Tag Archives: SOE ‘T’

SOE ‘T’ (Belgian) section

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.

Operations GYPSY, VERMILION

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.

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).

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. Pierre Tillet, author of the ‘Infiltrations into France’ document on the the Plan Sussex 1944 website, has directed me to a paragraph in Emmanuel Debruyne’s ‘La Maison de Verre’, a 2006 paper on Intelligence operations in Belgium, which identifies the agent and his organisation.

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 agent, who is dropped at 02.32. His parachute is seen to open but he is not seen on the ground.

The agent was Joseph Austraet, the first W/T operator intended for the ‘Zéro’ intelligence circuit, founded by Fernand Kerkhofs early in 1941. Debruyne wrote that it was several months before Austraet became active, and he was arrested shortly after making a few transmissions. Debruyne does not mention Austraet in his later paper, ‘La guerre sécrète des espions Belges’ (though he does write about Kerkhofs and Zéro), which explains why I missed him earlier.

Austin and his crew 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.

Operation COLUMBA

Operations BINDER, LUCKYSHOT, etc.

It is possible that P/O Austin dropped pigeons on his sortie, for a few returned to the UK shortly afterwards, and no other sortie fits. In his report, however, Austin only mentions dropping leaflets. Likewise, Sgt Reimer on LUCKYSHOT, etc. made no mention of pigeon-dropping.

BEAU GESTE

It is possible that Jackson’s sortie may have been related to Operation Columba, but none of the pigeons that returned to the UK in October came from the Brittany area. (This does not, however, definitely rule out pigeons: many could have been dropped, but none returned.)

Sources

BINDER

TNA AIR 20/8334, Encl. 81A
Logbooks, S/Ldrs Austin and Livingstone
Emmanuel Debruyne: ‘La Maison de Verre: agents et reseaux de renseignements en Belgique occupée, 1940-44 (2005-6), p.347.

LUCKYSHOT, HIRELING, RHOMBOID

TNA AIR 20/8334, Encl. 84A

BEAU GESTE

TNA AIR 20/8334, Encl. 91A

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 Cassart’s 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 51° 2’N, 3° 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.

Operation COLUMBA

The pigeons dropped by Austin and his crew had been intended for the group of Belgian intelligence-gatherers who styled themselves ‘Leopold Vindictive’. The Debaillie family lived in the village of Lichtervelde. In July 1941 a farmer had brought them a pigeon dropped by 1419 Flight, probably by F/Lt Jackson on the first attempt to carry out Operation MOONSHINE/OPINION. If these October pigeons had been dropped at the correct location the LV group might not have had to make contact with other parties in vain attempts to get their information to England. Though to Austin’s crew the seven-mile distance represented an error of about 2 degrees after flying 90 miles on DR from Namur, To the Debaillies waiting below they might as well have been dropped in France.

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 the SIS section A.I.1(c) in Air Intelligence.

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 of 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 brings 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

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