Friday, 14 August 2015

WALDEMAR JOZEF SIEWRUK


 
He was born in Minsk (now Belarus) on 28th November 1915, the eldest of three children, but the family had moved to Pinsk (also now in Belarus).  They were forced to leave when he was only four years old - just ahead of the Bolshevik invasion of his homeland.  The family were quite well off and had a maid who escaped with them.  They fled in a boat and were later picked up in a horse drawn carriage and continued their journey by train until they arrived at Leszno, in Western Poland, where they settled in 1920.

Life seemed to be settled and he completed his education there before being conscripted into the army in September 1935.  The following January he applied for a position as Technical Officer with the Air Force which meant that he would have to enlist as a regular airman rather than continue as a conscript.  He also had to study mechanical engineering science and aerodynamics to degree level.

He was granted the rank of 2nd Lieutenant, posted to an airfield near Warsaw and given charge of a mobile repair unit which was intended to repair military aircraft wherever they may be.  Before he had a chance to start, he was woken in the early hours of the morning by the first wave of German bombers attacking the aerodrome.  World War II had begun.

He was ordered to Lodz but almost ran into the German advance and so he decided to make for Warsaw instead but circumstances and constant harassment by the Luftwaffe changed all plans and, when it became known that the Russians had invaded from the East, they were ordered to make for the Romanian border.

They were disarmed and interned but not treated badly and the Officers and NCOs were allowed the freedom to leave the camp and go into the local town for their meals.  During his time there, he was photographed and put on an orderly list of men to be helped to escape.  When he was advised that it was his turn, he and another airmen simply walked out of the camp.  They bribed a taxi driver to get them past the army patrols and into Bucharest.

They visited the Polish Embassy where they were issued with false documents and money to get them to Balcic (now Bulgaria) via Medgidia and Bazardzik and onward travel out of Romania had been arranged for them.  He was unable to get an exit visa and so he was one of a party of about twenty who were smuggled on board the Greek ship Patris before it set sail for the Mediterranean via the Black Sea.  They were ordered to Malta and here they were transferred to the SS Frankonia for the onward journey to Marseilles where they arrived on 19th November 1939 and were immediately put on a train for the air base at Lyon-Bron.

They were not put to any real use and spent a frustrating time there.  However, he was unfortunate enough to pick up an infection which turned out to be jaundice and he was to spend the rest of his time there in hospital.  He left without being discharged and joined the Polish forces heading for Britain but when they arrived at Port Vendres near the Spanish border their ship was held by the local Mayor and Chief of Police - the new Vichy French were hostile to both the Poles and the British.

When it was drawn to the attention of the Captain of a Royal Navy vessel, he threatened to shell the Town Hall and the Gendarmerie unless they were released immediately.

This vessel took them to Oran in Algeria where they were immediately loaded onto a train which took them to Sidi Chami where they spent an uncomfortable night in an empty school before taking the train to Oujda in Morocco and the next day they travelled on to Meknes and finally Casablanca.

They then made the short sea journey to Gibraltar where they stayed for a while until there was a convoy leaving for Britain.  They sailed on 2nd July 1940 and arrived in England on 12th July 1940.

This was probably Liverpool or Glasgow but within about four weeks they were sent to Blackpool where he was billeted in the Hartford Hotel and, because of his ability in English, he was put on a trainee interpreters course and at the end of February 1941 he was posted to RAF West Freugh near Stranraer in Scotland as an interpreter at No 4 Bombing and Gunnery School where he took a crash course as an air gunner so that he would understand the English terminology that he had to translate for the others.

In December 1941, he was posted to No 13 Initial Training Wing at Torquay, Devon where he completed his theoretical and physical training before moving on, at the end of March 1942, to No 25 Elementary Flying Training School at RAF Hucknall in Nottinghamshire and then to No 16 Secondary Flying Training School at RAF Newton, also in Nottinghamshire, in June 1942.

