it is Anderle in the pilot’s seat) has no means of contacting the control tower to clear the runway. The containers are jettisoned over the airfield, which may serve to alert the control tower, but none of the crew bales out, nor do any of the ‘passengers’ ; even if the Whitley is high enough, as the intercom is not working it’s difficult to warn the crew. As the Whitley is brought in to land the starboard engine is firing on just one magneto; the port engine cuts out altogether. Then they are down, but perhaps not easily stopped: there is ‘nil brake pressure after landing’. The Whitley is blocking the main runway until it can be towed away.

The following day a short report is written by the Navigator, Pilot Officer Buckwell, but he gives no hint about the operation or the target. Whitley Z6728 will next be used for operations on 6 January.


This is a controversial operation, and not just because the two PICKAXE agents belong to the NKVD, the Soviet intelligence agency. Considerable pressure at the diplomatic level is brought to ensure that this operation to succeed, and the circumstances of its tragic failure have remained something of a mystery. (PICKAXE I was the woman agent ‘Anna Frolova’, inserted into France by sea.)

As ever, the Stradishall log provides some of the context, and an account by a Major Milnes-Gaskell of SOE, quoted by Bernard O’Connor in his book about the PICKAXE operations, gives valuable detail about the sequence of events that night. Sgt Reimer is due to take off at 18.00, but his Whitley has instrument problems. These put back his take-off time to 20.00. He is further delayed by Farley’s Whitley blocking the main runway, forcing a change of runway for Reimer. Perhaps unfamiliar with the perimiter track to the new runway, he puts a main wheel off and has to be towed out by tractor. By the time he takes off for Belgium it is 21.50.

According to Milnes-Gaskell, the first target is for the cargo drop MUSJID, but by the time they get there, some four hours late, the reception committee has left. The PICKAXE target is near Lac Gileppe, the distinctively-shaped lake used as a pinpoint for SIS agents MARINE and ALBION the previous May. Tonight, snow showers and low cloud obscure the ground, which would already have been rendered indistinct by the lying snow.

The Whitley returns at about 04.00 and:

after a circuit of the aerodrome came in as if to land, but when about 50 feet off the ground the engines opened up and it appeared to be about to make another circuit when it spun into the ground and burst into flames. One of the Pickaxes was pinned underneath the wreckage and no doubt killed instantly, as also a number of the crew.

Stradishall’s fire tender becomes bogged down on the airfield, and another tender has to come from Newmarket; by which time it’s too late. Two of the crew are killed, including the despatcher, Sgt Pickering. The despatcher is responsible for the agents’ safety. If they can’t get out, neither will he. The wireless operator and the rear gunner are thrown clear. (One source says they bale out; if so, they would have been far too low for parachutes to have opened.) Reimer is severely injured.

Some have implied that the crash is due to a German night-fighter, but there is no evidence for this. There are no reports in the Stradishall log of any enemy aircraft in the vicinity. Milnes-Gaskell’s report is consistent with the hazards of approaching too high, too slow, in a fuel-light Whitley with passengers in the rear moving the centre of gravity aft: a classic stall of the C-of-G type that plagued Whitleys when returning from operations. There are four examples during this early period of this type of crash, and two known examples of ‘near misses’ when the pilot has crammed everyone forward to reduce the Whitley’s tail-heaviness.

The PICKAXE agents are NKVD agents Pavel Kouznetsov and Pavel Koubitsky. Koubitsky is killed in the crash. Kouznetsov is identified by MRD Foot when writing about his eventual insertion on 29 November 1942:

‘Sauternes’ fell into German hands in Holland in July 1943, and managed to commit suicide.



TNA AIR 20/8223 encl. 124A.

Unidentified operation

TNA AIR 20/8334, encl. 127A
TNA AIR 14/2529


Clark, p. 32
O’Connor, Churchill and Stalin’s Secret Agents, p.55.

