Friday, 5 December 2014

EDWARD MUSZALA


He was born on 5th January 1910 at Lagiewniki, a district of the city of Bytom,  but little is known of Sgt Edward Muszala before his arrival from 18 OTU at Bramcote in Warwickshire on 16th October 1942.  His first fellow crew members were Sgt Jan Bakanacz, Sgt Franciszek Targowski, F/O Jan Skweirczynski, Sgt Wilhelm Pokoj and Sgt Wiktor Muller.

He initially arrived at RAF Dale, Pembrokeshire, Wales and transferred with the Squadron briefly in November and December to RAF Talbenny, also in Pembrokeshire before returning to RAF Dale.  In March 1943 he moved on to RAF Docking in Norfolk and then in June 1943, he moved to RAF Davidstow Moor in Cornwall until he finally moved, in December 1943, to RAF Predannack, also in Cornwall.  During this time, he flew at least 45 anti-submarine warfare missions.

On 18th May 1943, at RAF Docking, the Squadron Operations Record Book states that notification had been received from Polish Headquarters that Sgt Edward Muszala had been awarded the Cross of Valour AND a bar to that medal.

In his role as an air gunner in Coastal Command, he and his fellow crew members had to endure many hours of boredom, flying over featureless sea - but always remaining alert against the possibility of action and danger.  The main thrust was anti-submarine warfare, but there was also the possibility - as will be seen - of normal bombing, harassment of enemy shipping and search and rescue.

On 4th December 1942, he was on patrol with his crew when they came across an enemy freighter of about 3,000 tons.  They had earlier come across an unidentified twin engined aircraft and had to bear in mind that it could be hostile and could still be in the area.  However, they dropped sharply from 5,000 feet to 4,000 feet before releasing six 250lb depth charges and two 250lb bombs which hit the sea about 50 yards off the port side of the vessel.  They were seen to explode but the damage could not be assessed.

On 5th January 1943, during the course of their normal patrol in Wellington HF836, two surfaced U-boats were seen in the vicinity of Bishops Rock.  Both started to submerge immediately but the crew raced to the attack and dropped 3 depth charges which burst about 10 yards ahead of the swirl left by one of the U-boats.  The aircraft continued to circle the area and dropped a further 3 depth charges which exploded about 5 yards ahead of the conning tower.  There was no conclusive result but a large oil patch appeared on the surface.

The crew had a break from the monotony on 26th January 1943when they were selected for an attack on the port of Bordeaux.  In spite of the enemy putting up a smoke screen, they were able to confirm that five of their 250lb bombs exploded inside a warehouse complex.

On 26th March 1943, whilst on patrol, they sighted a wake and, almost immediately, saw a surfaced U-boat 2 points on the port bow and about two miles distant.  They dived immediately but the U-boat saw them and entered a crash dive.  At a height of about 150 ft and only about 5 seconds after the U-boat submerged, they released six depth charges which exploded along the track of the U-boat.  Shortly afterwards oil and debris were seen to come to the surface.  After 23 minutes, this oil patch had spread to about 300 yards diameter but there was no further activity and the aircraft resumed its patrol.  The official assessment was "probably damaged".

On 12th August 1943, near the end of its patrol, their aircraft experienced hydraulic problems and was forced to jettison its load of bombs and depth charges.  They made a successful landing, but without flaps to slow it down, the aircraft overshot the runway and was extensively damaged; the crew were unhurt.

He next appears in the Special Duties role with 301 Squadron at RAF Brindisi where he flew at least 11 missions mainly supplying the Italian resistance fighters and the Partisans in Jugoslavia and making drops of propaganda leaflets.  These flights were mostly carried out in Handley Page Halifaxes and Consolidated Liberators.

