History of RAF Winkleigh Airfield, Airbase, Devon, England. World War II | Winkleigh a Devon Village part 1V | Jackie Freeman Photography

Black Squadron RAF Winkleigh RAF Winkleigh RAF Winkleigh

The story of a WW II Air Base in Devon


An illustrated History of the RAF Airfield at Winkleigh


Written by David Freeman

Adapted from his TV Series Secret Britain

Photographs by Devon Photographer - Jackie Freeman



RAF Winkleigh   &  the "Black" Squadron Espionage Missions



  A wide variety of operational aircraft flew out of RAF Winkleigh in the south west of England during the war time years. IncludBlack Squadron Westland Lysander ing many flown by 'fly by the seat of your pants' super heroes in

Spitfires, Hurricanes, Mosquito's, Bristol Beaufighters, Fairchilds, B26 Marauders, Albacores, Defiants and  Dakotas but never forget the cloak and dagger boys of the RAF's special operations 161 Squadron, who were flying Lysanders like these.

 The Lysander aircraft, as this is, were painted jet black, befitting their less than 'conspicuous' flight plans. All were fitted with an additional long range torpedo shaped fuel tank under the fuselage and a metal ladder, which you can see clearly in the photograph, which was welded below the passenger seat.


 No clues here then as to what sort of mission these aircraft and their brave pilots were to undertake from the war time airfield in Devon. RAF Winkleigh !


Black Squadron Westland Lysander III a


 The "Black" squadron, operating out of Winkleigh, were a secret Royal Air Force unit flying ominously camouflaged airplanes in which the squadrons elite pilots flew dangerous & clandestine missions.

Their specific task, delivering and collecting spies and secret agents deep into the heart of occupied Europe.

 The inky shadows which slipped in and out of the skies over Winkleigh on moonless nights were unmistakable in appearance. Fitted with their long-range fuel tank beneath the fuselage and a ladder fixed to the side, they made an ominous spectacle.

Additions designed specifically to allow secret agents to enter and exit the aircraft quickly and painted black for stealthy anonymity.


 In their war, the part that the men of 161 squadron played is as incalculable as it is immeasurable. Though their achievements and clandestine activities undoubtedly had serious repercussions for the enemy and probably influenced the outcome of the war dramatically.

Many of their stories will never be told. For they remain unrecorded and not dramatised. Only a handful of people did know and many are no longer with us to recount the tales.

These unsung heroes of the RAF were as modest as they were illusive. In by night, out by night, no drama, no firecrackers, no heavy armament or dramatic dog fights. Stealth was their weaponry and secrets were their bomb load.

One such story can be told however and should be.





Operation PIROGUE  

RAF Winkleigh, Devon: 2100 hours, 4th August 1944


 Flight officer Jack Adcock had been recently assigned to the crack RAF Black Squadron # 161 at Winkleigh to fly secretive Lysander sorties.

 Jack was a talented, well respected and highly trained pilot.

 The Black Squadron, so called due to the colour of their aircraft, was a special operational duties squadron whose clandestine missions included carrying out secret and dangerous landings in the course of ferrying secret agents to and from the Continent. These were always high priority intelligence & sabotage missions for the Special Operations Executive (SOE.)


So it's little wonder that in the eyes of the Whitehall pen pushers, that they wouldn't want the place to be seen to exist.

It was only Jack's second mission with the Squadron and to be his last.


Flight Officer 'Jack' John Perry Alcock

Flight Officer 'Jack' John Perry Alcock

R.A.F. 127192 F/O J.P. Alcock, 2A R.C


 On the night of Friday 4th August 1944, it was overcast and moonless over his target, just another landing in an anonymous field marked by three torches somewhere in northern France & it was perfect weather cover for the dangerous drop.


 Jack's priceless cargo on that night was a French Resistance espionage agent called Lucien Germereau, cover name, Lucien Pradier of Réseau Écarlate.The Scarlet Network.

was more than just another important individual though. He was Director of the Chateauroux sector of the Réseau ÉCARLATE (the Free French - or the Scarlet network) and was returning to France after a secret debriefing in London.

