The Lysander was the mainstay of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) during World War Two. The Lysander was used to transport SOE operatives to and from occupied Europe – a mission that was fraught with danger – so that they could help resistance movements in western Europe.
The Lysander was ideal for covert work. In an era when planes were flying faster and faster and when people were becoming attuned to this, the Lysander was a slow moving plane, designed for hard work – being able to take off and land in the most difficult of terrain. The Lysander also flew at a low altitude – below radar – which, at night, gave it more ability to ‘disappear’ from sight.
Some of the most famous SOE operatives were landed by Lysanders – Violette Szabo and the ‘White Rabbit. Many flew out of Tangmere airbase in East Sussex. As well as taking in SOE operatives, the Lysander was also used to bring out escaping airmen.
The Lysander had a maximum speed of 206 mph and had a crew of 2. It needed just 250 meters for a take off to 50 feet and it needed just 320 meters for a landing from an altitude of 50 feet. The Lysander was armed in case of attack – two .303 Browning machine guns were fitted into the two wheel spats and some had a Lewis machine gun in the rear cockpit. Along with its human cargo, the Lysander could also carry two supply canisters. To the SOE, the Lysander was known as the ‘scarlet pimpernel of the air’.