Douglas A/B-26 Invader

Operation Red Stockings

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For this feature, see clarification at the bottom of the page.


A-26 Invader's use in Clandestine Operations within the Third Reich

Throughout 1944 the American 801st / 492nd "Carpetbagger" Group had been flying arms, supplies and agents from Harrington, Northamptonshire, into enemy occupied Europe. Together with the RAF Special Duty Squadrons from Tempsford in Bedfordshire and other bases, they had equipped resistance groups from Norway to Yugoslavia, much to the consternation of the German High Command.

As the Allied forces fought their way towards the German heartland in 1945 there was an urgent need for intelligence information from inside the Reich. Resistance groups in the occupied territories were supplying valuable information to the Allied planning staffs, but installing agents into the hostile German environment was going to be very difficult. Both the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) had been training agents for this purpose - mostly Germans with a proven hatred of the Nazi regime, and preparations now had to be made for their delivery.


At Harrington the "Carpetbaggers" had perfected the use of specially adapted Consolidated B-24 Liberators for covert supply missions, but over Germany there would be no "friendly" reception committees to help the agents, and the highly developed German anti-aircraft defences would pose an unacceptable threat to the slow, low flying B-24s. It was decided therefore to adapt some of the newly introduced twin engined fast Douglas A-26 Invaders for the task. They were to be stripped of everything but the bare essentials for low level flying and it was hoped that they could fly in low and fast and be out again before the defences had time to react.

A-26 Invader "Queen of Spades" on a dispersal at Harrington in 1945


The operation was given top security rating and the code name "Red Stocking" to cover the agent delivery and radio surveillance. The crew of the A-26 was to consist of a pilot, general navigator, a "pilotage" navigator and turret gunner. The pilotage navigator was to direct the pilot from the transparent nose position having made a prolonged study of the route.

The only space left for the agent was in the bomb bay! A small compartment was made in the forward section of the bay with a plywood floor, this was hinged on one side and secured on the other by two cable operated catches connected to the navigator's position in the nose. Designed to take two agents the compartment rarely took more than one and did nothing for the peace of mind of the already apprehensive agent. Experience had shown that the US type back parachute fitted with a British quick release harness was ideal for agent dropping, this meant that he would have to make the journey lying on his stomach, two handles being provided to steady himself.

Like all agents (or "Joes"), flown from Harrington, arrival on the morning of the mission was with an accompanying OSS officer in an American staff car with blacked out windows. The agent was taken to a dressing hut in a remote part of the airfield, and final preparations were carried out in such a manner that he had no way of knowing the location of the point of departure should he be captured. In the dressing hut he was given the things essential for his survival - a Deutschmark laden money belt; pistol; concentrated food pack; silk map of his operating area, but most important was a small radio receiver (part of a sophisticated communications system codenamed the "Joan - Eleanor" set, described later. He also had forged papers and an entrenching tool.


These and other small items were packed into pockets inside a voluminous quick release overall, known as a jump suit. He was given a final check on his new identity and occupation, given a meal and then encouraged to relax until take-off time. Shortly before departure he was driven to the A-26 dispersal hardstand on the eastern side of the airfield where the big Pratt & Whitney engines would already be warming up. He was helped into his position, entering the aircraft from the rear section of the bomb bay - once the crew had climbed aboard, the bomb doors were closed and they took off into the night sky.


Low-Level Delivery

A few miles inland they descended to 300-400 ft and headed out over the North Sea relying on the radar altimeter - low level night flying was not recommended for the faint hearted! They crossed the enemy coast, avoiding known defences and airfields and proceeded on a dogleg course to the dropping point. The two navigators were fully extended during this time directing the pilot along the planned route. When they were a short distance from the drop point the pilot throttled back and selected enough flap to slow the aircraft down sufficiently for the agent's exit.

A warning light was switched on in the agent's compartment for him to be ready to drop in five minutes. He then assumed a kneeling position and clipped the loop of his parachute static line onto a hook on the side of the fuselage. He had a panic button in case of emergency but when they reached the drop point the lever was pulled, the floor dropped open and out he went! The usual dropping height was 300 - 350 ft. The static line opened the parachute and he usually swung a couple of times before hitting the ground. He quickly discarded his helmet, parachute, harness and jump suit, used the entrenching tool to bury all traces of his arrival and became, to all intents and purposes, a law abiding German citizen.


