Tag Archives: Schneidau

Philip Schneidau (aka Phillipson)

Saturday, 12 July 1941

Operation FELIX

This is the first trip for Sgt Austin’s crew after navigator David Halcro has received his commission with effect from 3 July, though Austin’s operations on the 6 and 7 July still list him as ‘Sgt Halcro’. Though the target is south-east of Paris they chose to enter France by the usual route over Cabourg/Dives-sur-Mer. It is a cloudy and thundery night, but the weather clears as they approach the target area.

The purpose of the operation is to drop a replacement for the W/T set that Philip Schneidau had been dropped with in March. This set was damaged in the landing, and has never functioned fully, despite attempts to repair it.

Austin has been given the wrong target location. During Austin’s 50-minute search for the target, red lights attached to the nearby wireless masts at Videlles were switched on whenever the Whitley flies close. These masts are close to Barbizon, on the west side of Fontainebleau Forest. Barbizon had been the original target for dropping Philip Schneidau in January, but by the time Schneidau dropped in March it had been switched back to Montigny.

Austin claims to have found the pinpoint after searching for 50 minutes. He circles for a further ten, but sees no lights that can be construed as the prearranged signal. Hardly surprising: the reception party has been waiting for the drop more than a dozen miles away at Point ‘B’, in open country 4 miles south-east of the Bourron sand-pit and 4 miles north-east of Nemours. A handwritten instruction gives the precise coordinates, but it may not have been communicated effectively to the Flight. Someone has cocked up, a sortie has been wasted and lives risked.

Two unidentified operations

F/O Hockey flies his first operation as skipper. The sortie is recorded in Ron Hockey’s logbook, and is mentioned in the Stradishall Ops Officers’s log, but if Hockey wrote an operations report it is not on file. There is no mention of the operation name.

Hockey takes off at 22.35 but an hour later reports engine trouble. The Whitley lands successfully back at Newmarket at 23.48; Hockey records spending 1 hr 25 mins airborne. This was the same Whitley ‘D’ that had caused Knowles’s early return on the 10th, but Knowles used the same aircraft the next night. This time it had been the port airscrew’s exactor which had failed. Perhaps Knowles had been fortunate in that UPROAR was taken ill while airborne, and the sortie had had to be abandoned.

F/Lt Jackson plans to take off at 23.30 on another operation, also unidentified, in Whitley ‘A’ according to the Stradishall log. It has already been delayed by 45 minutes, but at 23.08 the operation is cancelled by the Air Ministry.

Friday, 9 May 1941


Richard van de Walle and Albert Thiou are successfully parachuted into the Eupen district of north-eastern Belgium on the third attempt.

This time the weather is better. Jackson and his crew also take along a passenger: S/Ldr Jack Benham of the parachute training staff at Ringway. A week later Benham will take command of the Parachute Training Squadron at Ringway. As Ringway is responsible for agents’ parachute training, he is getting first-hand experience of the operational side.

Soon after the Whitley crosses the coast at Knokke it is bracketed by accurate and simultaneous searchlights and flak, but remains undamaged. Ground haze makes visibility difficult as they fly south, then east, but eventually they pick up a pinpoint, do their timed run and drop the two agents. They return to the coast via Poperinghe, where they drop their quota of COLUMBA pigeons; six return to the UK. They return to Stradishall at just after 4 a.m.


On 5th June, Gp/Capt. John Bradley, DFC, S/Ldr Knowles’s boss at the Air Ministry (for the Flight receives its operational orders direct from Air Intelligence), writes asking for clarification about two operations. One of these is MARINE/ALBION. It has been reported back to SIS that the aircraft had flown over the pre-selected spot, was seen by people waiting for them on the ground, but the agents were dropped elsewhere. Neither agent has made contact. Worse, the two agents are reported to have been dropped over Germany.

Knowles assures Bradley that the crew has made every effort to drop the agents at the correct place. F/Lt Jackson writes a second report detailing his actions precisely: they had positively identified the Gileppe reservoir before flying for two minutes on a bearing of about 326 degrees true, (the ‘about’ because the observer was guiding the pilot from the bomb-aimer’s position, using a large-scale map). This is somewhat undermined by Knowles’s covering note, which asserts that they steered due north from the reservoir.

The map that accompanies Jackson’s memo (of which only a file copy exists) has not survived, at least publicly. The dropping-point appears to have been the high ground to the north or north-east of Limbourg, the exact position being dependent on the Whitley’s speed of between 80 and 100 knots, and its position over the lake, which is over a mile long.

If they were dropped in the right place, on target, they may still have landed in Germany. On 29 July 1940 the districts of Eupen, Malmedy and Sankt Vith had been annexed to Germany. Even a western-most placement of the target would still have been in Germany. It is entirely possible that neither the agents nor their handlers in the UK were aware of the boundary changes. There’s certainly no indication in the correspondence.

