“Madeleine” – Noor Inayat Khan executed at Dachau

Noor Inyat Khan was executed at Dachau.
Noor Inyat Khan was executed at Dachau.

Noor Inyat Khan had been an unlikely agent for the Special Operations Executive, many of the staff at her training school believed she was too naive and honest to survive the treacherous world of spying. Yet she was fluent in French and an accomplished radio operator, and she was sent to France to support the French Resistance in preparations for D-Day.

She arrived in Paris at a particularly dangerous time. The Gestapo had begun to unravel the Prosper/Physician network which she had joined, and made mass arrests of men and women in the Resistance movement. She became the only SOE radio operator to remain working in Paris, occupying a vital position. Even though it became obvious that the Gestapo had her description and were actively looking for her, she chose to remain in Paris and continued her work.

She was eventually arrested just four months after arriving in France. She was to demonstrate a stubborn resistance to the Gestapo’s interrogation and was soon recognised as a difficult and dangerous prisoner because of her escape attempts.

Eventually she was taken, with three other SOE agents, Yolande Beekman, Madeleine Damerment and Eliane Plewman, to Dachau concentration camp. All four were executed in the early hours of 13th September 1944, accounts vary as to how they were treated prior to execution.

The George Cross citation:

Assistant Section Officer Nora INAYAT-KHAN was the first woman operator to be infiltrated into enemy occupied France, and was landed by Lysander aircraft on 16th June, 1943. During the weeks immediately following her arrival, the Gestapo made mass arrests in the Paris Resistance groups to which she had been detailed.

She refused however to abandon what had become the principal and most dangerous post in France, although given the opportunity to return to England, because she did not wish to leave her French comrades without communications and she hoped also to rebuild her group. She remained at her post therefore and did the excellent work which earned her a posthumous Mention in Despatches.

The Gestapo had a full description of her, but knew only her code name “Madeleine”. They deployed considerable forces in their effort to catch her and so break the last remaining link with London. After 3 months she was betrayed to the Gestapo and taken to their H.Q. in the Avenue Foch.

The Gestapo had found her codes and messages and were now in a position to work back to London. They asked her to co-operate, but she refused and gave them no information of any kind. She was imprisoned in one of the cells on the 5th floor of the Gestapo H.Q. and remained there for several weeks during which time she made two unsuccessful attempts at escape. She was asked to sign a declaration that she would make no further attempts but she refused and the Chief of the Gestapo obtained permission from Berlin to send her to Germany for “safe custody”. She was the first agent to be sent to Germany.

Assistant Section Officer INAYAT-KHAN was sent to Karlsruhe in November; 1943, and then to Pforzheim where her cell was apart from the main prison. She was considered to be a particularly dangerous and unco-operative prisoner. The Director of the prison has also been interrogated and has confirmed that Assistant Section Officer INAYAT-KHAN, when interrogated by the Karlsruhe Gestapo, refused to give any information whatsoever, either as to her work or her colleagues.
She was taken with three others to Dachau Camp on the 12th September, 1944. On arrival, she was taken to the crematorium and shot.

Assistant Section Officer INAYAT-KHAN displayed the most conspicuous courage, both moral and physical over a period of more than 12 months.

As a woman and a Muslim the Noor Inayat Khan story has found resonance in recent years. The Noor Inyat Khan Memorial Trust promotes peace and understanding in her name. A recently released film Enemy of the Reich tells her story.

Left to right; Yolande Beekman, Madeleine Damerment and Eliane Plewman were also executed at Dachau on the 13th September 1944.
Left to right; Yolande Beekman, Madeleine Damerment and Eliane Plewman were also executed at Dachau on the 13th September 1944.

The first ballistic missile attacks – V2 rockets

German photograph of a V2 rocket in the initial stage of its flight
German photograph of a V2 rocket in the initial stage of its flight

On 8th September the British newspapers were full of reports of the rapid Allied advance through France and Belgium. A further victory was also apparent.The British had conquered the German V1 rocket attacks and there was widespread reporting of a statement made by War Cabinet member Duncan Sandys who had claimed that “except possibly for the last few shots, the battle of London is over”.

He had praised the assistance of United States officials who:

had thrown themselves into the job of beating the bomb as if New York or Washington had been the victim of the attack…

The latest American equipment for use with British heavy guns was ordered earlier in the year when flying bomb attacks began to look imminent. The necessary priority was accorded by the President as a result of a personal request by the Prime Minister.

Intelligence, agents, air reconnaissance and photo-interpretation units warned us in the first place what Hitler was preparing for us, and since then we have directed our bomber forcesm with remarkable precision onto the weak links and bottlenecks in the enemy’s organisation. The visitation which London has so bravely borne has been painful enough.

Had it not been for the vigilance of the intelligence services and the unrelenting efforts of the British and American air forces, her ordeal might have been many times more severe.

A highly concentrated barrage of anti aircraft guns on the south coast had proved to be very effective in knocking the V1 rockets out of the sky. Those that got through the barrage were often intercepted by pursuing aircraft, either Typhoon or the latest Spitfires, which just had the speed to catch them. On 28th August 90 out of 97 V1 rockets fired at London had been brought down by the guns, and only four missiles got through to hit London. Soon the Allied advances on the continent would put them completely out of range.

Gunners at a mixed anti-aircraft battery on the South Coast mark their names on a shell case after shooting down a V1 flying bomb with only one round, 6 August 1944.
Gunners at a mixed anti-aircraft battery on the South Coast mark their names on a shell case after shooting down a V1 flying bomb with only one round, 6 August 1944.
Workmen carry out temporary 'First Aid' repairs to houses in a London street following the explosion of a V1 Flying Bomb.
Workmen carry out temporary ‘First Aid’ repairs to houses in a London street following the explosion of a V1 Flying Bomb.

However the Minister had been evasive when questioned about whether there was a “V2” rocket:

I think we’ve got enough to deal with if we stick to the V1 we do know quite a lot about it … but in a very few days’ time I feel the press will be walking over these places in France and they will know a great deal more about it than we do now. It would be very dangerous for anyone to make a statement now.

