Tag Archives: SOE ‘T’

SOE ‘T’ (Belgian) section

Saturday, 5 July 1941

The next three nights are a bit of a tangle, with a tragic accident at their centre. Disentangling which operation was flown on which night, and by whom, has been a challenge.

When 1419 Flight’s operations went according to plan there was little for the pilot to write about in his official report. He was left with recording the bald facts of take-off, the route out across the English Channel and the enemy coast, the pinpoint and the target, dropping the agents and cargo, and of the journey home. As there is no Operations Record Book, these reports are often the only record that the sortie took place at all. When events failed to go according to plan – when the crew was thwarted by low mist, cloud, or the absence of a reception committee, or made errors of navigation or decision-making – these events are more interesting, for they show the pilots’ and crews’ actions under stress, and the decisions they made. In the case of three consecutive sorties for the 5th, 6th and 7th of July nothing went quite according to the book, but the pilots’ reports give little away. It would be misleading to say that the events were hushed-up, for they took place in an environment where everything was hushed-up, but the pilots’ reports which formed the RAF’s official record of events omitted important information, the effect of which was to avoid any mention of operation MOONSHINE / OPINION in the RAF’s only extant official record. The pilots’ reports were compiled near the end of the moon period, normal practice within the Flight: Austin waited until the 12th July before writing his reports for the 6th and 7th, and Jackson wrote his account for the 5th July on the 14th. From several eyewitness accounts, correspondence with MRD Foot, and Belgian academic works I have been able to piece together a logically coherent scheme of events. But I am open to the suggestion that this might still not be the final version.

According to the pilots’ near-contemporary operations reports, F/Lt Jackson flew Operation MARBLES on the night of 5 July, without completing it. Sgt Austin flew an un-named operation the following night, the 6th, during which one of the agents in a two-man team died in a parachuting accident, thankfully rare. This agent is known to have been flown out over Belgium the previous night, unsuccessfully, so it was logical to deduce that these two agents were collectively known as Operation MARBLES, despite each agent having his own code-name (MOONSHINE and OPINION, MOONSHINE being killed and OPINION being dropped successfully). Operation MARBLES was flown again the following night (the 7th), by Sgt Austin, this time successfully.

However, the agent dropped by Operation MARBLES was a completely different agent, Paul Jacquemin. While we will probably never know for certain, I believe that the operation Jackson flew on the 5th was Operation MOONSHINE/OPINION, not MARBLES. (It’s possible that Jackson attempted both operations, but his report describes only one operation; it tallies with the first attempt at MOONSHINE/OPINION.) It is therefore more likely that the real MARBLES was dropped at the first attempt on the 6th.

Operation MOONSHINE/OPINION

The first attempt to carry out this operation is flown by F/Lt Jackson. Delayed by technical trouble with their original aircraft, they jump ship to T4166. Take-off is delayed by only half an hour, so T4166 must have been fuelled-up and almost ready to go; it may have been a normal precaution. T4166’s intercom is not working effectively: microphones are swapped over, and the wireless operator is still struggling to provide a functional intercom as they headed for Belgium. They overfly Aldeburgh at 3,000 feet, but climb to 5,000 ft to cross the Belgian coast between Ostend and Dunkirk at 00.41 hrs. Jackson’s report continues:

On crossing the enemy coast we were held by searchlights and shot at by A.A. fire. At 01.07 we altered course to 134 degrees magnetic for Dinant at a height of 6,500 feet and at 01.12 commenced dropping the pigeons. We passed over several aerodromes, some with the flare path alight. At 0040½ we passed over Charleroi and lost height to 3,000 feet.

With the intercom still faulty, the navigator can still pass written course instructions to the pilot immediately to his right, but instant communication between all parts of the aircraft is vital during the operation itself. All members of the crew search for pinpoints during the approach to the target, and in the target area the pilot depends on the second pilot and navigator to position the aircraft right over the dropping point; only the despatcher and rear-gunner can provide confirmation of the agents’ departure from the aircraft.

