Tag Archives: SOE ‘N’

SOE ‘N’ (Dutch) section

Friday, 7 November 1941

This night is a busy one for the squadron: one Lysander pickup operation for SIS, one Whitley operation to Holland, consequential for SOE; another to Yugoslavia, a first; and the squadron’s first Halifax operation to Poland, flown by a Polish crew. The night is a heavy one for Bomber Command: it is a ‘maximum effort’ against Berlin, Mannheim, Cologne, Essen and Ostend. 392 aircraft set out, 37 do not return; many are casualties of bad weather over the North Sea.


In the RAF argot of the era, Nesbitt-Dufort’s second attempt at this operation is a ‘piece of cake’. He takes off an hour later than last night, at 9.20 p.m. (GMT+1), possibly because the moon rises about 40 minutes later. Following the same R/T procedure with the south-coast radar stations, he crosses the French coast between Criel-sur-Mer and Le Treport at 8,000 feet, pinpoints at Compiègne, picks up the target lights inside seven minutes, and lands three minutes later in a field a couple of kilometres WSW of Soissons, close to the village of Ambleney.

He is stationary on the ground for about two minutes and twenty seconds, during which time the A.3. (Belgian section) agent SAGA is disembarked with his luggage, and Claude Lamirault (FITZROY) and Roger Mitchell (BRICK) are embarked with theirs. Take-off and the journey home are uneventful, and Nesbitt-Dufort crosses the French coast a little east of Le Treport. He is given homing instructions by MUNGA and lands back at Tangmere at 20 minutes after midnight, just three hours after take-off.

FITZROY and BRICK are both returning to the UK for debrief and a brief respite from the clandestine life: they will be dropped back on 8 December as CLAUDIUS and BERYL. Roger Mitchell, who has recently stood in for Roman Garby-Czerniawski as head of INTERALLIE during the latter’s own visit to London in October, will be on hand to assist in the assessment of the fallout from the capture of the INTERALLIE circuit in ten days time, specifically to interpret the bogus messages received from Mathilde Carré in her new guise as VICTOIRE, purportedly having evaded capture in the roundup.

Operation CATARRH

This operation has the most grave consequences for SOE, for the agents parachuted are Thijs Taconis and Huub Lauwers. Their capture will trigger the Dutch tragedy known as ‘Der Englandspiel’, the luring of several dozen agents to immediate capture, some to their eventual death.

From F/Lt Murphy’s report, there is nothing portentous about the operation: Murphy and his usual crew, with two Leading Aircraftmen aboard as despatchers, cross the Suffolk coast at Southwold. Half an hour later, over the North Sea, two aircraft close to within 500 yards, but Murphy loses them by turning sharply to port. Flying under a dense bank of cloud they cross the Dutch coast at Ymuiden and fly over the Zuiderzee to Meppel, reaching it at 23.57. From there they fly south-east to the target near Ommen, where they drop the two agents shortly after midnight. They return to Meppel, retracing their outward route, dropping leaflets along their homeward route from 100 feet up — only possible over Holland!

The story of Lauwers and Taconis is too well-known for me to repeat in detail. Lauwers was captured in March 1942 at his set, and was forced to transmit. He used his security-check, but this was ignored by SOE’s Dutch section, which transmitted details of agents to be parachuted. These were met by Major Herman Giskes of the Abwehr and his team. Soon Giskes had lured several agents and their W/T sets to Holland; in essence, he came to run SOE’s activities in Holland until he tired of the game in 1944. The RAF had ceased operations to Holland several months before, due to unreasonable losses.

I recommend reading MRD Foot’s ‘SOE in the Low Countries’ and Leo Marks’s ‘Between Silk and Cyanide’ for the British side of the story, and Herman Giskes’ ‘Operation North Pole’ for the German Abwehr’s side of the story. (Early editions of the Giskes book may also have Huub Lauwers’ own account in an appendix.) Giskes was a highly-experienced operator: before his posting to the Netherlands in October 1941 he’d had considerable success in Paris by infiltrating British-sponsored intelligence organisations.