Allied intelligence knew about the V2 but had little information on how close the Germans were to making them operational.

In fact the Germans had been struggling with the problem of the V2 rockets exploding in mid air. On 30th August they had introduced modifications which seemed to have solved the problem. Just before noon on the 8th a German rocket battery in occupied Belgium had pumped eight tons of alcohol and liquid oxygen into their rocket and fired it at Paris. Six people were killed and thirty-six injured.

The damage in Staveley Road, Chiswick after the first V2 rocket hit London.
The damage in Staveley Road, Chiswick after the first V2 rocket hit London.

At 6.43pm that day Chiswick, west London was rocked by a massive explosion, closely followed by another boom that was heard across London. The first explosion had been real enough – caused by 760 kilos of Amatol. The explosion that was heard just after it was the supersonic missile breaking the sound barrier as it re-entered the atmosphere. It had been just minutes since the missile had left the Hague in Holland.

Three people had been killed in Staveley Road, Chiswick, although casualties were light given the thirty feet wide, eight foot deep crater.

The Brentford and Chiswick Air Raid Precautions centre reported Incident 636 of the war:

Eleven houses demolished, 15 seriously damaged and evacuated. Blast damage to 516 houses. St Thomas rest centre opened to house sixteen. The WVS [Women’s Voluntary Service] incident inquiry point opened to the 10th. 14 families re-housed, three billeted.

Attempts by the Press to report the ‘Mystery Explosion’, the site of which had been visited by several unusually senior military figures and politicians, were blocked by the censor. Locally the reason given was ‘a Gas Main explosion’. Over the following weeks Londoners were to become familiar with this phrase.

See Christy Campbell: Target London: Under attack from the V-weapons during WWII

Cutaway drawing of a German V2 rocket.
Cutaway drawing of a German V2 rocket.

Joseph P. Kennedy Jr dies in secret drone mission

The prototype Hochdruckpumpe gun in 1942, during the development programme in Poland. The "High Pressure Pump" gun was designed to fire 300 shells a minute at London.
The prototype Hochdruckpumpe gun in 1942, during the development programme in Poland. The “High Pressure Pump” gun was designed to fire 300 shells a minute at London. The operational version was built underground in France during 1943-4, with an array of barrels all aimed at London.

On 13th June 1944 the Nazis had begun firing the first of their Vergeltungswaffen (“retaliatory” “reprisal” ) weapons at England. The V1 pilotless jet aircraft was a relatively crude affair but Allied intelligence was aware that more sophisticated rocket weapons were also under development, designated the V2. A number of the launch sites had been identified in occupied France and it was a priority programme of the heavy bombers to put them out of action. The Allies were not aware that there was a third Vergeltungswaffen weapon under secret development – the V3 pump gun.

It was fortuitous therefore that Allied reconnaissance had identified the site of the V3 gun in northern France, even though they believed at the time that it was a V2 launch site. It was placed on the priority target list in any event.

An aerial reconnaissance photograph of the Mimoyecques site in northern France, with annotations. The chalk hill was soft enough to excavate the tunnels needed for the 430 foot long barrels.

The Mimoyecques site had already been attacked by RAF Bomber Command but such was the concern about the potential threat posed by the V2 that it was decided that further attacks were needed, in an attempt to completely obliterate it. It was now decided to use one of the Allied secret weapons in order to attack the site with a massive explosive force.

Under development were early ‘drones’ – pilotless aircraft. At this stage all that the Allies were developing were remotely controlled conventional aircraft. The remote control only operated once the aircraft was in the air – so pilots were needed to get them airborne. They then had to parachute out of what was effectively a flying bomb – ‘the Baby’ under the control of other – ‘Mother’ – aircraft flying alongside.

A B-24 Liberator bomber - those used as 'robots' in Operation Aphrodite were designated BQ-8. [This aircraft B-24J-55-CO (s/n 42-99949) belonged to 93rd BG, 328th BS; lost 21 September 1944 over Belgium]
A B-24 Liberator bomber – those used as ‘robots’ in Operation Aphrodite were designated BQ-8. [This aircraft B-24J-55-CO (s/n 42-99949) belonged to 93rd BG, 328th BS; lost 21 September 1944 over Belgium]

Experienced volunteer pilots were needed for what was a dangerous experiment. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr was a US Navy pilot who had been flying the B-24 Liberator in anti U-boat operations from England. A colleague of Kennedy described the mission, when years later it was declassified:

Joseph P. Kennedy Jr, the oldest child of Joseph and Rose Kennedy, died on 12 August 1944, flying an experimental drone aircraft.
Joseph P. Kennedy Jr, the oldest child of Joseph and Rose Kennedy, died on 12 August 1944, flying an experimental drone aircraft.

Joe, regarded as an experienced Patrol Plane Commander, and a fellow-officer, an expert in radio control projects, was to take a ‘drone’ Liberator bomber loaded with 21,170 pounds of high explosives into the air and to stay with it until two ‘mother’ planes had achieved complete radio control over the drone.

They were then to bail out over England; the “drone,” under the control of the mother planes, was to proceed on the mission which was to culminate in a crash-dive on the target, a V-2 rocket launching site in Normandy.

The airplane … was in flight with routine checking of the radio controls proceeding satisfactorily, when at 6:20 p.m. on August 12, 1944, two explosions blasted the drone resulting in the death of its two pilots. No final conclusions as to the cause of the explosions has ever been reached.