Crew of a Red Stocking A-26C with their aircraft at Harrington. Left to right: Standing: Crew Chief; Captain Willard Smith (pilot); Lt Wilhelm Ecklund (navigator). Kneeling: Sgt Thompson (gunner); Lt Allen Wayne (pilotage navigator). Each aircraft sported a playing card on the nose. (photo via Allen Wayne)


Joan and Eleanor

The only link with Harrington was the Joe's radio mentioned earlier. The Joan - Eleanor system was specifically developed for Red Stocking Operations by two US radio technicians, Lt. Comdr. Stephen Simpson and Dewitt R. Goddard of the Radio Corporation of America - the code name referring to one's wife and the other's girlfriend.

The system operated on 260 MHz, a frequency free at that time of enemy surveillance stations. The small "Joan" agent's set had a range of about 20 miles. He was given a specific time, usually in the evening to transmit his report, which he did in plain language, the message being received by a radioman hunched in a small cabin installed in the rear fuselage of a DeHavilland Mosquito orbiting above at 30,000 ft.

The "Eleanor" equipment on the mosquito was fitted with a wire recorder and the designers claimed that the voice recording could receive in 20 minutes what would take three days by coded Morse. Garbles and mistakes could be clarified on the spot. The original intention was to use B-17 Fortresses for the "Eleanor" but stooging around Germany unescorted, they were assured by the air force was not to be recommended in a Fortress.

The Mosquito was thought ideal for the purpose, so a small batch of PRXVIs were acquired from Hatfield and fitted out at the USAAF base at Watton where the American 654th Reconnaissance unit used the type for tactical intelligence missions. Red Stocking agent missions had a high priority and the 492nd Group at Harrington was chosen to carry out both the A-26 and Mosquito operations. The radio operator access was through a small door cut into the starboard side of the mosquito rear fuselage. He was provided with a heated suit and had an interphone link with the pilot. Long range wing mounted fuel tanks gave sufficient range for most missions. On very long runs they could overfly to an OSS field in Italy.


Popular Missions

The first Mosquitoes to arrive at Harrington were written off by enthusiastic pilots unfamiliar with the pronounced swing on take-off, but former commanding officer Bob Fish remembers that once the pilots mastered the new ships, everyone wanted to fly the Red Stocking trips.

Bob also recalls the first A-26 mission to Germany. In February 1945 he had handed over command of the base to Colonel Hudson Upham, newly arrived from the USA. Bob had reverted to second in command but owing to Upham's lack of operational experience, he relied on Fish for operational decisions. In the following excerpt from his book We Flew by Night he describes the circumstances of the first A-26 mission:

On the night of March 16/17 I flew a B-24 "Carpetbagger" mission out of England into eastern France and after completing it we landed at our temporary forward base at Dijon in France. I remained at Dijon for a few days while I flew into the "Redoubt" area of southern Germany and evaluated our operations out of Dijon.

It was while I was at Dijon that our first A-26 mission was attempted. In my opinion we were not fully prepared to attempt that mission. While the individual aircrews were fully trained in their respective skills, they were not fully trained as co-ordinated teams.

While I was in France there was some pressure on Upham from OSS in London to expedite the mission to fly in the first German agent. Had I been at Harrington I feel that I could have reasoned with the Colonel that we should not attempt it until the crews were fully qualified as coherent teams.

Knowing Fish's reservations, Upham was faced with a dilemma but he decided that "if higher Headquarters want it flown now - we must do it". He decided that the best chance of success was to use experienced staff officers to crew the aircraft.

The Group Navigation Officer, Major Edward Tresemer, was to be "pilotage" navigator (Tressemer had been with Fish since their days flying Douglas B-18 Bolos on anti-sub patrols off the US East Coast). The pilot was Lt Oliver H. Emmel and John Walsh, another long serving navigator, took the navigator's seat while Staff Sergeant Frank Brummer manned the mid upper turret. At 11.45 hours they took off into the night from Harrington and were never seen alive again.

Bob Fish stated in his book that Tresemer was the finest navigator he knew, but when he was directing flight from the nose position he sometimes needed some restraining. He said "When I piloted for him at night I ignored his requests to fly lower when we were within 300 ft of the ground. Oliver Emmel was one of our best pilots, but he had no way of knowing Edward's idiosyncrasy about altitude, there is the possibility that he induced him to fly too low." The remains of the aircraft and crew were discovered after the war on a remote moor near Bramsche in Germany - there were no signs of enemy action (See also the report filed by Lt Comdr Simpson)

The Red Stocking missions were mainly successful. Agents transmitted vital information needed by the Allied Military Intelligence. After the first tragic failure, the A-26's operated without further loss and the Mosquito surveillance missions managed to contact most of the agent's transmissions.

