Weather Spies

Weather Spies – A Pack of Beagles

Imagine how frantic the first weeks of May 1940 must have been for the scholarly scientists of Belgian’s Royal Meteorological Institute, which was staffed with civilians like the Met Office. Five days after the Germans invaded, they were ordered to fall back from their center near Brussels to a new headquarters at De Panne, eighty miles to the northwest on the coast, roughly fourteen miles northeast of Dunkirk.

Thirteen days later the fighting was over. Heeding orders to escape from De Panne as best he could, Albert Toussaint and another meteorologist, Simon de Backer, sailed for England in the latter’s sea kayak. Toussaint steered into the path of the Dunkirk evacuation fleet. Once on British soil, Toussaint worked for the Belgian military attaché. A few months later, he enrolled in a Belgian infantry brigade.

That was boring so he put in for intelligence work, overseen by the super-secret British Special Operations Executive. Its officers thought it might be useful if he, a trained meteorologist, might parachute into Belgium and organize a network to send weather reports back to the RAF’s bomber command. Operation Beagle was its code name.

After parachute and radio training, he and two radiomen were dropped into enemy territory but due to pilot error they landed 40 miles from their destination of Rienne in southwestern Belgium. The resistance had arranged for Toussaint to lodge at an inn there managed by Madame Edmond Brichet, a stern widow whose hatred of the Boche (Germans) roiled far below her surface like the boiling ferrous magma at the core of the earth. Posing as a watchmaker, the resistance provided him with stolen weather instruments.

His first recruits were her son, Robert, a former weather telegrapher, and his sixteen-year-old sister, Thérèse. On November 1, 1942, Toussaint sent his first report for the RAF. All told Beagle trained forty Belgians as weather observers who broadcast 1,297 weather observations from the fall of 1942 until the country was liberated in late 1944. Other underground weather cells provided broadcasts from Poland and the Netherlands.