En route for Dinant, on the Meuse, they fly over Charleroi: like all industrial areas of the time this coal-mining centre produces dense industrial haze, which obscures the ground beneath and spreads up and along the river valleys. After Dinant it is clear that the navigator F/Lt Romanoff, is having trouble. Whatever their target, they become lost. They retrace their route to pick up the river Meuse and pinpoint at Givet. They then follow the river north to Namur where, at 2.40, Jackson decides to abandon the operation. Already delayed by the technical trouble, and again after becoming lost, they have run out of time. Hockey records the route in his logbook as Nieuport, Charleroi, Namur, St Hubert (the last about 12 miles south of the MOONSHINE/OPINION target).

Fifty minutes later they clear the Belgian coast, and land back at Newmarket at 04.34. Jackson writes in his report that it had been the navigator’s first experience, but in fact F/Lt Romanoff had been out over Holland the previous night with Sgt Austin, and they had become lost then, too.

The accounts of the MOONSHINE / OPINION operation make clear that there was an attempt to drop this pair of agents over Belgium on the 5th, and Jackson’s report of their getting lost tallies with the known facts of MOONSHINE/OPINION. The Stradishall log confirms that there were only two 1419 Flight Whitleys out that night, and the other sortie is described below. It is possible that MARBLES was also aboard Jackson’s aircraft on this night, with no attempt made to drop him; but I doubt it. The MARBLES target was a long way west of the area covered; Jackson’s route only makes sense if they were trying to find the target for MOONSHINE and OPINION, in the hilly countryside south of Marche-en-Famenne.

Operation COLUMBA

My original post for this operation did not even mention that pigeons were dropped on both the outward and return legs of the sortie. I was too keen to keep the narrative focused on the agents; an error. Though the main purpose of the sortie was abortive, the pigeon-dropping part was effective, with at least ten pigeons returning to their UK roosts, possibly more. Jackson’s crew dropped pigeons on the outward journey after setting course for Dinant; later, at 03.20 they were returning under dead reckoning when they started to drop the remainder of the pigeons. They were interrupted seven minutes later when a searchlight homed on to them. Taking evasive action, they crossed the Belgian coast at 03.30, landing back at Newmarket just over an hour later.

Operation TORTURE

The target is only about twenty miles inland from the Normandy coast. Accompanying the crew was an RAF psychologist, F/Lt Roland Winfield, who later writes about the operation.

S/Ldr Knowles flies a normal route out via Abingdon and Tangmere, but the navigator must have underestimated the drift, for they make landfall only a mile west of Le Havre. Anywhere near the The port town is definitely unhealthy, and they are immediately attacked by the German ground-defences. Fortunately for Knowles and his crew, another aircraft had flown ‘slap over the middle of Le Havre’ as Knowles put it. It was higher, at about 10,000 feet, and drew the defences’ attention. Knowles discreetly headed south-west and crossed the coast at Merville.

The target was in the Forêt de Cinglais, a large wooded area about ten miles south of Caen, surrounded by arable land. It was easy to find, and the dropping operation took about four minutes.

After dropping the two agents ‘blind’, Knowles and his crew found ‘a German camouflaged tent encampment’ about 12 miles south of Caen, which would place it just south of the Forêt de Cinglais. Knowles’s crew shot it up from both turrets, and headed for the coast. There they found a German staff-car driving along a coast road with its headlights blazing. The rear gunner gave the car a four-second burst (a lot of rounds with four machine-guns) and the lights went out. They crossed the coast at Cabourg, and flew via Tangmere to Stradishall, landing at 03.33.

Sqn Ldr Winfield’s expertise was in the psychological stresses experienced by aircrew and paratroops. His postwar book gives a sympathetic, romantic portrait of W/Cdr Knowles, but his account of the operation itself provides real insight, bar a few errors of fact. His description of Knowles looking for trouble after completing the parachute operation rings true, as does his description of landing a Whitley ‘on’ instead of trying for a three-point landing. This was a solution to the problem of SD Whitleys stalling and crashing when their fuel was low and with undelivered agents still aboard. There would be several more instances of this particular type of accident.

