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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 seen 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 Schorner 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.

The Bitter End

With the cancellation of both Operation FLAMSTEAD and FERNHAM the issue surrounding the huge number of foreign workers (Organisation Todt and forced labour) and POW's in Germany remained. Increasing concerns also surrounded imprisoned SOE operatives who had been sent to Poland, Home Army (AK) operators and surviving combatants together with other military personnel of value to the Polish Government in-exile.

On August 29th1944 Britain and the United States government recognised the AK having combatants rights under the Geneva Convention (Ciechanowski, 1974; Davis, 2003; Kochanski, 2012) and despite the atrocities experienced by the population of Warsaw (estimated to between 150,000 - 200,000 casualties including mass executions and starvation) during the 'Rising, it was hoped to provide some protection from reprisals and on capture POW status. On the 5th October 1944 as the 'Rising collapsed after a heroic stance, 15,378 AK with 922 officers and 3,000 women marched out of the ruined city. While the men were transferred into the existing Wehrmacht system in Germany, the women's fate was different (Kochanski, 2012). Women were customarily regarded as members of the resistance and had no POW status and the Germans placed pressure on them to renounce their combatant status so that they could become civilian workers. 1,721 women refused and were sent to a disused penal camp near Oberlangen in Lower Saxony, Germany under appalling conditions unknown to the IRC (Davis, 2003; Kochanski, 2012). On the 17th-18th April 1945 units from the 1st Polish Armoured Division (The Black Devils) were requested to go to Stalag VIC Oberlangen (actually located in Niedelangen) to protect the women from being used as a diversionary tactic (McGilvray, 2005). A platoon from 3rd Squadron entered the camp to the astonishment and joy of the inmates since liberation by Polish forces was unexpected. As General Maczek's 1st Polish Armoured Division pushed on towards Wilhelmshaven and Jever, the growing problem of 'displaced persons' (DP) presented difficulties. The problem was so acute that eventually General Maczek took over the town of Harn and evacuated the German population making way for POW's and DP's (Kochanski, 2012) and stem the flow heading south towards the II Corps in Italy.

As the allies pushed deeper into Germany, there was a deadly race to uncover the Nazi secrets, intelligence and technology through the use of a secret unit made up of a mixture of British units and expert scientists. Known as T-Force who were also known as 'Kingsmen' it was an elite unit and the 'brain-child' of the author Ian Fleming. As the unit moved further east, their work at times was hampered by crowds of released prisoners of mixed nationalities and ex-slave labourers and other DP's (Longden, 2010). While much of their work involved acquiring intelligence and technology, they also had to beat the Allies, Soviets and looters to prized possessions. Having crossed the Rhine and entered Hanover, the liberation of DP's was a threat to valuable equipment and the looting was out of control (Longden, 2010). Hannover was in the US Zone, but of strategic importance since it was both a military town and industrial centre where T-Force discovered new techniques in radar, manufacturing (metallurgy) and infra-red technology.

SOE and VI Bureau turned to T-Force resources to exfiltrate or repatriate key personnel. Lt. Colonel M. Utnik of VI Bureau contacted Major M. Pickles on 19th May indicating a prioritized list would be forthcoming since many had been interned in Camp VIIA at the historic town of Murnau in Bavaria.

The first list indicated the anxiety behind a speedy return to London due to the roles they had played as members of the cichociemny during the war (PRO HS4/264). The list included:

  1. Lt. Colonel Jacek BETKOWSKI
  2. Major Narcyz LOPIANOWSKI* (Cichociemny)
  3. Major Kazimierz SZTERNAL* (Cichociemny)
  4. Major Tomasz WIERZEJSKI (Cichociemny)
  5. Major Kazimierz BILSKI (Cichociemny)
  6. Captain Edmund MARYNOWSKI* (Cichociemny)
  7. Captain Ludwik WITKOWSKI (Cichociemny)
  8. Captain Stanislaw OSSOWSKI* (Cichociemny)
  9. Lieut. Julian PIOTROWSKI* (Cichociemny)
  10. 2nd Lt Zbigniew MRAZEK (Cichociemny)
  11. 2nd Lt Zdzislaw WINIARSKI* (Cichociemny)
  12. 2nd Lt Zbigniew WILCZKIEWICZ* (Cichociemny)
  13. Major Jerzy ANTOSZEWICZ*
*Parachuted into Poland

The same day a second amended list arrived with the addition of Major Kazimierz Bilski who had been a staff officer to General Bor when he was in Warsaw. A Major Willard had signalled the 7th Army requesting Major Van Maurik (SOE) would provide a conducting officer for these men. Unfortunately, transport problems and the distance concerned meant the request was transferred to Major Henry Saarf of the 6th Army group to resolve. Some 34 high priority POW's were identified whose pre-war professions ranged from students, farmers and professional soldiers.

T-Force were contacted by Major D. Newman of the Royal Norfolk Regiment on 11th June 1945 to fly back a group of women Polish Personnel (POW's) who were to report to the Polish GHQ based in the Rubens Hotel, Victoria, London. They were located in Brussels awaiting transport. The list gave little detail as to their original roles:

  1. Dr. Zofia TOSZCZYNSKA
  2. Dr. Irena DERESZ
  3. 2nd Lt Aleasangra LITWINOWICZ
  4. Lt. Browiskawa WOJEWODZKE
  5. 2nd Lt Halina GOLEBIOWSKA
  6. Jadwiga PACKIEWICZ
  7. Wanda Valina CHUSCIAL
  8. Jadwiga CHUSCIAL

In total the Polish VI Bureau accounted for 86 agents in POW or concentration camps with some 50 of them still scattered around Germany and France. Movement was difficult due to restriction on entry/ exit visas and even agents attached to MONICA in France faced similar difficulties with Mr Librach who managed the British affairs for the Polish Ministry of the Interior petitioned for permits.

