Tag Archives: SOE ‘RF’

SOE ‘RF’ (Gaullist) section

Thursday, 1 January 1942

Operations MAINMAST, ROBERT, and PERCH)

Though he will have been entirely unaware of it, Sergeant Jones is given one of the most far-reaching operations of the clandestine war: the insertion of General de Gaulle’s chosen emissary to the French Resistance, then still half-formed and largely ineffective, to mould an weld them into an effective force for the restitution of France and the recovery of its pride. Jean Moulin, a French Deputy tortured and sacked for his acts of defiance against the Nazi regime, has made his way to England in the autumn of 1941. He is now to be returned to France by air. The Despatcher’s identity is a clue to the operation’s importance, for he is the higghly-experienced W/Cdr Jack Benham, who has left Ringway for 138 Squadron.

Sgt Jones takes off from Stradishall at 16.20. The importance of this operation may dictate a route that spends a minimum of time over Nazi-occupied France, for it is an unusual route: to St Eval, where they refuel before apparently flying either across or round the western end of Brittany to cross the French coast from the Bay of Biscay. For much of this section they are plagued by thin stratus cloud which renders the sea and ground beneath indistinguishable. It is hard to make complete sense of Smith’s report, but he appears to have flown across the south-west corner of France, identifying Mt Canigou in the Pyrenees ahead, then flying east along the Mediterranean coast to finding the mouth of the Rhone. From there they map-read their way to the target.

Moulin would prefer to be dropped close to a house he owns on the north slopes of the Alpilles, an isolated ridge of limestone hills south of Avignon. According to Patrick Marnham, Moulin has asked to be dropped ‘on the north slopes of the Alpilles range of hills, near St. Andiol’, with two other agents, Raymond Fassin (PERCH) and Hervé Montjaret (W/Op), logically ROBERT.

According to Marnham, they jump from 1,500 feet into a strong wind. Moulin ends up in a bog called the Marais des Baux on the southern slopes of the Alpilles, which I have been unable to identify on a present-day map. It is a 15 kilometre walk across the Alpilles: a few minutes by air, but several hours hard walking in mid-winter, the discomfort exacerbated by Moulin bcoming soaked from a combination of landing in a bog and the mistral turning into a hailstorm. Given how far they had come, and the relative inexperience of the crew, the sort of pinpoint navigation that the agents expected would only have been likely with a pilot who already knew the area intimately. Given the navigation difficulties, the agents were fortunate to land within 50 miles of their target. The rear gunner sees four canopies open.

Sgt Jones heads the Whitley for Limoges on their route home. The cloud is 10/10ths and they fly at 2,000 feet. They must climb to cross the coast, but after that they get a fix for St Eval and drop from 6,000 feet to 1,500, landing at 08.55. They take off for Stradishall at 14.21, landing at 16.15.

Sources

TNA AIR 20/8334, Encl. 136A
‘Resistance & Betrayal’, Patrick Marnham, p.144.

Friday, 12 December 1941

Operation OVERCLOUD

P/O Anderle makes the second attempt at OVERCLOUD. He takes off at approximately 2045, according to the Stradishall log. He pilots Whitley Z9125 via Tangmere, Caen and Rennes. Crossing Brittany, he notes a lake north of Ploërmel, and crosses the shallow lake south of Vannes before heading north to pinpoint on Vannes itself before heading to the target.

At the target only two lights are seen, so he returns to Vannes. On the next pass the signal lights of the reception committee (which look like car headlamps) are faint and concealed by ground mist until the Whitley is almost overhead, by which time it is too late to drop the containers. He flies back again to Vannes. The aerodrome lights at Meucon are visible. On the next attempt at 00.40 Anderle gets a good sight of the reception lights and drops the OVERCLOUD containers from 1,000 feet. There’s no mention of the agent accompanying the four containers listed on the Air Transport Form.

