The August 27, 1944, was sultry like any other day in South Italy that time of the year. In the morning we learn that we’ll be flying. We knew that even before briefing. Once there we were given general information, some details and heard many times banal instructions. Just before the sortie, the whole crew gathered under the wing of the Liberator “S like Sugar”: pilot Jan Mioduchowski, 2nd pilot Henryk Jastrzebski, wireless operator Zygmunt Nowacki, navigator Stanislaw Kleybor, flight engineer Emil Szczerba, gunner Jozef Bednarski and gunner Tadeusz Ruman. Navigator in once sentence expresses the thought we all had in mind: we must reach the target and make drop for Poles fighting in Warsaw. Nobody said anything else. We understood each other perfectly.
We took off at 7:15 p.m., and the sun was still over the horizon. One circle over the airfield and we set the course north climbing to 10000 feet and over the Adriatic. Mountains in Yugoslavia, Danube, search lights just as usual. Then we reach Carpathians. We find the orientation point and went down; low altitude flying was the safest way to fly over Poland. Powerful engines of our Liberator work flawlessly, and every member of the crew does his job calmly. Even though we were still some 40 km away from Warsaw, for some time we could see a huge burgundy glow over it. The glow grew as we approached the target. Soon we were over the Warsaw.
We flew at 1000 feet over fires and clouds of smoke. Down, we could distinguish ruins of few-story buildings with wooden floors burning out. In a single moment the one could feel the tragedy of those down there: those fought and those who were trapped in the surrounding inferno. Our hearts are crying out and our nerves are tight to the limits. In the moment like this we forget about our own safety. Blinded by the raging fires, our eyes barely see the cross formed by flashlights, the sign of a drop zone. We find it and start the bomb run. The bomb bays are open and the supplies went down.
Germans are somewhat quite. They don’t shoot at us or even try to catch in search lights. Moments later, suddenly several of them engulf us in a cone of light and instantly light flak start to shoot. Bright orange, green, white and red bullets dance around, often finding the target. Our plane is being hacked like with giant axes, its steel and aluminum pieces groan, and we feel every blow it takes.
- Lower! Lower! - The navigator cries out even though we are already extremely low. But that’s our only chance. We descend, miraculously avoid hitting a church steeple turn west and run off. We know we were hit but can’t estimate the damaged right away. Moments later we know: inner starboard engine is out, its motionless propellers crying out for help. Then inner port engine starts to cough and after few minutes looses the power. Pilots confer in the intercom and we know the situation is serious. With two engine left we have to be ready for any possibility. Captain gives the order to put on parachutes. We might be baling out before the Kampinowski Forrest.
However, our wounded machine continues to fly and even start to climb. Slowly we reach 2000 feet. Our flight engineer reports wounded dispatcher. As the one with least to do, I get out of the top turret and crawl back to help. The dispatcher’s wound is not serious: shrapnel cut his forearm. I dress it quickly and get back to my post. I check the radio and get a relief seeing it working properly. I code two messages and send them to base. However, I receive no confirmation (later I learned that the antenna was shot off and the radio had a limited range).
Meantime our Liberator climbed to 4000 feet and we are on course for the Moravian Pass. Two remaining engines work fine, and we decide not the bale out if we make to 6000. The navigator calculates all possible return courses for this altitude. In Carpathians, a single light flak canon shoot at us, and three shells hit our plane. One of them passed right over my head and did not explode. I was lucky to be by the radio at that time, otherwise that shell would have hit me.
When pilots announced the altitude of 6500 feet, and that there is a chance to reach the base, we were cheerful. Everybody quietly prayed for this to happen. Hours of apprehension passed and approached the base. The pilots’ radio didn’t work so I tuned my receiver and instructed them how to communicate with the control tower.
And then we finely started to land. We got rid of the upper hatch, to prevent it from blocking us in case we needed to leave the plane in a hurry, and gathered in the front, to wait in trepidation for our drama to end. The undercarriage went down and the wheel touched the runway. The plane rolls on ground but not slowing down. We passed the half point of the runway and the view of blue sea with white billows comes on us rapidly. Suddenly the plane veers off the runway and starts to plow through vineyard and its stone walls. Then it makes a jump and lands with a horrific thud to rotate in cloud of dust. Then all becomes quite.
In seconds we help each other to leave the wreckage, while one of the engines starts to burn. Its 5:20 in the morning, the sun is up, the greenery all around and the tides rumble calms our nerves. Our wrecked plane has 20 inches holes in wings. Now it is nothing but a pile of scrap. Yet we have a sentiment for it, for hours before it brought us back home. That was the end of the B-24 Liberator, S like Sugar, adorned with red-and-white checker, a weapon used to fight for freedom.
Even before we landed, the confirmation of receiving the drop came from Warsaw, and no longer than 24 hours later, the President of Poland awarded the whole crew with the Cross of Virtuti Militari.