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Operation Flamstead and Fernham

By the autumn of 1944 SOE’s attention was turning to the huge number of foreign workers in Germany and their use to the Allies together with concerns over the number of POW’s held in camps in Poland. SHAEF instructed SOE to consider what propaganda and sabotage value these foreign workers might have as POW’s under the Geneva Convention could not be used for insurrection and there was a distinct likelihood the Germans would shoot them on the spot. Operation Dunstable had been set up to protect Polish workers in Germany and Operation Flamstead with Fernham were to establish links with POW’s and slave labourers in Poland. Churchill was keen to see British Liaison Officers (known as BLO’s) working in the field with the AK to gather intelligence on the German occupation forces where POW’s and former foreign workers may be used to ferment the collapse of the Third Reich. Eisenhower’s address to all foreign workers over the BBC radio had caused German raids into labour camps searching for propaganda material, secret radio sets and evidence of an organised underground.

Prior to 1942 enrolment for work in Germany had been voluntary and later ‘compulsory’ with the Occupied Countries being given quotas. Between 7 – 10 million Poles joined the Todt organization to save their lives rather than face deportation. The AK had infiltrated agents almost immediately with intelligence being passed through to the VI Bureau based in London.

Operation Flamstead was set up by Major Hazzel to coincide with Operation Freston (planned to operate in the Wloszczowa-Konskie area) with agents being dispatched to Nowy Targ south of Krakow. Operation Flamstead was a parallel operation with Operation Dunstable with the operations base at M.E 22 in Northern France to co-ordinate operations and intelligence gathering. M.E. 22 also had agents in Switzerland, Sweden and Denmark. Operation Fernham would operate in the Piotkrow area near Lodz.

The table below sets out SOE’s estimation of AK active forces on the 24th October 1944. The partisan forces were estimated to be around 5 divisions. After the Warsaw Rising most operations were in the forests and mountains. The report indicates there was a large partisan group base in the woods near Tuchola and the AL (Armja Ludowa) had numerous bands of men controlled by the Soviets and in communication with NKVD operating in eastern and southern areas of Poland.  

Location Full Platoons Cadre Platoons
Source: PRO/HS4/245/223485

In the planning process, SOE set the operation up in 3 phases where instructions to agents would depend upon their location, local conditions and the proximity of either the Allies or Soviet army. Phase 1 was aimed at infiltration activities including locating labour camps, making contact with sympathetic Poles or the AK and collect information on living conditions. ‘Cells’ of 5 men would be sworn in and begin operations. Phase 2 would involve the infiltration of agents acting as couriers and W/T operators. The BBC would broadcast ‘innocent’ messages into the camps giving specific instructions primarily focussed at black propaganda and the de-stabilization of German workers. Phase 3 would depend upon local conditions, but when the time was ripe and Germany about to collapse, rise up and with the support of Specialist Paratroopers (trained at STS 63) dropped into camps with arms supplies in order to defend them selves and ‘exterminate’ the oppressors.

The PRO files indicate the urgency in the operation planning and the difficulties in matching available trained officers and W/T operators. Both Operations Flamstead and Fernham were to assess the condition of the AK and prepare them for action against tactical and strategic targets. They were also instructed to collect information upon German order of battle and collect intelligence on the action against the Soviet army and the AK. They would be under the direct command of the Operation Freston team. The orders were altered at a later date to include the Polish workers.

Captain R. Purvis was appointed Operational Commander (OC) of the Flamstead team with Captain Makomski as the Polish Liaison officer. The team included Captain Marchant who had operated in France and West Africa. Sgt. Hutson acted as W/T operator who had been a POW in Poland and had escaped. Major Purvis (ex Force 139) was appointed for his operational experience in France.

Operation Fernham consisted of Lt. Col P. Harker, Major J. Roper, Major A. Kennedy and C.S.M L. Peaker. S/Leader Landau who had also been assigned to the team was dropped due to pressures put upon them by VI Bureau. The Poles felt he was unsuitable and could not pass himself off as a Pole and since he had known the former Chief in Command General Sikorski, he was a see as a liability.

Each team was kitted out for winter conditions and the Flamstead team were given skis. In addition each team was also given $4,000 in gold, $2,000 in cash and 8 white diamonds of between half and one carat.

Both teams were due to be parachuted into Poland on 22nd November 1944. However, their drop was delayed due to poor weather and difficulties reported by the information reported by Operation Freston team.

In early January 1945 both teams were in Brindisi awaiting transport and their test cipher traffic being ‘fingerprinted’. However, the Fernham team had transmission trouble due to the frequency chosen was subject to high levels of Morse traffic interference. While this was being sorted out, the Soviet Army had broken through Poland from their bridgeheads in central and southern Poland. German operations in the Nowy Targ area forced the local AK to move into the forests to the N.West of the area to avoid capture. In mid January Zhukov’s 1st Belorussian Front launched into the German Ninth Army which was part of the Group Centre commanded by Schörner from two small bridge-heads just west of the Vistula to form a front of over 400Kms long. The crack Grossdeutschland Panzer Corps were ordered by Hitler from the Prussian Front to reinforce the crumbling front and detrained at Lodz to be met by fleeing ethnic Germans (Hastings, 2004).

Both Operation Flamstead and Fernham were ordered to stand down on 27th January 1945 having spent four months preparing for the mission. The race for Berlin was on.

Tarrant Rushton Airfield
or email: andrew.wright5@virgin.net

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