Tag Archives: SIS

Secret Intelligence Service, MI6

Thursday, 2 October 1941

Operation BRICK

‘BRICK’ is the codename of Lt Roger Mitchell, a 27-year-old French artillery officer who has been sent to France partly to arrange and manage landing sites and landings for Lysander operations. He has come to England via North Africa and Martinique, where he evaded via the USA, crossing to England in December 1941. Before his own parachute-insertion on 4 July Mitchell has been trained at Somersham by S/Ldr Nesbitt-Dufort, the pilot tonight. This Lysander operation is given his codename because he has arranged it for another agent.

Strictly speaking the operation should be called WALENTY, for the agent to be transported to England is the Polish intelligence officer Roman Garby-Czerniawski. Having escaped Poland after the 1939 invasion, like so many of his countrymen, during ‘la drôle de guerre’ (which must have seemed heavily ironic to any Pole) he had been based in Lorraine, where he had accommodated himself with a young French widow, Renée Borni. Following the French defeat, and adopting the bicycle and identity of her husband, Armand Borni, Czerniawski cycled to Paris unmolested. Almost immediately he started working for the Polish Intelligence organisation based in the ZNO (the Non-occupied Zone), travelling between Paris and Toulouse. Since late 1940 he has established the Franco-Polish intelligence circuit known as INTERALLIÉ in Paris, aided by the resourceful Mathilde Carré. INTERALLIÉ’s agents throughout Nazi-occupied France have specialized in gathering information about German military units in France, chiefly by observing uniform insignia and vehicle unit-signs. The circuit’s information was initially carried by courier to the ZNO, and from there to London, though W/T sets have increasingly taken over. As leader of perhaps the most successful intelligence circuits in France at this time, Garby-Czerniawski (whose codename with the Poles and SIS is WALENTY) has been called to London for consultation. Czerniawski is escorted by Mitchell and another F2 agent, Auguste Brun, known as ‘Volta’, to a disused airfield near Estrée St Denis, north of Paris. Czerniawski has stuffed papers into an old portable gramophone, and the three travel from Paris by train.

This is the second pick-up operation for S/Ldr John Nesbitt-Dufort. He flies Lysander T1770 from Tangmere, taking off at 21.15. Immediately he is airborne he makes contact with local radar control. The method is later described by Hugh Verity: the Lysander will be tracked by the Chain Home Low defence radar to within a few miles of the French coast. Its pilot can be given coded course-corrections by radio, but he maintains radio silence; thus his passive navigation aid cannot alert the enemy.

Nesbitt-Dufort arrives over the French coast at Le Tréport at 21.55, and sets course for the target, a disused aerodrome just north-east of Estrées St Denis, near Compiègne. Poor visibility means he has to fly an extremely accurate course. At 22.20, after 35 minutes flying on dead-reckoning, he sees the agreed signal lights. These are hard to miss: while two of the lights are torches, Mitchell has rigged up a battery-powered car headlights for signalling which is far too bright for the purpose; it dazzles the pilot during his approach and landing.

Nesbitt-Dufort’s landing, turnaround and take-off are completed within three minutes, facilitated by Mitchell and ‘Volta’. The Lysander crosses the coast somewhat south of track, near Dieppe at about 7,000 feet, high enough not to be threatened by the light flak; only after leaving the coast can Nesbitt-Dufort call up control and be guided home to Tangmere.

Czerniawski is met at Tangmere by his escorting officer Philip Schneidau, who introduces himself as ‘F/Lt Phillipson’, and is whisked up to London by car, where he is installed in the Rubens Hotel, debriefed by Polish intelligence and awarded Poland’s highest decoration for gallantry, the Virtuti Militari.

Mitchell takes over in Paris while Czerniawski is in London, as the fractious relationship between Carré and Borni threatens to destabilise the circuit’s operations.

Sources

S/Ldr Nesbitt-Dufort’s operations report, TNA AIR40/2579, Encl. 10A, also AIR20/8334, encl. 78A
Black Lysander, pp. 111-112
Czerniawski, The Big Network, Chapter 13, pp. 167-183

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).

