The Gorals, with their unfailing knowledge or the terrain gained from generations or goatherds and woodcutters before them often gave us the advantage over superior German forces. By this time anyhow, I believe our company of sharpshooters could have taken on any U.S. or British unit and proved a match for them! So many stories had circulated on this account that by the latter half of 1944 the Germans began to think there was a Polish partisan behind every tree and it undoubtedly took away some of their stomach for fighting in the hills.
We had many informants and stool pigeons helping us, but the Germans too had infiltrated our ranks. One of our members proved to be a German agent and because of him several staff officers were captured.
The brigade adjutant was one of them who was captured by the Germans. During the interrogation they broke his arms in portions starting at the wrist. He lasted thus for three weeks, never told them what they wanted to know and only died when they put police dogs on him.
The brigade commander's villa was surrounded by Germans. Instead of delivering himself to the Huns – he shot himself. By now we had a full brigade fighting and Captain Borowy was promoted to major and placed in command of the brigade.
OPERATION “BURZA” (aka “Tempest”) - The General Rising in Occupied Poland Against the Nazis
It was clear that the war effort was about to heat up, the Soviet's were massing for an all out attack on the eastern border, General Sosnkowski from the London based Polish Government-In-Exile was ramping up the rhetoric for a General Rising (against the Germans). Our partisan leadership was told to start to plan in earnest for Operation “Burza” (“Tempest”) which entailed attacking and disrupting German forces to facilitate the expected Soviet advance.
To this end, a series of regional and local partisan Commander's Meetings were held to discuss strategy and tactics.
To this point in time, the Polish underground had been somewhat restrained in its direct attacks on German positions as a result of horrific German retribution on innocent civilians in near by villages.
Far too often the price for any transgression against the Germans was blood and burnt out villages.
Starting roughly in November of 1944 we started to ramp the frequency and intensity of our ambushes, attacks and destruction of German equipment, transport and communication lines to co-ordinate with the Allies war effort.
The general plan was to engage in a number of sabotage attacks, and then activated by a code signal on the normal B.B.C. radio transmission have a co-ordinated major all out partisan attack across Poland in concert with the Russian move to significantly disrupt German re-supply and reinforcement efforts. Co-ordinated TIMING would obviously result in maximum damage to the enemy.
The B.B.C. radio transmission for the major activation was to be a morning broadcast occuring after the news bulletin and before the eventual music on record, denoted by the announcement "W" followed by the code message in Polish repeated 3 times.
When a communication or transportation line (be it rail or motor road) was attacked or cut, the objective was to cut it in several places such that it was disrupted for a substantial period of time. A single disruption would typically be repaired by the Germans in 36 to 48 hours.
Our plan entailed identifying alternative sites for demolition in the event that the primary site was secured by German forces or for some reason not actionable.
While we waited for the radio transmission message for the major Russian move and/or our co-ordinated partisan attack, there were a number of important activities that our partisan units were attending to.
Each local Pelikany radio communications unit would transmit (at least) monthly reports to the Polish-Government-In-Exile detailing activities for the month. These reports, for the most part, were then translated and forwarded to the British (SOE) for co-ordination of intelligence and the war effort.
The images below provide some EXAMPLES of Monthly Activity Reports from some of our units.
One of the KEY intelligence gathering activities that the various regional partisan groups was now more actively involved with was the close monitoring of German men and material transportation activities. London wanted to know where the Germans were going and what they were up to. Most important was the transport capacities of these lines. For example, very often when the Germans wanted to send troops North to South, rather than use the "poorer lines" that run direct they would send their troops / materials back to the rear on the main lines - sometimes even right back to Germany, and then round by the main southern line CRACOW - LWOW. The Germans had great difficulties in sending supplies and reinforcements to the south-eastern sectors on the front.
The IMAGES below provide some EXAMPLES of reports to London from the Polish underground.
The Polish underground had always had INFORMANTS who had secured trusted jobs with the Germans or with organizations that the German war machine relied on. Now, with a major offensive looming, the role of these partisan informants became even more important from an intelligence standpoint and they were asked to be even more vigilant then in the past.
The IMAGES below provide some EXAMPLES of intelligence derived from some partisan informant sources.
Somewhat related to the above, the underground was quick to debrief any escaping POWs who had been conscripted to work for the German war effort and forward these reports to London.
Finally, separate from the monthly reports on active ambushes and attacks, London requested regular reports from the underground on the situational "status-on-the-ground".
The IMAGES below provide some examples of the types of reports generated.
In concert with the above, the Allies picked up the pace with regard to their bombardment of key facilties that supported the German war effort. As well increased supply drops to the partisans to support Operation Burza were initiated. Supply drops to support the Warsaw uprising were also initiated.
As a result of the increased Allied Air activity, a number of planes were shot down and some of the allied air crews reached the partisans. So in addition to the uptick in partisan activities as outlined above, we now had the additional task of sheltering and protecting various allied air crews. Although this required a significant amount of attention, these allied air crews were viewed as heroes and everything within reason was done to ensure their safety.
The SECTION below provides an overview of "foreigners" (both downed allied air crew and POW escapees) who became evaders and who I came in contact with in my area of operation.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Am still trying to piece together the names and nationalities of all of the "foreigners", that is, evading allied air/army personnel that were protected by the Polish 1 PSP AK during World War 2.
