Tag Archives: SOE ‘T’

SOE ‘T’ (Belgian) section

Wednesday, 24 December 1941

The start of the December-January moon period has been brought forward slightly. Winter weather puts a premium on those nights that are suitable for conducting operations. Flyable
conditions on a fourteen-hour night (of which slightly more than the first six hours will be moonlit) will trump a less-than-brilliant moon.

Operations MUSJID, PERIWIG

The Air Transport Form for this operation says the target for both operations is near Dinant, Belgium, the load six containers + six pigeons. It is therefore not an agent-dropping exercise. The narrative below makes clear that there are two separate operations.

Sgt Reimer, this time with an all-NCO crew, is airborne at 20.00. Course is set for Tangmere, the Whitley crossing the coast at 21.07 and reaching Le Crotoy at 21.44. After crossing the French coast, Reimer drops to 1500 feet but once inland he is confronted by 10/10ths cloud with its base at 1800′.
He heads for the target: on ETA he is over the target area, and circles, but no reception signals are seen. They set course for the second pinpoint in the hope that the weather will clear enough to see the lights of a reception party, but the cloud is still at 10/10ths. He’s probably running out of moonlight, too. Reimer abandons, and course is set for base.

Two packs of leaflets are dropped on the way home, one packet over Beaumont, the other over Cambrai. At 01.05 Reimer’s Whitley arrives over Tangmere, and he lands at Stradishall at 02.36.

Operation PERIWIG, probably PICKAXE II

Sgt Jones takes off in Whitley ‘F’ at 20.33 for Abingdon and Tangmere, flying at 2,000 feet in moderate visibility. At 21.24 (which seems rather a long time later) Jones sees Abingdon beacon and alters course for Tangmere. Twenty five minutes later he pinpoints on Southampton water and at 21.57 a recall signal is received on a 3 Group frequency. (At Stradishall S/Ldr Nesbitt-Dufort records the recall sent at 21.26, and recorded the signal’s acknowledgement.) Sgt Jones returns to Stradishall via Abingdon: he lands at 23.45, just in time for Christmas.

I suspect that Sgt Jones has been delayed for some reason, and takes off rather later than planned. The moon is due to set just after midnight (UK time is GMT+1). Someone at Stradishall may have realised that the moon will set before Jones’s aircraft can reach the target area; hence the recall signal.

At 03.33 the Stradishall log records that 138 Squadron has sent a signal to the Air Ministry:
– Periwig unsuccessful
– Musjid          ”
– Pickaxe         ”

The mention of PICKAXE implies that Sgt Jones has mis-titled his report, and Sgt Reimer’s sortie is correctly titled MUSJID / PERIWIG. (With very few exceptions, pilots and crew have no knowledge of the agents or their missions, and make a deliberate point of not knowing, either.) PERIWIG and MUSJID are Belgian SOE operations; PICKAXE is a highly-secret programme of operations to drop Soviet NKVD agents. It may be a first attempt at the operation flown by Sgt Reimer on the 28th.

Sources

United States Naval Observatory, Astronomical Applications Department, Data Services.

MUSJID, PERIWIG

TNA AIR 20/8334, encl. 125A
Stradishall Ops Officers’ log.

PERIWIG

TNA AIR 20/8334, encl. 117A, duplicate at 123A
Stradishall Ops Officers’ log.

Saturday, 8 November 1941

Operations ARBORETUM, IRRADIATE

We know about Operation ARBORETUM, for a file in the National Archive tells of the brief clandestine career of Oscar van Impe, but of IRRADIATE we can deduce little. According to a rather muddled and amended Air Transport Form dated December 1941, IRRADIATE is an S.O.2 (SOE) operation: as no packages or containers are mentioned on the Air Transport Form, it may be an agent of unknown identity.

Sergeant Reimer takes the southerly route into Belgium, crossing the enemy coast at the mouth of the Somme at 7,000 feet. They drop to 4,000 feet to map-read, double the normal height used for crossing northern France but probably advisable given the variable height of the Ardennes countryside they are to overfly. Givet is the first pinpoint reached at 22.33, and Oscar van Impe is dropped seven minutes later. Fifteen minutes later Reimer and his crew arrive at the second pinpoint, near the village of Anthée, near Dinant, Belgium. They are met by the lights of a reception committee. The target field is very small, and Reimer has to make several runs before all the packages are dropped on the target, but he still completes the operation inside four minutes. An operation at the end of November, IRRADIATE 3, will have its target a bowl of farmland at Suxy, surrounded by the Ardennes forest, but there will be no reception to meet the aircraft.

