Tag Archives: Strange

S/Ldr Louis Strange, DSO, MC, DFC*

Saturday, 24 August 1940

RAF North Weald

F/Lt Fielden’s unarmed Whitley takes off from North Weald in the morning, well before a substantial German bombing attack at 3 p.m. This causes severe damage and kills several airmen.

F/Lt Walter Farley and Sgt David Bernard are posted to North Weald. Sgt Bernard’s posting order is to one of the resident Fighter squadrons, and it’s likely that Farley’s order is similar.

Farley arrives from RAF Watchfield, near Swindon. At North Weald he takes up a Miles Master, an advanced training aircraft with a performance not far below that of the Hurricane. Farley takes two young pilots, P/O Ambrose and Sgt Goodenham, on separate flights before he takes up a Hurricane for the first time.

Sgt Bernard has been travelling from RAF Abingdon by rail, having been woken in the early hours, given a posting order and rail warrant at the guardroom. The train journey, interrupted by air raid alarms, takes all day. He arrives at North Weald in the evening, to find the base recovering after the German raid. Exhausted, he finds a vacant bed in the deserted Sergeants’ quarters. Only next morning does he discover why they were deserted: an unexploded bomb at the other end of the building.

Sources

Logbooks, L.A. Strange, W.R. Farley
Interview with W/Cdr David Bernard, 2004
Recorded interviews of David Bernard, IWM
ORB, Central Landing School, Ringway

Friday, 23 August 1940

Date Operation Name Pilot Aircraft Agent Target Country Outcome
23/8/40 “Mr X” F/Lt E.B. Fielden Whitley III “T”, K7218 Lt Lodo van Hamel, Royal Dutch Navy Leiden Netherlands Abandoned: searchlight site near target

Aircrew Details

Pilot F/Lt Earl B. Fielden
2nd Pilot S/Ldr Louis Strange, DSO, MC, DFC*
Navigator F/Lt Marsh
Wireless Operator None – no W/T
Rear Gunner None – no rear turret
Despatcher S/Ldr D. Ross Shore, AFC
Agent Lt. Lodo van Hamel

Lodo van Hamel

Van Hamel, a Lieutenant in the Royal Dutch Navy, has escaped to England after arranging for the evacuation of Princess Juliana to England by sea. He has also acted creditably in command of a Dutch Navy sloop during the Dunkirk evacuation, defiantly flying the Dutch ensign near the beaches. François van ‘t Sant, head of the Dutch government-in-exile’s intelligence service and a controversial Dutch courtier, asks for a volunteer to return to Holland and gather information about conditions in Holland under Nazi rule. Van ‘t Sant has had dealings with the Dutch section of SIS before the war, and he offers his government’s services. The Dutch Navy is asked to provide a volunteer. Kicking his heels in London, Van Hamel steps forward without hesitation.

Early attempts to land agents on the exposed beaches of Holland and Belgium have met with mixed success. By the end of July German control of the coast is tight. Van Hamel agrees to be dropped by parachute. He is given rudimentary parachute training at Ringway. The parachute school’s Commandant, S/Ldr Louis Strange, writes many years later: “We had given him a drop or two at Ringway and one at night, so off we went to North Weald to fill up and await final orders from the Air Ministry.”

F/Lt Earl Bateman Fielden, known as ‘Batty’, is chosen to fly the operation. He is already experienced at dropping parachutists: he has flown with Sir Alan Cobham’s Flying Circus during the 1930s, when a key part of its act involved the dropping of dare-devil parachutists such as Harry Ward. During the ‘Phoney War’ both Fielden and Strange served in No.24 Squadron, ferrying senior officers and politicians between Hendon and the BEF in France. One of S/Ldr Strange’s early acts as commandant of the Parachute Training School was to request F/Lt Fielden’s posting to Ringway. Fielden is now Strange’s Chief Flying Instructor.

Louis Strange, not one to pass up an opportunity for action, flies as Fielden’s Second Pilot. His logbook records F/Lt Marsh as the navigator. S/Ldr Donald Ross Shore, now recovered from his parachuting injury, flies in the rear fuselage as van Hamel’s despatcher.

The aircraft is one of Ringway’s own Whitley IIIs. Identified by the letter “T” in Strange’s logbook, a Ringway photo from 1941 shows that ‘T’ was K7218. The photo also shows that this particular Whitley’s rear turret has been removed and replaced by an experimental parachuting platform. This explains Strange’s later comment that the Whitley was defenceless. At North Weald, Strange scrounges a machine-gun for the front turret before they set off for Holland. There is no W/T operator, and probably no W/T set. As they approach the Dutch coast they encounter strengthening winds and cloud. They cross the Dutch coast near Bergen, quite a way north of the target. The forecast winds have been inaccurate in both strength and direction. Eventually they find the dropping-point near Sessenheim, about five kilometres north-east of Leiden. It is raining and gusty. Strange and Fielden have just decided that the wind is too strong for the man they call ‘Mr X’ to be parachuted when the Whitley is illuminated by ‘a powerful searchlight’ shining from near the spot where they have been about to drop the agent. They climb away to safety and return to North Weald, reaching it at about 7 a.m.

