Tag Archives: Ringway

RAF Ringway / Ringway staff

Tuesday, 30 September 1941

Operations MUSJID, OUTCASTE, BALACLAVA

Austin flies this short-range SOE operation to Belgium to open proceedings for the September-October moon period. Shortly after crossing the Belgian coast near Furnes both turrets lose power, caused by a sheared hydraulic pump spindle. The Whitley is now, in effect, unarmed, as the turret can only be rotated by hand-cranking it round, far too slow if they come under attack by an enemy fighter. Austin and his crew press on.

Over Courtrai they are held by searchlights and Austin has to resort to violent action to throw them off; no easy feat in the staid Whitley. Hardly surprising that they lose their precise position. It takes them some time to find their next pinpoint, and MUSJID (Stinglhamber) is dropped at his preferred spot near Celles. Jean Nicolas Léon Maus (OUTCASTE) and his wireless-operator André Fonck (BALACLAVA) are supposed to be dropped near Arlon, on the Luxembourg border, but low cloud and rain force a decision to drop them near Champlon, fifty kilometres to the north. The decision on such a drastic change of target would not be taken without discussing it with the agents. OUTCASTE and BALACLAVA are dropped in a large field, and when the Whitley circles back both canopies are seen on the ground, near some woods where they and the harnesses can be concealed. Austin heads for home after dropping leaflets over Champlon. Perhaps because the Whitley has no defensive armament, Austin chooses a longer but safer route home, via Tréport and Tangmere, and lands at Newmarket at 2.40.

Maus’s personal file says that he was reported to have dropped between CHAMPLON and BEAULIEU (possibly Béleu, about 5 km to the east). His mission is to find out what, if anything is happening in Luxembourg: to contact any existing organisations or, failing that, to set up an organisation of his own; to reconnoitre sites for dropping supplies or landing sites for Lysanders. MRD Foot gives the story of their eventual capture:

Operation TEAMAN

While much is known about Austin’s sortie, much less is known about Sticky Murphy’s sortie TEAMAN. MRD Foot does not mention it. It may have been an SIS mission.

The target is in same area as GLASSHOUSE, flown earlier in the month. F/Lt Murphy flies across the Zuider Zee to Zwartsluis and Meppel. (Before the post-war creation of the eastern polders Meppel was almost on the coast.) According to Murphy’s post-operation report the TEAMAN target was only seven minutes flying-time up the canal towards Smilde. Unusually, they drop their leaflets over Meppel before heading for the target, presumably to avoid returning there after the drop. After dropping TEAMAN Murphy then set course for Southwold, but they made landfall at Lowestoft. They fly south to Southwold, which presumably gives them an often-flown track to find base at Newmarket, where they land at 23.32.

Operation LUCKYSHOT (plus RHOMBOID and HIRELING)

Of F/O Hockey’s crew for this sortie, it appears that only P/O Smith, his 2nd Pilot, is a member of the Squadron. So far as I am able to ascertain, his navigator and wireless-operator, F/Sgts Broadley, DFM and F/Sgt Judson, DFM are on the staff of 3 Group’s Training Flight; during this period both fly other operations for 138 Squadron, but only five in total between them. The rear-gunner, F/Sgt Masson, does not appear elsewhere in 138 Squadron’s reports, so he may also be a visitor. S/Ldr Jack Benham (ex-Ringway) is flying as the Despatcher, with a Sgt Kennedy (also possibly a visitor, for this is his only appearance) to assist. Benham has been on the staff of Ringway almost since its formation: in May 1941 he briefly replaced Louis Strange as CO of the Parachute Training Squadron, but was soon superseded by S/Ldr Maurice Newnham. Promoted to Wing Commander, Benham is posted overseas to India to train paratroops there, but fails the medical; he is currently with SOE.

The target for Operation LUCKYSHOT is near Charleroi. Hockey takes off at 18.55 and flies via Abingdon and Tangmere to the French coast at Berck-sur-Mer. Though this is a roundabout route to Belgium, nearly double the straight-line distance, it avoids the heavy flak defences to be encountered anywhere along the coast east of Calais. They cross the French coast at 7,500 feet, a safe height. Encountering 8/10 cumulus cloud shortly after, Hockey drops to 3,500 feet. After 10/10 cloud, and rain, he drops further to 2,000 feet. On ETA over the target area Hockey decides against flying any lower in zero visibility, the ground being not much more than 1,000 feet below. The operation is abandoned and they return via the Somme estuary at Le Crotoy, and thence to Tangmere and base at 01.25.

From the RHOMBOID SOE file, Hockey’s sortie also includes HIRELING and RHOMBOID, Jean Cassart and Henri Verhaegen. Hockey does not mention these in his report, perhaps because he abandons the operation in the knowledge that their target would be equally inaccessible.

As with TEAMAN, the identity of LUCKYSHOT appears to have evaded the record. There is no mention of LUCKYSHOT by MRD Foot or Etienne Verhoeyen, two principal sources for SOE and intelligence agents, or any file in the National Archive.

Sources

MUSJID, OUTCASTE, BALACLAVA

TNA AIR20/8334, encls 82A, 83A, 87A.
TNA HS6/158, Personal File for Jean Nicolas Léon Maus (OUTCASTE)
MRD Foot, ‘SOE in the Low Countries’, pp. 265-7.

LUCKYSHOT, (HIRELING and RHOMBOID)

TNA HS 6/187 (RHOMBOID mission)
Hockey logbook
Article about Jack Benham by Walter Kahn, MBE, in ‘The Dropzone’, the magazine of Harrington Aviation Museums; volume 10, Issue 1 (2012).

