Tag Archives: SOE ‘RF’

SOE ‘RF’ (Gaullist) section

Thursday, 6 November 1941


This operation for the Gaullist French (RF) section of SOE, is flown by Sgt Wilbur Reimer, with P/O Smith, new to the squadron, as his 2nd Pilot. They take off at 18.20, cross the coast at Tangmere, and climb to 8,000 feet to avoid any low-level flak as they crossed the French coast. They then drop to 1,500 feet to map-read their way to the Loire, but run into low cloud as they approach Limoges. Flying above the cloud they set course for Toulouse by DR, and arrive there at 23.15. They find the reception committee almost immediately, for the operation is completed fifteen minutes later. The two containers are dropped by one of the cockpit crew from the bomb-aimer’s position, but the packages, heaved out one at a time through the ventral hatch after the agent, are unlikely to have made a tidy group.

Reimer and his crew retrace their route to Limoges and re-cross the French coast (presumably Normandy) at 02.40, flying on D/R, unable to map-read because of low cloud and ground-haze. Routing via Tangmere and Abingdon they land back at Newmarket at 05.05.

OUTCLASS is Marie Léon Yves Morandat, known as Yves Morandat. A pre-war trade-union official, Morandat is an emissary of de Gaulle. His task is to use his excellent union contacts to foster political resistance in south-west France. FABULOUS is actually FABULOUS II, a drop of two containers and six packages to Henri Labit’s nascent circuit based in Toulouse. The FABULOUS II drop is scattered. The RF Section history puts it thus: ‘they were dispersed over such a wide area that it was decided in future to limit the number of packages rather than endanger the security of agents and reception committeees who collected them.’

Labit himself will be returned to London by sea on the night of 6th January 1942, together with 6 other agents from various réseaux. They are taken off by MGB 314 from the Aber-Benoit estuary in Operation OVERCLOUD. Labit’s detailed debriefing leaves us with a clear picture of his activities since July 1941.

Operation FIREFLY

Murphy flies this operation to the Bergerac region of south-west France. He takes off at 18.31, and he follows the normal route to Tours via Abingdon, Tangmere and Cabourg, before heading further south to Limoges, which they reach at 23.15. From there they set course for Périgueux. Due to ground-haze which obscures the ground, especially close to rivers, they mistake the river l’Isle for the Dordogne, and they waste half an hour flying along the much smaller river before realising their mistake.

Murphy and his crew pick up the lights as 23.36, and two minutes later they have completed the drop. The target is listed as being ‘Bergerac’. The date points to a parachute drop to the SIS-organised ALLIANCE circuit: in ‘l’Arche de Nöe’, translated into English in 1973 as ‘Noah’s Ark’, the ALLIANCE leader Marie-Madeleine Fourcade recalls the second parachute drop to the circuit, dropped at the village of Saint-Capraise d’Eymet, about 15 km south of the town of Bergerac: two wireless operators, Julien Bondois and another destined for another circuit, six W/T sets (at least one damaged on landing), and a case with gleaming locks that looked as though it has just arrived from a West End store; it contains a considerable fortune to fund the circuit. Fourcade’s lieutenant Maurice Coustenoble (‘Tiger’ in the ALLIANCE menagerie) has been in charge of the reception.

Murphy immediately heads back for Cabourg, and crosses the English coast at Tangmere at 03.12, with touchdown at Newmarket at 04.21.

Operation EMERALD

There’s no aircraft captain’s report for this operation. Three 138 Squadron Whitleys are out this night (Whitleys ‘F’, ‘A’, and ‘B’). Comparing the take-off and landing times with the Stradishall log, and the intervals between, ‘A’ is Sgt Reimer, and ‘B’ is F/Lt Murphy, so ‘F’ is F/O Hockey in Whitley Z6728. The list of operations accompanying the pilots’ reports assigns the operation as EMERALD – confirmed by another source – but misleadingly states the target location as ‘Verdun’, which leads one to believe it to be in eastern France. Hockey writes up his route as ‘Tangmere, Cabourg, Tours, Toulouse, Base.’ An Air Transport Form for the 28th October is more precise about the target: ‘VERDUN GRENADE’. This points towards the intended target being near the small town of Verdun-sur-Garonne, about 11 km down-river from the equally small town of Grenade. The ATF confirms that this is a ‘C’ operation, and that the agent is to be dropped with a W/T set under a large ‘A’ type parachute. (‘A’-type parachutes came in several sizes, the choice of which depended on the combined weight of the agent and the package above his head.)