Cartigny and Labit

On 29 April 1941 two twenty-year-olds, Denys Boudard and Jean Hébert, steal a Bucker Jungmeister biplane from a large fighter base at Carpiquet, just south-west of Caen, and fly it to England. SOE’s ‘F’ Section is taken with the airfield’s abysmal security, and despatches two agents, Henri Labit and Jean-Louis Cartigny, on a reconnaissance mission with a view to sabotage.

The French historian Philippe Bauduin appears to believe that they were dropped near the village of Rots, just to the west of Caen and about 12 miles from the Forêt de Cinglais, but this is unlikely: far too near the fighter base at Carpiquet for comfort, and very different country from the woodland where Knowles supposedly dropped them. (Baudin may have mistaken ‘Rots’ for Ryes; see below.) Labit wrote that they were dropped in a cornfield, where they left unmistakeable traces, and could not bury their parachutes in the hard dry earth. They carried the rest of their equipment to trees and covered it with leaves. Cartigny and Labit then separated, to meet up later. MRD Foot believed that Cartigny and Labit betrayed themselves by trying to catch a train the next day, a Sunday: passenger trains had ceased to run on Sundays some months before, but the agents had been poorly briefed. Not so: frustrated by the non-existent train service, Labit started walking the 35 kilometres to a farm near Ryes owned by a M. Frémont. (Labit’s accurate distance between the Forêt de Cinglais and Ryes confirms that the agents had been dropped at the correct spot.)

On the way Labit decides to call in at a ‘safe’ contact he had been given, a man called Dodin. Labit quickly realises Dodin was ‘un parfait crétin’, for he mistakes Labit for a Gestapo agent come to question him about the two French airmen, and greets him with a effusive praises for the Germans. After pondering whether he should laugh it off or box the man’s ears, Labit leaves him in order to make contact with M. Frémont as fast as possible, to warn Cartigny against approaching Dodin.

Labit has walked no more than a kilometre before he is stopped by a Gendarme on a bicycle who asks for his papers. Labit asks the policeman why he’s been stopped, and is told that M. Dodin has denounced him as suspicious.

Labit arrives at Ryes, where he has to make five enquiries before finding the Frémont farm, in a different commune. M. Frémont takes him in, subject to a confirmatory broadcast message from London, but three hours later Frémont’s son wakes the agent as the Germans were outside. Labit hides in a bush, then returns after they have left. Frémont tells him that the Germans have discovered the parachutes, knows about both him and Cartigny, and of his presence in the locality. Frémont proposes himself as an intermediary for Labit’s surrender, but the agent takes off. He finds a courageous peasant woman who hides him for a few days, then makes his way in a peasant’s disguise to Caen, then Paris, and from there to Toulouse. Once there, Labit is given a new mission, FABULOUS.

Cartigny is captured separately, is tortured and eventually executed by firing squad on 4 February 1942.

Sunday, 6 July 1941

Operation MOONSHINE/OPINION

Sgt Austin flies the next attempt to drop MOONSHINE and OPINION, taking off at 23.10. He takes F/Lt John Nesbitt-Dufort, the Lysander pilot commended by Jackson as a good map reader. Shortly before take-off Sgt Austin also invites the SOE accompanying officer, Captain Douglas Dodds-Parker, to come on the operation. Dodds-Parker, a Guards Officer and (it should go without saying) perfectly turned out, leaves his personal items – his cap, gloves, ID and stick – with his FANY driver and climbs aboard the Whitley.

Even among the variety of individuals who volunteer to become agents OPINION is unusual: he is a Jesuit priest, Father Jourdain. Eric Dadson, the head of the Belgian ‘T’ Section of SOE, has recently journeyed to the Roman Catholic seminary at Buxton, Derbyshire, to solicit Father Jourdain’s advice on garnering support from the Belgian church hierarchy, a substantial influence on the King, who has remained in Belgium. The 43-year-old Jourdain volunteers to go himself, is parachute-trained as an SOE agent – the combat and sabotage aspects are omitted – and he is paired with a wireless-operator, Armand Leblicq (MOONSHINE). Leblicq has, like Emile Fromme, been recruited from the ranks of the Chasseurs Ardennais.

