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Roger Landes

Discussion in 'The Secret War: Resistance and Espionage During WW' started by Jim, Dec 10, 2010.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Roger Landes Recruited: March 1942
    Roles: Circuit Organiser, Wireless Operator (F Section)
    Circuits: SCIENTIST, ACTOR
    Codenames: Stanislas, Aristide
    Fate: Survived

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    Roger Landes had spent most of his life in France before the war: born in Paris in 1916, he trained as an architect and only moved to London in 1938, joining his family who had left France after their jewellery business had collapsed during the Depression. He found work as a surveyor with London County Council, then was called up in 1941, serving with the Royal Corps of Signals. SOE had been watching his progress for some time, and when Landes qualified as a wireless operator he was quickly requested for interview: F Section had a desperate need for people with his language and technical skills, particularly as the casualty rate for wireless operators was so high. He volunteered his services and began training in March 1942.

    He was originally picked to work for the PROSPER circuit in Paris, but plans were changed after SCIENTIST's wireless man Harry Peulevé broke his leg when parachuting in July. SCIENTIST's organiser, Claude de Baissac, with whom Landes had trained, requested that he be sent to replace Peulevé, and between them they constructed one of F Section's most important circuits, its reach extending from Poitiers down towards the Spanish border. Aside from being very careful of his own security, Landes' unassuming physical presence was a major asset for a wanted man: being only five foot four inches tall and of a slight build, he was able to bypass German scrutiny even in the most dangerous of situations. On one occasion when the Gestapo approached the house where he had been transmitting, he simply wheeled his bicycle away from the scene, and even received the assistance of a German officer when the suitcase containing his wireless set fell off the rack.

    In August 1943 de Baissac returned to London, leaving Landes in charge, but just a month later SCIENTIST received a fatal blow. André Grandclément, regional leader of the OCM Resistance movement and the major recipient of de Baissac's arms and supplies, was arrested in September and agreed to collaborate with the Germans. Apparently convinced that communists were more of a threat to France than Germans, Grandclément met with Landes and fellow SCIENTIST wireless operator Marcel Defence at the house of Charles Corbin, a police inspector in Bordeaux. As he explained his intentions, it became clear that Grandclément's plan to expose dozens of arms dumps would destroy months of work, but although Landes drew his pistol he let hesitated to shoot, and let Grandclément go. It was a costly error of judgement: two months later Grandclément's actions had crippled SCIENTIST, including the capture of the circuit's arms instructor Victor Hayes. With a price on his head, Landes cut his ties and fled to Spain with Corbin. They arrived back in England in January 1944, and despite some trouble convincing MI5 that he was not a double agent, Landes was able to collect the Military Cross awarded to him two months earlier.

    In March Landes volunteered to return to Bordeaux, this time as the organiser of ACTOR, a new circuit tasked with making contact with surviving Resistance groups in the area and coordinating sabotage to support the D-Day landings. In June his teams were able to cut railways lines and successfully disrupt enemy communications across south western France, and in July ACTOR began to work in tandem with the regional head of Forces françaises de l'interieur (FFI). Later that month Grandclément was captured by Resistance forces near Bordeaux. Landes gave the order for his execution, and was personally responsible for the shooting of Grandclément's wife Lucette, a controversial act but one that he maintained was necessary, and continued to defend for the rest of his life.

    Following the German retreat and liberation of Bordeaux in September, Landes was told by de Gaulle that he was no longer needed and should leave France immediately. He was not the only one to receive an unappreciative response - other British agents across south-west France experienced the same treatment: de Gaulle had just previously met with the defiant organiser of WHEELWRIGHT, George Starr, who had reacted angrily to the same request. Landes eventually complied and returned to London in October 1944, amidst a host of claims and counter-claims about his conduct. After a spell in hospital, he joined SOE's Force 136 in the Far East, training and arming Chinese guerillas in Malaya, but he saw no action before the end of the war. At the end of 1945 he received a bar to his Military Cross, and was later awarded the Croix de Guerre. In 1992 he was made an Officier of the Légion d'honneur.

    After the war Roger Landes married Ginette Corbin, the daughter of Charles Corbin who had worked with SCIENTIST in 1943. He remarried in 1990 and lived in Hampshire until his death in July 2008. A biography by David Nicolson, Aristide, was published in 1994.

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