18.06.1940 No. 10 Squadron RAAF Walrus I L2312 Fl/Lt. Bell
Operation: SIS (Special Intelligence Service)
Date: 18th June 1940 (Tuesday)
Unit: No. 10 Squadron (RAAF)
Type: Supermarine Walrus Mk I (Belonging to RAF No 15 Coastal Command Flight)
Serial No L2312
Base: RAF Mount Batten, Plymouth
Location: Kerbiquet near Ploudaniel, Brittany, France
Pilot: Fl/Lt. 'Dinger' John Napier Bell AUS/162 RAAF Age 24. Killed (1)
Nav: Sgt. 'Chas' Charles William Harris AUS/1730 RAAF Age 31. Killed (1)
RAF W/T operator Cpl. Bernard Felix Nowell 565931 RAF Age 25. Killed
Passenger: 2nd Lt. Norman Edward Hope 141140 Intelligence Corps. Killed
We are indebted to Alan Hall who has researched this loss with great detail - the page has now been totally updated with his information.
Reason For Loss:
The aircraft on the 17th of June was brought around from No 15 Coastal Command Flight to RAAF No 10 Squadron. Lacking armament, a gas operated Vickers machine gun from a Sunderland was mounted on a modified Scart ring. At 03:00 hours the next day the aircraft departed to cross the coast of Brittany approximately 20 Kilometres west of Carantec.
The precise reason for loss never ascertained as there are no records of any enemy fire, bullet holes, fighter intercepts or radio communications. The aircraft, due to flames coming from 18 unmuffled exhausts when viewed from the rear, had gained the nick name of ‘the flying gas ring’. Eye witnesses in Ploudaniel described flames from back of the aircraft as it flew over the town.
Above: Walrus Mk.I (courtesy IWM)
The aircraft had crashed at Kerbiquet and the crew survived for a short period after. Some of the local people then removed the bodies from the aircraft and buried them in the nearby Ploudaniel church cemetery before the German army occupied their town.
'Maritime Is Number Ten'. A History of No.10 Squadron RAAF. The Sunderland Era 1939-1945. Published by K.S. Baff 01st January 1983. ISBN No: 978-0959239607. Published in English consisting of 466 pages. Compiled and researched by Flight Lieutenant K.C. Baff.
His research into the loss of L2312 dated back to 1977 when he was serving with No.10 Squadron and it was through his correspondence with M.R.D. Foote and others that he was able to unravel what had happened in respect of the de Gaulle family. He still has that correspondence. Until then the respective families had no idea about the de Gaulle family connection. They were only told the full story in Canberra prior to the handover of the pieces of wreckage that he collected in 1980 when he visited Brittany and recovered parts of the Walrus. They were presented on his behalf (because he was then on an exchange posting to the Canadian Armed Forces (VP415 Sqn)) to the Australian War Memorial through Sir Richard Kingsland (formerly Julius Cohen) who was a pilot on No.10 Sqn at the time of the incident. He doesn’t have a problem if the product of his original research is used by others with proper acknowledgement (and permission that in most cases will be freely given).
General De Gaulle had arrived safely in England on Monday 17th June 1940 and met with Churchill the same day. Although undocumented there is a strong inference Church directed “C” the head of the Special Intelligence Service (SIS) to instigate the rescue of General De Gaulle’s wife and family who remained in France at that time. Being the head of SIS Captain Sir George Mansfield Smith-Cumming dropped the use of his hyphenated surname Cumming signing documents with the initial 'C' in green ink a practice by the Head of SIS to this day. Ian Flemming formally of the SIS used ‘M’ for James Bond books.
All the three known ‘orders’ all originated from the Commander in Chief Western Approaches (CICWA) and were directed to 10 squadron as ‘top secret’. The orders implied Norman Hope was a Captain. Hope because of his pre war oil industry employment in the French Indochina and South America was proficient in fluent French and Spanish languages.
The communications stated ‘Captain’ Hope would indicate to the crew the ultimate destination in North Brittany. As the CICWA orders were marked ‘Top Secret’ only the crew were to know and not even the C/O was not permitted to be present for the briefings.
Just 5 minutes before the original duty crew were due to be tasked they were dispatched on another operation. Fl/Lt. Bell and Sgt. Harris were ordered to take the aircraft. Cpl. Nowell (a RAF radio technician who was colour blind and thus ground crew only) was seconded to fill a vacancy of radio operator/gunner for the crew. Hope dressed in civilian clothing was the last to board the aircraft.