On this his second journey to the airfield Leblicq becomes distressed. The previous night’s failed attempt has clearly unsettled him. In Dodds-Parker’s car, on the way from his safe house to Newmarket, he asks Dodds-Parker to find him a priest, to hear his confession and to absolve him of his sins before he jumps. The depths of rural East Anglia are not the easiest place to find a Catholic priest at short notice, even on a Sunday. Even if Dodds-Parker knows where to find one, involving a local padre would compromise security. It just cannot be done.

Leblicq is still oblivious to the real identity of his companion seated with him in the car. At Newmarket, Dodds-Parker explains his predicament to the Flight: F/Lt ‘Sticky’ Murphy offers to turn his collar round and hear the agent’s confession; as a Catholic he knows the form of words. But this proves unnecessary. Father Jourdain speaks briefly with Dodds-Parker, and agrees to drop his cover in order to absolve his wireless-operator. To reveal one’s real identity, even to a fellow-agent – especially to a fellow-agent, who might just turn traitor – is taking a terrible risk. In a corner of the hut used for briefing and final preparation, Jourdain hears his companion’s confession. They then board the Whitley.

All goes well at first. Austin and his augmented crew take off shortly after eleven, at last light. They fly much the same route as Jackson the previous night — Nieuwport, Charleroi and Dinant — but this time they find the target.

OPINION (Jourdain) jumps first, lands safely, and waits for Leblicq, who will be dropped with a small spade for burying the parachutes and harnesses. But Leblicq never appears. Jourdain makes do with a small pocket-knife, and walks towards Marche-en-Famenne.

What has become of Leblicq? He has been calm during the flight, and there seems to be nothing wrong. As a wireless-operator he would have been dropped using the ‘A’ type harness, which was basically a cargo parachute with a pair of 11-foot strops beneath which attach to the agent’s harness. When he drops, the package containing the wireless set, the shovel and any other kit) will follow him down the Whitley’s parachuting-hatch, followed by the parachute-bag containing the canopy. The parachute-bag is attached to the Whitley by a 16-foot cable, so that the canopy would be pulled from the bag last, with the agent and package already well clear behind the aircraft. The agent only has to thrust himself off the lip, make himself as straight and upright as possible, and fall through the hatch; everything else will follow.

And it did. Except that on this occasion a fold of the emerging parachute-canopy catches on the Whitley’s fixed tail-wheel. Normally there is a metal shroud fitted in front of the tail-wheel to prevent this, but it is a flimsy affair, likely to be dislodged by the Whitley taxying over the rough grassland at Newmarket. Leblicq is snagged like a fish on a line, gyrating wildly in the slipstream behind the Whitley. The rear-gunner, Pilot Officer Pulton, is abruptly and inescapably faced with the spectacle of a man being spun to screaming death a few feet away, impossible out of reach.

Austin feels the controls go spongey and erratic, as the partially-opened ‘chute now acts like a sea-anchor streamed behind the aircraft. The gyrating agent makes the Whitley difficult to control. Nesbitt-Dufort and Dodds-Parker clamber over the main spar in to the rear fuselage to see if they can help. Dodds Parker offers to be attached to a static-line and streamed out of the rear door, but the skipper forbids it: Leblicq’s body flailing around in the slipstream is already making the Whitley almost uncontrollable. The parachute-canopy and its ghastly burden might as well be on Mars for all they can do. Austin turns carefully for home, and the wireless operator signals for medical help; Pulton, distraught at seeing a man strangled mere feet in front of him, collapses and has to be hauled from his turret. At Newmarket John Austin lands the Whitley as gently as he can, but Leblicq is long dead. P/O Pulton will not fly again on ops until September.

Austin writes a brief record of the operation, which has survived. In it, all he writes of the tragedy is: ‘Pin point was located at 01.06 and one agent was dropped without a hitch. Rear Gunner saw parachute open but agent was not seen to land. The other agent was brought back to base – report 1419/s.701/P.1 d/d 7.7.41 refers.’

