Shortly after, I was sent with a group of Poles to a French Air Station near ClermontFerrant, where we were put under French command. Our first priority was to learn the language as our lack of knowledge of French presented serious difficulties.
At that Station we were taught shooting, bombing, navigation, radio communication and cooperation with artillery in the art of directing fire onto the target. Our frontline aeroplane was the POTEZ 63.
After the fall of France we arrived in Vendres, a port on the Mediterranean coast. A British ship was not able to pick us up there and we travelled on to St.John de Luz near Biarritz where we embarked on the British ship Arandora Star. The Polish Group consisted of some 5,000 people, in addition to some French nationals who joined us to continue the fight against the Germans. We arrived in Britain in July 1940.
A few weeks later, in August, I was transferred with quite a large group of Poles to RAF Benson near Oxford. At Benson we started to learn English and RAF procedures. We flew with the British crews and I normally took with me a Polish-English dictionary. I was trained as a gunnerradio operator. In radio communication we used the international "Q" code, which was a great help.
Examples from the "Q" code:QDM
Training as a radio operator was carried out in an aircraft called "Anson". Our operational training aircraft was the "Fairey Battle". It was a rather slow and overloaded divebomber. We used to refer to it as a "Flying Coffin". On one occasion, while flying in a leading aircraft in "V" formation, the starboard aircraft hit the right elevator of my aircraft with its port wing. Both aircraft landed safely, but were so seriously damaged that they were beyond repair.
300 Bomber Squadron
My function as a member of the night bombing crew started immediately on joining the squadron at
the beginning of 1941. This early posting to the operational squadron uplifted my morale and for me
this was the reward for my efforts in attaining my new specialisation.
The bomber crews were almost complete except for one where they needed a forward airgunner. I joined that crew although I should have flown as a radio operator. With my first crew I completed six operational flights, two of which were over Berlin and were the most significant. Goering was at that time responsible for the defence of Berlin and in his speeches he assured the Germans that not a single British aircraft would reach Berlin because of the powerful antiaircraft defence organisation instituted by him. This arrogant speech made us even more determined to repay the Germans for the destruction of Warsaw.
The first night bombing raid was on the 23/24th March 1941. The raid was executed without any specific problems. Berlin was clouded over, the searchlights were useless and the antiaircraft artillery provided some defensive fire.
The second night raid was on the 17/18th April 1941. This time it was a cloudless night with a full moon. As on the previous raid we bypassed Magdeburg from the south. We flew at about 18,000 feet where the outside temperature was 50 deg C. When we reached Berlin we turned left onto a northerly heading. Soon the searchlights discovered us and the AckAck fired incessantly. That we escaped alive from that German hell, must have been through the intercession of "Mother of God, Queen of Poland" to whom I had prayed most fervently. Our aircraft and crew were hit by the AckAck fire quite seriously. Our Navigator was seriously wounded, the oxygen system damaged and the starboard wing had a large hole between the engine and the body. One shell holed the gunners forward turret, passed through the floor, scattered ammunition then passed between my legs. Machine gun bullets holed the roof of the turret and flew out without exploding. I noticed this when we were over the North Sea in daylight. Lack of oxygen affected us quite seriously. I gave my portable bottle of oxygen to the Pilot and I had to breathe rather deeply without the oxygen, which chilled my breathing system and in particular my throat. Cold air blew in through the holes in the turret. I had always, on operational trips, carried with me a Thermos of hot coffee and as we distanced ourselves from the AckAck I wanted to have a drink, but instead of coffee in the Thermos I found German shrapnel. So, without the Thermos, the shrapnel would have been in my side.
When we reached the North Sea it was already daylight, however, approaching England we could not see the coast there was fog. For nearly half an hour the fuel indicators had been showing empty tanks. The vertical visibility was better and we could see water from 6,000 feet. After a while I saw sand and on the left, the outline of the coast. The Pilot turned left and shortly afterwards the engines stopped. We spotted a field airstrip. I stood next to the Pilot so that I could help him. As soon as the aircraft touched the ground the right wing, together with the engine and the undercarriage, broke off. I was thrown into the Navigator's compartment, hit my head and arm and felt acute pain. An ambulance arrived shortly afterwards and we learnt that we were near King's Lynn.
My crew was split up. The navigator was taken to hospital where he spent several weeks and could not fly. As a result of this last flight which had ended in a crash landing, I noticed that my hearing was considerably impaired, particularly in the right ear. I had hit my head just behind the right ear. My sense of balance was also affected and my right arm was clicking when moved. I treated my chilled throat with raw beaten egg mixed with a drop of cognac.