At this stage of the War, the Special Duties Flights and Squadrons were putting in maximum effort and sharing aircraft which can make it difficult to research.  For instance, Halifax LL118 FS-P (148 Squadron) was transferred to 301 Squadron as LL118 GR-C and this was really a paper transaction as they were both at the same air base and flying very similar missions.  The aircraft were battered from hard and frequent use and the previously mentioned LL118 was struck off charge and scrapped when it was only fifteen or sixteen months old.  Research into this and the Italian missions is ongoing.   

He survived the war and returned to Poland where he was last heard of in Bytom in 1986.  His medal entitlement was, at least the Polish Cross of Valour and bar and the British Campaign medals Air Crew Europe Star, Atlantic Star, Italy Star, 1939-1945 War Medal and Defence Medal.

Monday, 1 December 2014

STANISLAW BOCZKOWSKI

 
 
It is with deep regret that I have to announce the death of Stanislaw Boczkowski (1919-2014) in Montreal, Canada. 
 
His story appears in detail elsewhere on this blog.  He was a member of the crew of the first aircraft lost by 304 Squadron.  The Wellington was on a cross country training mission in appalling weather in December 1940 - the worst English winter in living memory.
 
He was the last living member of that crew (co-pilot).  He and the pilot (Jan Stanislaw Waroczewski) performed a miracle in avoiding a farmhouse full of farm labourers who were having Sunday lunch when the plane came down.  Between them they forced the aircraft into a near 180 degree turn, causing it to stall and make a pancake landing. 
 
The crew were all injured but none of the people in the farmhouse were hurt; they were fine examples of the finest generation. 
 
This was the story that inspired my research and without which this blog would never have been written.
 
Czesc ich pamieci. 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

MARIAN KUCHARSKI


Wearing the uniform of l'Armee de l'Air
( French Air Force)
 
He was born on 29th May 1909 at Radom and he was a career soldier, having been in military service since 20th August 1927 when he enrolled in the School of Infantry at Ostrow Mazowiecka in north eastern Poland.  The following year he enrolled in the School of Artillery at Torun and, in 1930, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant and was then posted too the 23rd Light Artillery Regiment at Bedzin in the Silesian highlands of southern Poland.

In 1933 he joined a weapons course at the Aviation School in Deblin.  On completion of this course, on 2nd July 1934, he was posted to 2nd Artillery Division in Grodno as a Battery Officer.  In 1935, he was posted to 5GB in Lida as an observer.  In September 1939 he was commanding a platoon of reconnaissance troops in the Modlin Army under the overall command of Lt. Col Wladyslaw Rylko.

They fought through the September Campaign until 17th September 1939 when their group crossed into Romania and were immediately interned.  Under the, then, sympathetic regime he was able to "escape" and make his way across Europe, by car, through Jugoslavia and Italy, to France where he served with the Free French land forces.

When the French capitulated, he was able to make his way to England and was then sent to the Polish Depot at Blackpool pending disposal to an Air Force unit.  He started at RAF Kingstown at Carlisle in Cumberland (now Cumbria) where he did basic flying training on Miles Magister trainers.  He then moved on to RAF South Cerney near Cirencester, Gloucestershire for conversion to twin engined aircraft, training on Airspeed Oxfords.

On completion of this training, he was sent to 18 OTU at RAF Bramcote at Nuneaton, Warwickshire for familiarisation with Vickers Wellington bombers and for tactical training.  On 3rd January 1942 he was posted to 304 Squadron at RAF Lindholme near Doncaster, Yorkshire.  During his time there, he flew missions, in Bomber Command, to Wilhelmshaven (railway station), Bremen, Boulogne (docks), Dunkirk (docks), Cologne, Hamburg, Essen (Krupps works), Dortmund and Rostock (incendiary attacks on the old, largely wooden, city.

He then moved with the squadron, following heavy losses over Germany, to Coastal Command at RAF Tiree, the most westerly of the Inner Hebrides in Scotland.  This was an alleged rest for the crews but involved many long, low level flights over the featureless sea, which required skill and a greater degree of concentration.  The following month, they were moved to RAF Dale on the wild coast of Pembrokeshire in Wales.