Operation BULLSEYE (Yugoslavia)

On the morning of the 7th the submarines have arrived in Malta — probably sneaking in during the previous night — with the equipment for Jackson and Austin to drop over Yugoslavia. Jackson attends a morning conference chaired by the SASO, with two Army officers, the two experienced Serbian pilots who are to act as navigation guides, the officer i/c/ the Wellington Flight. The Serbian pilots claim that the winds in the mountains at this time of year make the operation too hazardous by night, and the Wellington Flight commander states that the pinpoints would be impossible to find. A signal was to be sent to the Air Ministry saying that any attempt would be made by day.

Only two containers are ready for dropping. Jackson has three crew off sick. Austin thinks a night attempt is feasible: he volunteers to make an attempt that night, and takes Jackson’s Z9158 up for a test flight at 11.00. He takes off for Yugoslavia at 21.50, and sets course for his first turning-point at Saseno (Sazan) Island, at the entrance to the Adriatic. The next pinpoint is at Cap Bodoni (Cape of Rodon), on the coast further north. From there he heads inland to Mitrovice, in modern-day Kosovo. Cacac is the final pinpoint, with the target in the nearby hills to the north-east.

In the event the weather is fine, with isolated cloud over the sea up to 6,500 feet. Austin flies at 10,000 feet to keep well above any high ground. The three or four signal-fires are clearly visible. Austin signals with the letter ‘R’, which is returned, and several more fires are lit. A green flare is fired from some fires in the form of a cross indicating the wind-direction. At 02.56 the containers are dropped from 3,600 feet to keep the Whitley well above the terrain; at this distance from base their instrument-height may be considerably inaccurate. The rear gunner sees a parachute open.

Austin and his crew immediately make their return to Luqa, arriving at 07.15, and they land 25 minutes later.

Operation RUCTION

RUCTION is the first operation to Poland carried out by an all-Polish crew, so there is a lot riding on it. General Sikorski has pushed hard for the Polish Home Army and underground to be supplied from the air by Polish crews. The aircraft are still British, but there is no doubt that, had Sikorski not agitated strongly for four-engined aircraft, 138 Squadron could have whistled in vain for the Halifax. The bomber is still very new: so far only No. 35 Squadron had been equipped with the type. On 23rd October the Poles have been sent to Linton-on-Ouse for three days’ Halifax conversion-training.

The agents are: Capt. Niemir Stanislaw Bidzinski (ZIEGE), 2/Lt Napoleon Segieda (WERA), and Lt Jan Piwnik (PONURY). There is no operation report on RUCTION, because the crew deliberately crash-lands in Sweden, near Tormelilla. Their version is that they have dropped their agents over Poland when the hydraulic system fails and the undercarriage is lowered. The crew cannot raise it. By now over Denmark, the crew realise that, with the undercart locked down there is no prospect of the Halifax making it back across the North Sea, so they turn towards neutral Sweden, and crash-land. The crew is taken into custody by the Swedish authorities, and they are eventually repatriated to the UK.

W/Cdr Farley’s comments on the operation, contained in an exasperated letter to the Air Ministry after another operation to Poland in January, is revealing:

It has now been established that the loss of the first aircraft was due to mishandling. Colonel Rudowski (sic), who accompanied the crew against orders, did not fully understand the undercarriage system. They have stated that they could not raise the undercarriage as there was no emergency hand pump. There is, of course, a hand pump and the fluid could have been lost only by leaving the selector in the “up” position instead of the “neutral” position during the flight.

As the Poles’ Commanding Officer, Farley has every right to enquire why one of his squadron’s rare and precious Halifaxes has come to a sticky end on its first operation. Though at the time of writing he has yet to fly the Halifax on operations, he will have familiarised himself with his squadron’s aircraft. He also has an experienced Halifax pilot in Sqn Ldr Ron Hockey, who has (by the time Farley writes this report) flown the ANTHROPOID operation at the end of December, and has a thorough knowledge of the Halifax’s controls and systems.

