Halifax bomber supporting SOE Operations in Denmark

BB375 crew

Crew of Halifax BB378

On the night of 10-11 December 1943, a Halifax II bomber (BB 378) of No.138 Special Duty Squadron took off from RAF Tempsford in Buckinghamshire to commence Operation Tablejam 18 and Tablejam 19 to support the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the Danish Resistance.

Tablejam 18 was the dropping of SOE agent Flemming B. Muss by parachute near Ringsted Gyldenløves before proceeding to another remote location (Tabletop 19) to drop nine containers of weapons near lake Tisso where members of the resistance were waiting delivery. Whilst approaching the first drop zone (Tablejam 18) the Halifax was intercepted by a night fighter said to be a JU 88 and during the attack the Halifax caught fire and at  01:54 hours crash landed on farmland near   Ugerløse.

Halifax BB 376

The wreck of Halifax BB 378 (Federal German Archives)

The  crew were unhurt and after freeing themselves from the wreckage decided to split up to evade German forces, but another account states the SOE agent was successfully dropped and the Halifax was shot down whilst approaching the second drop zone (Tablejam 19).

  With help from Dutch civilians and later by members of an escape line the pilot Peter Barter, navigator Joe Fry and wireless operator Bill Howell eventually reached the safety of Sweden.

Although flight sergeants Nick Anderson (engineer), Brian Atkins (second pilot/bomber), Sydney Smith (mid upper gunner) and Ralph Riggs (rear gunner) received assistance from members of the local community they were eventually denounced by a farmer and were fortunate to be taken into custody and questioned by the Luftwaffe not the Gestapo which had responsibility for countering resistance and special duty air crews came under their jurisdiction.

SOE agent Flemming Muss is know to have continued his resistance work and was later SOE’s senior agent in Denmark. His wife Varinka was also a member of the resistance and his mother Monica is thought to be the first Danish woman executed by the Germans for being a member of the resistance.  

muss

Flemming B. Muss

RAF Short Stirling which failed to return after raid on Berlin discovered along with the remains of its crew 65-years later

Stirling short

On 30 March 1943 a Short Sterling bomber (BK 716) of No.218 Squadron which was also known as the Gold Coast Squadron after the Governor of the Gold Coast (modern-day Ghana) and the people of the Gold Coast who adopted the squadron, was shot down by German fighter pilot Werner Rapp. The entire crew was killed and there was no trace of the aircraft which crashed somewhere over the Netherlands.

BK 716 training

No source but said to be the crew of BK 716 during training

In 2008 the Stirling was accidently discovered after part of its undercarriage fouled the anchor of a boat on Lake Markermeer, Netherlands, and in 2019 a cigarette case bearing the initials of Flying Officer John Michael Campbell was recovered and human remains of the crew were identified through DNA. The crew are now remembered at the Bos der Onverzettelijen Memorial Gardens in the Netherlands.

   Research and recovery was coordinated by Johan Grass a volunteer who investigates crash sites in the Netherlands and founded the Aircraft Recovery Group.

The Crew of Short Stirling BK 716

  • Sgt Charles Armstrong Bell, 23 from Langley Park, County Durham
  • Pilot Officer John Michael Campbell, 30 from Golders Green, London
  • Flying Officer Harry Gregory Farrington, 24 from Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada
  • Flying Officer John Frederick Harris, 28 from Swindon, Wiltshire
  • Sgt Ronald Kennedy, 22 from Newcastle-upon-Tyne 

138 Special Duty Squadron Supporting the Dutch Resistance 1943

hanleypagehalifax-mk3_44

Halifax bomber (IWM, for illustration)

     On the night of 21-22 May 1943, a solitary Halifax bomber thought to be BB 229 NFZ took off from RAF Tempsford in Bedfordshire for occupied Netherlands  on Operation Marrow 35 and 36.  Their sortie was to drop seven parachute containers packed with weapons and ammunition and two agents from the Dutch Section of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) to members of the resistance waiting on remote farmland at Putten and then a further seven containers and two agents at a similar field in Elspeet. The navigator   Warrant Officer Leslie Tomlinson later said both fields were easily identified by bicycle lamps pointing skywards which the resistance used to mark the drop zone (DZ) and after the two successful drops the Halifax headed for home.

    At around 02:00 hrs the Halifax was hit by heavy flak and caught fire and Tomlinson said either by luck or great skill the pilot flew the crippled aircraft through a narrow gap between two farmhouses before crashing into a field.

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Drawing by WO Tomlinson

 

Two members of the crew were killed, and the five others suffered serious burns which meant any attempt to evade German forces was impossible and local farmers gave first aid to the crew inside one of the farmhouses the aircraft narrowly missed. When the Luftwaffe examined the burnt-out Halifax, it was apparent the aircraft was not a standard bomber and was being used for special duties to support the resistance which meant the crew came under the jurisdictions of  the Gestapo.  According to an MI9 report, after the crew were in Gestapo custody they were refused medial treatment whilst being interrogated for six hours during which they were threatened with execution if they refused to tell their interrogators how many agents were dropped and the contents of the parachute containers.

138 crew Leslie William Tomlinson

Three members of the crew (source unknown)

The crew were eventually split up and sent to different prisoner of war camps. Only after the war  did they became aware the four Dutch agents had been dropped to German troops after their network had been infiltrated and their wireless ‘played back’ to London by a German operator and all were quickly executed. This German wireless deception cost the lives of many agents from the Dutch Section and members of the resistance throughout the Netherlands and is sometimes called the Wireless War.  

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British Homefront during WW1. Germany’s strategic air attacks against British cities and civilian targets in 1917.

German bomber crew among those who took part in the attack (IWM)

During the war Britain had experienced several air raids on cities by Zeppelins but in 1917 Germany started strategically bombing British cities using bomber aircraft instead of their slow-moving Zeppelins.