Wednesday, 24 December 1941

The start of the December-January moon period has been brought forward slightly. Winter weather puts a premium on those nights that are suitable for conducting operations. Flyable
conditions on a fourteen-hour night (of which slightly more than the first six hours will be moonlit) will trump a less-than-brilliant moon.


The Air Transport Form for this operation says the target for both operations is near Dinant, Belgium, the load six containers + six pigeons. It is therefore not an agent-dropping exercise. The narrative below makes clear that there are two separate operations.

Sgt Reimer, this time with an all-NCO crew, is airborne at 20.00. Course is set for Tangmere, the Whitley crossing the coast at 21.07 and reaching Le Crotoy at 21.44. After crossing the French coast, Reimer drops to 1500 feet but once inland he is confronted by 10/10ths cloud with its base at 1800′.
He heads for the target: on ETA he is over the target area, and circles, but no reception signals are seen. They set course for the second pinpoint in the hope that the weather will clear enough to see the lights of a reception party, but the cloud is still at 10/10ths. He’s probably running out of moonlight, too. Reimer abandons, and course is set for base.

Two packs of leaflets are dropped on the way home, one packet over Beaumont, the other over Cambrai. At 01.05 Reimer’s Whitley arrives over Tangmere, and he lands at Stradishall at 02.36.

Operation PERIWIG, probably PICKAXE II

Sgt Jones takes off in Whitley ‘F’ at 20.33 for Abingdon and Tangmere, flying at 2,000 feet in moderate visibility. At 21.24 (which seems rather a long time later) Jones sees Abingdon beacon and alters course for Tangmere. Twenty five minutes later he pinpoints on Southampton water and at 21.57 a recall signal is received on a 3 Group frequency. (At Stradishall S/Ldr Nesbitt-Dufort records the recall sent at 21.26, and recorded the signal’s acknowledgement.) Sgt Jones returns to Stradishall via Abingdon: he lands at 23.45, just in time for Christmas.

I suspect that Sgt Jones has been delayed for some reason, and takes off rather later than planned. The moon is due to set just after midnight (UK time is GMT+1). Someone at Stradishall may have realised that the moon will set before Jones’s aircraft can reach the target area; hence the recall signal.

At 03.33 the Stradishall log records that 138 Squadron has sent a signal to the Air Ministry:
– Periwig unsuccessful
– Musjid          ”
– Pickaxe         ”

The mention of PICKAXE implies that Sgt Jones has mis-titled his report, and Sgt Reimer’s sortie is correctly titled MUSJID / PERIWIG. (With very few exceptions, pilots and crew have no knowledge of the agents or their missions, and make a deliberate point of not knowing, either.) PERIWIG and MUSJID are Belgian SOE operations; PICKAXE is a highly-secret programme of operations to drop Soviet NKVD agents. It may be a first attempt at the operation flown by Sgt Reimer on the 28th.


United States Naval Observatory, Astronomical Applications Department, Data Services.


TNA AIR 20/8334, encl. 125A
Stradishall Ops Officers’ log.


TNA AIR 20/8334, encl. 117A, duplicate at 123A
Stradishall Ops Officers’ log.

Monday, 8 December 1941

Operation COD

P/O Gibson writes this sortie up as Operation COOL, but in fact it is Operation COD, caused by a typo somewhere along the clerical chain between SOE and Newmarket. On the Air Transport Form it is clearly COD, in the same group as PLAICE, TROUT and DACE.

Gibson takes off at 20.15, and heads via Abingdon and Tangmere for Pointe de la Percée, near the western end of the Normandy beaches. Heading south for Tours, via Le Mans, he drops to 3,000 feet underneath a sheet of 10/10ths cloud, but the moon is bright enough. Pinpointing on the Loire west of Tours at 23.03, he loses height further to 2,000 feet and heads for Châteauroux. Twenty minutes later he is over Châteauroux and alters course NNE for the target, his navigation no doubt aided by the ruler-straight Roman road to Vatan. The expected reception is not at the target, but the agents are dropped one mile west of Ménétréols-sous-Vatan, at 23.45.