On the return leg the Whitley’s port engine gives a flash and oil pressure is immediately lost. Anderle reduces boost and engine revs to nurse the engine, while applying extra boost to the starboard engine to compensate. The port engine’s oil temperature reduces slightly, and Anderle makes his way gingerly back to Newmarket via Tangmere, Abingdon and Stradishall, landing at 04.57.

Shortly after midnight Nesbitt-Dufort at Newmarket has let Stradishall know that Whitley ‘A’ (Anderle’s aircraft) is due to return to base at 01.30 instead of 04.00, though there is no explanation.

Sources

TNA AIR 20/8334, encl. 115A
Stradishall Ops Officers’ log, TNA AIR 14/2529

Monday, 8 December 1941

Operation COD

P/O Gibson writes this sortie up as Operation COOL, but in fact it is Operation COD, caused by a typo somewhere along the clerical chain between SOE and Newmarket. On the Air Transport Form it is clearly COD, in the same group as PLAICE, TROUT and DACE.

Gibson takes off at 20.15, and heads via Abingdon and Tangmere for Pointe de la Percée, near the western end of the Normandy beaches. Heading south for Tours, via Le Mans, he drops to 3,000 feet underneath a sheet of 10/10ths cloud, but the moon is bright enough. Pinpointing on the Loire west of Tours at 23.03, he loses height further to 2,000 feet and heads for Châteauroux. Twenty minutes later he is over Châteauroux and alters course NNE for the target, his navigation no doubt aided by the ruler-straight Roman road to Vatan. The expected reception is not at the target, but the agents are dropped one mile west of Ménétréols-sous-Vatan, at 23.45.

They map-read their way back to Châteauroux, where they drop leaflets a few minutes before midnight. They set course for Pointe de la Percée, flying at 2,000 feet beneath the stratus cloud, but climbing to 6,000 feet shortly before reaching the coast they climb to 6,000 feet to get above any coastal flak. They return to Newmarket via Tangmere and Abingdon, flying at 1,200 feet.

COD is an operation for Dewavrin’s RF organisation, parachuting Lt Edgard Tupët-Thomé (imaginatively codenamed TOM) and his wireless-operator, Joseph Piet (TOM W), near Ménétréols-sous-Vatan, in the heart of SIS’s parachuting and pick-up area. This operation appears to have been organised by SIS, which would have been unlikely to permit an SOE operation to use the same location. (Freddie Clark misidentified the target as near Ménétréol-sur-Sauldre, north-east of the border town of Vierzon, in the Occupied Zone.) Apparently both agents are injured in their landing; Piet breaks his leg.

Operation CLAUDIUS/BERYL

Sgt Alvin Reimer flies this important SIS operation to Blois and Châteauroux. His customarily laconic report provides little colour to describe the sortie, but it must have been interesting: as his 2nd Pilot he is taking his new Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Farley, though Reimer will have had little choice in the matter. Sgt Reimer is ‘Mr Reliable’: he has rarely failed to deliver his agents, even dropping six in one sortie (though in two passes) in September, so Farley may have flown this sortie to learn the secret behind Reimer’s success. The crew also includes P/Os Atkins and Fisher, both experienced men who have been commissioned since joining 1419 Flight.

Reimer takes off at 20.35 and heads for Tangmere. They cross the Channel, but without getting a firm fix on their position they set course for Blois, up-Loire from Tours. Pinpointing on Blois, the first drop is to the east, with a reception committee waiting for them east of the village of Huisseau-sur-Cosson. The correct signals are exchanged and CLAUDIUS is dropped. Two parachutes are dropped: one ‘A’ type and one ‘X’ type, both with the large-size canopies. It’s likely that CLAUDIUS drops using the ‘A’ type, with a W/T set above his head, and another package is dropped using an ‘X’ type parachute.

Reimer flies back to Blois and drops leaflets to give plausible ‘cover’ to their presence, before heading for Châteauroux: BERYL is dropped nearby, though the Air Transport Form gives no details. Reimer then drops leaflets over Châteauroux before heading home to Newmarket, where they land at 03.44.

