There is a move afoot to honour the memory of the Heroes of 304 Squadron by incorporating their badge into the new crest for 304 Squadron Air Training Corps. I fully endorse this new honour and hope that you will too. Please let me know what you think about this idea. But please include a return email address as all comments on this blog are normally anonymous. It is so nice to know that someone else wishes to honour the achievements of the Squadron.
Wednesday, 28 May 2014
Tuesday, 27 May 2014
Jan Walentowicz at the controls of his helicopter
Jan Walentowicz was a man of considerable achievement within the Polish Air Force and later, the Royal Air Force. On his death, he was honoured with obituaries in the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian newspapers. The following item is something a little more personal and poignant. It is an obituary written by Paul Walentowicz in honour of his father, Jan. It is reproduced here with Paul’s permission and the copyright remains his. Paul and his brother, Peter, have given me enormous help with my efforts to write a biography of Jan Walentowicz, which will appear here as soon as my research is complete.
Flight Lieutenant Jan (John) Walentowicz 1920-2011
My father Flight Lieutenant Jan (John) Walentowicz, who has died aged 90, was a pilot during the latter half of the Second World War flying air reconnaissance Wellingtons (304 Polish Bomber Squadron "Land of Silesia-Ks. Józefa Poniatowskiego"). He later became a distinguished and skilful helicopter pilot for the Royal Air Force during the 1950s and 1960s (155 and 22 Squadrons).
Jan was born in Lida (then in Poland, now in Belarus), not Bialystok as he claimed, on 4 August 1920. In 1937 he joined the Polish Air Force to do his national service, trained as a meteorological observer and was posted to 151 Fighter Squadron near Vilnius (then in Poland, now in Lithuania). His intention was to complete his national service and then resume his education in April 1939. But because of the threatening political and military situation the Polish government cancelled all releases of national servicemen.
On 1 September 1939 Nazi Germany attacked Poland. His unit lost aircraft and to avoid being captured by Soviet forces, which on 17 September had invaded Poland from the east, the remnants of his unit were ordered to cross the border into Romania. Once there, Jan and his compatriots were disarmed and sent to a district close to the estuary of the River Danube.
"The area was known to be most unhealthy and we were left in the open without food or shelter. Due to the appalling conditions the International Red Cross asked the Romanians to move the troops away from the swamps. Consequently we were transported to a camp in the foothills of the Transylvanian Alps", Jan recalled. In October - about six weeks after the invasion of Poland - Jan fell sick with both malaria and dysentery.
He and his comrades were planning to escape from the camp and from Romania. Once recovered and equipped with a false passport, travel instructions and a disguise, he and a friend simply walked out of the camp on 15 November 1939. They took a train to the small port of Balcik (then in Romania, now in Bulgaria) and found lodgings with a friendly Bulgarian family for about a month. Jan wrote that, "On 19 December 1939 a rusty ship arrived and we were told to embark. I had to bribe a Romanian emigration officer and towards the evening we sailed. We arrived in Beirut, Lebanon and spent Christmas Day in a tent at the French Foreign Legion base".
Jan's health improved greatly in the warm climate and he was fit to leave on a French troopship for Marseilles in early 1940. He was sent to a Polish Air Force holding unit at Lyons where he kicked his heels in frustration at its inactivity. He decided to join the Polish Army, which was short of drivers, and was attached to an anti-tank platoon. Following the invasion of France, Jan and his group were caught up in the chaos caused by collapse of the Allied defences. "I was caught by the Germans near Paris and spent three days in captivity, escaping on 17 June. Travelling by night and on foot, I came across a group of British and Polish troops near Tours. It was thought that to avoid capture they might have to get to Spain. But while resting in pine woods one day near Bordeaux we were told by radio that a rescue effort was to be attempted. An astonishing sight greeted us as we emerged from the woods; three large ships were moored some distance from the shore off the small fishing port of Le Verdon-Sur-Mer on the Gironde estuary". The troops were told to use any available craft to reach the ships, which could not come close inshore. Despite being harried by German aircraft, everyone got aboard by late afternoon and they sailed away bound for Liverpool. Four days after arriving in England, Jan was reunited with his comrades and rejoined the Polish Air Force.
