The men brought back by the Shelburn escape line,
and the people who made it possible
This is an extract from my 2019 book "Express Delivery"
On the night of 12-13 July 1944, MGB 503 (Mike Marshall) arrived off Plage Bonaparte to collect three stranded seamen from MTB 718 (Ronald Seddon). They had been left behind in the early hours of 16 June following Operation Reflexion, when they landed local man Jean Tréhiou, along with fellow agents Jean Hamon and Raoul Parent, to the beach at l'Anse-Cochat. Ten nights later, there was a second Crozier operation, this one to collect an SAS team that had been sent into Brittany the previous month.
SIS/MI9 Operation Crozier II (23-24 July 1944) MGB 502 (Peter Williams)
Major Oswald A J Cary-Elwes had led a seven-man SAS team which was parachuted into Brittany on the night of 22-23 June 1944 to find out what had happened to the French (4 Regiment) SAS. They had been dropped on the night of 5-6 June, and their commander, 36-year-old Colonel Pierre Bourgoin, had joined them at the Dingson drop-zone near Saint-Marcel (Morbihan) on the night of 10-11 June but a few days later, radio communications with London ceased.
There are no MI9 reports for Cary-Elwes or any of his team but King's College London have a file in their archives with reports by both Cary-Elwes and his batman, Cpl Eric Mills. I don't know if Mills account was ever published but Cary-Elwes (in whose report the names have been changed) was writing for the 1947 Military Intelligence Review, and the following section has been compiled using both (sometimes contradictory) reports, and other sources.
Part of the Allied Invasion Plan of 1944 called for parties of the French SAS Battalion to be parachuted into Brittany to work with the local maquis and cut German lines of communication. They were then to arm and train the Breton maquis in order to help the Allied occupation of the area. However, such was the enthusiasm of the local groups that large numbers of untrained local men were gathered around Saint-Marcel (just SW of Malestroit), and on 18 June, they were attacked by German forces. The last news that British Intelligence had from the head of the French SAS, Colonel Bourgoin, was that his camp was surrounded and he would be closing down his radio to avoid being pin-pointed by German detection apparatus. Other SAS parties in Brittany were in similar positions, and 31-year-old Major Oswald Cary-Elwes was sent to try and re-establish contact with them, an operation known as “Lost”.
Cary-Elwes, Cpl Mills, a French officer (Lt Fleuriot) and his batman, and a three-man French radio team, were dropped blind (with no landing party) at about three o'clock on the morning of Friday 23 June 1944. After landing safely, apart from one of the radio team spraining his ankle, the group moved away from their landing site and then settled down for the rest of the night. They set off at first light to try and make contact with anyone who might know the whereabouts of the local maquis, their efforts hampered by rumours of the Germans impersonating Allied parachutists to try and find the SAS men themselves. They finally found a farmer who seemed as though he might be able to help, and they gave him Cary-Elwes and Fleuriot's identity cards to see if any of his contacts could recognise their pictures and so confirm their story. Two days later, a guide collected Cary-Elwes and took him to Colonel Bourgoin's headquarters – which I think was near Plumelec (Morbihan), on the farm of a M. Josse.
After some discussion, it was decided that Cary-Elwes would take his party to one of the SAS company commanders, Capitaine Pierre Marienne (C-E calls him Maurice), at his base near Trédion. The task was to train and arm local maquis groups, then arrange a parachute drop of arms and equipment, but not allow them to congregate in large numbers. Communication with London was by radio, and between the groups by young female runners. After about a week at Trédion, London ordered Cary-Elwes to move to a second SAS group near Guern, about 40 kilometres away. Cary-Elwes and Mills spent a week with Capitaine Henri Deplante (C-E says David) before receiving a message from London, ordering them back to England with the SAS plans for future operations. They were to contact someone called Frederick (C-E says Robert) at a given map reference, somewhere near Guingamp (some 70 kilometres away) where Frederick would pass them to an MI9 escape organisation. Before they left, Cary-Elwes was also given details of the port defences at Morlaix, Vannes and Lorient to take back with him.