‘CLAUDIUS’ is Claude Lamirault, first parachuted in January as FITZROY, and originally scheduled for return to France on 29 November. His circuit ‘JADE/FITZROY’ is now a large intelligence-gathering organisation. ‘BERYL’ is BCRA Lt Roger Mitchell. As BRICK, Mitchell was parachuted in early July to help Lamirault’s FITZROY circuit as an early air landing officer (the RAF operation was called FITZROY) responsible for setting up Lysander landing-sites. Both Lamirault and Mitchell have been extracted by Lysander on November 8th for consultation, and are being returned to the field. Mitchell’s visit to London is opportune, for it helps SIS make some sense of the break-up of INTERALLIE after 17 November and its aftermath. In October Mitchell had acted as babysitter for the Polish F2 organisation INTERALLIE while its chief, Roman Garby-Czerniawski, was in London during October. Mitchell had the unenviable task of keeping Renée Borni, Garby-Czerniawski’s mistress, and Mathilde Carré, his second-in-command, at arms’ length from each other’s eyes.

Operation OVERCLOUD

OVERCLOUD is that rare thing, a seaborne SOE operation into Brittany. On 14 October 1941 Gerry Holdsworth’s launch RAF360 left the Helford river for the Aber Benoit estuary. RAF360 had been a seaplane tender and was unsuitable for cross-Channel operations, but it was all that Holdsworth could obtain. Aboard were Joël le Tac and his wireless operator, Comte Alain de Kergorley. They were to set up reception facilities for infiltrating SOE agents via Brittany, and were put ashore that night.

So where does the RAF come in, aside from supplying the craft? Brooks Richards’ account of the sea operation provides the context. The agents and their equipment were loaded into two collapsible Folboat canoes lashed together, and paddled ashore. The canoes could carry a very limited amount of kit, a W/T set and little more. The rest will have to come by air in a container-drop.

The purpose of the OVERCLOUD mission is rather greater than providing a shore base for SOE landing parties. Le Tac’s additional mission is to penetrate a number of possible targets as reconnaissance for sabotage:

  • Railways, port installations and shipyards
  • Electric power stations
  • Transformers and switching stations
  • Telecommunications
  • German aerodromes (essentially, all aerodromes)
  • R.D.F.(i.e. radar) stations

The RAF has also asked if the two agents can provide information about the two German battleships in Brest, for the smoke-pots that the Germans set off whenever aircraft are overhead effectively conceals the ships from the air. The agents are to restrict their activities to the western part of Brittany, as SOE already has another agent in the Ile de Vilaine, around Rennes. OVERCLOUD makes its first radio contact on 30 October.

Sgt Wilde’s sortie on 8 December is the first RAF attempt to supply OVERCLOUD, though it was originally scheduled for 27 November. He is also to drop an agent, codenamed CARP. (It can be impossible to trace the identity of agents on sorties that were not completed; the agent might be sent in later by another route; another may be sent instead; or the requirements may change and the agent is no longer required.)

Wilde’s Whitley runs into 10/10th cloud soon after takeoff, and is at 8,700 feet when it crosses the French coast on ETA. At 23.20 the crew briefly sees a flashing beacon which they cannot identify. They carry on to their turning-point, still cannot see to map-read, and so abandon the operation.

On the return leg they climb to 7,000 feet. Near the coast the weather clears and they get a fix on Bayeux. They are about 4 miles east of track. Wilde heads for Tangmere, dropping to about 1,000 feet in case the weather closes in again. They cross the coast at Selsey bill. The weather closes in again and, ‘discretion being the better part of valour’ (as he puts it in his report), Wilde lands at Tangmere.

Malta

F/Lt Austin is informed that his orders are to come directly from the AOC Malta.