Jan applied for pilot training but the malaria kept recurring. It was almost two years before he was fit enough to apply again. In the meantime he trained as an airframe fitter and was posted to 307 Polish Night Fighter Squadron based at Kirton in Lincolnshire. In the summer of 1941 Bristol Beaufighters replaced the ageing Boulton-Paul Defiants it had first been supplied with. In 1942 Jan was accepted for pilot training and passed out in early 1944. "Completing my conversion on Vickers Wellingtons, I was posted on 31 January 1945 to 304 Polish Reconnaissance Squadron at RAF Benbecula, Outer Hebrides. From there, we maintained long-range anti-U-Boat patrols across the north Atlantic. In March 1945 we moved to Cornwall and continued operations in the Bay of Biscay".
Between 1945 and early 1947, all the Polish Squadrons were disbanded. On 1 October 1946 Jan was demobbed from the Polish Air Force in the rank of Warrant Officer and on the same day offered and accepted a place in the No. 9 Polish Resettlement Unit at RAF Melton Mowbray. Poland had ended the war under Soviet occupation; the part of the country where Jan had grown up had been annexed by and incorporated into the USSR. Most Poles refused to return and remained in exile; only a small number went back to Poland. "We could not make any decision. Some tried to find local jobs. Some made plans to emigrate (Jan's eldest brother Jozef moved to the USA at this time). I decided to stay in England and in January 1948, I enlisted in the RAF as aircrew, pilot".
Shortly after joining the School of Air Traffic Control as a staff pilot at RAF Watchfield in Wiltshire, Jan applied for a commission. In July 1950 he passed out at RAF Kirton-in-Lindsey and was promoted to Pilot Officer. He spent the next 15 months as a training officer but then got back to flying, first with 62 Group Communication Flight at RAF Colerne, Avon then with 63 Group Communication Flight at RAF Hawarden, Flintshire. Jan found much of this work rather mundane, so in 1954 he volunteered to train as a helicopter pilot. Following instruction at Westland's factory in Yeovil, he was posted to the re-formed 155 Squadron at Kuala Lumpur. During his three years in Malaya, he flew 1000 jungle flying hours on Whirlwind HAR4s and safely participated in almost 200 operations. Len Raven, a member of Jan’s crew on five operations in May and June 1957, wrote after his death that “It was always a pleasure to crew for him as he was a very competent helicopter pilot and a real gentleman…It was a real pleasure to meet him again at one of the helicopter reunions”.
On returning to the UK in 1957, Jan joined 'A' flight of 22 Squadron at RAF St Mawgan, Cornwall flying Whirlwinds again but this time in the search and rescue (SAR) role with 24-hour instant readiness. Shortly afterwards, 'A' flight moved up the coast to RAF Chivenor where Jan became flight commander. During his time with 'A' flight, Jan completed 528 flying hours consisting of 62 operational hours and 50 incident 'scrambles'.
Jan's flying career ended for the time being in August 1960 - shortly after his 40th birthday - and he completed an Air Traffic Controller Course at RAF Shawbury, Shropshire and was subsequently posted to RAF Linton-On-Ouse to continue his "ground tour". In January 1964 Jan was posted overseas to RAF Khormaksar, Aden. This was the time of 'operations' in the Radfan, when the station was the busiest in the RAF with nine squadrons based there. He moved back to the UK in 1966 for helicopter refresher training. In April he was posted to 202 Squadron, RAF Leuchars as C Flight Commander. He was still flying Whirlwinds, but this time the HAR10 version. In 'C' flight Jan completed 360 flying hours consisting of 68 operational hours and 22 incident 'scrambles'.
On Boxing Day in 1966 Jan was ‘scrambled’ to fly a doctor to the Isle of Arran to treat a very sick woman. She was, incidentally, the daughter of Robert McLellan then a Scottish playwright and poet. It was eventually decided that she must be flown to the mainland for specialist help. By then the weather had worsened, a snowstorm was raging and visibility was extremely poor. Jan knew it was the only chance to save her life and took a calculated risk by flying at 100 ft above the waves to get her to hospital in Glasgow. A year later he searched for a RAF Lightning pilot who had ejected from his plane into the North Sea over 55 miles away. The pilot was eventually located in a dinghy almost at the last minute in near darkness, was rescued and taken back to base. Incidentally the fortunate pilot - Squadron Leader Blackburn - was a neighbour of Jan's at the time! Jan was by then - at 47 - the oldest pilot in the RAF. In May 1968 Jan commenced his last 'ground tour' at RAF Acklington in Northumberland but 18 months later it was all over. "On 1 October 1969, I said enough is enough and I retired after unbroken service of 32 years".
Together with his family Jan moved to Billericay in Essex where with his wife Wyn, they bought and successfully ran the Billericay Bookshop for 20 years. He continued with his antiquarian book business - which he had pursued as a profitable pastime for many years - and developed a picture framing service as a lucrative sideline. Naturally he taught himself how make and fit the frames.