Mills (who was carrying a wireless receiver) says that they walked for several days (helped by a series of local maquis guides), covering some 60 kms, picking up an American pilot (William Jones) along the way (no details of their meeting are given but Mills says that Jones was excellent company), before crossing a river, which C-E says was the river Blavet, and finding that Jones was the only one who knew how to row a boat. They were sheltering in a maquis camp when the offer was made to take them to another camp by car, and they were delivered to a farm where they found two men from the 4th French Parachute Battalion with about 25 young local men, all well armed and seemingly well trained. Cary-Elwes, Mills and Jones stayed at the farm until Friday evening (14 July) when they were again offered motorised transport but this time, through the night. The driver left them on a road near the given co-ordinates, and as it was still quite dark, they spent the rest of the night in the outhouse of a deserted farm. Setting off again at dawn, they were fortunate to be given coffee at the first farmhouse they tried but the only Frederick the family knew turned out to be an elderly local man. However, word was spread through the local resistance and news soon came through that Frederick's camp had been attacked two days earlier, and no-one seemed to know where he and his men had gone.
On Sunday 16 July, Cary-Elwes set off alone, leaving instructions for Mills that if he failed to return then Mills was to hide the plans, and he and Jones were to try and make their own way to Allied lines. Fortunately this did not become necessary as at about five o'clock that afternoon, two guides arrived with a note from Cary-Elwes telling Mills to be ready to move in 45 minutes. The two Frenchmen took Mills and Jones on foot for what Mills says was about 20 nerve-wracking kilometres, and it was getting dark when they approached a village with a large lake (l'Etang Neuf – query), overlooked by a forest. They crossed a small bridge, which was guarded by sentries, to Frederick's camp in the forest where they found numerous young Frenchmen, all armed with British weapons, and eager to meet their first British Tommy. Cary-Elwes says that Robert (sic) was only a young sergeant in the French SAS but he commanded a number of French army reserve officers who willingly accepted him as their Commanding Officer.
On the morning of Wednesday 19 July, a man arrived with his horse and cart, along with civilian clothes and French ID cards, and Mills was grieved to learn that he had to leave his rifle behind. Mills says they had been joined by an RAF pilot (Philip Fargher) by this time, and apart from an unwise stop at a café (where Mills and Jones sampled Calvados for first time) their journey by cart to yet another farm was uneventful.
The farmer told them that the man responsible for their evacuation would arrive shortly and when he did, he (Dumais) told them they might leave the following evening (Thursday) but they actually spent three days at the farm, being joined there by SAS liaison officer, Sq/Ldr Patrick Smith, before finally setting off once more.
For the last part of their journey the party were divided – Mills, Smith and Fargher going by horse and cart while the others went by bicycle to a pre-arranged spot from where they walked in single file to a house near the coast, arriving at the Maison d'Alphonse late in the evening of Saturday 22 July.
Major William A Jones (#834) was the pilot of 367FG/393FS P-38 42-104277 Laura Lee attacking Plaines Villes aerodrome at Ploufragan, just SW of Saint-Brieuc, on 24 May 1944 when he was hit by light flak which stopped his left engine and set the aircraft on fire. Jones bailed at very low altitude, hitting the ground almost immediately after his parachute opened, banging his knees and bruising both eyes. He also came under automatic weapons fire as he ran with his parachute to take cover in an anti-tank ditch. He was able to follow the ditch north to a road, which he crossed before being helped by some local people who led him to a cow-shed where he was given soup and a civilian coat. That evening, Jones was sent on his way but having been told in England not to travel after dark, he only went about half a mile before bedding down for the night in a field.
The following morning, Jones set off south, using his escape-kit compass and generally heading towards Spain. He says that his bruised appearance frightened everyone who saw him, although they must have realised what he was from his GI shoes and uniform shirt and trousers, and after being seen managing to avoid a German soldier on a bicycle, three people decided help him. Jones was passed on to a woman who in turn passed him to a man but his help didn't extend beyond directing Jones towards a church.
That evening, Jones approached a woman for a drink and he was allowed to spend the night in the loft of her house. Next morning, a red-headed man arrived on a motorcycle to present Jones with trousers, dark glasses and a fishing pole before taking him on his bike to the home of a very small woman who lived on the north side of Saint-Brieuc, from where his journey was arranged.
Unfortunately, the Appendix C of Jones' report is a real challenge to decipher - but Huguen provides a few clues in a footnote on pages 377-8 of his book “Par les nuits les plus longues”.
