Operation Scullion II

This was a British and US special forces operation to drop a combined Special Operations Executive and Office of Strategic Services team into the Autun area of German-occupied France to destroy a synthetic oil facility (16/23 August 1943).

The operation was undertaken in an effort to destroy this facility, which had not been damaged in the failed 'Scullion I' operation. 'Scullion II' was also a failure, for the demolition charges used by the team were inadequate.

It was during August 1943 that another attempt to destroy the facility at Les Télots was scheduled. Once again the leadership of the undertaking was assigned to Hugh Dormer, now a captain and determined not to fail again. Dormer therefore went through the mission plan in meticulous detail, even visiting the factory making the party’s rucksacks to inspect every strap and fastening.

On 16/17 August Dormer parachuted back to Barnay with a new team comprising a pair of non-commissioned officers in the forms of Charles Birch and Harry Graham, the former commando Philip Amphlett, the legionnaire David Sibree and the young American, Victor Soskice. George Demand, another man from the 'Scullion I' first mission, had been sent in ahead and was waiting to receive the party at the drop zone.

This time things went more smoothly, and on the night of 22/23 August the men of the party cut through the perimeter fence and broke into the refinery. Dormer held up a few French workers at gunpoint, but rather than try to raise the alarm they simply encouraged the team to carry on and plant its explosives. Six charges with 10‐minute fuses were attached to the oil furnaces before Dormer ordered the whole installation to be evacuated. As the team retreated into night, the first charge detonated, sending a ball of flame rising above the slag heaps.

The party had achieved its task, but on the following day packs of bloodhounds could be heard moving through the woods toward their hide-out. The party decided to divide: Dormer paired with Birch and headed to the west in the direction of Château Chinon, Soskice and Graham went to the north in the direction of Avallon, and Amphlett and Sibree opted to travel to the east in the direction of Dijon.

Dormer and Birch were pursued across the Morvan massif before reaching Nevers, whence they caught a train for Paris. Their luck held out much longer than the rest of their team. Walking through the capital in army gym shoes, Dormer risked returning to same hotel in Levallois he had visited in April, then caught up with Demand, whose nerves had been shattered by the ordeal of the past few days and was arrested just a few days later, though exactly how the Gestapo tracked him down is not clear.

Sibree, Soskice and Graham probably took the same gamble in visiting an address known to be unsafe and walked straight into a Gestapo trap. Demand was later seen at the Gestapo prison at Place des Etats‐Unis, and Sibree was seen by another agent at Fresnes prison in November. Demand, Sibree, Graham and Soskice were later deported to Flossenberg concentration camp where they were joined by Levene, who had been caught on his second mission, and all these men were all executed on 29 March 1945.

The 'Vic' escape line moved Dormer and Birch efficiently down through France, but Birch had one near‐fatal encounter on the train to Narbonne when a Gestapo officer questioned him about his forged papers. Birch, who had been recruited by the SOE’s F Section despite not knowing a word of French, played dumb, shrugged and stared at the floor. Dormer thought of intervening but the officer, assuming Birch to be an idiot, simply gave him a contemptuous glance and continued down the carriage. The trek across the Spanish border proved less dramatic but just as punishing as that of Dormer’s first mission, though the two men reached Madrid with few problems. They flew back from Gibraltar on separate flights, and by 23 September were back in the UK.