WWII Inshore Patrol Flotilla (IPF)

Royal Navy Special Service unit based at the Helford River

Petty Officer Pip (Ishmael) Jarvis This page relates to my dad Pip Jarvis, (his real Christian name was Ishmael, which he rarely used) and his membership in the Royal Navy's World War II Special Service unit, named the "Inshore Patrol Flotilla".

Pip Jarvis was born in 1922 at Throckley, near, Newcastle upon Tyne to a mining family and after leaving school at fourteen became an underground coal miner at the local pit.

At the outbreak of war he volunteered to join the Navy, following his eldest brother, Joe, who'd joined up weeks before the war started. He was turned down by the Navy for being to young. As he was keen to serve his country, he joined the Westerhope Home Guard.

He was eventually called up and joined the Navy. After serving at Lowestoft he was based on mine sweepers based on the Isle of Sheppey. This was regarded as a dangerous occupation as during the night, the Germans would come over to the Thames Estuary and lay mines to block the shipping channels. Then in the morning, the mine sweepers would go out to find and destroy the recently planted mines.

Growing up, this was what I knew about his naval career, but one day he told me that he'd been in the special service. I asked him why he'd never told me before and he'd said that he'd been told (during the war), to keep it secret!

Exciting news, dad's exploits have been included in a book to be published in September 2014, called South West Secret Agents written by the estabished author Laura Quigley and published by the History Press. As well as my dad's story there will be a load of other stories covering covert operations from other agents and tails of Germans spying in the South West of England.

His job on the mine sweepers was dangerous work, but he told me that one morning during parade, an officer had read out a request for volunteers for "hazardous service" and as he was feeling slighty bored, he volunteered, without any information regarding the type of hazardous service or unit he would be joining.

The original idea for the formation of this unit of this Special Service unit came in 1940, from Ian Fleming (later to become famous as the creator of James Bond), who was the special assistant to Admiral Godfrey, the Director of Naval Intelligence. Originally based in Falmouth it had staff working for S.O.E. (the Special Operations Executive) and was a part of S.I.S. (the Secret Intelligence Service), better known as M.I.6. and was staffed by Royal Navy volunteer officers and ratings.

Ridifarne IPF Officers quarters

Ridifarne, a large house in Helford Passage, overlooking the Helford river, was used by the Royal Naval Lieutenant Gerry Holdsworth and other officers of the Inshore Patrol Flotilla.

See the location of Ridifarne on Google Maps

S.O.E. had a seperate house, Pedn-Billy in Bar Road, Mawnan Smith.

See the location of Pedn-Billy in Bar Road on Google Maps

The 'other ranks' Naval personnel, (including my dad) were based on and slept aboard the Sunbeam II (below).

Sunbeam II before the ware Sunbeam II three masted schooner
On the left, Sunbeam II before the war, and on the right HM Yacht Sunbeam II tied up in the Helford river during WWII. This served as a depot ship for the flotilla, and this was where the other ranks Navy personnel slept and were based.

Sunbeam II, built and owned by Lord Runciman as a private yacht, a three masted steel schooner built in 1929 by W. Denny Brothers, Dunbarton. In 1966 she was acquired by the Greek Navy as a sail training vessel and renamed Eugene Eugenides. Since 2004 she has been undergoing restoration, (or awaiting funds for restoration) at Salamis Navy Base, Greece.

The aim of the flotilla was to keep contact with France, ferrying SOE agents and their supplies to France and returning with agents and aircrew downed over France and brought to the beach by the resistance. By using authentic French fishing boats it was planned that they could mingle with the local fishing fleet and not be noticed by the Germans.

The flotilla, sailing under French colours and spending up to four days off the French Biscay coast under the pretence of fishing. Such work, carried out in the face of close inspection by enemy surface vessels and aircraft, demanded cool deliberate courage. No defensive weapons could be carried, other than light arms, and those concerned knew that they were liable to be shot for espionage if caught.

The flotilla, with men disguised as French fishermen, achieved a long, unbroken series of succesful operations, unarmed and unescorted to the enemy's doorstep in daylight. The capture of one vessel of the flotilla would have wrecked the whole enterprise, since, although outwardly identical to a French vessel, the interiors of the ships of the IPF, were fitted out with navigational aids, living quarters and armouries of hand weapons.

