Tag Archives: Dutch Intelligence

Sunday, 31 August 1941

Operation ‘Smoking Concert’

August 31st is the 61st birthday of Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands. She had been evacuated from Holland with her family in May 1940, even as German tanks were rolling through the neutral Low Countries. Now she is in exile in London with her country’s elected government. To demonstrate her support for the Dutch people in their privations she has commissioned a supply of cigarettes, filled with the aromatic tobacco from the Dutch East Indies, to be dropped over Holland on the night of her birthday.

On 10 August 1941, Group Captain Bradbury writes from the Air Ministry to W/Cdr Knowles, asking him to earmark three aircraft to drop large quantities of cigarettes over the Netherlands on the night of August 31st. Bradbury doesn’t say where the request has come from, but the operation has clearly been under planning for some time. The paper packaging for these loose-pack cigarettes has been specially designed: it carries patriotic emblems of the monarch and a free Holland. The double-V – for ‘Wilhelmina’ – beneath the Dutch royal crown has been printed on orange paper that is also covered with lines of small white ‘V’s (for victory). On each spine is printed: ‘ORANJE ZAL OVERWINNEN’ (Orange shall overcome.). On the reverse of each pack is a large white ‘V’, over printed with ‘Nederland zal herrijzen!’ (The Netherlands shall arise!).

For some reason 138 Squadron is able to provide only two serviceable Whitleys with their crews. At 0933 S/Ldr Stevens, of 3 Group, reports to the Stradishall Ops Room that: ‘3 Group Training Flight is loaning their aircraft “K” for a Nickel Raid tonight.’

One of the Whitley pilots is John Austin, who has returned from spending his leave at an OCTU (Officer Cadet Training Unit), and is now Pilot Officer Austin. This is his first sortie since receiving his commission; he will end the year as a Flight Lieutenant. The pilot of the other Whitley, according to Ken Merrick, is F/Lt Murphy. The pilot of the Training Flight’s Wellington is F/Lt McGillivray, a New Zealander. His second-pilot is Sqn/Ldr Charles Pickard, DSO, DFC. Pickard is being rested after his tour of operations with No. 9 Squadron, and is attached to 3 Group’s Training Flight.

At 2030 a/c ‘Z’ of 138 Squadron takes off from Newmarket, followed a minute later by ‘D’, and at 2055 McGillivray and Pickard in Wellington ‘K’. I have found an intriguing photograph in the Royal Air Force Museum catalogue that includes Pickard and McGillivray, together with S/Ldr M.T Stephens, 3 Group Gunnery Officer, and S/Ldr Alan Cousens, 3 Group Navigation Officer. The catalogue entry states: “Group photograph of late Sqn Ldr M.T. Stephens DFC and other scratch crew members beside Vickers Wellington “K”, circa 1941.” The group stands in front of the rear starboard fuselage of a Wellington, letter ‘K’. Behind them, near the Wellington’s rear door, lie several large cardboard boxes, some opened.

The Wellington was back in just over three hours, at 2356. Whitley ‘D’ landed five minutes later. Whitley ‘Z’ returned at 0208, after 5 hours 38 minutes in the air. This tallies with Austin’s logbook; his W/Op recorded the target as Leeuwarden. Though not that much further than the other two target areas quoted by Grp Capt. Bradbury – about 50 miles East of Utrecht and to the East of the Zuider Zee, – Austin is likely to have taken significant detours to avoid the worst of the flak-belt. Tonight the defences were bound to be alert and active: Stradishall’s resident bomber squadron had been scheduled to attack ‘Whitebait’ (Berlin), but during the day the target was changed to Cologne.

At 0230 F/O Hockey, probably Duty Officer for the night, signalled the Air Ministry: ‘Operation SMOKING CONCERT completed’.

Between August and October 1941 S/Ldrs Pickard, Stephens and Cousens, plus F/Sgts Broadley and Judson (Pickard’s Navigator and W/Op respectively from Nos 311 and 9 Squadrons) appear to have been based at 3 Grp HQ at Exning, less than two miles from RAF Newmarket Heath, as a rest from operations. On several occasions during this period all five are to be found in the crew lists of 138 Squadron operations, moonlighting both literally and metaphorically. Of the five, only Leo Judson survived the war: Stephens was to perish in the North Sea in January 1942 (information from an article in the December 2008 edition of ‘Nightjar’, the 214 Sqn Association newsletter); W/Cdr Cousens was to perish in April 1944 as a Master Bomber with No. 635 Squadron, PFF, during a raid on Laon, France; and Pickard and Broadley died in the Amiens prison raid in February 1944.