There are a number of reference sources that have been utilized for this effort, some of which include:
Editor's Note: Brooks Notebook entries are faded and believed to be:
Sgt. F. Slosse is believed to be the Belgian POW escapee referenced in a number of historical accounts.
Although Brooks' LIST does not include F/Lieut. Władysław Schöffer , his written account most certainly mentions Schöffer - the Polish airman flying with the RAF.
(Schöffer probably would object to be labelled a "foreigner"!)
Setting aside the Soviet partisans fighting in our midst, the Czech, Yugoslav volunteers and the deserters from the Wehrmacht; in general there were 3 classes of allied evaders that we were asked to shelter and protect:
A LIST of the Allied EVADERS under the care and protection of the Polish 1 PSP AK Battalion II "Limanowa" under "Filip" I came in contact with were as follows:
|Nationality||Serial No.||NAME||Evading to|
|Military Affiliation||Date Joined AK||Date Depart AK|
|Sgt. Hubert Brooks||POW Escapee Stalag VIII B||Navigator Wellington X3467 - R.C.A.F 419 Moose Squadron||May 1943||March 1945|
|2||SCOTLAND||(2873963)||Sgt. John Duncan||POW Escapee Stalag VIII B||Infantry Sargeant 51st Division Gordon Highlanders||May 1943||March 1945|
|(P1961)||F/Lieut. Władysław Schöffer||Downed Halifax Mk III||Captain 301 Polish Bomber Squadron (1586 special task wing) |
associated with Mediterranean Allied Air Forces (MAAF)
|August 1944 in Poland|
December 1944 with 1 PSP AK
|4||SOUTH AFRICA||(11721)||Rfn. B. J. Curtis||POW Escapee from ?||Not Known||Mid September 1944||March 1945|
|5||BELGIUM||(30856)||Sgt. F. Slosse||POW Escapee from ?||Not Known||(est.) November 1944||March 1945|
|6||U.S.A.||(0.722848)||2nd Lt. Richard L. Hansler||Downed B17G (44-6412)||Navigator U.S.A.F. 817th Bomber Squadron|
of 483rd Bomber Group part of 15th Air Force Command
|Sept. 15, 1944||March 1945|
|7||U.S.A.||(0.1795526)||2nd Lt. Gus John Kroschewsky||Downed B17G (44-6412)||Bombardier U.S.A.F. 817th Bomber Squadron|
of 483rd Bomber Group part of 15th Air Force Command
|Sept. 15, 1944||March 1945|
|8||U.S.A.||(36826944)||S/Sgt. Gordon W. Sternbeck||Downed B17G (44-6412)||Arm. Gunner U.S.A.F. 817th Bomber Squadron|
of 483rd Bomber Group part of 15th Air Force Command
|Sept. 15, 1944||March 1945|
|9||U.S.A.||(36482329)||Sgt. Aloys C. Suhling||Downed B17G (44-6412)||Asst. Rad. Opr. U.S.A.F. 817th Bomber Squadron|
of 483rd Bomber Group part of 15th Air Force Command
|Sept. 15, 1944||March 1945|
|10||U.S.A.||(36377873)||S/Sgt. Harold E. Beam||Downed B17G (44-6412)||Asst. Eng. U.S.A.F. 817th Bomber Squadron|
of 483rd Bomber Group part of 15th Air Force Command
|Sept. 15, 1944||March 1945|
|11||U.S.A.||(0.2059017)||2nd Lt.Spencer Felt Jr.||Downed B24 Liberator (42-51714)||Second Pilot U.S.A.F. 757 Squadron, |
459 Bombardment Group of 304 Wing of 15th Air Command
|December 18, 1944||March 1945|
|12||U.S.A.||(0.2064229)||2nd Lt.Thaddeus (Tad) Dejewski||Downed B24 Liberator (42-51714)||Navigator U.S.A.F. 757 Squadron, |
459 Bombardment Group of 304 Wing of 15th Air Command
|December 18, 1944||March 1945|
|13||U.S.A.||(T.122067)||F/O Robert Nelson||Downed B24 Liberator (42-51714)||Bombardier U.S.A.F. 757 Squadron, |
459 Bombardment Group of 304 Wing of 15th Air Command
|December 18, 1944||March 1945|
|14||U.S.A.||(39568564)||Cpl. Edward Sich||Downed B24 Liberator (42-51714)||Flight Engineer U.S.A.F. 757 Squadron, |
459 Bombardment Group of 304 Wing of 15th Air Command
|December 18, 1944||March 1945|
|15||U.S.A.||(14185196)||Cpl. Walter Venable||Downed B24 Liberator (42-51714)||Wireless Operator U.S.A.F. 757 Squadron, |
459 Bombardment Group of 304 Wing of 15th Air Command
|December 18, 1944||March 1945|
|16||U.S.A.||(12238645)||Pfc. Jack Blehar||Downed B24 Liberator (42-51714)||Lower Tower Ball-Turret Gunner U.S.A.F. 757 Squadron, |
459 Bombardment Group of 304 Wing of 15th Air Command
|December 18, 1944||March 1945|
|17||U.S.A.||(19124917)||Cpl. Clarence Dallas||Downed B24 Liberator (42-51714)||Front 'Nose' Gunner U.S.A.F. 757 Squadron, |
459 Bombardment Group of 304 Wing of 15th Air Command
|December 18, 1944||March 1945|
|18||U.S.A.||(12228486)||Cpl. William McCuttie Jr.||Downed B24 Liberator (42-51714)||Tail Gunner U.S.A.F. 757 Squadron, |
459 Bombardment Group of 304 Wing of 15th Air Command
|December 18, 1944||March 1945|
|19||U.S.A.||(11098611)||Cpl. Bernard Racine||Downed B24 Liberator (42-51714)||Side (top-turret) Gunner U.S.A.F. 757 Squadron, |
459 Bombardment Group of 304 Wing of 15th Air Command
|December 18, 1944||March 1945|
Between mid September and the end of December 1944 the partisans would find themselves protecting a number of evading allied air men. The brief story of each of these groups that I came in contact with provides insight into the war activities that were transpiring at that time.