In his ‘Poland, SOE and the Allies’, Josef Garlinksi does not mention this episode, despite its importance.


TNA AIR 40/2579: Lysander Operations, 419 Flight & 138 Squadron.


TNA AIR 20/8334, Encl. 104A


TNA AIR20/8334, Encls 97A, 103A


TNA AIR 2/5203, Farley letter to DDI2 dated 13 January 1942.

Tuesday, 2 September 1941

Operations had been scheduled for Monday 1 September, but these had been cancelled at 1430 hours. There is no explanation in the Stradishall log, but from the foul weather experienced the following night, that is a likely explanation. No Stradishall-based bombers are out either.

At 1115 on the 2nd, W/Cdr Knowles informs the Ops room that 138 Squadron will be operating four aircraft tonight. At 1130 W/Cdr Knowles is to be reminded that he has not informed the Station Commander of 138 Squadron’s upcoming operations. This is a requirement stretching back to October 1940.

Operation PORTER

Little is known about this operation to Belgium, except that two agents were dropped near Virton, after Austin had pinpointed on Bruges. My father’s logbook and Austin’s shows that take-off in Whitley Z7628 was at 20:40, and they returned 6 hours 10 minutes later. Five of these hours were spent in cloud, so weather is likely to have been a factor in the previous night’s cancellations. I have been unable to find any reference to the operation-name, so presume it was for SIS. The agents’ parachutes were seen to open, but they weren’t seen on the ground once they had landed.

On the return leg Austin takes pity on their pigeons, and they are not dropped into the filthy weather to walk home. (Austin called it ‘unfavourable’.)


This is Count Dzieřgowski’s lucky night, for he ends on the ground, in France. The Whitley takes off at 2000, course is set for Abingdon and Tangmere, but at 21.07 the coast is crossed near Selsey Bill in poor visibility at about 3,000 ft.

They cross the French coast at Grandcamp, after climbing to about 5,000 feet to avoid any light flak that might get a lucky hit through the 10/10th cloud beneath the Whitley. By the time they reach the Loire the cloud has thinned, and they follow the river downstream to Saumur. (This is a more logical course of action than flying upstream hoping to find Tours.) They then set course for Limoges. They could have followed the Vienne river all the way there, but it’s more likely they rely on accurate straight-line navigation and course-flying; Limoges is large enough and well-lit to be seen from some distance. They reach there just after midnight.

Jackson’s report indicates that they have flown a direct course from Limoges to the target. This doesn’t work, for although they see several flashing lights – a regular bugbear for crews trying to find reception-parties in the Unoccupied Zone – but none are for them. Jackson retraces his course to Limoges, and this time he flies up the Vienne, first north-east, then south-east after the river forks at Saint-Priest-Taurion. The target is close to the village of Saint Léonard-de-Noblat, close to where the SIS agent ‘Lt Cartwright’ (Michel Coulomb) had been dropped on 7 May. The de Vomécourt estate of Bassoleil is only four kilometres away, but this is a Polish Intelligence operation, and most unlikely to have involved the de Vomécourts.

This time the crew sees the triangle of lights and the prearranged flashed signal-letter ‘D’, which disproves Professor Foot assertion that Dzieřgowski was dropped ‘blind’. He is dropped at 01.37 from 800 feet.

They return to Limoges to get a firm ‘fix’ before setting course for the coast. On the return leg visibility is poor, and when they reach the French coast at 02.27 on ETA it is invisible beneath them. They return via Tangmere and Abingdon, and touch down at Newmarket at 04.13.


Albert Homburg, and Cornelius Sporre his wireless operator, are being sent to Holland by R.V. Laming, head of ‘N’ Section, SOE. Several attempts have been made during the summer to land agents on the Dutch and Frisian islands by small boat, but they have all failed. This pair are the first Dutch section SOE agents to be inserted by parachute. M.R.D. Foot says they were dropped near Utrecht, but the pilots’ reports for both attempts make it clear that the target was east of the Ijsselmeer. (Squadron reports still referred to the Ijsselmeer as the Zuider Zee.)