Now aged almost 70 Jan and Wyn then had a blissful 20 years of retirement in the village of East Hanningfield outside Chelmsford. For many years, they used to stay in Florida, USA during the winter months in the charming resort of Dunedin. In 1998 he was invited together with Wyn by the government to a ceremony in Poland to honour the achievements of the Polish Air Force during the war. In 2010 they received a congratulatory card from the Queen to celebrate sixty years of marriage. Jan remained reasonably healthy past his 90th year. He was active almost until his death in the Royal Air Forces Association’s annual ‘Wings Appeal’. Jan is survived by his wife Winifred, me and his other children Tony, Jan (a girl!) and Peter and by five grandchildren Amy, Luke, Ava,Tom and young Matthew who is almost thirteen.
Paul Walentowicz28 November 2011
Following a disastrous flirtation with Windows 8, I have reverted to Windows 7 and I am now able to resume my work on this blog. I have been unable to access the blog (except to view it) and most of my notes and correspondence with valued contacts around the world have also disappeared into cyberspace.
Hopefully, I am now back in business and I will be contacting those people very soon.
Monday, 17 March 2014
He was born on 23rd September 1918 into a prosperous family of merchants in the small town of Kety in the Silesian foothills. He began his education there, but was sent as a boarder to the National Gymnasium in Wadowice after graduating from high school. One of his fellow pupils there was Karol Wojtyla – better known as Pope John Paul II – and they remained lifelong friends.
In August 1938, he completed a gliding course in Bezmiechowa near Lesko . In October of that year he was conscripted to the Divisional Reserve Officers Training School in Krakow and went on to serve in 12th Infantry Regiment in Wadowice with several school friends, including Karol Wojtyla, He was their Commanding Officer when Germany invaded Poland.
When Russia joined the hostilities, on 17th September 1939, he was near Kolomyja and made for the border with Hungary, where the Polish forces were interned but treated kindly. He was held in camps at Nagysenk and Kicsenk, where he met Arpad Goncz (later President of Hungary) who was a good friend and whose family supported Jura financially during his detention.
At the earliest opportunity, he left Hungary by way of Jugoslavia and travelled to Beirut, Lebanon, where he joined the Carpathian Rifle Brigade. He remained with them when they moved to Palestine, under British command, and fought across North Africa in the desert campaign across Egypt and Libya and took part in the defence of Tobruk.
Whilst there he volunteered for the Polish Air Force in exile and was sent to Britain to undergo training. As a trained glider pilot he would have a better chance of acceptance and having fought with British forces in North Africa, he would have picked up some English.
His initial training on aircraft would have been on British machines so he would not have needed familiarization but would have started from scratch on pilot training and learning English properly. After qualifying as a pilot, he was posted to 304 Squadron and would have spent most of his flying career in Coastal Command on anti-submarine warfare, convoy protection and harassing enemy shipping. Later, he would have flown with Transport Command ferrying supplies to Italy and Greece and probably transporting released Prisoners of War back to Britain.
After the war he transferred to the RAF in 1333 (TS) CU as a pilot towing Airspeed Horsa Gliders and carrying paratroopers. The aircraft used for this were mainly Douglas Dakotas and Handley Page Halifaxes.
In 1948 he was discharged and returned to Poland, where he worked in a sawmill, owned by his family until it was nationalized. Until 1953 he was unable to find work or housing and was persecuted and kept under surveillance by the secret police due to his military service with the British. Finally he was able to find work in Kety as an accountant in the Public Roads office until he retired in 1983.
During his military career he was awarded the Cross of Valour and the Cross of Merit as well as Polish and British campaign medals. On 31st October 2008 he was given one of Poland’s highest honours, the Krzyzem Oficerskim Orderu Orodzenia Polski (The Order of Polish Officers) by President Lech Kaczynski.
He died on 23rd December 2012, aged 94, in his hometown of Kety and was buried on 29th December of that year at the municipal cemetery after a service at the Church of St Margaret and St Catherine. He was given full military honours and a volley was fired over his grave in salute to his war service.
With thanks to Ryszard Kolodziejski for supplying me with a considerable amount of additional information
Friday, 14 March 2014
Ludwik Krempa przyszedł na świat 22 stycznia 1916 r. w SaHe was born to Wawrzyniec Krempa, a Post Office worker, and Anna de domo Kita on 22nd January 1916 in Sanok, Southern Poland, (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire). His father died shortly after the end of the Great War; the cause being complications to wounds suffered whilst serving in the Austro-Hungarian army.