Initially a Sunderland was requested in the orders and later changed to be a Walrus. No 10 Squadron flew Sunderlands and so Walrus number L2312 had to be requisitioned from the RAF. Lacking suitable armament a Vickers machine gun was taken off a Sunderland and the Walrus scart gun ring modified to take it.
On the 18th of June 1940 the aircraft took off at 03:00 hrs. from the RAF Mountbatten base, Plymouth to carry out the mission. Nothing was heard after that from the aircraft. By the 19th June the aircraft had failed to return and the aircraft was posted as missing.
That night of the 19th, the SIS dispatched motor torpedo boat 'MTB 29' to reconnoitre Carantec and attempt the rescue of Madam Yvonne De Gaulle and family. They were also tasked to locate the Walrus and crew if possible. The Motor Torpedo Boat returned on the 20th June, reporting the village had already been occupied by the Germans. Two years late in October 1942 that MTB was to meet a similar fate to the Walrus when it failed to return from a mission
Notes: Mdm De Gaulle and her children had gone to Brest on the 18th of June. She and her children found room on one of the last ships to leave Brest before the Germans arrived. Madame de Gaulle knew nothing of this attempt to rescue her.
(1) Were the first Australian combat casualties of the RAAF.
Four Men and The Walrus ISBN: 978-0-646-92101-3. Published by Alan Hall, 2014.
Description: 120 pages - Prime Minister Churchill tasked the Special Intelligence Service who in turn organised the Admiralty to have RAAF No 10 Squadron fly the mission. This chain of command brought about the June 18 1940, ill fated attempt to rescue Madam Yvonne de Gaulle and her three children; the family of General Charles de Gaulle. The mission came to an abrupt end with the death of four men, two of whom were the very first RAAF members to die in action.
To this day those graves are cared for with flowers and a service on Remembrance Day and All Saints Day by the local population and is always well attended.
Fl/Lt. John Napier Bell. St Yves Church Yard Ploudaniel, Brittany, France. Grave 4. Son of John Henry and Eva Annie Bell, of Farina, South Australia. Grave inscription reads: "So Dearly Loved , So Deeply Mourned".
Cpl Bernard Felix Nowell. St Yves Church Yard Ploudaniel, Brittany, France. Grave 3. Son of Lawrence and Gertrude Nowell, husband of Susan Ann Nowell,of Bognor Regis, Sussex, England. Grave inscription reads: "In Constant Memory Of A Devoted Husband, A Loving Son And A Dear Daddy".
Sgt Charles William Harris. St Yves Church Yard Ploudaniel,Brittany, France. Grave 2. Son of William Charles and Denah Christina Harris, husband of Joyce Florence Evelyn Harris, of Croydon, New South Wales, Australia. Grave inscription reads: "How Shall Dust Hold Them, Those Who Met Each Danger With A Smile".
2nd Lt. Norman Edward Hope. St Yves Church Yard Ploudaniel,, Brittany, France. Grave 1. Wife of Marjorie, initially the grave marker was marked with an X, then changed to Sgt. Bennett, later remarked as Hope. The Ploudaniel death register stated 'A non identified body and due to the condition of the remains we could not establish who he was. His papers were signed by Officer Bennett at Mount Batten. “
No 10 Squadron RAAF was tasked for conversion training to fly and maintain the new RAAF Sunderland flying boats before taking them back to Australian from Pembroke. With the outbreak of war the Squadron was ordered on 7 October 1939 to remain in the UK. They became the first RAAF squadron to be at war and after war end the last to leave UK. No 1 RAAF Squadron claim they were the first to go to war unlike No 10 who were already there.
No 10 was a coastal command squadron mainly operating Sunderlands from Plymouth, with 6 U-Boat kills in WW2. The Squadron had arrived at Pembroke Dock, Pembrokeshire on 3rd September 1939 and trained under RAAF Command. On 1 February 1940 became fully operation at Mount Batten, Plymouth under the Coastal Command Control.
John Napier Bell was born at Largs Bay a suburb of Adelaide on the 25th April 1916. Father, John Henry Bell who owned the Bell Store. Employed as an Assistant General Merchant. Enlisted into the Royal Australian Air Force as a Air Cadet on the 15th July 1935, father next of kin, religion as Church of England. After training as a pilot he spent some years in Australia and served with Squadrons No 5, 9 and 10, gained flying experience on the following aircraft: Wapiti, Seagull (Walrus), Avro-Anso, NA16, and Sunderland's on which he became a very proficient pilot. He volunteered to go to the UK to fly Sunderlands at Pembroke Dock, Pembrokeshire. Embarked from Sydney by aeroplane on the 17th January 1940, finally arrived at London on 2nd February. Joined RAAF 10 Squadron on the 1st April 1940.
