Operation Autogiro/Urchin

'Autogiro/Urchin' was a British naval undertaking in which four agents of the Special Operations Executive were landed by Fidelity at Le Barcarès on the south-west coast of Vichy France (19/20 September 1941).

Fidelity was a 2,400-ton French armed merchant vessel originally named Le Rhin, which her captain, Lieutenant de Vaisseau Claude Andre Peri, had taken from Marseille at the time of the 23 June 1940 signature of the Franco-German armistice and sailed to Gibraltar, and thence the UK where he turned her over to the Royal Navy. Peri renamed himself 'Jack Langlais' and was given the rank of temporary British rank of lieutenant commander, and retained command of the ship now renamed Fidelity and used for special services. Among the crew as the first lieutenant was a Belgian doctor named Albert-Marie Guerisse, who had changed his name to 'Patrick Albert O’Leary' and was also given the temporary rank of lieutenant commander, and Madeleine Gueslin, who changed her name to 'Barclay' and was appointed a first officer in the Women’s Royal Naval Service and was the only woman engaged in active service during the war on a British fighting ship.

In 1941 Fidelity was despatched to land agents and bring off Polish evaders from southern France. The first operation was 25 April, when the vessel landed Egbert H. Rizzo, a Maltese civil engineer, and one Bitner, who had previously been the Polish consul in Toulouse, at Canet Plage. Both men had been allocated the task of establishing, on behalf of the Special Intelligence Service and the Special Operations Executive, escape routes out of France across the Pyrenees mountains into neutral Spain.

After landing the agents, Fidelity was involved on the following night in an aborted undertaking to embark Polish servicemen from Cerbère, and it was then that O’Leary and three other crew members, Fergusson, Rogers and Forde, were left behind and all but the last were later seized by the Vichy French.

Fidelity's last, and possibly her only other, successful undertaking in the Mediterranean was 'Autogiro/Urchin', in which the vessel landed four SOE agents at Le Barcarès during the night of 19/20 September 1941.

Fidelity then returned to the UK, where the vessel was re-equipped and armed for work in the Far East. In December 1942, the vessel was travelling with the ONS.154 convoy when this came under U-boat attack. Fidelity was torpedoed on 29 December by U-435 and sank with all hands off the Azores islands group after picking up survivors from other ships.