With a little help from our friends – part 1

BY RICHARD MADDOX

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Image: A still from a Ministry of Information film of a V1 exploding close to Westminster in London. Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament can be seen on the right. © IWM ([MOI] FLM 2000)

FOR MANY VISITORS the German V1 and V2 weapons are ‘must see’ items at IWM London.

Launched in 1944 soon after the Allies landed in France, the weapons brought a new kind of warfare not just to Britain but also Belgium and Holland just as D-Day was raising hopes of a quick end to the war.

Many thousands of people were involved in the campaign to defeat the ‘vengeance’ or ‘retaliation’ weapons – fighter, bomber and reconnaissance pilots and crew, together with their controllers like Lilian Buchanan (see a previous post), anti-aircraft gunners, engineers and scientists.

They had come from Occupied Europe, the Commonwealth as well as here in Britain and some had fought against the weapons long before the first V1 fell from the skies over Swanscombe in Kent on 13 June 1944.

This is s little about one of them.

Michel Hollard was a French Résistance worker who would be awarded a British DSO for the information he supplied and the personal risks he took obtaining it.

Hollard, was 43 when France fell in 1940 and headed a Resistance of more than 100 in Northern France passed information to Britain about German military activities in the region between 1941 and 1944.

V1 FLYING BOMB (C 4430) Aerial view of a V1 'ski' launching site in Northern France under attack. The long narrow ski-shaped storage buildings, which gave the sites their name are clearly visible at lower left. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205022378

Image: Aerial view of a V1 ‘ski’ launching site in Northern France under attack. The long narrow ski-shaped storage buildings, which gave the sites their name are clearly visible to the left. © IWM (C 4430). Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205022378

His network was able to provide location details of a large number of V1 launch sites enabling the RAF to attack the ski sites (as they were known to British intelligence  because of the shape of some of the buildings as seen from the air) to London via the British Embassy in Berne and Hollard made the journey across into Switzerland on at least 50 times – his network didn’t use radio communications, the post or telephones as a security measure.

According to R V Jones’ book ‘Most Secret War’ on one occasion he mamaged to gain access to a site under construction. Already dressed in workman’s overalls he found a wheelbarrow in a ditch and simply walked onto the site.

He saw that there was a clear runway-like structure being built. Jones notes in his book ‘he was the sort of man who always carried a compass’ and Hollard took a bearing on the mystery structure.

That night he worked out it was pointing at London.

Next he persuaded one of his Résistance contacts to get a job as a draftsman on the site.

Over time André Comps succeeded in copying the plans for every building and structure on the site and these were taken to London via Berne. This was clearly very dangerous – no more so than when on one occasion he removed a set of plans from a German engineer’s coat to copy them.

Hollard was also able to clamber over and measure an operational V1 weapon parked in a railway siding.

Despite the good internal communications security in his group Hollard was betrayed and arrested on 4 February 1944. After torture by the Gestapo he was sent to Neuengamme concentration camp.

By the spring of 1945 he had been transferred to a prison ship in the Baltic and on 3 May the ship was attacked and sunk by the RAF.

Hollard survived.

He was awarded many decorations, including a DSO by the British (Jones contributed to his citation for the award) and the Legion d’Honneur by the French.

He and his group were credited with passing documents that showed the locations of 104 V1 sites.

He died on 16 July 1993, just over a month after his 95 birthday.

In April 2004, Hollard’s son Florian was at a ceremony at the Eurostar terminus in London (then at Waterloo station, near to IWM London) where a Eurostar train was named after his father.

SOURCES:

‘Most Secret War’ by R V Jones published 1978.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-michel-hollard-1463220.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/the-man-who-saved-london-79185.html

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/3663005.stm

(in French):

http://www.michel-hollard.com

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