Commander Patrick Whinney
The Daily Telegraph & telegraph.co.uk
Commander Patrick Whinney, who has died aged 92, landed and collected agents from the French and Italian coasts during the Second World War.
Once inside the shipping lanes, he had to navigate with pinpoint accuracy on quietened auxiliary engines towards a rendezvous before rowing ashore in a dinghy; often he would be unsure whether there were passengers to pick up or he was entering a trap.
Though calamity often threatened, no agents were lost in transit. When one important group of Italians, led by a general, were to be collected from a beach near Orbitello, Whinney and his right-hand man, Petty Officer Jim Bates, paddled their dinghies carefully through the surf with Tommy guns cocked; but when he gave the password there was no reply. Bates could see a huddle of men silhouetted up the beach and, fearing that the Italian party was under hostile control, he whispered: "Shall I let 'em have it, sir?" "No, wait," said Whinney, who repeated the challenge twice more. At last came the response: "Giuseppe", followed by a question: "English?" When Whinney replied "Yes", six men flung themselves down the beach and into the dinghies.
As they steamed back to Bastia on Corsica at 40 knots in a USN patrol boat, the general showed Whinney the ancient automatic with which he had been about to shoot him. Their courier had been gone a week, and they suspected a trap themselves. One of the group had thought Whinney sounded German; it was not until the third challenge that the general, whose wife was English, had been convinced that all was well.
Patrick Fife Whinney was born on January 5 1912, the son of an Army officer whose family had the accountancy firm Whinney Smith and Whinney (later part of Ernst and Young). Patrick's elder brother, Reginald, was awarded the DSC and Bar in destroyers escorting convoys in the North Atlantic.
Patrick Whinney went to Dartmouth in 1925, and as a midshipman served under his future father-in-law, Rear Admiral "Burgoo" Burges Watson, in the battleship Nelson. But poor eyesight forced him to leave the service and join a trading house in Singapore.
On the outbreak of war Whinney immediately returned home and was commissioned in the RNVR. With another young intelligence officer, Steven Mackenzie, he was sent as liaison officer to the French Admiral Darlan's headquarters outside Paris. At the Fall of France, Whinney escaped in the Canadian destroyer Fraser, and survived when the ship was run down and sunk by the anti-aircraft cruiser Calcutta on the night of June 25 1940.
Back in London, Whinney reported to Ian Fleming, who sent him to the newly-created Directorate of Operations (Irregular), where his early naval training was of great assistance to Captain Frank Slocum, who had neither adequate or trained staff.
On August 3/4 1940 Whinney undertook his first clandestine mission. This was in a commandeered French-built motor dispatch vessel to land agents at Ouistreham, on what would later be famous as Sword Beach. His next mission, to Sein in Brittany, involved escorting Breton fisherman who had taken refuge at Newlyn; Whinney recalled being met off the train in Cornwall by a Russian Grand Duke, also in RNVR uniform.
Early in 1941 Whinney acted as liaison officer on board Le-Rhin, a French cargo vessel being refitted at Barry for special operations; it was no easy task, as the French crew had little knowledge of English or of naval procedures. Despite the opposition of de Gaulle's Free French in London, the ship was placed under the White Ensign and renamed Fidelity. She sailed from the United Kingdom to land Special Operations Executive agents in southern France and to recover escaped British servicemen. Whinney and Mackenzie were awarded the Croix de Guerre in April 1943.
When Whinney's loan to SOE was over, he was sent to Gibraltar to organise all irregular naval operations in the Western Mediterranean. After a brief return to London, and a visit to Spain to arrange for the covert purchase of fishing boats to augment his flotilla, he travelled to North Africa to reconnoitre suitable advanced bases and requisition Italian-type local craft for operations to the Italian mainland and islands; his flotilla was known, for cover purposes, as the African Coastal Flotilla.
Whinney spent 1943 at Slocum's headquarters in London, controlling Mediterranean operations, then was sent to set up an advanced operational base at Bastia, using a mixture of borrowed British, American and Italian craft. Since the same craft were rarely loaned consecutively, Whinney had to train each crew in special operations, while commanding the base and planning and co-ordinating other operations. He personally took charge of the first 18 operations. Shortly afterwards a temporary illness forced him to relinquish his command and return to England where, after sick leave, he was given liaison duties with French special forces, and also awarded the DSC for his gallantry, enthusiasm and devotion to duty in hazardous operations.
After the war Whinney joined the diplomatic service. He spent many years in Athens, and then went into cosmetics business with a wartime colleague. In the 1960s he settled on Guernsey, where he helped his wife to found the Coach House Gallery.
From 1981 he became involved in the Guernsey Cheshire Home. Returning from a committee meeting at which it had been plain that the home faced a six-figure hole in its finances, on a whim Whinney walked into the local television studio where he found Sarah Montague, then a budding journalist, on duty alone. Whinney charmed her into giving him an interview, and held forth so eloquently that, a few days later, an anonymous cheque arrived for the sum required.
Patrick Whinney, who was appointed OBE in 1998, died on November 15. He married in 1939 Maria Burges Watson, who died in 1995; they are survived by three daughters.
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