He was educated in Sanok, Krystynopol and completed his final year in Krakow, at the Stanislaw Staszic State School of Industry, where he gained a Diploma in Mechanical Engineering.
In 1936 he developed his interest in flying by taking a glider pilots course at Biezmiechowa Gorna, which he passed with flying colours and became a Class A pilot. The following year he was conscripted into the army and he started at the Cadets School of Communication in Zegrze, near Warsaw; his gliding qualification helped him to get into the SPRL (Szkola Podchorazych Rezerwy Lotnicwa) Reserve Officers School of Aviation at Deblin in January 1938. He graduated as a pilot in June 1938 and was attached to the 6th Air Regiment reserves in Lwow, with the rank of Cadet Corporal Pilot. His flying training was in Sadkowo, where he trained on Bartel BM-5 bi-planes, RWD-8 monoplanes and the advanced PWS-26 bi-plane mainly used for aerobatics and pilot training.
In the same year he started work in Krakow as a draftsman, designing compressors for meat refrigerators. Whilst working as an engineer he maintained his flying Potez XIVs part time with the training squadron of 2nd Air Regiment based at Rakowice. Due to the imminence of war he was posted back to the 6th Air Regiment, in July 1939, and attached to 66 Reconnaissance Squadron. He took part in exercises for reservists starting on 21st July 1939 but, due to full mobilization, he was not released when they were completed and by the end of August he was based at Skniłowa Lublinek aerodrome near Lodz.
Ludwik Krempa, on the right, as a cadet in Poland
Prior to the outbreak of hostilities
On 7th September 1939 he was based at Polkowszczyzna near Naleczowo but due to a serious illness he was taken to hospital in Lublin. After a few days he was discharged but he was unable to walk properly and took little part in the September Campaign. He had been warned by the hospital staff, that the Germans were closing in on the city and he should get out as soon as possible.
He was unable to communicate with his unit but joined up with III / 2 Squadron aircraft pilot liaison and made several flights in an RWD-8. On 17th September 1939 he was based at Tarnopol airfield and witnessed the Soviet attack from the rear. This second invasion trapped him in Stanislawowo but he managed to get on a train to Lwow. When he realised that he was heading into Russian territory, he jumped train and returned home to Sanok by way of Krakow.
He took work in the mines at Grabownica Starzenska and in the spring of 1940, he joined a group who crossed into Hungary but he was arrested and sent back to Poland. His second attempt was successful and he travelled by Ungwar and a refugee camp for displaced Poles at Zahony. He travelled on to Budapest, Belgrade, Greece and the port of Mersin in Turkey where he boarded the Polish ship SS Warsaw, bound for Haifa in Palestine (now Israel).
On 19th August 1940 he joined the Independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade (Samodzielna Brygada Strzelcow Karpackich). When it was realised that he was a trained pilot, he was diverted to the newly formed Polish Air Force in exile in England. He travelled through the Suez Canal, via the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, round the Cape of Good Hope to Gibraltar and on to Britain. His exact date and port of arrival are uncertain (but probably Liverpool or Glasgow), however, he was in the Polish Depot at Blackpool on 26th October 1940.
On 20th November 1940, he was sent to 15 EFTS at RAF Carlisle to learn the basics of British aircraft and procedures. In August of that year he moved on to 16 SFTS at RAF Newton in Nottinghamshire where, on 1st February 1942, he was granted the British rank of Pilot Officer and in July 1942 he was posted to 18 OTU at RAF Bramcote in Warwickshire where he learned British methods and tactics and was prepared for actual combat.
On 20th October 1942 he was posted to 304 Squadron and made his first operational flight eight days later. At this point, the Squadron was based at RAF Dale in Pembrokeshire, Wales and was part of Coastal Command. His duties included anti-submarine warfare, harassment of enemy shipping and convoy protection. He also took part in a bombing attack on the French Channel Port of Bordeaux on 26th January 1943.
In May 1943 he was sent on a crew commander’s course at RAF Cosford, Shropshire and from July 1943, he was involved in creating his own crew at 6 OTU, RAF Silloth , near Carlisle, Cumberland (now Cumbria) before returning with his crew to 304 Squadron at RAF Davidstow Moor in Cornwall on 10th September 1943. He was also promoted to Flying Officer at this time. The other members of his new crew were F/O Sawicki, Sgt Pawluczyk, Sgt Guminski, Sgt Piotrowski and Sgt Zientek.