The target for EMERALD is only about 23 miles north of Sgt Reimer’s target for SOE’s OUTCLASS/FABULOUS – see above. One aircraft could have carried out both operations, but whenever possible (and, officially, never) SOE and SIS agents are not carried in the same aircraft. There is even an instance where a pilot writes up two reports of the same sortie, one for SIS, the other for SOE, to make it look as though each organisation’s agent was the only one aboard! Hockey’s sortie takes him 10.5 hours. When he flew to the same area in the summer, Hockey had to leave France via the west coast and fly across the Bay of Biscay to St Eval; now, with November’s long nights, he can come straight home.


This is Nesbitt-Dufort’s third Lysander operation. This time he is to bring Claude Lamirault (FITZROY) and Lt Roger Mitchell (BRICK) back to the UK for consultation. Dufort is also to land an agent for SIS’s Belgian section, code-named SAGA. Nothing more is known about SAGA. Agents are normally parachuted, so SAGA, like SOE’s Gerry Morel, may have an essential role but is not fit enough to be parachuted.

From a midday weather forecast Nesbitt-Dufort judges that the operation might be feasible, and asks for SAGA to be brought to Tangmere from London, and for FITZROY and BRICK to be warned by W/T signal. (It is too late to arrange for a coded BBC message.) By 5 p.m. the forecast weather doesn’t look so good, but as he has warned the agents in France that he is coming, and knows they’ll be waiting for him, he feels he ought to try.

Nesbitt-Dufort takes off at about 8.20 p.m. and aims for the French coast at Criel-sur-Mer, a town almost directly in line with his course for Compiègne, his reference pinpoint. In this he receives guidance via R/T from radar stations on the south coast code-named BEETLE and MUNGA. (The procedure is described by Hugh Verity: it allows Lysander pilots to be tracked almost to the French coast; the radar station gives coded instructional ‘nudges’ to the pilot. The pilot does not transmit; that might reveal his presence and position.) He plans then to head up the Aisne on a compass-bearing eastwards towards the target, a plateau of slightly higher ground between Pernant and Saconin-et-Breuil (recorded as SIS landing site No. 5). He follows a compass-course set at Compiègne, the last pinpoint, with the river Aisne an additional reference. As Verity will write two years later in his guide to Lysander operations:

But once in the air, don’t forget that map reading must never take precedence over the D.R. and that even when you decide to follow a definite feature you must check the course of this feature with your compass.

Unfortunately there is heavy cloud as Nesbitt-Dufort crosses the French coast. He enters the cloud-base at 1,500 feet and flies on instruments until five minutes before his ETA over Compiègne. He descends to emerge below the cloud base at 1,300 feet and finds himself sandwiched between two layers of continuous cloud. Though visibility is still good – it is only two nights after full moon – it is very dark and he can make out nothing on the ground. He sets course for Soissons, to the east, and flies along that course for five minutes during which he should see any signals. But he sees nothing. (The agents beneath hear the Lysander overhead, but see nothing.) Nesbitt-Dufort flies methodically over the target area for about an hour before he gives up and heads home.



TNA HS 7/123 History of SOE RF (République Française) Section


TNA AIR 20 / 8334, Encl. 105A.
l’Arche de Noé, by Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, p. 116; Noah’s Ark (translation), p.77.


Logbook, G/Capt R.C. Hockey
TNA AIR 20/8334, Summary list of operations for October/November moon period, 1941


TNA AIR 40/2579: Lysander Operations, 419 Flight & 138 Squadron.
‘Black Lysander’, John Nesbitt-Dufort, Whydown Press, p.111.
‘We Landed by Moonlight’ (WLBM), by Hugh Verity, pp.23-24.
‘Some RAF pick-ups for French Intelligence’ by Hugh Verity: article in ‘War, Resistance & Intelligence: Essays in Honour of M.R.D. Foot’, ed K.G. Robertson (1999, Leo Cooper), p. 172.

