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Jouets-des-Flots

Yves Le Henaff (Fanfan) and his Dahlia network organised several evacuations from Brittany by fishing boat. As was the way with such things, some were successful and others not. Tragically, his last operation, which should have returned Le Henaff to England as well, was a disaster ...
This page updated 05 Apr 2017
By the end of January 1944, BCRA agents Pierre Brossolette and Emile Bollaert had been trying to get back to England for some months but bad weather had prevented any Lysander operations in January and so they turned (in despair, according to M R D Foot) to a Breton sea escape line ...
Just over a week after the Breiz-Izel left for England (see Article) the requirement to get Brossolette and Bollaert out of France, had become urgent. They, along with Emile Laffon and Jacques Maillet, joined a group of Frenchmen and seven evaders to be taken from Ile-Tudy on board a fishing boat called the Jouet-des-Flots ...
Six of the evaders were airmen - John Watlington (1925) John Pilkington (LIB/1372) Roy Davidson, Fred Krueger, Lee Gordon (#434) and Ralph Hall (#1246). The seventh man was an Indian who had escaped from prison at Rennes – none of the airmen give his name but it was Buland Khan.
F/O John H Watlington (1925) was the pilot of 400 Sqn Mustang AG641 which was shot down near Neufchatel on 22 June 1943. Amongst his many adventures had been the failed attempt from Quimper at the end of October so this was this second trip to the Breton town. While he'd been sheltered in Paris with Charles and Jeanne Ramsey at 47 rue Dulong (Paris XVII) in January – and apparently frustrated by further delays - Watlington asked Mrs Ramsey if she could put him back in touch with Mme McDonnel (who had sheltered him at her home at 119 rue Exelmans the previous October) and ‘the organisation on the coast'. Mme McDonnel contacted Charlotte Le Henaff (Yves's mother) at rue Michelet and it was arranged that she and Jeanne Ramsay would take Watlington to Montparnasse station where he was passed over to a Dahlia guide called Felix ...
“On arrival at Quimper we were taken by truck to a cottage outside the town. In the truck I met Kreuger and Davidson again (they first met in Paris in November). There was also another RAF man in the party – a Tempsford navigator whose name I do not know. Just before sunset two cars came for the party, which was under the direction of Fanfan and a French admiral. We were taken to a fisherman's cottage about 200 yards from the beach. As soon as a German patrol had passed we were taken to the beach itself. There were in the party six airmen, 28 to 30 Frenchmen, and about six French sailors who were to form the boat's crew. We were led through a minefield on the beach and along to a house in which we waited. It was a moonlit night.
After a time a boat showed up and we embarked in three small rowing boats and paddled out to the boat, a fishing smack about 60 feet long, equipped with engine and sail. We set off at 21.30 hrs from a point near Pen Morvan. Soon after we started the weather got very rough and the boat began to leak. We tried to keep the water down by bailing and by using an inadequate pump. As the water mounted the engine cut out and we had to rely on the sail. The rendezvous with the speed boat was to have been at 0800 hrs off the Chausee le Sein islands but at 0600 hrs we had to turn back. We reached the coast in a small bay near Pointe de Feunteun-Aod. We all got ashore and onto the highway, and split up.
I lost contact with my group and returned to the neighbourhood of the boat to look for Fanfan. By this time the boat had sunk and I am sure I saw some Germans in the vicinity. I saw one of the Americans (Lee Gordon) who had lost his shoes in jumping overboard. When walking along the road we saw two French members of the party ahead of us being questioned by a German police patrol. The patrol saw us as we rounded a corner and both the French and I turned and ran back up the road. A German came after us on his bicycle and I branched off up a slip road, leaving the American ... After a time, I met some members of a maquis group with the American. We stayed the night with the maquis group at a house in the bay at Primelin.”
John Watlington returned to Paris alone a few days later. He stayed with the Ramsays until 19 February when he left for Toulouse and another of his previous helpers, Mme Collaine at 14 rue Temponieres who put him in touch with yet another organisation ... Watlington was finally taken across the Pyrenees from Bagnères-de-Luchon by the Dutch-Paris organisation in March 1944.
