USAAF Special Operations : Cliff Heflin and the history of the Carpetbaggers aid to the Resistance

Over the last few years I have had the pleasure of being in contact with Darrell Dvorak whose father-in-law was Col. Clifford Heflin. From March to October 1944 Heflin had been Commanding Officer of the 801st / 492nd Bombardment Group (Carpetbaggers).

"Carpetbagger" was set up to deliver supplies to the Resistance and to drop OSS/SOE agents and "Sussex" / "Jedburgh" teams into France. On their way back from these missions they would drop information leaflets for the civilians of France. Later they would be involved with bringing agents and servicemen back to England.

On 4th January 1944 Heflin piloted the first Carpetbagger B-24 mission dropping supplies to the French Resistance and in May 1944 piloted the first Carpetbagger mission to drop agents into France. During the night of 6th July 1944 he flew Carpetbagger's first Dakota mission actually landing his C-47 behind enemy lines in France, carrying 11 agents and 40 packages of supplies to the Resistance north west of Lyon. He then returned carrying ten passengers which included a downed Carpetbagger officer, 3 downed RAF airmen, a French couple who were to receive sabotage training in England and an SOE officer. 

For the first 3 months the Carpetbaggers were not designated their own airbase but in March 1944 they were given Harrington airfield in Northamptonshire which had three runways. Between January and September 1944 the 801st / 492nd Bomb Group undertook 2,263 separate missions delivering into Europe 662 agents, 18,535 containers of supplies and many thousands of leaflets giving hope to the people of France.

Type 'C' drop cannisters being packed at area 'H' at Holmewood near Peterborough before being transported over to Harrington airfield. (Photo : 801st/492nd Bombardment Group Organization)

These long tubular metal containers came in two types, the 'H' and the 'C' model. Once dropped the “H” container could be unclamped and separated into five sections, the idea being that each section could be carried by one man. The 'C' containers tended to be for long items such as rifles or machine guns. 

Darrell Dvorak has for some time been writing an article dedicated to his father-in-law Clifford Heflin and the history of the Carpetbaggers. The article has just been published in the spring 2015 issue (volume 62, number 1) of Air Power History, the official magazine of the Air Force Historical Foundation. The article can be found from page 16 to 29.

Type C container found a few years ago in the Dordogne
It is still possible to come across these containers in France, either in the corner of a dusty barn or in the undergrowth of a wood. A few years back a good friend of mine, Alex (very sadly no longer with us) was on holiday visiting his family down in the Dordogne and had been given the location of a parachute drop zone between Siorac en Périgord and Sarlat. He and his son went searching in woods in the area and found a rusty but intact type C container, photo above. 

Further reading :

Carpetbaggers Aviation Museum at Harrington (link)

L'histoire des Carpetbaggers (en français) (lien)
Website for the 801st / 492nd BG (link)
The website is a wealth of information including lists of agents that the 492nd BG dropped into France and photos of the original mission reports for these drops. Note that the agent's identity was unknown to the crew and were referred to as "Joes" or "Josephines". The following link shows the agents dropped in June 1944, by clicking on mission 620 you can see the original mission drop report of Violette Szabo and Bob Maloubier dropped in the Limousin on the 7/8th June 1944 (link)