Lt. McCarthy of the 8th Combat Camera Unit was an eye witness in a US Mosquito aircraft monitoring the experimental flight:

the Baby just exploded in mid-air as we neared it and I was knocked halfway back to the cockpit. A few pieces of the Baby came through the plexiglass nose and I got hit in the head and caught a lot of fragments in my right arm. I crawled back to the cockpit and lowered the wheels so that Bob could make a quick emergency landing,

Top Secret telegram to General Carl Andrew Spaatz from General Jimmy Doolittle, August 1944 reporting the failure of the mission:

ATTEMPTED FIRST APHRODITE ATTACK TWELVE AUGUST WITH ROBOT TAKING OFF FROM FERSFIELD AT ONE EIGHT ZERO FIVE HOURS PD ROBOT EXPLODED IN THE AIR AT APPROXIMATELY TWO THOUSAND FEET EIGHT MILES SOUTHEAST OF HALESWORTH AT ONE EIGHT TWO ZERO HOURS PD WILFORD J. WILLY CMA SR GRADE LIEUTENANT AND JOSEPH P. KENNEDY SR GRADE LIEUTENANT CMA BOTH USNR CMA WERE KILLED PD COMMANDER SMITH CMA IN COMMAND OF THIS UNIT CMA IS MAKING FULL REPORT TO US NAVAL OPERATIONS PD A MORE DETAILED REPORT WILL BE FORWARDED TO YOU WHEN INTERROGATION IS COMPLETED

Kennedy was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross:

For extraordinary heroism and courage in aerial flight as pilot of a United States Liberator bomber on August 12, 1944. Well knowing the extreme dangers involved and totally unconcerned for his own safety, Kennedy unhesitatingly volunteered to conduct an exceptionally hazardous and special operational mission.

Intrepid and daring in his tactics and with unwavering confidence in the vital importance of his task, he willingly risked his life in the supreme measure of service and, by his great personal valor and fortitude in carrying out a perilous undertaking, sustained and enhanced the finest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

John F. Kennedy was later to pay tribute to his eldest brother:

His squadron, flying in the bitter winter over the Bay of Biscay, suffered heavy casualties, and by the time Joe had completed his designated number of missions in May, he had lost his former co-pilot and a number of close friends.

“Joe refused his proffered leave and persuaded his crew to remain on for D-day. They flew frequently during June and July, and at the end of July they were given another opportunity to go home. He felt it unfair to ask his crew to stay on longer, and they returned to the United States. He remained. For he had heard of a new and special assignment for which volunteers had been requested which would require another month of the most dangerous type of flying.

“…It may be felt, perhaps, that Joe should not have pushed his luck so far and should have accepted his leave and come home. But two facts must be borne in mind. First, at the time of his death, he had completed probably more combat missions in heavy bombers than any other pilot of his rank in the Navy and therefore was preeminently qualified, and secondly, as he told a friend early in August, he considered the odds at least fifty-fifty, and Joe never asked for any better odds than that.

See JFK Library for more on Joseph P. Kennedy Jr.

The V3 weapon was never fired at England, in all probability it was too experimental a device to be deployed effectively, and in any event the earlier RAF bombing had done sufficient damage to prevent its use.

The French Resistance hit back against the occupation

With undercarriage lowered to reduce speed, a B-17 of the 94th BG drops supplies to the French Resistance at Vercors, 14 July 1944.
With undercarriage lowered to reduce speed, a B-17 of the 94th BG drops supplies to the French Resistance at Vercors, 14 July 1944.
Maquisards gathering supply canisters dropped by an Allied aircraft, Haute Savoie.
Maquisards gathering supply canisters dropped by an Allied aircraft, Haute Savoie.

As the Allies remained locked into Normandy conflict, all over France the French Resistance became more audacious with their sabotage operations. In some areas they started open uprisings. It was a risky strategy against the much better armed German forces.

Henri Rosencher had travelled from Warsaw to study Medicine in Paris before the war broke out. His war began as a member of the French Hesistance. After training with the British in North Africa he became an expert with explosives. He then returned to France to assist the Resistance with their activities in the period following D-Day.

On the morning of the 17th of June, I arrived in the area of Lus-la-Croix-Haute, the “maquis” [zone of resistance] under the command of Commander Terrasson.

They were waiting for me and took me off by car. The job at hand was mining a tunnel through which the Germans were expected to pass by train. The Rail resistance network had provided all the details.

My only role was as advisor on explosives. TNT (Trinitrotoluene – a very powerful explosive) and plastic charges were going to collapse the mountain, sealing off the tunnel at both ends and its air shaft. When I got there, all the ground work was done. I only had to specify how much of the explosive was necessary, and where to put it. I checked the bickfords, primers, detonators, and crayons de mise à feu.

We stationed our three teams and made sure that they could communicate with each other. I settled into the bushes with the team for the tunnel’s entrance. And we waited. Toward three p.m., we could hear the train coming.

At the front came a platform car, with nothing on it, to be sacrificed to any mines that might be on the tracks, then a car with tools for repairs, and then an armored fortress car. Then came the cars over-stuffed with men in verdi-gris uniforms, and another armored car.

The train entered the tunnel and after it had fully disappeared into it, we waited another minute before setting off the charge. Boulders collapsed and cascaded in a thunderous burst; a huge mass completely covered the entrance. Right after that, we heard one, then two huge explosions.

The train has been taken prisoner. The 500 “feldgraus” inside weren’t about to leave, and the railway was blocked for a long, long time.

Henri Rosencher: ‘Salt, Ash, Flame‘ Paris, 2000: Editions du Félin 10, rue La Vaquerie 75011

Unfortunately the Resistance uprising in the Vercors area was to end terribly, with brutal and widespread reprisals by the Nazis. As a Jewish Communist Rosencher was especially vulnerable when eventually captured by the Germans, but survived the war in the Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp, and later Dachau. However none of his extended family in Poland survived the war.

Watched by two small boys, a member of the FFI (French Forces of the Interior) poses with his Bren gun at Chateaudun.
Watched by two small boys, a member of the FFI (French Forces of the Interior) poses with his Bren gun at Chateaudun.

The V1 ‘doodlebugs’ begin hitting London

German personnel fitting the wings to a Fiesler Fi 103 flying bomb at a launching site.
German personnel fitting the wings to a Fiesler Fi 103 flying bomb at a launching site.
A German Fiesler Fi 103 flying-bomb (V1) in flight, as seen by the gun camera of an intercepting RAF fighter aircraft, moments before the fighter destroyed the V1 by cannon fire.
A German Fiesler Fi 103 flying-bomb (V1) in flight, as seen by the gun camera of an intercepting RAF fighter aircraft, moments before the fighter destroyed the V1 by cannon fire.