Sources

COD

TNA AIR20/8334, Encl. 109A
TNA AIR20/8306: ATF for COD

CLAUDIUS/BERYL

TNA AIR20/8334, Encl. 116A
TNA AIR20/8306: ATFs for CLAUDIUS

OVERCLOUD

TNA AIR 20/8334, encl. 130A.
TNA AIR20/8306: ATF for OVERCLOUD I
SOE RF Section History

Malta

F/Lt Austin’s report, 16 February 1942

Thursday, 27 November 1941

Operation DACE

P/O Gibson has recently received his commission. Whereas it is normal RAF practice to post NCO aircrew to a new unit on receiving their commission, the specialist skills of SD aircrew means that many return directly to their previous squadron and carry on as before. The only appreciable difference is that they eat and drink in a different Mess, have less disposable income, and are more senior on the ground than they had been.

This operation is the second attempt to drop Sergent-chef Bourdat. Same target, different route: in the veteran Whitley T4166, Gibson also flies via Cabourg, but heads further south to pick up the Loire at Beaugency. Pinpointing there, he tracks eastwards to re-cross the Loire at Gien (spelled Gion in Gibson’s report). Continuing eastwards to Auxerre, he finds the town but the river is again mist-covered. Nevertheless the crew finds the target and circles the area for 30 minutes, but they see no sign of the expected reception committee. They take a more direct course to Cabourg, and return to Newmarket via Tangmere (which they never see but overfly) and Stradishall. They land at 03.40, having never flown above 2,000 feet the whole time because of what Gibson calls ‘the inclement weather’.

Operation to Chimay, Belgium

The information for this sortie comes again solely from the logbooks of P/O Austin and F/O Livingstone, his Wireless Operator. Livingstone records a sortie of 7.30 hours, with the aircraft as Whitley Z6728 and the target as Chimay, whereas Austin records the Whitley as Z9288; the flight duration is the same. There is a plausible explanation for the non-recording of these two sorties by Austin. Three nights later Austin and his crew will be despatched to Malta; writing up their recent operations will not have been a priority. They will not reappear until February, so Austin is absent from the customary frenzy of report-writing at the end of the moon period.

Unknown operation

The Stradishall Operation log records three Whitley sorties taking off and landing this night: aircraft ‘J’, ‘B’, and ‘F’. Which was which is unimportant, but it indicates another unrecorded sortie, about which nothing at all is known.

Sources

DACE

TNA AIR 20/8334, Encl. 112A

Operation to Chimay

Logbooks, S/Ldrs Austin & Livingstone

Unknown operation

TNA AIR 14/2529

Wednesday, 26 November 1941

Operation DACE

This is W/Cdr Farley’s first operation since returning to flying duties. During his recovery from a broken femur incurred after crash-landing his Hurricane, shot down by an Me109 the previous November, Farley was posted to the Air Ministry, where he replaced Sqn Ldr Knowles in managing 1419 Flight’s operations under W/Cdr J. Easton. On 1 April had been promoted Squadron Leader, and in mid-November 1941 he returned to command 138 Squadron, promoted Wing Commander. Though Farley has been remembered as a pioneering SD Lysander pilot, he also flew several of the very early Whitley Special Duties operations. Tonight he has an experienced crew with him: ‘Sticky’ Murphy and the core members of his crew. Also along to gain experience is F/Lt Laurent, a French Air Force Lysander pilot who has recently joined the squadron.

RF agent Sergent-chef Raymond Laverdet (DASTARD) is already in France, inserted in September near Bazoches-lès-Bray to make contact with the newly-active Communist labour organisations, hence his other code-name, RED. He has made contact with a Communist organisation known as the ‘Armée Volontaire’, which appears to provide opportunities for industrial sabotage. (Doubtless for political reasons, the RF History describes this movement as Gaullist; it was nothing of the kind.) Laverdet’s wireless operator André Allainmat (RED W) makes contact with London on 9 October, and in a second message on the 19th Laverdet has asked for an assistant and weapons instructor. The result is DACE (misleadingly recorded by Farley as DASTARD/DACE): Sergent-chef Louis Bourdat.