Monday, 13 October 1941

Operation MAINMAST

The operation

Three nights after P/O Austin’s strenuous effort at the limit of a Whitley’s endurance, F/Lt Murphy makes a final attempt to complete this operation at the very end of the moon period. Murphy and his crew takes off from Newmarket at 18.10 and they fly via Cabourg for Tours, but due to what Murphy later refers to as ‘varying wind velocities’ the Whitley crosses the Loire 20 miles up-river. He flies down-river to Tours before heading south to Limoges. Murphy notes that there is no blackout over Tours (which is in the Occupied Zone but close to the border with the ZNO) but when the Whitley arrives over Toulouse just after 11.30, in the Unoccupied Zone which might reasonably be assumed less unfriendly, the town lights below go out street by street, and Murphy believes he sees flak bursting above the aircraft.

They set course for the target. It appears that the reception party is using a car’s headlamps 3 km north of the pinpoint to act as a final reference point before the triangle of lights at the target. Murphy does a quick circuit and then straight into his run-up to drop the two agents and a pair of containers. The crew sees only one parachute, but the canopies are camouflaged, and there is no moon; they have arrived at the target before the moon, in its last-quarter, has risen. They check and find that the container containing mail has hung up in the racks. By this time the triangle of lights has gone out, so they attempt to drop it by the car headlights. The container stays hung-up. They make one more attempt without success, then return to Toulouse where the blackout is now complete. A searchlight lights up, but fails to find them. They head for home, and land back at Newmarket at 05.10.

The agents

The two agents are Sgt Jean Forman and his wireless-operator René Periou; both are Free French soldiers of Dewavrin’s BCRA. Forman has been on both the SAVANNA and the JOSEPHINE B operations, and has made his way back to England each time. This time they are received on the ground by Henri Labit, Forman’s comrade from SAVANNA, and Labit’s chef du réseau Professor Pierre Bertaux of Toulouse University.

Forman’s new task is to contact the several home-grown resistance groups in south-west France and mould them into a cohesive organisation under De Gaulle’s control. This is a tall order for a young man like Forman, for the only common link between these groups is a focus on preserving themselves and their different political beliefs for the day when France is liberated. To these groups the idea that their authority should be ceded to a self-appointed leader of the French who has chosen exile in Britain is anathema. It will take more than a young firebrand like Forman to achieve anything. It will take someone whose authority has been based on France’s pre-Armistice civilian government to mould the disparate groups into an effective organisation, one that can speak for that France which has refused to collaborate. In September that man has already fled France for England: his name is Jean Moulin.



TNA AIR20/8334, Encl. 92A
History of ‘RF’ Section, SOE: TNA HS7/123

Friday, 10 October 1941

The weather has improved enough for operations to be flown. With several nights already lost there is a considerable backlog. The following narrative demonstrates how the ‘press-on’ spirit (though never ‘press on regardless’) applies to these aircrews. They know the urgency of getting these agents to their destinations, but these cargoes are precious, and more valuable than they are: agents are not bombs to be just dumped when the circumstances dictate. If the weather is as described below, it gives an idea just how bad the previous nights must have been.

Operation MAINMAST

This trip of 11 hours 40 minutes is at the Whitley’s limit of endurance. Its duration is comparable with S/Ldr Keast’s effort to Poland the previous January, though Keast’s trip had been pioneering a new route eastwards, whereas this one flown by P/O Austin is over familiar territory. He crosses the French coast at Isigny, but cloud obscures the ground over France as far as Tours. They fly on dead-reckoning until the cloud clears and they are able to map-read to Toulouse, which they reach at half-past midnight. Austin circles Toulouse to get a good fix for setting course for the target, but although they see several lights in the target area, none fits the bill for a reception-party. They remain circling in the area, looking for the correct light-formation, but have to leave at about 1.15 without success. It’s a long way to come for no result.

