Sea Evacuations of 1942 - Operations Bluebottle I and II

Operation Bluebottle I
Operation Bluebottle was the first sea evacuation specifically organised for the Pat Line and it took place the night of either 12/13 or 13/14 July 1942 from St Pierre Plage, near Narbonne. This was HMS Tarana's second operation for MI9, her first being Operation Abloom when she delivered Pat O'Leary and his new radio operator Ferriere/Drouet to Canet Plage, near Perpignan, on 18 April. Prior to this, Tarana, along with the feluccas Seawolf and Seadog, had carried out several combined Polish and SOE operations to the French coast, dropping and collecting agents and bringing out some of the many Poles stranded in France.
Contrary to some reports of thirty or more evaders being collected, I believe there were in fact only seven evading (or escaping) servicemen picked up on this operation. In addition to those however there was one SOE agent and at least two (and probably four) prominent others. The servicemen were W/Cdr Whitney Straight, Sgt Stefan Miniakowski, Pte Charles Knight, Sgt John Beecroft, Sgt Henry Hanwell, Lt Anthony Deane-Drummond and Sgt T G Johnson. The SOE man was F/Lt André Simon.
Someone else often credited as being collected on this operation is Leoni Savinos. Savinos was a key member of the Pat Line in Marseille, but following his arrest in Paris with Pierre Lanvers, and their subsequent conditional release, it was imperative to get Lanvers, Savinos and his German born wife Emi out of the country. Louis Nouveau, in his book "Des Captaines par Milliers", says they were collected from somewhere near Marseille - that same night the Polish crewed felucca Seawolf (commanded by Lt Marian Kradewski) carried out a combined SIS/BCRA operation at Port d'En Vau, near Cassis, where instead of the ten agents they expected, they picked up two men and one wife, and I believe this was Lanvers and the Savinos couple. They would have been transferred to Tarana, along with a large number of Polish personnel, also collected by Seawolf in a series of combined operations, prior to Tarana landing back at Gibraltar. This is despite Pat O'Leary saying in his post-war report (translated from French) that he sent Savinos and his wife, along with "the three British airmen (sic) from the hospital at Nice" and André Simon, from St Pierre Plage, and since O'Leary was actually there that night (Johnson, Beecroft, Hanwell and Deane-Drummond all mention him) the presumption that his statement should take precedence.
W/Cdr Whitney Willard Straight was born 6 Nov 1912 to wealthy American parents. After his father died in 1919, his mother remarried to an Englishman and the family moved to England - Straight later became an English citizen. In 1931, whilst at Cambridge, Straight became interested in flying, acquiring a pilot's licence at age 16, and took up motor racing. He went on to drive for and run one of the most successful amateur Grand Prix race teams of the period with his blue and white Maseratis. At the end of the 1934 season Straight, then aged 23, fulfilled a promise to his wife to quit racing and he broke up the team.
After seeing active service with the RAF in Norway in 1940, Straight was flying a 242 Squadron Hurricane II on a ROADSTEAD anti-shipping raid near Le Havre when he was shot down by flak ships on 31 July 1941. He landed his aircraft in a field and made a run for it. As a reasonably fluent French speaker, and wearing his customary civilian leather jacket, Straight was able to make his way to Rouen and catch a train to Paris. He found the US Embassy closed but finally managed to telephone and persuade an American at the Embassy to bring 1,000FF to a nearby café where Straight was hiding in the toilet. He took a train to Tours and then crossed the demarcation line near Chenonceau by swimming the river Cher. He then took a bus to Chateauroux and a train to Toulouse. Next day he took the train to Pau. On approaching the border near Bedous, he was arrested and sent to St Hippolyte du Fort, where, realising the potential for propaganda his name would have for the Germans, he gave his name as Captain Whitney RASC*. Having noticed that a number of men were being released through the Mixed Medical Board, Straight claimed to be suffering ear problems from wounds received in Norway and was successfully certified as unfit for further military service. There was a long delay before repatriation could be arranged and it wasn't until March that he joined a party being sent through Spain via Perpignan. On arrival there however, the party was turned back, apparantly on orders from Vichy and later believed to be in response to an RAF raid on the Renault works. Straight was transferred with the other internees to Fort de la Rivere on 17 March 42 and then in June had himself sent to the Pasteur Hospital in Nice claiming further problems with his ears and complaining of headaches.