Farley plots a course over familiar territory from the previous September. At 21.00, ten minutes after crossing the English coast, low cloud forms to block their view of the sea beneath, so they turn on ETA for Cabourg and set course for Auxerre, their target. At 22.00 the cloud begins to disperse, but visibility remains poor. After a further half-hour, because he is still trusting to a dead-reckoning course set over Tangmere, Farley alters course to find Fontainebleau, a town he knows well from the air after his several attempts to land Philip Schneidau more than a year ago. Believing that they have found Fontainebleau — the château, its grounds and surrounding forest are highly recognisable — Farley alters course for Auxerre. On ETA for the town they find a river they take to be the Yonne, but they cannot find Auxerre itself: the valley is shrouded in mist. They follow the mist-covered river downstream until they find themselves over Paris — 150km from Auxerre as the crow flies — whereupon they abandon the operation due to a forecast of poor early-morning weather at Newmarket. They fly on ETA all the way back to base, which they find with difficulty, and land at 03.20.

Operation PLAICE (really TROUT)

It’s not quite clear why Sgt Reimer entitles this operation PLAICE in his report. A simple explanation is that Reimer gets his fish-names mixed up. The RF history and the locations mentioned by Reimer in his report make clear that this was Operation TROUT.

Sgt Reimer flies via Abingdon, Tangmere and the French coast — Reimer being his laconic self, says little — to the Loire river at 23.10. He flies up the river Allier, a Loire tributary, and pinpoints on the town of Moulins, which he reaches at midnight. It takes him another 45 minutes to find the reception committee; the RF History gives the dropping point as ‘near Vichy’, which is further up the Allier.

This sortie being right at the start of the moon period, the moon has descended behind cloud near the horizon. The reception committee’s torches are faint, and are not lit until Reimer is right overhead. (Batteries are rare as hens’ teeth in France, and their brief life carefully husbanded.) Reimer and his crew drop the agent, whose parachute is seen to open, before heading home, dropping leaflets in the Tours area and over ‘Mortaine’. (This is more likely to be nearby Mortagne). They find their way home above 10/10th cloud, and land at 06.35.

The Free French agent is called Koenigswerther, a W/T operator for Laverdet (TROMBONE), dropped in late August. Laverdet has made contact with London through the OVERCLOUD organisation, but he needs his own W/T operator.

Somehow TROUT fails to meet up with his reception committee. (The faint torches seen by Reimer’s crew may have been house-lights that coincidentally made the same pattern. There is no blackout in the Unoccupied Zone, and Knowles had commented on this possibility of misidentification back in May.) TROUT’s safe house proves unsafe: his W/T set is soon in the hands of the Vichy authorities, his identity as a M. Blacharden blown. He manages to make contact with an SIS agent EMERAUDE (EMERALD), who has been dropped on 6 November by P/O Hockey near Toulouse, and (according to the RF history) has been operating from Marseilles. EMERALD signals London to see if he might make use of Koenigswerther, but Dewavrin wants him to continue with his original mission – a little ungrateful of Dewavrin as without EMERALD’s help Koenigswerther would be a busted flush.

MRD Foot makes no mention of this agent in his ‘SOE in France’. He may have been inhibited (or prohibited) from mentioning it because of the contact with SIS agent ‘EMERALD’.

Operation to Virton, Belgium

This operation by Austin cannot be tied to any operation, SOE or SIS. The target for this one appears in P/O Livingstone’s logbook as ‘Vitron’, which is probably Virton, but no more is known about it than the sortie’s duration, 6 hours 45 minutes, and that it is flown by P/O Austin in Whitley Z9288. There is no operations report, which means that it is absent from the 138 Squadron ORB, created much later from the pilots’ reports. Austin’s sudden deployment back to Malta may explain that absence of a report.