Perhaps I may be able to clear up some points on Robert Benoist’s wartime resistance exploits. I am sure he would not be “delighted” to learn that he was despatched from this world by being ‘murdered’ and not ‘executed’. (CB Draper’s letter, page 685, MOTOR SPORT in your July 92 issue). It could so well have been either method used on September 9 1944, when he and 15 other resistants were summoned to the camp commandant’s office at Buchenwald and thence went to its crematorium: one source mentions they were first hanged. MRD Foot’s SOE in Europe (HMSO 1966) has many references to Robert Benoist (‘Lionel’) including the above information, reports from his SOE Personal File and a full copy of one of his Operation Orders dated February 29 1944 when he was the organiser of the ‘Clergyman’ network near Nantes. The book is an excellent read!
Benoist had first been recruited about May 1942 by Charles Grover-Williams (codename ‘Sebastien’) who was setting up a small secure sabotage group (‘Chestnut’) in or near Paris. ‘Williams’, as that English racing driver was called, had lived in Paris for years, spoke fluent French and had a French wife. This very select group which now included Jean-Pierre Wimille settled on the Benoist estate at Auffargis, south-west of Paris, with their wives and by 1943 had received at least six air drops of arms and explosives on Benoist estates round Dourdan. The small ‘Chestnut’ circuit was broken by the Gestapo after M Dowlen, its wireless operator, was caught by a direction-finding team on July 31 1943. On August 4 1943 Robert Benoist was arrested in a Paris street, bundled into a car (the usual Citroen traction avant?) but flung himself and one of his captors into the road on a tight bend, whilst moving fast, and then escaped. By August 20 he was in London. Shortly afterwards Benoist was back in France organising the ‘Clergyman’ network in sabotage in the Nantes area before the June 1944 invasion of Normandy. On June 18 1944 Benoist went to Paris to see his dying mother, but was arrested there. His radio operator Denise Bloch (‘Ambroise’) was captured the following day in the Benoist chateau by Sgt Hugo Bleicher of the German SD (Gestapo).
Robert was interrogated at SD headquarters at 84 Avenue Foch, Paris by Ernst Vogt but was not tortured; Vogt was subsequently apprehended by the Allies but cleared of any charges. Denise Bloch was shot by the SS at Ravensbruck Camp. Certainly, a Benoist biography as suggested by Mr Draper would be truly of value, but surely a volume of the admirable wartime trio of Benoist, Williams and Wimille, and all their pre-war motor racing exploits, too, would be so much better.
Jack Tatham, Nottingham.