* Squadron Leader Patrick Gibbs, who had arrived at St Hippolyte a few days before Straight, was actually advised by the French Commandant to allow his rank and service to be entered as a Royal Artillery Captain. This was to avoid the attentions of the German Military Control Commission who made periodic vists to the prison and who might consider high-ranking avaitors of sufficient importance to be removed to a POW camp in Germany.
Sgt Stefan Miniakowski was crewman of a 300 (Polish) Squadron Wellington "X for Breakfast" which was shot down over Belgium the night of 27/28 April 1942. The crew bailed out and Miniakowski landed about three miles south of Givet. Miniakowski was sheltered in a house at Givet where was soon joined by his observer F/O Wawerski. They went on to Paris together but were separated whilst changing trains. Wawerski must have made it across the demarcation line to the ZNO because he was later at Chambaran camp before being transferred to Campo 5 in Italy with 161 Lysander pilot John Mott. Miniakowski went on to cross the demarcation line at Favarolles but was soon arrested and taken to a hospital at Chateauroux under guard. On 15 May he was transferred to the Pasteur Hospital at Nice, which was used for the internees at Fort de la Rivere, and where he met Whitney Straight.
Three other members of Miniakowski's crew also got home safely - P/O Jan Fusinski and Sgt Andrzej Malecki were picked up separately by the Pat Line in Lyon and taken across the Pyrenees by the Ponzan Vidal organisation. Fusinski crossed in May with Cpl Edward Douglas and Pte Vic Harding, two Commandos from St Nazaire, and Brigadier Roupel VC and his Staff Captain, C H Gilbert. Malecki crossed with another group in late June. P/O W P Wasik was brought home by the Belgian Comete escape line and crossed into Spain in early September. Incidently, Wasik is believed to have returned to 300 Squadron and been shot down and evaded a second time. The sixth member of the crew, Sgt M Sierpina, was captured and imprisoned until October 1944 when he was returned to England - probably in an exchange of POWs (Chorley).
Pte Charles Knight of the Dorset Regiment, was captured 28 May 1940 near Bethune. He was taken to a prison hospital at Hazebrouck but escaped the same day and was sheltered in the Lille area for the next fourteen months. During this time he made contact with the Organisation - probably with Harold Cole - and in July he left Roubaix with Pte Daniel (Lothians). His guide was the Scotsman Pte James Smith (5 Gordons) making his third journey south as a courier for Ian Garrow. Their route took them to Abbeville where they borrowed papers from the Abbé Pierre Carpentier to get them across the Somme and out of the Zone Interdite before going on to Paris for the night. Next day they took the train to Tours where they were joined by L/Cpl G Evenden (West Kents) before crossing over the river Cher and the demarcation line into the ZNO. Here Smith handed them over to another guide who got them as far as Toulouse before they were all arrested and sent to St Hippolyte du Fort. In March 1942 the internees at St Hippolyte were transferred to Fort de la Rivere, at La Turbie in the hills above Nice. In June Knight was in the Pasteur Hospital with Stefan Miniakowski when Whitney Straight arrived.
Pte Daniel never escaped from Fort de la Rivere - he was transferred with the other interness to Camp de Chambaran, about 25 kms west of Grenoble, in September and then with the ORs to Camp 73 in Italy 6 December. L/Cpl Evenden was also transferred to Chambaran but later left, escaped or was removed, in unknown circumstances.
It was necessary to escape the Pasteur Hospital during the daytime because the doors were all locked and security generally increased at night following the escape of Pte Fullager and L/Cpl Prady earlier that month (they were both sheltered at Louis Nouveau's before being taken across the Pyrenees to the British Consulate in Barcelona the same month). O'Leary already been told by London that the return of Straight was important so when he learnt from Prady that Straight was in the hospital, he sent Francis Blanchain to Nice to organise his rescue. Despite stories of Blanchain enlisting the help of the same nurse Nicole Brugere who had helped Prady and Fuller escape, and of her smuggling sleeping pills to Straight so he could drug his guards, Straight related to MI9 that he, Miniakowski and Knight simply walked out of the hospital on 22 June during some "confusion" and met Blanchain outside. Blanchain took them to Nimes where they stayed at Gaston Negre's home at 2 rue Porte de France before going on to Marseille and Louis Nouveau's.
Brome (page 72 and quoted by others) says they were sheltered with Dr Levy at Juan-les-Pins [SOE agents Rake and Churchill give his address as 36 Avenue Marechal Foch in Antibes] for five days before being brought to Louis Nouveau's flat, but I believe this to be incorrect.
