Tag Archives: SOE Cz

SOE on behalf of Czech government-in-exile

Monday, 17 February 1941


Knowles’s trip to Sumburgh is cancelled just after 9 a.m., and at 1135 Knowles asks Ops to let the Earl of Bandon know that SAVANNA is ‘temporarily suspended’, replaced by a 9.5-hour operation by 419 Flight, taking off at between 8 and 9 p.m. This is Operation BENJAMIN, an SOE-sponsored operation to insert a Czech intelligence agent into Bohemia. Though an intelligence operation, it is aimed at inserting a secure wireless link independent from Czech Intelligence chief Moravec’s own organisation. It has been backed by Brigadier Gubbins, SOE’s Operations Director.

At 1350 Ops is told of an alternative operation, taking off at about midnight and lasting 5 hours – ‘Brussels way’. SIS has pulled rank: it insists that 419 Flight fly the SIS operation to insert a Belgian agent, Gaston Poplimon. With only one aircraft available, SIS insists on its operation taking priority. BENJAMIN is cancelled.

Gubbins is furious. This operation has been several months in the planning. Moreover the nights are getting shorter; soon it will not be possible to fly an agent to Eastern Europe and return to the safety of the North Sea before daybreak. It has the effect of crystallising SOE’s resentment at being considered by SIS as a poor relation, rather than the ‘fourth arm’ that Hugh Dalton believed it should be.

Monday, 3 March 1941


S/Ldr Knowles advises that 419 Flight will be operating tonight, taking off at 1800 on a 10-hour sortie. From the duration this is most likely to be another attempt to deliver Operation BENJAMIN to Czechoslovakia.

At about 1600 Group is told that 419 Flight is operating tonight, taking off at 1900.

At 1725 the operation is cancelled.

At 1845 Knowles phones 2 Group that SAVANNA is ‘on’ for the 6th.

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 of 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’ (to use modern airline parlance) on February 17th in favour of an SIS operation to Belgium. BENJAMIN is important, though clearly not to SIS: a Czech soldier, Otmar Riedl, had been trained to provide a W/T link, independent from Frantisek 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.

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.

Thursday, 13 March 1941

Stradishall – Operation BENJAMIN follow-up

Knowles knows that a Whitley cannot make it to Czechoslovakia and back during the hours of darkness by a normal route. He makes plans for the start of the next period. In order to stretch the ever-shortening hours of darkness by flying as far east as possible over the North Sea, his Whitley will need a fighter escort so that he can approach the north German coast (in the Heligoland Bight) shortly before nightfall. He requests from 3 Group:

Whitley operating on night of 4th/5th. Leave base 1845. Crosses at Aldeburgh 1915 hrs. Fighter escort of two or three (if possible) Beaufighters requested to accompany Whitley until dark en route over North Sea or over Zebrugge.


Stradishall Ops log

Friday, 14 March 1941

Stradishall – Operation BENJAMIN

The Duty Officer reports back with an answer to Knowles’s request:

Spoke to Group re Fighter escort for Whitley. They consider there is sufficient hours of daylight i.e. 11 hours between out & return journey east of 3°E for Whitley to take off & pass that point 40 minutes after sunset & still return before sunrise. Doubtful too if escort will be provided for just one a/c. There is an escort patrol by 11 Group to 20 miles off coast in any case. Group are not doing anything further in the matter.

Eleven hours of daylight? Between sunset and sunrise, almost, but not between twilight and first light. (Group’s idea of darkness, at 40 minutes after sunset and before sunrise, was still light enough for a patrol to spot a lone Whitley.) At best the pilot would have about nine hours of darkness in which to fly more than 1100 miles, drop the agent somewhere near the target, and return to less hostile skies.

Stradishall – Tangmere

F/Lt Gordon Scotter and F/O Ron Hockey fly to Tangmere in Lysander T1508.