Virginia Hall the American agent who worked for Britain’s SOE (Special Operations Executive) in wartime France before later serving with the American OSS and CIA

A short but interesting account of Virginia Hall’s service during the Second World War.

Christine Granville’s Exploits in the Second World War (SIS and SOE)

Clare Mulley tells the extraordinary story of Krystyna Skarbek (aka Christine Granville) – the first, and the longest serving, female special agent working for Britain in the Second World War. Part of the Lunchtime Lectures series – a programme of free talks that takes place at the National Army Museum in London.

Making the Spark, Feeding the flame – lecture by historian Mark Seaman

In 2015 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Denmark from German occupation (1940-45), Museum Vestsjaelland hosted an international seminar on 2nd May 2015 attended by historians, WWII veterans, descendants of allied airmen, descendants of Danish resistance fighters, and members of the public. The four key lectures are available here on the Museum Vestsjaelland’s Youtube channel. Historian and SOE specialist Mark Seaman describes the establishment and organisation of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the Danish resistance movement.

The crew of USAAF B-17 ‘Mi Amigo’ 22 February 1944

On 20 February 1944 a B-17 bomber (Flying Fortress) which the crew called ‘Mi Amigo’ was part of the 305th Bombardment Group, US 8th Army Airforce based at Chelveston Airfield in Northamptonshire and ‘Mi Amigo’ was one of 700 American B-17 bombers involved in Operation Argument.

Operation Argument was an intensive one-week joint operation with RAF bomber command to destroy high value and  heavily defended aircraft factories and Luftwaffe airfields in Alaborg Denmark and Leipzig Germany and the bombers had to run the gauntlet of extensive anti-aircraft artillery and German fighters.

On 22 February there was heavy fog over the Luftwaffe base in Alaborg  and the target could not be seen from the air as the B-17’s were being attacked by swarms of German fighters during which three American aircraft were shot down and most of their crews were killed or captured.  Due to the fog and continuous waves of German fighters the mission was aborted; the surviving aircraft began their return to England and once they reached the North Sea, they started jettisoning their bombs.

Mi Amigo had been extensively damaged and there were concerns one or more of its engines would seize up before reaching England, but the crew managed to dump their 4,000 lb bomb load over the sea.

The crew of Mi Amigo

According to historian Paul Allonby, Mi Amigo was several miles from its base in England and its engines which had all been damaged were fading quickly as its pilot Lt Kriegshauser steered his crippled B-17 out of thick clouds and found they were over a major city in Sheffield.  As he looked for a suitable field for a crash landing, he could only see houses, roads and trees and then in the distance he saw a large field called Encliffee Park which was a public play area with thick woods behind it.

Lt Kriegshauser prepared his crew for a crash landing and started his final approach when he suddenly  saw a large group of children playing in the field and immediately aborted the landing in the full knowledge his aircraft would crash into the woods.

After crashing the wreckage of the B-17 was scattered across the hillside, the aircraft was split into two and the front section was on fire and the crew were dead.

Several eyewitnesses say the aircraft circled the park for some time and it is believed the pilot sacrificed the lives of himself and his crew to avoid a group of children in the field.

Lt Kriegshauser was posthumously awarded the US Distinguished Flying Cross.

During the crash a large number of trees had been destroyed and in 1969 a grove of American Oakes was planted to honour the crew of Mi Amigo. There is also a memorial to the crew in the park and Tony Foulds who was one of the children in the park at the time of the crash continues to personally tend the memorial.

On 22 February 2019 after a long campaign by Tony Foulds, who is now 82 years old, British and American military aircraft took part in a flypast over Endcliffee Park in Sheffield to mark the 75th anniversary of the American crew of the bomber Mi Amigo.

Tony Foulds ar 82, who was one of the children playing in the field

Further reading:

Albert Ball VC, DSO (and two bars), MC, Legion d’honneur, Order of St. George

After war was declared in 1914 Albert Ball enlisted into the army and served with several units including the Sherwood Foresters and was soon promoted to sergeant and gained his commission as second lieutenant on 20 October. Ball was eager to see action but was assigned to training recruits  in England so in the  hope of being sent to France he transferred  to the North Midlands Cyclist Company, but the company remained in England and he expressed his frustration in a letter to his parents dated 25 February, he wrote, “I have just sent six boys to France and I hear they will be in the firing line on Monday. It is just my luck to be unable to go”.

