Tempsford Halifax V9976

Royal Air Force Badge Polish Air Force Badge Flag of the Soviet Union

Crash Location: Bavarian Alps, 21st April, 1942

F/O Ryszard Zygmuntowicz, PAF
W/C Walter Ronald (Wally) Farley, DFC, RAF -2nd Pilot
F/O James Ansford Pulton RAFVR (161 Sqdn)- Gunner
Sgt Czeslaw Madracki PAF - Navigator (Flt Engineer?)
F/Sgt Bronislaw Karbowski PAF - Rear Gunner
F/Lt Antoni Henryk Voellnagel PAF - Flight Engineer
Sgt Leon Wilmanski PAF - Air Bomber
Sgt Mieczyslav Wojciechowski PAF - Wireless Operator
Peter Starisky (Peter Schuulmburg) NKVD agent
Sevolod (Visevolod?) Troussevitch (John Traun) NKVD agent
Franz Löschl - Austrian "passenger"
Lorenz Mraz - Austrian "passenger"

Halifax aircraft.

The Mystery of the Last Flight of Halifax V9976 and SOE (Special Operations Executive) Highly Secret "Operation WHISKY".

There is something very strange about the mission on which this aircraft from 138 Squadron at RAF Tempsford was lost, which is the reason I have given it a page of its own, despite it not crashing in the vicinity of Potton.

The many doubts or uncertainties of this mission begin with the record of the flight in the Aircraft lost on Allied Force’s Special Duty Operations & Associated Roll of Honour page 36. This gives it's departure airfield as Tempsford, and the Squadron as 138. However, I have some data which suggests it started its mission at RAF Tangmere (which would probably have meant a different squadron) and that it stopped at Tempsford to "pick up" it's four passengers. And very unusually, the records do not quote it's "Squadron Identity", e.g. "MA-W" for "LK207" elsewhere on this site. The first two characters ("MA" for LK207) are the squadron code (161 Squadron) and the "W" is its call sign, "W-William". Not having a squadron code, we cannot tell which squadron it was attached to. The records for 138 Squadron do not include any time during the war with it based at RAF Tangmere, but it is known that Operation Anthropoid, the assassination of Heydrich, was launched from Tangmere in a 138 Squadron Halifax in December 1941. Was the omission of its identification markings deliberate? If so, for what concievable reason? I just about favour it being part of 138 squadron based at Tangmere in 1941, but still: why no identification markings?

The 21st April operation was the third or fourth attempt to carry it out, the first mission attempt being abandoned due to poor weather in England, and the second due to bad weather at the drop zone in the vicinity of Linz in Austria, forcing the aircraft to return to the UK with its agents still on-board. It is suggested in some quarters that the second mission was abandoned due rather to the inability of the flight crew to establish contact with the local agents "on the ground". There are also data that a third mission had been aborted before this fourth and last one. Apparently, the weather on the day of this last attempt was just as bad as at the first aborted try, but the description of the mission being of "first-rate military importance" had forced the Commanding Officer of 138 Squadron to carry it out regardless - it seems to have been rated as vitally important to Allied Intelligence and was codenamed "Whisky". After the previous two or three failed attempts, the CO apparently wanted to demonstrate his active support for the mission, and joined the seven other crew on the plane for this latest try. That alone was extremely strange, as such a senior person from the very secret group would carry information that would be very sensitive, and of immense value to the Germans should he have been captured and successfully interrogated. The Polish captain seems to have performed all the pilotting activities with W/C Farley in the co-pilot's seat.

My doubts continue with the names of the four agents, or "passengers". Two are reported as being "NKVD", i.e. Soviet agents, the other two, Löschl and Mraz, were born Austrian, but left the country during purges against left-wing elements and I believe took Soviet citizenship, and also joined the NKVD. But the identifications are by no means clear of the two listed above as "NKVD Agent" and I do have some totally different names for them. These passengers were to parachute from the aircraft over the continent, and were told that due to the bad weather, they would need to leave the aircraft "over clouds", that is, without any visibility of the area they were attempting to land in, a situation almost without precedent as it was so dangerous and the risk of subsequent discovery by the Germans so high. The air-crew of this flight, and the previous attempted flights, were all hand chosen by the 138 Squadron CO, Wing Commander Walter Ronald Farley, DFC and were nearly all Polish Air Force; Farley and rear gunner F/O James Ansford Pulton RAFVR seconded from 161 Sqdn were the only RAF members involved in the last mission.