Thursday, 11 September 1941

Operation ESMOND, COLUMBUS

The first attempt to drop Tommy Sneum (ESMOND) and Sigfred Christophersen (COLUMBUS) had failed due to atrocious weather. Just how much difference could be made by a piece of clear weather is seen from this sortie, flown by the comparatively inexperienced Sgt Reimer and his crew.

Taking off at 19.45, they get a ‘fix’ at Great Yarmouth and set course for Esjberg, the main port on Jutland’s west coast. They climb to 8,000 feet for the North Sea crossing, and descend on ETA to pinpoint at Esjberg, where they are greeted by searchlights and flak. They then fly on to the target near Brorfelde, where they drop Sneum and Christophersen shortly after 23.33. They land back at Newmarket just over three hours later.

Tommy Sneum told his story to Mark Ryan, and Ryan’s book ‘The Hornet’s Sting’ was published in 2008, the year after Sneum died.

Wednesday, 10 September 1941

Operation SARDINE

This sortie to the Toulouse area by F/Lt Jackson appears to consist of two agents: one from SIS, according to the SOE history of the Gaullist RF Section (HS7/123), and the other a wireless operator for RF’s 20-year-old Henri Labit. Since the failure of Operation TORTURE, Labit has been given a new mission, code-named FABULOUS. A W/T operator, Jacques Furet (alias Mercier) is to join him as FABULOUS P. Recently, Pierre Tillet has identified another wireless operator, Louis Richard, parachuted to set up a network called RONSARD/TROENE. It is not clear which agent is SARDINE; perhaps the operation name refers to them both being dropped close together. There is no other sortie for this moon period that might account for two agents being dropped near each other on separate sorties. Though agents from SIS are not usually dropped with SOE ones, Knowles may have insisted that it was foolhardily wasteful to send two aircraft unnecessarily (from the RAF viewpoint) to the same place on the same night.

The SARDINE target is in the vicinity of Moissac, between Agen and Montauban, north-west of Toulouse. Jackson takes off at 20.10, and follows the usual route via Abingdon and Tangmere to the Normandy coast. He flies south on dead-reckoning, altering course at 22.00 (Perigueux), and is only able to fix his position at 00.17, at Agen. Pinpointing at Moissac, he alters course for the target and descends to dropping-height. Jackson’s crew completes the operation from 500 feet at 00.46 in good visibility. The RF History merely says that Furet is dropped near Toulouse, where Labit has settled; so, according to Tillet, is Richard.

Jackson cannot be far from the city, for four minutes later he starts circling above Toulouse, dropping leaflets from 2,000 feet. He then sets off on the return leg, aiming to pinpoint on some lakes near Niort, on the river Sèvre. He flies over Dieppe above 10/10ths cloud, attracting a little light flak, and reaches Tangmere at 04.40. Abingdon cannot be identified. Poor weather conditions and incorrect W/T information lead them to cross the East Anglian coast at Orfordness at 05.18 before turning back westwards to Newmarket, which they identify at 06.35, and where they land at 06.40.

Operation BARTER

Austin’s Whitley takes off at 19.45, and heads for Dives-sur-Mer via Abingdon and Tangmere. Their target is close to Lac Biscarosse, on the Biscay coast south of Arcachon. Cloud and haze over France prevent them from getting a fix until they pinpoint at Chinon, on the Vienne, at 22.35. The wireless-operator notes the target in his logbook as ‘Lac Biscarosse’, but it is a little further south, about 5 kilometres south of Mimizan. They reach the target at 00.20, where they are greeted by two fires and an intermittent torch signal. Roger Donnadieu and his wireless-operator, Pierre Laurent, are dropped successfully and are seen on the ground, one near a fire, the other some distance away on the sand.

Austin then flies on to Perigueux where three boxes of ‘nickels’ are dropped before the Whitley heads home. Cloud increases until they reached the French coast, from where it remains at 9/10ths across the Channel. They get a fix at Brighton and land back at Newmarket at 07.50. The Whitley has been airborne for 11 hours and 5 minutes.

Lt Donnadieu is on loan from the Free French Army: his purpose is to reconnoitre Merignac airfield just outside Bordeaux, the airfield from which General de Gaulle had been plucked in June 1940, with a view to sabotage of the maritime patrol activities of the Focke-Wulf ‘Condor’ unit based there. These long-range aircraft are a constant menace to the Allies, vectoring U-boat packs towards the Atlantic convoys. However, Laurent’s wireless set is damaged in the landing, and the attack on the airfield is called off. But Donnadieu and Laurent have a secondary purpose, to organise circuits in the Bordeaux area with a view to gaining intelligence and sabotage.

