HEROES OF THE SKY
RAF pilots such as Hugh Verity risked their lives flying secret agents into occupied France aboard unarmed Lysanders. However, as Graham Goodlad discovers, the Gestapo were probably the least of their problems
One of the most dangerous assignments undertaken by RAF pilots in World War Two was flying ‘special duties’ operations into occupied Europe.Following the Nazi conquests of spring 1940, these flights dropped essential supplies for Churchill’s Special Operations Executive (SOE), the shadowy organisation charged with supporting wartime resistance groups and encouraging acts of sabotage and subversion.
The RAF also ran an air taxi service, delivering and collecting agents of SOE and MI6 (often known as ‘Joes’), resistance fighters and escaped POWs. At great risk they flew for hundreds of miles, to land under cover of darkness on improvised landing grounds, usually a field lit by hand-held torches.
As they began their descent, the pilots were not to know whether the welcoming party lying in wait consisted of resistance fighters or the Gestapo. Rapid turnaround was of the essence if they were to avoid the unwelcome attention of the latter’s military escorts.