Although it was not until the middle of December 1944 that F/Lieut. Władysław Schöffer (P1961) ("Samborski" ), would join our group in the south of Poland his engagement with the AK started middle of August 1944.
F/Lieut. Schöffer was a member of the No. 301 Polish Bomber Squadron (1586 Special Task Squadron) associated with the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces (MAAF) and R.A.F. based at Campo Casale in Brindisi and had trained with the R.C.A.F. in Canada to become a navigator.
His Halifax Mk III aircraft, for which he was navigator, after successfully droping supplies to the Polish Army fighting in Warsaw had been
shot down on
August 18, 1944
over Lakta Dolna by 3 German Ju 88s.
After parachuting to safety, Schöffer had been picked up by the partsians in the village of Kierlikawka. Refs: 1.19
Owing to his past military experience with the Polish Army, Schöffer was attached initially to the district partisan staff with the primary job function of training young Polish officers and then was assigned to be liason officer with Warsaw and Krakow AK commands.
As will be seen later in this story, Schöffer was sent to district staff in the Carpathian mountains December 1944 to seek possible evacuation by air. Here he interacted with the American B17G and a lesser extent B24 evading air crew. More on this later. Interestingly despite his engaging MI9 account, no one, neither Poles or Americans remembered him after the war.
Interestingly, the a week or so earlier on August 4, 1944 about 1900 hours Canadian F/O Philip James Anderson (C.11369) of R.C.A.F. 148 Squadron, as part of the Balkan Air Force, -- took off from Brindisi in a Halifax aircraft on a special operation dropping supplies to Warsaw. On his return journey, after successfully completing the supply drop mission, his Halifax was attacked by a Ju.88 and the crew were forced to bale out about 0130 hours.
Anderson landed in a field about 30 kilometres south West of Tarnow (Inspektorat Tarnów AK ) in the early morning of Aug 5, 1944.
Anderson's MI9 file states that "While I was evading in the area around Tarnow during August 1944, I made contact with F/Lt. Schöffer whom I had known previously and who was working with the local Polish underground." It seems that Anderson was sheltered by the partisans in the Tarnow region until liberated by the Russians near Warsaw in January 1945.
Mid September 1944, John and I were ordered to report at Brigade H.Q. in order to assist with five Americans from a B-17 crew who had been shot down 13 September 1944 at Jablonka (Slovakia) and a South African escaper, Pte. B.J. Curtis. (None of the downed airmen could speak Polish and the partisans couldn’t speak fluent English so they really needed someone to step in and help.)
South African Rfn. B. J. Curtis (11721)
Begium Sgt. F. Slosse (30856)
Editor's NOTE: Little is known about the back story of the South African Rfn. B. J. Curtis or the Belgium national Sgt. F. Sloose as to how the connected with the Polish partisans.
Its gathered from Brooks' statements that Curtis was a POW escapee and was with the partisans by mid September 1944.
Sloose was also a POW escapee and was with the partisans by December 1944.
Both these evaders were liberated by the Russians and made the trip to Port Said with the Brooks, Duncan and the Americans.
German Blechhammer North Oil Refinery STORY BACKDROP:
The first American evaders we were to see was the B17G airmen downed as a result of an air attack on the Blechhammer North Oil Refinery.
This brief background section explains the importance of this Allied target.
The biggest oil refinery, Ploesti in Rumania, was completely annihilated by the Allies in August 1944.
Oberschlesische Hydriewerke A.G. works in Blechhammer (a.k.a. Blechhammer North Oil Refinery) was situated south-east of Kosel (Kozle) and crucially manufactured synthetic fuel for the German war effort.
First Allied bombing missions against Blechhammer stated July of 1944 and combat bombing missions continued until January 1945 with the final destruction of the factory.
In September 1944, the Blechhammer North Oil Refinery still produced 5,000 tons/month -crucial to the Germans front line oil needs.
Following August 1944, the Blechhammer North Oil Refinery became the highest priority target in the WW II theatre.
Downed B17G (44-6412) STORY BACKDROP:
On Wednesday September 13, 1944 the 817th Bomber Squadron of the 483rd Bomber Group which was part of 15th Air Force Command based
at Sterparaone Italy (just north west from Foggia)
initiated a combat bombing mission of the Blechhammer North Oil Refinery, the then highest priority target in the WW II theatre.