They map-read their way back to Châteauroux, where they drop leaflets a few minutes before midnight. They set course for Pointe de la Percée, flying at 2,000 feet beneath the stratus cloud, but climbing to 6,000 feet shortly before reaching the coast they climb to 6,000 feet to get above any coastal flak. They return to Newmarket via Tangmere and Abingdon, flying at 1,200 feet.

COD is an operation for Dewavrin’s RF organisation, parachuting Lt Edgard Tupët-Thomé (imaginatively codenamed TOM) and his wireless-operator, Joseph Piet (TOM W), near Ménétréols-sous-Vatan, in the heart of SIS’s parachuting and pick-up area. This operation appears to have been organised by SIS, which would have been unlikely to permit an SOE operation to use the same location. (Freddie Clark misidentified the target as near Ménétréol-sur-Sauldre, north-east of the border town of Vierzon, in the Occupied Zone.) Apparently both agents are injured in their landing; Piet breaks his leg.


Sgt Alvin Reimer flies this important SIS operation to Blois and Châteauroux. His customarily laconic report provides little colour to describe the sortie, but it must have been interesting: as his 2nd Pilot he is taking his new Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Farley, though Reimer will have had little choice in the matter. Sgt Reimer is ‘Mr Reliable’: he has rarely failed to deliver his agents, even dropping six in one sortie (though in two passes) in September, so Farley may have flown this sortie to learn the secret behind Reimer’s success. The crew also includes P/Os Atkins and Fisher, both experienced men who have been commissioned since joining 1419 Flight.

Reimer takes off at 20.35 and heads for Tangmere. They cross the Channel, but without getting a firm fix on their position they set course for Blois, up-Loire from Tours. Pinpointing on Blois, the first drop is to the east, with a reception committee waiting for them east of the village of Huisseau-sur-Cosson. The correct signals are exchanged and CLAUDIUS is dropped. Two parachutes are dropped: one ‘A’ type and one ‘X’ type, both with the large-size canopies. It’s likely that CLAUDIUS drops using the ‘A’ type, with a W/T set above his head, and another package is dropped using an ‘X’ type parachute.

Reimer flies back to Blois and drops leaflets to give plausible ‘cover’ to their presence, before heading for Châteauroux: BERYL is dropped nearby, though the Air Transport Form gives no details. Reimer then drops leaflets over Châteauroux before heading home to Newmarket, where they land at 03.44.

‘CLAUDIUS’ is Claude Lamirault, first parachuted in January as FITZROY, and originally scheduled for return to France on 29 November. His circuit ‘JADE/FITZROY’ is now a large intelligence-gathering organisation. ‘BERYL’ is BCRA Lt Roger Mitchell. As BRICK, Mitchell was parachuted in early July to help Lamirault’s FITZROY circuit as an early air landing officer (the RAF operation was called FITZROY) responsible for setting up Lysander landing-sites. Both Lamirault and Mitchell have been extracted by Lysander on November 8th for consultation, and are being returned to the field. Mitchell’s visit to London is opportune, for it helps SIS make some sense of the break-up of INTERALLIE after 17 November and its aftermath. In October Mitchell had acted as babysitter for the Polish F2 organisation INTERALLIE while its chief, Roman Garby-Czerniawski, was in London during October. Mitchell had the unenviable task of keeping Renée Borni, Garby-Czerniawski’s mistress, and Mathilde Carré, his second-in-command, at arms’ length from each other’s eyes.


OVERCLOUD is that rare thing, a seaborne SOE operation into Brittany. On 14 October 1941 Gerry Holdsworth’s launch RAF360 left the Helford river for the Aber Benoit estuary. RAF360 had been a seaplane tender and was unsuitable for cross-Channel operations, but it was all that Holdsworth could obtain. Aboard were Joël le Tac and his wireless operator, Comte Alain de Kergorley. They were to set up reception facilities for infiltrating SOE agents via Brittany, and were put ashore that night.

