On the night of April 15, 1943, Natzler was airlifted to France on a Lysander aircraft flown by Squadron Leader Hugh Verity, and landed at La Chartre-sur-le-Loir, approximately 40 km north of Tours.
Its mission was to take stock of travel conditions in France and to test the viability of an untested flight line in Spain. This involved going to Font-Romeu, a town close to the border with Spain and Andorra, meeting a contact there and following the man’s instructions for exfiltration through Spain .
Natzler had not received a card and had no knowledge of the area. The landing was too short a time to organize a safe house near the landing field, and he had to spend the night in a wood.
He was told that the identity card given to him would not be valid in the former unoccupied or vacant area because it had not been revalidated. This area, south of the dividing line, has been controlled by the Germans since November 1942.
The Gestapo was everywhere and without proper documentation, he would certainly have been arrested while trying to cross the line.
The next day, he took a train to Paris. Dirty and unshaven, with his pants wet to the knees, he was too tired to go to the designated refuge near the Bois de Boulogne. Instead, he stayed in an apartment building he already knew from a previous briefing.
A few days later, he had to move in a hurry because the Gestapo had arrested a young woman who lived in an apartment in the same block. He stayed in a hotel and bribed the director not to report him.
As a result, he had to spend the day walking the streets and sitting in bars until he was sure to return. With time available, he met a number of agents from Sections F and DF, including the secret agent Henri Déricourt (an enigmatic figure, later accused of collusion with the enemy), who had organized his landing, which has raised security concerns. .
Natzler contacted Major Francis Suttill, the head of Circuit Prosper, who has committed to preparing a new set of documents to prepare. Several days were spent trying to concoct a pretext for a trip to Font-Romeu. One of the plans was that he would organize accommodation for children with tuberculosis.
These plans were abandoned when he was told that there had been a police raid on Font-Romeu and that a large network of resistance fighters had been assembled. Natzler then received orders from London: “Return to London by indicated route.”
This led to a misunderstanding. London allowed him to complete his original mission by going to Font-Romeu and trying the new escape route.
Not without reason, Natzler thought they were aware of the problem at Font-Romeu and he interpreted the order to mean that he had to return by a well-established escape route, which he did.
At the end of May, he went to Perpignan and, with the help of a guide, he and a companion crossed the mountains in Spain, west of the Perthus pass. He was picked up by car near Figueres and driven to Barcelona. From there, he returned to England via Valencia, Seville and Lisbon.
During his debriefing, he listed the many shortcomings regarding his briefing and the equipment and clothing he had been provided with. Reporting on the final stages of his journey, he complained that the “safe houses” in Spain were vermin and that the guide taking them across the Guadalquivir river on the way to Portugal could not swim.
Peter Natzler, the son of an Austrian bank official, was born in Vienna on February 18, 1917. At the time, his father was a performer in a Hungarian regiment on the Russian front.
Young Peter studied at the Theresianum school before settling in Paris in 1936 to work in a French bank and learn the language fluently. In 1939, he obtained French nationality and was called up to the French army.
After the war, he and his wife Brenda decided to make England their home. He started and directed an Anglo-French company, manufacturing welding machines, with a factory in Château-du-Loir.
Natzler was made a Knight of the National Order of Merit in 1975 and received the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977. He attended the inauguration of the SOE Memorial in Valençay in 1991 and was a life member of the Special Forces Club of London.
Pierre Natzler married Brenda Wrangham in 1943, whom he met while working for the Ministry of Information. She was predeceased by his grave and he is survived by their daughter, Caroline, and their son, Sir David Natzler, a former Clerk of the House of Commons.
Pierre Natzler, born February 18, 1917, died April 28, 2020