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The Secret and Scary Delivery of SOE Agents

ON THIS DAY 1942, HMS Unbroken (P42) commander Alastair Mars delivered SOE agent and SPINDLE circuit organizer Peter Churchill (code named RAOUL) to the shores of Antibes, France.

It was a dangerous route that Churchill had opened with his first visit on January 1, slipping ashore from 800 yards out in a flimsy canoe.

Monument at Antibes, France, recognizing Peter Churchill and HMS Unbroken for the April 21, 1942 landing and delivery of agents.

Because of heavy German and Vichy French patrols, however, the submarine dropped Peter off this

time about 900 yards off shore. Paddling on a pitch-dark, moonless night, Peter made it ashore to pick up another agent who would be returning to London. It was a tricky assignment, not only because of the difficulty navigating the canoe to find Unbroken, which would have submerged for some time, but because the canoe was so flimsy that Peter feared his large companion would step through the floor of the paper-thin craft.

HMS Unbroken (P42)

They did find the sub, but only to come face to face with what every submariner fears: being rammed. No sooner than Peter and the other agent had climbed down the bridge hatch, the sub's klaxon sounded. A French destroyer was bearing directly at them, full-speed, with all lights extinguished.

Commander Mars ordered the crash-dive and the Unbroken vanished beneath the water as the destroyer passed overhead.

Left: HMS Unbroken Commander, Alastair Mars Right: Captain Peter Churchill

Peter's landings would open the way for ongoing delivery of SOE agents by a felucca (a small sailboat) being run by Jan Buchowski (a 21 year-old Polish sea captain) from Gibraltar. One of these agents, Odette Sansom, would become Peter's courier and right-hand assistant.

A close-up of the Antibes plaque honoring Churchill and the HMS Unbroken.

But the dangers for these brave sailors and agents was just beginning. Buchowski would be killed during the war, and Churchill and Sansom would soon wish they were dead.

More to come ...

Larry Loftis is the international bestselling author of Into the Lion's Mouth, the true story of WWII double agent Dusko Popov, and the upcoming WWII nonfiction thriller, The Courier.

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