So where does the RAF come in, aside from supplying the craft? Brooks Richards’ account of the sea operation provides the context. The agents and their equipment were loaded into two collapsible Folboat canoes lashed together, and paddled ashore. The canoes could carry a very limited amount of kit, a W/T set and little more. The rest will have to come by air in a container-drop.

The purpose of the OVERCLOUD mission is rather greater than providing a shore base for SOE landing parties. Le Tac’s additional mission is to penetrate a number of possible targets as reconnaissance for sabotage:

  • Railways, port installations and shipyards
  • Electric power stations
  • Transformers and switching stations
  • Telecommunications
  • German aerodromes (essentially, all aerodromes)
  • R.D.F.(i.e. radar) stations

The RAF has also asked if the two agents can provide information about the two German battleships in Brest, for the smoke-pots that the Germans set off whenever aircraft are overhead effectively conceals the ships from the air. The agents are to restrict their activities to the western part of Brittany, as SOE already has another agent in the Ile de Vilaine, around Rennes. OVERCLOUD makes its first radio contact on 30 October.

Sgt Wilde’s sortie on 8 December is the first RAF attempt to supply OVERCLOUD, though it was originally scheduled for 27 November. He is also to drop an agent, codenamed CARP. (It can be impossible to trace the identity of agents on sorties that were not completed; the agent might be sent in later by another route; another may be sent instead; or the requirements may change and the agent is no longer required.)

Wilde’s Whitley runs into 10/10th cloud soon after takeoff, and is at 8,700 feet when it crosses the French coast on ETA. At 23.20 the crew briefly sees a flashing beacon which they cannot identify. They carry on to their turning-point, still cannot see to map-read, and so abandon the operation.

On the return leg they climb to 7,000 feet. Near the coast the weather clears and they get a fix on Bayeux. They are about 4 miles east of track. Wilde heads for Tangmere, dropping to about 1,000 feet in case the weather closes in again. They cross the coast at Selsey bill. The weather closes in again and, ‘discretion being the better part of valour’ (as he puts it in his report), Wilde lands at Tangmere.


F/Lt Austin is informed that his orders are to come directly from the AOC Malta.



TNA AIR20/8334, Encl. 109A
TNA AIR20/8306: ATF for COD


TNA AIR20/8334, Encl. 116A


TNA AIR 20/8334, encl. 130A.
SOE RF Section History


F/Lt Austin’s report, 16 February 1942

Wednesday, 26 November 1941

Operation DACE

This is W/Cdr Farley’s first operation since returning to flying duties. During his recovery from a broken femur incurred after crash-landing his Hurricane, shot down by an Me109 the previous November, Farley was posted to the Air Ministry, where he replaced Sqn Ldr Knowles in managing 1419 Flight’s operations under W/Cdr J. Easton. On 1 April had been promoted Squadron Leader, and in mid-November 1941 he returned to command 138 Squadron, promoted Wing Commander. Though Farley has been remembered as a pioneering SD Lysander pilot, he also flew several of the very early Whitley Special Duties operations. Tonight he has an experienced crew with him: ‘Sticky’ Murphy and the core members of his crew. Also along to gain experience is F/Lt Laurent, a French Air Force Lysander pilot who has recently joined the squadron.

RF agent Sergent-chef Raymond Laverdet (DASTARD) is already in France, inserted in September near Bazoches-lès-Bray to make contact with the newly-active Communist labour organisations, hence his other code-name, RED. He has made contact with a Communist organisation known as the ‘Armée Volontaire’, which appears to provide opportunities for industrial sabotage. (Doubtless for political reasons, the RF History describes this movement as Gaullist; it was nothing of the kind.) Laverdet’s wireless operator André Allainmat (RED W) makes contact with London on 9 October, and in a second message on the 19th Laverdet has asked for an assistant and weapons instructor. The result is DACE (misleadingly recorded by Farley as DASTARD/DACE): Sergent-chef Louis Bourdat.

