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Operation Desford

Operation Desford was a sub-operation in Hungary and was designed by the SOE to circumvent the ‘Tito/ Sir Fitzroy MacLean entourage’ (PRO/HS4/245/223485). The odd alliance between SOE and Tito were causing political problems between SOE and the OSS (Foot, 1990) as Tito and the Comitern were planning a new Yugoslavia on Soviet lines. Penetration into Hungary from Yugoslavia was difficult due to the restrictions of movement imposed by Tito and this plan was devised to save time.

Major D. Longe (of the Royal Norfolk Regiment) put forward the proposal in a memo dated 19th April 1944. Major Long suggested two areas of operation:

  1. North East Hungary around Gyöngyös and the Bükk hills and close to the Slovak border.
  2. South West in the Zala countryside between Szentgotthárd and Nagykanizsa on the Austrian border.
The plan was to use the forested hills and a story of a crashed bomber after raiding Miskolc rail centre as ‘cover’ for the party so that they appeared to be evading capture rather than working a clandestine operation. Major Long would lead the party with Captain Houseman as 2nd in command with a Hungarian W/T operator and a Hungarian contact man. Alternatively, a blind drop could be made, but with some agents being dropped off course by the RAF, the latter was less favourable as good maps were hard to get hold. An appeal through sources close to SOE for help made a Mrs. G. Lee of Torquay offer a map case containing recent maps owned by her husband who had business interests in Hungary prior to the war and these were made available to Major Longe.

The prime objectives were to: -

  1. Establish communication lines between the infiltrated team and Force 399 and also London.
  2. Find a suitable location to receive stores and personnel.
  3. Investigate and report on German movements within the area and establish contacts with any dissidents within the area who may be willing to go into action against the Germans.
  4. Organise and co-ordinate the activities of the partisans against the German targets and delay withdrawal / demoralize the enemy forces.
  5. Produce political and military intelligence on the area.
It is interesting to note that no military action should take place until their base and partisan groups had been established. This meant Operation Desford would work on a similar basis as to the Jedburgh Teams.

It was agreed to use the northern area around Gyöngyös as it was deemed more suitable to their needs. The more southern area had been depopulated and had higher troop concentrations and the terrain provided little cover on the plains. They were also to establish radio links with another party in Szaged, which is situated halfway between Budapest and modern-day Beograd. Other parties had been dispatched to different parts of Hungary in pre-preparation of larger activities. There was some urgency as Intelligence reports from Madrid indicated 5,000 POW’s had been liberated and had formed a resistance group near Muzkace with some limited support from the Soviets. Another partisan group led by DH.18 located at Savanna in the Fruska Gora area had not been very active for over eighteen months.

In a cipher dated 5th May 1944 (PRO/HS4/245/223485) some opposition to the plan was raised on the ground of personal security to those dropped in blind and also the set up time to begin effective operations. The team were despatched to ‘Maryland’ (SOE’s forward base at Bari in Italy) for insertion scheduled for 20th May 1944. At the last moment in their preparations the linking up with the Hungarian W/T operator and shortage of aircraft caused an alternative route through Slovakia to be considered with the help of the Polish AK. The operation became delayed until August 19944 through shortage of W/T operators and a Hungarian being available and in the right location for the drop. It would take about four weeks to bring a good W/T operator up to speed for an operation. Major Kemp who was recovering from a hand injury in Cornwall had been proposed as a replacement as Major Longe was also actively involved with Special Forces Unit 22 in Northern France. Major Kemp was later sent to Poland in the ill-fated Operation Freston (Bines, 1999). Even the mode of infiltration was altered constantly as the SOE became stretched over logistics.

The operation was aborted on the night of 2-3 September due to engine failure causing a 4 to 5 day delay due to the position of the moon. The operation had been combined with a re-supply of medicine and field dressings to the Manganese Team.

The Slovak Rising had started. In the East 2 Divisions of partisans were fighting through the Carpathians to make contact with the Soviet army with about 10,000 men in the West engaging the Germans. The Czech Parachute Brigade was due to be landed at Tri Duby together with three Czech manned Soviet fighter Squadrons. The German strength was estimated to be 1 Division based Bilek / Prathy region, possibly 2 Divisions around Bratislava and 1 Division based at Kosiceuzhora. Airfields at Tri Duby and Poprad were in Slovak hands. The analysis of the scenario by SOE was that central Slovakia would be difficult, if not impossible to hold onto, so the Desford and Manganese teams were urgently needed in the field of operations.

On 19th September in a field near Zarnovica at team of partisans laid out a 5 fires in the shape of a letter T with the tail pointing into wind. On hearing the aircraft they were to flash the pre-agreed recognition code. At the last moment, Operation Desford had its name changed to Operation Windproof by SOE Maryland (based in Italy).

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

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