One of the aircraft involved in this bombing mission was Pilot 2nd Lt. Everette J. "Robbie" Robson's B17G-50-DL (SN 44-6412) a so called "Flying Fortress" - the name chosen because of the large number (12) of 50mm machine guns it carried.
Robbie had basically the same crew as per the last 20+ missions with the exception of 2nd Lt. Gus Kroschewsky who was flying with the group for the first time as was S/Sgt Harold Beam and co-pilot Harold Stock who re-joined the crew and now was flying for the fourth time with the group.
On this night Robson's plane was to carry a bomb load of 4,000 pounds of RDX and was to fly lead ship in the bottom echelon of a tight, staggered formation of seven B17s in a total strike force of more than 28 B17s.
The sky was booming with ant-aircraft fire. Flak was rattling against the planes skin. With the target Blechhammer synthetic oil refinery in sight, the bomb hatch opens and the payload falls.
Shortly after dropping the bomb payload at a height of 28,000 feet, the aircraft was rocked by a huge blast.
The crew figured that either anti-aircraft fire had hit one of the bombs as they fell or another bomber had slipped below them and flown into the falling payload (turned out not to be the case as all other B17s on this mission returned to base safely).
As a result of the blast, fire temporarily swept the fuselage before being quickly put out;
the plane's plexiglass nose had been blown off, and blast induced splinters caused significant damage on board
as well as riddling its wings and fuselage with holes, and crucially disabling two of the four engines (No 1 and No 4).
The blast also severely wounded 2nd Lieutenant Gus Kroschewsky around the eye and other parts of his body and for a moment he lost consciousness.
The crippled bomber dropped out of formation and some 40 minutes later was down to oxygen level at 12,000 feet where it was quickly pounced on by three German Messerschmitt Me-109 fighters. This was the final blow and with the plane loosing altitude rapidly and with the Carpathian Mountains in view, Robson gave the bail out alert. (Gus Kroschewsky was able to take out one of the three fighters with his chin turret guns for which he was later awarded a Silver Star.)
As the plane passed the Babia Gora Peak at 4,000 feet, each of the crew attach their chest parachute and get ready to jump for the first time in their young lives.
Hansler was out first followed immediately by Kroschewsky, Sternbeck, Beam and Suhling. The rest of the crew were delayed a little from continuing to bail out as Bill Barry the rear tail gunner had not heard the bail out order and Stock went back to get him and the aircraft had at that time unexpectedly changed direction causing some further delay.
The disabled B17G ended up crashing near Koniówka (co-ordinates 49 deg 23'33"N, 19deg 47'56"E) in southern Poland - near the Polish-Slovak border.
Locals tried to get close to the crash site but constant bursts of ammunition kept them a safe distance away. Later the Germans came to guard the plane wreck and the civilians were warned off.
The STORY of the B17G crew has been reported in various sources including:
(Editor's Note: Mid September 1944 over 100 US B-17's delivered airdrop to fighting partisans in Warsaw as well as targetting certain German positions. The B-17s had aircover of 70+ Mustang fighters... 1 B-17G was shot down, another was heavily damaged and landed behind the Russian frontline.)
STORY of B17G (44-6412) AIRMEN EVASION in POLAND:
Wednesday September 13, 1944
All the crew were to land roughly in the area bounded by the towns of Jablonka to Piekielnik Slovakia.
(These towns had been part of Poland prior to WW 2 but the Germans had turned this area over to Slovakia during the war, and then after WW 2 the area reverted to Poland!)
Sternbeck landed safely but unfortunately Kroschewsky broke his
leg on landing impact due to a very quick descent because of a damaged (holely) parachute created by the plexiglass splinters from the explosion over Blechhammer.
(While parachuting (quickly) to earth, Kroschewsky had spotted the German Me-109 fighter he'd shot down. With some foresight, Kroschewsky managed to get Sternbeck to go to the wreckage and hack off a small portion of the fuselage and obtained the dead pilot's (Captain Wilhelm Ekhardt)) papers so that he could later validate his kill!)
Hansler hit the ground about 100 yards from 3 farmer's houses about 3 miles south of Jablonka Slovakia. He quickly made contact with a Slovak partisan Karol Zachora-Bulawski who gave him shelter and civilian clothes. Shortly he was brought to meet up with Sternbeck and Kroschewsky.
Beam landed near the village of Piekielnik Slovakia and hurt his head and foot by colliding into a wooden fence around a farm house. He was then brought to meet up with Sternbeck, Hansler and Kroschewsky.
Suhling jumps and is knocked head-over-heels by the B17G's slipstream. He maneuvers in mid-air to a headsup position and lands in a field close to the Slovak-Polish border. Friendly locals help him ditch his chute and airman's gear. But he suspects the worse when those helping him scatter. Six German soldiers slowly approach. They are spaced 40 feet apart and methodically walk the field where he is hiding. The Germans suddenly move towards a ravine thick with brush away from him. They leave the area, he is safe. By late afternoon after remaining on his belly for 3 hours a partisan villager from Piekielnik spots him and eventually brought him to meet up with Beam, Sternbeck and Kroschewsky.