In November 1942 he was posted to RAF Llandwrog near Criccieth where he served until September 1943 as a staff pilot - essentially ferrying trainee navigators during their training miissions.  In September 1943 he was posted to the Deputy Inspectorate General at Blackpool where he completed courses in reconnaissance and navigation before being posted to 304 Squadron at RAF Davidstow Moor near Camelford in Cornwall on 10th December 1943.

Record of his arrival at 304 Squadron
 
Now he was in an active squadron and had his first taste of hitting back against the enemy and that taste came very quickly and with success that went unremarked in the Squadron ORB.  Patrolling the Bay of Biscay at 05.43hrs on 4th January 1944 his aircraft picked up a target on radar at a distance of 7 miles.  Five minutes later they had a sighting of a surfaced U-boat and immediately attacked, dropping six depth charges from a height of 100 feet and raking the deck with machine gun fire from the rear turret.  At this time the U-boat was clearly visible and the whole crew witnessed a big flash of white light on the water after the depth charges had exploded.  Both visual and radar contact were then lost.

The website uboat.net explains that this vessel was the Type VIIC, U-629 captained by Oberleutnant Hans-Helmuth Bugs.  It had picked up the crew of U-284 which was scuttled off the coast of Greenland.  Severe damage was caused but it managed to limp into Brest the next day.  However, it had to abandon its patrol and did not sail again until March 1944 - a significant achievement.

The next attack came very quickly when the same crew gave the Kriegsmarine another taste of the treatment available to them.  On 11th February 1944 a stick of well placed torpex depth charges landed about 10 feet behind a diving U-boat.  This must have caused some damage but the Admiralty Report was not charitable:  W/C Czeslaw Korbut wrote that the stick of depth charges was well placed except that it landed behind the diving submarine.  The Admiralty verdict was that the depth charges landed astern of the submarine and that there was no damage - a bit harsh, even if it was taking a pessimistic view, when the depth charges were seen to land within 10 feet of the U-boat.

On 28th March 1944, this crew was on a patrol over the Bay of Biscay when they were attacked by two Me110 fighters.  The combat report records that the pilots co-operated very well with the rest of the crew and that one of the Me 110s was hit by concentrated and accurate fire from the Wellington.  It is recorded as having crashed into the sea and exploded on impact.  The second fighter made a half-hearted attack from the distance of 1,000 yards before being driven off.  The tail gunner was awarded a DFC for his actions in this battle after suffering head and body injuries during the exchange of fire.

On 6th May 1944 he was sent to RAF Haverfordwest on a short course to convert him to first pilot - a captain of his own aircraft, but he was very quickly back on active service.  In May 1944 he was awarded the Field Service badge to his pilot's wings - effectively his coming of age as a combatant airman, and in June 1944 he was awarded the Cross of Valour.

In June of 1944, they attacked another U-boat but, in the excitement of the attack, the Leigh Light was not properly activated and was not working as expected. Six depth charges were dropped from

a height of 175 feet but the results were not properly observed  and no conclusive evidence of damage could be observed.  The Admiralty report was less than charitable about this attack; blame was laid on the Navigator's excitement in the heat of the moment as he forgot to turn on the Leigh Light's rotational valve.

On 6th July 1944, when Waldemar Siewruk was in place as senior captain, they attacked another U-boat under less than perfect conditions.  He dropped two depth charges, knowing that a seriously good result was improbable.  However, on this occasion, the boffins were a little more charitable in their assessment.  Captain D V Peyton-Ward R.N. stated: "I think the captain was quite correct in dropping a couple of depth charges to scare the U/B although as he dropped them on the swirl they would of course have exploded a long way (about 600ft) astern and the U/B would be about 100ft. below the surface."  Air Commodore J.B. Lloyd added his agreement.

Report on U-Boat attack
 
At the time Wing Commander Czeslaw Korbut, commandant of 304 Squadron wrote:  "This crew is a model of excellent teamwork and is one of the best crews in No 304 Squadron."  This was high praise indeed as W/C Korbut was no desk jockey; he flew many active missions himself and knew what his men had to face.