The Beginning - Le Dinan (N51, MFV 2020)
Originally, one of the volunteers was a young Frenchman named Daniel Lomenech, who had escaped from France in a small fishing vessel and joined the RNVR (Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve) as a sub-Lieutenant. His parents ran a tunny fish-canning factory in Brittany; thus he knew a great deal about these fishermen and there habits. At this time British submarines were patrolling of the French Atlantic coast keeping watch on the German battle cruisers Scharnorst and Gneisenau bottled up in Brest, and the Admiral (Submarines) allowed his submarines to carry out surface rendezvous with French fishing vessels to transfer agents by night.

Sub-Lieutenant Mackenzie, another RNVR officer, after meeting Lomenech, conceived the ideal of using a converted French fishing vessel to set-up a line of communication with the French West coast. A power-driven trawler could approach closer inshore than a submarine, lie off the French coast for days if necessary waiting for an agent to be brought out, and make contact in daylight where a submarine could not.

There were a number of French and Belgian vessels in our south coast ports which had come over with refugees after Dunkirk, some having been requisitioned for naval service, others fishing with there original crews. Together Lomenech and Mackenzie made a detailed study of the areas, seasons and types of boats used on the west coast of France for every kind of fishing, and also interviewed refugee French fishermen and others with specialist knowledge of the area and industry. They came to the conclusion that the most suitable type of vessel for their purpose was the small diesel-engined trawler which fished on the Banks, twenty to thirty miles of the north-west coast of France, and which the Germans allowed to spend two or three nights at sea.

MFV 2020 Mackenzie and Lomenech found a suitable vessel in the shape of a Concarneau trawler at Newhaven, where she had been acting as a patrol boat and had been registered with the Newhaven number N 51. They requisitioned her and took her to Shoreham where she was overhauled and fitted out with a cabin in the fish hold as a wardroom containing two bunks and a folding table, and extra accomodation for the volunteer crew.

Painted naval grey, she was sailed down to Falmouth in her cover role as an inshore patrol boat. But when she was to be used for an agent-running operation, she was taken to an isolated anchorage in the Scilly Isles. There her hull and upperworks were painted in the appropriate French colours, and a false registration number added in the peculiar lettering used by French tunny fishers in the Concarneau area of Brittany. Different colour schemes were chosen for each trip, since Concarneau trawlers favour varying combinations of green, blue, brown and orange

N 51 as she continued to be known was 65 feet long with a beam of 20 feet, and displaced some 25 to 30 tons, her top speed being six knots. A special radio set of the same type as those being used by the agents was carried, and an armament of Sten guns, grenades and pistols; also an anti-tank rifle scrounged by the Army. The intention was to carry only sufficient weapons to resist arrest, relying on the element of surprise, and with the anti-tank rifle to put out of action if possible the engine of any challenging patrol boat.

Lt. Richard Townsend onboard N51, dressed as a French fisherman
Lt Richard Townsend They went to considerable trouble to obtain the sort of clothing normally worn by fishermen on the west coast of Brittany, which consisted of canvas trousers and smocks in gay colours. As well as a French flag N51 carried a German ensign to enable her to pass herself off as a German naval patrol boat. Officers and men had their uniforms onboard, also a White Ensign, and would have donned the former or part of them if attacked and forced to open fire. They also carried their naval identity cards. (2).

As an example of their bravery, Lt. Townsend "On two occasions he landed on the French coast in daylight dressed as a French fisherman in order to collect secret mail from a 'post-box' onshore" (1).

In case of capture their cover-story was tha they had been sent over to pick up a party of escaped airmen, and they were to conceal the fact that this was a line for conveying agents and information. Contrary to the rules of land fighting there was no necessity to wear uniform aboard ship or to show one's true colours so long as one does not open fire under a false flag.(3).

The men ran the risk of being shot under the Commando Order issued by Adolf Hitler on the 18th October 1942, stating that all Allied commandoes encountered by German forces in Europe and Africa should be killed immediatley, even if in uniform or if they attempted to surrender (prompted by the success of the British Commandos).

High Speed Fishing Boat, MFV (Motor Fishing Vessel) 2023
It was obvious that the slowness of the fishing boats added greatly to our difficulties and it was decided to build a special craft that would have the apperance of a Pinnacle like P11 but would in fact be a high speed craft fitted with high speed Coastal Forces engines capable of some 20 knots. In addition to twin engines for speed she would have a smaller central engine to enable her to cruise like a fishing boat at about 7 knots. MFV 2023 called (a.k.a. L'Angele-Rouge) proved extremely useful for nipping in and out quickly in the summer months, shortening the time spent in the danger area of no man's land between British and enemy controlled waters at night.

