Operation Josephine: Sabotage of Pessac Power Station in France June 1941

One of the transformers destroyed during the attack (German Federal Archives)

In late May 1941 the Special Operations Executive (SOE) received a request to sabotage the power station in Passaic near Bordeaux but due to other operations they had no agents available and asked the Polish Section (EU/P) which came under the jurisdiction of the Polish Government in Exile in London whether they would be take the mission and after agreeing six Polish volunteers boarded an RAF aircraft of 138 Special Duty Squadron at RAF Tempsford to parachute into France.

Shortly after entering French air space the aircraft suffered an electrical fault which caused their container loaded with weapons and explosives to be jettisoned over the Loir and were forced to abandon the mission and return to England. Unbeknown to the aircrew the electrical fault was serious and caused the aircraft to crash land at Tempsford and catch fire: all the crew were either killed or injured and the six Polish agents suffered serious burns.

SOE HQ then asked RF Section (the Free French equivalent to SOE under General de Gaulle) whether they were willing to attack the power station and after de Gaulle agreed, on the night of 11-12 May 1941 three agents from RF Section, J Forman, Raymond Cobard and André Vernier (aka Jacques Leblanc) successfully infiltrated France by parachute.

After hiding their weapons and explosives the team reconnoitred the power station: there was a high-tension cable very close to the top of a 9-foot wall they needed to climb over and it appeared there was a large number of German and Italian soldiers protecting the power station. They also failed to obtain the bicycles which they intended to use for the getaway so decided to postpone the attack.

Before leaving England Forman was given the Paris address of an RF agent named Joêl Letac who remained in France after a failed mission called Operation Savanna and after meeting Forman Letac rallied that team and encouraged them to continue the mission and the following day travelled with them to the power station. After the old lorry they obtained broke down they continued the remainder of the journey on stolen bicycles and recovered the equipment they had buried around 100 yards from the power station.

On the night of 7-8 June 1941 during pitched darkness due to the blackout Forman climbed the perimeter wall and crawled under the high-tension cable which was dangerously close. After ensuring he could not be seen by the guards Forman entered the compound and opened a side door, the rest of the team entered the grounds of the power station and then sprinted across open ground to the main building.

In less than thirty minutes the team placed magnetic incendiary devices on eight large electricity transformers and then made their getaway on the stolen bicycles. It has been said the explosions were so violent flames rose high into the air and illuminated the entire area as searchlights started probing the sky for bombers.

Six of the transformers were destroyed and this seriously disrupted the the Bordeaux submarine base, numerous factories used to supply the German army were forced to stop production for several weeks.The electricity grid from another region was diverted but the overload caused more damage and all electric trains in south wester France had to be replaced with steam locomotives, and all the transformer oil in France had to be used during the repairs.

Some writers claim the team was picked up by an RAF Lysander of 161 Special Duty Squadron, but this was not the case. The team arrived in France with one million francs (said to be about £1,400 in 1941 and roughly £71,000 in 2021) and the money was unaccountable! Instead of requesting an extraction they remained in France for a further two months and according to historian MRD Foot “They left behind them broken glass and broken hearts” before making for neutral Spain and arriving back in England. Before crossing the frontier Cabard was captured but later escaped and returned to England.

Operation Cadillac 14 July 1944: SOE and the French Resistance

On 10 June 1944 the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and other Resistance Networks were told to find suitable large and remote fields for mass daylight parachute drops of weapons and other stores.

Parachutage armement résistance

The first daylight drop of weapons and stores was called Operation Zebra on 25 June 1944 when 180 B-17 bombers of the USAAF with fighter escorts dropped 2,160 containers to SOE and members of the Resistance at Ain, Jura, Haute Vienna and Vercose and due to its success a larger drop by Allied aircraft called Operation cadillac took place on 14 July 1944.

Cadillan

Operation Cadillac consisted of 349 bombers (mostly B17’s) with 534 Allied fighter escorts during which 3,791 containers loaded with 417 tons of weapons were dropped at seven locations. (Photos Musee de la Résistance)

The worldly possessions of Private Edward Ambrose who was killed during the Great War

At the age of 19 Private Edward ‘Ted’ Ambrose from Wallington Hertfordshire, died from shrapnel wounds during the Battle of the Somme in July 1916 whilst serving with the Bedford Regiment and is buried in Etaples Military Cemetery in France.

