Tag Archives: Smith

A.B. Smith (Ambrose Branton)
Commissioned late 1941
Acting F/Lt 1942, awarded DFC August 1942

Saturday, 10 January 1942

This moon-period has not only been started slightly early, it has been extended slightly to include this sortie slightly after the Last Quarter. The long night allows a relatively short-range sortie to the Le Mans area of northern France, in an attempt to complete several outstanding operations. The urgency may explain why an SIS operation (TENTERHOOK) is flown in the same Whitley as two SOE agents (HORNBEAM and DACE). TRIPOD II is a two-container drop.


P/O Smith takes off in Whitley Z9287 (‘K’) at 01.05, in the early hours of 11 January. After overflying Tangmere at 02.14 Smith climbs to 9,000 ft over the Channel. Encountering thick 6-8/10ths cloud en route, he crosses the French coast at Pte de la Percée at 03.00. He reduces height to 2,000 ft., but there is mist up to about 3,000 ft, giving him horizontal visibility of about 800 yards. He reaches the area of the first target, about 40 km south of Le Mans, at about 03.40.

The first target is for SOE agent HORNBEAM. HORNBEAM was originally intended to go in in October-November, and with another agent, MULBERRY, but he is now to be dropped with Sergeant-chef Bourdat (DACE), the wireless-operator intended for Laverdet (DASTARD). There is also a two-container drop called TRIPOD II.

The target is not identified by the 2nd Pilot, who is map-reading. They fly south to the Loire, where they get a fix at 04.00 and map-read back to the target. Both the 2nd Pilot and HORNBEAM positively identify the target but the expected reception committee is not there.

The precise target for TENTERHOOK is described as being about 1.5 miles ((2.4km) south of Vaas, in the centre of a triangle formed by the larger towns of Le Lude, Château-du-Loir, and Château la Vallière. This operation is unusual in that we have precise instructions on the TENTERHOOK target, reception committee, and signals from the ground. More unusual is that these instructions come from A.I.1(c), so TENTERHOOK is an SIS agent. The ground signal is to be a triangle of red torches, with the Morse letter to be signalled from a lamp at the windward end. But P/O Smith says so little about the second target that it is not clear whether he even makes an attempt to find the second target. Some time after their return to Stradishall, three quarters of an hour after Ron Hockey reports it, a signal is sent to the Air Ministry that TENTERHOOK has been unsuccessful.

P/O Smith writes a report for Operation DACE separate from the others. It is not clear why; it would have been understandable for a separate report to be required for TENTERHOOK, but not DACE.



TNA AIR 20/8334, Encls. 133A (TENTERHOOK, HORNBEAM, TRIPOD 2) & 134A (DACE)

Friday, 2 January 1942


Operations to Norway would normally be flown from an RAF station in the far north, such as Wick or Kinloss. But this sortie is well within a Whitley’s range from Stradishall, for the target is near the south-west tip of Norway, a distance of less than 500 miles. The target is near the farm of Gunvald Tomstad at Helle, a small hamlet south of Flekkefjord.

The agents to be dropped are Odd Starheim and a wireless-operator, Andreas Fasting. (The use of the latter’s real surname as his RAF codename is an uncharacteristic lapse, though early codenames were sometimes a laboured pun on some aspect of the agent, perhaps to help desk-officers remember which codename applied to which agent.) Mark Seaman notes that his correct codename was ‘Biscuit’. They are to be dropped with two packages, presumably W/T sets.

Starheim had escaped from Norway to Scotland by sea in August 1940, and had been landed back in December 1940 as Operation Cheese, an intelligence operation by SOE. He recruited Tomstad in early 1941, and warned the British of the Bismarck’s sortie to the Atlantic in April. He escaped via Sweden in June 1941. Now he was to return to Tomstad’s farm.

