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IF JAMES Bond were an aeroplane, he’d be a Westland Lysander: tough, powerful, extremely capable in clandestine operations and resolutely British. I trust as well he’d be confident enough in self-image to be comfortable with the aircraft’s nickname, the “Lizzie.”
The Lizzie was designed as an army-support aircraft, capable of operation from the crudest of front-line airfields—or, for that matter, any sort of field including agricultural ones. Other observer/support craft displayed modest power (the U.S. L-4 Piper Grasshopper, 65 hp; the British Auster, 130 hp; even the similarly sized German Storch, 240 hp). By contrast, Lysanders had two engine configurations: a poppet-valve Bristol Mercury producing 870 or 890 hp, or this same company’s sleeve-valve Perseus producing 905 hp. This power combined with a very efficient high-aspect-ratio wing design gave the Lizzie exceptionally good Short Takeoff and Landing capabilities.
The Lizzie’s STOL virtues were put to good use in its role with Britain’s Special Operations Executive, its clandestine activities in Nazi-occupied France. Two squadrons of SOE Lizzies, based in Tempsford, Bedfordshire, about 50 miles north of London, were fitted with 150-gal. auxiliary fuel tanks, extra seating and ladders with rungs indicated by luminous paint.
Secret agents were carried into and out of tiny rough fields in France—the SOE Lizzies were piloted solo, at night, with essentially no navigational gear.
By war’s end, SOE Lizzies had delivered a total of 101 operatives into Hitler’s Europe and brought 128 out.
There’s a wonderful book, We Landed By Moonlight, detailing these exploits. It includes a date-by-date summary of actual “Pick-up Operations,” extracts of SOE logs, a glossary of related aviation, military and government terms, notes on Lysander modifications, maps and an extensive bibliography.
The author Hugh Verity was one of the SOE pilots, having earned by war’s end a Distinguished Service Order and bar, a Distinguished Flying Cross, an Officier de la Legion d’Honneur and a Croix de Guerre avec Palme.
Commander Bond could have accomplished no more than Verity and his colleagues. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2012