The initials NKVD refers to Naródnyiy Komissariát Vnútrennikh Del, located in the USSR (now Russia) as the "People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs".

The aeroplane crashed into mountains in the Tergensee area of the Bavarian Alps, and the first civilian on the scene (Carl Vogele, an Austrian) noted a briefcase with padlock and chains among the wreckage. He extracted it, and later handed it to the German authorities, where it allegedly rapidly made its way up the ranks that involved Goering and ended with Hitler. So, what was this flight and operation all about? We simply don't know, and perhaps, never will. Any records that are supposed to exist are closed and unavailable to the general public; it does not even seem possible to trace a repository that might contain them. Astonishingly, even modern comment appears to be censored - a few years ago, Sandy School children made a web-page that recorded the flight and what was known about it's circumstances, but even that modest page has disappeared from the net! If I remember correctly, the Biggleswade Chronicle recorded a visit by Farley's widow to Tempsford, to be shown some pieces of the Halifax wreckage that had been retrieved from the crash site. Today, I cannot find the web pages recording that event either! So whatever it was, British authorities seem to be still very cagey about it!

Many rumours abound in the towns near the crash site. For example: on reaching the wreckage, Vogele found that one of the Soviet agents had survived the crash, but the agent then reached for his pistol and committed suicide. The police report mentions nine bodies in the wreckage, but it certainly took off with twelve personnel aboard. Police found gold on the bodies of two of the agents, but strangely not on the others. Vogele deliberately took a difficult and very different journey back down the mountain which would avoid meeting the police party, so had he helped himself to some of the gold and currency one would have expected to be on all the bodies? Even more intriguingly, the tail section of the Halifax had detached and slid into a snow bank, which might have allowed the rear-gunner to survive the crash. Did Vogele indeed find him alive? Did the Englishman bribe the Austrian with the disclosure of where the gold could be found on the agent's bodies? Did Vogele loot the two of them he could reach, then take the survivor down the mountain by that different route, on some part of which, the Englishman conveniently disappeared - accounting for at least one of the missing bodies? This acccusation against Vogele is probably false; the Bedfordshire Roll of Honour site lists F/O Pulton as being buried at Dornbach in the collective grave with the nine other recovered bodies of the airmen. Still the rumors appear: Had Vogele in fact murdered the Soviet agent "survivor" to silence him and then made up the tale of suicide to account for the bullet wound? Vogele was rarely sober when he had the funds to purchase alcohol, and was very voluble in the local inns and taverns after the war; he freely and openly bought his supplies using foreign gold coins and dared anyone to question it. He also had a very unsavoury local reputation, which meant he was believed capable of anything that might make him money. I must make it absolutely clear that these tales have no unambiguous proof to support them, and they may be a slur on the reputation of an innocent man. The evidence for all this foul play is only circumstantial, but it all adds to the overall mystery of this tale. And it doesn't end there.

Officially, there were no survivors of the accident. Officially, the Austrian civilian who found the briefcase was subsequently personally decorated by Reichsmarschall Herman Goering for his action in retrieving the papers, and received the sum of 500 Reichsmarchs in addition. That would not have happened had they been simple, non-important documents.

The image below shows the flight path it is believed the Halifax took from RAF Tempsford in England up to the crash at Tegernsee in the Bavarian Alps. I have underlined the name of a nearby town in fuchsia: Berchtesgaden. This town is very close to the location of Hitler's retreat in the mountains, Berghof: the "Eagles Lair". You will see why I think this worthy of note in the paragraphs that follow. It seems that when the aircraft crossed the border of German-occupied Luxembourg and entered German controlled airspace in the vicinity of the French town Metz, radar, or more likely sound recording, immediately detected the machine and its subsequent movements were continually monitored by the Nazis. The path was a masterpiece of navigation, since V9976 was required to fly as low as possible over mountainous terrain, between 5,000 and 10,000 feet altitude, at night. The navigator in the machine may have had as help a revolutionary piece of "H2S" ground-scanning radar equipment which gave an indication of the terrain around the aircraft.

