Excerpt from the F/Lt Minakowski’s report - No. 304 Squadron diary.
Translation by Wilhelm Ratuszynski.
“Encounter over the Atlantic”
On September 16, 1942, we got up at 7 a.m. Breakfast at the mess was at 7:30. Briefing in Operation Room was scheduled for 8 a.m. and our take-off at 9:30. The crew: pilot - F/O S. Targowski; 2nd pilot – F/Sgt Z. Kowalewicz; navigator – F/Lt W. Minakowski; wireless operator – F/Sgt Z. Piechowiak; front gunner – Sgt W. Mlynarski; rear gunner – Sgt F. Kubacik. We all joined the briefing at 8 a.m. where, as usually, we were given the objective (routine anti-submarine patrol) and flight details. From rough calculations, I estimated about 1220 miles to fly in about 9 hours time. After the weather report the gathered crews were reminded about activity of German long range Ju88 unit stationed now on the West coast of France. The day before its pilots shot down over Atlantic a Wellington with the Czech crew and Whitley with the British. That was no news for us. Our planes were attacked before by those German planes, and so far always had an upper hand.
After a short discussion with the pilot, we agreed to fly below 2000 feet, to be able to quickly get down to sea level in case of an attack. The weather forecast promised mostly cloudy periods with low-level clouds. After I drew the course and calculated miles at the Mercator chart, the crew discussed details of our mission. Then we picked up photo camera, various radio devices, flares, messages coding device, food rations and neatly packed cash money. Having done this, we went to Crew Room where we put on a flying gear and took parachutes.
Thus equipped we driven to our dispersed plane Wellington 856 coded with the letter “E”. This plane was christened with the girl’s name “Ela”, which was painted on the front gun turret. This and to small Polish checkers painted on both sides below cockpit were only things that differ “Ela” from the standard camouflage. The whole team of ground crews who prepared the plane for the sortie waited for us: W. Serwinski (Flight A chief mechanic); K. Dubiel; F. Dobczynski; F. Konkiel; M. Bober; B. Gajda; E. Gawor; F. Bartniczak and S. Kaczmarek. The chief reported the plane ready.
We climbed the small ladder and took up are positions. Everybody went through the final check of the post and equipment. We synchronized the watches and were ready for take-off. Pilot gave the hand signal and the ground crew started the engines. After warming them up, we taxied down to the end of runway.
Exactly at 9:30 we start the take-ff. Despite being loaded with 6 depth charges and full of fuel, “Ela” easily climbed the air to make a regulatory circle around the airfield. After this a definite flight begun. We flew the leg of 140 miles then we changed the course to reach the point “A” for another 150 miles. Then came another change and we flew some 300 miles to the point “X”.
During the flight pilots and gunners look out for enemy’s planes or ships, navigator constantly verifies the position and course, while the wireless operator listens to what the radio is saying. I also record the weather conditions, wind force and its direction. Since we are flying south the temperature steadily climbs. We see few fishing boats. Then, we hear the radio station “Voice of Spain”, and soon we see the coast. We change the course some 5 miles from the shore and fly along it aiming for the next point “Y”. Inspired by the sunny, green shores we think about sweet oranges and Spanish women. These feelings soon are replaced by the thought about our comrades in the Spanish detention camps. Uneventfully we change the course back to “A”.
At 16:12, while close to position “A”, somebody reported an aircraft on starboard heading South. Moments later, three a/c flying North on our port side were spotted. Rear gunner reported two more following us. The sky was cloudless and the visibility up to 30 miles. At that time our altitude was only 1500 feet, and hearing about the aircraft, the pilot descended to 500. Once we realized these planes were long range Ju88s, he jettisoned depth chargers and started to fly 50 feet over the weaves. This manoeuvre prevented any attack from below...
... At 16:15 the first attack started. Three Ju88s came one after another from 10 o’clock. Our first pilot kept the aircraft low constantly weaving, nearly touching the sea surface with wingtips. Every time one of the Junkers’ made a pass, our pilot steered toward the enemy making a smaller target of ourselves and giving a better shooting position for our front gunner. He gave the first attacker two short bursts from a very close distance, and our rear gunner followed with a long one. The second Junkers came the same way and the front gunner gave him a good blast. The German pilot immediately lost control of his aircraft and was heading for a collision. With a sharp move, our pilot avoided it. When the rear gunner was giving him his “piece of mind”, the German aircraft, with the port engine in flames and its propeller stopped, ditched. The third attacker came just the other two before him, and both our gunners had a good shot. While front gunner graced his excellent shooting with obscenities, out rear one, absolutely non-vocal veered his turret efficiently shooting long and precise at the banking German which presented itself as an easy target...
