With a little help from our friends – part 2: Operation Wildhorn III and the V2 missile

BY RICHARD MADDOX

THE FIRST PART this post looked briefly at the work of Frenchman Michel Hollard and his contribution to British Scientific and Technical Intelligence in understanding the V1 flying bomb, an example of which is in the Imperial War Museum in London. This post concentrates on the V2 weapon.

The story of the contribution made by Polish Home Army ((Armia Krajowa – the most well-known internal Polish resistance group) to the understanding and subsequent defeat of the German V1 and V2 weapon programmes is long and valiant.

For simplicity I will concentrate on just one important aspect, OPERATION WILDHORN III.

Let me start by saying that the story of Allies (particularly Britain) and Poland is still controversial in some quarters.

I know very little about the context – a few days in Warsaw doesn’t count in my view – and so I will simply say that there are no doubt many excellent resources both in print and on the internet that will put the cases of all concerned far better than I am able to.

The WILDHORN operations (also called MOSTY – meaning ‘bridges’ – in Polish) were a series of SOE Polish section sponsored flights to and from Poland to bring Home Army field commanders to London for meetings with the Polish Government in Exile. I believe there may have been a small amount of supplies or agents delivered but this was mainly handled by other means (known as RIPOSTE missions).

As a file at the UK National Archives shows (1), the first of the WILDHORN flights occurred in April 1944 after considerable difficulties gaining a suitable aircraft and a suitably trained crew.

Planning appeared to have started in late 1943 and an undated (but probably written in or before January 1944) document in the file lists the requirements for a landing area – frozen ground, snow no deeper 5 cm, a wind less than 10 mph – and a suggestion that it should be in the Lublin area. Security and ground operations are not detailed but ‘appear satisfactory’. The operation gained approval on 21 January with a request three days later for an aircraft to be assigned so that it could be completed in February.

Then there political problems outside the scope of this post. Suffice to say ‘discussions’ between Polish and British senior officers and centred around taking an aircraft off Special Duty operations (those connected with the Resistance) in France and sending and then basing it in Italy from where it would fly to Poland.

By early February it was clear that an RAF aircraft and crew from Britain could not be spared and it was suggested that a Polish crew be trained and an aircraft (a Lockheed Hudson light bomber and maritime patrol aircraft) be allocated from the Mediterranean Allied Air Force based in Italy.

From 14 March onwards a series of dates were proposed and cancelled for various reasons including the harsh weather.

V2 facility Peenemunde A © IWM (C 4782)

Test Stand VII at the Army Research Centre Peenemunde, Usedom Island, Germany. At the bottom centre (inside the elliptical earthwork) is a V2 rocket on its trailer and light anti-aircraft positions on top of the pre-launch assembly hall at upper right. Image © IWM (C4782). Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205022367

V2 facility Peenemunde 2 © IWM (C 4783)

The same area after heavy bombing attacks RAF Bomber Command in 1943. At the time this air reconnaissance image was taken (September 1944) the V2 programme had been moved to Poland. The arrows point to where the anti-aircraft guns were sited previously. Image © IWM, catalogue no C4783. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205023436

From 13 June 1944 London endured V2 attacks and there was an urgent need for as much intelligence on the missile as possible.

On 25 July it was agreed that V2 parts would be sent to London with senior Polish commanders and a Polish courier.

Having found a suitable landing ground, suitable crew and a Douglas Dakota aircraft from No. 267 Squadron RAF based in Italy all the elements were in place.

However fate was to intervene.

The landing ground (codenamed MOTYL – BUTTERFLY) was a boggy meadow, with substantial German forces nearby.

Although the aircraft landed and was quickly loaded for take-off with its human cargo and V2 material – missile parts (reported 25.000 including a new guidance system), drawings, photographs and analytical reports – it was found that the brakes were locked and the aircraft had sunk into the soft ground.

Frantic efforts were made to free the aircraft. German units were reported to be a mile (800 metres) away.

The passengers were made to get off and the V2 material unloaded.

Everyone – passengers and members of the Home Army ‘welcome team’ responsible for the aircraft landing loading and despatch – dug furiously. The crew prepared to burn their maps and other papers. Even the hydraulic lines to the brakes were cut to release the brakes.

Eventually, the hard work paid off. The aircraft was reloaded and wobbled into the air, just clearing a stone wall around 20 foot (7 metres) high.

With no hydraulic lines the reservoirs were filled with ‘liquid’ (accounts vary as to what this was) to ensure enough pressure to retract the undercarriage by hand and, having lost an hour from their schedule, they had to fly a direct route through an area known to be patrolled by German fighter aircraft.

They landed at Brindisi (on a runway being built) safely just before dark and after repairs the aircraft was flown to London via Morocco, arriving on 27 July (2).

There (according to R V Jones) the Polish courier – who spoke no English – made it apparent that he would only release his vital V2 parts to one of two Polish Officers he knew and trusted in London. In the meantime he threatened anyone who came near the parts with a knife

This obstacle was overcome when General Bor appeared ‘told our gallant Pole that it was alright for him to talk to us and show us his treasures’

The propulsion unit of a V2 missile being inspected amid damaged houses © IWM (HU 44973)

Damage caused by a V2 ballistic missile at Limehouse, East London. In the foreground, a man inspects the propulsion unit of the rocket. Image © IWM (HU 44973). Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205019013

Jones goes on to write that the Pole’s information – not just what he brought but what he had observed – was instrumental in understanding the way the missile was launched and flew (3)

SOURCES AND FURTHER INFORMATION

(1) File reference HS 4/183, UK National Archives viewed 1 April 2017

(2) https://weaponsandwarfare.com/2015/09/08/operation-most-iii/ – accessed 17 July 2017

(3) ‘Most Secret War’ by R V Jones, third edition May 1978, pages 438 – 439.

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