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Secret Operations Over Occupied Europe (ePub)

One RAF Crew’s Story of Clandestine Missions, Being Shot Down, Escape and Capture

Aviation Military WWII

By Nigel S Atkins
Imprint: Air World
File Size: 61.6 MB (.epub)
Illustrations: 106 mono illustrations
ISBN: 9781399079815
Published: 30th March 2024


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For several months in 1943, seven young airmen, all volunteers, were moulded into an RAF crew tasked with undertaking perilous operations over Occupied Europe. Drawn together from England, Argentina, and Canada, the crew, led by their captain, Flight Lieutenant Peter Bartter, were assigned to 138 (Special Duties) Squadron, based at RAF Tempsford. It was there that they flew low, over dangerous territory to deliver agents and equipment to aid the Resistance in Occupied Europe.

When the Allies opened new fronts in North Africa and Italy, Bartter’s crew was seconded for some weeks to 624 Squadron flying from Blida in Algeria and Protville in Tunisia. On their return to the UK, they had the additional task of bringing back Winston Churchill’s son, Randolph.

The crew’s last operation would be to fly Flemming Muus, as head of SOE in Denmark, to Roskilde in Denmark. However, tragedy struck when their Halifax Mk.II, BB378, was shot down approaching its destination on the night of 10/11 December 1943.

Exemplary piloting skills from Peter Bartter brought the aircraft down in a frozen field with no injuries. Muus thankfully escaped. The crew, meanwhile, split into two groups – the officers, and the NCOs.

The officers managed to evade capture and reach Sweden. One of the officers, Ernesto Howell, went on to re-join 138 Squadron, but was sadly killed flying over the North Sea in November 1944.

The NCOs’ luck gave out, and they were all captured, spending the rest of the war in the notorious Stalag IV-B. From there, one of the NCOs managed to escape just before the camp liberated by the Russians.

In this book, the crew are traced from their recruitment, to training, deployment and, for the survivors, their post-war lives. The next generation, René, son of agent Ernest Gimpel, and Nigel Atkins, son of Brian Atkins, the co-pilot, have become firm friends. Nigel Atkins travelled across Europe on a journey of discovery as he has met and interviewed many people while visiting multiple locations the crew only visited from above.

From daring flights over occupied Europe to meetings over seventy years later, the excavation of the crash site and new friendships formed, this book has it all.

When the Special Operations Executive was established in 1940, it received a typically Churchillian directive ‘to set Europe ablaze.’ Its field agents were tasked with espionage and sabotage and with establishing and nurturing resistance groups in the countries of Nazi Occupied Europe. The means of delivering these agents and sustaining them and the resistance groups rested manly in the RAF’s Special Duties squadrons that led a shadowy existence based at Tempsford in Bedfordshire flying Lysanders and Halifaxes. This thoroughly engaging narrative recounts the experiences of a single Halifax crew that flew with 138 (SD) Squadron during 1943. It relates in detail their hazardous sorties deep into hostile territory, when to deliver their passengers – who would be unknown to them – or stores they often had to descend to low level to ensure accuracy of the drop. Interestingly, for a period this crew also flew from North Africa flying into Italy and southern France. Their war ended during a mission to Denmark in December 1943 when the Halifax was shot down, but all survived. The narrative then relates the experiences when having split into two groups, how one managed to evade capture and reach Sweden, whilst the other was picked up and taken prisoner. Really well researched and co-authored by a descendent of one of the crew, this book is both an exciting read and a useful addition to the canon of RAF and SOE history. Highly recommended.

Andrew Thomas - Author and Historian

About Nigel S Atkins

NIGEL ATKINS, son of bomb aimer and second pilot Brian Atkins. Nigel has travelled to the locations his father visited from above, met numerous veterans both with his father and in more recent years. He is a dual British/French national and lives in Paris, France.

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