Headed for home, they run into 10/10ths cloud almost immediately. They fly some 33° off-course for 15 minutes before Austin realises that he has not engaged the verge ring that physically locks the course into the compass. They cross the French coast at 4.48 but cannot identify precisely where. The wireless-operator picks up a homing beacon for Tangmere and Austin lands there shortly after six.

Operation PEAR

There is no SOE file on this operation, and no agent identified as PEAR, but F/O Hockey’s report tells us that the target was near Ménétréols. Hockey takes off much later, at 21.20, but his is a much shorter trip. He experiences much the same weather as Austin, but he takes a different approach, opting to fly rather low. East of Tours, he attempts to fly up the Cher river to Vierzon at about 2,000 feet beneath 9/10ths cloud, but as the river ascends the cloud descends. Hockey returns to Tours and has another go, this time at 500-600 feet, but has to flew up into the clag at St Julien. Undaunted, he retraces his course, picks up the river at Blère, just short of Tours, and tries again. This time he flies “just above the tree-tops along the river” (which must have been hair-raising for his crew in less-than-perfect visibility beneath cloud, at night; the moon is well past its full brilliance) and reaches Vierzon. He then flies to Neuvy, turns left to follow the Ménétréols road, and drops PEAR somewhere in between the two.

There are a few Ménétréols and Neuvys in the area. Most other SD operations in the area are south-east of Vierzon, but the Ménétréols and Neuvys in this area do not tally with Hockey’s account. The pair that do fit are located north-east of Vierzon: Neuvy-sur Barangeon and Ménétréol-sur-Sauldre.


INTERALLIÉ is the Polish agent Roman Garby-Czerniawski, working semi-independently in Paris for the Polish F2 organisation, based in the Non-Occupied Zone under Colonel Zembinski. SUZANNE is what Czerniawski calls a ‘radio station’: one or more W/T sets parachuted to a reception committee near the Loire, but intended users are not identified. Garby-Czerniawski is briefed on how to use the ‘A’ type parachute by his escorting officer, ‘Captain Philipson’. Czerniawski believes ‘Philipson’ to be a British Army captain, and even after the war, when writing his memoir ‘The Big Network’, Garby-Czerniawski appears unaware that SIS agent Philip Schneidau – ‘Philipson’ being a nom-de-guerre to protect his family in Paris – has already completed two missions. Despite living in France all his life except for his schooling in England, Schneidau speaks French with an English accent; while it might pass without notice to a German, it wouldn’t to a native Frenchman.

Sgt Reimer and his crew take off at 20.55 and head for France via Abingdon and Tangmere. On crossing the French coast, they head for Angers on the Loire. (Reimer mis-spells it as Angiers.) This is their pinpoint for the run-in to SUZANNE. The 2nd Pilot, P/O Smith, map-reads to the target, where they are met by a triangle of lights and the letter ‘K’ flashed by the reception committee. Operation SUZANNE is completed successfully. Reimer’s report indicates that two packages were dropped, both canopies being seen to open.

Reimer then sets course south-east for Berthegon, the pinpoint for dropping INTERALLIÉ. Reimer encounters cloud at 700 feet, but they carry on. Reimer admits that Czerniawski is dropped about three miles north-west of the actual target. (In his memoir Czerniawski is less than complimentary about the navigator: three miles from the pinpoint may be nothing in the air, but on foot it’s a big deal.) Without any real idea where he is, Czerniawski is lost. Eventually he finds a signpost:

The signpost is a beauty; it has three arms showing in three directions! I read the names of the localities, slide down into the roadside,and with a torch covered by my mackintosh try to find my position. Minutes pass, and no trace of even a similar name! I try the alternative area discussed with Phillipson, some thirty miles north. Again no trace of the names. Moving helplessly my finger on the map, by coincidence I find one name, then the second, then the third — just between the two indicated areas . . . I don’t like swearing but i do it now and do it wholeheartedly. I dishonour the navigator’s family for several generations back into the past and forwards onto the future . . . that gives me a bit of relief.