I believed that I could continue flying, and when I discovered that the crew of Josef Kazimierczak was short of a radiooperator, I joined him and with that crew I made nine operational flights. For me this was the most memorable crew. Cooperation with the navigator was excellent. Josef K. maintained the course while I checked positions of radiobeacons.
During one of my flights with Josef K. we had an unpleasant situation which, however, ended
satisfactorily. This was whilst we were over the North Sea about an hour's flying time from England.
Josef knocked at my cabin door, which put me on the alert, it had to be serious. He had not called me
on the intercom as he did not wish to alarm the rest of the crew. In the pilot's cabin, he looked at me
We had 500 pound bombs on board and dropping each one threw the aircraft upwards. Our reaction
was to move quickly forward and thus rebalance
the aircraft. We arrived over our base at 5,000 feet.
Josef K. proposed that if anyone wanted to jump with a parachute he was free to do so, however, no
one was keen to jump at night. I asked Josef if he would jump. He said "What? Jump at night? You
Our first priority was to discover the reason for the failure of the elevators. It was found that due to
vibration, unsecured bolts had unscrewed themselves and dropped out. This was a new aircraft and had
arrived at the Maintenance Unit on the morning of the operational flight. In the Maintenance Unit,
somehow, they had not noticed that the bolts retaining the elevators were not secured!
In the spring of 1941 the Polish Air Force received its "Colours" and we observed this day with great ceremony. The handing over of the "Colours" was at RAF Swinderby. They were made and blessed in Wilno (Lithuania now) at Ostra Brama. The inscription on the "Colours" was "Love Demands Sacrifice."
The greatest sacrifice that a man can make is to lay down his own life. Many of our people had made
that sacrifice for Poland.
Now in 1981 some 40 years later, perhaps I am the only one left from the members of the Colour Party. I still have a few photographs of the ceremony after which I was promoted to Pilot Officer.
300 and 301 squadrons were moved to RAF Hemswell and soon after we arrived there, the crew was split up. It was a great pity but everything has its end and so, unfortunately, had my crew.
In 301 squadron there was another Pilot Officer Jan Jablonski, so we used to read all our letters together and thus decide to whom they were really addressed. Some time later, after several operational flights, the other Jan did not return. I lost a distant relative and a pastime of letter reading. I wrote some letters on his behalf to inform them of his loss.
When Major Sulinski was squadron commander he would, from time to time, send me on operational flights with new crews known as freshers. He said that it was our responsibility to train new crews and the best way to do so was on an operational flight.
After I left Josef Kazimierczak's crew, I flew with fourteen crews. Each crew had different incidents during their operational flights. For me, a flight with a new crew was a new experience, as I did not know how they would behave in difficult circumstances. Some of these events are as follows:
day Major Sulinski called me for a confidential chat. He confided that one of the crews was
having some difficulties during operational flights. They had just completed three flights. "Perhaps
they need some help" he said "but I don't know what help." The pilot and the navigator had apparently
claimed that all was well.
After some two hours flying I noticed that both the pilot and the navigator got tired and quarrelled. We
were above the target with active antiaircraft
After the flight I noticed that these quarrels were having a bad effect on the two young air gunners. I reported to the squadron commander that the pilot and navigator were rather too old for flights of over two hours. The danger would be that they might kill themselves.
The squadron commander suggested to them that they should suspend their flying. They said "And why do you think we came to England? Despite our ages we feel we are capable of flying and thus repay our debt to the Germans."
On the return from their second operational flight, the crew was killed.
The squadron commander said to me "It happened as you predicted". I responded that we could not do much about it as they were very brave, eager to avenge and we could only have a great respect for them.
I was very sorry indeed for the death of the two young air gunners and especially for the radio operator, who was a very kind person. I did not share these thoughts (sentiments) with the commander.
In 1942 I flew on an operation with a new crew of 'freshers'. This was at time when the Germans had
started experiments with RADAR and night fighters. The pilots name was Stasio, he was experienced,
having completed 8 operational flights. As we approached the target area all was rather quiet no
artillery barrage. I stood in the "astrohatch"looking out for a possible attack by a night fighter. The
I prepared an SOS message for transmission just in case we were forced to ditch in the sea. On approach to the target I dropped a flare to draw the antiaircraft artillery away from us. After a while I dropped another flare to make the target visible, the navigator dropped our bombs and took the photographs!