Sources

TNA AIR 29/520: ORB, Central Landing School, Ringway.
Typescript for ‘More Recollections of an Airman’, Louis Strange, RAF Museum.
Logbooks: Louis Strange, Donald Ross Shore.

Friday, 9 August 1940

RAF Ringway

S/Ldr Louis Strange and our others make the first parachute jumps over Tatton Park. Strange had earlier persuaded its owner (Maurice, Lord Egerton) to loan Tatton Park to the RAF for parachute drops. Egerton agreed, with the proviso that aircraft would not land in his park. Lord Egerton had been an aviation pioneer and is one of Strange’s early friends. This arrangement thoroughly annoys the Army, which has long cast its covetous eyes on the Park.

According to the Ringway ORB a Lysander is allotted to the Central Landing School. Another is allotted the following day. However, the Air Ministry Form 78 aircraft record cards state that both are allotted on the 10th. A memo in an Air Ministry file shows that these two aircraft are destined for ‘Special Duties’ activities.

Monday, 5 August 1940

No. 24 Squadron

F/O E.B. Fielden is posted to RAF Ringway, at the express request of S/Ldr Louis Strange. By the immediacy of his request, and by it being almost a fait-accompli, Strange attracts the ire of the RAF’s Personnel Branch, not for the first or last time.

No. 10 OTU, Abingdon, and RAF Silloth, Cumbria

Flying Officer A.J. Oettle, an instructor at RAF Abingdon, takes a trainee bomber crew on a navigation training flight to Anglesey, then across the Irish Sea to Stranraer and Silloth, thereby mimicking a bomber route across the North Sea to bomb a target in Germany. Their route even includes some practice bombing near Workington, before returning across the Irish Sea to Llandudno and home to Abingdon.

As they pass over RAF Silloth, the relief duty officer interprets the Whitley’s meanderings as suspicious, and scrambles two Blenheim fighters to investigate. Two other Hurricanes take off to investigate entirely independently from the duty officer, but only one makes contact with the Whitley. The three fighters crowd the Whitley, flashing their recognition lights. One Blenheim has had the foresight to have taken off with a navigator equipped with an Aldis lamp. He is able to make contact with the Whitley, which eventually fires off the colours of the day, two yellow flares.

In the meantime, the duty officer has returned from lunch, and despatches the duty Hurricane pilot, Sgt Parrott. On a previous occasion he has been instructed to shoot down a British-marked aircraft if he considers it to be acting suspiciously, though on this occasion he is ordered to only investigate and report. Sgt Parrott arrives on the scene shortly after the other three aircraft have left. It has been practising bombing runs over Workington, and is now heading out over the Irish Sea for Llandudno.

Sgt Parrott flies around the Whitley, flashing his recognition lights and trying to attract its attention. Jack Oettle, piloting the Whitley, sees the Hurricane, but believes it to be one of the earlier aircraft practising dummy attacks, and ignores it. Sgt Parrott opens fire on the Whitley’s engine nacelles, damaging the aircraft enough to cause Oettle to force-land at RAF Squires Gate, Blackpool. His Whitley has been hit by more than 400 rounds from the Hurricane. None of the crew has been injured.

Sgt Parrott returns to Silloth to report. The Hurricane he has been flying is from 22 Maintenance Unit, a new aircraft destined for a Fighter squadron. Its number is R4118. Seventy-five years later it is still flying, for it is the Hurricane found in 1982 by Peter Vacher in India, returned to the UK and fully restored. It is currently housed at the Shuttleworth Collection, Old Warden aerodrome.

If you want to read my fuller article on this incident, read the September 2015 issue of Aeroplane Monthly

Monday, 1 July 1940

Ringway

Pilot Officer Louis Strange, DSO, MC, DFC* takes command of the Parachute Training School at Ringway, as Acting Squadron Leader.

London

Squadron Leader E.V. Knowles relinquishes command of No. 56 Squadron, and is posted to the Air Ministry. At some point before 10 July S/Ldr Knowles is assigned to the Admiralty to act as assistant to Group Captain Geoffrey Bowman, the Deputy Director (Air) at Combined Operations.

Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, calls a meeting in which he requires a centralised control of all the clandestine operations.

France

A French motor torpedo-boat (MTB) returns at night to a beach near Brest and picks up an unidentified agent it had landed on 20th June.