138 Special Duty Squadron Supporting the Dutch Resistance 1943

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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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RAF Tempsford, Britain’s secret airfield during WW2.

Gibraltar Farm near Sandy Bedfordshire was considered unsuitable for any form of flying because of frequent fog and most of the land being waterlogged but was later considered ideal as a clandestine airfield because German air reconnaissance was liable to reach the same conclusion. To add to the deception lines were painted across the runway which looked like hedgerows from the air, hangers etc looked like rundown farm buildings and after the allies gained air superiority over Europe many of these precautions were relaxed. The farm became RAF Tempsford and the home of 138 Special Duties squadron which was responsible for transporting and supplying SOE, SIS and MI9 agents in Europe. Due to the land’s unsuitability crashes were frequent.

Halifax of 138 Squadron cashed on landing due to poor ground conditions.

161 Special Duties Squadron flew single engine Lysander Aircraft and later Hudson’s to transport agents and were responsible for air landings on remote farmland. During the moon period (SD Squadrons needed moonlight to navigate) 161 along with its ground crews were relocated to the fighter station at RAF Tangmere on the south coast. Because this station was almost 200 miles closer to France than Tempsford their aircraft which were also fitted with an extra fuel tank bolted between the undercarriage could fly deeper into France with sufficient fuel to return to Tangmere or divert to another field during an emergency.