"Today, at last, we are to
fly over Poland. There is an atmosphere of pleasant excitement as on Sports Day
at school, or just before one’s first solo flight. We have all been looking
forward so much to this sortie; our only worry is that something may hold it up.
We have been discussing it all day, debating various points, reviewing every
detail of our briefing, yet constantly straying from the subject after the red
herring of reminiscence.
Though we know it by heart, we have been poring over the map
of Poland. Every name - every town, river and lake, every forest and every peak
- brings back happier times of friendship and peace, of Poland and its decent
The Halifaxes are ready to take off. For a change, there is
no wind. It is stuffy and, as we wait, the perspiration streams down us. The
planes are taking off one after another, and now it is our turn.
We cross the Yugoslav coast near Dubrovnik. It is still quite
light. The enemy’s fighter airfields are not far away, so we are keeping
careful watch. No Messerschmitts seen. We are at 10,000 feet. The oxygen is
turned on. It is warm and cozy here in the cabin.
The mountains are fantastically grand, even from above:
peaks, ridges, precipices and rugged rocky spurs jutting over abysses. We are
passing one of the largest groups of peaks; I can see hundreds of twinkling
ruddy lights around it—they are the camp fires of Yugoslav resistance forces.
Rather lower, on the slopes, are the fires of patrols guarding this mountain
It is a bright, moonlit night. Visibility is excellent. We
are getting too near Sava. Must have drifted a bit off our course. The gray
winding ribbon of the Danube can be seen. There is the double bend with its
island and just over to starboard, not yet visible, is Vienna’s great Fun
I have now to set course for the Tatras. The old astrologer
had nothing on me. A voyage in the third dimension with a sextant! Like
traveling in the fourth dimension with an hourglass. No oxygen for me as I squat
under the pilot’s seat - very uncomfortable and undignified. I was glad to get
back to my desk at last. A good swig of oxygen and a well-earned rest: applied
‘astrology’ is no child’s play.
The gray plain ripples up into foothills as it breaks against
the Low Tatras, and behind them the snow-clad peaks of the High Tatras rise up
against the dark sky.
Handley Page Halifax Mk II (JP180) of the 1586 Special Duty Flight, Campo Casale, April 1944 (Wings Palette).
Our own mountains! And how beautiful they look! We’re
flying over Cichego Valley. There’s Morskie Oko Lake, the lights of Zakopane -
they disappear in a blackout. We have dropped to 5,000 feet. Just crossed the
Vistula. 2,000 feet. The engines are droning along very quietly. The other boys
are probably as deep in their thoughts and memories as I am.
This is my country. An English lesson at the OTU intrudes
with a dimly remembered quotation: ‘Breathes there a man . . . this is my own,
my native land’. I can’t recall the middle and I’m not sure of the end,
something Scottish. Woods, fields, meadows and cottages drift by below. How
pleasant it would be to knock at that door and be greeted by Polish voices! How
surprised they would be! Why can’t we fly lower and just glance into a Polish
We’re approaching the Pilica. A big forest with a
clearing in the middle is the reception point, some three miles from the river.
The ‘committee’ has answered our signal and are lighting the five flares of
the cross, which marks the exact spot and gives the direction of the wind.
We made our first ‘dropping’ perfectly and then lost
sight of the reception point - we had dropped to 200 feet as we circuited and
the trees hid it. We picked it up again and dropped the rest of the containers.
As we flew away, the ‘V’ sign was flashed up in Morse.
About five or six miles away, two villages suddenly burst
into flames. It was no accidental outburst, spreading from a cottage. German
reprisals. We had no time to look on and, in any case, could do nothing to help.
Yet it seemed wrong to fly back to Italy: not to help the ‘committee’ with
the supplies, not to fight with them against a possible German attack, not to
help those poor villagers.
We are passing over the Tatras again. We were in Poland—over
Poland, 200 feet, say 60 yards away from her soil. So very near. I wonder if
anyone I know heard our plane, or saw it. We’re getting near Budapest.
Searchlights have flashed up looking for somebody about 15 miles to the east,
and the flak is peppering away there for all it is worth.
We are over the Balkans and the clouds are gathering. Not far
to go now. We’ve just let base know the op. went off without a hitch. Base
O.K.; we can land any time. We’ve just had tea and something to eat. Good tea,
plenty of clouds, no night fighters. Very peaceful and secure. Getting tired. .
. . Drowsy.
The clouds have passed and I can see a low coast. Can’t
make out where we are. Flashes on the ground before us, more and more of them.
‘Starboard her,’ I ordered. But the kite forged straight ahead and the
flashes kept on. ‘Hurry up with the evading,’ I barked at the pilot. ‘Want
us to get a dose? What’s the matter with you? Asleep?’ ‘No,’ he
answered, ‘only the oxygen tube’s got mixed up with George’s switch off.’
Suddenly, bursts of black smoke appeared alongside and
explosions deafened us. The kite bumped about, something cracked loudly in the
cabin, and we dived. Evasive action at last, and in the nick of time. The next
bursts were just behind us. We weaved about and got out, over the sea, out of
range of the flak.
Nobody has been hurt and the engines are running smoothly. We
were too near Durazzo. The front pane of the cabin looks rather like a sieve,
the desk has a gaping hole, the map has got badly torn, and there are two big
holes in the wall. And it had been such a nice, quiet flight! The cooling system
or the tanks may have been holed, can’t say yet.
It is bright sunlight over the base and we are landing."
(Destiny Can Wait)
S/Ldr Eugeniusz Arciuszkiewicz (navigator)