Stock and Barry were almost immediately captured by the Germans upon landing. They got to witness the German soldiers fighting over their parachutes - as the Germans
wanted to take the
silk home for their wives' underwear!! Van Oostrom and Nance landed close to Barry's site but managed to initially hide out in a peat bog.
Within 12 hours they too were captured by the Germans.
(Stock was caught on Sep 13, 1944 and found himself through Dulag Luft in Stalag Luft I in Barth where he met only one time (around Christmas) his commander Robson.)
(Van Oostrom would be a POW in Stalag Luft IV from September 1944 till April 1945.)
Robson, the last man out of the plane, had bailed out at about 1,000 feet landed along the Czarny Dunajec River between Koniowaka and Chocholow. Robson lingered in the area for 3 days until he was able to visit the crash site and document the damage. Rembering the pre-flight briefing direction to not head towards the Russian line if shot down, Robson then headed east towards Ciche but was captured by the Germans on September 27 and subsequently brought to Dulag Luft and then on to Stalag Luft I, North II, Barracks 4, Room 5 were he waited out the war. (Robson would later claim this direction to not head toward the Russian front line was a mistake.)
For safety (as there were a lot of pro-German Slovaks in the area at the time), about a day later, the Slovak partisans, after a 3 hour march in the dead of night, brought Suhling,
Beam, Sternbeck and Hansler across the Polish border.
Kroschewsky remained behind in the house of Antonieg Balcerzak in Jablonka Slovakia for a little less than 1 month recuperating from the broken leg.
Editor's Note: The description of this journey from Slovakia to the partisans in southern Poland is described quite vividly in the excellent book Blechhammer by Boguslaw Zieba Ref 3.27 a summary of which follows.
Just across the border they were handed over to a Polish partisan guide who brought them, by the back trails, via the north side of Nowy Targ to the partisans in the Gorce Mountains.
They followed the route of Jablonka to a forest cottage next to Raba Wyzna . There they were joined by 4 men from Major Stobrawa's team: Harnas, Longin, Szejk and Szczupak and along with Orava (then Slovakia) natives Andrzej Wojdyla and 1st Lt. Andrzej Jazowski led the Americans on a trail heading for Zeleznica Hill, the along Sieniawa Village to another forest cottage in a place called Buflak. The place was an outpost for the partisan headquarters on the next hill, and the squad consisted of about 40 fighters.
Next morning, Mieczyslaw Batkiewicz led them to a shelter at the edge of a clearing called Stare Wierchy then near day's end came out of the forest and there in the vally lay the city of Nowy Targ.
At sundown they entered the city and had dinner at a partisan's house. After an hour or two they continued their journey with another night hike through the hills and forests reaching after an hour and a half a beautiful isolated house deep in the forest.
The woman of the house was a gracious old lady who spoke some German and who seemed quite refined. They stayed in this house for the night. In the morning they met a partisan officer who had come to take them
to the headquarters of the partisans - a camp with two to three hundred soldiers.
That morning they went back down into the valley passing Obidowa until they reached a stream flowing by them on the left and then
climbing for an hour up a hill they arrived around noon at a small farm house where they would meet the partisan leader before being brought to the partisan mountain headquarters.
At the farm house the B17G Americans (Suhling, Beam, Sternbeck and Hansler) met AK Major Stobrawa .
"Panne Mayor" as he was called by his men met them at the farm house with a friendly salute and smile. He spoke neither English nor German. He was not a large man but was well built and his skin bore the color of many months in the sun. He wore a uniform that bore no insignia of rank.
Inside the farm house were two rows of ten cots. Men in motley uniforms sat or lay on the cots smoking or cleaning their rifles. This farm house was apparantly to be used as a hospital but there were no patients at the time.
The Americans were introduced to a man by the name of "Karol" with black curly hair who was later to be one of their good friends. (he actually was the adjutant of “Filip” the commander of the Limanowa Region with the pseudonym “Karol” as well as “Siwy” whose real name was Ludwik Schweiger.) Karol spoke German fluently and was able to converse somewhat with Richard Hansler who had studied German for one semester in college and spoke a few words.
Hansler the asked if the crew could be turned over to the Russians. Stobrawa through Karol said his group had
no contact with the communist Russians and in fact the Poles were almost as anti-Russian as they were anti-German, so simply the options were; for the Americans to be turned over to the Germans
as POWs or remain protected by the Polish AK fighters. He continued to warn that if the Germans were to find the Americans with the partisans, they'd probably shoot the Americans on the spot. Further,
if the Americans were to stay with the partisans, they would have to live like the partisans did.
With no hesitation, the Americans chose to remain with the Poles. There were friendly handshakes and the Americans were welcomed to the group.
After dinner at the farm house the entire group led by the Major set out across the valley. The journey took them through even more mountainous country covered by dense forests. The troops sang most of the way. They arrived at their destination just after dark. The destination proved to be a group of farm houses on the side of a hill. The mountain camp was to be there home for the next while. They were provided with a house for the four of them and they ate at the camp mess where the hundred or so soldiers that were scattered on the hillside ate.
