- Sandy to Tempsford - one way to travel via line 1 bus, taxi, and foot
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Upon leaving England a pilot would drop down to feet over the channel to get under German radar. Crossing the French coastline was one of the more dangerous aspects of the trip, as German forces and anti-aircraft guns were present over much of the coastline opposite England. Cabourg was the favored spot to cross into the continent, as it avoided heavy anti-aircraft guns to the northeast at Le Havre and German army forces to the southwest at Caen. From Tangmere to Cabourg was about an hour's flight in a Lysander.
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Flying the single engine airplane over the cold waters of the English Channel at night was a test itself. Mechanical failure and a forced ditching in the sea was unlikely to end well. The ground crews knew this, and their Lysanders never suffered an engine failure. As the pilot approached the French coastline he would climb to 8, feet to get above the light flak found there, then drop down to 2, to 1, feet while flying across France for ease in reading the landmarks.
When the pilot got close to the target there would be a near pinpoint. Identifying it, he could make a calculation based on course direction and time of flight for when he would be over the field. Operating his signal key, the pilot would flash back the agreed to Morse letter response via the plane's downward light. With the correct exchange of signals the operator and his men would light the flare path.
The flare path was simply three flashlights staked out to poles. The operator and waiting passengers would be to the left of the "A" lamp at the base of the landing ground. The three lights formed an inverted "L". With the correct code letters exchanged the pilot would fly a circuit over the field and then bring the aircraft down to land, trying to touch down at "A".
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The Lysander's landing lights would be switched on just before landing so the pilot might be able to see obstructions. Turning about the "C" lamp, he would taxi back to the "A" lamp for the exchange.
The passengers would clamber down the fixed ladder to the ground. Then the outgoing passengers would climb aboard. The change over of passengers and load was completed in under three minutes. There was a quick exchange of greetings and gifts, then full power with brake on till the tail lifted. With that it was off brake and airborne again in less than yards. Though a brazenly bold undertaking, on occasion landings were made at abandoned French aerodromes that the Germans were not making use of.
The Lysander pilots faced a number of dangers, including flak, German night fighters, Allied night fighters, the Gestapo, poor weather and mud. Of these, the most dangerous were poor weather and mud caked fields. German flak was concentrated along the coast, over towns and over German operated airfields. However, these locations were known to the pilots, so if a pilot plotted his course carefully and did not stray from it while flying the mission he should be able to avoid most if not all flak. The night fighters were concentrated to the north over Belgium and in Germany, and presented a threat more to Halifax pilots flying to Poland then to Lysander pilots flying to Vichy France.
A number of pilots and their passengers were lost in this way.
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In the early years Gestapo efforts to capture the fliers resulted a number of close calls. Being caught on the ground and subjected to interrogations by the Gestapo was always on the minds of the pilots as they orbited over a field and touched down. If an aircraft became stuck the plane had to be destroyed, and the pilot had to look for other means to get home. Usually this meant a long trek through the escape lines to southern France, over the Pyrennes and into Spain with hopes of reaching the British consulate and a flight home. Hodges knew the forecast over England for the night was poor, and purposed an early flight to get back and down before the home airfields became shrouded in fog.
An hour later heavy ground fog resulted in the loss of two Lysanders and three Halifaxes in the worst night of losses in the history of the Special Duties squadrons. To minimize the risk of capture while the plane was on the ground the job of dis-embarking and boarding passengers was choreographed and practiced, so that the time the Lysander was on the ground was kept to a minimum.
The goal was to complete turnover in 3 minutes.
Pilots also carried an escape kit, in case. A muddy field causing aircraft to become stuck, trapping the pilot on the ground was by far their worst fear. This occurred to pilots a number of times. The options were to try to get the aircraft unstuck or to burn the plane and try to escape out of France.
