A “Diplomatic” Mission

A “Diplomatic” Mission

  • Social Media
  • -
  • Jan, 10 , 24

"Paris had fallen to the Nazis not much more than a week before. F/Lt. Julius Cohen was in a mixed mood; somber befitting the times, but elated to be back in his natural element in command of his Sunderland as he eased it off the water of the Solent and then slowly turned the lumbering beast to a southerly heading. His payload was two distinguished diplomats, on board at the orders of the prime minister himself. General Lord Gort and Mr. Alfred Duff Cooper were on a mission to the French Moroccan port of Rabat, assigned the delicate and damnably difficult task of trying to persuade the French authorities there at the capital of the French Protectorate to remain on the side of Britain even as the Vichy government was rapidly moving to position itself as an ally to the triumphant Germans. Settling in at an altitude of only 500 feet for the transit to Morocco, Cohen had to let the big radials of his flying boat remain at nearly full power for the first part of the transit.

“Dickie” Cohen was a natural from his first days with the Royal Australian Air Force back in 1935. He was a skilled and superbly confident aerobatic flier, curiously selected to train in England on the supremely unaerobatic Sunderlands as part of the new Australian No. 10 Squadron. The onset of the war kept the squadron in England under the RAF Coastal Command, and the Aussies were soon busy in convoy escort and ASW patrols. With its “long legs” and ability to go almost anywhere (at least anywhere with a decent stretch of water), the pride of the Short brothers was a natural for VIP transport, even potentially into harm’s way.

 It was early evening when the Sunderland crew had their first chance to see Rabat, and it was not a promising sight. Large swells running outside the harbor precluded an open-water landing, so the only other option was per their original plan, a landing on the congested estuary that splits the city down the middle. There would be only a few feet to spare between the Sunderland’s wingtips and boats tied up on each bank. Cohen and his copilot David Stewart lined up the aircraft with the river’s “centerline,” easing the big bird down with full flaps at just under 100 knots. Once moored, Cohen and his charges got a brusque welcome that was about to become even less friendly.

 After some heated discussion with the port authorities, the two dignitaries were allowed to go ashore. It seemed like the VIPs had just disembarked when a message was received by way of the Sunderland’s high-frequency radio. The contents were instructions for Lord Gort, apparently (and distressingly, at this late moment) informing him that events had overtaken his mission and made it a hopeless one. Cohen had to deliver the message but was denied access to French transportation ashore and was even prevented from using one of the aircraft’s rubber rafts. In desperation he pulled out his service revolver and successfully demanded to be taken ashore.

 Accounts of the following two or three hours vary, but all tell a story that includes Cohen instructing his copilot Stewart to play-act as the Sunderland’s commander while he proceeded to locate the emissaries. Working his way to the hotel where Lord Gort was being kept by French authorities from completing his diplomatic assignment, Cohen delivered his message, then quickly realized that the French might not let them depart at all. Once more using the persuasion of his revolver (accounts vary on whether and where shots were actually fired), Cohen got the entire British party back on board the Sunderland shortly after 0300 hours.

 During the remaining hours of darkness, French patrol boats pressed in on the Sunderland, but the porcupine had its .303 quills stood up and the aircraft was not directly attacked. Shortly after 0600 that morning, Cohen and crew lit off all four engines simultaneously and slipped anchor. There was no hope of taking off from the crowded river, necessitating water-taxiing to the mouth of the estuary. A nasty counterswell was running, but with no other options, the outboard engines were set to maximum power and control yokes pulled back into the pilots’ bellies. The inboard engines were quickly sent to full power as well, and after clipping a handful of swells the Sunderland rose fully from the water for its return trip, to Gibraltar for fuel and then back to Britain."


The above is excerpted from Great Maritime Patrol Aircraft of the World by Ralph J. Dean. The book provides a history of maritime patrol aviation through engaging stories such as the above; the book is also highly illustrated both with photographs and with full-page professional artworks. The author served in the US Navy for nearly thirty years and experienced several of the great maritime patrol aircraft firsthand, both as a pilot and mission commander. The book has a publication date of May 28, 2024, but is tracking to be in stock much earlier in the year.
  • Share this post :

Older Post Newer Post

Translation missing: en.general.search.loading