Lonely Courage – the story of the SOE Heroines in Occupied France. A talk by Rick Stroud

Introduction

A talk by Rick Stroud on Wednesday 11 April 2018 in The Kincaid Gallery, The Royal Green Jackets (Rifles) Museum. (see link at bottom of page)

“The French Resistance began almost as soon as France surrendered to Germany.  At first it was small, disorganised groups of men and women working in isolation but by 1944 around 400,000 French citizens (nearly 2% of the population) were involved.  The Special Operations Executive (SOE) set up in 1941 saw its role in France as recruiting and organising guerrilla fighters; supplying and training them; and disrupting the Germans by any means, including sabotage, collection of intelligence and dissemination of black propaganda.

Infiltrated into France and operating in Resistance circuits the basic SOE unit was a team of three: a leader, a wireless operator and a courier, many of them women.  This is the story of those women, their selection, training, dropping into occupied France and their attempts to survive on a daily basis whilst being hunted by the Gestapo.  Some survived by luck through the war, whilst others were captured, tortured and executed before the Nazis final capitulation.

Rick Stroud is a writer and television director who has directed such actors as Pierce Brosnan, John Hurt,and Joanna Lumley.  He is the author of several books including Rifleman, the story of Vic Gregg, ex 2RB.  He is currently working on a book about the kidnapping by the SOE of General Kreipe from his headquarters on Nazi occupied Crete.”(Ricard Shroud April 2018)

Talk by Rick Stroud

The legendary Nancy Wake who served in wartime France with Britain’s SOE (Special Operations Executive)

The following short documentary by ABC Australia provides an overview of the life of Nancy Wake who was dropped by parachute into wartime France to organise resistance and subversive warfare. 

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.

Making the Spark, Feeding the flame – lecture by historian and SOE expert 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:

https://www.forces.net/news/tri-service/mi-amigo-10-heroes-who-fell-sky

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-south-yorkshire-46958696

Louis Strange MC, DFC (bar)

During the First World War there are many accounts of RFC (Royal Flying Corp) pilots modifying their aircraft. Whilst serving with No. 6 Squadron on the Western Front Pilot Officer Louis Strange decided to improve the fire power and accuracy of his aircraft by fitting a Lewis Machine Gun on the top wing above the cockpit of his Martinsyde S.1 Scout.

On 10 May 1915 Strange was engaged in aerial combat against a German Aviatik two-seater and during the lengthy dog fight Strange had to reload his Lewis Gun. After standing up in the cockpit to change the drum his aircraft immediately became unstable, flipped on its back and Strange was thrown from the aircraft but managed to grab the ammunition drum which was still attached to the Lewis Gun.

As his aircraft started to develop a slow spin towards the ground from five thousand feet strange was seen  hanging from his inverted aircraft.

Strange later explained: “I kept kicking upwards behind me until at last I got a foot and then the other hooked inside the cockpit. Somehow, I got the stick between my legs again and jammed on full aileron and elevator; I don’t know exactly what happened then, but the trick was done. The machine came over the right way up and I fell off the top plane and into my seat with a bump.”

It was later estimated Strange was only 500 feet from the ground before he eventually regained control of his aircraft.

On his return to the airfield Strange was reprimanded for causing unnecessary damage to his instrument panel and seat.

During the Second World War Strange was too old for operational flying and on 21 May 1940 was the control officer with No. 34 Squadron (RAF) at Mervile.  After the airfield had been evacuated and with no other pilots available, Strange flew a Hurricane fighter back to England. Apart from this being an advanced aircraft he had never flown before the guns had been removed and  most of the  instruments were missing.

 At 8000 feet Strange dodged anti-aircraft artillery before being attacked by several Messerschmitt Bf 109’s and was forced to fly at very low level to lose his attackers. One month later Strange was awarded a bar for his DSO.

Awards and citations

Distinguished Service Order

Lieut. Louis Arbon Strange, M.C., D.F.C.

For his exceptional services in organising his wing and his brilliant leadership on low bombing raids this officer was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross not long ago. Since then, by his fine example and inspiring personal influence, he has raised his wing to still higher efficiency and morale, the enthusiasm displayed by the various squadrons for low-flying raids being most marked. On 30th October he accompanied one of these raids against an aerodrome; watching the work of his machines, he waited until they had finished and then dropped his bombs from one hundred feet altitude on hangars that were undamaged; he then attacked troops and transport in the vicinity of the aerodrome. While thus engaged he saw eight Fokkers flying above him ; at once he climbed and attacked them single-handed; having driven one down out of control he was fiercely engaged by the other seven, but he maintained the combat until rescued by a patrol of our scouts.

 London Gazette, 7 February 1919[24]

Military Cross

Second Lieutenant (temporary Captain) L. A. Strange, The Dorsetshire Regiment and Royal Flying Corps.

For gallantry and ability on reconnaissance and other duties on numerous occasions, especially on the occasion when he dropped three bombs from a height of only 200 feet on the railway junction at Courtrai; whilst being assailed by heavy rifle fire.

— London Gazette, 27 March 1915[15]

Distinguished Flying Cross

Lieut. Louis Arbon Strange, M.C. (Dorset R).

To this officer must be given the main credit of the complete success attained in two recent bombing raids on important enemy aerodromes. In organising these raids his careful attention to detail and well-thought-out plans were most creditable. During the operations themselves his gallantry in attack and fine leadership inspired all those taking part.

— London Gazette, 21 June 1940[39]

Bar to the Distinguished Flying Cross

Pilot Officer Louis Arbon Strange, D.S.O., M.C., D.F.C. (78522), R.A.F. Volunteer Reserve.

Pilot Officer Strange was detailed to proceed from Hendon to Merville to act as ground control officer during the arrival and departure of various aircraft carrying food supplies. He displayed great skill and determination whilst under heavy bombing attacks and machine-gun fire at Merville, where he was responsible for the repair and successful despatch of two aircraft to England. In the last remaining aircraft, which was repaired under his supervision, he returned to Hendon, in spite of being repeatedly attacked by Messerschmitts until well out to sea. He had no guns in action and had never flown this type of aircraft previously, but his brilliant piloting enabled him to return with this much needed aircraft.