Wednesday, 24 September 1941

RAF Hatfield

F/O Hockey’s logbook records a flight to Hatfield for a demonstration to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), Sir John Dill. It’s probably safe to assume many other spectators are present. On the 21st Hockey had flown to Ringway and back in Whitley Z9159, with P/Os Halcro and Livingstone and 4 crew. Now, with P/O Austin as 2nd Pilot, and with P/Os Pulton & Livingstone, and Sgts McAlister & Moy, they fly Z9125 to Hatfield.

Hockey’s 20-minute demonstration flight drops a stick of parachutists and containers over the airfield The paratroops have probably been borrowed from Ringway on Monday; Jack Benham from Ringway is aboard, presumably as Despatcher to ensure a tidy stick-drop. Two days later, on the 26th, Hockey and Austin will repeat the exercise over Hatfield for the benefit of the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Chief Marshal Charles Portal.

Wednesday, 21 May 1941

RAF Ringway

The May moon-period has ended on the 18th. Today, Sgt John Austin and his new crew fly Whitley Z6473 to Ringway to undergo a parachute-dropping course. Sgt Austin had flown with F/Lts Jackson and Murphy on operation AUTOGYRO B to France on 13 May. At Ringway he and his mainly NCO crew will learn how to drop agents by the book, probably the first SD crew to have been on a structured course.

Saturday, 1 February 1941

Stradishall – Ringway

F/Lt Keast flies with seven crew to Ringway in Whitley T4264. They stay for the next three days, almost certainly undergoing Ringway’s formal training course in dropping paratroops. This includes dropping a stick of several paratroops, a process unfamiliar to those used to dropping single agents. (In June, Sgt John Austin takes his crew on the Ringway pilots’ course, and records the flying syllabus in his logbook.)

Ringway is only just recovering from the daunting preparations for Operation Colossus, a planned attack on the Tragino viaduct in Apulia, south-east Italy. The purpose is to deny the arid province its supply of water, supplied by aqueduct from the mountains of the wetter west coast. The preparations have involved training the paratroops of ‘X’ Commando and eight selected bomber crews from Nos 51 and 78 Squadrons, and modifying their Whitley bombers for paratroop operations. Preparations have been intense, as the attack has to take place at the next full moon. The operation is to be mounted from Malta.

Operation Savanna

The reason for Keast and his crew to undertake this training becomes clear from a letter written the same day by Sir Charles Portal, The Chief of the Air Staff, to Sir Gladwyn Jebb, Hugh Dalton’s Assistant Under-Secretary. Portal’s subject is a plan to assassinate the aircrews of KG 100, the Luftwaffe’s forerunners to the RAF’s Pathfinders, as a means to stymie the Luftwaffe’s ability to devastate city targets through cloud by means of radio beams. In mid-November 1940 this unit marked the targets in Coventry; their accuracy ensured the city-centre’s destruction.

The plan is for a small team of agents to be dropped near the Luftwaffe base at Meucon, in southern Brittany. The pilots have been reported as using a bus to carry them to their billets in the nearby town of Vannes. The plan is to ambush the bus and kill the highly-skilled aircrew inside.

Though he must have sanctioned the raid, Air Marshal Portal is unhappy about the use of his aircraft and crews for an operation that does not comply with the rules of war:

I think that the dropping of men dressed in civilian clothes for the purpose of attempting to kill members of the opposing forces is not an operation with which the Royal Air Force should be associated. I think you will agree that there is a vast difference, in ethics, between the time-honoured operation of dropping of a spy from the air and this entirely new scheme for dropping what one can only call assassins.

In 1916 Portal had served with No. 60 Squadron, RFC. At that time the squadron was involved in some of the early agent-landing operations.

Portal also makes his opinions clear to Gubbins in a meeting at about the same time. Soldiers in uniform are allowed to kill enemy forces in uniform, but soldiers in civilian clothes are not. Gubbins points out that there is not room in the containers for uniforms to enable the agents to change into uniform, and in any case the agents (referred to as ‘operators’) might refuse to go on these terms. As the ‘assassins’ are on loan from De Gaulle, they know that their Free French uniforms will merely ensure their capture and execution. As Frenchmen in civilian clothes they might at least stand a chance of melting into the background.

Tuesday, 19 November 1940

RAF Stradishall

At 19.20, information about a planned sortie is passed to 3 Group by phone. At 2300 Group is informed that a Whitley may take off at 23.15, but that a decision cannot be made due to the weather. At 23.20
Whitley ‘L’ takes off, and Group is informed.

According to a summary written in February 1941 the destination is Leiden, Holland. Keast’s logbook says that he and F/O Oettle fly a 4 hour, 45 minute operation in Whitley T4264. The Stradishall Ops Officer’s Log says that they land at 03.57. The agent is unknown, and no record of an agent being flown this night appears elsewhere.

RAF Ringway

A fatal accident results from a failure of the strop hook, the end of a parachutist’s ‘static line’ attached to a frame inside the aircraft. The other end is attached to the bag containing the parachute canopy and lines. As the paratrooper leaves the aircraft his weight pulls the canopy and lines from the bag, leaving the bag streaming beneath the aircraft under the tail. If the hook becomes detached from the frame there is nothing to pull the parachute out. There was no reserve ‘chute, and no method for the parachutist to deploy the canopy manually. A strengthened strop is quickly developed and tested.