The ‘Tempsford navigator' was F/Lt John Graham Pilkington (LIB/1372) from 161 Sqn Halifax EB129 which was on an SOE mission to Lyon the night of 10-11 November 1943. Bad weather preventing them from seeing any signal lights and they were returning to England with their containers still on board when the engines failed and the aircraft lost height. Pilot P/O M A Line RAAF gave the order to bale out but Pilkington was the only man able to do so before the aircraft crashed with the loss of all on board.
Pilkington landed in a field just outside Thiron-Gardais (Eure-et-Loire) and after burying his parachute and Mae West, set off walking. At about eight o'clock that morning, a passing cyclist recognised Pilkington as an airman and took him to M et Mme Germaine Merel who sheltered him on their farm at La Tuilerie, just outside Thiron-Gardais. He was visited there by two members of the resistance and after three weeks, a woman (either Mme Delaforge or her daughter Monique) came from Paris and took Pilkington back to her home on Route Nationale in La Chappelle-en-Serval (Oise). He stayed with Mme and Mlle Delaforge for a month before being moved to stay with Theodorine Quenot at 15 rue Alcide Veillard, Bobigny where he joined two American airmen (Davidson & Krueger) for another month.
On about 30 January, a man and woman took Pilkington and the two Americans to a railway station where they joined another American (Lee Gordon) and guide. They were passed on to two more guides who took them by train to Quimper in Brittany and a house where they were joined by three (query) more Allied airmen. Early next morning, they were taken along the cliffs and put into small boats, together with about twenty Frenchmen, including a number of secret agents, who were waiting for them. They were rowed out to a fishing boat in the middle of the river which immediately set off. After about three hours sailing, they ran into heavy seas which stopped the engine, blew away the sails and started a leak. Despite their best efforts at bailing, the captain decided they had to head back to the coast. They managed to fasten the boat to a rock and scramble ashore where they split up into small parties and Pilkington went with three of the Americans (Davidson & Krueger + one). They had only been walking for half an hour when they were stopped by a German soldier. Being unable to answer any of his questions in either German or French, they were arrested ...
It's not clear who the third American with Pilkington might have been – possibly Ralph Hall but his report doesn't have much detail ...
2/Lt Roy G Davidson and S/Sgt Fred C Krueger were the pilot and top-turret gunner of B-17 42-30453 Thunderbird which was returning from Schweinfurt on 14 October when they were attacked by fighters. Three crew baled out over Germany before Davidson crash-landed the aircraft in a field near Saverne (Alsace). Because I've not found any reports by American airmen who were captured, I don't know how Davidson and Kreuger got to Bobigny where they were joined by John Pilkington ...
Sgt Lee Gordon (#434) was the ball-turret gunner of B-17 41-24623 (Stallman) which was shot down off Wilhelmshaven on 26 February 1943. At least two crew were killed and Gordon and the rest captured but Gordon escaped from Stalag VIIA (Moosburg) on 13 October 1943. In contrast to one of his earlier attempts when Gordon rode a bicycle bought from a German guard and wore especially commissioned lederhosen to disguise himself as a member of the Hitler Youth, this time he simply changed into French civilian clothing and walked out of the camp as though on a work party. He made his way to Munich where he contacted a French Arbeitskommando who passed him on to other groups of French workers until he finally reached the relative safety of Strasbourg on 30 October. From there he went to St Nicolas-du-Port (Lorraine) where an organisation (Marie-Claire – query) became involved and sent him Paris in November ...
Gordon was the one who lost his shoes – he'd taken off all his clothes thinking he would probably have to swim ashore and then his shoes were washed overboard. He later bought replacements (actually just slippers) from an elderly farmer for 200 francs.
Lee Gordon joined up with John Watlington to be taken back to Quimper but the scribbled notes of his report make it hard to know exactly what happened after that. He certainly returned to Paris soon afterwards because the next news I have for him is when he left from Montparnasse station on about 23 February 1944 by train for Guingamp in Brittany with F/Sgt Leon Harmel (1807). Both men were taken back to England by MGB on the second Shelburn operation from Plage Bonaparte the night of 26-27 February.