After this sortie 138 Sqn (at least, the majority of it in the UK) is stood down from operations due to a poor weather forecast, but three more nights later marks the end of the October-November moon period anyway.

Posting-in

Pilot Officer Sid Firth, Technical Engineering Officer, is posted in to 138 Squadron from RAF Stradishall. Post-war, Sid will be a founding member of the Tempsford Reunion in 1949, and it is substantially due to his efforts that it survives until the Reunion’s ageing members decide to wrap up the Reunion on its 50th anniversary.

Sources

ARBORETUM, IRRADIATE

TNA AIR 20 / 8334, encl. 94A
TNA AIR20/8306 – ATFs
TNA HS9/1506/7 – Cornelius van Impe

Postings

138 Squadron ORB, TNA AIR27 / 956
Personal information

Friday, 3 October 1941

Operations LUCKYSHOT, HIRELING, RHOMBOID

Austin’s aircraft (Whitley T4166) is airborne at 18.25, and crosses the English coast at Dungeness at 20.17. Cloud over the Channel means they pass over the French coast without seeing it, and visibility gets worse as they approach Charleroi for the third attempt at LUCKYSHOT.

LUCKYSHOT

Austin flies to the pinpoint via Chimay (Austin and his crew have been there before), then to Namur, Liege and Verviers. Visibility, which has been down to 800 yards, has improved to about two miles, and at 23.23 they sight the LUCKYSHOT reception-committee clearly. (The wireless-operator’s logbook records Surister, about 4 miles south-east of Verviers, as the first target.) Within five minutes, after Austin has circled the triangle of lights several times, flashing his recognition lights, the five packages and one container are dropped.

The absence of an agent to be dropped may explain why there is no extant information about LUCKYSHOT, with no indication about the circuit, or the organisation to which it belonged. It would have been very close to the German border as it then existed under Nazi occupation, for Germany had annexed much of Belgium’s territory east of Verviers.

HIRELING, RHOMBOID

Austin and his crew then fly about 3 miles north-east to the Lac de Gileppe to get a secure pinpoint before heading towards the village of Verbermont (as Austin and his W/Op writes it; the actual name is Werbomont). The two agents are dropped approximately 2.5km east of the village. This appears to be wooded farmland in a landscape of low, rounded hills.

HIRELING is Jean Cassart, a captain in the Belgian army. His mission is ‘to secure communications with the Army in Belgium’; he is also given a wide-ranging sabotage brief, aimed at disrupting aircraft and military transport, and attacking civil infrastructure such as power-stations and transmission networks, steelworks and coke ovens, canal locks and barges, telephone networks, railway signal boxes,munition works and oil-tanks.

RHOMBOID is his wireless-operator, H.P. Verhaegen. Much younger than HIRELING, who is in his mid-thirties, Verhaegen is only about twenty. They hide in the woods until about 7 a.m., then bury their parachutes and the W/T set before finding their container, which has dropped nearby, before walking into Chevron, two miles to the east, and their pre-arranged rendezvous at the hotel ‘Hougardy’. Their subsequent adventures will be told at a later date.

Austin drops nickels over Verbermont/Werbomont and Namur. About an hour later, en route for the coast, they drop pigeons on their dead-reckoning position of 51deg 2’N, 3deg 10’E, near Lichtervelde. (Subsequent fixes lead Austin to believe they were dropped about 5-7 miles further west.) They are contacted by 3 Group and instructed to land at Tangmere: several bombers from 9 Sqn, 115 Sqn and 218 Sqn have been diverted to land at Newmarket. Austin’s Whitley crosses the English coast at South Foreland, and he follows the coastline to land at Tangmere at 01.50.

Operations SABOT, SPEED

W/Cdr Teddy Knowles flies what is to be his last operational sortie. He has exceeded his total number of hours allowed for operational flying, and his successor as CO of 138 Squadron has already been lined up: W/Cdr Wally Farley, whom Knowles had, in effect, replaced after Farley was shot down the previous November.

Knowles takes most of what had been his regular crew in 1419 Flight: F/Sgt Fisher as W/Op, F/Sgt Atkins to navigate (Knowles observes the niceties by giving Atkins his proper title of Observer), F/O Pulton as Rear Gunner, and F/Lt ‘Sticky’ Murphy as his 2nd Pilot. For good measure he takes along W/Cdr Sofiano from Air Intelligence at the Air Ministry.