It may be significant that the crew had not reported any lights from a ground-party; according to the Air Ministry correspondence there were people on the ground waiting for the agents. But these were very early days, and almost all drops were done ‘blind’; a ground-party with torches for guidance and signalling would have been exceptional.

There is another possibility, but an unlikely one. What they took for Lac de Gileppe might just have been Lake Eupen, a smaller but similar lake about 8 km (5 miles) further east. It. too, has a dam at the western end, but the lake is smaller, its shape and orientation is very different, and there is no marshland on the south shore. Built in 1938, the reservoir was not inaugurated until 1950 by Prince Charles of Belgium. It may not have been filled in May 1941.

In a biography of Leopold III, mention is made of two agents dropped in May 1941, Richard Van de Walle, with Albert Thiou as his W/T operator. De Walle’s mission was to enter the service of an un-named Belgian aristocrat who would act as an intermediary with the King, to allow the King to have a link with his government-in-exile. Debruyne says that Van de Walle was arrested within hours of his landing in Belgium.

Operation FELIX (pick-up)

Philip Schneidau is picked up by Lysander from south of Montigny by Gordon Scotter. This third Lysander pick-up operation is also Philip Schneidau’s second. Parachuted in on the night of 12-13 March for a two-week mission, the main purpose of which has been to provide his FELIX circuit with a W/T set, and for him to train up Felix Jond, an ex-army wireless operator who is now a commercial traveller in children’s clothing, in protocols and coding.

When Schneidau made his perilous parachute-landing in March, his transmitter/receiver had been damaged. The set was left with Felix Jond, who found Marcel Cornelis, an assistant at a wireless repair shop in Paris, prepared to mend it. Despite Marcel’s efforts the set was still not working properly, and communication with England has been difficult. Philip had brought a pair of pigeons, as on his first mission, for just this eventuality. In early April he had released them bpth, each carrying a message asking to be picked up. On the nights of the 9th and 10th April he waited in the fields south of Montigny, but no Lysander came; the pigeons hadn’t made it home. Eventually Schneidau has got through on the repaired wireless, and arrangements have been made for 9 May. Philip had been adamant that his wife and young son should be evacuated, too, and the RAF had agreed, eventually. Scotter has lined the rear canopy with blackout curtains in case the boy became frightened during the trip; which must have confused Michel COULOMB, for they had been in place for the earlier pick-up.

A plateau south of Montigny, between La Genevraye and Moncourt-Fromonville, is an almost ideal location for a landing site. Not far from a road, a landed aircraft would have been invisible behind the rise. It had been the site originally planned for the previous October’s pick-up, but in England they had not anticipated that Schneidau would have had to walk through the centre of Montigny after curfew, negotiating two waterway bridges, probably guarded, before he could reach the site. (There really is no other way across without getting wet; I’ve reconnoitred the area thoroughly.)

In October Philip changed the landing site to one south of Bourron-Marlotte. But it was far from ideal, with small fields. This time he does not get off the train from Paris until Nemours, where he eats a decent meal in a local restaurant, before making his way after curfew over the fields to the landing site.

Scotter arrives from Tangmere and starts searching an area slightly to the north. Philip’s torches lead him to the right place, and Scotter lands after exchanging signals. After his earlier episode with Coulomb/Cartwright, Scotter is understandably nervous. When a single figure he does not recognise hoists himself level with the cockpit Scotter draws his service revolver and waves it at the intruder. He has perhaps been expecting someone resembling the dapper RAF officer he’d met two months before, with a wife and child ready to board. But Schneidau may have re-adopted the bearded disguise he’d had on his first mission, and he’s alone. Simone, his wife, has refused to be evacuated: her place as a Frenchwoman is with her parents, organising and running the intelligence circuit they had built up since the previous October. Their son Peter also remains in Paris.

Schneidau tells Scotter to “put that bloody thing away”, gathers up his torches into a rucksack, and climbs aboard. They take off and the return journey is uneventful. They have a night fighter escort for the final stage of the journey, which Schneidau misinterprets as enemy fighters which they ‘dodged’.

Wednesday, 12 March 1941

Czechoslovakia: Operation BENJAMIN

S/Ldr Knowles pilots Z6473 in an attempt to drop the Czech agent Otmar Riedl about 50 km east of Prague, near the town of Kolin.

Sparse details for the sortie flown by S/Ldr Knowles come from the logbook of Sgt (later F/Sgt) Fisher, a Wireless Operator who has just joined the Flight. Fisher flies on several of 1419 Flight’s early operations as a member of S/Ldr Knowles’s crew; when Ken Merrick was doing his research for ‘Flights of the Forgotten’ he did have sight if Fisher’s logbook, and it gave Knowles’s target for this sortie as Czechoslovakia.