Hitler has sustained his faithful Nazi followers with promises of secret wonder weapons that would transform the war situation. Also known as ‘Vengeance’ weapons, the first ‘V’ weapon appeared – and dropped – over London on the 13th June. It was little more than a bomb with a pair of wings powered by a pulse jet – a crude navigation system turned it into a basic cruise missile – but an innovation for its time. When the jet engine fuel ran out the bomb simply fell from the sky, exploding on impact.

By the 16th June the Nazis were prepared with several hundred V1 rockets ready, and they launched their most intense attack on an unsuspecting London. The very existence of the V1 had not yet been officially acknowledged nor had the bombs acquired their popular nicknames – the ‘doodlebug’ or the ‘buzzbomb’. Within days a huge re-organisation of London’s air defences would be underway, with many more spotters and anti-aircraft guns covering the area between the south coast and London. For the moment the defences were largely unprepared for the new threat.

This anonymous account was by a young man serving with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, based at the Royal Military Depository, Woolwich, in central London:

How many filled the night sky above us we would never know, only after the war were we to learn that Hitler had fired 244 V1s simultaneously from Cap Gris Nez, just over the English Channel near the French port of Calais.

How many sped over Woolwich, with many exploding within a few miles of us, we can not know, but of the 244 fired from France, less than 90 miles and a quarter hour flying time away, 73 got through to Greater London.

A quarter hour later came the second salvo, again a score or so flew overhead towards the German ‘Bullseye’ targeting ‘zero’ – Tower Bridge.

After the racket of every anti-aircraft gun in south east London blazing hopelessly away at the V1s, flying faster than an Allied fighter we knew of – although the first jet engined fighters of the RAF and USAF were soon in combat against the simple impulse jet engined V1s, they were too few to have any impact on the thousands fired against London in the earliest attacks.

It soon became apparent that the many barracks, depots, Royal Arsenal and Dockyards of Woolwich, with the great ‘Royal’ docks of North Woolwich, of Woolwich Garrison Town were a prime target – the shuddering building around us, crash of falling glass, hailing ack-ack shrapnel on the roof above and roadway outside, the deafening detonation of one tonne warheads too close by, and the sound of civilian fire engines bells hurrying to yet another ‘incident’ was a cacophony of noise repeat regularly at quarter hour intervals.

The night dragged on towards dawn.

At first the ‘all-clear’ siren wailed after each salvo headed towards London, only to be almost immediately followed by yet another warning when coastal radar spotted yet another salvo fired from just across the Channel, a mere twenty five miles from Folkestone.

But after the first few attacks the ‘all clear’ was not sounded, nor for many, many days – until the Nazi launchers ran out of supplies to keep up regular barrages.

In the early hours, hours after the attack commenced, the anti-aircraft guns fell silent, gradually as each battery used up its supply of shell or when the gun barrels became to hot to fire safely.

Not far from the Repository, on Woolwich Common close to the Royal Artillery Barracks, was a barrage balloon manned by WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) girls. The balloon was aloft when the attack commenced but grounded next morning; whether on orders or not, it was just as well, had it ‘caught’ a ‘Buzzbomb’ an brought the V1 down, chances were that it could have crashed headlong into the crowded barracks.

Daylight came, the sky was leaden with low storm clouds, still the V1s kept coming, but at random intervals.

Instructions came that the normal daily routine was to continue.

At breakfast time our squad lined up ‘in order of march’ to march the quarter mile alongside Woolwich Common to the Cookhouse at RA Barracks. In true British Army fashion we set off three abreast from outside the billet hut towards the vast Artillery Barracks.

There was an eerie silence as we marched towards the Repository gate, past rows and rows of low corrugated iron sheds full to the roof with wooden cases of glass ether bottles, the Medical Corps reserve stocks for the invasion of Occupied Europe.

With sidelong glances at the lethal, highly inflammable stockpile of anaesthetic ether, thousands of cases of the stuff, hundreds of tons of it, we dare not think what would happened to us if a V1 hit our camp and its depot.

We had barely reached the camp gate when the sound of yet another Buzzbomb heading directly towards us, out of sight above the scudding clouds.

It came rapidly closer until almost directly overhead, then the engine stopped. By this time we all had learnt from the terrible experiences of the night, what to expect, but instead of doing the logical thing and dropping to the ground and making the best use of what cover there was, we just gapped open mouthed eyes transfixed on the clouds were the silence had come.

I suppose, like myself, we all wanted to see what this strange weapon we had seen apparently ablaze a few mornings before, looked like.

Our curiosity was soon salved, there about forty five degrees above the horizon came a small plane, about as big or smaller than the ubiquitous ‘Tiger Moth’ training planes, but single winged like the German Messerschmitt fighter, even to the German Luftwaffe cross on its wings and fuselage.

In an instant the ‘plumber’s blowlamp’ sound I had been reminded of on hearing the V1 the first time, made sense. There was not propeller, nor engine cowling at it from, just a bullet-pointed nose with a short pipe protruding from its apex.

But above the fuselage and over the tail fin was, to mind, the nozzle of a blowlamp, but flameless – obviously a simple rocket engine.

Whether out of sheer horror, or just curiosity, we stood rooted to the ground watching the missile spearing out of the clouds and diving diagonally towards the earth, across our line of sight – straight towards the huge frontage of the RA Barracks overlooking the vast Parade Ground – straight towards the Cookhouse just behind the Officer’s Quarters in the frontage.

The mental image of that sight still haunts me – the terrible realization that many of my REME pals, still quartered at the REME block at the Barracks, would be lined up or at breakfast in the Mess Hall the missile was seemingly about to blow to smithereens.

Seconds later the flying bomb was lost to our sight behind he barrack frontage, then the flash of its explosion and the sighting of ornamental masonry caught in the blast and shooting skywards, then the boom of the explosion split the silence of the early morning.

Read the whole account on BBC People’s War

A view over the rooftops of London captured on cine film as a V1 flying bomb explodes close to Westminster in London. Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament can be seen on the right.
A view over the rooftops of London captured on cine film as a V1 flying bomb explodes close to Westminster in London. Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament can be seen on the right.
A cut-away and annotated drawing of the Fiesler Fi 103 flying bomb, (also known as FZG 76 or V1 weapon). From a secret report prepared on 16th June for circulation to units of Air Defence Great Britain.
A cut-away and annotated drawing of the Fiesler Fi 103 flying bomb, (also known as FZG 76 or V1 weapon). From a secret report prepared on 16th June for circulation to units of Air Defence Great Britain.