They follow the regular route to Tours via Abingdon, Tangmere and Cabourg, but north of Caen: ‘we had the misfortune to witness a Hudson shot down in flames by “flak”-ships’.

They arrive at Tours under 10/10ths cloud at 21.21. They alter course for Chatillon, but over the target there are several bright lights; so, after telling the agents, Knowles drops them some ten miles further east, in an area free of lights.

They drop leaflets over Chateauroux and several other towns and villages on the return leg. They cross the coast at Cabourg at 23.15; while over the Channel they are, like Austin, told to land at Tangmere due to bad weather at base. They land at Tangmere four minutes after midnight.

The agents SABOT and his wireless-operator SPEED are Pierre Bourriez, a 35-year-old Captain, and Robert Deweer, a Lieutenant. Bourriez’s mission is to co-ordinate the activities if all Belgian intelligence and escape-line services in France. This centralising tendency is bound to create security concerns to SOE, which has learned to isolate and separate where practicable. Nevertheless, Bourriez sets up seven sous-réseaux, his own being DICK which receives many RAF drops. The escape lines run through Spain, following the route he had taken himself after the Belgian surrender. He is arrested in December 1942, but escapes the following March and makes it to the UK in early May 1943. Unusually, the wireless operator lasts longer than his organiser. The French police arrest him in December 1942, but he manages to escape in March 1943 and make it back to the UK in May.

Operation PERCENTAGE

Operation PERCENTAGE is the first clandestine air operation to Czechoslovakia since the mysterious non-insertion of Otmar Riedl (Operation BENJAMIN) in the spring. A wireless-operator is to be dropped, with a set, in order to re-establish communications with the Czech underground. Since Reinhard Heydrich’s appointment as Reichsprotector of Bohemia and Moravia (the Nazi term for Czechoslovakia), repressive measures have resulted in the capture of most of the working sets and the interrogation of their operators. They have fallen silent; only one remains in action.

According to the operation’s Air Transport Form (ATF2)  the agent, František Pavelka, is to be dropped 100km ESE from Prague, 24 km south from Pardubice. (The form mis-states it as PAPDUBICE.) A reception-committee has apparently been arranged: it is to light a fire, with a red signal-light  to leeward and two white lights, one intermittent, to windward of the fire. There is no alternative target, and in the event the pilot cannot find the dropping-point he is to drop them, provided that they are inside the borders of pre-war Bohemia. The Czechs would prefer the crew to be from their own country, and the ATF asks whether the Czech crew with 138 Squadron is sufficiently trained. It isn’t: P/O Leo Anderle and his crew have just about completed their operational training on Whitleys at No. 10 OTU, Abingdon. (Anderle has just had a crash in a Whitley two days ago; nevertheless he will be posted in to 138 Sqn on the 9th.)

The operation has been postponed from the previous night, but no reason for the cancelled sortie is given. For tonight’s attempt P/O Hockey assembles a crew that is a mix of innocence and experience. The novice is his 2nd Pilot, Richard Wilkin, a Canadian new arrival to the squadron. The experience comes from 3 Group HQ: his navigator is S/Ldr Cousins, Group Navigation Leader, F/Sgt Judson as W/Op, and Sgt Hughes bring up the rear.

Hockey takes off in Whitley Z9158 shortly before 3 p.m. for Tangmere, where he lands an hour later to re-fuel to 1,100 gallons and to pick up agent Pavelka and his set. (Stradishall has already warned Tangmere to fuel the aircraft up with 350 gallons of 100-octane fuel. It also warns that the Whitley has not been fitted with IFF.) Hockey also takes on four 50lb bombs and 120 incendiaries; not enough to cause major damage, or to over-burden the aircraft, but just enough to provide an alibi for the operation. Ever-careful, Hockey records the all-up weight as 33,964lbs, with a centre-of-gravity position calculated as 92.7″ aft of (i.e. nearly 8 feet behind) the datum point. The fuel load shows that he is carrying 6 auxiliary tanks, two in the bomb-bay and four at the forward end of the rear fuselage. The load, 1,364lbs above the overload limit of 32,600lb, explains why Hockey is setting off from Tangmere: its extra-long runway might allow him to get the Whitley airborne; at least it’s a new aircraft. The agent will have to leave the aircraft by the rear door, followed by his W/T set in a separate package, for the ventral hatch is obscured by the fuel tanks.

