Saturday, 12 October 1940

RAF Stradishall

The operation mounted this night incorporates several ‘firsts’: the first Special Duties operation from Stradishall and the first under Bomber Command control; the first operation for O’Neill’s replacement F/Lt Frank Keast  who flies as Second Pilot to F/O Jack Oettle; and the first agents parachuted into Nazi-occupied Belgium. This is also the first insertion of a pair of agents as organiser and wireless-operator, which becomes a standard practice.

P5029 has arrived at Stradishall at 11.35 that morning, to replace the Flight’s newer Whitley destroyed by P/O Greenhill the previous day.  Oettle and Keast take off in P5029 at 22.23. Sgts Bernard and Davies are back on duty despite their crash the previous day. They land back at 0255. Keast’s logbook says the trip took 4 hours 40 minutes, which is close enough. (Frequently there are differences between take-off and landing times as recorded by the Watch Office and the Ops Officer. Logbook times tend to be longer than either, as pilots record flight from first taxi to engines off, which the Watch office doesn’t see.)

Constant Martiny and Armand Desnerck

The agents are dropped in the bois Saint-Jean, between the villages of La Roche and Houffalise, some way north of Bastogne. The agents are Constant Martiny and Armand Desnerk, his wireless-operator. Martiny is 52, and breaks his ankle on landing. (The Belgian historian Emmanuel Debruyne says that they didn’t receive any parachute training.) Martiny has been a clerk in the Ministry of Aviation. His contact in Belgium is Joseph Daumerie, a pilot from the Great War, and their circuit Daumerie-Martiny gains some 300 agents recruited locally. Martiny is captured on 13 May 1941, and is deported to Germany. Tried in Berlin, he is sentenced go death, and he is executed on 26 August 1942. There is a memorial near the Chateau de bois Saint-Jean, presumably near where he landed.