Gerry Holdsworth and the Helford Flotilla

In 1940 after SOE decided they needed a clandestine naval section to support their agents in France they quickly became aware finding officers and men with the essential seamanship skills and experience would be difficult.  They needed men who could quietly navigate rocks and sandbanks close to enemy shores in pitch-darkness and without the aid of moonlight.

Through their network of discreet contacts SOE was given the name of Gerry Holdsworth and discovered he had all the qualifications they were looking for in a commander: whilst working for D Section SIS (MI6) he used a small yacht to reconnoiter the Norwegian coast and whilst operating at night and close to the shore he frequently navigated the various hazards.

After being approached by SOE to command their naval section he accepted the appointment and he along with his wife who had also served with D Section established the flotilla on the Helford Estuary at Port Navas in Cornwall.

Those he recruited included Fishermen with extensive experience of the enemy coast and former smugglers which one officer described as the buccaneer type who if they overheard we needed something they would go out and pinch and it would suddenly appear on the quay.  Apart from transporting agents to and from Brittany they also delivered weapons and sabotage stores and rendezvoused with French fishing trawlers and loaded them with Tuna packed with explosives, detonators and timing devices.   

The Mutin

One new recruit who previously served as a quartermaster with the Royal Navy later recalled, “On my arrival at the quay I saw heaps of sails on the deck covered in blood. Shipwrights were digging out shrapnel from bow to stern and I thought to myself God what have I let myself in for! … I was later told, after dropping off an agent the Mutin {name of vessel} was spotted by a German aircraft and raked by cannon fire during which the engineer was killed…”    

Author: Alan Malcher

Military historian and defence commentator

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