The take off from Tangmere is delayed by 25 minutes owing to the late arrival of the agent and his luggage. Hockey finally takes off at 19.10. Major Sustr, head of the Czech Section D from which the agents are selected, is aboard to act as Despatcher and adviser. Hockey has flown to Tangmere without a despatcher, so Major Sustr’s addition to the crew is probably pre-planned. Hockey flies along the coast to Hastings before crossing the Channel to Le Crotoy: this is in order to avoid the prohibited area Dieppe-Newhaven1. Flying at 6,000 feet, course is set for the Rhine at Stockstadt, where the river has a unique meander, but the ground is obscured by two layers of cloud, one above, the other beneath. At 22.38 they alter course on ETA for the south of Prague. The cloud layer above prevented any astro-navigation, but they made ‘full use of DF loop-bearings’. This meant tuning into several known radio-stations on known wavelengths — if you have ever used medium-wave or long-wave radios you will know there’s a dead-spot when the aerial is in line with the direction of the broadcast — and plotting a course by repeated triangulations.

By these methods, and flying an accurate course, they reach the southern suburbs of Prague at 00.35. The low cloud has dispersed but has left a thick ground-haze. The flak is poor and inaccurate. Flying east, they found the Elbe and Kolin where the flak is more accurate. They reach Pardubice at 01.03, and set course south. At the target position they can identify nothing that resembles a lighting system, and under the guidance of Major Sustr (who is acting as Despatcher) the agent is dropped at a position estimated to be within 2 to 3 miles of the target. (In fact he lands near Chotusice, some 32 km WNW of the target.)

Hockey then sets course west for Stockstadt, looking for a suitable target for his bombs on the way. They are dropped near a railway line spotted through a gap in the clouds. Over his ETA position for the Rhine, course Is set for Le Crotoy, and on the following leg they are subjected to accurate flak.

Hockey lands at Tangmere, having had to fly his approach beneath the cloud at 200 feet, and is guided into Tangmere by a searchlight shining up into the clouds. The Whitley has been aloft for 11 hours 20 minutes; not quite the longest operational sortie, but one of them.

1The reason for the area prohibition is given in the Stradishall Ops Officers’ log: it is an agreed corridor to allow Red-Cross-sponsored repatriations to be carried out between 3 and 10 October; both Dieppe and Newhaven harbours are out-of-bounds and may be lit, and a 20-mile corridor across the Channel between the two is prohibited to all aircraft. However, negotiations between the British and German authorities and the Red Cross break down, and no exchanges take place.)

Sources

HIRELING, RHOMBOID

TNA AIR20/8334, Encl. 80A
Logbooks, JB Austin and AGW Livingstone
TNA HS6/104 (HIRELING)
TNA HS6/187 (RHOMBOID)

SABOT, SPEED

TNA AIR20/8334, Encl. 85A

PERCENTAGE

TNA AIR20/8334, Encl. 139A
Pilot’s logbook, RC Hockey
TNA HS4/39 (ATF2 for operation)
Stradishall Ops log TNA AIR14/2527
Lifeline across the Sea, by David L. Williams, The History Press (2015)
AP 1522E Whitley Pilot’s Notes, section 18.
www.army.cz/images/id_7001_8000/7419/assassination-en.pdf

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.

Operations LUCKYSHOT, HIRELING, RHOMBOID

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.

Tuesday, 30 September 1941

Operations MUSJID, OUTCASTE, BALACLAVA

Austin flies this short-range SOE operation to Belgium to open proceedings for the September-October moon period. Shortly after crossing the Belgian coast near Furnes both turrets lose power, caused by a sheared hydraulic pump spindle. The Whitley is now, in effect, unarmed, as the turret can only be rotated by hand-cranking it round, far too slow if they come under attack by an enemy fighter. Austin and his crew press on.

Over Courtrai they are held by searchlights and Austin has to resort to violent action to throw them off; no easy feat in the staid Whitley. Hardly surprising that they lose their precise position. It takes them some time to find their next pinpoint, and MUSJID (Stinglhamber) is dropped at his preferred spot near Celles. Jean Nicolas Léon Maus (OUTCASTE) and his wireless-operator André Fonck (BALACLAVA) are supposed to be dropped near Arlon, on the Luxembourg border, but low cloud and rain force a decision to drop them near Champlon, fifty kilometres to the north. The decision on such a drastic change of target would not be taken without discussing it with the agents. OUTCASTE and BALACLAVA are dropped in a large field, and when the Whitley circles back both canopies are seen on the ground, near some woods where they and the harnesses can be concealed. Austin heads for home after dropping leaflets over Champlon. Perhaps because the Whitley has no defensive armament, Austin chooses a longer but safer route home, via Tréport and Tangmere, and lands at Newmarket at 2.40.