0100: Taxable, Glimmer, Mandrel and Titanic

The range of deception plans that successfully confused the Germans about what was happening in the hours before the invasion.
The range of deception plans that successfully confused the Germans about what was happening in the hours before the invasion.

The Allies had two major deception plans, Fortitude North and Fortitude South, which convinced the Germans that there were further invasions planned for both Norway and the Pas de Calais area of France. There also were a series of tactical deceptions accompanying Operation Neptune, the D-day invasion. These combined innovative use of Radio Counter Measures with some practical measures on the ground. These both presented a variety of false threats to Germans and concealed the real threats.

On the night of 5th/6th the sense of confusion was enhanced by the actual drops of the parachute troops. The drops of both the British 6th Airborne and the US 101st and 82nd Divisions were unintentionally widely dispersed, mainly as a result of the weather. Even when they knew there were real parachutists dropping, the Germans had difficulty making sense of what their real objective was.

When the Allied invasion fleet crossed to Normandy on the night of June 5/6, 1944, it did not meet a single attack by the Luftwaffe or by enemy E- or U-boats. When our parachute troops were dropped a few hours before the assault they landed with negligible casualties, though we had expected a 25 per cent loss. After our initial landings the enemy held back his main reserves for 18 or 48 hours, and enabled us to secure a firm foothold.

These were the chief results of the greatest hoax in military history – a hoax carried out almost entirely by 105 aircraft of the Royal Air Force, by 34 small ships of the Royal Navy, and by R.C.M. (Radio Counter Measures). In the planning of Operation “Overlord” (the code word for the Normandy invasion) it was considered essential that the enemy should be made to believe that the assault would come not on the Normandy beaches but farther north in the Pas de Calais between Cap d’Antifer and Boulogne.

This was the task of R.C.M. The responsibility for carrying it out rested with Bomber Command. But long before the operational planning could be commenced, much preliminary technical work had been carried out by the Telecommunications Research Establishment. For two months before D-Day, and for the month following our landings, Bomber Command played a leading part in the hammering of German coast defences and the “softening-up” process round the French coast. The German night fighter force, based in north-west France, invariably reacted strongly to these attacks by our bombers.

Well-Rehearsed Deception

The great chain of enemy radar stations round the French coast were always equally alert. In the conviction that our technical devices were so highly developed that we could confuse the enemy into mistaking a carefully-planned feint for the real thing, R.C.M. was ready with a complicated and well-rehearsed scheme of deception.

The scheme was in five parts, each with a separate aim but linked in one general plan. The five parts went under the code names Taxable, Glimmer, Mandrel, A.B.C. Patrol, and Titanic. Their aims were (1) to simulate diversionary attacks by air and sea away from the real assault area; (2) to provide cover for the genuine airborne landings; (3) to throw the German radar system into such a state of confusion that enemy reaction to our intentions would be delayed and greatly minimized. On the night of June 5/6 the five parts of the R.C.M. plan went simultaneously into operation, as follows:

In “Taxable”, eighteen small ships of the Royal Navy steamed towards Cap d’Antifer at a speed of seven knots to suggest a landing on that part of the French coast. As enemy radar could quickly sum up the size of this force and dismiss it as not being a serious threat, one of the R.A.F.’s most experienced squadrons, No. 617 – led by Group Capt. G. L. Cheshire, V.C., D.S.O., D.F.C. – flew in support. Every minute of the 3½ hours op the operation, the aircraft of this squadron dropped twelve bundles of “Window” – the thin metallized strips which produce false echoes on the enemy radar screens and so confuse their plotting.

Flying in box formation over an area 12 miles wide and eight miles deep, the aircraft had to fly in a continuous orbit gradually nearing the French coast, to give the impression of a large convoy heading slowly towards it. The effect was heightened by the Navy ships towing balloons which would reproduce a “big ship” type of echo on the enemy radar screens, and also by our aircraft jamming the German radar to prevent recognition of the “Window” deception.

Exactly the same deception was practised in a direction heading for Boulogne. In this case (“Glimmer”) 16 ships were covered and “magnified” by 218 Squadron. In two areas in the Channel – due south of Littlehampton and due south of Portland Bill – twenty aircraft of 199 Squadron (“Mandrel”) maintained a jamming barrage which covered the enemy’s coastal reader frequencies, reduced his warning system, and screened our own aircraft.

They flew at 18,000 feet at a constant distance of 50 miles from the enemy coast and with positional error of never more than five miles from ten fixed points in the Channel, and jammed the Hun radar for hours on end. In this task they were joined by four Fortresses of No. 803 Squadron of the U.S. Army Air Corps.

In the area between Taxable and Glimmer, 29 Lancasters flew for 4½ hours in “A.B.C. Patrol” to lure the enemy night fighters away from the actual landing areas. They, too, added to the confusion on the German radar by providing between them 82 jamming transmitters. A secondary reason for this patrol was the hope (speedily fulfilled) that the Germans would mistake it as top cover for the “invasion” simulated by Glimmer.

While all this was going on, dummy airborne invasions (“Titanic”) were carried out at two points – one slightly east of Fécamp, the other halfway down the Cherbourg Peninsula. Dummy parachute troops were dropped at both points; in addition, enough of the invaluable strips of “Window” were dropped to give the harassed enemy radar operators the impression that this airborne invasion was twenty times larger than it was.

The actual invasion forces sailed on their appointed course without any interference by air or sea. Through R.C.M., the enemy appreciation of the main direction of our attack was completely wrong. In R.C.M. operations on the night before D-Day only three of the 105 aircraft taking part were lost.

This unattributed account first appeared in the “Now It Can Be Told” column of ‘The War Illustrated’ magazine on March 15, 1946.