On 10th January he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant and five days later, having completed his tour of duty, he was posted out to 6 OTU at Silloth as a training instructor.  It was here that he met  his future wife, Dorothy Postlethwaite, a nurse, who was recovering from her own health problems.  They married on 21st June 1947 and his best man was a fellow airman, Flying Officer Mieczylaw Herman Sloboda.  Dorothy was unable to have children so they adopted two and had a loving family life until Dorothy's death after 58 years of marriage.  Sadly, Waldemar also died on Christmas Eve 2008 aged 93.

Waldemar Siewruk (left) and F/Lt Piotrowski at RAF Silloth
 
At some point, he received the award of the Virtuti Militari, Poland's highest award for military gallantry; the high point of an exceptional military career.  This was not for a single act but for many hours of combat flying in difficult conditions and several attacks on U-Boats.

Being decorated with the Virtuti Militari
 
At the end of his time in the Air Force he progressed through the Polish Resettlement Corps and was still technically an airman but this allowed him to re-train and prepare for life as a civilian.  Because of his previous training in Poland he chose to specialise in Mechanical Engineering.  There was no chance of him returning to Poland after the War and he spent his civilian life lecturing in this and allied subjects at Wellingborough, Northamptonshire.

On 16th April 1952 he became a British Citizen.  This was announced in the London Gazette on 13th May 1952 when he was living in Western Way, Wellingborough and his profession is given as assistant schoolmaster.

He was active to the end of his life and, in November 2008, he spoke at the presentation ceremony, on Remembrance Sunday, at which a solid oak altar was presented to the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Mary Magdalene in Tavistock, Devon where he lived.  This altar had been paid for by former Polish servicemen.  At the end of the service he proudly carried the Union Flag to the altar.

Remembrance Day 2008 (from The Tavistock Times)
 
Following all of this, he wrote and published his own story in a book entitled "Three Escapes and a Final Capture"  The final capture is his marriage although I am still not sure whether it was he or Dorothy who was captured!  It is a comprehensive and easily readable story of his life and made the task of writing this story a lot easier than it might have been.  The details had to be researched but the basics were there.
 
Photographs courtesy of John Siewruk 

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

JAN WALENTOWICZ - HELICOPTER XD163


XD 163 restored and on display in the Helicopter Museum
 
Since I wrote the original story of Jan Walentowicz and the follow up of his post war RAF career, fresh documents have come to light showing that one of the helicopters he flew in the Malayan Emergency was to be restored and displayed in the Helicopter Museum at Weston super Mare.  It came to light that this particular airframe had been modified but was the very first Westland Whirlwind delivered to the RAF.

Jan Walentowicz supplied copy Flying Log pages to the museum regarding his time in Malaya when he flew XD163 for a trouble free 82 hours and 5 minutes in total.  He notes in his letter to the museum that this was when our helicopters were fitted with tired and worn out old Pratt and Whitney engines removed from North American Harvard aircraft.

The helicopter has been beautifully restored and is now to be seen in the Helicopter Museum at Weston super Mare.
 
XD 163 on its way to be restored
 
 
 
With thanks to the Helicopter Museum, Weston super Mare for the use of the photographs and to Paul Walentowicz for the documentation.
 
 
 

Thursday, 30 July 2015

CREW OF P/O ANTONI ALEKSY ZIELINSKI P-1954

 
Can anyone please help with a photograph of the crew of P/O Antoni Aleksy Zielinski who were all killed when Wellington Z1172 crashed into Trearaddur Bay, Anglesey, Wales on 20thAugust 1942.  I have most of the crew's individual photographs (except Sgt Gramiak) but I do not have a group picture.  If you can help, please contact me on nevillebougourd@gmail.com  Any information on this incident, or a photograph of Sgt Gramiak would also be most welcome.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

HENRYK WLOSZEK (aka NEAUM)


He was born in Warsaw on 15th January 1915 and his father died when he was just four years old, leaving his mother to raise him and his sister alone.  This was a time of hardship and privation and could not have been easy for him but he also remembered the good times - skating on the frozen river Vistula near his home. 

In the mid 1930's he joined the army and was given training as an electrician.  In these early days the Air Force was a branch of the Army and he was allocated to an air base near Warsaw.