 
It was here that life got a bit more interesting and dangerous!  On the night of 29th/30th July 1942 he attacked a U-boat with depth charges and anti-submarine bombs but the results were inconclusive with only a patch of oil seen after the attack; this could have meant damage inflicted but it could also have been oil released as a red herring to let the crew believe they had inflicted damage.  His report read as follows:

"On patrol 17.34 hours Bishop Rock.  On course 242 degs. (T) at 1,000 ft., in position 4745N.  1259W., 1940 hours, observer sighted U-boat ¾ to 1m. distant on port beam.  U-boat, which was on course 270 degs. (T) began to submerge immediately it was sighted.  Speed estimated at 6 kts.  U-boat was very large - considerably larger than "H" type British submarine.  Long, rather squat conning tower, therefore thought to be Italian.  Guns not observed.  Aircraft circled to port, losing height, and attacked from astern, and dead on track, of U-boat, which was still visible a few yards below surface when 6 depth charges were dropped from 50ft.  All were seen to explode, first in stick about 15 yards ahead of swirl and other five ahead and on track of U-boat.  After attack aircraft climbed to 200ft., circling to port, and about one minute after explosions saw circular dark brown oil patch about 70 yards in diameter at scene of attack.  Half a minute later another similar but smaller patch observed immediately ahead, which fused with first patch.  Observer, misinterpreting Captain's order to release sea marker also released two anti-submarine bombs.  Aircraft circled position for 30 minutes, but 10 minutes after attack low cloud right down to sea level made further investigation futile.  Off patrol Bishops Rock 22.18 hours."

Soon afterwards, at 11.40am on 2nd September 1942, he was to have a considerably more exciting experience when he came across a fully surfaced submarine at a distance of 5-7 miles and that was too good a target to miss.  Using a verbatim copy of the Squadron ORB best describes the attack:

 
"Sighted U-boat at 11.40 hours in position 44.30N 04.30W.  U-boat was fully surfaced 5 to 7 miles distant, two points on port  bow.  Aircraft dived to attack and U-boat altered course 20 degs. to starboard just before aircraft released 6 depth charges along track of U-boat,  depth charges which was still surfaced.  Explosion of 4th and 5th completely obliterated [sight of] U-Boat and exploded right alongside conning tower on port side.  Aircraft machine gunned U-boat on run up, and several of crew who were on deck were seen to collapse.  No return fire from U-boat was experienced, but two 5-star red cartridges were fired as aircraft ran up to attack.  Aircraft then circled and released anti-submarine bomb from 500 ft. at U-Boat, which had now stopped.  This overshot by 20 yards.  A second anti-submarine bomb was then released which undershot by 10 yards.  The U-boat had moved only 20-30 yards since the initial depth charge attack and left a large oil patch abaft the stern.  The aircraft next circled and made five machine-gun attacks, expending about 2,500 rounds.  Ten of the crew, in swimming costumes, dived into the sea.  The U-boat had a definite list to port and was down by the bows with part of her screw showing.  The aircraft continued to machine-gun the vessel, and three or four more of the crew were seen to collapse on the deck and fall into the sea.  When the aircraft left the scene of the attack after half an hour the U-boat was still down by the bows and the oil patch had grown to about 400ft. across.  Throughout the entire action the U-boat made no attempt to dive and the crew made no attempt to man the gun."

This "U-boat" was actually the large (Liuzzi Class, 1,166 tons) Italian submarine Reginaldo Giuliani which had recently sunk two British and one American cargo vessels and was becoming a nuisance.  The previous day it had been attacked by two or three Short Sunderland sea-planes from 10 Squadron but the damage had been minor.  The fact that so many of the crew were in swimming costumes negates any idea of urgency of repairs and the lack of return fire may possibly be because the gunner was hit in the initial attack.  The damage inflicted was so severe that the crew believed the submarine was sinking but they managed to limp into the neutral (?) port of Santander in Spain, where extensive repairs (lasting two months) were effected and the submarine had a Luftwaffe escort back to its base at Le Verdon (Bordeaux), France.  It was never again used as an attack submarine, being downgraded to a transport for mercury and other precious cargoes to and from Japan.