What this account does not acknowledge is the contribution of the three man SAS teams who accompanied the dummy parachutists. They were very vulnerable as they dropped in isolated locations in the midst of the Germans and then tried to attract their attention – it was a highly dangerous operation that sustained significant casualties. They played 30 minute recordings of men shouting and distant gunfire in a variety of locations to augment the confusion created by the dummy parachutists. The secrecy behind the operation has meant that their sacrifice is not often remembered.

For a full illustrated story of D-Day and the Normandy campaign explore hundreds of contemporary images in the iPad App Overlord. The free iBook US Forces on D-Day provides a sample.

A Lancaster bomber dropping 'Window', the tin foil strips that appeared as a mass of aircraft on German radar.
A Lancaster bomber dropping ‘Window’, the tin foil strips that appeared as a mass of aircraft on German radar.

2200: BBC ‘the dice are on the table’

Resistance member setting an explosive charge on a railway line.
Resistance member setting an explosive charge on a railway line.

Andre Heintz was a member of the French Resistance:

In early May 1944, my leader’s wife came to the school where I was teaching. She made me learn six sentences by heart, and also gave me their meanings. The messages would be broadcast just before the invasion, giving us a sign to start our acts of sabotage.

It seemed an awfully long time between the beginning of May and 1 June, when the first message was finally broadcast, signalling that the invasion would happen within the next week. That Sunday, 4 June, I went to a party at a friend’s house. As I stood there with people dancing all around me, I had this strange feeling that I was like a little god, because I could see into the future. I wanted to warn all my friends to go into hiding, but of course I couldn’t say anything, not even to my parents, because I was sworn to secrecy. I stood there wondering how many of my friends would survive.

The next day, Monday 5 June, we knew that something would happen soon, because the train from Paris didn’t reach Caen – the lines had been sabotaged. That evening I heard two messages – ‘the dice are on the table’, meaning we should sabotage railway lines; and ‘it’s hot in Suez’, meaning we should attack telephone lines.

Read the whole of his story on BBC People’s War

Get a full illustrated history of D-Day and the Normandy campaign, explore hundreds of contemporary images in the iPad App Overlord. The free iBook US Forces on D-Day provides a sample.

Germans seek more from their agent in Britain

German Military Intelligence had built up a remarkably detailed picture of British army units preparing for the Invasion of Europe.
German Military Intelligence had built up a remarkably detailed picture of British army units, including Australians, Canadians, Poles and New Zealanders, preparing for the Invasion of Europe.

Since 1942 German Intelligence had been receiving valuable intelligence from their man in Britain. The fanatical fascist, a Spanish Government official, had volunteered to work for them. After the initial information they received from him had proved credible, in 1942 they had instructed him to try to move to Britain. He got a posting to Britain. The Germans had then supplied him with a radio so he could transmit his findings directly to them, rather than posting them to Portugal.

The Germans knew him as ARABAL and he had proved incredibly useful, building up a string of contacts and other spies around Britain who reported to him. In Glasgow, Scotland, in the north of Britain, was Carlos, a Venezulean student, codename BENEDICT. He was ideally placed to watch the shipping movements and troops coming in from the United States.

He had also proved very valuable in reporting on the large numbers of troops that stayed in Scotland. They were not all sent down to the Channel Coast. From this the Germans had learnt that there would probably be an invasion of Norway launched from Scotland. They had been able to confirm this by listening to radio messages sent by Polish and American troops stationed in Scotland.

Now they received further confirmation as he reported on a local amphibious troop exercise, which ARABAL reported by radio to Germany:

. . . .V BENEDICT, UNDERTAKING ARABAL 10/5 from England via FELIPE: . . . . I estimate that up to 1100 hours more than a bde. of the div. had landed. Landing of troops was continued in a similar way.

Apart from the transports which brought the landing craft I was able to see another 10 transports, which lay in the neighbourhood and were doubtless connected with the exercise. One of these transports flew the flag WHITESIGN (sic) had a remarkably large number of aerials on board and continually sent light signals with searchlights to the shore.

The exercise lasted until the 11/5.

General impression gained by the VM on the basis of what he ascertained during the exercises and former information about this division is that it is intended for action in Norway as the division is continually receiving training in mountain warfare and all its equipment points to the probability of its going into action in northern regions. Have taken all measures to continue to watch every movement of transport fleet and troops.

This was just what the Germans wanted to hear. Hitler had already transferred troops to Norway on the basis of this information. Now they instructed ARABAL to get more information about the different units in the Allied Army:

It is to be assumed that the forces which will be engaged in the invasion operation will be divided into several independent armies, British and U.S. It would be of the greatest interest to know how many armies there will be and how many have already been formed. Headquarters and names of the commanders of each Army as well as their composition, i .e. , corps and divisions under command, the objectives assigned to each army.

Joan Pujol Garcia, better known to the Germans as ARABAL and to the British as GARBO.
Juan Pujol Garcia, better known to the Germans as ARABAL and to the British as GARBO.

ARABAL was delighted to hear this, because that was exactly what his British friends wanted him to do anyway. ARABAL is better known today by his British code name GARBO. He was the double agent who was feeding false information directly to German intelligence. BENEDICT was a complete work of fiction, as were the large army in Scotland about to invade Norway, and the even larger First US Army Group, FUSAG, supposedly commanded by Patton, who would launch a second invasion after the Normandy landings.

See Juan Pujol Garcia: Operation Garbo: The Personal Story of the Most Successful Spy of World War II and Roger Hesketh: Fortitude: The D-Day Deception Campaign.

Read more about GARBO at the Security Service, MI5

Landing craft that the Germans believed were waiting in the south east of England for the second invasion of Europe, to come weeks after the Normandy landings. In fact they were dummies.
Landing craft that the Germans believed were waiting in the south east of England for the second invasion of Europe, to come weeks after the Normandy landings. In fact they were dummies.

Officer’s sacrifice as Japanese march towards India

The Campaign in North and Central Burma February 1944 - August 1945: A well armed patrol of American led Burmese guerillas crossing a river in central Burma.
The Campaign in North and Central Burma February 1944 – August 1945: A well armed patrol of American led Burmese guerillas crossing a river in central Burma.