During this attack, the wireless operator sent a message giving our position and the type of enemy aircraft. Then he left his post and went to staff the side machine guns. After the third attack, the fuselage was filled with smoke and the pilot changed the course for home, at that point some 140 miles away.
The next two planes which flew farther away and on our right, made their attack from 1 o’clock. They had more luck with us. The first Ju88 change the initial direction of his attack by making a sharp turn. Our pilot turned to face the attacker all the time displaying very skilful and smart flying. In that moment a canon shell hit our wing fuel tank and several bullets drummed on the fuselage. Our front gunner successfully fended off the first attacker, and we saw the German being hit and leaving the scene with a trail of smoke. The rear gunner sent him a short burst too. When the other Junkers was approaching us, second pilot went to help our gunners with the side machine gun. But we were hit by canon shell. Immediately a lot of heavy smoke appeared but seeing no fire, I ignored it and went to check on our rear gunner. The same time I ordered the wireless operator and second pilot to supply gunners with the spare ammo.
Then two more attacks came from 7 o’clock. Again, they came one after another, and the gunner shot at them from a very close distance. The turrets and all the machine guns worked perfectly, and all the attackers were hit since they came up close. The Ju88 that we saw first on our right, all the time kept about 2 miles away from the scene and did not join the fight. It probably flew the cover for rest. After the last attack, despite being in a good position to make another pass, the two planes flying directly behind us gave up. Seeing the upcoming stretch of clouds on the horizon, pilot put the full throttle and maximum fuel pressure. Soon enough we reached the 1500 feet base clouds and lost the contact with the enemy.
I established our position and we send a coded message informing that we will land in a known to us airfield in Cornwall, not in the base. We had fuel leak in the starboard wind tank, and the engine oil line was broken. Once we learned that the oil tank was empty, we decided to land and closest airfield.
After landing at 5:50 p.m. (8 hrs and 20 min flight), we got out and checked the plane. To no surprise we found: shot through starboard propeller; 8 hits on starboard engine; multiple canon shell and machine gun hits on the starboard wing (7” x 7” fuel tank hole), missing several square feet of wing fabric cover; over 20 bullets holes in the fuselage and 10 holes in rudder and both elevators. None of us suffered wounds and the whole crew displayed firmness and composure during the attacks. We took several photographs of our plane and made some phone calls...
...The next day on afternoon weather improved and the plane from our base flew in, crewed by F/Lt Dunczewski, F/O Hirsz and Sgt Gemsa. They asked for details of the encounter and look closely and the plane damage. Our “Ela” served well in four operational sorties but had to go for repairs, never to come back to us again. We landed at Dale at 5:20 p.m. where our CO, W/Cdr Czetowicz welcomed us back...
Our gunners were credited with one Ju88 destroyed and four damages.
The signal sent to 304 on 17th September, 1942, from the A.O.C.-in-C. Coastal Command: “Please convey my congratulations to the captain and crew of E-304 on their engagement with six Ju. 88s on 16th September. All concerned made a fine showing against far greater numbers and scored a notable success in bringing down one, probably two, of the enemy aircraft.”
The official statement of the Air Ministry of News Service: "Wellington wins 5:1 Battle”. Attacked by five Ju 88s, while a sixth kept a lookout for R.A.F. long-range fighters, a lone Wellington of a Polish Air Force Squadron operating with Coastal Command, not only fought off the enemy aircraft but destroyed one and damaged the four others. The combat took place on Wednesday afternoon over the Bay of Biscay while the Wellington was on an anti-submarine patrol. Flying almost at sea level, the Wellington was overhauled by this five Ju88s, which came in one after the other their canons blazing. As each attack developed, The Wellington turned head on to meet the German aircraft, and after about five minutes one was seen to turn away and dived into the sea. A few minutes later another Ju broke off. When it turned for France clouds of black smoke were pouring from the starboard engine. Shortly afterwards the remaining three decide to call it a day and made for base. With them went the Junkers which had taken no part in the fight. The Wellington although short of petrol, and hit in the starboard engine, wing and airscrew, tails units and fuselage reached safely.”
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Exactly one month later, on October 16, flying Wellington R1413, F/O Targowski, F/Sgt Piechowiak, Sgt Mlynarski and Sgt Kubacik were lost over the Bay of Biscay, probably shot down by German fighters of KG40. F/Lt Minakowski returned to Poland after the war and rejoined the Polish Army. In 1951 he was accused of spying and executed in August 1952. W/O Kowalewicz settled in UK and died in Blackpool in 2002.