Maus’s personal file says that he was reported to have dropped between CHAMPLON and BEAULIEU (possibly Béleu, about 5 km to the east). His mission is to find out what, if anything is happening in Luxembourg: to contact any existing organisations or, failing that, to set up an organisation of his own; to reconnoitre sites for dropping supplies or landing sites for Lysanders. MRD Foot gives the story of their eventual capture:

Operation TEAMAN

While much is known about Austin’s sortie, much less is known about Sticky Murphy’s sortie TEAMAN. MRD Foot does not mention it. It may have been an SIS mission.

The target is in same area as GLASSHOUSE, flown earlier in the month. F/Lt Murphy flies across the Zuider Zee to Zwartsluis and Meppel. (Before the post-war creation of the eastern polders Meppel was almost on the coast.) According to Murphy’s post-operation report the TEAMAN target was only seven minutes flying-time up the canal towards Smilde. Unusually, they drop their leaflets over Meppel before heading for the target, presumably to avoid returning there after the drop. After dropping TEAMAN Murphy then set course for Southwold, but they made landfall at Lowestoft. They fly south to Southwold, which presumably gives them an often-flown track to find base at Newmarket, where they land at 23.32.

Operation LUCKYSHOT (plus RHOMBOID and HIRELING)

Of F/O Hockey’s crew for this sortie, it appears that only P/O Smith, his 2nd Pilot, is a member of the Squadron. So far as I am able to ascertain, his navigator and wireless-operator, F/Sgts Broadley, DFM and F/Sgt Judson, DFM are on the staff of 3 Group’s Training Flight; during this period both fly other operations for 138 Squadron, but only five in total between them. The rear-gunner, F/Sgt Masson, does not appear elsewhere in 138 Squadron’s reports, so he may also be a visitor. S/Ldr Jack Benham (ex-Ringway) is flying as the Despatcher, with a Sgt Kennedy (also possibly a visitor, for this is his only appearance) to assist. Benham has been on the staff of Ringway almost since its formation: in May 1941 he briefly replaced Louis Strange as CO of the Parachute Training Squadron, but was soon superseded by S/Ldr Maurice Newnham. Promoted to Wing Commander, Benham is posted overseas to India to train paratroops there, but fails the medical; he is currently with SOE.

The target for Operation LUCKYSHOT is near Charleroi. Hockey takes off at 18.55 and flies via Abingdon and Tangmere to the French coast at Berck-sur-Mer. Though this is a roundabout route to Belgium, nearly double the straight-line distance, it avoids the heavy flak defences to be encountered anywhere along the coast east of Calais. They cross the French coast at 7,500 feet, a safe height. Encountering 8/10 cumulus cloud shortly after, Hockey drops to 3,500 feet. After 10/10 cloud, and rain, he drops further to 2,000 feet. On ETA over the target area Hockey decides against flying any lower in zero visibility, the ground being not much more than 1,000 feet below. The operation is abandoned and they return via the Somme estuary at Le Crotoy, and thence to Tangmere and base at 01.25.

From the RHOMBOID SOE file, Hockey’s sortie also includes HIRELING and RHOMBOID, Jean Cassart and Henri Verhaegen. Hockey does not mention these in his report, perhaps because he abandons the operation in the knowledge that their target would be equally inaccessible.

As with TEAMAN, the identity of LUCKYSHOT appears to have evaded the record. There is no mention of LUCKYSHOT by MRD Foot or Etienne Verhoeyen, two principal sources for SOE and intelligence agents, or any file in the National Archive.

Sources

MUSJID, OUTCASTE, BALACLAVA

TNA AIR20/8334, encls 82A, 83A, 87A.
TNA HS6/158, Personal File for Jean Nicolas Léon Maus (OUTCASTE)
MRD Foot, ‘SOE in the Low Countries’, pp. 265-7.

LUCKYSHOT, (HIRELING and RHOMBOID)

TNA HS 6/187 (RHOMBOID mission)
Hockey logbook
Article about Jack Benham by Walter Kahn, MBE, in ‘The Dropzone’, the magazine of Harrington Aviation Museums; volume 10, Issue 1 (2012).