Lt Anthony Deane-Drummond was 2ic of a Commando group led by Major T A G Pritchard making the first allied parachute raid of the war. On the night of 10/11 February 1941, they were dropped over Italy from a 51 Squadron Whitley piloted by S/Ldr Wally Lashbrook, himself shot down in April 1943 and brought home by the Belgian Comete escape line two months later. The full story is told by Deane-Drummond in his book "Return Ticket" but briefly their mission - Operation Colossus - was to blow up an aqueduct near Calitri. The mission was successfully carried out but the group were captured soon afterwards and sent to PG 78 prison camp at Sulmona. Deane-Drummond made one escape in December and had four days of freedom until he was recaptured at Chiasso on the Italian-Swiss border. He was returned to PG 78 for a while before being transferred to Campo 27, between Pisa and Florence. In May he managed to get himself sent to Florence Military Hospital complaining of ear trouble. He escaped from the hospital the following month and made his way successfully to Switzerland.
Sgt John Beecroft was pilot of 101 Squadron Wellington which made an emergency landing near Meziers in the Ardennes the night of 19/20 May 1942. Sgt J P Love and Sgt A Crichton were captured but Beecroft, Sgt Henry Hanwell and Sgt S Bradley evaded and walked to Switzerland. Tragically Bradley was drowned crossing a river near the frontier. Beecroft and Hanwell were put into an hotel in Geneva where they stayed for about two weeks with Lt Anthony Deane-Drummond, until the Organisation (probably through Vic Farrel - Uncle Francois) arranged to have them taken across the border into France. Gaston Negre met them at Annemasse and took them by train to Marseille and escorted them to Louis Nouveau's home where they stayed in hiding for the next few days. Louis himself was away on one of his periodic trips to Paris and the Pas de Calais and the three men were looked after by Renée Nouveau and her two maids Alexandrine and Maria.
Sgt T G Johnson was a crewman of a 102 Squadron Halifax shot down after a raid on Dunkirk the night of 27/28 April 1942. The crew bailed out and three men managed to evade but Sgt G V Long was captured and the pilot, Sgt Barber, along with Sgt Butterworth and Sgt Long were killed. Sgt Andrew R Evans made his way to Paris where he was collected by Louis Nouveau in July and taken to Marseille - he was evacuated by Tarana on Bluebottle II in August. Sgt Fred Barker made his way to Switzerland, was taken to Louis Nouveau's in May and later joined a party taken across the Pyrenees by Ponzan Vidal in early June. Sgt Johnson was sheltered at Fiennes, about 20 kms due south of Calais, and put in touch with the Organisation next day. A week later he was taken to Lille where he was handed over to a man named Aumont who took him to Paris. In late June, after staying at three different addresses in the city, Aumont took Johnston and another man across the demarcation at Mars, near Roanne, and on to Nimes where they stayed at Gaston Negre's house and Johnson met Whitney Straight, Miniakowski and Knight. He stayed at the Café du Soleil for three nights and then at Gaston Negre's house. Whilst the three others went on Marseille, Johnson stayed in Nimes until Joseph (sic - Jacques, Alex Wattebled) came to collect him.
André Simon was one of SOE's conducting officers. In April 1942 he was parachuted into France to arrange the extraction of former French Prime Minster Edouard Daladier by Lysander. Two Lysander operations were scheduled for the night of 28/29 May, John Mott to land near Issoudin and deliver Alex Nitelet as O'Leary's new radio operator, and Guy Lockhart to collect Daladier and Simon from a field at nearby Brion - neither operation went according to plan. Daladier refused to leave France anyway and Simon had been arrested - Lockhart reported "no signal" after circling the pick-up site - and John Mott's aircraft became bogged down on landing. Simon was held at Chateauroux and was soon sharing a cell with fellow agent Pierre Hentic, one of the organisors of the Nitelet operation. Because of his slight English accent, Simon was suspected by the French of being a German agent. In fact Simon had dual French and English nationality and was at the time travelling on genuine papers in his own name. Eventually one of the Vichy security staff recognised his own signature on Simon's livret militaire from twelve years earlier and the fact that Simon had been serving under him at the time. Simon was released with a new mission - to get to England and deliver a message from the Vichy general staff to London.
Although André Simon is listed as having been sheltered at Louis Nouveau's, his wife always believed that he and his friend Jacques de Guelis stayed with Dr Georges Rodocanachi. However subsequent enquiries suggest this may have been on another, earlier occasion.