Charles William Harris was born on the 29th August 1908 at Collerandabri New South wales, Australia. Served a five year apprenticeship at Purcell Engineering Company at Auburn New South Wales, where he worked for six years. Enlisted at No 3 Recruitment Centre at Sydney on 9th November 1934. Married Joyce Florence Evelyn Harris at Church Hill, New South Wales on the 21st November 1936. Son called Richard Charles Harris from a previous marriage. He and his new wife also had a son who they named Bruce Charles Harris. As a regular serviceman he was first posted to RAAF 3 Squadron on 3rd December 1934. Then posted to RAAF 22 Squadron on the 8th February 1937. RAAF 10 Squadron on the 11th November 1939, where he volunteered to go to England in the first contingent to train on Sunderland Flying Boats. Embarking from Sydney on 17th November 1939, travelled to Marseilles France on RMS Arantes, embarking there on the 21st December 1939. From there he took a train and boarded another boat which took him to Southampton disembarking there on the 26th December 1939. On the same day he took a train to Pembroke Dock, Pembrokeshire to start his training. Charles Harris’s father also made the supreme sacrifice in France during WW I.
Corporal Bernard Francis Nowell RAF 565931 by trade mustering a Wireless Operator/Mechanic. Born in Yeovil Somerset 1915 Nowell was the son of Lawrence and Gertrude Nowell. RAF Cranwell became the home to 79 young men seeking to complete apprenticeships as either Instrument makers or Wireless Operator Mechanics (WO/M). Nowell was part of a group allocated to 'course 4D' which was actually the 25th of such intakes at RAF Cranwell. Nowell met Susan Ann Street and in 1937 they were married living at Bognor Regis, Sussex. A year later their son, Christopher, was born. Nowell would have been well versed in the technical aspects of the wireless equipment. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission record Bernard as a member of 810 Squadron in 1940. From 1933 squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) in the UK were amalgamated into the RAF and given Squadron numbers from 700 to the 800's. The Fleet Air Arm was to later take back command of those squadrons. Another web site suggested a different location for Nowell's No 810 Squadron.
Norman Edward Hope. As an officer of the Special Intelligence Service Hope was a British Army's 2nd Lieutenant and central to the mission conducted by 10 Squadron on June 18 1940. SIS records are vague and provide little back ground information of Hope's service. Alfred John Hope was Hope's father. By 1901 Hope's father had then married Henrietta Alice Ashby. Norman Edward Hope was born at Culish Cumberland March 11 1903. Alfred and the family moved around the UK after several of his business activities did not come to full fruition. Hope attended Dean Close School in Cheltenham between September 1913. From the School Register it would seem that his registration was a late entry as his name is placed towards the end and out of alphabetical order. Whilst at the school Hope was in the Officer Training Corps (OTC) as a Lance Corporal. He played in the school football team and had additional tutoring in music and drawing till he left in July 1921. The school archives indicate Hope then furthered his education in France. Hope certainly met the profile of being well-educated and bilingual being fluent in French and Spanish. His employment with Asiatic Petroleum Company (later Shell) saw him working in Indochina, Curacao, Venezuela Columbia South America, Quebec and at the Saigon British Consulate married Marjorie Martin Phillips on October 6 1933. Lt. Col. Phillips of Llwydcoed, Aberdare, Wales was his father in law. Hope had been awarded the Legion of Honour medal dated July 8 1939 for services to the oil industry. In early 1940 Hope had been appointed to the Army and detached to the Royal Navy (RN) Intelligence Service, a common practice for many army intelligence officers. He was often referred in some books as member of the SOE, another factoid, as that organisation did not officially exist then. Even his rank was, by error, cited as a Major in the book MI 6 and copied into other books. The UK Air Ministry's Missing Recovery Section (MRS) officially position is that Hope had taken on the fictitious identity of Bennett due to the secrecy of the mission. Marjorie Hope died in 1982. The family were given clear instructions that the funeral notice of her death was to include the words, 'widow of Norman Hope, Chevalier du Legion'd'Honneur. A statement that now appears to be correct. Hope was officially commissioned into the Army after the crash and that appointment back dated to be prior to 18 Jun 1940.
Researched and written by Mr. Alan Hall - with many thanks to Geoff Swallow / M. Gildas Saouzanet for supplying some great quality grave photographs. Also to Australian National Archives. The CWGC. IWM. Flight Lieutenant K.C. Baff who contacted us in April 2021.