Special Delivery - Lysander Ops
Lysander of 138 ‘Special Duties’ Squadron - en route over the moonlit countryside of Occupied France After Dunkirk Churchill, in conjunction with the US, set up a ‘special forces’ group which became known as the SOE (Special Operations Executive - morphed into the CIA in the 40-50’s) with a remit to ‘set Europe ablaze’. This was to be achieved by providing manpower and materiel aid to the fledging French Resistance. As time went on it was realised that the Lysander was uniquely qualified for solving the problem of such supply by undertaking clandestine flights in occupied territories - slow (easy to navigate especially by moonlight), quiet and capable of landing/take-off in tiny unprepared fields.
Two RAF squadrons were set up to provide a service taking personnel and weapons/explosives to the Resistance groups in France. The aircraft flew low level at night, navigating visually, and delivered many OSS agents to France. These agents, all fluent French speakers, were specially trained in the UK and were often women. Their task was to integrate the various Resistance groups and provide a radio network reporting back to the UK. Hundreds of such flights were undertaken, the aircraft navigating to a lonely field somewhere in France, dropping off agents and weapons, to the waiting Resistance members, and often bringing back aircrew who had baled out over Europe and been ‘rescued’ by the Resistance. By their very nature such flights were hazardous and 50% of the Squadron personnel were lost during these missions. Such operations are well documented in the book ‘Carve Her Name With Pride’ (R J Minney) and the film of the same name which details the real journey undertaken by one such SOE agent - Violette Szabo. Worth looking up.
Composite of Lysander airshow image (Duxford) and skyscape from my archives.