Monthly Archives: October 1940

Saturday, 26 October 1940

RAF Abingdon

The October moon period ended two days ago. F/O Keast is scheduled to fly Whitley P5025 to Abingdon at 14.45, landing at 15.30. The purpose is probably for routine maintenance of the Whitley: Stradishall was a base in No. 3 Group, which operated Wellingtons, and lacked the equipment and trained personnel to service Whitleys. Abingdon is home to No. 10 Operational Training Unit (OTU), which prepares crews for bombing operations with No. 4 Group. 4 Group’s bases are north of the Humber, in Yorkshire.

The Stradishall Ops Officer’s log notes that the aircraft is not expected to return today.

Monday, 21 October 1940

RAF Connel

At about 7 a.m. Farley and Schneidau are considering what to do – they have no idea where they really are – when they see two men running towards them, who tell them that they are near RAF Connel, about eight miles north of Oban, in Scotland. They are taken to the nearest house, from where they telephone Connel for transport and a guard for the wrecked Lysander. Once they have convinced a sceptical duty officer and Station Commander of their identity, they signal the Air Ministry and Tangmere as to their whereabouts, and are then allowed to sleep.

Sunday, 20 October 1940

RAF Tangmere

By the evening the weather is little better. It looks unpromising, but Farley is determined to help his stranded friend. Schneidau has no wireless transmitter and, having despatched his two pigeons, now has no means of contacting London.

Farley takes off at 22.00. F/Lt Keast estimates that Farley has fuel for a little more than 6 hours’ flying. The earliest he is expected to make contact is 02.15, with earliest return to base at 03.00.


Farley lands near Montigny at about 00.15 hours BST. He lands on the three-torch layout agreed with Schneidau beforehand. The format is a simplified version of the layout recommended in the RAF Army Cooperation manual. Farley would have known about it from his early service in two Army Cooperation squadrons.

While Schneidau clambers aboard, Farley will have re-set the flaps and tailplane for take-off; it would have been standard drill to reset the gyro-compass. Soon after they take off, Farley realises that the tailplane has somehow been damaged. He would have had to control the aircraft’s climb and descent on the throttle. Soon after takeoff there is a loud noise: Farley believes they have been fired on from below. The course-setting compass between Farley’s legs has been damaged. They make their way north-west. With distance the gyro (if still functioning) would have become more approximate, so they increasingly have to fly by the stars and the moon, now risen behind them. Farley has to climb above the thick blanket of cloud to keep the firmament in view, but once up there he has to fly on a low throttle to maintain level flight. It is also very economical on fuel, giving them a range much greater than normal. There is a strong south-westerly wind, but they have no way of telling how strong it is; it pushes their track to a more northerly direction.

RAF Tangmere and RNAS Ford

At 03.20 Keast and Schneidau’s escorting officer are told that a faint transmission has been received, but it is unintelligible. They hear nothing more. The weather is still poor, strong wind and heavy rain. Shortly after 4.15, they assume that the Lysander will have run out of fuel, and must have come down somewhere. They issue a signal to warn all airfields to look out for a Lysander, and at daybreak set about organising a search party. Three Blenheim crews, one of whom has just returned from a patrol, to take them up and search along the coast. They are still in the air when they are contacted by Tangmere control and informed that a Lysander has recently landed near Oban.

RAF Connel, Oban

Farley and Schneidau have continued northwards. The unbroken cloud beneath them gives no clue as to their position. As it starts to get light they guess they might be over the Frisian islands, but the sight of some hills leads them to conclude they are probably somewhere off the Irish coast. They decide to land as soon as possible after daylight. Shortly before 07.00 the Lysander runs out of fuel, and they aim for a level field. They realise, too late, that the field is studded with poles, a precaution against an enemy landing. Farley tells his passenger to get his head down in case one of the Lysander’s wings hits a pole and folds backwards above the rear cockpit.

Saturday, 19 October 1940

RAF Stradishall

In the early afternoon of 19 October, F/Lt Farley flies Lysander P9027 to Tangmere, ready to fly to recover Philip Schneidau from his mission. Stradishall also records that the Met officers are required to send the weather report (presumably for northern France) to Tangmere over the secure Ops line at 18.00; this is passed to F/Lt Farley via 3 Group and Bomber Command at 18.20.

RAF Tangmere

F/Lt Keast has also travelled to Tangmere. He has been posted in from No. 24 Squadron on the 10th. From Keast’s pre-war airline and 24 Sqn experience he is understood to be a navigation expert. He advises Farley of the methods and routes he should follow. The weather forecast is dire, and the Lysander’s VHF set is not working. The Lysander is equipped with the standard Mercury XVA engine: the pilot has the use of a VHF radio-telephone (R/T). The aircraft is equipped with a long-range tank underneath the fuselage and a Heath-Robinson-style ladder on the port side, believed to have been specified by Schneidau before he left. (Clambering up the side of a Lysander’s rear fuselage to gain the rear cockpit, trusting to small semi-circular footholds on the starboard side, is no picnic even in daylight; not a practicable proposition in the dark.) The operation is postponed until the following night, due to the poor forecast and the unserviceable radio set.

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.