Ironically, Lucien Germereau had been secreted into England on the night of 8th July 1944 as one of the passengers by Winkleigh's Black Squadrons operation PALAIS.


Jack Perrys' orders were simple and to the point. Get him home.





Lucien Pradier

Lucien Pradier AKA

Lucien Germereau



 It was to be a double drop from Winkleigh, which was not uncommon and the second Lysander from Winkleigh piloted by Jacks friend F/L Peter Arkell held an equally important cargo on his way back to continue the fight with the free French.


 As the two Lysanders climbed away from the English coast line and into French airspace, radar from Tailcoat G.C.I. (Radar system operating in Britain ) picked up two unidentified aircraft. To them, possible Bogies off the coast and they scrambled an RCAF Mosquito night fighter from No. 410 Cougar Squadron, based at RAF Colerne in Wiltshire.

 Its pilot F/L. W.G. Dinsdale and with all his training in a top-scoring night-fighter of its time, he was ready to pounce.


 With its supercharged speed, it didn't take long for the Mosquito to catch up with its prey which it cat and mouse'd for some 25 miles with flaps down and at a reduced airspeed way down at the bottom of its limits.

Dinsdale later suggested in his report that he did so to try to identify the target aircraft.
Believing the black camouflaged Lysander to be a Luftwaffe Henschel Hs 126, Dinsdale peeled off and fired two bursts of cannon from about 150 yards range into the belly of the Lysander.


Mosquito Night Fighter           Lysander Winkleigh           Henschel

Mosquito Night Fighter                          Lysander                                                         Henschel Hs 126


 Alcock's fuel tank exploded and Jack Alcock and Lucien Germereau were killed instantly. The Lysander crashing in flames in a field near a farm called La Patouillais, about one kilometre from the town of Messac, Ile et Vilaine, in Brittany, France.

The English pilot and his French comrade were buried together with full French honours the following day at Messac's Parish Church.

 In fairness to F/L Dinsdale and the dreadful burden he would carry for the rest of his life, in his report F/L Dinsdale stated that; "I had great difficulty in identifying the aircraft I intercepted, as it had a long range fuel tank between the undercarriages but I could see no national markings."


 The second Lysander out of Winkleigh piloted by F/L Arkell, landed safely on the target field at 02.30 hours on the morning of the 5th, dropping his passenger and returning safely to Winkleigh with two men and a girl, whose name nor mission is known.
The men, resistance agents Claude Thierry-Mieg and Leon Dupont along with 5 packages arrived safely at RAF Winkleigh at 05.50 hours on August 5th.

 On the tragic night when Jack Alcock and Lucien Germereau were killed, no less than five Lysanders left Winkleigh on secret missions. All with orders to land their precious cargoes at various destinations in France and all the aircraft, except Jack's, returned safely to its Devon airbase and continued their role in the war effort.


Squadron Secret Mission Entries

161 Squadron Secret Mission Entries for August 4/5th

Westland Lysander Black Squadron

Westland Lysander



BLUE ON BLUE, better known as friendly fire incidents, continued to plague our forces untill the end of the war and still is a recognised hazard of modern warfare today.


Raf Winkleigh david Freeman


Next. The Canadians come to Winkleigh


The War Years - 10 Group  Fighter  Command at Winkleigh 1942 - 1945

 IX USAF Serv. Comd.

   74th Serv Group

"Above All"

12th Tactical Reconnaissance

Squadron USAAF

"Know your Enemy"

          RAF 161

    Black Squadron

        " Liberate"

  RAF 286 Squadron

   "We exercise our


Free Polish Airmen

303 Squadron

RCAF 415
Swordfish Squadron

"To the mark"

RCAF 406 

Lynx Squadron

"We kill by night"

RCAF 408
Goose Squadron
"For Freedom"




A History of the Borough Town of Winkleigh, Devon

Sponsored by Jackie Freeman Photography

The Canadians at RAF Winkleigh



The writer thanks and acknowledges the help of Steve & Shirley Leahy



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Copyright:/ 2008 | Jackie Freeman Photography - Grays Cross - Winkleigh - Devon - England. All rights reserved
Unauthorized use of the images illustrated is prohibited and protected under international laws of copyright.


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