Friday, 4 July 1941

The July moon period opens with two operations, one to France, the other to Holland. The short nights, with only a few hours of proper darkness, have significantly reduced the range for clandestine operations.

Operation ARAMIS

Sgt Austin takes off at 23.30 DST, nearly two hours after sunset, so there must have been some delay. The nights are so short that every minute counts. The Whitley crosses the English coast at 00.06 over Southwold, and crosses the Dutch coast between the flak-fortified islands of Vlieland and Texel, probably at about 01.00. Accompanying Sgt Austin’s crew that night is F/Lt Boris Romanoff who has spent the previous year dropping trainee parachute troops at Ringway. He is along to learn how to fly the Whitley on operations, and to practise his navigation.

The moon sets at 02.13 DST: they have only a few minutes of moonlight to find the target before it sets. They didn’t find it, but searched in the darkness for an hour and a half. Above the Zuidlaardermeer, south-east of Groningen, the Whitley is caught in three searchlights, which are shot out on the pilot’s orders. The crew locates what they think is the target at 02.55, and drop the agent with his wireless set. They see his parachute open, but didn’t see him land.

Austin’s operational report indicates that the operation is successful, but Alblas has been dropped near Nieuweschans, extremely close to the German border. It’s fair to say that the navigator was lost, and it’s only good fortune that the agent hasn’t been dropped in Germany.

ARAMIS is Aart Hendrik Alblas. Previously a petty-officer with the Dutch merchant navy, Alblas has escaped to England in a motor boat in March. He has been recruited by the Dutch and British intelligence services and given wireless training, though the brief time between his recruitment and insertion indicates that he was already part-trained. In September 1941 he will be commissioned in the Dutch Naval Reserve.

As well as his intelligence work, Alblas appears to have played a valuable part in helping other organisations maintain contact with England. But by early 1942 his other contacts will be penetrated by the Abwehr’s ‘Englandspiel’ against SOE’s agents. In July 1942 he will be arrested and imprisoned in the infamous Oranjehotel. Refusing to collaborate, he will be deported to Mauthausen, where he will be executed on 6 September 1944.

Operation FITZROY (strictly, FITZROY B)

The code name FITZROY is usually associated with Claude Lamirault, the founder of the SIS-sponsored JADE-FITZROY network, formed primarily to gather intelligence on the German Navy based in the Atlantic ports. Lamirault, parachuted in January 1941, needs an agent to select and prepare Lysander landing-fields.

The agent this time is an artillery officer with the Free French, Lieutenant Roger Mitchell. The grandson of a Scottish immigrant to France whose family has retained English as a second language, Mitchell is entirely fluent in both languages, and can pass as a native of either country. According to Hugh Verity, Lt Mitchell has been loaned by de Gaulle to British Intelligence to assist the Polish intelligence networks operating from southern France. This comes later: his first role is to assist Lamirault.

One of Mitchell’s tasks is to arrange landing grounds for pick-up operations. As ‘2nd Lieutenant Fitzroy B’, he has recently been trained in landing-field selection and Lysander night-operations by F/Lt Nesbitt-Dufort, who on the 14th June writes a highly favourable report on his pupil.

The first attempt has been made by F/Lt Jackson on June 11th, in poor weather. Jackson has another go, taking S/Ldr Nesbitt-Dufort as navigator/map-reader. Ron Hockey is Jackson’s regular navigator; Nesbitt-Dufort is a specialist in low-level navigation, having been a fighter-pilot in the 1930s and an exponent of ‘Bradshawing’, the habit of following railway lines and navigating from station to station, reading the platform signs to find out where he was.

They take off at 10.30, arriving over Abingdon after forty minutes. Crossing the Channel at 4,000 feet and 135 mph ASI, they drop half their pigeons shortly after crossing the French coast. They fly on to the Loire, at 163 mph at 3,000 feet. Reading between the lines of Jackson’s report, they appear to follow the river Vienne, then the Creuse, upstream to Le Blanc. Jackson writes that they drop the agent clear of the woods and just north of the lake. The area around Le Blanc is peppered with small lakes so it is not possible to be precise about the landing spot.

On the return journey they drop nickels over Le Blanc, and the remaining pigeons before they cross the coast for home. According to Jackson they land at 6.01, but the Stradishall log records his Whitley ‘A’ landing at 05.00.