Operation Squabble

This was a British morale-boosting overflight of Paris by a single Bristol Beaufighter heavy fighter (12 June 1942).

Intelligence gathered by the Special Operations Executive early in the spring of 1942 indicated that there was a German paraded along the Champs Élysées every day between 12.15 and 12.45, and on the basis of this Air Chief Marshal Sir Philip Joubert de la Ferté, heading RAF Coastal Command, developed a propaganda idea to boost the morale of the French by draping the Arc de Triomphe with the French tricolour flag.

Joubert de la Ferté asked Flight Lieutenant A. F. Gatward of No. 246 Squadron to volunteer for the task. Gatward had already flown several low-level daylight attacks, and with his navigator, Sergeant Gilbert. Fern, agreed. The plan was to fly at very low level along the Champs Élysées, strafe the German soldiers on parade, and as a back up target, attack the German naval headquarters in the Ministre de la Marine.

On 5 May Gatward and Fern began to practise by attacking a wrecked ship in the English Channel, and carefully planned their routes to and from Paris, and also over the city itself.

The two men obtained a tricolour flag from Portsmouth harbour and had it cut into two sections each weighted with iron. The flag sections were then dropped from a hangar roof so that it could been seen that they unfurled as desired. The sections were then installed on a Beaufighter Mk IC, it being planned that one section would be draped over the Arc de Triomphe and the other over the ministry.

Gatward first attempted the raid on 13 May, but was defeated by adverse weather after crossing the French coast. On 12 June, the two men took off from Thorney Island at 11.29 in heavy rain and low cloud, and headed toward France. As the Beaufighter passed over the French coast a few miles to the east of Fécamp at 11.58, the cloud thinned out and by the time the aeroplane reached Rouen there was bright sunshine.

In conditions of very good visibility, the aeroplane overflew the suburbs of Paris at a very low altitude, and for the first time was met by Flak fire, though this was light. Gatward circled the Eiffel Tower at 12.27. Despite the fact that his aeroplane had suffered a bird strike on his starboard engine, Gatward continued and at about 12.28 headed toward the Champs Élysées. The intelligence information about the time of the parade proved to be inaccurate, so there were no German soldiers to strafe, but Fern released the first part of the tricolour flag down the Beaufighter’s flare chute over the Arc de Triomphe. Gatward then attacked the Ministre de la Marine in the Place de la Concorde, strafing the building with 20-mm cannon shells and scattering the sentries, before Fern dropped the second part of the tricolour flag.

Gatward turned for home at 12.30 hours and landed at Northolt at 13.53.

Intelligence later confirmed that the parade had been assembling at the time of the attack but had been abandoned in the confusion following Gatward’s raid.