On Wednesday 13 June 1917, 20 German bombers called Gotha GI. V’s took off from airfields in Ghent, Belgium to start the strategic bombing of London which was called Operation Tûrkenkreuz. Some aircraft dropped bombs on Margate, three bombs hit Shoeburyness and the remaining fourteen aircraft flew over east London.  

After dropping bombs on Barking, East Ham and the docks in East London by 12pm 70 bombs had been dropped near Liverpool Street Station; three hit the station killing 100 people and a further 400 were injured.

Upper North Street School was a London primary school in Popular which was rebuilt after the war and is now called Mayflower Primary School (the road is still called Upper North Street).

Upper North Street school was full with children when the German bombers flew over and dropped two 110 lb (50Kg) bombs which crashed through the roof then through the  top two floors before exploding in the ground floor class room killing 18 children, sixteen of whom were aged between four and six years old, 30 children were seriously injured and two older children were killed as the bombs passed through the upper floors of the building.

Upper North Street School (IWM)

15 children were buried together in an east London cemetery and the last coffin in the funeral procession contained the remains of children who could not be identified.

School caretaker Benjamin Batt whose son was killed in the explosion looking for body parts

The Mazabotto Massacre, Italy 1944

5th October marks the anniversary of the Mazabotto Massacre (29 September to 5 October 1944) also called the massacre of Monte Sole, Italy.

Italian Partisans (Resistance fighters)

After German troops came under sustained attacks from Italian Partisans (resisters) the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division Reichsfuhrer- SS killed 700 civilians of all ages and genders in the village of Marzabotto in the mountains south of Bologna. Major Walter Reder, the SS commander who signed the order for the executions was later tried for war crimes and was sentenced to death by an Italian court but was released in 1985 and is said to have returned unremorseful to Austria and died in 1991.  Ten other SS officers were not convicted due to lack of evidence.

The Battle of Vercors 1944.

Vercors 1944

In July 1944 the Maquis (French Resistance) held a plateau known as the Massive du Vercors consisting of rugged mountains when they were faced by overwhelming German forces including an airborne attack by glider troops. During the battle an estimated 639 members of the Maquis were killed. Those who were wounded were executed on the spot, 201 civilians were killed, and 500 houses burned. It has been estimated German casualties were 83 killed and missing. 

Marcel Pinte the six-year old who worked for the French Resistance

(Musee Resistance)

French Resistance. Six-year old Marcel Pinte worked for the resistance carrying secret messages to various parts of the resistance network and his father, Eugéne Pinte (aka La Gaubertie) ran a resistance cell from their remote family farm. It was later said, with his school satchel on is back he didn’t raise suspicion.
  In August 1944 Marcel accompanied the Maquis to a night parachute drop of weapons and supplies and whilst waiting for the drop a member of the resistance had an accidental discharge with a Sten Gun during which Marcel was hit by several rounds and killed.  He was later honoured during the Armistice Day at a ceremony in Aixe-sur-Vienne, near the city of Limoges in central France.

Polish Resistance During the Warsaw Uprising.

Róża Maria Goździewska (Eugeneniusz Lokajski)

Polish Resistance. During the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, 8-year-old Róża Maria Goździewska became the youngest nursing assistant with the Polish Resistance Home Front Army, after her father was killed by the Gestapo and her home burned during reprisals against the resistance. During the fighting Róża worked in a basement field hospital where she was known as Różyczka, “Little Rose.”

She survived the war and later graduated from the Silesian University of Technology and moved to France in 1958 where she married and had two children. She died in 1989 at the age of 53. (Photo Credit Eugeniusz Lokajski which is said to be rare because it shows a smiling Polish child during the war) 

Norwegian Resistance during WW2: Anne-Sofie Ostvedt

Anne-Sofie Ostvedt (soure common)

Anne-Sofie Østvedt, (later married Strømnæs), (2 January 1920 to 16 November 2009) was second in command of a Norwegian Resistance group called XU. Like many throughout occupied Europe during WW2 who later joined the resistance she started resisting by publishing underground newspapers and in December 1941 she was recruited by XU. Despite being only in her early 20’s she was vital to XU’s underground movement and became their second in command.  In 1942 the Gestapo was attempting to track her down, but her identity was not known by other members of the movement and she was only known as ‘Aslak’ which I understand is a male name in Norway. According to several accounts, after the war many members of the group who she gave orders to were surprised at her young age and the fact she was female.

Luftwaffe Fighter Ace Hans-Joseph Marseille.

Hans-Jospeh Marseille (German Federal Archives)

Hans-Joachim Marseille was a German Luftwaffe fighter Ace during WW2 and by the age of 22 was awarded the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds. Apart from being well-known in Germany for his impressive successes during aerial combat he was also known for his Bohemian Lifestyle.

On 26 September 1942 (some say 30 September) he was flying in formation over Sidi Abdel Rahman, Kingdom of Egypt in a Messerschmitt Bf 109 when the aircraft developed a serious engine failure and the cockpit rapidly filled with thick smoke and Marseille reported by radio he was bailing out.   After peeling away from the formation to give him room to manoeuvre, eyewitness statements from other pilots reported seeing him using the standard procedure of rolling the aircraft onto its back to make it easier to exit. A subsequent investigation concluded Marseille was disorientated by thick smoke and was unaware his aircraft had entered a deep dive of approximately 70-80 degrees and was travelling at a considerable speed and after bailing out his chest hit the vertical stabilizer of his aircraft which either killed him instantly or rendered him unconscious and was unable to pull the ripcord to open his parachute. His watch stopped at 11:42 am which is the time he struck the ground and a Luftwaffe doctor pronounced him dead on the scene after suffering massive head and other injuries.