Operations GYPSY, VERMILION

One of the SOE files (in this case TNA HS6/184) recorded this operation as having taken place on the night of 9-10 September; consequently, so did MRD Foot in ‘SOE in the Low Countries’ (p. 259). But F/Lt Murphy’s report on his sortie dates the relevant sortie to 10-11 September, and this is backed by the take-off and landing timings contained in the Stradishall ops log.

Murphy takes off from Newmarket at 20.17 and takes the normal route south via Abingdon and Tangmere. On this sortie Murphy’s rear gunner is S/Ldr Stephens, Gunnery Leader for 3 Group, who flies on several sorties. The planned course is via Cabourg to Tours and Chateauroux, but they drift from their planned course, unexpectedly running into flak. Later they pinpoint on the Loire at Saumur, west of Tours, their intended route. Later, with hindsight, they believe the flak to have come from Cherbourg.
Murphy flies up the Loire to Tours, then to the target near Chateauroux. The target, according to an SOE debriefing report on Detal from 1943, is Chevannes, stated to be ‘about 11 miles NNW of St Amand’; the correct spelling is Chavannes. Though Murphy writes that ‘we had no difficulty in finding our pin point’, the agents are dropped about five miles south-east of Chavannes, at Uzay-le-Venon.

The agents

GYPSY is Julian Detal, and VERMILION his wireless-operator, Frederic Wampach. Before his recruitment to SOE’s Belgian section, Detal had worked in France for the Belgian Sureté; now he is to set up courier lines through France. In ‘SOE in the Low Countries’, pages 259-263, MRD Foot tells the salutary story of Detal’s mission, too complex to summarize effectively here. Wampach is mentally broken thanks to his previous experiences, and only transmits when Detal is standing over him; Wampach eventually makes his way to Belgium. Detal is sent a new operator named Courtin (MOUSE) whose foolhardiness gets Detal arrested. Detal twice escapes Vichy police custody, but he becomes suspected by the Belgian Sureté’s Lepage. Detal returns to London and is given another mission, as a result of which he is captured again and sent to Buchenwald, where he dies.

Tuesday, 9 September 1941

Operation ESMOND/COLUMBUS

Thomas Sneum (ESMOND) has already achieved a considerable feat just in escaping Denmark by air to England. He has, with his friend Kjeld Pedersen, flown a light aircraft over the North Sea to the East Coast of Britain. At first they were disbelieved by MI5, and both fugitives spent an uncomfortable period under interrogation until their story was verified. Sneum has brought items of inestimable value: photos and sketches of the German Freya radar arrays. Sneum’s film has been wrecked by a developer’s incompetence, but the value of his drawings is immediately recognised by Dr R.V. Jones. Sneum is prepared by SIS to return to Denmark as an agent. He is paired with a wireless-operator, Sigfred Christophersen (COLUMBUS).

This first attempt to drop them is made by F/O Ron Hockey, with S/Ldr John Nesbitt-Dufort as his Second Pilot, with S/Ldr Cousens from 3 Group’s Training Flight as Navigator. Such an experienced crew would have found the target, if any crew could. They take off in foggy conditions and fly over the North Sea either in heavy cloud or above it. Hockey reports later that they flew through three separate fronts on the way over. When they judge themselves near the Danish coast Hockey drops to about 1,300 feet but they are still flying in thick cloud. To go any lower, even over the flatlands of Jutland, is asking for trouble. They climb to 10,0000 feet through continuous cloud, and decide to abandon the operation; they return, landing at Leuchars, Fife, as all bases further south are fogbound. S/Ldr John Nesbitt-Dufort, again flying as 2nd Pilot, writes after the war about their return:

Newmarket and Stradishall were right out; in fact the whole of the south part of East Anglia was covered with fog and we were advised to try further north. Wearily we headed for Waddington where the weather was closing in rapidly and just beat us, then on to Driffield which had also closed when we got there. Eventually at 7 a.m. we got down at Leuchars in Scotland exactly nine hours after we had taken off from Newmarket.

‘Black Lysander’, p.102.