Mieczyslaw Sawicki Recalls:
During the last Allied offensive on the Italian front in April 1944, the 318
Squadron was a part of Desert Air Force supporting British 8th, and American
5th Army. Together with 40 SAAF and PRU squadron, we formed 258 Wing.
Our squadron flew operations in sections of two aircraft; sorties of tactical
and photographic reconnaissance, part of which often involved directing our
artillery fire. The armament of our aircraft didn’t vary from this in pure
fighter squadron. It was for us to defend ourselves not for attacking. Our
primary task was gathering intelligence information and close cooperation with
the army. The information we provided was often greatly appreciated by
headquarters. Because of the character of its operations, the 318 Squadron
consisted exclusively of officers. Our area of operations at that time, were
rivers Po and Adige.
On evening April 22nd, I was briefed for early morning recco of the area, where Germans were organizing new line of defense. P/O Stramik volunteered
as my wingman, our youngest and very brave pilot with whom I already flew.
We took off before dawn and
flew north toward bank of clouds over Alps. Its pinkish color was announcing
approaching daylight. Over Po we turned right and flew along it at 4,000 feet.
We were looking for German units withdrawing to the north bank of the river. On
the outskirts of Ferrara I recognized the wreck of a ferry, which we strafed with F/O
Knapp two days before returning on a deck from sortie to Brenner Valley. For a
moment I recalled our staffing in my mind. We surprised two heavy loaded ferries
in a middle of the river, and made four passes using our two cannons and four
machine guns. It was hard to miss such a big target and we left it burning with
scores of men in water. Going low, some our bullets ricocheted from water
creating illuminated fountains. We flew through them and brought home few small
holes in wings and fuselage. Now I was flying a different sortie.
We turned southeast near Bondeno where British 6th
Armored Division cut off part of German Airborne Division. It was almost
daylight. It was easy to identify our units since they slack off by theirs AAA.
I determined more or less the front line, making notes on a map and leaving our
safety completely in my wingman’s hands. I found enemy’s activity in that
area very small with few MT on roads. However, south of Po near Copparo, there
was a lot of them. It was clear that bulk of German forces still did not cross
the river. That looked like a job for Desert Air Force.
South of Bodeno we found two big, camouflaged vehicles
joined with theirs’ backs that looked like command post. Clearly visible were
theirs’ aerials. I decided to strafe them instead of R/T its position. I knew
there weren’t any of our troops nearby and I acted according the German
saying: “sicher, ist sicher.”
Our sortie lasted over an hour now and turned home
crossing Po north of Ferrara. I noticed a fast moving limousine on a road
linking Polesella and Ferrara. I remember thinking: maybe it’s Heindrich? I
had fuel for another 15 minutes but P/O Stramik could have had less since he had
more maneuvering to do. I ordered him to fly straight home and told him I strafe
the car. It disappeared for a second under my wing and banked sharply going
right for a target, which showed nicely in my gun sight. I was doing nearly 400
mph. My few bursts got the car and raised quite a cloud dust. My target swerved
sharply, stopping abruptly by the road. At the same time I saw bright flushes of
AA guns. I gave it then rest of my ammo but for a lost cause. My plane was hit
three times in rapid succession. First shell took off my mirror, second exploded
under the engine and third one hit the propeller. I hit a deck and jumped just
above threes avoiding farther hits. It was too late. The aircraft started to
vibrate a lot and I noticed that I was missing one of the blades. Black and
white smoke bellowed from the engine. I pulled up to gain some height and the
aircraft received few more hits. One of them destroyed my instrument panel and
another hit the fuel tank. I opened the hood and together with the rush of fresh
air I received a nice portion of oil in my face. I decide to bail out judging my
altitude for some 1200 feet. I started to roll when another shell exploded under
my seat. So much for a parachute! I tried to May Day looking eagerly for a place
to force land. All around were only small lots of vineyards with lines of metal
wire, separated with trees. The only solution was to ditch in a quite wide
channel south of Ferrara.
I was loosing altitude quite rapidly as mine engine
stopped. In last moments I noticed a small meadow shaped like quarter moon,
between the channel and a dike. To be able to land there I had to dive, thus I
gained speed going more than 200 mph. When I was being hit by AA fire everything
seemed like in a slow motion, then now the ground was approaching with fantastic
speed. Instinctively I covered my
face with my arm, heard a loud thud and I lost conscience.