This report – 1419/S.701/P.1 d/d 7/7/41 – has not been found.

Tuesday, 12 August 1941

Operation PERIWIG/MILL

This second attempt to drop the MILL team is combined with PERIWIG. Why hasn’t this been done in the first place? The previous attempts to complete PERIWIG and MILL have been in two aircraft on the same night, though the targets are only 70 miles apart. Perhaps it is because SIS takes a dim view of sharing air resources with SOE. It has a valid point: SOE’s overt intentions of creating havoc through acts of sabotage and assassination render its agents more likely to get caught. Intelligence agents, often under deep cover, are vulnerable to accidental recognition.

But the 12th is the last opportunity to complete outstanding operations before the end of the moon period. Each service will have provided an accompanying/escorting officer, who will not have been unaware of the situation. Perhaps it is a case of Knowles stating in his characteristically blunt manner to both parties something to the effect of: “There’s one aeroplane for Belgium tonight; if your agent’s on board we’ll try and drop him, otherwise that’s your lot until the end of the month.” That night Ron Hockey is flying SHE to the Dordogne, and Sgt Reimer is taking four separate operations to central France, so even if there were a reserve Whitley there isn’t a reserve crew. (Though W/Cdr Knowles dates two reports to the 12th, he has flown them earlier; he just doesn’t provide the date they are flown.)

PERIWIG is dropped first, Austin pinpointing at Ath before dropping Campion near Silly. They then fly south to Trélon, identifiable by its large surrounding forest, just over the border in France. They pinpoint again at Chimay before dropping the two MILL agents about a mile south of Salles. This target is less than four miles from Momignies, the site of the Leenaerts operation almost exactly a year before. (Verhoeyen records that they were in fact dropped near Cerfontaine, about 11 miles to the north-east.) The rear Gunner sees the two parachutes open, and the canopies are seen on the ground as Austin flies another circuit of the area. It is a night of good weather, with good visibility. On the return leg they are coned by about 20 searchlights as they crossed the coast, probably at Nieuwport. (The typed report has been hole-punched through the name.)

The folly of combining operations is demonstrated by Campion’s capture. Campion proceeds to denounce almost everyone he knows. According to MRD Foot, ‘his brother, his sister-in-law, his nieces, the doctor who had set his ankle’ – he had, unseen by the departing Whitley’s crew, broken it severely on landing – ‘the mother superior of the convent [that had sheltered him], everyone he had met during his training and all the reception committee.’ Sgt Austin’s despatchers – there are two on this sortie, one under training – are most likely instructed to keep the SIS and SOE parties apart, both before embarkation and in the confined space of the Whitley’s rear fuselage. Whatever strategem is used, it appears to work: the MILL party escapes the attentions of the Gestapo, providing an almost constant stream of intelligence material back to London right up to the Liberation. According to Debruyne, MILL is particularly effective at railway-based intelligence, concentrating their efforts in the Hainaut area. Some 700 agents and helpers are involved.

Operation LUMOND, ADJUDICATE, FABULOUS, CHICKEN

This is the first sortie as aircraft captain for Sergeant Alvin Reimer, a Canadian pilot. His reports are concise, and give little away. This night is the last opportunity to complete outstanding operations before the end of the early August moon period, and Sgt Reimer’s record shows that he is the sort to press on and complete his task if it is feasible. The attempt to mount the operations on this sortie, all for SOE, is decided only at the last minute.

Take-off is slightly delayed, therefore, and the Whitley’s rear fuselage is full. There are four agents, four W/T sets, and a single despatcher. ADJUDICATE is scheduled first, to drop Count Dzieřgowski and a W/T set near Limoges. CHICKEN is the Belgian agent Octave Fabri, whose mission is to sabotage an aircraft-engine factory near Antwerp, but the cultural antipathies that still plague Belgium may have ruled out a more direct drop into the Ardennes. He is to be dropped about ten kilometres north of Châteauroux. Finally, FABULOUS and LUMOND are to be dropped about ten kilometres further north. FABULOUS was ‘one man with a large W/T set’ to be dropped for Henri Labit and a new circuit he was trying to set up after the failure of TORTURE. LUMOND was ‘one man with a W/T set, and one large W/T set as a separate package’, but no more is known about this SOE operation.