Major Hugh Seagrim was the leader of a small group of officers, the Special Operations Executive’s Force 136, working behind the lines in Burma. He had been responsible for bringing the Burmese nationalist leader Aung San (father of Aung San Suu Kyi) into talks with the British military. In the jungle of Burma he worked with Karen tribesmen to resist the Japanese occupation, leading sabotage on Japanese communications. The work of Force 136 featured in the fictional ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’.

However the Japanese soon learnt that British officers were involved in these operations and set about hunting them down. The impact of the Japanese hunt on the local people led Major Seagrim to give himself up on 15th March 1944. He was to earn the highest award for bravery for an action not involving direct combat, the George Cross:

Awarded the George Cross for most conspicuous gallantry in carrying out hazardous work in a very brave manner. Major Seagrim was the leader of a party which included two other British and one Karen officer working in the Karen Hills of Burma. By the end of 1943 the Japanese had learned of this party who then commenced a campaign of arrests and torture to determine their whereabouts. In February 1944 the other two British officers were ambushed and killed but Major Seagrim and the Karen officer escaped.

The Japanese then arrested 270 Karens and tortured and killed many of them but still they continued to support Major Seagrim. To end further suffering to the Karens, Seagrim surrendered himself to the Japanese on 15th March 1944. He was taken to Rangoon and together with eight others he was sentenced to death. He pleaded that the others were following his orders and as such they should be spared, but they were determined to die with him and were all executed.

There can hardly be a finer example of self-sacrifice and bravery than that exhibited by this officer who in cold blood deliberately gave himself up to save others, knowing well what his fate was likely to be at the hands of the enemy.

Major Hugh Seagrim, awarded a posthumous GC.
Major Hugh Seagrim, awarded a posthumous GC.

His brother, Major Derek Seagrim, had been awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for his attack on the Mareth Line in Italy just a year before. There is a full account of the Seagrim brothers at britishmilitaryhistory.

Meanwhile the Japanese were marching in force on India. Lieutenant Walton of the Frontier Rifles was out on reconnaissance and was able to make this report on his observations from the banks of the River Chindwin on the 15th March:

At about 18.30 hours I saw men going north up the bank to collect boats, which were spaced at approximately twenty—yard intervals along the bank.They brought them down to the river.

These boats were approximately eight feet long and four feet wide with sharp prows. After darkness fell sections of six boats were brought together, lashed with bamboos and then lengths of decking placed on top.

Various sections were then joined together and one end fixed to the bank on the eastern side.The other end was allowed to swing with the current across the river until it hit the western bank, a distance of approximately 300 yards.

Almost immediately a number of men crossed the bridge with ammunition boxes and these were followed by bullocks, horses, ponies and more bullocks. The ponies were seen to be carrying what looked like dismantled mountain guns.These were followed by approximately 100 men carrying white and green boxes, and each man made at least two journeys.

This traffic continued to my knowledge until approximately 02.00 hours [on the 16th], and almost certainly until daylight. As daylight broke, a motor boat dragged the far end of the bridge up stream back to the far bank, where it was dismantled, the decking removed and the boats taken upstream and dispersed along the river bank. As soon as daylight came all noise and most movement ceased.

See Leslie Edwards: Kohima: The Furthest Battle.

This was the progress of the Japanese 132 Division, marching across Burma carrying all their own supplies through the jungles and over the mountains. The explosive last push of Japanese expansion was about to begin.

A view of the river after the British advance later in the year. A Bailey bridge over the Chindwin River near Kalewa, December 1944.
A view of the river after the British advance later in the year. A Bailey bridge over the Chindwin River near Kalewa, December 1944.

Bomber Command smashes secret Nazi weapons site

: Boeing B-17F formation over Schweinfurt, Germany, on Aug. 17, 1943.
Boeing B-17F formation over Schweinfurt, Germany, on Aug. 17, 1943.
Aerial views of V2 Rocket Sites at Peenemunde
Aerial views of V2 Rocket Sites at Peenemunde
Aerial reconnaissance view of the V1 launching ramps at the Luftwaffe Test Installation, Peenemunde West, Usedom Island, Germany, showing a Fiesler Fi 103 flying bomb positioned on its ramp (arrowed). This was the photograph from which Flight Officer Constance Babington-Smith, a photographic interpreter at the Allied Central Interpretation Unit, RAF Medmenham, Buckinghamshire, confirmed the existence of the V1. The sortie was carried out by a Mosquito of No. 540 Squadron flown by Squadron Leader J R H Merifield and his navigator Flying Officer W N Whalley.
Aerial reconnaissance view of the V1 launching ramps at the Luftwaffe Test Installation, Peenemunde West, Usedom Island, Germany, showing a Fiesler Fi 103 flying bomb positioned on its ramp (arrowed). This was the photograph from which Flight Officer Constance Babington-Smith, a photographic interpreter at the Allied Central Interpretation Unit, RAF Medmenham, Buckinghamshire, confirmed the existence of the V1. The sortie was carried out by a Mosquito of No. 540 Squadron flown by Squadron Leader J R H Merifield and his navigator Flying Officer W N Whalley.

On 17th August as the USAAF headed out for their daylight raid on Schweinfurt, the crews of RAF Bomber Command were being briefed for their raid that night. This time they would be flying in moonlight, which was usually avoided, and the Intelligence Officers stressed the importance of the target that required this.

Crews were told that they would be bombing a factory building new radar controlled night fighters at Peenemunde. It was obviously in their interests to destroy such a target. It had ben given such a priority that not only would they be bombing in moonlight but they would be doing so from half the usual height.

Amongst those leading this raid was Cliff Alabaster, who had survived being shot down by ‘friendly fire’ in 1941. He now a hugely experienced navigator and was, very unusually, captain of his Pathfinder aircraft.

In fact the true purpose of the raid was to destroy the V-2 rocket programme. The fact that British intelligence even knew of its existence had to remain secret. The bomber crews could not be put fully in the picture, crews that survived being shot down would inevitably be interrogated about their targets.

Arguably this was one of the most important bombing raids of the war. Had the RAF not possessed the capability for such mass destruction by this stage in the war, the V-2 rocket programme against Britain would have got underway long before the invasion of France.