He possessions were returned to his mother in a parcel which contained his cigarette case with three roll-ups, his pipe which still contained tobacco, a photograph of his girl friend and letters from his parents. His mother found the contents of the parcel too painful to look at and it was placed in the loft. 98 years later Edward Ambrose’s nephew opened the parcel and discovered the army had also sent his grieving mother the shrapnel that killed her son!

Ambrose shranel

Shrapnel which killed 19 year old Private Edward Ambrose which was sent to his grieving mother.

John ‘Barney’ Hines also known as the ‘Souvenir King’ during WW1

Photograph of John Hines surrounded by some of his stolen and liberated souvenirs whilst serving on the Western Front.

John Hines was a British-born Australian soldier who served on the Western Front during the Great War who became known for looting whatever he could get his hands on but was also noted for being an aggressive soldier. In June 1917 he captured 60 German soldiers during the Battle of Messines after throwing hand grenades into their pillbox.

Although he was brave in battle his behaviour was erratic and when away from the front line he was court martialled on nine occasions for drunkenness, impeding military police, forging entries in his pay book and being absent without leave. It is also thought he was caught robbing the safe at a bank in Amiens and because of these convictions he lost several promotions he gained for acts of bravery.

In mid-1918 he was discharged from the Australian Army for being unfit due to haemorrhoid problems and arrived back in Australia on 19 October 1918. For the next 40 years he lived near Mount Druitt in a small shelter made of old clothes which was surrounded by a fence on which he hung German helmets and the local people were afraid of him. Despite being a recluse and pennyless he travelled to Concord Repatriation Hospital each week to donate a suitcase of vegetables from his garden to veterans being treated there.

At the start of the Second World War he attempted to enlist but was rejected, at that time he was 60 years old. After being rejected it was widely claimed he attempted to stow away on a troop ship but was caught before the ship sailed.

John ‘Barney’ Hines died at Concord Repatriation HospitaL on 28 January 1958 and buried in a grave which was unmarked until 1971, when a charity paid for a headstone. The council renamed the street on which he lived to John Hines Avenue and a monument commemorating him was built at Mount Druitt Waterholes Remembrance Gardens in 2020.

Historian Peter Stanley said Hines was a man whose skills in fighting were needed and whose knack of souveniring was admired, but he had few gifts that a peaceful society valued.

Walter Chibnal who fought with the Australian Army during WW1 and his son William who fought during WW2

Walter Chibnall was a miner living in Beaufort, Victoria, Australia before enlisting into the Australian Army on 15 March 1916 to fight during the Great War. This photograph of Walter and his son William is thought to have been taken during the last time they saw each other before his father was posted to Europe to fight on the Western Front. Walter was promoted to Corporal on 14 September and posted to the 1st Reinforcement Regiment, 39th Battalion Mortar Battery.

On 12 October 1917 his father, Walter, was killed during the Battle of Passchendaele, Ypres: during an artillery bombardment Walter was taking cover in a shell crater when it took a direct hit from an artillery shell and has no known grave. At the time of his death he was 32-years-old.

During the Second World War his son, William, enlisted into the Australian Army and died in a Japanese prisoner of war camp at Amon on 20 February 1942. He is thought to have been executed and like his father has no known grave and died at the age of 30, 2 years younger than his father when he was killed. (Photos, The AIF Project UNSW Canberra Australia)

Walter chibnal

William Chibnal taken during WW2

Ordinary Seaman Edward ‘Teddy’ Sheean VC (Royal Australian Navy) during WW2

‘Teddy’ Sheean was a farm labourer before he joined the Royal Australian Navy Reserve on 21 April 1941 as an Ordinary Seaman and four of his brothers were already serving in the Australian Army and another was in the navy.

After completing training, he was eventually posted as an anti-aircraft gun loader on HMAS Armidale which was on escort duties on the eastern coast of Australia and New Guinea before returning to the safety of Darwin in October.

HMS re sheenan

On 29 November HMAS Armidale along with HMAS Castlemain sailed to the Japanese-occupied Island of Timor to extract Australian soldiers of 2/2nd Commando Independent Company and land fresh troops to continue operations. Both ships then rendezvoused with HMS Kuru which had already taken the troops off the island and were then transferred to Castlemain.

At 12:28hrs on 1 December Armidale and Kuru came under heavy and repeated attacks from Japanese aircraft and the two ships became separated. By 14:00hrs Armidale was being attacked by at least thirteen aircraft and just over an hour later a torpedo hit the port side of the Corvette, another hit the engineering section and was quickly followed by a bomb striking the aft section.