Farley plots a course over familiar territory from the previous September. At 21.00, ten minutes after crossing the English coast, low cloud forms to block their view of the sea beneath, so they turn on ETA for Cabourg and set course for Auxerre, their target. At 22.00 the cloud begins to disperse, but visibility remains poor. After a further half-hour, because he is still trusting to a dead-reckoning course set over Tangmere, Farley alters course to find Fontainebleau, a town he knows well from the air after his several attempts to land Philip Schneidau more than a year ago. Believing that they have found Fontainebleau — the château, its grounds and surrounding forest are highly recognisable — Farley alters course for Auxerre. On ETA for the town they find a river they take to be the Yonne, but they cannot find Auxerre itself: the valley is shrouded in mist. They follow the mist-covered river downstream until they find themselves over Paris — 150km from Auxerre as the crow flies — whereupon they abandon the operation due to a forecast of poor early-morning weather at Newmarket. They fly on ETA all the way back to base, which they find with difficulty, and land at 03.20.

Operation PLAICE (really TROUT)

It’s not quite clear why Sgt Reimer entitles this operation PLAICE in his report. A simple explanation is that Reimer gets his fish-names mixed up. The RF history and the locations mentioned by Reimer in his report make clear that this was Operation TROUT.

Sgt Reimer flies via Abingdon, Tangmere and the French coast — Reimer being his laconic self, says little — to the Loire river at 23.10. He flies up the river Allier, a Loire tributary, and pinpoints on the town of Moulins, which he reaches at midnight. It takes him another 45 minutes to find the reception committee; the RF History gives the dropping point as ‘near Vichy’, which is further up the Allier.

This sortie being right at the start of the moon period, the moon has descended behind cloud near the horizon. The reception committee’s torches are faint, and are not lit until Reimer is right overhead. (Batteries are rare as hens’ teeth in France, and their brief life carefully husbanded.) Reimer and his crew drop the agent, whose parachute is seen to open, before heading home, dropping leaflets in the Tours area and over ‘Mortaine’. (This is more likely to be nearby Mortagne). They find their way home above 10/10th cloud, and land at 06.35.

The Free French agent is called Koenigswerther, a W/T operator for Laverdet (TROMBONE), dropped in late August. Laverdet has made contact with London through the OVERCLOUD organisation, but he needs his own W/T operator.

Somehow TROUT fails to meet up with his reception committee. (The faint torches seen by Reimer’s crew may have been house-lights that coincidentally made the same pattern. There is no blackout in the Unoccupied Zone, and Knowles had commented on this possibility of misidentification back in May.) TROUT’s safe house proves unsafe: his W/T set is soon in the hands of the Vichy authorities, his identity as a M. Blacharden blown. He manages to make contact with an SIS agent EMERAUDE (EMERALD), who has been dropped on 6 November by P/O Hockey near Toulouse, and (according to the RF history) has been operating from Marseilles. EMERALD signals London to see if he might make use of Koenigswerther, but Dewavrin wants him to continue with his original mission – a little ungrateful of Dewavrin as without EMERALD’s help Koenigswerther would be a busted flush.

MRD Foot makes no mention of this agent in his ‘SOE in France’. He may have been inhibited (or prohibited) from mentioning it because of the contact with SIS agent ‘EMERALD’.

Operation to Virton, Belgium

This operation by Austin cannot be tied to any operation, SOE or SIS. The target for this one appears in P/O Livingstone’s logbook as ‘Vitron’, which is probably Virton, but no more is known about it than the sortie’s duration, 6 hours 45 minutes, and that it is flown by P/O Austin in Whitley Z9288. There is no operations report, which means that it is absent from the 138 Squadron ORB, created much later from the pilots’ reports. Austin’s sudden deployment back to Malta may explain that absence of a report.