Reimer and his crew take off at 21.30 and fly via Tangmere to Caen, crossing the French coast at 23.24. They arrive over Limoges an hour and a half later, but low cloud prevents them finding the pinpoint for ADJUDICATE. They set course northwards and drop CHICKEN. Fabri makes his way to Belgium after making a series of beginners’ mistakes that no-one harmful picked up, and he survives the war after a catalogue of misfortunes which would have done away with a less lucky man.

The Whitley then carries on towards its next target, about 10 kilometres further north, arriving about ten minutes later, which indicates that Reimer has tried to give his rear team time to prepare. But Sgt Moy, although an experienced despatcher, has had to rearrange and prepare FABULOUS (a wireless-operator and set for Henri Labit) and LUMOND (a wireless operator and two sets) in a cramped fuselage still encumbered with Count Dzieřgowski and his W/T set. Over the FABULOUS/LUMOND target Reimer assumes that his despatcher was ready, and presses the green light, but the two agents and their three sets are still not ready. Reimer is forced to make a circuit of the target, and the crew lose sight of it in the cloud. After this one circuit Reimer is forced to abandon the drop in order to be clear of the French coast before daybreak.

We have this information about the drop because on 14 August SOE writes to the Air Ministry for an explanation. Three days later Group Captain Bradbury passes SOE’s note to W/Cdr Knowles at Newmarket, demanding: ‘Please render your report without delay and return the attachment.’ Knowles’s explanation is not on file, so we have only one side of the story.

Operation SHE

Two nights after Jackson’s attempt at SHE, F/O Hockey flew his first operation as skipper. Hockey now skippers the second attempt at SHE. This is the only operational sortie he flies with his great friend ‘Sticky’ Murphy as his Second Pilot.

They set off shortly after nine p.m. and follow much the same route as Jackson. They make landfall at Grandcamp, a little further west along the Normandy coast. They cross the Loire at Saumur, and reach Périgueux at 00.50. Low and medium cloud have given way to clear weather with a slight haze, and Hockey drops to about 1,500 feet. At 00.58 they identify the target, and 15 minutes later they have completed the operation.

Hockey and his crew make their way to the Atlantic coast, pinpointing at Bigenos in Archachon Bay. Despite the cloud cover over the Bay of Biscay two ships fire at them. They make landfall in West Cornwall, and pass over St Eval before heading for Abingdon and Newmarket. The weather is reportedly poor at Newmarket, and they are now so short of fuel that they land at Abingdon.

Operation SHE isn’t a female agent, or even an agent: it is a W/T set for the ALLIANCE intelligence circuit run by Marie-Madeleine Fourcade. Each W/T set has a three-letter identifying code, such as KVL or OCK. In this case the set has the code ‘SHE’.

This ‘SHE’ set plays an ignominious role in the story of ALLIANCE, for instead of taking it to Brittany to operate with the local ALLIANCE cell, the traitorous agent Bradley Davis, nicknamed ‘Bla’, gives his escort the slip and takes it to the Abwehr in Paris. From there Davis and the Abwehr run a ‘funkspiel’ deception operation using SHE, purporting to pass vital military information about the Atlantic ports to London. Davis operates the set himself to prevent London from suspecting a strange Abwehr hand on the key.

‘Bla’ has been under a degree of suspicion almost from his arrival in France, but London backs him, citing the excellent information they have been receiving. Within ALLIANCE he is known to be a traitor after his network in Brittany is arrested. London confirms this because they have continued to receive information purporting to come from the blown network via SHE. Davis turns up in Marseilles, is trapped in a faked rendezvous, and is executed by the ALLIANCE team.

