On the night of 16/17 November 1943, Flight Lieutenant Robin Hooper, an RAF pick-up pilot, took off in Westland Lysander ‘MA-D’ from RAF Tangmere, with SOE agents in the rear cockpit, for a field in France. The outward flight of “Operation Scenery” was uneventful, the sky was clear and navigation by moonlight was relatively easy. Just south of the river Loire, Robin turned on track for the landing field and soon saw the reception signals from the ground. Closer to the ground, the mist made the approach difficult but after two attempts and a very tight and low circuit, Robin managed to put the aircraft down in the field. However, he soon realised that all was not well; the ground was extremely soft requiring a great deal of throttle to keep the aircraft moving. In making the turn to return to meet the reception committee, the Lysander became stuck. The aircraft was immovable and even with maximum throttle the aircraft became bogged down in the mud. After attempts to manually push the Lysander out failed, it was decided to get some bullocks from the nearest farm. Two dually arrived with the farmer and his family, only too keen to help – trenches were dug in front of the wheels to form a ramp and all was ready! The bullocks were hitched to the aircraft and started to pull but nothing happened. Two more bullocks were fetched but again the Lysander failed to move. All this took about two hours and Robin finally realised that there was no hope of digging the aircraft out and set about setting it on fire. “D” for “Dog” burnt well in the misty field and soon the agents and Robin were on their way back to a resistance safe house. Robin was safely hidden from the Germans until picked up by fellow pick-up pilot Lewis (Bob) Hodges a month later on the night of 16/17 December. Two more Lysander operations were carried out that night but sadly both pilots (Flight Lieutenants Stephen Hankey and Jim McBride) were killed making approaches to land in foggy conditions.
Robin Hooper, a career diplomat, became Britain’s Ambassador to Greece and was knighted after the war. Lewis Hodges was also knighted and became an Air Chief Marshal. “Operation Scenery” is remembered at Tangmere by a painting by artist Douglas LIttlejohn showing the bullocks hitched to the aircraft and a model of Lysander ‘MA-D’ recently donated by Robin’s son Gavin.
THE MODEL OF LYSANDER ‘MA-D’ IS DISPLAYED IN THE MUSEUM’S SOE EXHIBITION.