Reimer and his crew head for home, landing at 3.35. After burying his parachute equipment, Czerniawski walks carefully in the moonlight, carrying his gramophone and stopping often to check he is not being followed. He reaches the edge of a small village and waits for the village to wake up. He risks asking a local about the next bus for Tours, and is told that he has half an hour to wait, time to enjoy an ersatz coffee. He reaches Paris the same afternoon. He carries two letters: one from a Major Heath written to his family in Paris; the other handed to him by ‘Captain Philipson’ for delivery to his wife. The envelope is blank, so Czerniawski writes the dictated address in his diary ‘in a conspiratorial manner’. Phillipson’s letter is delivered to his wife’s apartment in Paris by Czerniawski’s mistress, Renée Borni. This tenuous link with the InterAllié network will bring severe consequences for the Schneidau family.


The CORSICAN mission consists of four ‘F’ section agents: CORSICAN (Jack Hayes), DIVINER (Daniel Turberville), and HICCUP (Jean le Harivel). Though TRIPOD appears – by deduction – to be 2/Lt Clément Marc Jumeau, a planter from the Seychelles, other TRIPOD operations have been container-drops. (In his SOE file Jumeau is frequently referred to as REPORTER, but REPORTER is his code-name for a later operation in 1943, not this one.) The codenames HICCUP and TRIPOD III are added in ink to Jackson’s report. TRIPOD III may refer to the two containers of weapons and sabotage materials.

F/Lt Jackson’s Whitley takes off at 18.12, and the French coast is reached two hours later, about 45 minutes after moonrise. Headed for Bergerac, the Whitley runs into thick layers of cloud: 10/10ths below 5,000 feet, and 9/10ths above 6,000. (Presumably they are flying between the layers to know this.) Heavy rain showers make matters worse. At 22.40 they incorrectly identify the town of Bergerac, on the Dordogne river, but return there after failing to see any identifiable lights at the target. (The pattern is a triangle of lights, two white and one red.) They then fly 40 miles south to Aiguillon (Jackson writes it up as ‘Augillon’), a pinpoint at the junction of the Lot and Garonne rivers, to verify their position. They return to identify Bergerac, this time correctly. Nine minutes later, at 23.50, they identify the target. The reception committee (Jean Pierre-Bloch, Edouard Dupuy and Albert Rigoulet) are near a cross-roads called Lagudal, in the commune of Beleymas. Jackson’s report states that they drop all four agents, but French sources indicate that only three went down on this first pass.

Another run to drop the containers is abandoned, for the crew loses sight of the lights, but the lights are seen again at 11.03 after circling the target area, and the containers are dropped three minutes later. However, Turberville is dropped with the two containers some 10 km north of the reception committee, and is completely isolated from the others. The Whitley then returns to England, experiencing similar poor weather across France.

There seems to have been two causes of the error: first, that the red light could be seen from only one direction, and in the absence of blackout the other two white ones didn’t stand out on their own; second, at low level the lights could easily be obscured by the area’s undulating hills, dotted with woods, as the Whitley circled the area. One wonders what lights the crew saw just before they dropped the containers and Turberville.

All this effort is in vain. Turberville is arrested the next morning by the Gendarmerie, and the containers are found a little later. The others don’t stay free for long, but their capture is due to other factors. Gilbert Turck has rented a ‘safe house’ in Marseilles called the Villa des Bois. London has given this address to the CORSICAN agents, including Turberville, and thus to the Vichy police, who lay a trap and net, in rapid succession, Clément Jumeau, Jean Pierre-Bloch, Jack Hayes and Georges Bégué. They are incarcerated until the summer of 1942, when they all escape in a mass breakout engineered by Bégué and resourced by Pierre-Bloch’s gallant wife Denise.

In December 1941 Turberville jumps from the train as he is being transferred to Lyon, and is hidden for over a year by farmers in a village near Roanne. He makes his way to England via the Pyrenees and Spain, and reaches England in April 1943.

Lieutenant Jumeau, commissioned into the Intelligence Corps, is promoted to Captain shortly before he leaves on another mission on 12 April 1943, now codenamed as REPORTER and destined for the Lyon area. The Halifax delivering him crashes at Douvres-la-Délivrande, north of Caen. Jumeau and another agent, Lt Louis Lee-Graham (SURGEON), a Durham Light Infantryman, survive the crash but are captured almost immediately in civilian clothes. To protect Jumeau’s relatives in France, Lee-Graham loans him part of his name, so Jumeau becomes Captain Mark Graham and Lee-Graham becomes Captain Louis Lee.