MFV 2023, L'Angele-Rouge
MFV 2023 L'Angele-Rouge As a small fishing boat, was built to resemble a type of French boat to be found in Brittany. The major difference was that she had a fast launch hull shape beneath the waterline and was fitted with powerful engines to give her a high top speed.

One part of the job was to travel under cover of darkness to mingle with the French fishing fleet at dawn and to spend the day "fishing" under the eye of the German guard ship. This was usually one of the French fishing vessels with armed Kriegsmarine personnel aboard as "guests" for the day.

During this exercise, the opportunity would be found to transfer information, equipment and sometimes people to a resistance-manned boat. Acting upon information provided by the French Resistance, 2023 would at the last possible moment be painted to represent a French boat which was not to be present on the day. Hull and wheelhouse colours, name and port number would all be faithfully copied.

Unfortunately, on one occasion intelligence was faulty and 2023 and her crew found themselves "fishing" alongside an identical twin. This induced great concern as whilst trying unobtrusively to put some distance between the boats, the guardship approached on its regular beat.

Here it should be mentioned that 2023 was making about four knots on the underwater exhaust pulse of her large engines as they ticked over. One of the crew had the job of burning cotton waste in a grate at the base of the thin dummy exhaust pipe rising ahead of the wheelhouse to give the appearance of chugging along on a small diesel engine. All attention on the approaching guardship, the man responsible allowed some burning material to spill out of the grate, whereupon it set fire to the deck in the wheelhouse. This needless to say was promptly extinguished but not without a considerable amount of smoke.

Noticing this, the German in charge of the by now passing guardship enquired in impeccable French as to whether they required assistance. Being told "non, merci", and as the smoke had dispersed, the Germans continued on their course. The rest of the operation proceeded without further incident, 2023 returning to base at high speed as darkness fell. (4)

On one occasion, during operation REMEDY, off the coast of Ile-de-Sein, the ship had ran into a German convoy and stopped, to allow the German convoy to pass either side of them. One of the escort vessels passed close enough for the crew to hear a gramophone playing on the German ship, while the German captain scrutinised 2023 through binoculars at a range of no more than 100 metres. The German convey included a crippled U-boat and the commanding officer, Lt J.J Allen tried for over an hour to make wireless contact with his SIS base station, which was supposed to be keeping constant watch on the relevant frequency, as he felt he should report the alluring target of opportunity represented by the damaged submarine. Considering how close they were to Brest, it was a brave thing to do. Fortunately, the Germans were keeping no better radio watch than their counterparts at Helford.

Pip Jarvis in the front (and unknown) in a two man canoe on the Helford river
Pip Jarvis in a WWII two man canoe During my dad's time at Helford, the men were given several unusual weapons and new equipment to test. He told me that one one occassion he'd been given what appeared to be an oversized surf-board, from what I remember maybe 15 or 16 foot long, fitted at the front with a Bren gun. The idea was to lay on the board on your stomach, and by paddling with your hands, it would provide a very low silhouette and allow a quiet approach.

He didn't think much of it as to aim you had to manouver the entire surboard to the left or right and the machine gun had limited vertical movement. One dark night he paddled the surfboard out to the centre of the river and started firing the Bren. He remembered this vividly as almost immediatley after firing a few bursts of tracer along the river, someone who was not aware of what was going on, set of the local air raid warning siren, thinking an air raid was taking place.

WWII telegram Wartime telegram sent to my father

Click on the telegrams to enlarge
I have recently found out that during my dad's time serving with the IPF at Helford, my mother sent him two telegrams, the first informing him that his first child was a girl, and the second notifcation that the child was seriously ill and he was asked to travel home. I now know he was granted compassionate leave and returned home, the baby girl, my sister Ann, had pneumonia but made a full recovery.

I have created another page after doing some research on a mission I am sure my dad was involved in, which I now know was codenamed Operation Knockout which consisted of two ships from the I.P.F and a motor torpedeo boat.

From June 1943 the base at Helford was re-organised on an ambitious scale. The SIS fishing-boat flotilla, which now included N51, P11, AO4, MFV 2023 and the engineless tunnyboat Le-Clipper from Operation SHAMROCK, which had been used as a store ship, was moved there from Falmouth. Communications were maintained using SIS W/T (wireless transmitter) to give additional security. Sunbeam II acted as the communications centre for ships at sea, making the IPF a self contained unit, connected to DDOD(I) by 'scrambler' telephone. SOE had offices ashore.