Accurate details prior to the evacuation are a little confusing, as is the actual date of the operation.
Alex Wattebled says in his 1946 book "Jacques, l'Amie d'Achille" (authored by Remy Tessonneu) that it was PAO radio operator Alex Nitelet who took Whitney Straight and Stefan Miniakowski to Coursan, about 12 kms from the beach at St Pierre, on the Thursday before the evacuation. He then walked them into the woods towards St Pierre and hid them in a cave in the Gorge du Loup. On Friday morning Jacques (Wattebled) took André Simon, Deane-Drummond and Charles Knight to Nimes where he collected Sgt Johnson and then took all four by train to Coursan. On the way to St Pierre, they met Nitelet who led them to the two men he had brought down the previous day and the whole group slept in the woods that night. On Saturday another guide (described only as "one of our friends" but probably Achille - Francis Blanchain) brought two more 'airmen' and on Sunday afternoon, O'Leary arrived with the rest of the men, including Beecroft and Hanwell. Tessonneu says they were a party of seventeen in total.
According to Deane-Drummond's 1953 book "Return Ticket" and his MI9 report, he and the two RAF sergeants (Straight and Miniakowski left the Nouveau flat before the arrival of the men from Geneva) were taken direct to Coursan in two groups, Beecroft and Hanwell together whilst he travelled with André Simon. They were led into the woods where they were joined by two more parties of 'airmen' to make a total of eight British and half a dozen guides. He gives the date of the evacuation as the night of [Sunday/Monday] 12/13 July. Nouveau's records say the three men arrived his apartment on [Thursday] 9 July. D-D says they stayed two days, never leaving it which suggests they left for Coursan on the Saturday.
Beecroft and Hanwell say in their MI9 report that they were taken to the station by Renée Nouveau and on to St Pierre by 'Patrick'. There they met up with six other escapers including Deane-Drummond and Whitney Straight. Johnston's report says he was brought from Nimes by Joseph (sic - Jacques) and saw Deane-Drummond and André Simon with their guide [presumably Charles Knight] on the same train to Coursan. He also says that they hid up outside St Pierre for a day and a night before the embarkation.
However they all got there, and whichever evening, it is generally agreed that it was about eleven o'clock when the men made their way down to the beach. The arrangement was that Tarana's boat would flash a red torch twice, to be answered by a blue light from the shore [D-D writes that these colours were reversed]. The signals were spotted exactly on schedule at two o'clock in the morning, and answered by Nitelet with his blue shaded torch. Ten minutes later a three-man boarding party from HMS Tarana rowed ashore. Eight men were taken off on the first trip and when the boat returned for the rest, it also delivered three sacks of goodies - including whisky and cigarettes.
It seems that Tarana was operating alone on this operation although she did rendezvous with Seawolf near Cassis two (or three) nights later to take on the fifty Poles (and presumably Lanvers and the Savinos couple) she had picked up from Port d'En Vau the night of 15/16 July.
Postscript
After the war Whitney Straight went on to become Chairman of BOAC and later joined Rolls Royce. He died in 1979.
Stefan Miniakowski later joined 138 Special Duties Squadron and was flying Operation Cottage 7 on 9 October 1943 when his Liberator was brought down in Sweden and the crew interned. Another member of that SD crew was F/Sgt Boleslav Wosniak, whose 304 (Polish) Squadron aircraft had been shot down the same night in 1942 as Miniakowski's after a raid to Cologne and who was also bought home by the Pat Line. He was picked up by the Organisation in Paris, sheltered at Louis Nouveau's home in Marseille and taken across the Pyrenees by Ponzan Vidal in early June.
Anthony Deane-Drummond was rescued a second time by MI9. In September 1944 after parachuting into Arnhem with 1st Airborne and evading capture, he was one of the men brought out in Airey Neave's Operation PEGASUS on 22 October.