Three of the A-26 flights involved flying over Berlin to drop agents into a wooded area of the city. One of these agents sent back reports until the end of the war. After the war a "Joe" remarked that "It wasn't the way that we were dropped that worried us - it was all over in a flash, but we sometimes wondered what would happen if the plane was attacked by fighters - would they pull the lever to get rid of the extra weight in the bomb bay?"



Red Stocking Tragedy - Memorandum by Lt Comdr Stephen Simpson co-inventor of the "Joan-Eleanor" system concerning the loss of the A-26C on the first Red Stocking mission.

On March 19th orders were given and cancelled several times to fly the CHISEL mission (the first A-26 operation). It was brought to everyone's attention that the A-26 needed a 100 hour check and the radio altimeter needed recalibrating. The Loran and Gee navigation systems needed checking and that Lt Emmel had insufficient in the A-26 - he had only flown it twice at night.

Major Tresemer had only been in an A-26 once before and had been completely bewildered by "ground pilotage" at such a speed. None of the crew - pilot, navigator or bombardier had ever flown together before, and were unfamiliar with the ship as a whole.

It was finally decided to put the ship into the hanger for repair and inspection. At 4 o'clock Comdr Simpson heard a rumour that Col Upham had again changed his mind and proceeded to headquarters to find that this was true. Upon advising Col Upham that both engines were down, that the altimeter was not operating properly he was told to call the hanger and get the ship back into commission and have it ready by 7.30.

The whole crew advised the Colonel that it would be impossible to get the flight plan and mission organised by that time, but the colonel stated that this was an order from Headquarters and it had to be done. The weather section added to the unease of the crew, stating that a bad front would be crossing the area and conditions on the continent were not good.

The mission finally got off the ground at approximately 10.00 after instructions from Comdr Simpson and Lt Fogarty on operating the special apparatus in the ship they were not familiar with. Final statements were made by the pilot, navigator and bombardier to Col Upham that the trip was not feasible.

The aircraft did not return from the mission, it was found after the war on a moor in Germany with the remains of the crew. Although this train of events may sound inconceivable it shows the almost impossible decisions expected of a commanding officer during those hectic times. Allied and German commanders had to issue orders that were virtual death sentences to their airmen. Commander Simpson's report was filed and marked "Top Secret"


This article was published in the November 1999 edition of Flypast


Marvin Edwards, a USAAF Mosquito navigator on Red Stocking Missions with the 492nd BG comments:

I have noted the description of the Red Stocking missions. It mentions the A-26 aircraft as the plane used. Please be advised that it was found that the British Mosquito aircraft was superior to the A-26 for these missions. That plane could fly faster and at a higher altitude than the A-26. The Mosquito flew at an altitude up to 40,000 feet at a speed of up to 450 miles per hour. It's crew consisted of a pilot and a navigator (I was a navigator on the Red Stocking missions almost to the end of the war in April 1945.) Only one OSS operator in the belly of the plane was required, In fact, several years ago, I wrote an article on Red Stocking missions for the Mosquito Air Crew Association publication. I never flew in an A-26 on these missions.

Dear Martin,
I read your web site article pertaining to the "Red Stocking Operation" regarding use of A-26s in WWII by the 492nd BG. To the best of my knowledge the term "Red Stocking Project" or "Red Stocking Operations" never  existed in fact.
I critiqued a chapter in a Mosquito book on the 25th BG Rcn, that claims the Red Stocking Project/Operations existed? Yet, there are no official documents to verify this claim. Nor has anyone provided documentation to prove this claim. Their original source is historian Roger Freeman's Eighth Air Force history books. The critique explains this misunderstanding and misinformation currently perpetuated in various books and by certain indivduals.
I will visit the USAF Historical Research Agency, Maxwell AFB, Alabama, in October 2010 for two weeks.  I plan researching all HQ Eighth Air Force WWII documents from late 1944/45 for evidence both the above terms existed. 
The OSS Joan-Eleanor Project/Operations is a proven fact, and also Redstocking label identifying OSS missions flown by the 25th BG Rcn. There is no documentation the Red Stocking term was usd by 492nd BG, according to their historian. They flew only JE and Carpetbagger operations.
Norman Malayney