After landing at base, we inspected the damaged fuel tank and the rather frightened crew asked Stasio
whether he knew about it.
The next day the Squadron Commander called me to his office and congratulated me for making such a good impression on the crew.
After the completion of my operational tour, some while later, I attended a course at Cranwell. The rest of the crew had also completed their tour and telephoned me to invite me to their 'party'. During the party they told me that throughout their operational flights they remembered me and my instruction"not to panic".
One day I had the most unusual experience. It was in RAF Bingham.
The batman woke me up in the morning and left a cup of coffee on a table by my bed. I was still half asleep, I raised myself up to a halfsitting position, closed my eyes and began to say my morning prayers. Suddenly, through my closed eyelids I saw a white figure in the doorway and I heard the voice of my mother who had died a few years before the war. She said that the aeroplane 'R' would be shot down and that all the crew would perish, then she sighed heavily. I opened my eyes and the vision disappeared. I prayed for the soul of my mother. I did not understand why she was warning me since up to now our squadron had lost over 40 crews and I, at that time, had no crew.
When I arrived at the office I learned that there would be operational flights that night. The navigation officer and I prepared the crew list. One crew had returned from their holidays but it wasn't complete. A radio operator sent a telegram stating that his return to the base would be delayed because of a bombed railway line. I put my name down in his place. The navigation officer wrote down the number of the plane which ended with the letter 'R' ! This made me recall my morning vision and during the lunch break I decided to write a short goodby letter to my sister Janina, as I had her address in Poland. I left the letter in my room with a request to have it posted if I did not return from the operational flight.
After lunch, Major Suwinski told me that I would not be able to take part in the mission as the radio operator had returned and the whole crew asked for him to be included. The Major told me that as it was the radio operators usual crew, he should have priority.
If I could have found a fault with the equipment, I might have been able to stop the flight, but everything was functioning properly in the aeroplane 'R'.
The crews took off, the Major and I remained in the operations room, awaiting their return. Two crews
did not return. After about half an hour we received information that one of the crews had landed at
another aerodrome near the coast because of an engine problem. The Major suggested that we remain
in the operations room for more than half an hour as the last plane should have had enough fuel for at
least another one hours flying time. I told him I had a feeling that we would not hear from the crew as
they were already dead. He was very angry with me. "Are you mad, talking like this" he said. I
answered him by telling him about the vision I had seen that morning. He wanted to know why I hadn't
told him about it before the flight. I said that I had thought about telling him but after some
After about five weeks, he called me to his office and gave me a letter from the International Red Cross confirming that the crew had been killed and giving the locality of where they were buried. I put the letter down on his desk and he said "If anyone had told me the story of this incident, I would never have believed it, but this time I lived through it!"
One of the most successful operations over Germany was the bombing raid of 1,000 bombers on Cologne. A few days before that raid two preparatory raids were made over Kiel. On the first night the raid was made over the southern part of the Kiel canal and on the second night over the northern part of Kiel. The direction of the raid and the time over the target were specifically limited. I took part on the first night. During this raid there was a very heavy concentration of antiaircraft artillery just ahead of us. We noticed that a plane infront of us had its lights on so our pilot informed them to switch them off!
The second raid of 1,000 bombers was on Essen. This raid was not that satisfactory, because we suffered heavy losses, 49 bombers did not return.
Raids on Rostock, in Warnemunde, lasted three or four nights. The first took the Germans unawares
and their defence wasn't strong. We flew at 12,000 feet with many other crews at much lower levels.
The first phase of bombers dropped burning bombs or flares and the second phase dropped the
exploding destruction bombs. A number of Lancaster bombers carried 5Ton
bombs which, when
During periods of frequent raids over several nights, I could not sleep in my bed because when I was
not flying I had to remain in the operations room and await the return of the other crews. On one of
these nights, whilst returning from a raid over the North Sea, I felt very tired so I told my crew that I
would lie on the bed and have a nap. I asked them to wake me up when we came close to the English
Service in the Technical Group.
After the first tour of operational flights I felt that my health was somehow failing and that I could not
Several times I was involved in the preparation of plans for parachutists to be dropped in Poland. There
were also preparations for the opening of another front in Europe.
A 'Polish Plan' to open a front through Bulgaria was thrown out. The plan apparently appeared to be
After some time the Commanding Officer informed me of the AngloAmerican Plan to open a front through Normandy and that Polish Forces would take part.