Gordon ends his epic report by saying that he was a long time in France (four months) and became very impatient but his helpers reminded him – “patience, courage, confidence” – and says (on page 215) there is no better advice for an escaper.
T/Sgt Ralph Hall (#1246) was the top-turret gunner of B-17 42-31212 (Johnson) which was returning from Bordeaux on 5 January 1944 with an already damaged tail from flak over the target. As they dropped out of formation, they were attacked by fighters and the aircraft abandoned to crash somewhere west of Pontivy in Brittany. Hall's report doesn't give many details apart from saying he contacted the French underground at Gourin on 7 January and was sent to Douarnenez. After getting ashore from the wreckage of the Jouets-des-Flots, Hall was sheltered by Mlle Marguerite Seznec at 3 rue Emile Zola in Douarnenez for nearly seven months. On 22 August, Hall was taken to Plouha where he was met by a Captain James Harrison who helped him get transport to Rennes where he rejoined American forces. Captain Harrison was Lucien Dumais, the French-Canadian MI9 agent responsible for returning six others from Hall's crew to England by MGB on various Shelburn operations in February and March.
Buland Khan (1852) was cook for the officers of 22 Animal Transport Company (Mules) RIASC. They had been stationed at Marseille when the German offensive began in May 1940 and were quickly moved up to a small village near Metz. They (along with other units) were forced to retire south and they were captured at Gerardmer (Vosges) on 24 June. Khan was sent to Stalag VIIB (Lamsdorf) until September when he was transferred (presumably with his officers) to Oflag IV(E) (54) at Annaburg. In December 1942, he was moved to Rennes.
In February 1943, an Indian doctor (who had also been at Annaburg) asked Khan to take on the duties of a nursing orderly at the Ecole Premiere Superieure hospital, which was being used for Indians, Moroccans and Senegalise (and others) outside the camp and in the town of Rennes. The only security seems to have been a barbed wired fence, a wall and a German sentry at the front door. On 23 November 1943, Khan and his friend Sgt Shahzaman escaped from the hospital ...
Khan and Shahzaman were helped by a French girl called Lise de Rider who took them back to her lodgings in Rennes where she gave them civilian clothing. The following night, she took them to her home in Paris at 17 rue d'Oléron (query) where they stayed for a month. On 24 December, Lise took the two men by train to Vannes, where they stayed at 13 rue Saint-Gildas. On 30 December, Lise left and local resistance leader, Emile Guimard took them to St Aubin, where they stayed for a week, then on 7 January, to Gourin (the same date given by Hall above). On 15 January, a French guide took them to Douarnenez, where Shahzaman was questioned by a gendarme and arrested.
Khan makes no mention of the boating adventure, saying only that he returned to the same address (not given) in Gourin but it seems too much of a coincidence for him not to be the unidentified Indian mentioned by both Hall and Lee Gordon. Buland Khan left Gourin for Guingamp on 14 March and was evacuated by MGB 503 from the beach at Anse-Cochet near Plouha the night of 19-20 March 1944 on Operation Bonaparte 4.
The loss of the Jouets-des-Flots in the early hours of 4 February 1944 was a disaster for the French Resistance in general because, although Emile Laffon and Jacques Maillet escaped, amongst those who were subsequently captured were Pierre Brossolette and Emile Bollaert.
It was news of the capture of Brossolette and Bollaert (and the hope that Brossolette hadn't yet been identified) that sent his friend, SOE (RF Section) agent Forest Yeo-Thomas back to France to try and rescue him – a mission that also failed. Yeo-Thomas was betrayed and captured in Paris on 21 March – just one day before Pierre Brossolette, after extensive torture, managed to throw himself from a fifth-floor window - he died later that evening. Emile Bollaert was deported to Germany but survived Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen to be repatriated to France in 1945.
Yves Le Henaff was also captured. He was held in prison at Rennes and after extensive interrogation, was deported to Germany. Lieutenant de Vaisseau Yves Henri Leon Le Henaff (born October 1914) died on the way to Dachau in July 1944.