Immediately prior to the outbreak of war he was attached to the ground crew of 3rd and 4th Air Regiments maintaining the 10 PZL P7s and the 43 updated versions - PZL P11s under constant pressure to keep them flying for as long as possible and all the while being under attack from the Luftwaffe bombers.

After six days they had lost 38 aircraft in combat and were ordered to Lublin as the situation was becoming hopeless.  They had faced technically far superior German fighters with pilots battle hardened from the Spanish Civil War and they had performed superbly, being credited with 42 kills.

Just eleven days after they left for Lublin, the Russians invaded and the Poles were ordered to head for Romania.  The few serviceable aircraft were flown there and the remainder were destroyed before the ground crew made the long trek via what is now south western Ukraine to the Romanian border where they were disarmed and interned.

Escaping the internment camp was easy, after contacting the local Polish "agent", Henryk was given false identity papers, travel documents and money.  A small well placed bribe would ensure the guard looked the other way as he left the camp and he then simply made his way to Constanta, a port on the Black Sea which he reached in January 1940.  Travelling on from there on whatever vessels were available, usually oilers, colliers and cargo vessels, he spent the next three months travelling via Piraeus (the port for Athens), Greece to Naples in Italy, Valletta in Malta and then on to Marseilles in France where he rejoined the Polish Forces.

Initially he was posted to Toulouse military base (now Toulouse Airport) but very soon afterwards he was sent to Blida in Algeria which was the training centre for Polish bomber crews.  He was only there for a short time before the French capitulation and then he was evacuated by train to Casablanca in Morocco to move onwards to Gibraltar.  This was necessary because both Algeria and Morocco were Vichy controlled,  fascist and very pro-German.  This was a total devaluation of the Free French fighting forces and the genuine Maquis resistance movement; this was truly a stain on the honour of France.

There is some doubt about the vessel used to transport the Polish military from Morocco but the most likely seems to be on board the ORP Wilja which was laid up at Port Lyautey (now Kenitra) about 84 miles along the coast from Casablanca.  Henryk was one of a great many Poles trying to get out of Morocco under great pressure from the Vichy authorities and with as much haste as possible because of the imminent arrival of German forces.  Allied vessels were not welcome there so the Poles went about a very quick restoration of the Orp Wilja and skilled men such as Henryk were badly needed for this purpose.

In very short order, the Poles got the vessel's engines working and 1,870 of them boarded her before they put to sea and managed to get her to Gibraltar to await a convoy to Britain.  They were lucky to be allowed to join the first available convoy; the British gave them fuel and provisions for the journey and they left Gibraltar on 6th July 1940 as part of Convoy HG37.

Admiralty records show that this convoy was escorted by various British warships along the way but was escorted right to Liverpool by HMS Enchantress.  However the 34 year old Wilja was not able to keep up and was left behind because of the convoy's need for speed to dodge German bombers and U-boats.  She was advised to make for Vigo in Spain where she would be interned.

There was a general agreement among the Poles on board that, in spite of her failing engines and troublesome boilers, they would still try to get to Britain.  Somehow they managed to keep her going at a pitifully slow speed and when they had reached the South coast of Ireland and were about to enter St George's Channel, they were approached by an RAF Short Sunderland flying boat.  Having exchanged identity codes the pilot advised them to heave to and stay where they were until he could get a surface craft to guide them out of the minefield through which they were sailing!

Eventually they were extricated from the minefield and the rest of the journey passed uneventfully and they docked in Liverpool on 18th July 1940.  Their initial destination was the Blackpool Polish Depot from where Henryk was sent to the No 7 School of Technical Training at RAF Innsworth near Gloucester.  However, this was a very short lived posting and he was sent from there to RAF Bramcote near Nuneaton in Warwickshire where men were desperately needed for the formation of the Polish 304 Bomber Squadron on 23rd August 1940.  He would have had his first taste of the war in the West on 26th September 1940 when the station was attacked by a Junkers Ju88 intruder which strafed the area and caused minor damage to one of the Fairey Battles - not really serious but a warning that ground crew were not immune to danger.