According to Huguen, Jones landed somewhere near Plélo, where he was helped by a farmer who passed him on to members of the local MLN network ( Mouvement de la Libération Nationale ), and it was Alfred Millet (aka Erlini) who asked Mlle Julie Meheust to find a place to shelter him. Huguen says that it was a few days before Whitsun when Millet and Mlle Meheust took Jones by bicycle to Saint-Brieuc and the rue du Port although I think this date is wrong. Jones was hidden on the second floor of an unoccupied house belonging to a cousin of Mlle Meheust, where his injured knee was treated by MLN member, Doctor Despas (nf), with food was supplied by Jean Metaire (of 5 rue Docteur Rochard) and the abbé Fleury (nf), and clothes from M. Morin (nf), a tailor living in the rue de Gouédic. It is not clear how long Jones stayed in the apartment before he was moved to 102 rue du Légué, where he was sheltered by Pierre Cahn, nor when Jean Metaire's son (also called Jean) took Jones from Saint-Brieuc to the maquis at Coat-Mallouen.
“A number of days after the Normandy landings, I was put in the hands of resistance groups. In civilian clothes, I was walked through the town in which I was staying, passing right by Gestapo headquarters with its German guard and his machine-gun, and was taken to meet the resistance men. A Citroen full of young fellows armed with machine-guns pulled up in best gangster style. I was given a Spanish automatic and taken to a farm which served as the headquarters for this group. The Cross of Lorraine was flying and guards posted.
From this place I was taken to another group, the main concentration of which had just been attacked by the Germans and forced to disperse. The resistance chief here asked whether I wanted to join his group. I explained that I was trying to get back to England. When he said that he had no way for me to return, I said that I might as well join his group. I was put with one section and moved with them to a number of places over the next couple of days. We were continually meeting other French resistance men or Frenchmen of the FFI who had been sent over to organise further resistance activities. I was given a French parachute battle jacket.
We tried to get in touch with another large resistance group, only to discover that it had also been attacked and forced to disperse. Once again some 200 or more French resistance men and parachutists assembled when word came that the Germans were close, and we moved to another place. On this dispersal, I carried a bazooka.
At another camp, I learned once again that there was no possibility of getting away, so I put on battle dress and carried a .45, trying to do my best as a member of a resistance section. I made a number of moves with these resistance people and finally, pretty much by chance, ran into some men who had contacts for evacuation and was taken to some people by whom the rest of my journey was arranged ..” (Jones MIS-X #834)
Jones seems to mention Moncontour (which is about 15 kms south of Saint-Brieuc) a couple of times (see also Ossendorf earlier), and then pitching tents somewhere east of Callac (which is about 25 kms SW of Guingamp) just before meeting the men in the Citroën. Then to a big chateau where a lady, aged about 40, spoke English, and being driven to Callac. He mentions Lt Robert, a parachutist, and being taken by horse and cart to Plélo, and a farmhouse with good food. Major Smith (sic) gets a few mentions, and walking about 17 kilometres north with Mills to contact someone called Frederick at certain grid coordinates, he thought near Saint Nicholas (query).
“At one farmhouse where we were staying (the Maison d'Alphonse), a German patrol came. We heard the scrape of their shoes and ducked upstairs. A few minutes later, the woman of the house screamed and the Germans started firing wildly. Shots came through the floor and some through the roof. The Germans failed to come upstairs or we would have been gone for sure, for we had practically no arms. After more wild shooting, the Germans left. In the confusion they had shot one of their own men and wounded another. The man of the house took us to the woods.” (Jones MIS-X #834)
F/Sgt Thomas P Fargher (2057) was the 22-year-old pilot of 234 Sqn Spitfire AA973 on a Rhubarb operation - a freelance sortie against ground targets of opportunity - to Brittany on 11 July 44. He had just crossed the coast at low level near Plouescat (about 15 kms west of Roscoff) when his aircraft was hit by light flak. He continued on a roughly easterly course for some time before his engine failed and he baled out, landing in a field near Saint-Bihy, which is about 20 kms south-west of Saint-Brieuc.
