Operation Bluebottle I

'Bluebottle I' was the British naval rescue of escapees and evaders by the Q-ship Tarana from a beach in the south-west of Vichy France (13/14 July 1942).

Tarana was a 347-ton motor trawler built in Rotterdam in 1932. After taking part in the evacuation of her home port of Boulogne in 1940 and reaching the UK, the trawler was requisitioned into the auxiliary patrol service and had her holds gutted, cleaned and converted into living quarters. In 1941 she was chosen for a new mission and fitted with concealed weapons in the form of a 3-in (76.2-mm) gun mounted in place of her trawl winch, and which could be disguised as a winch by the addition of wooden ends, and two 2-pdr guns mounted beneath her forecastle and hidden by drop screens. Tarana was also fitted with a variety of light automatic weapons and extra lavatory facilities. With her original Royal Navy service patrol crew and commanded by Lieutenant Commander E. B. Clark, Tarana was despatched to Gibraltar. Her first mission in the Mediterranean was for the 'Abloom' operation for the Secret Intelligence Service and the MI.9 escaper/evader service, when she landed Pat O’Leary and his radio operator at Canet Plage near Port Vendres, in the Perpignan area, on 18 April 1942.

Tarana's standard operating procedure was to depart Gibraltar late in the evening as a minor British naval vessel with a black hull, grey upper works and a white ensign. Once at sea and out of sight of land, in a process that could be completed in as little as six hours, the vessel’s crew discarded their uniforms, painted the upper works to resemble those of local fishing vessels, alter the funnel outline, strew loose gear about the decks and hoist an 'appropriate' national flag. With the mission completed, the vessel spent the last night before arrival back in Gibraltar in being transformed back into a British naval vessel once more, both the crew and passengers being employed for the task.

Tarana's missions sometimes included co-operation with the Polish-manned feluccas Seawolf and Seadog, which were both 20-ton sailing vessels, and taking excess passengers from them for the return trip or delivering passengers for the smaller vessels to land.

In 'Bluebottle I', Tarana evacuated eight men from St Pierre Plage near Narbonne the night of 13/14 July. On that same night the Q-ship, an ex-Polish trawler, carried out the first of six operations over a seven-night period to land agents of the Special Operations Executive and to evacuate a small number of resistance personnel and more than 100 Poles before returning to Gibraltar.

This was the first sea evacuation specifically organised for the 'Pat' escapers' line, and also Tarana's second operation for the MI.9 escape organisation: her first had been 'Abloom', as noted above. Before this, Tarana and the feluccas Seawolf and Seadog had carried out several combined Polish and SOE operations to the French coast, dropping and collecting agents and bringing out some of the many Poles stranded in France.

The servicemen collected in 'Bluebottle I' were Wing Commander Whitney Straight, Sergeant Stefan Miniakowski, Private Charles Knight, Sergeant John Beecroft, Sergeant Henry Hanwell, Lieutenant Anthony Deane-Drummond and Sergeant T. G. Johnson, and the undertaking also extracted the SOE agent Flight Lieutenant André Simon.

Another man often claimed as being collected in this operation is Leoni Savinos, a key member of the 'Pat' line in Marseille. Following the arrest in Paris of Savinos and Pierre Lanvers, and the two men’s subsequent conditional release, it was imperative to get Lanvers, Savinos and the latter’s German-born wife Emi out of France. While some claim that the three were collected by Tarana, it seemed more likely that the three were collected, on the same night, by the Polish-crewed Seawolf from Port d’En Vau, near Cassis. Here the Poles had expected to collect 10 agents, but instead recovered two men and one woman, probably Lanvers and the two Savinos. These were later transferred to Tarana, along with a large number of Polish personnel also collected by Seawolf in a series of joint operations.