In his book "W
Powitrznym Zwiadzie", Waclaw Nycz's explains the 318th most common
task (translated by Jozef Krzywonos):
Artillery cooperation training took a month to complete. This
was conducted in the Middle East School of Artillery located in nearby Alamaza bordering
with the desert. Every day a lorry would take us from the hotel in Helipolis
(Egypt) to Almaza to learn how to direct the artillery fire. This involved exercises
where we as observers, sitting in observation posts, were giving orders to
correct artillery fire until the target was hit.
First we had to give the battery the coordinates of the
target and then order the leading gun to fire. Depending on where the explosion occurred,
we would follow with a correction, e.g. "right 100, fire!" Another
round would follow and each time a correction would be given, e.g. "left.
50, fire!" once the explosions were well in line with the target, further
adjustments would be made depending on whether they were falling too short or
too long. If too short, we would request an increase, e.g. "add 200,
fire!" and if too long, e./g. "drop 100, fire!" Corrections
continued to be made until the target was hit at which time we would say,
"Okay, good show, target destroyed." While the lead gun's fire was
being corrected the rest of the battery would follow the corrections and fire
with the leading gun only when the last correction was received.
It would take 20-30 minutes to get the rounds on the target
depending on the precision of our corrections and firing by the gun. The firing
was often affected by atmospheric conditions, especially by strong winds. The main
difficulty for us was to correctly judge the distance between the target and the
explosions. All this was the introduction to a job of directing combat artillery
fire from the air.
Italy, summer 1945. The members of No. 318 Polish
F/O Grodzinski (left), F/Lt Lutoslawski adjutant, F/O Nycz, and unidentified.
Squatting is F/O Rudomino-Dusiacki.
describes his first ops:
Before take-off I was nearly paralyzed
by fear mixed with anticipation. There was also an element of excitement, which
accompany gambling. Only this time the one was risking his life. Funny, how all
this suddenly vanished once I set in a cockpit, where I became calm and
methodical, busy with instruments, focused on my task. This routine of strong
fear suddenly disappearing once in aircraft, stayed with me for the rest of the
After reaching a certain altitude I R/T with the ground station AGRA:
- Hello Agra, hallo Agra, keatings red section leader calling. Do you hear me?
- Hello keatings red section leader, receiving you very well. Over.
- Hello Agra, keatings red section leaving the area. Over.
- Okay keatings, good luck. Over.
We approached the front line from the
sea with the sun behind us. The weather was fantastic, absolutely spotless blue
sky, crisp air with excellent visibility. I could see Ancona’s harbor littered
with shipwrecks, its cranes twisted and broken, its buildings destroyed. Smoke
from many fires covered a good portion of it. The city itself looked untouched.
I quickly found my first target and relayed the coordinates
to the battery, and went down to check it out. Bronek (F/O
Gaworski, WR) stayed behind covering my action, all the time in radio
contact with the station. The moment I dove at the target, a strong and
well-concentrated AA fire welcomed me. Bright balls passed me by in a dangerous
distance, and I felt trapped by them. Black blobs of exploding flak appeared
around my aircraft. As I was getting closer to the target, the color of these
shells changed. Tracer bullets enhanced this fire. All this looked quite
harmless and I didn’t hear anything. I was totally aware of a danger and yet a
little fascinated by the spectacle I saw for the first time. Very tense I was
thinking about my chances of getting out of there and doing my job. I heard
Bronek’s excited voice in my earphones: “ Watch it, you handing right into
it! Fire from left! Watch your arse down there!”
Despite my Spitfire’s two cannons and four machine guns, I
felt defenseless, desperate to avoid being hit. Finely was close to ground and I
could verify my target. Immediately I pulled up very hard momentarily loosing
sight. After reaching a safe altitude I ordered the battery to fire, and
circling above my target I waited for the first shell from the leading gun.
There it is! Too far. I R/T and a correction and wait for
another explosion on the ground. Again too far, and I sent another correction.
After five or four shells, the salvo from the whole battery encircled the target
and I felt enjoyment.
All this time I was under the flak fire. Its bursts
constantly appeared either left or right of me. Concentrated on my job I stopped
thinking of them...
... I had two more targets to destroy. I gave the battery
another coordinates and relocated. Once near the target, just like before I went
down to check whether it was a real one or just a camouflaged dummy one. Again I
found myself in a wall of fire. I was wandering how come they can’t hit me. I
had a good look at my next target and pulled up. Then, the well-rehearsed
procedure followed: order to the leading to fire, explosion of its shell,
correction, and so on till the target’s destruction. Our artillery was
shooting very well and it took only few corrections before they hit the target.
I approach the third target with the same feeling
anticipation and tension. I wanted strongly to fulfill my task completely. I had
my doubts however, whether my luck would not run out. It seemed impossible not
be hit by something of what was coming my way.
Germans knew what a single Spitfire meant coming down to
their position. They fired at me everything they had. And I heard and felt a
thud near the cockpit. Instinctively I ducked and pulled up, trying to save my
plane and myself. I leveled and looking around I gathered the situation. I
decided to swoop down over the target and check it out. I went down and
immediately I was engulfed in very accurate flak. I thought that this time I
have had it! But to my surprise, I was able to pull up again, after I had a good
look at Germans. I went up again and started to direct fire.
Very often the squadron's Spitfires returned from ops
with damage done by German ground fire.
This No. 318 squadron Spitfire had to have its 20mm cannon replaced.
All that time Bronek was covering me
dotingly, warning me about the ground fire. He was probably more nervous than
me, impatiently waiting for me to come to altitude.
Again, the cooperation with my battery went
smoothly and I finished my task. After 1 hour and 45 minutes we landed back at
our airstrip, and Bronek congratulated me with beaming face. I was happy!
Italy 1945. This picture shows F/Lt Jan Grodzinski (left) on
the Spitfire he flew several times, LW-F MA423.
Behind it is LW-B, PT527. Courtesy of John