The American B17 crew kept expecting that they would be rescued and brought back to their base in Italy. Their spirits were bolstered when they visited visited a school house set up as a partisan hospital about half hour down the hill from the mounbtain camp and spoke to the doctor, a Doctor Stock who told them " about a Canadian officer who was in Poland, who they were to contact as he was making arrangements for their quick exit out of Poland, and they would be back bombing Nazis within a few weeks !".
The month of September ran out with no change in status except adapting somewhat to the fleas and lice and partisan food. The end of the first week in October, a rainy cold morning, Stobrawa sent word that they were pulling out and heading north to the village of Szczawa whereupon the set out to climb at steep hill to a farmhouse where they would spend the next few weeks.
The farmhouse was owned by the forester for that neighborhood and consisted of two rooms. Inside one of the rooms was the forester along with two daughters about 16 and 18 and two sons about 8 along and a boy who was still a baby. The other room was rented to an older lady and a girl about 20. The airmen stayed in a shed adjacent to the house which they made quite comfortable by making a bed of the whole floor by spreading hay. The men would draw supplies at the Major's camp and the older woman would cook for them nightly. They were quite content. They also felt quite safe withe guard goose that patrolled the property. The goose would strut the yard as if he owned it and if a stranger approached within a hundred yards of the place he would start honking very loudly and charge the stranger in a menacing way head down and wings flapping.
EVADING B17G AIRCREW MEET BROOKS and DUNCAN AT MOUNTAUN CAMP IN SZCZAWA
On October 10, 1944 or thereabouts I met the evading B17G airmen for the first time. They told me their story and about Gus Kroschewsky who remained behind in a farm house in Jablonka Slovakia.
They emphasized how they wanted to get back to their unit Italy as soon as possible. I told them frankly that there was very little hope of getting out of Poland before the war was over or until the Russians came into Poland. However we would send radio messages back to their home base in Italy and see if a rescue mission could be mounted. This was received in silence and clearly not what they were expecting to hear.
They seemed to appreciate my frankness and later helpfullness as Richard Hansler later wrote in his book Prepare to bail out! Ref 3.26 page 32 " (Brooks) was very nice to us and, being able to speak the language, he was able to get us many things that we wanted and needed."
I recorded their names and ranks along with the absent Gus Kroschewsky name in my "ZAPISKI" notebook.
(0.722848) 2nd Lt. Richard L. Hansler – Navigator
(0.1795526) 2nd Lt. Gus John Kroschewsky – Bombardier
(36826944) S/Sgt. Gordon W. Sternbeck – Arm. Gunner
(36482329) Sgt. Aloys C. Suhling – Asst. Rad. Opr.
(36377873) S/Sgt. Harold E. Beam – Asst. Eng.
My role at this stage was simply to welcome them, translate their questions,
and explain they'd be hidden at a local farmer's house, and that depending on German search patrol activities they could be moved to other safe houses.
While we were at Szczawa John and I would check in on them from time to time either as circumstances warranted or our other duties with the partisans permitted.
Later I was tasked to work with them to find a suitable rescue air field.
The Americans quickly latched on to the nickname "Butch" which John ocasionally called me from our Stalag VIII B days. A name I really did not like but also I didn't care too much at that period of my life what I was called!
A few days later John Duncan arrived in the camp and met the Americans. John's nickname was "Curly" as a result of his tremendous growth of curly red hair. The Americans marveled at his Scottish brogue -- especially when he got angry. His large outgrowth of curly red hair, freckles and the fact that he smoked his cigarettes at the end of an extension were enough to stand him apart from the rest of the partisans and make him the character that he was.
John also had brought with him another, who we often thought was the Americans favorite amongst the three of us. This other "party" was a fairly large German army dog named "Dukes" ("DUXEM" in Polish).
Dukes was quite a ferocious looking dog who really put up a good front, but was really a good hearted dog. Dukes had been a gift to John from Slazaka, a deserter from the German police who had joined the partisans. Dukes become a pet of John and the partisans.
Dukes was a boxer by breed with great jaws from which he would drool at the smell of food. Each morning Dukes would go for a walk with the Americans and would race up the hill until the Americans lost sight of him
upon which he would come charging down the hill at
them sliding on the slippery grass slope usually manging to upset one of them. Then he'd go at it again. Lot of fun for the Americans.
John would bring Dukes into the various farm houses they would visit, and if there was a cat present, Dukes would have great sport in chasing the cat till it was exhausted.
Lightly dressed with a gun in his belt and a grenade in his pocket, John walked the dog through the forests and villages, well versed in the field, John, at the time, was a runner and scout for Więckowskiego "ZAWISZY", commander of the "WOLF" unit.
About October 16, 1944 I visited the men at their farm house around 5PM and asked if any of them would like to go down to the village with me and escort a "German prisoner" up to Major Stobrawa's headquarters. Aloys and Beam and Sternbeck volunteered. We returned aroung 6:30PM and Beam asked Hansler if he wanted to see the "German prisoner". As the "prisoner" entered the room Hansler immediately recognized the "trick" that had been pulled on them and that it was Gus Kroschewsky and hugs and handshakes were exchanged all around. Gus had started his journey from Jablonka on October 2nd and had been hiking for 2 weeks. Kroschewsky was still noticeably limping and clearly tired after the days long hike. The Americans celebrated that night with a bottle or two of Bimba.