As Armidale listed heavily to port and was close to sinking the order was given to abandon ship and as the survivors jumped into the sea the defenceless men were machine-gunned by Japanese aircraft. Instead of boarding a life boat 18-year-old Sheean ran to his gun as the ship was sinking and though already wounded in the chest and back he shot down one Japanese bomber, continued firing at other aircraft to keep them away from the men in the water and was seen still engaging the enemy as the ship disappeared under the sea.

Sheenan ABC news

Painting at AWM

Only 49 of the 149 members of HMAS Armidale survived and Sheean was mentioned in dispatches. In 1999 a Collins Class Submarine (HMAS Sheean) was named after him and is the only ship in the Australian navy to be named after an Ordinary Seaman.

HMS Sheenam now

HMAS Sheean

In 2020 following a public campaign a panel of experts examined eye witness accounts of his action and recommended the Australian Government posthumously award Ordinary Seaman Edward ‘Teddy’ Sheean the VC, and on 1 December 2020 members of his family received his Victoria Cross during a ceremony in Canberra.

Sheena1

Adrian Carton de Wiart VC, whose war service sounds like fiction but is all true!

Adrian Carton de Wiart fought in the Boer War, World War One, World War Two and during his military service from 1899 to 1947 he survived being shot in the stomach, groin, head, ankle, hip and leg. He also survived two air crashes, five escape attempts from a prisoner of war camp and after a doctor refused to amputate his fingers he bit them off. He also lost an eye and in 1915 was awarded the VC.

Adrian Carton de Wiart was born in Belgium in 1880 to an Irish mother and a Belgium aristocrat but it was widely rumoured he was the illegitimate son of the King of Belgium, Leopold II.

In 1899 he was sent to England to study at Oxford University but quickly dropped out and enlisted into the British Army under a false name and was known as Trooper Carton and was sent to fight in South Africa during the Boer War. He was shot in the stomach and groin and sent back to England but after recovering he rejoined the army under his real name and after being commissioned returned to South Africa in 1901.

During the British campaign against the ‘Mad Mullah’ in Somaliland whilst attacking an enemy fort Carton de Wiart was shot twice in the face and lost his left eye.

For a short time he wore a glass eye but whilst travelling in a taxi he threw it out of the window and put on a black eye patch which he wore for the remainder of his life.

Whilst serving on the Western Front as an infantry commander during the Great War he was wounded seven more times and after a doctor refused to amputate his mangled fingers he bit them off.

During the Battle of the Somme he was shot through the skull and ankle, at the Battle of Passchendaele he was shot through the leg and whilst fighting at Arras he was shot through the ear.

His citation for his VC during the Battle of the Somme States:“For most conspicuous bravery, coolness and determination during service operations of a prolonged nature. It was owing in a great measure to his doubtless courage and inspiring example that a serious reverse was altered. He displayed the utmost energy and courage in forcing an attack home. After three other battalion commanders had become casualties, he controlled their commands, and ensured that the ground won was maintained at all costs. He frequently exposed himself in the organisation of positions and of supplies, passing unflinchingly through fire barrage of the most intense nature. His gallantry was inspiring to all.”

Carton Medals Rotated

Despite losing various body parts Carton de Wiart said, “Frankly, I enjoyed the war”

From 1919 to 1921 he saw further action in Poland during the Polish-Soviet War and whilst on a train being attacked by the Soviet Cavalry he fought them off with his revolver from the running board of the train and at one point he fell onto the track and quickly jumped back to continue the fight. He later survived an air crash and spent a brief time in captivity.

He retired from the British Army in 1923 with the rank of Major-General (said to be honorary) and spent the next 16 years hunting on a friend’s 500,000 acre estate in Poland a few miles from the Soviet border. At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 he was recalled as head of the British Military Mission in Poland and later escaped Poland with his staff whilst being chased by German and Russian soldier and despite being attacked by the Luftwaffe they made it to the Romanian border. Carton de Wiart then travelled back to England by aircraft after obtaining a false passport.

In 1940 he commanded Anglo-French forces in Norway with orders to take the city of Trondheim and with little support managed to move his troops over the mountains during which they were attacked from the air by the Luftwaffe, shelled by German navy destroyers and machine gunned by German troops and was eventually ordered to evacuate and board Royal Navy transports which were heavily attacked during their withdrawal.

On his 60th birthday he arrived at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands, Scotland and after returning to his London home it was bombed out during the blitz and all his medals were destroyed and he had to apply to the War Office for replacements.