It was to be enlarged to meet an anticipated large-scale SOE programme and was consequently put on a more official footing. It now become officially known as Inshore Patrol Flotilla (IPF) and the vessels re-numbered as MFVs, becoming respectively, MFVS 2020 (N51) Le-Dinan; 2021 (P11) Ar-Mouscoul; 2022(AO4) President-Herriot; and 2023 (L'Angele-Rouge). The additional vessels were MFV 2025 (Fee-des-Eaux); 2026 (Sirene), a converted 55-foot French crabber; 2027 (Korrigan), 50-foot French trawler; 2028 (L'Oeuvre, a 65-foot French fishing vessel. Two considerably larger trawlers, the 105-foot Breeze and 106-foot Jacques-Morgand, were added and the flotilla. (1).

Lieutenant Commander Nigel Warington Smyth
The senior officer Inshore Patrol Flotilla (SOIP) appointed by DDOD(I) or Deputy Director Operations Division (Irregular) of the Admirality was Lt Cdr Nigel Warington-Smyth, RNVR, brother of Lt Cdr Warington-Smyth, RNVR, who was in command of the SOE naval base. Since their father was Resident Naval Officer in the Helford River, the arrangement had a distinctly dynastic character.

Bevil, who had lost a foot in a Fleet Air Arm flying accident, considered that the move of DDOD(I)'s fishing vessel flotilla from Falmouth to Helford opened up a new era in the relations between SOE personnel at Helford and the men of IPF. It enabled everyone to get to know everyone else and it came as a source of great surprise to more than one officer (and to some of the more intelligent ratings) to discover that - contrary to what they had been led to believe - the principal enemy was Hitler and not the member's opposite number in the sister organisation. In his view, nothing but good came of this amalgamation at the same base and the personnel of the two organisations at Helford worked thereafter in the closest cooperation with 'the discomforture of the Hun' as their sole objective. (2).

I am sure this was my dad's commanding officer because I'd borrowed "The Secret Navies" from the library and let him read it before me. He told me that Warington Smyth was his C.O. and that he'd become well known for designing and developing a new type of surf boat, as a problem had been found with the originals, described below:

On more than one occassion, boats ferrying agents ashore had disappeared for some reason which could not be attributed to enemy action. After studying the problem Warington-Symth deduced that they were using small yacht dinghies and concluded that they had capsized on approaching the beach.

As an experienced yachtsmen he was well aware of the effect on a yacht dinghy of even small waves in shallow water when approaching a beach. After experimenting with the current dinghy types, he resolved to design and have built a superior boat. They were clinker built of wood, with a transomed bow and stern exactly the same to obviate the necessity of a turn-round on the beach. Motor propulsion was at first considered, but this was found to be too noisy at night, and in rough weather the propeller thrashed the air when it was required to bite into the water.

The Warington Smythe SN 1, 14 foot surf-boat on the beach, Helford river.

Oars were therefore substituted, using specially lengthened crutches. The forks of these were made of rubber, not only to muffle the sound of the oars, but because metal crutches could penetrate the human body in the event of a violent capsize. To minimise the risk of them becoming unshipped with consequent loss of oars in rough water, they were also specially shaped and secured with a lanyard. The boats were steered by the helmsmen using a long sweep oar, and equipped with a sea anchor which could be streamed when breakers were anticipated to avoid surf riding or broaching to.

They could carry up to five passengers and a crew of three. Individual escape kits were subsequently provided for surfboat crews in case they should become stranded ashore for any reason. These usually contained a compass, a map printed on silk, benzedrine and water purifying tablets, and a sum of money in the local currency. Each vessel in the flotilla was issued with four of the new boats and given a course of instruction. Thereafter no shore parties were lost from that cause. (2).

After D-Day, when the French coast became useable to normal shipping again, the Helford base was no longer as important and scaled down. My dad volunteered to go back to civilian life as there was a shortage of skilled and experienced underground coal miners, so he came back to Newcastle. He spent most of the rest of his life working in the coal industry, laterly in the local open cast coal mines.

If I have missed out a reference or you think I should correct something, please email me at: philipjarvisbsc at gmail.com


1. Secret Flotillas: Clandestine Sea Operations to Brittany, 1940-1944. ISBN-10: 0714653144. Brooks Richards.

2. The Secret Navies, ISBN-10: 0718301951. A. Cecil Hampshire.

3. 5A22.pdf, Copyright © Colonel John Townsend and Doctor Richard Townsend.

4. BBC WWII People's War, Article ID: A4464858 by Andrew Green.

Another account from the BBC WWWII People's War, relating to Helford IPF,
which might be of interest is: Article ID: A4211731, regarding John Tucker.