It returned to me gradually as I regained my senses one by one. First I
noticed ticking of my watch near my ear and that told that I was alive. Then I
became aware of artillery din somewhere nearby and a fresh smell of clover. I
was still grayed out, not knowing where I was. I started to feel warm sun on my
face and then I realized that I was on enemy’s territory. I tried to lift
myself but the smallest move caused pain. Spilt headache and mouth full of
coagulated blood told me that I must have been bang around quite good. I laid
some 30 feet from badly shot up plane with pieces of harness still on me and
partially open wad of parachute. As I slowly looked around, I noticed few men on
the other side of channel some 300 feet form me. I dragged myself up and started
for roof of a building partially visible behind the dike. When I get there, the
door and windows were open but nobody inside. Then from around the corner came
out an old men with few women and children beside him. He took me by a sleeve
and led inside and gave me some strong alcohol. He asked: Siete aviatore?
– Si. Sono Polacco. My answer did not satisfy him and he asked:
- Polacco Tedesco, ma Polacco Inglese? I said Inglese, and this
produced general excitement.
told that during the last hour two German patrols came by asking for downed
plane and pilot. They threatened villagers with executions for helping me
evading capture. Old man pointed across the channel and said: Tedesci.
Thus, I knew where Germans were. He led me outside the house and show, which way
I should go. That made sense to me.
As a former patrol commander in Infantry battalion I had enough
experience to move around and to avoid being detected. The terrain was mostly
flat with latticework of small channels and ditches. I use them to advance
south. In some places water was breast deep and it was very hard to make
progress. But I had no choice if wanted to avoid checkpoints and road patrols.
Sun and sounds of fighting helped me to navigate. It wasn’t long before I was
all covered with water plants, frog eggs and mud.
reached a dike with very steep slopes, which I had to cross to keep my course.
The dike was covered with grass and I found it impossible to climb it. Every
time I dragged half of my body on it, I sled down with new portion of mud on me.
I started to move along the dike to a small willow tree nearby. When I
pulled myself out of water using its twigs, as out of nowhere a German
dispatcher on a motorcycle pass by less than 10 feet from me. He didn’t notice
me thanks to my unavoidable camouflage. I quickly cross the dike, which in
effect, was a quite wide road.
machine gun fire was getting close. I could clearly distinguish German Spandus
from British Brens. My logic told me to take cover and wait for darkness, but
knowing that the information I had were vital, spurred me to continue. I needed
a little luck and I was to get it. As I reached the front line, the
configuration of ditches and channels allowed me to get to no man’s land,
which was covered with machine gun from both fighting sides. I crawl in general
direction of what I thought would be our side and toward a line of bushes. As I
came closer I saw three flat helmets of British Bren crew.
They took me prisoner and poking with
bayonets led me to battalion’s headquarters. During short interrogation I felt
very week and fainted. A doctor came, attended to my wounds and gave a shot. I
fainted again and when I came to, I was lying on a stretcher in a big room full
of wounded Germans. Some of them were badly mauled. I could understand some of
their talk and draw a little satisfaction knowing that they were cursing Allies
flyers. I laid there semiconscious but aware that I wasn’t among friends.
Through the wide-open window I could see white blooming
orchard. It was an inviting picture. I got to the window, set on edge of it and
for a while I smelled the fresh air. Distant din of artillery fire reminded me
of what I had to do. I just left that hospital, and not disturb by anybody I
walked through that orchard. At the end of it was a line of ambulances on narrow
dusty road. They were all full of wounded soldiers. The driver of one those
ambulances agreed to give a lift to Argenta, where he was transporting wounded
Germans. As soon as we reach the first checkpoint in a village Portomaggiore, I
used my privilege of recco-flyer and ask military police for assistance. To the
officer commanding I gave my name, rank and squadron number. He saw what shape I
was in and didn’t ask for anything else. Immediately, a soldier in a jeep took
me to my unit. He drove like madman without stopping at checkpoints. At the
limit of his sector I transferred to another jeep and on early afternoon I
reached Forli, where my unit was stationing. The first person I met there was my
fitter and we hugged like brothers. We both felt sorry for loosing my “B”
like Barbara (MH502), but happy about my lucky return. He told that he waited
whole morning for some news about me, and that three aircraft sent to look for
me came with nothing. I was officially declared missing. I ask him to report to
the CO my return and myself went to my quarters. I hardly ever put my foot in
there when my roommate Stefan Knapp embraced me. Soon after, Zbyszek Moszynski,
our CO dropped in. I gave a short report and maps with notes made during my
sortie. My colleagues helped me to undress joking about poor state I was in.
They found somebody to clean my uniform and the same night we had quite a party
in our mess.
Soon after our forces overrun the
area, and together with my Flight Commnader F/Lt Kon we found my Spitfire. We
counted 54 bullet and shrapnel holes in it.
by Wilhelm Ratuszynski from "Skrzydla"