The damage inflicted was recorded, in English, on a Regia Marina website in an excellent article by Cristiano D'Adamo and this report is very close to the one above but has more detail of the damage inflicted:

"September 2nd, 1942

12:44  From an altitude of about 30 metres the aeroplane drops four depth charges which fall one on deck, aft of the tower and then rolls into the sea, the other three within a few metres of the hull forward to the left. The bombs explode under the hull and the boat, hit full on, undergoes a very violent shock first, and then a tremble.   I’m pushed upward and then fall on deck.  The boat is hit full on by columns of water which completely cover it; it is still and heavily listing port side.  The sea is covered in fuel which is copiously leaking out of the main tanks and the other tanks which still have any left. From the explosion, helmsman 3rd Class Andra Assali and gunner Francesco Perali are thrown into the sea.

2:50  The aeroplane comes back for another attack and opens fire with machine guns and launches another depth charge which falls 40 metres off the stern.   Gunner Pietro Capilli, who at the time was holding the port side gun, suffers a broken arm.  Double hull N. 3 port side has been completely removed. Even double hulls 2 and 4 port side must have also been seriously damaged.

13:40  The aeroplane, after having strafed the submarine,  goes away.  The inside of the submarine is devastated by explosions and there is no light.  The boat is slowly recovering from listing, but at the same time is sinking.  From double hull N. 2 sea side some fuel is leaking from holes caused by the machine gun fire. Gunner Mario Gentilini - shrapnel in the right thigh - and sailor Odilio Malatesta –loss of a finger and large wound on his right arm - are also wounded.  Helmsman, Andrea Assali, and gunner, Francesco Perali, are lost at sea.

The attack causes extremely serious damage which jeopardizes the boat’s sea worthiness such that the aeroplane crew considered the submarine lost.  Instead, on the morning of September 3rd , the Giuliani was able to reach the Spanish port of Santander.  The same port had previously provided safe harbor to the Torelli a few months earlier.  From here, after lengthy repairs lasting more than two months, on November 8th the Giuliani was able to leave with the acquiescence of the Spanish authorities and reach Le Verdon safely under the escort of the Luftwaffe the following day. This would be the last patrol for the Giuliani as an attack boat."

As a direct result of this successful attack, Marian Kucharski was awarded the British Distinguished Flying Cross.  On 15th September 1942, he was posted to 300 Squadron, with the rank of Flying Officer, and took over command of B Flight on 1st October of that year with promotion to Squadron Leader.  On 1st December 1942 he was posted to the Blackpool Depot and on to Coastal Command Headquarters at as Liaison Officer.

On 2nd May 1943 he was posted back to 300 Squadron with the rank of Wing Commander and was given command of the squadron for the next six months or so.  During his two spells with this squadron, he flew 18 sorties which included mine laying in the Friesian Islands, St Nazaire and Brest.  He also flew bombing missions to Krefeld, Osnabruck, Duisburg, Dortmund, Wuppertal, Aachen, Hamburg, Essen, Munchen Gladbach, Boulogne and Hannover.  He also won the Virtuti Militari for his actions.

On 18th November 1943 he was posted back to the Polish Depot at Blackpool and, on 18th February 1944, he was transferred to 45 Transport Group, where he took charge of the Polish airmen in Dorval, Quebec and Gander, Newfoundland, Canada.  The function of this group was ferrying new aircraft from the American manufacturers across the Atlantic to Great Britain - a task he performed until the end of the war.

During the course of his career, he was awarded medals by Poland (Virtuti Militari, Cross of Valour and three bars, Air Force Medal and two bars); France (Croix du Combattant, Medal for Voluntary Service with the Free French, 1939-1945 War Medal, Liberation of France Medal) and from Great Britain (Distinguished Flying Cross, 1939-1945 Star, Air Crew Europe Star, Defence Medal and 1939-1945 War Medal).