In March 1915  Ball started taking private flying lessons at Hendon Aerodrome and after qualifying for the Royal Aero Club Certificate, on 15 March 1915 he transferred to the Royal Flying Corp (RFC) and trained at Mousehold Heath Aerodrome near Norwich. He completed his training at the Central Flying School Upavon and was awarded his wings on 22 January 1916 and a week later was officially transferred from the North Midland Cycle Company to the RFC as a pilot.

At the age of 20 Captain Albert Ball became the first celebrity fighter pilot after shooting down 44  enemy aircraft in just one year. He was also the first man during the war to be awarded three DSO’s.

After his first dog fight Ball wrote in one of his letters to his parents:

“I like this job, but nerves do not last long and you soon want a rest…” and in a later letter to his father he discouraged the idea of his youngest brother following him into the RFC.

Albert Ball was described as a ‘lone wolf’ because he mostly flew solo missions and stalked enemy aircraft from below and used an adapted Lewis machine gun to fire upwards into the enemy’s fuselage.

Gun adapted to fire upwards

Although he quickly became a fighter ace  and enjoyed aerial combat Ball had no hatred for the enemy and in a letter to his parents he explained, “I only scrap because it is my duty … nothing makes me feel more rotten than to see them go down, but you see it is either them or me, so I must do my duty….”

On his 20th birthday Ball was promoted to temporary Captain.

In another letter to his father Ball wrote, “I get tired of always living to kill and beginning to feel like a murderer…  I shall be so glad when I have finished.”

The last fight of Captain Ball, VC, DSO and 2 bars, MC, 7May  1917 by Norman Arnold 1919

On the evening of 7 May 1917 near Douai, 11 aircraft of No. 56 Squadron RFC led by Albert Ball encountered German fighters from Jasta 11 (Red Baron’s flight). A violent dogfight in deteriorating visibility resulted in all the aircraft being scattered. Cecil Arthur Lewis who took part in the battle described the mass dog fight in his memoir ‘Sagittarius Rising.’ 

Lewis recalled Ball pursuing a red Albatros D.111 belonging to the ‘Red Barons’ younger brother Lothar von Richthofen who eventually landed near Annoeullin with a punctured fuel tank and Lewis said he last saw Ball flying into a dark thundercloud before disappearing.

In keeping with the propaganda of the period British newspapers claimed after being shot down 20-year-old Albert Ball dyed in the arms of a French girl who had pulled him from the wreckage of his machine and  only  after the war did several eyewitnesses described what really happened when Ball crashed behind the German lines.

A  German pilot on the ground, Lieutenant Hailer saw Ball’s plane falling upside down with a dead propeller from the bottom of a dark cloud at an altitude of 2000 feet.

Brothers Franz and Carl Hailer and two other men in their party were from a German reconnaissance unit and Franz later noted, “it was leaving a cloud of black smoke… caused by oil leaking into the cylinders… The  engine had to be inverted for this to happen… The Hispano engine was known to flood its inlet manifold with fuel when upside down and then stop running…”

Franz Hailer and his three companions ran to the crash site and Ball was already dead when they arrived. The three German soldiers said the crashed aircraft had suffered no battle damage and no bullet wounds were found on Ball’s body and a German doctor at a field hospital later said Albert Ball died from a broken neck and a crushed chest. His limbs were also fractured, and his injuries suggest he was killed due to impact with the ground.

Based on these eyewitness accounts It is now considered probable Ball was not shot down but had become disorientated and lost control.  This has been described as temporary vertigo which had claimed other pilots. A  month after Ball crashed the Germans dropped a message over the British lines announcing he was dead and had been buried in Annoeullin with full military honours.

 In 1918 Walter Briscioe and H Russell Stannard published a seminal biography, Captain Ball VC and reprinted many of his letters. They quote Ball’s most notable opponent Manfred von Richthofen (the Red Baron)  saying  “he considered Ball by far the best English flying man.”  The authors also quote an unidentified RFC pilot who fought with Ball during his last battle as saying, “I see they have given him a VC . Of course, he won it a  dozen times over; the whole squadron know that.

After the war

After the war British  authorities discovered Ball’s grave which had been behind the German lines and the Imperial War Graves Commission (now called the Commonwealth War Graves Commission)  moved 23 British bodies from graves in the location where Ball was buried to Cabaret Rough British Cemetery, but at his father’s request Ball’s grave was allowed to remain and Ball is the  only British grave from WW1 the rest are German soldiers. Ball’s father also bought the French field where his son died and erected a memorial on the crash site.