Editor's Note The excellent book Prepare to bail out! by Richard HanslerRef 3.26 contains a great deal of the interaction between Brooks and the B17 crew from the time of their meeting until the successful location of a rescue air field.
AIR RESCUE SAGA PRELUDE
After the downed air crew at first arrived at the partisan camp around September 25, 1944, the Poles had transmitted a radio message on behalf of the 4 B17G air crew Hansler, Suhling, Stock, and Beam telling their base in Italy that they were safe with the partisans, the injury to Kroschewsky, and the capture by the Germans of their remaining crewmates. The also asked for help in the form of a rescue.
The response from Italy had come back the same day stating; "stay with the Poles and find an airfield".
Mid October the special Home Army troop of 1 PSP AK known as the "Pelikany" (partisan radio station) moved into the Szczawa area not too far from where the Americans were staying.
The Americans got permission to send another radio message to their 483 Bomb Group CO asking for instructions as to how they should move forward.
On October 25, 1944 a radio message reply from the US Command in Foggia Italy came giving the OK in principle for an airplane to come in and pick them up subject to the location of a suitable landing strip that was also sanctioned and approved by the partisans. The airmen were instructed to remain in the vicinity and help locate such a landing strip. The evading B17G crew were ecstatic and talked up the likely outcome that they would be home for Xmas.
I told them that there was no suitable landing area close to our camp in the Szczawa area as the terrain was all mountainous, however there was a good liklihood that an acceptable landing field could be found in the plain located to the north of our camp. This further picked up their spirits.
The Americans problem now became to get authorization for someone with knowledge of the area to work with them to case out the plain to the north for a possible landing field. This was not immediately forthcoming for a variety of reasons.
INVITATION TO A BATTLE
John and I were ordered to check out German activities in an area a number of miles from camp and were gone for about a week.
Time had been ticking away and the Americans were clearly starting to get impatient that activity had not yet started on locating a suitable landing field. The also were quite bored. There were only so many hikes around the area they could take, only so much wood that could be chopped.
One day they learned that there was an action planned against the Germans, who the partisans had learned through their informants, were planning on coming up into the mountains by the camp. An invitation was extended for the Americans to participate in this action against the Germans if they wanted to do so. The Americans were excited by this offer, finally some action, and readily accepted.
The partisans' plan was quite simple. They would hide above the trail in the mountains that the Germans would have to take and wipe them out. The spot that was chosen was about a quarter mile past where the Germans would have to leave their trucks and go on foot.
The total size of the partisan group including the Americans numbered about 50. There were good sized trees on the hillside above the trail behind which the partisans could hide. There was then a number of hours of tedious waiting.
Finally they heard the Germans parking their trucks and starting to come up the trail. Apparantly what then happened was that while the Germans were still out of sight and still not visible from around a bend one "young poorly trained tigger-happy partisan started firing his rifle". All hell then broke loose with both sides firing their rifles at God knows what. After about ten minutes this "battle" ended with the Germans deciding that it wasn't worth the bother of contnuing into the mountains and returning to their trucks leaving the area. No one was killed and not much accomplished other than the Germans given a warning that there would be a battle if they returned. It did however give confirmation to the Germans, what they already knew or suspected, that the partisans were located in these hills.
Back at camp the Americans were perhaps a bit too vocal over the farce that had transpired -- something that was clearly obvious to everyone involved.
Hansler's post-battle characterisation of;
"Poorly trained, gun-happy young partisan kids, who started shooting before the Germans ever got to where they could see them, nobody knowing what they were shooting at....",
...... although probably factually accurate and apparant to a fully trained 2nd Lt. in the US Air Force was not well received by the partisans and didn't really add anything to the situation.
The partisan ranks consisted of men and teenagers of widely varying military guerrilla fighting capabilities. Some were just off of the farm with little or no training. With this particular "battle" it seemed that a new "rookie" had panicked and ruined the ambush.
A further irritant surfaced shortly after Hansler's comments. At the forester's farm house where the Americans were staying, they were getting very generous supplies of food which were very well prepared by the lady renter -- essentially a private cook for the Americans. This had not gone unnoticed by the partisans that lived near by and they started to complain and the Americans were beginning to loose favor. The sort of jealous backbiting that commonly occurs when a group of people are holed up together for a period of time. But not something you want when your very life is dependant on the people doing the complaining.
TIME TO MOVE CAMP To THE NORTH - from Szczawa to Camp "L" to a Farm Hut Overlooking the Jodłownik Plain
Circumstances around the partisans camp near Szczawa were starting to become risky from a security and safety standpoint.
There was a number of unrelated factors that fed into this overall worry:
Regardless, by the end of October Major Stobrawa had decided it was time to vacate the camp on the mountainside near Szczawa.
The Americans were clearly moved by their departure from the forester's farm house. The forester's girls were in tears and the entire family was clearly sad to see them leave.
The partisan ensemble departed and even the Americans, with the exception of Gus Kroschewsky who was still limping, kept pace having been hardened by daily mountain hiking. They reached their first camp around 11 PM that night. For the next few days the Americans shared a room in a farm house with a farmer, his wife, a small child and a baby.
After a few days the Major decided it was clear to move out and after a few hours walk we reached a place the partisans called Camp "L" (Leśniczówka) . We were to stay here a few days.