Wednesday, 3 September 1941

Operation CONJUGAL

P/O Austin is out again the next night, again in Z7628. After the customary brief air test in the afternoon, they take off at 20:15. Their target is near Spontin, in Belgium. The sortie lasts 4 hours 10 minutes, and the Stradishall log records the return of NF-Z to Newmarket at 00:21.

‘Conjugal’ is Jean Scohier, aged 20, and he drops with a wireless operator called Lheureux on a mission to make contact with the Abbé Jourdain, whose wireless operator, Armand Leblicq, was lost when they parachuted in July.

Tasked to operate from Liège, Scohier prefers the company of his family and girlfriend in Brussels, but still manages to make contact with Jourdain, and act as an intermediary between Lheureux.

Scohier will be arrested in February 1942 – his security is poor – but he survives the war after interrogation and despatch to Germany, seriously ill with tuberculosis in a German hospital.

Lheureux also transmits for SIS agent Eric Tromme (CEZAREWICH) until Tromme’s arrest in October. After Scohier’s arrest Lheureux continues to work with two Brussels-based contacts provided by Jourdain, one of whom, Hoffman, mends Lheureux’s W/T set. In mid-March Lheureux shoots his way out of trouble when he arrives at Hoffman’s house to find the Gestapo there, but a month later he is arrested in Liège after the Germans surround his lodgings and shoot him on the roof. He resists the offer to ‘play back’ his set for the Germans, is deported to Germany and forced labour, usually a death sentence. In the last days of the war he escapes from a forced march, and survives.

Sunday, 7 September 1941

Operation STUDENT

The sortie

Jackson and his crew set off at 1954, about half an hour earlier than the previous night and in a different aircraft (Whitley ‘D’ according to Stradishall Ops). They follow the Bomber Command ‘lane’ via Abingdon to avoid the London area, and cross the coast at Worthing on their way to northern France. Jackson is headed east-south-east, and crosses the French coast at the mouth of the River Authie, near Berck-sur-Mer. The crew can see Boulogne under attack from a bombing raid, and a little flak is squirted in their direction, though they are twenty miles further south.
They encounter a low layer of cloud at 22.28 and drop to 3,000 feet to get below it.
At about 22.50 they find the target on the first run, which they complete at about 500 feet. Based on time & flying-speed the target would appear to be somewhere south of Mons, for on the way back they drop pigeons over Valenciennes. Thirty minutes later they recross the French coast at Berck, from where they return to Newmarket via Shoreham and Abingdon.

The agent

Pierre Tillet has identified STUDENT as Sgt Carl Godenne, a wireless-operator sent to join the ‘CLARENCE’ intelligence organisation. According to Emmanuel Debruyne, Godenne addressed his reports to Major Page, who ran SIS’s Belgian section. Tillet claims the target to have been Valenciennes, but Jackson’s report indicates that he dropped the agent and the pigeons some ten minutes apart; at, say 120 mph the separation would be about 20 miles; possibly inside Belgium. Peter Verstraeten has confirmed the identification by definitely linking Carl Godenne with STUDENT and the ‘Clarence’ intelligence network, but is unable to provide a clear indication of the target location where he was dropped.

Operation GLASSHOUSE

P/O Austin and his crew have a go at dropping Cornelis Sporre (‘Cor’) and Albert Homburg (‘Ab’) five nights after their CO’s attempt. W/Cdr Jack Benham from Ringway is acting as the agents’ Conducting Officer. At about 1700 the two agents asked him whether the operation could be delayed so that they would arrive over the target after curfew time in Holland; a reasonable request which would lower their chance of being seen to land in this densely-populated country. Benham cannot contact W/Cdr Knowles until after they arrive at Newmarket; but Knowles refuses to allow take-off to be delayed.

Austin takes off at 20.15. On their way out over the North Sea, the crew spots a light on the water which proves, as they circle it, to be an aircraft’s dinghy. The wireless-operator signals an SOS giving the position (53° 04′ N; 1° 52’E); this is acknowledged by Hull M/F D/F (Medium Frequency Direction-Finding) Station. At 22.55, and having thus delayed their arrival at the target, Austin and his crew resume their course to Terschelling, then to Zwolle. In 1941 Zwolle is much closer to the coast of the Zuider Zee.