A diversionary raid to Berlin by Mosquitoes was also despatched that night in an attempt to draw off the German night fighters. It was not wholly successful, as the relatively inexperienced Jack Currie, piloting a Lancaster, was to discover:

We got DV222 George Two off the ground at twenty-three minutes to ten and, washed in the unaccustomed moonlight, set course east. Tail winds brought us early to our check-point in the Baltic, and I throttled back to lose time as we came to Rugen Island, north-west of the target.

Peenemunde lay starkly lighted by the moon, marked by green TIs, while a master-bomber circled, marshalling the attack. At thirty-four minutes after midnight I set George Two’s nose at the target on a time and—distance run, and Larry dropped the bombs from 9000 feet; a 4000 pounder, six 1000 pounders, and two 500 pounders. A billowing smoke screen partially obscured the target, but did not deter his aim. We swung right on to 290° true, against a forty-knot headwind, and climbed hard.

We had reached 18,000 feet near Stralsund, when the first fighter appeared, and the longest ten minutes I had known began. The ‘boozer’ light, flashing on my panel, gave the first warning that we were being followed, and then Lanham picked him up from the rear turret. ‘Fighter, fighter. Stand by to cork-screw port.’ ‘Standing by.’ ‘Mid—upper from rear-gunner. He’s at seven o’clock low. There may be a pair. I’ll look after this one, you watch out for the other.’ ‘Okay, Charlie.‘ ‘Prepare to cork-screw port… cork-screw port… go.’ ‘Going port.’

I rolled George Two sharply left, and dropped the nose. I let her go through ten degrees before pulling to the right and up, levelled as she passed back through the homeward heading, dived through another ten degrees right, climbed her back to port through twenty degrees.

Charlie kept the patter going, giving me the fighter’s distance and position, then: ‘Foxed him, Jack. He’s holding off on the starboard quarter. Now he‘s going low astern. He‘s out of range. Stand by.’ George Protheroe, slowly rotating the mid-upper turret, pressed his microphone switch. ‘Another fighter, skipper, four o’clock high, six hundred yards. It’s an Me 2l0.’

Charlie broke in. ‘Watch him, George. Here comes number one. Cork-screw starboard… go.’ ‘Going starboard.’ Between us, the gunners and I evaded four attacks. There were eleven degrees of frost at our height, but, after throwing George Two about the sky for a few minutes, I was sweating like a horse, and my muscles were aching.

While one fighter attacked, the other held off, content to retain one gunner’s attention. They were never in Lanham’s field of fire, and the mid-upper guns stayed silent.

A feeling of despair began to crawl into my mind; inevitably I would become exhausted and the fighters’ shells would rip George Two to shreds. They could afford to take their time. Perhaps the sadistic bastards were just playing with us. I pressed my back against the armour-plate behind me, and wondered what protection it would give. Messerschmitt, I thought, get it over with.

Turning automatically into another cork-screw to the left, I looked over my shoulder, down the length of the port wing. There he was, less than a hundred yards away, and converging, trying to bring his guns to bear. I saw a helmeted head in the cockpit, and a surge of anger pushed my lethargy away.

I stared at the German pilot. You’re no good, I thought. You’re a damned poor shot and a bloody awful pilot. Why the hell doesn’t the mid-upper fire? I snapped the mike switch on. ‘For Christ’s sake, George, shoot that bastard down!’ At once, the guns chattered, and a stream of orange sparks curved slowly down and through the fighter’s nose. He rolled over on his back, and dived straight down, disappearing into a sheet of stratus thousands of feet below.

‘I think you got him. Where’s the other one?’ Lanham answered from the rear turret. ‘Falling back astern. He’s clearing off. Good shooting, George!’ I agreed. ‘Yes, well done, George! What kept you?’ ‘Sorry, skipper. I had my sights on him all the time. I think I just forgot to shoot.’

I sat relaxed and let the relief run over me. George Two sailed on securely in the cold and moonlit night. I thought about the little Welsh mid-upper gunner, barely eighteen years old, rigid in his turret through the combat, unable to press the triggers until he heard my angry shout.

The Peenemunde raid, on which nearly 600 bombers were deployed, and forty lost, including the ‘A’ Flight Commander from Wickenby, was perhaps the most important on which we were engaged. We later learned that it delayed the enemy’s V-bomb attacks on England by six crucial months.

See Jack Currie: Lancaster Target.

Aerial reconnaissance photograph of the Rocket Research Establishment at Peenemunde, Usedom Island, Germany, taken by a De Havilland Mosquito PR Mark IX of No. 540 Squadron RAF, using a Type F.52 (36") vertical camera. This view shows the concentration of bomb craters on the airfield and damage to technical buildings of the Luftwaffe Test Facility, Peenemunde West, after the raid by Bomber Command on 17/18 August 1943.
Aerial reconnaissance photograph of the Rocket Research Establishment at Peenemunde, Usedom Island, Germany, taken by a De Havilland Mosquito PR Mark IX of No. 540 Squadron RAF, using a Type F.52 (36″) vertical camera. This view shows the concentration of bomb craters on the airfield and damage to technical buildings of the Luftwaffe Test Facility, Peenemunde West, after the raid by Bomber Command on 17/18 August 1943.
Aerial reconnaissance photograph of the Rocket Research Establishment at Peenemunde, Usedom Island, Germany, taken by a De Havilland Mosquito PR Mark IX of No. 540 Squadron RAF, using a Type F.52 (36") vertical camera. This view shows the devastated Karlshagen Housing Estate, which accommodated the Establishment's married staff and their families, after the air raid by Bomber Command on 17/18 August 1943. Of the 2,500 dwellings on the estate, only 72 survived.
Aerial reconnaissance photograph of the Rocket Research Establishment at Peenemunde, Usedom Island, Germany, taken by a De Havilland Mosquito PR Mark IX of No. 540 Squadron RAF, using a Type F.52 (36″) vertical camera. This view shows the devastated Karlshagen Housing Estate, which accommodated the Establishment’s married staff and their families, after the air raid by Bomber Command on 17/18 August 1943. Of the 2,500 dwellings on the estate, only 72 survived.