He was immediately put to work as the Squadron was allocated 16 Fairey Battle light bombers and these had to be brought to readiness.  They were obsolete aircraft and everybody in the squadron must have been happy when they converted to Vickers Wellington bombers from 1st November 1940. 

On 1st December 1940, the Squadron moved to its first operational base at RAF Syerston near Newark, Nottinghamshire.  On 20th July 1941 they moved on to RAF Lindholme near Doncaster in Yorkshire and now the pressure began to mount as the squadron became more heavily involved in the fighting.

On 14th May 1942, the squadron moved again to RAF Tiree in the Inner Hebrides and began their tour of Atlantic anti-submarine patrols; this required long, low level flights over featureless ocean and meant that the ground crew had to make real efforts to ensure the aircraft were well maintained as there was no flat ground for emergency landings.  On 13th June 1942 they moved again to RAF Dale in Pembrokeshire, Wales where the same rules applied.

During this time, Henryk was afflicted by a severe skin irritation caused by some of the materials he had to handle in the course of his work.  He was so badly affected that he had to be taken to RAF Cosford near Wolverhampton and spent two months in the RAF hospital there.

In the eulogy at his funeral, it was claimed that he had spent several weeks in Lille and Cannes and gives a very positive date of D-Day + 9 (15th June 1944).  The latter must have actually been Caen as there were no Allied forces in Cannes until 24th August 1944).  This must mean that he moved to 2nd Tactical Air Force.  Unfortunately this information is unreliable as it also claims he worked on Lancaster bombers at Farlingworth (Faldingworth?) but the dates given make this unlikely as there was only a time lapse of three months between the time the first Lancasters were received by 300 Squadron and the time he was in France and most of this time would have been spent in 2TAF.

It is not impossible for much of this to be true, but I have not been able to confirm it with any degree of certainty.  Any solid information would be most welcome.
 
 
On 25th September 1943, he married Joyce Boot Neaum, a baker's daughter from Derby and they raised a family of three children.  Times were very difficult after the war, especially for Poles who were not popular with the Trades Unions, but he managed to make a living working as a motor mechanic in the Derby area.  His Certificate of Naturalisation was granted on 22nd September 1948 and he changed his name by Deed Poll to Neaum, his wife's maiden name.

He died in Derby on 12th July 1995, aged 80.
Photographs courtesy of the Neaum family

Saturday, 18 July 2015

LOSS OF WELLINGTON R1602


This aircraft was unable to operate from its base at RAF Lindholme due to bad weather conditions and the extreme wet state of this aerodrome.  It took off from RAF Swanton Morley on a mission to bomb the Krupp Works at Essen.  Not all the aircraft were able to bomb the primary target but all did bomb military targets.  On its return, P/O Alfred Osadzinski was forced to land at RAF Oakington because of fuel shortage.  Whilst he and his crew were being debriefed, another incoming aircraft struck R1602 and both aircraft were destroyed in the ensuing fire.

The incoming aircraft was Vickers Wellington Mk III X3642 (SR-G) of 101 Squadron, based at RAF Oakington.  It had flown out of RAF Bourn on a mission to Essen but was hit by flak and crash landed at RAF Oakington on its return, striking R1602 as it landed.  There were no serious injuries but the navigator ( P/O P.H. Waterkeyn) was taken to hospital in Ely; however he made a full recovery and retired in the 1970s as a Wing Commander.  The pilot, Sgt C.G.A. Ward won an immediate DFM for his coolness and courage in landing the shot-up aircraft with only one wheel down and with no serious injuries to the crew in spite of an eye injury incurred during the mission.

Friday, 3 July 2015

ALEKSANDER ZEJDLER


 
 
He was born on 25th February 1907, one of five children of Stanislaw and Bronislawa Zejdler and between 1916-1922 he attended the Stanislaus Jachowicza school in Plock.  Due to the unfortunate death of his father, he was obliged to leave school in October 1922 and take a job to help his mother maintain the family.  However, he still had to do his military service and he was conscripted into the Air Force, starting on 1st October 1925 in the 1st Aviation Regiment.  He graduated from the NCO School in June 1926 and joined his regiment.  On completion of his National Service, he remained in the Air Force and moved on to a course in bombing and gunnery which he completed at Grudziadz in January 1929.

