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Original Air Ministry ‘Bathtub’ Morse Code Sender Key installed in the Westland Lysander.

Known as the ‘bathtub’ morse key due its resemblance to an old fashioned bathtub, the brown bakelite Morse Key was fully enclosed for operations across many RAF aircraft to ensure its sparking did not ignite fuel fumes.

From left to right, you see the hinges, the two electrical stubs, the large signalling knob (designed to also be used with gloves) and the spring that held both the upper and lower halves together. 

This spring could also be used to hold down the signalling knob to broadcast a continuous carrier wave. This was done during ditching procedures or when the crew had to bail out of the plane (mostly over water) and in doing so, hopefully enable rescuers to secure a fix on their last position.

Whilst used primarily aboard the RAF’s Medium and heavy bombers, the fact that the Morse Code Key was waterproof also made it suitable for use in carrier-launched aircraft such as the Fairey Firefly and Fairey Swordfish torpedo bomber as well as the clandestine SOE Lysander which often flew in extreme weather conditions to mask its operations. 

In fact, it was the British SOE who were quick to recognise the aircraft’s unique design and flight characteristics. The Lysander’s exceptional short-field performance made it perfect for landing on small, improvised airstrips behind enemy lines to place or recover agents, particularly in occupied France with the help of the French Resistance. 

One of these agents was SOE operative, Violette Szabo. 

Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) Westland Lysander pilots were highly experienced and extremely skilled in night-time operations, landings and supply drops to resistance fighters deep behind enemy lines. 

Flying in complete darkness, often at tree top level to evade enemy radar and fighters, they relied solely on compass readings and map work to find the drop area where a short, coded morse transmission would be sent by the pilot on his ‘Bathtub’ morse code key.

Once a ‘safe’ return signal was given, usually by a flashlight from the partisans waiting below, the pilot would make his supply drop or land to insert or collect a field agent.

On the night of 30th April 1944, RAF pilot, Bob Large received an emergency order to extract an SOE agent from a darkened field in France, whose cover had been blown and had the Gestapo in hot pursuit.

It had been the first mission into occupied France for operative Violette Szabo who had joined the SOE after her husband, Étienne Szabo, a decorated non-commissioned officer in the French Foreign Legion had been killed in action against German forces in North Africa.

Believing that the best way to fight the enemy and avenge the death of her husband was to put her language skills to good use, French born Violette joined the SOE’s F Section (France), where she received intensive training in fieldcraft, navigation, weapons and demolition together with communications and cryptography.

Leaving her two year daughter in the care of her mother, Violette had parachuted into France only three weeks earlier to join up with the French resistance near Cherbourg to determine if anything could be salvaged of a French underground network, many of whose members had been betrayed and arrested by the Germans. 

The network however had been totally compromised and Violette was instructed to evacuate immediately; making for an abandoned field for a night time extraction.

Bob Large’s blackened Lysander had barely touched down when Violette broke from cover and with the aircraft’s engine already revving for takeoff, scrambled up the boarding ladder into the rear cockpit. 

It was to be a nightmare trip back to England, with the aircraft hit by anti-aircraft fire as it crossed the French coast and Szabo thrown about the body of the plane before enduring heavy landing due to a burst tyre.

On the 8th of June, only days after the allied landing at Normandy, Violette, along with three other SOE operatives once more parachuted back into France with the aim of creating a new resistance network.

Unfortunately Violette and one of her SOE companions ran into a roadblock set up by the 2nd SS Panzer Division and a fierce gunfight ensued resulting in Violette's capture whilst providing cover fire.

The German forces were desperate to learn the Allied plans and the captured SOE operative was viciously tortured before being transferred to Ravensbrück Concentration camp where Violette suffered further interrogation, before being executed by a single shot to the back of the head. 

More than a third of the 41 female agents of F Section did not survive the war, along with a quarter of the 400 male agents and thousands more French resistance fighters. Out of the 119 SOE agents captured by the Germans, only 23 men and three women survived. Posthumously receiving both Britain and France’s highest awards for bravery, Violette Szabo is remembered today along with her deceased SOE companions as beacons in the struggle for freedom against oppression everywhere.  

We will remember them. 

This Westland Lysander Instrument comes complete with detailed Scale Model, Mango Wood Stand & Plaque plus Printed Fact Sheet featuring photo of instrument in aircraft cockpit.

* Note that this Westland Lysander Instrument is pictured with a 1/48 scale model rather than the standard detailed, but smaller 1/72 scale. Click on the ‘Model Upgrade' option at the top of this page for the larger 1/48 scale.

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Your Westland Lysander Air Ministry Bathtub Morse Code Sender Key, original Recovery Curios Warbird Collectable includes:

  • Original Warbird instrument
  • Highly detailed hand-built and airbrushed 1/72 plastic scale model of the aircraft,*
  • Hand-crafted and beautifully finished 100yr, Far North Queensland Mango Wood display stand
  • Detailed, 2-sided, printed and laminated Instrument Fact Sheet detailing aircraft and instrument
  • Removable Magnetic Display Arm

*An upgrade to the larger and more detailed 1/48 scale model is also available in the hand-built and airbrushed plastic version for an additional $35 (Click on the 1/48 scale option)

Both the 1/72 & 1/48 scale hand-built and airbrushed plastic models are available with 'canopy open or closed' options with a choice of two Squadron markings and camouflage.

Upon order placement you will receive an email asking for your preferred configuration.

Your complete Recovery Curios Original Instrument Collectable is securely packed and delivery normally takes between 4 - 6 weeks approx.

Did you fly, crew or maintain a Westland Lysander or have a friend, colleague or family member who did? Check out our PERSONALISED ORIGINAL INSTRUMENT COLLECTABLE OPTION here.