The Germans closely monitored the flight, and will have almost certainly noted that the aircraft was heading close to the Berghof. The Luftwaffe would later claim that the British aircraft had been shot down, but it seems more likely that the navigator's luck simply ran out and the radar system was just slightly confused by the proximity of a number of Alpine peaks. It would appear that Zygmuntowicz suddenly saw the ridge in front of him, and made a desperate effort to climb; it almost succeeded, but the Halifax hit the ridge between a couple of peaks less than 100 feet from clearance, at an altitude of around 6,000 feet above sea level.

Note: The "official" RAF records suggest that the H2S radar system was first introduced into an RAF aircraft in Halifax B Mk II serial V9977 sometime before June 1942, at which time V9977 was lost. H2S apparently performed its first experimental flight in V9977 on 23 April 1942. If the source of my data for the fitting of H2S into V9976 is accurate, there is therefore some problem with the dates. Either the records are simply inaccurate, or the fitting of the system into V9976 occurred earlier than has been released to public knowledge, and was considered sufficiently secret that the facts were not publicised. If H2S was indeed in V9976 when it crashed on 21st April 1942, then the "first experimental flight" could not have taken place two days later as the records show! Another possibility is an inaccuracy in my source data, which is the pilot's family web page, linked to at the end of this page. In their text, they refer to the system as "The on-board ASU radar device was also used, which was able to read the contours of the terrain over which the machine was flying." [Wiki auto translation from original Polish] I have not been able to find any reference to an air-borne ground scanning radar named "ASU" during 1942, so I have assumed it to in fact be referring to "H2S", and then the dates are wrong. There again, everything about this flight seems to be unusual and highly classified, so the questionable behaviour of the Austrian civilian, and the on-board radar system's identification and existence, are issues that simply fit in with all of the rest!

Last mission of V9976.

Possible thoughts on the mission intention.

That the mission "Operation WHISKY" was important can be gleaned from four "Secret" British documents shown below. It is interesting to note the references to two other missions, "BRANDY" and "RUM", and to a less alcoholic degree(?) COFFEE. One might be tempted to surmise that the "liquid" relationship bewteen the code names suggest the three or four missions were all part of a grander scheme. To be sure, one would need to somehow uncover details of all these operations, and given the total lack of access to data pertaining to "WHISKY", I suspect the same difficulties would apply equally to researching the others. Wikipedia records "Operation Brandy" to have been a raid on Florø, Norway by British Commandos and Motor Torpedo Boats during the Second World War in the evening of 14th March 1943 - clearly a Naval/Army operation and a year later than this RAF Operation and obviously nothing to do with Halifax V9976. None of the other "beverages" seem to have any accessible data anywhere.

British Secret Doument Operation 'Whisky' British Secret Doument Operation 'Whisky' British Secret Doument Operation 'Whisky' British Secret Doument Operation 'Whisky'

Assasination of Hitler

The belief among Polish researchers is that Operation Whisky was an attempt at the assasination of Herr Hitler himself. Allied planners undoubtedly would have placed such a task high on their list. During the war, however, some military targets may have been considered more important, such as removing the threat of the German Kaiserliche Marine battle cruisers. Of the six major battle cruisers, Graf Spee had been scuttled off the coast of Uruguay in 1939, and Bismarck had been chased down and sunk in May of 1941. The two main remaining naval threats were Scharnhorst and Tirpitz. British naval planners were forced to tie up valuable capital assets to be prepared to engage these vessels at short notice, should they venture out to attack convoys and act as commerce raiders. So the destruction of them would be a very high priority; indeed numerous bombing raids were made on the latter vessel until it was sunk by Barnes Wallace's "Tallboy" earthquake bombs in November, 1944. By then, Hitler had lost all faith in his navy, but the threat posed by the vessels had been a thorn in British military flesh for almost the entire period of the war.

Targetting high-ranking Nazi officials and military officers was by no means a novel idea, but was only ever carried out once. 138 Squadron at RAF Tangmere, took Czechoslovakian soldiers Gabcik and Kubis to the continent where in an attack in May 1942, they fatally wounded an extremely senior German Officer, Schutzstaffel (SS)-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich. The ensuing brutality of the widespread reprisals resulted in an estimated 5,000 executions of civilians and religious leaders. It is probable that such barbarity dissuaded the Allies from repeating such an operation (code named Anthropoid).

