Friday the 13th - The lucky day for the Polish Wellington crew.
Researched by Hans Nauta.


       On June 11th, 1941, the 300 Sqdn sent out nine aircraft on a mission to bomb targets in Düsseldorf. Taking off at 23.06 hrs the Wellington W5666 BH-H with the crew of six was one of them. The aircraft was manned by: F/O S. Sedzik (pilot); Sgt L. Maciej (second pilot); P/O W. Sojka (navigator); Sgt Z. Chowanski (wireless operator); Sgt W. Weinberg (gunner) and Sgt S. Kruk-Schuster (rear gunner).


Vicekrs Wellington Mk IC of the squadron in summer 1941 (Profile by AJ-Press).

       Second pilot Sgt Maciej recalls:
"Having done half a tour of night operational sorties we were hit by flak over Dusseldorf and the starboard engine stopped at 17000 feet. There was no question of economic cruise, to maintain safe aircraft speed with constant loss of height we had to open the throttle every now and then, which caused a constant rise of engine heads' temperature. The propeller 'feathered' on the damaged engine, rudder correction, and poor weather was disadvantages of the flight. We felt we would not get there, we would have to ditch. When we lost altitude to some 2000 feet the nose gunner Waclaw Weinberg said he could see beacon lights. As assessed by the observer we could have been some 25-30 miles from England (as I learned after the war - according to records at the squadron station our position was fixed at: 5230N, 0300E). We tried to maintain height to reach England. Sadly, after a risky opening up of the throttle in the hope of reaching the shore to be able to bale out, we had self-ignition, fire burst in the carburetor area, and consequently we ditched. With enough height and time to jettison fire, switch on lights and drop flaps, we hit the water in moonlight…
…bubbling in my ears and my may-west pulled me out through the door above pilot's head, dropped before. I swam and yelled for help. I was near the port engine in front of the wing and had nothing to grab. It turned dark, large wave weaved me back and forth, but luckily I somehow swam to the wing where one of the crew helped me get onto the fuselage. I had drunk a lot of water, but all the time I realized I was alive! 
Dinghy — round rubber inflated boat was already floating on a string on the starboard side of the aircraft fuselage. Normally it is packed (like a parachute) and located in the upper fairing of the starboard wing, but using Bowden it jumps automatically out and small bottles of compressed air inflate it partly, and then it is filled up using a hand pump that is located at the with a first aid kit, food and fresh water. Although the ditching was so-so (our crew had earlier had a display lesson for other crews in the hangar), in the darkness we failed to notice that there was only five of us in the dinghy. To this day we do not know why our radio-operator Zygmunt Chowanski failed to leave the sinking aircraft, being so close to the astrodome through which himself, the tail gunner and the observer were supposed to save themselves. A Wellington normally stays afloat for some 5 minutes, or longer if the fuel tanks are empty. After cutting the string tied to the aircraft the dinghy floated with us into the darkness. After it dawned I saw on my watch, with broken glass, that we had ditched at 3.20 a.m. and that two friends had entered the dinghy quite dry. I suffered from pain in my left leg - I had a cut wound near my calf-shin which 'made itself felt' during our stay in the dinghy. Clearly, when I swam (I had no boots) I cut my leg on the propeller, which usually had a sharp edge."


1: Presumed position of theWellington crew. 2: Its actual position. 3: The base at Schellingwoude. 4: The 300 Sqdn base at Swinderby.

       Mayday signal was received in England and its position was fixed at 52.30N, 03.00E. The same morning at 05.45 hrs the 206 Sqdn's Hudson took off to search for the Polish Wellington crew at the new position of 52.58N, 02.53E , some 120 km W of Den Helder. The Hudson searched the area but its crew observed only a fishing vessel and two floating mines. Then the Blenheim of No. 86 Sqdn picked up on the mission, but after 45 minutes had to turn back because of an unserviceable radio transmitter. At the RAF Swinderby Poles did not intend be idle and two Wellingtons were sent to search for their missing colleagues. In the dinghy, downed airmen could see both Wellingtons passing over their heads, but were not spotted due to low rain clouds. Later that day the same VX-J Hudson of No. 206 Sqdn took off for the second search, but was attacked and shot down by Bf109s of the II/JG52. One of the attackers was Uffz Karl Munz, whose Messerschmitt was hit by the gunners of the Destroyer D96 HMS 'Worcester' escorting a convoy. He was forced to ditch, managed to escape the wreck and floated hoping to be rescued.