He then undertook a further 34 combat missions over the Atlantic Ocean, the Irish Sea and the Bay of Biscay during which time he successfully located and directed naval forces to three enemy ships which posed a threat to Britain. He and his crew were involved in a considerable amount of skirmishes with enemy vessels and aircraft before completing his tour of duty.
In June 1944 he was posted to 16 SFTS where he trained as a pilot instructor on Airspeed Oxfords until the end of the war when he transferred back to 304 Squadron in its Transport Command role. On 24th January 1946 he transferred to 301 Squadron (also in Transport Command) flying Handley Page Halifaxes to Italy and Greece; he remained with them until they disbanded in December 1946 and was himself demobilized in January 1947.
Ludwik Krempa being decorated by General Sosnkowski in Great Britain in 1943
He was unwilling to return to Poland and so he enrolled in the Polish Resettlement Corps at East Wretham, Norfolk and served there for two years until January 1949. During his military service, he was awarded the Virtuti Militari, the Cross of Valour and bar and the Air Medal as well as British Campaign medals.
He re-trained as a draughtsman and went to work for Sentinel, a company who manufactured steam and diesel vehicles. His work was specifically on designing engines for buses. After about five years he went to work for Stone Platt Ltd in Crawley, Sussex, designing submersible pumps and emergency power systems. He stayed with them until he retired in 1981. In 1988 he returned to Poland and settled in Krakow.
He became involved with the activities of Air Force veteran organisations and was present at the 60th Anniversary Memorial Ceremony for Sgt Stefan Bohanes in 2004. In 2013 a film entitled “Wspomnien Czar” (Charming Memories) by E. Wyroba was dedicated to him. He still lives in Krakow and he had his 98th Birthday party at the military Air Base at Balice-Krakow.
With thanks to Ryszard Kolodziejski for a great deal of information and for finding the photographs on Polish websites. Full credit will be given if the copyright holders contact me.
Wednesday, 26 February 2014
The full crew list of Vickers Wellington Mk XIV NB767 (QD-L) which crash landed at RNAS St Merryn on 20th March 1945, can now be identified as P-794515 W/O Henryk Sawosko, P-705623 Sgt Jozef Stendera, P-703997 W/O Stanislaw Gajszyn, P-705717 W/O Ignacy Pawlowski, P-3025 F/O Tadeusz Liczbinski, and P-706658 F/Sgt Franciszek Strauch.
The aircraft was a total write-off and most of the crew suffered only minor injuries but Sgt Stendera was almost scalped in this accident.
Thursday, 6 February 2014
He did not stay in France until the capitulation, but transferred to England, where the need for airmen was greater, in February 1940. Unfortunately, during his escape from Poland, he contracted a serious dose of malaria and was hospitalised for 11 months before completing his initial training and learning the English language, as well as familiarising himself with the controls of British aircraft.
After this, he was transferred to RAF Evanton in Ross & Cromarty (now Rosshire) in the north west of Scotland. At the time, this was the home of No 8 Air Gunnery School, and his task was to pilot “tugs” to tow targets over the Cromarty Firth to train air gunners. Towards the end of the war, he transferred to 304 Squadron, with whom he flew at least ten anti-submarine missions between October 1944 and May 1945.
From 12th November 1945, he was seconded to 16 Ferry Unit at RAF Dunkeswell near Honiton in East Devon, from where he flew a multitude of aircraft to wherever they were needed.
After the war, he chose to stay in the Royal Air Force and was appointed Temporary Flight Lieutenant on 1st September 1948 with seniority dating back to 1st \April 1947. This was made permanent on 8th October 1948. He was given the new RAF service number of 500065 which he retained until his retirement on 1st July 1962 – all of these moves were reported in the London Gazette.
His post war activities seemed to lean his career towards flying helicopters and this developed during time spent in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) helping to create their new independent Air Force, but more so during the Malayan Emergency where he spent much of his time moving men and supplies through the jungle and winning hearts and minds among the Malay people. He was Gazetted again on 16th June 1959 when he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. The citation was “In recognition of gallant and distinguished service in Malaya.”
But it was not only the Royal Air Force who gave him recognition: after a tricky rescue in the jungle, a Malay tribesman gave him a 2 metre long blowpipe and darts as a means of saying thank you. When he returned to Britain, he had to cut off the tips from the darts as they were still coated with curare – a lethal, blood clotting poison!
After his retirement, he took up a position with the Oxford Flying School where he was responsible for training Police helicopter pilots and he excelled even in this field, winning the Pike Trophy in 1966. This is an award made by the Guild of Air Pilots and Navigators to a pilot who has made an outstanding contribution to the maintenance of high standards of civil flying and safety, taking into account working conditions and opportunities.