P/O Smith takes off in Whitley T4166 from Stradishall at 20.25, and crosses the Norfolk coast at Cromer at 20.31. This is his first trip as skipper, and he was fortunate not to have been flying with Sgt Reimer on the 27th. The port airscrew has been giving him trouble, which may be a characteristic failure of the exactor control system for the airscrew pitch. Smith is able to climb to 8,500 feet, rather less than normal, before levelling out above scattered strato-cumulus.

At midnight he makes landfall ten miles south of Flekkefjord. The 2nd Pilot guides Smith to the target area: the agents are dropped at 00.23 from 2,900 feet, which implies that the target is on high ground. Two camouflaged canopies and one white one are seen to open, but the despatcher reports that he has four static lines; there is no repeat of the static-line failure (or failure to be clipped on) that caused the loss of Dr Carl Bruhn in December.

To disguise the aircraft’s purpose, leaflets are dropped over nearby towns Fede and Rôrvig (the latter unidentified). Seventeen minutes after dropping the agents the Whitley crosses the cast south of Flekkefjord, and they set course for base, climbing back to 8,500 feet for the return trip across the North Sea. Unsurprisingly they encounter icing, and gradually descend. They cross the north Norfolk coast at 2,000 feet just after 4 a.m., landing back at Stradishall at 04.45.


TNA AIR 20/8334, encl. 138A
‘Special Operations Executive: A new instrument of war’, Mark Seaman, p. 80

Wednesday, 1 October 1941

Operation BINDER

P/O Austin and his regular crew fly this operation to Belgium, the approximate target location only known from the mention of Cambrai in Austin’s report, and of Celles/Champlon in his wireless-operator’s logbook. Unfortunately I have been able to find no mention of either location in the Belgian espionage literature.

Austin takes off at 22.25, crosses the English coast at Newhaven and the French coast at Pointe Haut-Banc at 00.10. Flying via Arras and Cambrai, the target is somewhere in the rolling hills of the Ardennes south of Marche-en-Famenne. There is no reception for the unidentified agent, who is dropped at 02.32. His parachute is seen to open but he is not seen on the ground.

They drop leaflets over Cambrai, and return by the same route. With cloud covering the English coastline, they use an H/F (High-Frequency) fix from Tangmere as a turning point, which takes them there before they return to Newmarket at 05.25.


P/O Smith is also 2nd Pilot on the second attempt to drop LUCKYSHOT; this time he has Sgt Reimer as his skipper. They fly much the same route as Hockey the night before, taking off early at 18.45. Instead of thick cumulus they are faced with low cloud and thick ground-haze over the highly-industrialised area of coalfields and steelworks around Charleroi. They therefore abandon the operation, and set off to drop HIRELING and RHOMBOID. They encounter the same conditions over the second target, so abandon and head for home.

Reimer reports ‘a large belt of searchlights at Florennes’, south-east of Charleroi; not surprising, for there is a Luftwaffe fighter base just outside the town. The same cannot be said for the searchlights they encounter at Beaumont, further west. They experience no flak, so perhaps the Florennes defences hold their fire to avoid giving away the airfield’s existence to a lone enemy aircraft that might be a British night-fighter.

Reimer lands back at Newmarket at 02.30.

Operation BEAU GESTE

This sortie, flown by F/Lt Jackson, follows an unusual route for SD operations: out via Taunton, then south over the Devon coast at Seaton, to make landfall at Le Bréhat, on the north coast of Brittany, at 21.05. The target is reached at 21.33, about half an hour’s flying-time from Le Bréhat; so perhaps 70 miles away, and therefore still within Brittany. This part of France is generally off-limits to SOE: SIS has made clear to the junior organisation that it will brook no activity that might threaten the peaceful passage of spies and information. There is no information available about BEAU GESTE or its purpose, but the operation is completed at 21.36.

Jackson returns the way he came, via Seaton and Taunton. He is guided by an avenue of searchlights for the eight-minute leg from the Devon coast to Taunton, and he lands at Newmarket at 00.30.