The assassination of Hitler though, may well have been considered as a possible operation with significant merit. It is known that in 1944 such a plan was formulated as Operation FOXLEY; intended to use snipers to shoot the Fuehrer whilst he took his daily walk around the area. It was never implemented and was eventually abandoned due to Hitler never returning to Berghof after July 1944. Among the many logistical problems were that he was extremely well-guarded even before the attack on Heydrich, and this was immediately significantly strengthened after. Some allied personnel were not in favour of proceeding at all, concerned that even if successful, it would be ineffective for the heavy cost it might well incur. Adolf Hitler's favourite location, Berghof was his home in the Obersalzberg region of the Bavarian Alps near Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, and for the first part of the war, it was out of the range of an Allied bombing mission, and later the inevitable high losses of such a long range mission without any fighter escort were considered unacceptable. Berghof was located in the extreme south-east of Germany, close to the border with Austria. It was elevated in the mountains and provided a formidable defensive position to any ground-based attacking force, and a large garrison of SS and other military surrounded it. Another Allied plan never taken up included derailing Hitler's train whilst he was travelling on it, or introducing poison to its water supply. The greatest aerial damage to the Berghof occurred late in the war as a result of long-range raids by British Lancasters (including the famous 617 Squadron "Dam Busters"), and was followed by it being burned by members of the Red Army. It was also significantly looted by various Allied soldiers when they arrived at the chalet.

Certain factors support the idea of "Operation WHISKY" being an attack on Hitler's person.

There are some contradictions of course.

Flying Officer Ryszard Zygmuntowicz, Sily Powietrzne (Polish Air Force)

The images in this section are all taken from the pilot's family web-page, with the link given at the end of this article.

Second Lieutenant Zygmunt Zygmuntowicz, Ryszard's elder brother, was shot by the Nazis on April 10, 1940 in Firlej near Radom, Poland.

Pilot F/O Ryszard Zygmuntowicz, PAF. Rest in Peace. Location of crash site Crankshaft from one of the Halifax engines

Lorenz and Hildegard Mraz

Lorenz and Hildegard Mraz. Rest in Peace.

I have very little information about Lorenz Mraz. He was born on June 16, 1908 in Vienna. After the suppression of leftist Austrian chancellor Engelberth Dolfuss in February, 1934 he and his wife, along with thousands of left wing Austrian civilians, relocated to Russia, and joined the NKVD organisation. Both Mraz and Löschl served together in the "International Brigades" in Spain during the civil war in 1936, and returned to the USSR in 1939.

The discovery of the superbly fabricated identity and travel documents on the bodies of the two Soviet agents led the German authorities to conclude that they were on an industrial espionage mission; this may or may not have been the case. Following historians have in some cases repeated this belief, without any really good evidence to support it against the many contradictions that exist.

In January, 1944, Lorenz Mraz's widow Hildegard was arrested by the Gestapo. After her husband's death, she had been trained in the Soviet Union for spying and sabotage duties, and parachuted into Poland near Warsaw from where she made her way to Austria. Her group commander was captured by the Gestapo, and under torture revealed the names and adresses of his two women agents who were then arrested. Hildegard spent 14 months in captivity before the prison was relieved by the advancing Red Army. Hildegard and her colleague revealed their spy status in the NKVD to a Soviet officer, but instead of being feted for their heroism, were transported back to the Soviet Union and arrested for being traitors - their crime? simply surviving their time as prisoners of the Gestapo. Both women were sentenced to 8 years in a brutal penal colony, only Hildegard surviving the harsh regime. She seems to have been pardoned for her "crimes" in 1965 and died in Vienna in 1997. She had been informed of the circumstances of her husband's death, and the location of his grave, only two years before.

Franz Löschl

Franz Löschl. Rest in Peace.

I have very little information about this gentleman. He accompanied Mraz in the journey to Russia in the NKVD in 1934, and with his friend served together in the "International Brigades" in Spain during the civil war in 1936. He too returned to the USSR in 1939 where he joined the NKVD with Mraz.

The data and images on this web-page have been extracted from the web-page of the family of Flying Officer Ryszard Zygmuntowicz, PAF. I would very much like to know how they obtained the four "secret" message transcripts!