Gordon Tack

Published in Obituaries

Gordon Tack, who has died aged 90, was a radio operator with SOE and was parachuted into enemy-occupied territory in France in 1944, and Burma and Malaya the following year.

On the night of July 8 1944, Tack was dropped into Brittany. Accompanying him in Jedburgh Team Giles were Captain Bernard Knox, an American of British origin, and Captain Paul Grall, a Frenchman.

Wearing uniforms and operating alongside SAS and other Jedburgh teams, their mission was to coordinate resistance. They landed near Briec where they were welcomed by a group of excited young Frenchmen, each of whom they had to embrace in turn.

They loaded their containers on to a truck; the vehicle gave them an anxious time for it made as much noise as a Sherman tank. With captured German rifles sticking out of the windows, they drove along back roads to a rendezvous with the Maquis, who were camped in a wood. The last part of the journey was made in daylight and they discovered later that 300 German paratroops had arrived in a nearby village soon after they had passed through and were searching all the farms in the area.

They distributed the weapons, trained the Maquis in their use, identified new drop-zones for further supplies and organised reception committees. Shortly after their arrival, they were visited by a senior officer in the FFI (French Forces of the Interior). A man to whom he had given a lift in his car was unmasked as a Gestapo agent and summarily shot.

Early in August, they received orders to begin harassing attacks on the German 2nd Parachute Division which was moving eastwards from Douarnenez. A large-scale ambush forced the Division to abandon the roads and strike out across the fields. Many German prisoners were taken. Under interrogation, they admitted to atrocities and refused to explain why they had French money and identity cards on them. Many were shot. Team Giles had no facilities for holding prisoners and was unable to intervene.

Tack had a vital role in encoding, deciphering and transmitting messages. This had to be done at high speed to avoid detection and capture by the Germans. A less expert operator would have put at risk the whole enterprise, and the hunt for Tack and his comrades was relentless. Sleeping in barns and haystacks, they were up at first light and moved almost every day to elude the dragnet, undertaking long, forced marches.

Tack’s stepfather, George, a Leading Seaman on the armed merchant ship Rajputana, had been killed when the vessel was sunk by U-108 in April 1941, west of Reykjavik. Gordon was convinced that there was substance in reports at the time that the German submarine had surfaced after the sinking and machine-gunned the survivors in the lifeboats.

A French chateau near Châteauneuf was being used for “rest and recreation” by submarine crews from Brest and their French girlfriends. One night Tack, moving stealthily through the woods, got to within 200 yards of the chateau and was able to guide three RAF bombers on to the target with devastating accuracy. The attack went some way to assuaging his anger at his stepfather’s death.

In September, when they were overrun by the advancing Allied forces, they moved to Quimper and returned to Dartmouth by minesweeper. Tack was awarded a Military Medal.

Gordon Hugh Tack was born on November 21 1923 at Valletta, Malta, where his father was serving in the Royal Navy. The family returned to England shortly after he was born but his parents split up and when his mother married George Tack, young Gordon took his stepfather’s name.

He went to school in Plymouth but left aged 15 to become a boilermaker’s apprentice at Devonport dockyard. In 1941 he joined the RAF to train as a pilot but transferred to the Army the following year.

After returning from France, Tack volunteered for service with Force 136, the cover name for SOE’s operations in south-east Asia. Jungle training in Ceylon included instructions on cooking and serving curried lizard.

In March 1945 he and two comrades in Team Pig were dropped into the Pyu area of Burma to organise resistance groups. One night, as they moved across the country, they were betrayed by the driver of their bullock cart and surrounded by soldiers of the Indian National Army, which was under Japanese command.

After failing to negotiate their release, they shot their way out, killing or wounding five of their captors. Tack became separated from the others. He hid by day and moved only by night, using a compass, subsisting on water from the paddy fields, watching out for snakes and listening for the warning rustle of long columns of ants.

After six days he was found by a village headman and reunited with his comrades. When his group was overrun by the advancing 5th Indian Infantry Division, he hitched a ride with an American pilot to Chittagong and then went by ferry to Calcutta.

In July he was dropped into Selangor, Malaya. After the Japanese surrender, his team arranged for air drops of food and medical supplies for civilian internees at Bahau, Negeri Sembilan.

When SOE was disbanded, Tack was posted to the 25th Dragoons and was in India during the violence that followed Partition. In 1947 he returned to England and signed up for a 22-year engagement as a regular soldier. He was posted to the 3rd Caribiniers (Prince of Wales’s Dragoon Guards) in Germany and later served as regimental sergeant major with the Cheshire Yeomanry.

After retiring from the Army in 1969 as a WO1, he was a magistrate’s court official until 1974 and then worked on the security branch of British Rail until 1982.

Settled in Chandler’s Ford, Hampshire, his hobbies included DIY, reading and music. For many years, he was a boxing judge.

Gordon Tack married, in 1947, Monica Bridgid Schlesinger. She predeceased him and he is survived by their three sons and a daughter.

Gordon Tack, born November 21 1923, died December 24 2013