When a plane became stuck the group on the ground were working against time to get it free and up in the air, as they had to get out of France before daylight and the Luftwaffe's morning patrols. If the flight was delayed too long an alternative route home was worked out by RAF Tempsford's CO, Mouse Fielden , who when he found himself delayed in the south of France took his Hudson out over the Mediterranean to the British airfield in Algiers at Maison Blanche.
From there on the next day he flew to Gibraltar and then back to England. Flights at night to make pick-ups have largely been viewed as the more glamorous duty of the Special Duties squadrons, though at the time the pilots were rarely acknowledged publicly. Thus if a pilot was seen by a fellow aviator climbing into a Lysander they tended to get a look of slight regard. After the D-Day landings in June the favored entry point was changed from Cabourg to south of the Cotentin peninsula to avoid Allied anti-aircraft fire and night fighters.
Poor weather of either cloud or fog were the most prominent reasons for failing to complete a mission. The pilot might carry on and attempt to reach the objective, calculating his position from a last known navigational point. Using the aircraft's speed, time and direction, he might estimate when he would be over the general area of the target field by dead reckoning. However he would still need a break over the target field in order to see the reception committee light and the flare path for the landing. Flight Lt.
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Wallace Farley was the commanding officer of the flight, which comprised two Lysanders. By September three Whitleys and another Lysander had been added to the flight. This Lysander was part of an Army Cooperation unit. Before he left Schneidau and Farley had worked out how he would be retrieved.
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As no small wireless sets were available at that time, he had brought along 10 messenger pigeons as the means to communicate back to England. The two had worked out a 3 light flare path pattern to guide the Lysander on its landing. The simple flare path remained in use for Lysander landings without modification throughout the rest of the war.
Schneidau had also made a number of modifications to the Lysander, including the welding of a ladder to the side of the fuselage to make it easier for him to climb in, which was helpful, and the removal of the aircraft's rear canopy for the same reason, which was not. The plan was for Schneidau to be retrieved on the night of the 19th. On the night of his planned pick-up, heavy wind and rain resulted in all RAF operations being cancelled. Knowing Schneidau would be waiting for him, Farley convinced his CO to let him give it a try. Though taking off in storm, the weather cleared some over France.
On the way out a German sentry put a bullet into Farley's plane, which entered the cockpit, passed between Farley's legs and struck the compass, destroying it. As the two men began their flight back the storm worked up into a southwesterly gale, pushing them north and east. With rain and wind pouring into the open rear cockpit, the wireless set became inoperable and Schneidau was soaked through and increasingly cold.
Making their way north through the storm, the two had no reference points to guide them and soon had no idea if they were over England , the North Sea or northern Germany. The pair flew on through the night, hoping for a break in the sky. With no other option available they dropped down to make a landing and crashed through a group of anti-glider posts.
The two men were spotted by a pair of Scottish guardsmen whom they could not understand. They brought them in to their senior officer at the RAF coastal command base at Oban as suspected spies. The station commander inquired who they were and what they were doing there.
Farley limited his answer to his name and service number. Schneidau said they had been doing a special recce over the Atlantic, but he was unable to give his name. Finding these answers entirely unsatisfactory, the base commander confined them. Meanwhile, Farley's commanding officer had been searching for them, looking for signs of a wreck along the cliffs of the coast of England. He was informed that a Lysander had crashed in northern Scotland, but dismissed the wreck as being too far away.
When he was told the pilot's name was Farley, he realized his man had made it back. The special duties service required its own administrative support. Ordinary administrative procedures useful in the arming and targeting of large numbers of aircraft for bombing raids as practiced by the RAF were unsuitable for the work of secretly moving agents, arms, supplies and special funds by solitary flights to isolated fields in France.
Administrative control switched to 3 Group Bomber Command , which provided administrative support to all Special Duties squadrons til the end of the war. Two Armstrong Whitworth Whitleys were added to the flight in September. In February Flight had its designation changed to No. The flight was moved to Newmarket on 22 May , and in September to Stapleford Tawney till October, when it was moved back to Stradishall.