Award citation Victoria Cross

Lt (temp Captain) Albert Ball, DSO, MC, late Notts and Derby. R. and RFC

For most conspicuous and consistent bravery from 25 of April to the 6th May 1917, during which period Capt. Ball took part in twenty-six combats in the air and destroyed eleven hostile aeroplanes, drove down two out of control and forced seven others to land.

In these combats Capt. Ball, flying alone, on one occasion fought six hostile machines, twice he fought five and once four. When leading two other British aeroplanes he attacked an enemy formation of eight. On each of these occasions he brought down at least one enemy.

Several times his aeroplane was badly damaged, once so seriously that but for the most delicate handling his machine would have collapsed, as nearly all the control wires had been shot away. On returning with a damaged machine he had always to be restrained from immediately going out on another.

In all Capt. Ball has destroyed forty-three German aeroplanes and one balloon and has always displayed most excellent courage, determination and skill.

Distinguished Service Order (DSO)

For conspicuous gallantry and skill. Observing seven enemy machines flying in formation, he immediately attacked one of them and shot it down at 15 yards range. The remaining machines retired. Immediately afterwards, seeing five more hostile machines, he attacked one at about ten yards range and shot it down, flames coming out of the fuselage. He then attacked another of the machines which had been firing at him and shot it down into a village, where it landed on the top of a house. He then went to the nearest aerodrome for more ammunition and returned to attack three more machines, causing them to dive under control. Being then short of petrol he came home. His own machine was badly shot about in these fights.

Distinguished Service Order (DSO)Bar

For conspicuous skill and gallantry. When on escort duty to a bombing raid he saw four enemy machines in formation. He dived on them and broke up their formation and then shot down the nearest one, which fell on its nose. He came down to about 500 feet to make certain it was wrecked. On another occasion, observing twelve enemy machines in formation, he dived in among them, and fired a drum into the nearest machine which went down out of control. Several more hostile machines then approached, and he fired three more drums at them, driving down another out of control. He then returned, crossing the lines at a low altitude, with his machine very much damaged.

Distinguished Service Order (DSO) Bar

For conspicuous gallantry in action. He attacked three hostile machines and brought one down, displaying great courage and skill. He has brought down eight hostile machines in a short period and has forced many others to land.

Military Cross (MC)

For conspicuous skill and gallantry on many occasions, notably when, after failing to destroy an enemy kite balloon with bombs, he returned for a fresh supply, went back and brought it down in flames. He also completed great execution among enemy aeroplanes. On one occasion he attacked six in one flight, forced down two and drove the others off. This occurred several miles over the enemy’s lines. 

William Leefe Robinson VC (Royal Flying Corp)

The following is an extract from the official combat report written by Robson:

3 September 1916

From: Lieutenant William Leefe Robinson, Sutton’s Farm

To: The Officer Commanding N0.39 H.D. {Home Defence} Squadron


I have the honour to make the following report on night patrol made by me on the night of 2-3 instant. I went up at about 11.08 pm on the night of the second with instructions to patrol between Sutton’s Farm and Joyce Green.

I climbed to 10,000 feet in fifty-three minutes. I counted what I thought were ten sets of flares, there were a few clouds below me but on the whole,  it was a beautifully clear night.

I saw  nothing until 1.10am  when two searchlights picked up a Zeppelin S.E. of Woolwich.  The clouds had collected in this quarter and the searchlights had some difficulty keeping on the airship.

By the time I had managed to climb to 12,000 feet and I made in the direction of the Zeppelin which was being fired on by a few anti-aircraft guns; hoping to cut it off on its way eastwards I very slowly gained on it for about ten minutes.

I judged it to be about 800 feet below me and I sacrificed some speed in order to keep the height. It went behind some clouds avoiding the searchlights and I lost sight of it. After fifteen minutes of fruitless search I returned to my patrol.

… At about 1.50 am I noticed a glow in the N.E. of London. Taking it to be an outbreak of fire I went in that direction. At 2.05 am a Zeppelin was picked up by searchlights over N.E. London as far as I could judge.

Remembering my last failure, I sacrificed height, I was about 12,000 feet, for speed and nosed down in the direction of the Zeppelin. I saw shells bursting and night tracers flying around it.

When I drew closer, I noticed that the anti-aircraft aim was too high or too low, also a good many shells burst about 800 feet behind, a few tracers went right over; I could hear the bursts when about 3,000 feet from the Zeppelin.

