No. 138 Special Duties Squadron RAF: a few memories told by pilots and crews who flew Halifax Bombers supporting resistance movements in occupied Europe during WW2.

Halifax at RAF Tempford

No. 138 Special Duties Squadron supported SOE, MI6, MI9, the Free French and resistance movements throughout occupied Europe. Apart from dropping agents by parachute most of the weapons, sabotage stores and money to finance resistance arrived by parachute during moon periods and 138 Squadron was base at RAF Tempsford near Sandy Bedfordshire.

Flying Officer Reginald Lewis Halifax Observer/bomb-aimer

My trips from Tempsford involved going down to the south of France, a couple of trips to Norway and one in Germany itself. That one always surprises me, because we had an agent dressed up in a German uniform.

The squadron was operating as far as Poland and that was quite a long flight in wartime conditions, from the UK up to somewhere like Warsaw was something like fifteen hours. Apart from the danger of the flight itself it was almost at the complete endurance of a Halifax. They just couldn’t hold any more octane. And a couple of crews were lost, particularly over the Baltic, to night fighter attacks.

Squadron Leader Frank Griffiths Halifax Pilot

Polish crews joined us… and they were marvellously aggressive…   The British would come back the proper way as briefed, but you’d be very surprised to come back and find that the Poles were about an hour ahead of you, because they’d come back through the middle of Germany, and they never had a bullet left. Having got rid of the packages to be dropped or the men, they would go on a shoot-up in Germany. And, of course, in many places the aircraft got hit and then we had to repair them…. You couldn’t help but admire them… They were wonderful chaps. There was no turning back with the Poles.

Wing Commander Ken Batchelor Halifax Pilot

People were attacked, intercepted, here and there. I did a dog-leg to avoid the German airfield near Caen and of course flew right over the bloody airfield and we were at nought feet. It was very interesting over the housetops with tracer bullets horizontal over and under your wings.

Pilot Officer John Charrot Halifax observer/bomb aimer

In France they had these trains which were usually carrying troops… but you couldn’t tell that on the back they had a gun, a flak gun, and this night we didn’t pick it up and they started firing. But Terry, from the rear turret was so quick that he knocked it out before much damage had been done until we heard the dispatcher screaming over the intercom, ‘All the joe’s {agents} are hit and the aircraft is riddled with holes.’

 During the same interview Frank Griffiths who was the pilot added:

As a matter of fact, the expression he used was, ‘It looks like a butcher’s shop in the back.’ None of the RAF crew were hurt, fortunately, but we turned around and came back…. After we landed the petrol was still pouring out of the aircraft and the medical officer on the station sent the casualties off to hospital. Then a medical orderly who’d been told to clean up all the syringes and things we’d used in our first aid kit, found the ear of a man… and the ear was packed in ice, rushed down to the hospital and sewn on and it was quite ok, he got his ear back. I don’t know what his hearing was like, but it was quite a gory job.

Squadron Leader Frank Griffiths Halifax Pilot

I was to drop this load off just north of Annecy, about halfway between Annecy and the Swiss town of Geneva. Most of the equipment, military equipment, was for the Plateau des Gliéres, this very high plateau, which was an excellent place for the Maquis {French Resistance} to hide out… On the third trip one engine failed. At first it sounded like fuel starvation. I wasn’t over worried. Slapped it into coarse pitch, which means less drag, and the flight engineer started to try and sort things out… we seemed to be doing quite well on three {engines} and even climbed a bit. Then {we} turned around and came back…. There’s nothing worse than having a four-engined bomber that won’t climb in the bottom of an Alpine valley in the middle of the night, even if it is a full moon.

The next thing that happened was the other engine on that wing went. That’s no.2 engine… I sent the crew to crash stations and then we hit the first house. In fact, the last thing the dispatcher said to me over the intercom was, ‘All Ok, skipper. Crews to crash stations.’ That was actually the last spoken message. Before that, this chap McKenzie, the co-pilot, who’d merely come for the trip because he was so keen, had wrestled with the escape hatch over my head and got that off. Then the aircraft broke up and I got shot through this hatch and partly through the window screen with my seat attached and about a good hundredweight of thick steel armour plating behind.

I ended up in telephone wires between two poles. Meanwhile the aircraft had crashed, and the crew were killed, though I believe Maden, the dispatcher did get as far as the hospital in Annecy and then died. It’s hard for me to say exactly what went on. There was a tremendous fire…      

RAF 161 Special Duty Squadron (Lysanders) Occupied France

Timeline documentary interviewing pilots of 161 Squadron including Hugh Verity, members of the French resistance and agents.

Also an excellent interview of a Lancaster wireless operator shot down over Belgium who was rescued and taken to France by the Possum Escape Line (MI9) and later extracted by Hugh Verity flying a Lysander.