Fargher was helped almost immediately after landing, and a girl (Huguen says this was Josephine Le Lay, and IS9 has Marie-Jose Lelay of Guercle, Saint-Gildas) from a nearby farmhouse took him into a field where he met a local maquis man. The man led Fargher to a wood, treated the cuts that Fargher had received on baling out, gave him some food, and asked him a series of personal questions, saying that a message would be sent to London about him. That evening, Fargher was taken into Saint-Bihy where he stayed overnight at the home of a priest (assume Abbe Jean-Baptiste Robin) and the following day, L/Cpl La Floch, a French parachutist, arrived to tell him that British Intelligence knew about him and that he was to follow orders from a British army major who was in the area. That afternoon, La Floch took Fargher to a farm near La Croix (about 6 kms south-west of Saint-Bihy) where he met two more French parachutists, Sgt Louis and L/Cpl Darraud.
Next day (13 July) a French paratroop lieutenant came to the house. He insisted that Fargher change into civilian clothes – which Fargher was reluctant to do – and gave him a French identity card in the name of Paul Merot. He then told Fargher that the headquarters of the paratroop detachment had been raided the previous evening and their plans and radio transmitter found. That evening, Fargher went with the three paratroopers, and a young French boy and girl, to another farm, this one about 5 kms north-east of La Croix (which if correct would put him back near Saint-Bihy). Fargher stayed on the farm until the morning of 17 July when the whole party moved to yet another farm, this one about 3 kms north of La Croix. The following evening, a radio message came to tell them to expect a parachute delivery, and in the early hours of the following morning, an aircraft dropped 24 canisters of supplies.
Fargher met a Captain Dimoudi at the drop site who told him that he was the officer in command of the area and that as Fargher now had civilian clothes, it would be possible to send him to England at once. Dimoudi introduced Fargher to a Lt Robert (Huguen says this was Lt Jean Robert SAS) and the two men were driven that night by car to a maquis camp (position unknown) where in the morning, Fargher met Major Oswald Cary-Elwes (SAS) and liaison officer, Sqn/Ldr Patrick Smith.
Half an hour later, a guide took Fargher, Cary-Elwes, his batman Cpl Eric Mills, and Major William Jones USAAF by horse-drawn wagon to a farm near Plélo (about 3 kms north-east of Châtelaudren). Sqn/Ldr Smith joined them later and Fargher met Captain Harrison (Dumais) there. According to Huguen, it was Albert Le Marchand of Pléguien who took them by horse and cart to a house near the coast, arriving just after midnight, and Fargher reports a German (sic) patrol calling at the house about an hour later. Their visit caused the men to dash upstairs but apparently, the patrol had only been attracted by faulty black-out curtains. Unfortunately the soldiers were drunk and shots were fired, injuring one of the Germans.
Jean Gicquel had not been warned in advance and so was unprepared when Dumais and François Le Cornec delivered the five men to his little house. According to Mills, he lit an oil lamp but omitted to set the blackout curtains, and it was the light from his window that attracted the attention of group of Russian soldiers. Dumais and Le Cornec had only been gone a few minutes when there was the sound of men outside, and shots were fired. Patrick Smith promptly extinguished the lamp and the five evaders rushed to hide in the loft while Jean guarded the door and his wife Marie (and their new baby) screamed and generally added to the confusion.
These were Vlasov Russian troops (named for the Russian General Andrei Vlasov who defected to the Germans after being captured at Leningrad) of the Russian Liberation Army. Composed of mainly Soviet ex-POWs, many battalions had been integrated into German forces in western France. They wore grey German uniforms (but with fur caps and a different style of boot) but were famously undisciplined and never really trusted. One of the mistakes the Allies made in their propaganda was to promise the Vlasovs repatriation to Russia if they surrendered – the very last thing they wanted.
The evaders were in a difficult position as there was no other exit from the loft, and any armed resistance would almost certainly have harmed the Gicquels. Then another shot was fired, followed by screams – one of the Russians (most of whom were drunk) had wounded one of his comrades. In the almost total chaos, Jean produced a bottle of cognac before running to a neighbour's house to borrow a horse and cart for the Russians to take their wounded comrade for treatment. As soon as they left, the evaders were promptly rushed out of the house to spend the rest of the night in a nearby field.
At first light, Dumais and Jean Gicquel moved the five evaders to a safer location some miles away, where they spent an uncomfortable day and evening hiding in a large patch of gorse until being collected and led down to the beach at l'Anse-Cochat.
Jean Gicquel was also taken on board MGB 502 that night, while Marie and the infant Marie Thérèse were sheltered with relatives. Their house, the Maison d'Alphonse, had been blown up earlier in the day and destroyed by Russian soldiers - it was never rebuilt.