The sortie was to attempt Brigadier Gubbins’s SOE Operation BENJAMIN. This had been ‘bumped’ on February 17th in favour of an SIS operation to Belgium. BENJAMIN was important (though clearly not to SIS): a Czech soldier, Otmar Riedl, had been trained to provide a W/T link, independent of Moravec’s intelligence organisation, between the Czech government-in-exile in London and other Czech resistance groups. Riedl was to be dropped in the Kolin district of central Bohemia, near the village of Křečhoř. This is a crucial operation for Gubbins: he has to show that his fledgling organisation is a serious outfit: in the only SOE operation attempted to date the agent refused to jump.

Delayed by a technical fault, S/Ldr Knowles and his crew take off late, at 20.09. They turn back shortly after passing Frankfurt, having calculated that they cannot make it to the target and return to friendly skies before daybreak. Fisher’s logbook and the Ops Officers’ log agree that the trip lasted 6 hours 10 minutes, the Whitley returning at 02.18 on the 13th.

France: Operations FITZROY & FELIX

The sortie is flown by F/Lt Oettle. His Whitley leaves the English coast over Selsey Bill and reaches Chateauroux, via Tours, at 0145. Eugène Pérot, a wireless operator for Claude Lamirault, is dropped about 5 kilometres south-west of Chateauroux. To disguise the aircraft’s purpose the crew drops three packages of ‘Nickels’ (propaganda leaflets) over Chateauroux before heading north-east at about 0235 towards the Fontainebleau area.

Philip Schneidau is dropped at about 03.20 on to a large piece of open ground on the Plateau les Trembleaux, just to the north of Montigny-sur-Loing. The crew reports that he has made a successful landing, but a fresh breeze carries him over dense woods to the west of the clearing. He falls through the tree-tops and crashes into tree-trunks well above the ground, and becomes entangled. The wireless set is suspended in the branches above his head. It takes several hours to cut himself and the W/T set free. The parachute canopy is tangled high in the tree-tops, and he has to cut down this rather obvious advertisement before he can make his way off the plateau. He has been injured, first by the fall and then through his strenuous efforts to free himself and recover his equipment. He has fractured a tooth and damaged a leg from being bashed against tree-trunks during his landing.

F/Lt Oettle and his crew returned to Stradishall via Fécamp and Tangmere, landing at about 0550. Schneidau makes his way off the plateau to the cottage where his friend and pre-war neighbour Henri Glepin has been waiting, warned by hearing the aircraft overhead.

Saturday, 1 March 1941


F/O Schneidau is taken to Sawbridgeworth to meet F/Lt Gordon Scotter, a Lysander pilot with No. 2(Army Cooperation) Squadron. Scotter is to pick Schneidau up at the end of his second mission. No flying is possible this night because of poor weather, but Schneidau is to stay in the area and fly with Scotter until his planned departure for France on the 6th, at the start of the next moon period.

Monday, 10 February 1941

Operation SAVANNA is cancelled at 1110, and at 1315 3 Group agrees to allow W/Cdr Mulholland to fly tonight with 419 Flight.

At 1315 F/Lt Keast warns the Ops Office that a Whitley is going up to drop containers in ten minutes.
Stradishall has asked Dishforth if P5029 can operate from there tomorrow (11th). Dishforth answers: OK for the 11th only.


According to the Ken Merrick’s record from the Stradishall Watch Office, Whitley T4264 takes off at 2105 and returns at 0156. There is no other record of this sortie, or of the target. The pilot is F/O Oettle.

Stradishall – Fontainebleau

F/Lt Keast, with W/Cdr Mulholland as Second Pilot, takes off in P5029 at 00.40 (i.e. in the early hours of the 11th) and his route is to Caen via Abingdon and Selsey Bill. The weather is clear, but as they approach the French coast at 10,000 ft they can see cloud forming ahead. From there they fly on ETA towards Chartres. Approaching the city they descend through cloud, which extends from 6,000 ft down to 2,000 ft, and they are engaged by light flak and picked up by searchlights while they try to confirm their position. They then set course for Fontainebleau; on the way they are picked up by another searchlight at Etampes. Visibility deteriorates over the forest surrounding Fontainebleau. The cloud comes right down to the ground in places, and map-reading is impossible. They search the area for about 30 minutes before abandoning the operation. They set course for Stradishall, landing at 0645.

This is the third attempt to drop F/O Philip Schneidau. This time, it being too late to drop him befopre curfew, he is to be dropped on to the Plateau des Trembleaux, on high ground to the north of Montigny-sur-Loing. The Plateau is only a short way from the cottage of his friend Henri Glepin, a market-gardener who lives across the road from his father-in-law’s country villa. Henri and his wife helped him on his first mission.