Medals from Poland, France and Great Britain
 
He was demobilised from the Air Force in 1946 and took British nationality with effect from 10th January 1950 and announced in the London Gazette on 14th February 1950.  At that time he was known as Michael Kucharski and lived in Stanmore, Middlesex, working as a radio mechanic.  At some point after that, he emigrated to Canada, where he married Lucy Cureton. 

He became deeply involved with Polish affairs in Canada and remained so until his death at the age of 59 on 27th January 1969 in Montreal.  He is buried in the Catholic cemetery at Pointe-Claire, Montreal.  A symbolic marker has also been placed on the family tomb in Radom, Poland.
 
Marian Kucharski's grave marker in Pointe-Claire Catholic Cemetery

Thursday, 23 October 2014

NORMAL SERVICE

I have now had the dreaded Windows 8.1 removed from my computer and gone backwards - but very much forwards - to Windows 7 and I now hope to catch up on all the lost progress.
 
Over the next few weeks, I will be recovering all the "lost" information and I will be writing up stories as time permits.
 
So, if your story is missing, I will have it up and posted as soon as humanly possible.

Friday, 10 October 2014

NORMAL SERVICE WILL BE RESUMED ........ I HOPE!

In the aftermath of my purchase of a new computer with Windows 8, I have suffered a disastrous (and hopefully temporary) loss of information, which I am gradually recovering.  I am publishing stories as and when I can recover the information; but first I have to retype it all on my old Windows 7 computer because I do not want any of the problems I am having here, migrating to the old computer.

So, if I have started working on your story, please do not give up hope .... I will publish it as soon as I possibly can.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

SZCZEPAN WALKOWSKI

He was born on 20th November 1912 at Wieruszow near Lodz in Poland, He was one of eleven children of Stanislaw and Eleanor, five of whom died in childhood or early youth, leaving him the second eldest of the surviving children.  His family were heavily involved in their religion and patriotic acts; his grandfather, Alexius, was hanged in the market square of Wieruszow, by the Russians, for patriotic actions which offended them.

In his youth, Szczepan was an altar boy and was destined to become a priest.  He attended the High School at Kepno, where he did well academically.  He was heavily involved with sports of all types, including water sports on the nearby River Prosna.  But his religion was his great love and he enrolled to train as a priest in the seminary at Krakow.  He studied philosophy and theology at the Jagiellonian  University and was ordained as a priest on 25th June 1939.  He officiated at his first Mass on Sunday 2nd July 1939 at the church in Wieruszow.
He was working on pastoral duties in the parish of Lututowie and was cycling home to see his family on the morning that war broke out.  He was stopped by a group of his school friends who told him not to go home because the Germans were probably already there.  He returned to Lututowie to protect the Sacrament and then he left the town and headed for Sieradza and Warsaw.  Eventually he was forced to cross into Romania and made his way through Jugoslavia to Italy.

When he heard that Mussolini had declared support for Hitler and Germany, he went to France (in December 1939) and joined the army as an ordinary soldier.  He did his training at Coetquidan at Guer in Brittany, graduating as a corporal, after which Bishop Jozef Gawlina appointed him military Chaplain.  He was prevented from fighting with the troops and was sent to a military depot in France – he was ready to embark for Norway with the Brigade Podhalanska but was taken off the ship.

Pilot Priest (note Gapa)
On 19th June 1940 he was sent to England and, in August, he was appointed to Chaplain of the Polish Air Force, first at RAF Bramcote, Warwickshire and later at RAF Newton, Nottinghamshire where he ministered to the needs of the Polish airmen and also trained as a pilot.  There is evidence that he flew missions over the Bay of Biscay but no concrete proof of this.  It may have been with 18 Operational Training Unit, where he trained, or with 304 Squadron, where he was posted – or both.  He is known to have served at RAF Davidstow Moor in Cornwall, during his time with 304 Squadron and was very popular with the men there.  