I flew 800 feet below it from bow to stem and distributed one drum {ammunition drum on a Lewis machinegun}, it seemed to have no effect.

I therefore moved to one side and gave them another drum along the side, also without effect. I then got behind it and by this time I was very close, 500 feet or less below, and concentrated one drum on one part (underneath rear). I was at a height of 11,000 feet when attacking the Zeppelin.

I had hardly finished the drum before I saw the part fired at glow. In a few seconds the whole rear was blazing.

When the third drum was fired there were no searchlights on the Zeppelin and no anti-aircraft was firing.

Having little petrol left I returned to Sutton’s Farm, landing at 2.45 am. On landing I found the Zeppelin gunner had shot away the machine gun wire guard, the rear part of the centre section and had pierced the main spar several times.

Wreck of the Schutte-Lanz airship at Cuffley – note that this airship was commonly referred to as a Zeppelin at the time.


The above represents the  official and clinical account written for the benefit of his commanding officer by Leefe Robinson and does not capture the true events. From eyewitness accounts  First world War aviation historian David Marks gave the following account of the events of that night and what happened afterwards:    

“SL11 {Zeppelin} caught fire and in full view of the Metropolis, the giant raider fell in a roaring mass of flame, striking the ground at Cuffley. The crew of 16 died as millions of Londoners cheered the unknown hero who had been the first to shoot down an airship over mainland Britain.

Railway whistles blew, factory hooters were sounded, whilst people poured  into the streets, singing and dancing. People broke out into spontaneous renditions of God Save the King and Rule Britannia.

Robinson landed safely at Sutton’s Farm with little petrol and oil left in his machine’s tanks. The exhausted pilot was borne shoulder-high in triumph from his biplane.

On 3 September, which was later referred to as “Zepp Sunday”, news of Robinson’s victory spread with incredible speed.  Over the next two days 10,000 people travelled to the tiny village and police and troops were called in to control the crowds who clamoured for souvenirs of the wreck.

For shooting down SL11, Robinson was now the most famous pilot in the country and could not go without official recognition for long. On 9 September 1916 King George V handed him the Victoria Cross at Windsor Castle.

When SL11 was shot down, it was described officially and in the press as Zeppelin L21. This misidentification persisted for decades and was probably deliberately done for propaganda purposes.” (David Marks)

“We think nothing now of high-speed interceptors taking off and attaining incredible altitudes within seconds. In 1916 men were flying aircraft made of wood and canvas, with engines with only tens of horse-power and small capacity fuel tanks. Maximum heights would have been not much over 10,000ft and it would take many minutes to get there. There was one advantage – the airships they were hunting were fairly sluggish.

We are also talking about one man, in control of a low powered and often unreliable aeroplane, at night with no electronic navigation aids, just a canvas backed map and a compass. Then you need to appreciate that Leefe Robinson was buffeted by cold air in an open cockpit, with a leather helmet and a thick and bulky sheepskin lined outfit. He had no radio and had to fire his often-unreliable machine gun by hand.” (David Marks)

After being  awarded the VC and becoming a national hero the army was reluctant to send him to the front line and  used him for public relations and propaganda. Not liking his celebrity status Robinson made constant requests to be assigned combat duties on the Western Front and in April 1917  his request was granted  and was ordered to report to No.48 Squadron as a flight commander.  

On 15 April 1917 Robinson led a formation of six aircraft against Albatrol D.111 fighters from Jasta 11 led by the legendary ‘Red Baron’ Manfred Von Richthofen.  During the dog fight four British fighters were shot down including Leefe Robinson who was injured whilst crash landing behind German lines and was quickly captured.  

Jasta 11

Manfred Von Richthofen (Red Baron)

After being reported dead by British newspapers two months later his family received a letter from him which said he was safe and was a POW.

Due to making several escape attempts Robinson was moved to various prison camps and kept in solitary confinement and was eventually repatriated in early December 1918 and spent Christmas with his family and friends in Stanmore Middlesex.  Shortly after Christmas day, at the age of 23, Robinson contracted Spanish flu and died on 30 December at his sister’s home in Stanmore which is now part of Harrow.

William Leefe Robinson VC was buried with full military honours with thousands lining the route to All Saint’s Church Harrow Weald and a solitary RAF aircraft dropped a wreath which was laid on his grave.

LInks and additional reading:

Additional reading