Monthly Archives: September 1940

Saturday, 21 September 1940

Tangmere — Fontainebleau, France

Probably the third attempt to parachute Philip Schneidau: F/O Jack Oettle makes his debut in 419 Flight as Whitley P5029’s skipper. F/Lt Farley is his Second Pilot, with Sergeants Bernard and Davis as Wireless Operator & Air Gunner, and S/Ldr Ross Shore as Despatcher. Other crew remain unidentified.

Friday, 20 September 1940

RAF Tangmere

The second attempt to drop Philip Schneidau is probably made on the night of 20-21 September. F/Lt Walter Farley, who flew as Second Pilot on the first attempt, appears to be the skipper this time. He does not record the Second Pilot in his logbook. S/Ldr Ross Shore and Sergeants Davis and Bernard are all in Farley’s crew. A crossed-out entry in Farley’s logbook lists Sgt Cameron in the crew; he would become the Flight’s first Despatcher, but at the time he was a corporal. (Farley’s logbook for this period appears to have been filled in several months later.)

Farley’s logbook records the sortie as lasting 3 hours 55 minutes. Ross Shore’s logbook records a sortie lasting 8 hours with Farley as skipper. It is not stated where this sortie was mounted from, but it was probably from Tangmere.

Tuesday, 17 September 1940

RAF North Weald

F/Lt Tony O’Neill flies S/Ldr Ross Shore to Dishforth in Lysander R2626.  This Lysander is non-operational: like R2625 (lost on 17-18 August) it is a standard-range Lysander, without the underslung Harrow-derived fuel tank, so cannot be used on operations. It becomes 419 Flight’s unofficial liaison aircraft, but it is also used for training agents in the selection and and laying out of landing-fields in Occupied territory.

According to its AM78 record card, R2626 continues serving with 138 and 161 squadrons until mid-March 1942, when 138 Squadron moves to Tempsford.

Shortly afterwards F/Lt O’Neill is posted away to another squadron within Fighter Command, where he excels as a fighter pilot.

Sunday, 15 September 1940

Battle of Britain Day

The crucial day of the Battle of Britain: until the 15th it is not clear whether the RAF will win; after the 15th it appears unlikely to lose.

Massive daylight raids are launched against London. All of 11 Group’s aircraft are committed to the Battle. Provisional figures of 175 German aircraft downed are given to The Times for publication the next day. On Tuesday the paper increase this figure to 185, against the loss of only 25 British fighters (with 12 pilots safe). Anti-aircraft guns claim seven of the total. (The real figures are about 60 German aircraft losses versus 29 British fighter losses plus 21 damaged.) The large daylight raids cease; the Luftwaffe increasingly turns to night bombing.

RAF North Weald

Whitley V, serial P5029, is taken on charge by No. 419 Flight.

RAF Tangmere

The first attempt to parachute Philip Schneidau into France appears to have been carried out on the night of the 15-16 September, though logbook entries differ*. The Flight’s first Whitley, P5029, is flown from North Weald to Tangmere, where it is fuelled up for the operation. The agent will probably have joined at Tangmere, driven there by car.

F/Lt J.A. ‘Tony’ O’Neill, DFC is the Whitley’s skipper, with F/Lt Walter Farley as 2nd Pilot. S/Ldr Shore, AFC, acts as Despatcher. Sergeants Davies and Bernard, until recently instructing trainee Wireless Operators at No. 10 OTU, Abingdon, are the Wireless Operator and Rear Gunner, though who was which is not known.  S/Ldr Shore’s timings show a flight of 8 hours, while Farley’s shows 6 hours 5 minutes; Shore appears to have recorded the total flight-time from North Weald.

*Logbook dates differ: F/Lt O’ Neill dated the operation to the 16th, but Farley and Ross Shore recorded it as the 15th. Though a night operation would conventionally be dated as though it were part of the previous day, some aircrew might record a sortie that either takes off after midnight or takes place predominantly during the early hours, as if it is the next day. The convention avoids the problem of a late sortie followed by an early one the next night, otherwise it might appear that two sorties have been flown on the same night (though this is unlikely as the moonrise and moonset wouldn’t be significantly different).

Tuesday, 3 September 1940

No. 2 (Army Cooperation) Squadron

According to his logbook, on the night of 3 September 1940 Wing Commander Andrew Geddes, Officer Commanding No. II(AC) Squadron, flew a Lysander to a reception committee near Tours. Hans Onderwater, historian of No. II (AC) Squadron who saw Geddes’ logbook, recorded that the operation was flown in Lysander R9029, but in fact this aircraft serial belonged to an unmodified Lysander belonging to No. 4 Squadron, another Army Co-operation squadron. It is more likely that the aircraft flown was Lysander R9027, the first Lysander known to have been modified by Westlands with an underslung 150-gallon fuel tank filched from a Handley-Page Harrow.

Geddes recorded this flight in his logbook as a ‘Long-range air test’ and I have no reason to doubt that this was exactly what it was, a practical range-proving test to validate this modified aircraft for operations. Though Geddes appears to have told Onderwater that the flight’s real purpose was to carry an agent from Newmarket to a reception near Tours, this is unlikely. First, 3 September was in the middle of the ‘dark’ period, with no moonlight: although Tours would have been relatively easy to find, the surrounding countryside would have been pitch dark, although it was unlikely to have been blacked-out; even by 1942 the Germans had not managed to persuade the French to show no lights. Second, any Lysander operational sortie is unlikely to have departed from Newmarket, but from somewhere near the south coast, like Tangmere, in order to maximise the limited effective range. Third, in September 1940 there were no agents ‘in situ’ to organise a reception. Moreover, the RAF had already refused to sanction a ‘blind’ landing on Fontainebleau racecourse, the main concern being that deliberately placed obstacles, such as were currently being placed in fields all over southern England, were thought unlikely to show up in reconnaissance photos. (A Spitfire PRU sortie of 23 August shows Fontainebleau racecourse is considerable detail, with no obstacles.) Fourth, the RAF had already decided that agents were to be parachuted by Whitley.

Geddes does, however, have a definite link with the early days of 419 Flight. In September 1940 F/Lt Walter Farley uses No. 2 Squadron’s alternative landing ground at Somersham to practice night landings with his agent Philip Schneidau, before the latter is parachuted into France. Farley is likely to have received practical Lysander advice from No. 2 Squadron. Moreover, as we shall see, in early 1941 S/Ldr Knowles will borrow two of Geddes’ pilots to carry out Lysander operations: the first, F/O Baker, is shot down on a Whitley operation before he has a chance to fly a Lysander sortie; the second is F/O Gordon Scotter, who carries out two Lysander operations.