In uniform, in England - probably RAF Bramcote

Trafalgar Square, London

On 7th March 1949, he arrived in Argentina, being unsettled in England and unwilling to return to Poland – and he immediately set about looking after the spiritual welfare of the Polish community there.  On 27th April 1949, he received authority to work in Argentina with the Poles in Berazategui and Qulimes.  He created a church, an old people’s home, a boy scouts group, a Polish school and a Polish Catholic Association.  He was also heavily involved with the Association of Polish Airmen in Argentina.

Post-war ministry in Argentina

Sadly, on 8th June 1969, just before the celebrations for his twenty years of pastoral care for the Poles in Argentina, he was on his way to the church at Sarandi when he was killed in a road accident.  His funeral was very well attended by the Polish Community and memorial services were also held in Poland and Argentina on what would have been his 100th birthday on 20th November 2012.


Funeral of a much loved priest
Note the huge crowds (photo - top right)

Monday, 22 September 2014

X9764 CRASH HISTORY - SECOND TIME UNLUCKY


 Wellington X9764 after the first crash
 
While over the Zuider Zee, returning from operations on the night of 12/13 August 1941, 75 Squadron Vickers Wellington X9764 (AA-V) was hit by a long burst of fire from a night fighter. The enemy aircraft did not repeat the attack but damage to the Wellington was extensive. By the time they returned to  RAF Feltwell, their fuel was nearly exhausted. The pilot ordered the other five crew members to bale out but he had no time to jump before the engines cut out. In the bright moonlight he saw that he was going to crash among the young conifers of Thetford forest but, skilfully, he managed to guide the aircraft into one of the wide firebreaks.

Wellingtons were tough and highly repairable and, despite the damage, X9764 was back in service a few months later, only to be lost with a Polish crew of No 304 Squadron in the Cologne raid of 5/6 April 1942
 
X9764 (NZ-X)    6th April 1942
Whilst on a bombing mission from RAF Lindholme in South Yorkshire to Cologne, this Mk 1c aircraft was shot down near Geetbetz, (Brabant), 28 kilometres ENE of Leuven, Belgium.  It was detected by radar on its return journey and intercepted  by a night fighter from Brusten airfield near Sint-Truiden.  This pursuit aircraft, a Messerschmidt Bf110, was crewed by Oberleutnant Heinrich Petersen and Feldwebel Ludwig Leidenbach of 6/NJG1.   
None of the crew survived and all were initially buried at Sint-Truiden (then known as Sint Trond).  Later, the bodies were exhumed and moved to the War Cemetery at Heverlee near Leuven, Belgium.  In 2009 a memorial was built near the crash site. 
P/O Assman had previously survived being shot down by flak in W5720 on 26th October 1941. 
Luftwaffe records show that it was shot down from a height of 16,000 feet by an attack at very close range (estimated at 30-40 metres); a burst of gunfire hit the port engine which immediately burst into flames.  According to Petersen, the plane flew level for another three minutes and then fell straight down and crashed at 02.28 am on Easter Monday.
The entire crew were killed; three bodies were found in the cockpit, the rear gunner was still in his turret, one airman lay beside the wreckage and the other crewman was found about a mile away; it is not clear whether he had baled out or had simply been thrown out of the doomed plane.  Inside the fuselage was a basket containing two pigeons.
The dead were: F/O Zygmunt Natkanski, P/O Ludwik Karol Assman, P/O Alfred Osadzinski, P/O Kazimierz  Ziemianski, Sgt Zdzislaw Babraj, Sgt Dominik Marian Grajnert.  
Oberleutnant Petersen was injured when his Messerschmidt Me110 was in a mid-air collision with a Short Stirling, R9314 (OJ-T) on the night of 5th June 1942.  The Stirling lost its rear turret but Oblt Petersen’s aircraft was a total loss and he baled out.  He survived the war and was credited with 2 kills.
With thanks to (New Zealand) 75 Squadron website for this additional information and the use of the photograph.