In addition to transporting agents, Tangmere’s Pick-Up pilots carried out night Mail Pick-Up (MPU) operations. For these missions an adapted Lysander was used with a 15 foot bamboo cane and hook suspended below the aircraft. A winch operator was carried in the rear cockpit with the winch and arrester gear braking mechanism. In the rear cockpit, the winch operator could manoeuvre the cane and hook through a trap door in the floor. When lowered, the cane could be locked four feet below the wheels of the aircraft ready to pick up the mail-bag.
To pick up a mail-bag, the pilot flew towards the field guided by a single torch light giving the direction of approach. Lights were placed on the top of two six foot high poles which were placed twenty feet apart and the mail-bag was placed on the ground and attached to a looped rope suspended over the poles. Training for these missions took place at a farmer’s field near Tempsford and locally at Cowdray Park near Midhurst, Sussex. On one of these training sessions, piloted by Bob Large, a Pick-Up pilot who had flown in Bader’s Tangmere Wing earlier in the war, the bag burst open and the hook became entangled with the elevator. The Lysander climbed out of control and almost stalled. The winch operator, seeing the problem, stopped ‘winching-in’ enabling Bob to regain control and land the aircraft safely.
On 6 August 1944, Bob Large took off from Tangmere for his final pick-up operation – Operation ‘Butterwort’, a long-range MPU at night. On his arrival he was unable to find the pick-up field and had to fly to the River Loire to visually fix his position. On successfully finding the field and seeing the torches the reception committee had lit, he successfully dropped a mailbag and after a dummy run over the pick-up point, snatched a mail-bag on his next approach. He landed back at Tangmere, as dawn was breaking, after a flight of six hour forty minutes.
A DIORAMA OF A LYSANDER MAIL PICK-UP OPERATION IS DISPLAYED IN THE SOE EXHIBITION IN THE MUSEUM’S TANGMERE HALL.