W/Cdr Knowles and his crew take off at 20.15. Their course is via Cromer and the island of Terschelling, then over the Zuider Zee. (Knowles reports that they pinpointed over the Zuider Zee, which is somewhat imprecise.) The eastern side is covered by 10/10ths fog, which makes it impossible to find the target, so they abandon the attempt. The Whitley is illuminated by searchlights and fired on as they pass over Den Helder; they then set course for Cromer. Twenty miles out from Cromer, as the Whitley overflies a British coastal convoy the Royal Navy upholds its tradition of firing at anything within range: in his report Knowles drily notes that ‘it was observed that we were by no means welcome’, thus putting the passive tense approved by the Air Ministry for official reports to effective use.

W/Cdr Knowles’s previous boss from his days at the Air Ministry, Group Captain Bradbury, DFC, is along on this sortie for the experience. In one way this is sound practice, to ensure that staff officers understood the nature of the tasks they were commissioning, but allowing Bradbury over enemy territory is highly risky for SIS and SOE security: had Bradbury been captured and his role discovered, his knowledge of SIS and SOE activities would have compromised much of Britain’s clandestine activity.

Thursday, 12 June 1941

Operation ZEBRA – Holland

This sortie is to the eastern Dutch province of Friesland, with the target near the village of Vledder. It demonstrates the roundabout route that SD crews often took in order to be sure of finding a pinpoint.

John Austin takes off from Newmarket just before 01.00 (strictly speaking, therefore, on 13 June – confirmed by the Stradishall Ops Officers’ log) and pinpoints on Southwold as the Whitley flies over the English coast for Holland. They aim for the island of Vlieland which is less dangerous than Texel to the west. They set course for the other side of the Zuiderzee (now the IJsselmeer). On reaching it they fly north seeking a recognisable pinpoint, which they find on seeing a white beacon signalling LW – presumably this is Leeuwarden airbase, occupied by the Luftwaffe. Austin is flying at about 8,000 feet to stay above any light flak, which they encounter between Minnertsga and Harlingen. They then pinpoint at the eastern end of the Afsluitdijk near Makkum, and set course for Urk, reducing height to 2,000 feet. The Noordoostpolder is still being reclaimed, and Urk is still an island, though linked to the mainland by a causeway.

Austin then flies ENE, his navigator map-reading from the front turret. They pinpoint at Steenwijk and then at Vledder. They follow the road from Vledder and drop their ‘passengers’ in a field at 03.28, seeing them land in the centre of the field. They circle and see that the agents have dragged their parachute to a hedge. This shows how bright it is and how low they are.

They then set course for Vlieland, and at 03.43 drop their pigeons over the town of Sneek, which lies directly on their course. After passing Vlieland at 3.54, over the North Sea they reduce height to 1,000 feet ‘to make use of cloud cover in the event of interception’ as twilight has increased visibility to 8 miles. This is the danger of flying operations later in the moon period during high summer, with a late-night take-off: it doesn’t leave a great margin for returning under cover of darkness. Civil Twilight over Vlieland was at 04.21 DST, so they make it out of Holland just in time. They land at Newmarket at 05.54, and at 0610 they report Operation ZEBRA successful.

The agents are Johan Jacob Zomer and Wiecher Bote Schrage. MRD Foot, in his ‘SOE in the Low Countries’, relates their brief career. Zomer appears to be the wireless-operator, for he is arrested on 31 August 1941, caught by wireless triangulation. He will be sent to Sachsenhausen, and he will die there on 11 May 1942. Schrage manages to avoid capture, and meets up with one half of the SOE operation GLASSHOUSE (Cornelis Sporre) who will be parachuted on 7 September, also by Austin. Together Schrage and Sporre attempt to escape to England by sea on 13-14 November, setting off from Peeten, south of Den Helder. They are never seen again.