Roger Landes

Recruited: March 1942

Roles: Wireless Operator, Organiser (F Section)

Circuits: SCIENTIST, ACTOR

Codenames: Stanislas, Aristide

Fate: Survived

image of SOE agent Roger Landes

Born on 16 December 1916 to a British father and French mother, Roger Landes was educated in Paris and studied architecture at the École Nationale des Arts Décoratifs; in 1938 he moved to London, joining his family who had left France after their jewellery business had collapsed. 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: the French 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.

Although his English was poor and he failed to catch the eye of his instructors - his reports characterised him as a "cheery little Frenchman" but "a not very impressive young man externally" - he quietly passed through the courses and proved himself to be an intelligent, careful, self-reliant and unobtrusive student, a perfect candidate for wireless work.

He was originally picked to join Francis Suttill's 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 proved to be a major asset: being only five feet 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 enemy. Apparently convinced that communists were more of a threat to France than the Germans, Grandclément agreed to switch sides. Landes had long considered him a security risk and never shared de Baissac's enthusiasm about working with Grandclément, but Landes agreed to meet him at a rendezvous at the house of police inspector Charles Corbin, where he was accompanied by fellow SCIENTIST wireless operator Marcel Defence. The Germans let Grandclément attend the meeting, during which he candidly explained his intentions, which would expose dozens of arms dumps and destroy months of work: taking no chances, Landes had come armed and drew his pistol, but he hesitated to shoot Grandclément in cold blood and let him go.

It was a costly error of judgement - two months later Grandclément's actions had crippled SCIENTIST, and led to the capture (and later execution) of the circuit's SOE arms instructor, Victor Hayes. With a price on his head, Landes cut his ties and fled to Spain with Corbin. Though he was arrested and held at the concentration camp at Miranda, he was eventually released and returned to England via Gibraltar in January 1944. Despite some trouble convincing MI5 that he was not a double agent, Landes was able to collect the Military Cross that had been 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 repeatedly cut railway lines and power cables, successfully disrupting enemy communications across 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. Having let the traitor walk away in September 1943, this time 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 which he 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. The continuing presence of SOE agents in France was a reminder of the important role that Britain had played in French resistance, a contribution that de Gaulle was keen to downplay (other agents, such as WHEELWRIGHT's George Starr and FOOTMAN's Peter Lake, were subjected to the same ungrateful treatment). Squabbling between competing French factions in Bordeaux only complicated the situation, and Landes eventually complied and returned to London in October 1944, amid 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 police inspector 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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