As Polish Air Force fighter squadrons would be cooperating with the Army, it was suggested that I should become acquainted with the communications system used by Fighter Command. I was therefore sent for several weeks to RAF Church Fenton, Nr York and subsequently to RAF Coltishall, where Polish Fighter Squadrons were stationed. Nearby there was also Eastern Sector, Operation Control Room.
Eventually I was recalled to London where the officer in charge of communications informed me that the training of communications/liaison personnel for the 2nd Tactical Air Force had started and that about 500 Polish personnel had been attached to the British unit for training.
The Polish personnel came from diverse units and their discipline was somewhat lacking. The
Commanding Officer appointed me Liaison Officer for the Group, stating that "Jablonski was highly
decorated and that other personnel would have a very high regard for him." After accepting my new
function I confirmed that everything looked well organised. In my office there was an Englishman
A few days later, I discovered just how undisciplined some of the men had become when one of the
Polish soldiers rushed into my office and started shouting that he had not had a vacation and demanded
to know what I was going to do about it! I replied by taking a revolver from my desk drawer, loading it
and telling him that if he uttered another inappropriate word in such an offensive manner I would shoot
him. The soldier became pale, saluted energetically, turned round and marched out of the office. The
very next day, during the morning parade, I informed the men that they had been selected for a very
great honour, to take part in the Invasion of Europe and in view of this all holiday passes were
cancelled. Later on that 'particular' soldier was one of the best and I treated him in a much more
At the training centre there were also many British people. In the Officers Mess there were about 300 officers, mainly young ones. We passed evenings playing various games "supported" by drinking beer. Sometimes there were political discussions. I became known as a great AntiCommunist.
One evening, after the completion of their training and before the soldiers were transferred to the 2nd
Tactical Air Force, I talked to the men to keep their spirits up. One of the youngest soldiers said that he
wanted say something but was afraid that I might be angry with him. I told him that I wouldn't be and
that I would readily listen to what he wanted to say. He said that it was very easy for me to talk about
the mission, the opening of the front, but I would be staying in England while they would be at the
front. I could not tell him that I had already visited Headquarters in London and put my name down
for the first group to invade Europe. In fact I would be in Europe for quite some time before the
soldiers, so instead, I told him that I had already been on active service and that from my own squadron
I was then seconded to the 131st Wing of the 2nd Tactical Air Force as Signals Officer. The Commanding Officer of this Wing was Colonel(Group Captain) Gabszewicz, current (in 1981) President of the Polish Air Force Association.
We flew in a Dacota to Normandy and an Army vehicle took us to the airport under construction near Caen. The airport wasn't very far from the front so positioned all around it were tanks and artillery units. The Sapper units were in the process of completing the construction and an RAF Regiment was responsible for its defence.
The soldiers helped me to set up a tent. Their officer told them to dig a trench within the tent for my bed so that it would be below the floor of the tent. When I asked why, he told me that personnel with beds above ground level had been wounded by shrapnel.
It is possible that the Germans had noticed the increased activity in connection with our arrival because at night they dropped a few parachute bombs onto our camp. One of the bombs fell about 25 metres from me but I did not hear it and slept peacefully!
After a few days our airport, in reality a landing strip, was ready but because of enemy action it was not possible for the entire fighter wing to land. It took nearly five weeks to establish the front and enable the entire 131 Wing to transfer to the continent of Europe. Some of these new arrivals from my group were rather nervous so I assured them that I had been there for at least five weeks and had found it relatively acceptable.
Our airport was quite close to the front and within the range of artillery units and tanks. The artillery made a tremendous noise because they were close to us. The tanks, when they went into action, made lots of noise and a great deal of dust, the day looked like night. People were tired from not being able to sleep at night. Some of my colleagues as well as some soldiers were jealous that I could sleep in such nerve wracking and noisy conditions.
Everything was ready to break through the front. It was carried out differently from the First World War. A massed raid by our bombers was made on a selected section of the front near Falaise and achieved its aim. Our army was able to march through this gap unopposed.
Next day I went in a Jeep to examine this section of the front. The sight was dreadful, human bodies, guns, tanks, artillery units and military equipment all mixed up in craters 1020 feet deep. Shellshocked Germans were wandering in the fields. I was thinking that this operation should be described as a mass mixing of the front and not a mass breakthrough!
I was so busy looking at the details of destruction that I inadvertently found that I had driven some 10 metres into a mine field. Fortunately the soil had been freshly raked and my wheel marks were clearly visible. I retreated along my tyre tracks and the soldier sitting next to me said that this short journey had made him wet with sweat!
Translated from Polish by Ted Rybak.