In 1941 he was appointed head of the British-Yugoslavian Military Mission and whilst on an aircraft flying to Cairo both engines failed and crashed in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya which was controlled by Italy. After being knocked out during the crash he was revived by the cold water and he along with the crew swum a mile to the shore where they were captured by the Italians and sent to a POW camp in Italy.

Carton de Wiart was involved in five escape attempts, including spending seven months tunnelling with other prisoners. After one escape he spent eight days disguised as an Italian peasant but was easily recognised because he had one eye, one arm and could not speak Italian.

In 1943 he was released from prison and acted as a negotiator for the Italian surrender after which he returned to England and became Churchill’s personal representative in China until 1947. Whilst returning to England he stayed at a guest house and whilst walking down the stairs he slipped on coconut matting and fell, knocked himself out and broke his back. After eventually arriving back at England it has been said a doctor successfully extracted an incredible amount of shrapnel from his old wounds.

Lieutenant-General Sir Adrian Paul Chislain de Wart VC, KBE, CB, CMG,DSO eventually moved to County Cork, Ireland, where he died in 1963 at the age of 83.
After his death one commentator said: “With his black eyepatch and empty sleeve, Carton de Wiart looked like an elegant pirate and became a figure of legend”

Lance Corporal William Agnus VC, 8th Royal Scots during WW1

On 12 June 1915 at Givenchy-Lés-la Bassée, France, Lance Corporal Angus saw Lieutenant James Martin lying a few yards from German trenches after being injured by a landmine.

After leaving the safety of his trench Agnus run over 209 feet across no-man’s land under heavy rifle fire during which he was hit 40 times and lost an eye but continued towards the injured officer who he dragged back to the British trench whilst still under heavy fire.

After two months in hospital he was awarded the VC by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 30 August. When the king commented on his 40 injuries Agnus replied “Aye sir, but only 13 were serious.

Each year until his death in 1959 William Agnus received a telegram of thanks from the family of the officer he saved.
He is buried along with his wife Mary at Wilton Cemetery in Carluke, Scotland and his VC is displayed at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh Castle.

SOE Polish Section (EU/P) Wladslaw Wazny in France

Apart from Krystyna Skarbek, GM (aka Christine Granville) who served with SOE’s French Section several Polish men and women also served with SOE EU/P in France, but this section is less well documented, consequently, there is much we don’t know about Wladyslaw Wazny and several claims about his war service are not supported by primary sources.

It is believed Wladyslaw Wanzy also known as Wladyslaw Rozmus was born on 3 February 1908 in the village of Ruda Rozaniecka to a peasant family and trained as a teacher and in 1934 was a Second Lieutenant in the Polish Army Reserve. At the start of the Second World War he was a platoon commander with the 39th Lwów Rifles Infantry Brigade and after the occupation of Poland he escaped to France and reached England via Spain and Gibraltar where he was later recruited by SOE.

It has been claimed but not confirmed, he infiltrated France in March 1944 and sent London the location of 59 V1 and V2 rocket launch sites which were later destroyed by Allied bombers. Although it is known Wazny was killed shortly before France was liberated there is still confusion regarding events leading to his capture and death.

Wladyslav Wazy SOE

Wladslaw Wanzy after his arrest

Various theories about his capture and death

Some claim he was shot whilst attempting to escape, others say he was shot several times after shooting several Gestapo officers but was still alive. It has also been claimed that in July 1944 the Abwehr discovered members of his network and located their wireless operators with direction-finders and this led to his capture.

A further claim states that on 19 August 1944 the Abwehr and Milice raided the last of his safe houses which was a Tailor shop in the town of Montigny-en-Ostrevent and there are also various accounts of what happened next. Some say Wazny was involved in a shoot-out with German soldiers and the Milice after being surrounded and was hit by several rounds from a submachine gun, another version states he was shot in the leg as he climbed over a garden wall to escape. Whatever the story, as can be seen by the photograph of him in police custody he was captured alive and was later killed and buried in the cemetery of Montigny-en-Ostrevent, France.

800px Montigny en Ostrevent Cimetière de l église Saint Nicolas 03 tombe de Władysław Ważny

Krystana Skarbek SOE Agent

Krystyna Skarbek (aka Christine Granville) OBE,GM was a Polish agent who worked for D Section SIS (MI6) before serving with the Special Operations Executive. During the war she became known for her daring exploits in German occupied Poland and France which was recognised by being awarded the George Medal.

Granville christine c1950 Alan Malcher

On 15 June 1952 she was stabbed to death inside a hotel in Earls Court London by a jilted lover who was stalking her. (Photos IWM)

Granville newspaper