Operation Bluebottle II
While some details of the first Bluebottle operation are uncertain, details of the second are even more clouded in mystery and uncertainty. HMS Tarana did pick up a party from a southern French beach the night of 15/16 August 1942 but numbers, identities and even their embarkation point is disputed. Some servicemen can be included with a reasonable amount of certainty - P/O Derrick Perdue and Sgt Jack Missledene were picked up by Captain E B Clark's Tarana that night along with Henri Dericourt - but the rest of the party are hard to confirm. Richards (Secret Flotillas) says there were seven men and one woman whilst Marshall (All the Kings Men) makes it nine. Marshall was writing about Dericourt and said he was accompanied by Leon Doulet (about whom I have no information), a Canadian airman and pilot, a navigator from a Wellington, a Yugoslav couple, two Belgian intelligence officers and an Englishman. Perdue was acting as observer in a Wellington and Jack Misseldene was a fighter pilot - both English. The Yugoslav couple and the Belgian intelligence officers are unknown although one of them may have been the Belgian van Laert that Louis Nouveau brought from Paris with Sgt Andrew Evans.
Jacques Wattebled (Tessonneau page 62) says he had collected a Serbian officer who had been operating in Yugoslavia from Paul [Ulmann] in Toulouse, and an RAF 'soux officer' from Gaston [Negre] in Nimes. He says there were a dozen English to be evacuated plus Achille [Francis Blanchain], two other agents, a Greek officer [Leoni Savinos] and his wife who were wanted by the Gestapo and two Air France pilots [Doulet and Dericourt]. He describes the embarkation as without incident and in conditions similar to the first Bluebottle evacuation. I think Jacques has confused some of the details with other operations - Blanchain is recorded as staying at Louis Nouveau's a few days later and I believe he was taken off on Titania in September. I also believe the Leoni and Emi Savinos had already been picked up from Port d'En Vau in July.
Most accounts say they left from St Pierre Plage, the same as the first Bluebottle, but a later unpublished memoir from Jack Misseldene specifies Canet Plage. It is possible he said that because of subsequent pick-ups from there, but the Appendix C of his MI9 report says St Pierre Plage and I think St Pierre is correct, especially since Tarana was also involved in Operation Bull from nearby Agde that same night. I also think Francis Blanchain and Paula Spriewald left on Operation Titania from Canet Plage in September, and Louis Nouveau (pg 312) refers to "Achille [Blanchain] et Paula par le premier embarquement du Canet".
The inclusion of Dericourt is supported by M R D Foot (SOE in France) who has Dericourt picked up by the Pat Line in August and reaching Glasgow from Gibraltar at the same time as the two airmen would have arrived.
P/O Derrick Perdue was crewman of a 12 Squadron Wellington shot down the night of 1/2 April at Ste-Opportune-la-Mare after a raid on Calais. Perdue was sheltered by the Organsation in the Pas de Calais until August when Louis Nouveau brought him down to Marseille from Paris.
Sgt Jack Misseldine was flying a 611 Squadron Spitfire on a diversionary SWEEP mission for CIRCUS 191 when he was shot down near Steenbecque, just south of Hazebrouck on 8 June 1942. He was soon picked up by the local resistance and taken to nearby Aire-sur-la-Lys where he was sheltered for the next two weeks. At the end of the month he was taken to Paris by Albert Mestdagh, a young Belgian who wanted to join the Free Belgian forces in London. From Paris they went on to cross the demarcation line at Rouve, near Tours and then to Montauban and number 13 rue de la Fraternite - the home of Charles and Pat Cheramy.
Charles' wife "Pat" was Eleanor Maud Hawkins from Aldbourne in Wiltshire, and they worked with the Pat Line, sheltering escapers and later, radio operator Tom Groome. The Cheramy's were arrested along with Tom Groome and his courier Danielle "Eddie" Reddé in January 1943. Eddie soon escaped following the confusion of Tom Groome's thwarted escape attempt and reported back to O'Leary at the Hotel de Paris in Toulouse - in April she crossed the Pyrenees with Nancy Wake, Renée Nouveau and Phillipe Valat. Both Cheramys survived the camps and Pat died in 1987. Tom Groome survived Saarbrucken, Mauthausen, Natzweiler and Dachau with Pat O'Leary.
After three weeeks at Montauban, Misseldine was moved to Gaston Negre's house at Nimes where he waited until a guide arrived to take him further south. In a post war article Jack says it was Mario Prassinos that collected him from Nimes but I think it more likely that Jack was the 'soux officier' that Alex Wattebled took to Coursan.
Perdue says he was taken by train to Narbonne and walked about ten or twelve miles before being taken the last mile to the coast by a 'one-eyed French-Canadian' (probably Belgian Alex Nitelet). Misseldine says he took a train to Coursan before walking to the beach where the group waited until Tarana's boat was rowed ashore to collect them. The two servicemen - and probably Dericourt - left Gibraltar 29 August by sea for Gourock.