They are taken to Germany for interrogation and are imprisoned in a civilian prison in Frankfurt under terrible conditions of solitary confinement. Jumeau contracts tuberculosis, and Lee-Graham also becomes seriously ill. In March 1944 they are force-marched to the military prison at Torgau. After a short spell in a prison hospital without treatment Jumeau dies on 26 March 1944. Lee-Graham survives.

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.


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.

Friday, 29 August 1941

This is the first moon period during which operations straddle two calendar months, so we can no longer talk about (for instance) the ‘July moon period’.

Operation TROMBONE

F/O Ron Hockey opens the new moon period by dropping a Free French agent into the Unoccupied Zone. Hockey’s crew for this operation is unusual. As his second pilot he has taken along S/Ldr Charles Pickard, DSO, DFC, from 3 Group HQ at RAF Exning, just to the north of Newmarket. Pickard is one of Hockey’s wide circle of personal friends, possibly from his pre-war days at Farnborough. Already nationally famous as the laconic pilot of ‘F for Freddie’ in the film ‘Target for Tonight’, Pickard has recently been awarded the DSO for his leadership of No. 311 (Czech) Squadron, and is being ‘rested’. The sortie also appears to have been an opportunity for a spot of on-the-job Despatcher training, with three on board to launch one agent; the novice is LAC Bolt. There is no RAF aircrew ‘trade’ of Despatcher, and therefore no formal training; many are volunteer ground crew, flying on operations in addition to their normal duties.

Hockey takes off in Whitley ‘D’ Z6473, the aircraft prone to exactor problems, at 20.33. They cross the French coast at Grandcamp, near Isigny-sur-Mer, and fly via Tours to Châteauroux, which they reach at 23.42. Ten minutes flying-time east of Châteauroux they drop the agent from 500 feet. (The agent’s SOE personal file says 900 feet.) Hockey returns to base via Tangmere, landing at Newmarket at 03.54.

TROMBONE is Robert Lencement, a 34-year-old electrical engineer in a research job at the time of the Franco-German Armistice. He has taken a month’s holiday from his job at Vichy with the broadcasting service Radiodiffusion Nationale. He has made his way via Spain and Portugal to England, which he reaches on 12 August on only the eighth day of his holiday. He has been in touch with a Polish organisation, probably the intelligence organisation F2 which has links with Vichy Intelligence. In London he makes contact with ‘Colonel Passy’ and therefore becomes an RF agent. SOE’s aim is to return him to France before his leave is up, so that he can resume normal life without his absence being noticed.

With only a couple of weeks in England there has been no real time to give Lencement the training he needs as a clandestine agent. He has been debriefed on his telecommunications knowledge, and given a short parachuting course at Ringway (which he completes with ease). He is dropped about ten minutes’ flying-time to the east of Châteauroux. MRD Foot’s assertion that Lencement was dropped back near Vichy ‘without a moon to help him’ is doubly inaccurate: the moon would have set there at about 01.46 local time (GMT+3); Hockey drops Lencement at 23.52 Double Summer Time (GMT+2), 00.52 local, so the solo agent will have had about 50 minutes in which to get his bearings, bury or hide his parachute and harness, and get going before he loses the moonlight.

In December Lencement will be arrested by Vichy and sentenced to four years imprisonment. During his time in Clermont-Ferrand prison he makes contact with agents from the ALLIANCE intelligence circuit run by SIS. He is released in May 1942 and works for ALLIANCE. That circuit’s difficulties leads to his attempt to repeat his journey to England, but is arrested at Perpignan, interned at Fresnes and deported to Buchenwald and DORA. He survives, and is awarded the King’s Medal for Courage in the Cause of Freedom, a decoration awarded to several non-military resistance figures, especially those who survived Nazi hospitality.


TNA AIR 20/8334, Encl. 69A
TNA HS9/913/8: Lencement Personal File