      The next saw a lot of activity at the area as both sides made efforts to find missing airmen. The Coastal Command had given priority in finding the crew of the missing Hudson J/206. Beaufort S/86 and Hudson O/2068 missions brought no luck, although they came very close of finding the Polish Wellington crew.

      Sgt Maciej describes this event as:
"I am not going to describe how we survived almost two longest nights of my life, how we were nearly recognized by an English "Hudson" reconnaissance aircraft but we lost our hopes of returning because it was shot down right in front of us by two German fighters, how two Wellingtons of our squadron flew over us and in rainy weather and low clouds we were not recognized. It was foggy and visibility was limited."

       On the morning Friday the 13th, four Arado's flew already a second mission searching for Karl Munz, and this time they found not only German pilot but also a dinghy with five Wellington's crewmembers. The aircraft that spotted them was the T3+HH with the crew Lt Schlitt and Fw Grüner. Germans picked up wounded Sgt Maciej and gave the Seenotzentrale in Hague (HQ Sea Rescue) the exact position of the dinghy at 52.57N and 02.55E. Soon after, at 9:40 am three Heinkel He 59 took off from the base at Schellingwoude, with the object to pick up British airmen and being escorted by Bf 109's of the 2./JG52. Few minutes past midday, piloted by Lt Glinkemann, the Heinkel He 59 DS+KA, nicknamed 'Schleiereule' (screech owl) of the 2./Seenotstaffel rescued the floating airmen. Flying back to the base, the German crew noticed that theirs prisoners did not talk like British. It was Lt Glinkemann who identified what language his passengers spoke, and announced: "Man, they aren't Englishman at all, but Poles!"


Arado Ar 196 of 1./BFlSt196 at Schellingwoude. (collection H. Nauta)

       Sgt Maciej continues:
"I was one of the first Polish airmen in custody. After landing in Amsterdam, my colleagues were taken to prison. Myself, as already mentioned, was retained in hospital for leg treatment. Two Luftwaffe soldiers helped me walking to the hospital. I received a soporific injection. I woke up with my leg bandaged in traction in isolation ward where somebody else laid, too. There was a uniform of a German Feldwebel (warrant officer) pilot on the hanger. Having read his newspaper he came to me and asked "Sind sie Englander?" I said "nein"- "no, I am Polish". He pondered. He nodded his head and said: "I haven't flown against Poland… I started over France, I am a reservist." A Dutch woman brought him plenty of food on a cart, and he always shared it with me.
Two days later we were on good terms; he told me his name was Franz Kuntz and he had a family in Dusseldorf… that he was shot down by an English ship and landed in water on his parachute. After a few days of cordial conversations he said good bye with a handshake and said "today you 'here', tomorrow I 'there'". I have come across a particularly good German, that is why I describe this detail.
"

Series of photographs depicting the moment of bringing the rescued Polish crew to Schellingwoude.
(collection of Hans Nauta)



In 1941 Heinkel He59 was used extensively in air-sea rescue missions. By 1944 these aircrafts were not flown operationally.


Wearing white summer hat is commander of the Schellingwoude base, Major Dr Pössel.


F/O Sedzik being helped off the Heinkel...


...followed by Sgt Weinberg.


Sgt Kruk-Schuster crowded by German officers.


Why Sgt Kruk-Schuster is smiling? Very intriguing.


Left: Ludwik Maciej (courtesy of Luis Maciej). Right: Zygmunt Chowanski.


Karl Munz (Karl Munz via Rob de Visser, Den Helder)

       The other four crew members ended up in POW camp Stalag Luft 3. During captivity Sgt Kruk- Schuster was infected by tuberculosis and was repatriated in February 1945 back to England. F/O Sedzik stayed in England after the war and passed away in April 2006. Sgt Kruk-Schuster settled in England as well and died in Blackpool in 1983. Sgt Maciej immigrated to the United States and passed away in San Pedro, California in 2007. Nothing further is known about P/O Sojka and Sgt Weinberg. Karl Munz survived the war flying with the JG52 almost all the time. In January 1945 he was promoted to Staffelkapitän and passed away in 2003.

14

BACK

© Polish Squadrons Remembered