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They land by moonlight

I am sure I have read this famous book by H Verity about the SOE Lysander operations in France, but have ordered a used copy from Amazon.

It would be interesting to identify the locations used by the Resistance and whether there are nearby airfields.

In addition to this book are there any other suggested readings on this subject?

I have Janey: a little airplane in a big war, which traces the history of an L4 from North Africa to Germany, which might suggest some interesting sites in the Italian campaign.

Enstone (EGTN), Oxford (EGTK)

RobertL18C wrote:

I have Janey: a little airplane in a big war, which traces the history of an L4 from North Africa to Germany, which might suggest some interesting sites in the Italian campaign.

Not WW2 or J3/L4 related but many G-reg Piper Cubs around spent their 50-60’s days in Algeria with French Army

This one, L18C in yellow has 20 years jump to Algeria in logbook (I fly it regularly ), so no idea about landing sites
https://www.jetphotos.com/photo/6051174

This one, L21B has restored French ALAT colours (ALAT is light aviation branch of the Army, distinct from Air Forces)
https://www.jetphotos.com/photo/6289476

Last Edited by Ibra at 25 Mar 19:29
ESSEX, United Kingdom

lbra my L18C is ex ALAT serving at artillery spotter school and with mountain troops.

Someone deserves a Darwin reward when they fitted willy-pete white phosphorus rockets on them

BTW the L18C that served ALAT used Lock Haven yellow with the French tri-coleur on the rudder.

Last Edited by RobertL18C at 25 Mar 19:42
Enstone (EGTN), Oxford (EGTK)

Nice, yours is a veteran as well !

Yes, the yellow ones looks far better
http://avions-de-la-guerre-d-algerie.over-blog.com/article-les-piper-l-18-c-l-21-b-44590366.html

RobertL18C wrote:

Someone deserves a Darwin reward when they fitted willy-pete white phosphorus rockets on them

(enlistment jokes) why you wanna be ALAT pilot? we only have 50yo hardware? unlike Air Force pilots you have more brave mans than the Alpine Hunters regiment and full Colonels support for brilliant ideas

To be fair that brilliant idea of fireworks on fabric was originated in Air Forces with Le Prieur rocket
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Prieur_rocket

ESSEX, United Kingdom

I thought the SOE flights always needed fires lit on the ground.

OTOH I can believe a full moon may be good enough. After an hour or so your eyes get used to it well enough to walk on a country path in the open.

Administrator
Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

I thought the SOE flights always needed fires lit on the ground.

They did occasionally, but it was risky because it alerted the ‘neighbours’.
More usually they used 3 torches to show an inverted ‘L’ formation; the top two being tied to posts shining at 45 degrees, whilst the lead light was held by the resistance member in charge flashing the letter code sent out to him/her.
The pilot would land up the inverted L, immediately back track to the leader, unload/load in two minutes, and was ready for an immediate take off.
I have always thought of the Lysander pilots as “the bravest of the brave” and their navigational skills put those of us who use GPS into the shade!

Rochester, UK, United Kingdom

A good book on the subject is Maquis by George Millar, an SOE agent near Besançon. I vaguely remember them being in fields at night with torches, but it could have been parachuting supplies rather than landing Lysanders.

I have two books by local novelist and historian Pierre Ducroc, Maquis Bernard, and Georges Leyton, dit Socrate : Sur les pas d’un maquis du Morvan. They’re accurate very well written, but hard to get hold of (possibly self-published?); I’ve been trying for years to find his other books. Definitely no Lysanders in these though.

My grandfather was a maquisard and, well, it definitely wasn’t glamorous.

EGHP-LFQF-KCLW, United Kingdom

I still think it is quite impossible to navigate by dead reckoning to a piece of grass in the middle of France. After all, the bombing activity proved that if you got within a few miles you were doing really well. And they had a dedicated navigator. The Lysander ops were single pilot, low level. The nav problem was eventually solved by what we today call radio navigation, but did the Lysanders have that?

I can see you could do it quite well by flying to a coastal feature on the UK coast and then flying a heading towards another feature on the French coast, and the error will give you the wind over the Channel pretty accurately, and then – without changing altitude – you could DR to some point say 10nm inside France, and be within a few hundred m.

Good wind estimation is always the #1 key to DR. The American carrier pilots got very good at it and could tell the wind pretty well from the sea state. They were able to fly say 100nm and find an unlit carrier in the open sea. But you can’t do this over the ground.

Anything else needs some ground visibility IMHO.

Administrator
Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Worth mentioning, not to take away from the skill involved, that it had to be a perfect full moon night for them to fly to France…. it was not a 7 days a week service. I did read a lot of that book but it was hard going in places. That was my understanding from reading it a few years back.

Buying, Selling, Flying
EIBR, Ireland

I still think it is quite impossible to navigate by dead reckoning to a piece of grass in the middle of France.

Anything else needs some ground visibility IMHO.

The history of Squadron 161 which flew their Westland Lysanders in to France demonstrates that DR is possible with phenomenal accuracy if they kept some basic rules:
Only fly within a short window either side of full moon;
Even then, don’t go if visibility isn’t good – especially at the Landing Zone. Over half the flights were cancelled or aborted;
Work out Wind Correction whilst crossing the channel fairly high (6000’ – 8000’) to avoid one’s own ‘friendly fire. From that height the coastline with breaking surf is easily visible, as well as river mouths if they are 50+ yds wide;
The best features are always water which reflect the moonlight. This is especially so of canals which are unnaturally straight; and especially large lakes;
Forests are good if of reasonable size;
Straight roads of good length are OK, especially if wet;
Always have a good unmistakable waypoint 3 miles from the LZ;

The real risk was not the flying, but whether the local farmer had forgotten about a ditch across the landing strip or thought that boggy ground didn’t matter! On one occasion they had to use cows to extract the plane before it could return. That being said, only 4 planes were right offs, out of nearly 300 missions.

Later on, the SOE invented the ‘S’ phone which was worn on an agent’s chest and acted as a Homing Beacon making identification more accurate and, because it allowed two-way conversation, more secure.

Wing Commander Hugh Verity always emphasised the preparation of ‘strip maps’ [Something, Peter, I recall you did/still do yourself and which you helpfully explained in a post a long time ago.]
He writes – a truth which should still apply to us all: “By far the greatest of work you do to carry out a successful pick-up happens before you leave the ground.”

Last Edited by Peter_G at 29 Mar 17:19
Rochester, UK, United Kingdom
17 Posts
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