His first experience in flying came on a French Breguet XIX and, over the next 10 years he built up an impressive number of hours fling in a wide range of aircraft, surviving a crash, just outside of Okecie airport, in which his aircraft was a total write-off.  On May 31, 1936, he married Natalia Krzesiak and they had three children, the last of which was born in May 1939.

During the 17 day war in Poland, he served with 211 Eskadra and was transferred to the air base at Ulez and on the outbreak of war, three days later, he was sent to Kuciny Alexandrov as part of the crew of a PZL P37B bomber.

Roman Bonkowski, the pilot of the PZL P37B “Moose” 72.18 described a flight which took place on 4th September 1939.  He said that they set off to attack a German armoured column close to the airport at Kuciny Alexandrov near Lodz.  Their plane was attacked by three German fighters and was also hit by anti-aircraft fire from the ground.  In flames, they crash landed in a field near Rychlocice after suffering severe damage from German flak and gunfire from a Messerschmidt Bf109D, most probably from 1 Staffel I/ZG2.  German records do not claim that his plane was shot down, but equally they do not acknowledge the Me109Bf claimed by the pilot on behalf of Zejdler. 

Roman Bonkowski (the pilot) stated that Aleksander Zejdler showed superhuman courage in strafing the German armoured columns from only 50-100 feet and also for bringing down this German fighter.  Injuries incurred during this action (bullet wounds in the knee and lower leg) are likely to be the reason why he was no longer fit to fly and had to take up a ground crew position.  They destroyed secret and vital parts of the already burning aircraft and set off on foot for Skierniewice.

On 17th September he flew to Romania where he was disarmed and theoretically interned and presumably acquired a false identity, money and travel documents from the diplomatic mission in Bucarest.  Eight days later he arrived in Constanta  and a couple of weeks later in Balcic (now in Bulgaria).  He waited there for a few days before boarding a Greek vessel that took him to Beirut via the Levant (Syria), Istanbul and Cyprus.  From Beirut he sailed on the French ship Ville de Strasbourg via Malta, Tunis and Sardinia to Marseilles.  He was billeted at Istres about 40 miles north west of Marseilles.  He was clearly unhappy there and volunteered to come to England, arriving here, via Paris and Cherbourg, in mid-December 1939.

He formally enlisted in the Royal Air Force on 8th February 1940 at RAF Eastchurch in Kent.  Due to his wounds he was no longer fit to fly and joined the ground training staff as a mechanic.  Later he was transferred to the Polish Depot at Blackpool.  In 1943 he was transferred to 304 Squadron at RAF Docking in Norfolk until September 1944 when he transferred to 25 (Polish) Elementary Flying Training School at RAF Hucknall in Nottinghamshire.  He is believed to have also served in 307 Squadron at some point.  He survived the war and returned to Poland in October 1946.

He worked in a clerical capacity but retrained and achieved managerial status in a variety of places, ending up as Head of Supply in a brewery.   He died in Plock on 5th December 1977 and is buried in the communal cemetery there.

During the course of his military career he was awarded the Polish Air Medal and several British campaign medals.

Photo courtesy of Wojciech Zmyslony

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

WELLINGTON ACCIDENTAL LOSS

On 20th August 1942, Wellington Mk 1c serial no Z1172 crashed into the sea in Trearaddur Bay, Anglesey near the South Stack lighthouse.  The entire crew were killed and the cause of the accident remains unknown.  Three bodies were found the same day and two more were picked up separately about two weeks later - all near Anglesey.
 
The sixth body, that of Sgt Grzegorz Piotr Gramiak washed ashore in Blackpool almost nine weeks later.  Will anybody who has information on this event please contact me on nevillebougourd@gmail.com or on this site but please leave a return email address.
 
I would love a photograph of Sgt Gramiak  (I have all the other crew), the aircraft or the incident.  Sgt Gramiak was a Polish American who came to Britain specifically to fight with the Polish Air Force in exile.