The weather is fine and clear past the Dutch coast. They find the target without difficulty (which the wireless-operator records in his logbook as Smilde, north-east of Zwolle) and drop the agents; presumably they have flown up the canal from Meppel. Two COLUMBA pigeons are returned from the Zwolle area on the 8th, arriving in the UK on the 10th and the 17th; sent from the UK loft to Newmarket on the 7th. While Austin doesn’t mention pigeons in his report, his is the only SD aircraft that fits the time-frame.

The rear gunner sees the parachute canopies opening, and the crew believe they have seen the agents on the ground before they return to base, landing at 01.45.

Several aircraft, including a Wellington ‘K’ from Stradishall, are despatched to the area of the North Sea, but no dinghy is found, despite the calm sea and good visibility. There are several convoys in the area, and it is assumed by the Stradishall log that whoever signalled has been picked up.

Operations FELIX and DASTARD

After F/Lt Murphy’s encounter with his ‘oleaginous bump’ the previous night, everything goes well on his second attempt. Murphy and his crew set off at 20.00, and cross the French coast at Cabourg at 21.45. They set course for Fontainebleau, which they reach an hour later. They picked up the nearby Seine and a pinpoint is easily found. This is most probably the Seine-Loing junction near Moret, less than five miles from the target. Murphy’s crew find the triangle of lights on the Plateau de Trembleaux, and drop the W/T set to the FELIX reception party at 22.53.

Murphy retraces his tracks to the Seine-Loing junction, then heads east up the Seine, following the straight road from Marolles, and drops Laverdet and Allainmat near Bazoches-Lès-Bray at 23.02. Murphy returns to the Seine-Loing river junction, pinpoints again over Fontainebleau, and sets course for the Normandy coast. Conditions are bright and clear in the moonlight. Some Special Duties crews are keen to carry the fight to the enemy once they have carried out their main tasks. Murphy is disappointed to find no targets for the Whitley’s machine-guns as they fly across the French countryside at 50 feet. Instead they drop pigeons over Caen before leaving the French coast. They land back at Newmarket at 2.25.

Operation FENGLER

This is an operation for SIS related to the Polish intelligence organisation ‘F2’ in Unoccupied France run by General Zarembski (TUDOR), but the agent has not been identified. His escorting officer is F/O Philip Schneidau, whose presence at Newmarket allows him also to supervise the loading of the W/T set for his family’s circuit FELIX, above. The target is near Carcassonne, as recorded in Ron Hockey’s logbook.

At this time of year Carcassonne is about as distant as a Whitley can operate and still reach the relatively safe skies of the Bay of Biscay before daybreak; by day the Bay is regularly patrolled by Luftwaffe seaplanes. Accordingly Hockey is airborne at 2000, and flies via Abingdon, Tangmere, Selsey Bill, and crosses the Normandy coastline at 21.53. They fly southwards via the Loire and Toulouse. South of the Loire they have to fly below 800 feet to stay underneath the cloud. At the target they drop the agent between 01.15 and 01.19.

After leaving the target area they head north-west for the Atlantic coast. They exit France just south of Lac Biscarosse, over the giant sand-dunes. (Hockey records the exit-point as nearby Arcachon.) Out over the Bay of Biscay they frequently encounter thick fog, and above them 10/10th cloud at 4,000 feet. They pass Ushant and make landfall over The Lizard, landing at St Eval at 06.37 (Strad Log), with visibility at 4,000 yards. The Stradishall Ops Officer’s log lists this as ‘Operation No. 7’, and notes that Hockey’s aircraft has landed back at Newmarket at 10.40.

S/Ldr Nesbitt-Dufort is flying as 2nd Pilot on this operation. Though he had been posted in as a Lysander pilot, he has more than sufficient hours on twin-engined aircraft flying 23 Squadron’s Blenheims and Havocs.