One of the largest operations to wind up was MONICA (also known as POWN or Polska Organizacja Walki o Niepodleglosc) (PRO HS4/264) and one of the least known secret armies in Europe. The operation covered most of France with concentrations in the north around Lille or major cities such as Lyon, St. Etienne, Grenoble, Toulouse, Perigeaux and Paris. Montceaux-les-Mines, like Lille was an important recruiting ground due to the concentration of Polish miners who were economic migrants from the 1920s. Major F. Chalmers Wright was tasked to shut down and tidy up the financial affairs of the operation that had between 5-6,000 members. An audit by Chalmers Wright of MONICA carried out between 12-26th June 1945 focussed on compensation to the Poles. A protocol had been drawn up in the Paris Embassy on 9th May 1945, to cover military rather than civilian compensation and the protocol also covered French, not Polish deportees from France who under POWN were treated by De Gaulle's government as 'suspicious' since they were perceived not to the part of the resistance. The Poles perceived they were part of an Allied cause and not exclusively Polish. French deportees would receive compensation through Ordinance No.45-948 (dated 11th May 1945) of £75 however, childless widows would not be compensated, but pillaged homes by the Gestapo would have some compensation. The total costs came to £25,100 (about £1.1m today) where £50 represented approximately Frs.10,000 (PRO HS4/264).

The report by Chalmers Wright indicates 25 members families of MONICA were killed in action, 15 died in concentration camps with 59 returning from them and another 51 unaccounted for (PRO HS4/264), however the report also indicates the total casualties was probably 175. The report names few and only lists Antoni SMOLAREK, Josef KLIMEK, Franciszek BEBEN and Franciszek DUDZIAK as unsettled cases.

Compassion is evident in the files. Lt. Grocholski of VI Bureau enquired if SOE could assist in the transfer of his brother 2nd Lt. Kazimierz Grocholski to Britain as his brother had been a POW since 1939 and in poor health. The two brothers were the last surviving members of a family of seven brothers, two sister and their parents. Lt. Grocholski had been working as an interpreter in the POW Camp VIIA at Murnau and was suggested SPU 24 would assist. Kazimierz wished to finish a law degree.

After the Yalta Agreement was made public, the Poles felt betrayed, isolated and some fear for the future. An Act of Parliament was passed in February 1946 and in the middle of March Ernest Bevan formally advised all Poles could not be maintained in Britain (Cynk, 1998). Enrolment into the Polish Air Force Resettlement Corps (PARC) started shortly afterwards. Although the British economy had been shattered and faced huge shortages in raw materials and a manpower deficit, there was little or no work available. All ranks and services were faced with taking manual jobs or enter the Polish Resettlement Camps as only a few personnel were kept, mainly in the Royal Air Force by special agreement.

A Home Office circular dated 4th June 1952 produced an overview of the status of the former PRC since all previous legislation was about to be revoked in June 1952 by the Aliens (Employment) (Polish Forces) (Revocation) Order 1952. The circular up to June 1952 treated many Poles as 'alien status' where registration and permission to start businesses was covered by statutes passed in the post war years, these included:

  • Aliens (Employment) Order, 1948
  • Aliens (Employment) Polish Forces Order, 1948
  • Aliens (Restriction) (Polish Resettlement Forces) Direction, 1948

In the circular it estimated there were between 80 - 90,000 former PRC still covered by the Aliens (Employment) Polish Forces Order, 1948 who were required to obtain permission from the secretary of State before engaging in any business activity, profession or occupation for 'reward' other than in the service of an employer. Those who were discharged, but did not enter the PRC, was estimated to be about 2,000 who required permission from the Ministry of Labour and National Service to take up employment for reward. These measures made settlement in the Britain difficult and 'uncomfortable' to encourage emigration - see Polish Resettlement page here

References and further reading:

Ascherson, N. (1988) The Struggles for Poland. London: Pan Books.

Biegus, Z and Biegus, J (2013) Polish Resettlement Camps in England and Wales 1946-1969, PB Software, Rochford, UK.

Cooper, L. (2000) In the Shadow of the Polish Eagle Hampshire: Palgrave.

Davies, N. (2003) Rising '44. 'The Battle for Warsaw' London: Macmillan.

Falski, Marian. n.d. Elementarz Warsawa: Panstiwe Zaklady Wydawnictw Szkolnych.

Grzebieniowski, Tadeusz. n.d. Pocket Polish Dictionary. Warsaw: Langenscheidt.

Henderson, D.M. (ed) (2001) The Lion and the Eagle Dunfermline: Cualann Press.

Hodorowicw Knab, S. (1996) Polish Customs, traditions & folklore (Rev. ed) New York: Hippocrene Books.

Horn, A. and Pietras, B. (eds) (1999) Insight Guide Poland. APA Publications GmbH & Co: London.

Jakubowski, A.A.J. (1991) Katyn. A Whisper in the Trees California: Kuma Publishing.

Ostrycharz, R. M. (2003) Polonica in Scotland Douglas, Lanarkshire[online] Available: here [Accessed: 30th May 2003] Polish Facts and Figures in World War ll [online] Available: here [Accessed 22 June 2003]

Serwis informacyjny Polskiego Stronnictwa Ludowego (1999) The Biography of Stanislaw Mikolajczyk [online] Available: here [Accessed 20 July 2003]

Zamoyski, A. (1988) The Polish Way. New York: Hippocrene Books.

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

Women of the SOE

The Warsaw Rising

The Polish Air Force - Pictures with Questions

Slovak National Uprising 1944

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