I had told the Americans not to worry if they were to hear gunfire, as the Germans had a firing range close by.
However one day we heard quite a few bursts of machine gun fire and rifle fire over a fairly short period of time. A few days later we kearnt what had taken place. Some Russian partisans had killed 2 German officers in a village not to far from Camp "L" and in retaliation the Germans rounded up all of the people in the village and herded them into one house. The Germans locked the doors and then threw fire grenades on the straw roof and through the windows. A few of the villagers manged to jump through the windows but the Germans machine gunned them to death. The only survivors from this village were 2 small boys who had been on the hill watching cattle when the Germans had arrived. Simply tragic.
It was here at Camp "L" that the Major departed with the rest of the partisans and the Americans and I went off in a different direction.
The Major had decided that I was to find a landing strip suitable for the air rescue of the Americans.
We walked about a day further and stopped at a house located on the side of hill, still a little way into the woods, looking north onto the Jodłownik valley plains.
We stayed with a farm family that I knew were sympathetic to the partisans. The farmer and his wife were not the smartest of folk, but nevertheless they offered secured lodging. The Americans bluntly called them "the crazies" and right from the get go had a difficult time getting along with them.
AIR RESCUE SAGA CONTINUES - LOCATION OF A LANDING FIELD AT Jodłownik
Our objective was to locate a suitable landing field where an allied plane flying out of Italy could land and pick up the allied POWs and downed allied air crew. Our other objective was to locate secure quarters reasonably close to the air field, not only that we could house all of the air crew, but also rapidly make our way to the field on short notice.
I decided to take only one of the American air crew with me, fellow navigator 2nd Lt. Richard Hansler, as a group of six hunting for a site was sure to attract attention. Further Gus Kroschewsky was still hobling around and it was not right to subject him to the back-and-forth hunt which was to follow. So the rest of the air crew where to stay put, safe and secure with the farmer and his wife -- "the crazies".
Hansler and I started out one morning and walked all day till we reached a home on the forest-valley edge belonging to a (quite attractive blond Polish girl) that the Poles called "Blondena" and who Hansler quickly changed to "Blondie". She was an intelligent girl living in the hills with the partisans for she was now wanted by the Gestapo. (She would later become good friends with Gus Kroschewsky. )
We stayed at Blondena's place for the night and set out again the next morning walking along the crests of the hills enjoying the view onto the valley below. We reached our next resting place a little before dusk.
During our trip I taught Hansler how to make English afternoon tea. Often when we stopped I would find a nearby dairy cow and was able to retrieve some milk for our tea!
That night we were stopping for the night at a school house operated by school teacher that I knew. At first she was quite alarmed as she thought Hansler was a German for this school was also an important communications center for the underground in the area. The teacher invited us back to her house where she gave us refreshments and entertained us with her piano. Hansler even got into the activities playing a fairly poor "chop sticks". We learnt here that Major Stobrawa and some aides was coming through that evening for dinner at a lady doctor's house nearby.
We were brought to the doctor's house where we met Stobrawa and about six of his aides and we all sat down with the doctor for dinner. After dinner the Major, one of his aides, Hansler and I carefully made our way back to the school house. As we went we heard the Germans practice live night firing close by. We spent the night at the school house. We stayed at the school house the whole next day as it was just too dangerous in this area to travel during day light hours.
The Major, one of his aides, Hansler and myself set out that night. Travelling was certainly easier in the valley as we could move carefully along the roadways. As we travelled that night Hansler's eyes were opened as we passed the remains of Porąbka village that the Germans had burned to the ground just this past summer. Nothing remained of the houses save the chimneys and foundation stones. It was a scene of desolation that Hansler would remember and talk about for some time after. About midnight we came to a village where our destination for a brief respite was a partisan safe house in the village market square.
After a good meal and a few drinks, Hansler and I left Stobrawa and his aide and we left for a few hours walk to the city home of Blondena. Shortly after I had escaped to Poland I had become seriously ill and during my convalescence I had made the acquaintance of Blondena - so she was delighted to see us.
The next morning we headed out for only an hour of two to home near Kostrza to a home of some partisan supporters I knew - a husband and wife with four daughters aged 21 to 16. This was one of the main meeting points for the partisans in the area. We had a very good lunch and then in the afternoon we made the short 8km walk to the Catholic abbey in Szczyrzyce run by the Order of Cistercians where my good friend Abbot Hubert Kostrzański "Mirt" (who was also Chaplain of 2nd Battalion 1 psp AK) was then located. Abbot Hubert was delighted to see me and made Hansler welcome. He then came back to the partisan house near Kostrza with us where we enjoyed a great supper and conversation long into the night.
We were to use this partisan safe house near Kostrza as our base as we searched for a suitable landing strip to pick up the Allied evaders. The area was relatively free of Germans and a part of the reason why I'd thought of this area for a potential landing strip.
The following morning it was raining a slow but steady drizzle but we set out in westerly direction and I was quite surprised, by morning's end, we found a location in the Jodłownik area that both Hansler and I were quite certain would meet all of the requirements that an allied rescue plane would require. The former farmer's field was level, and we paced it off at about 5,000 ft long with a good approach from the west. Take off would be on a slight down grade to the east. Hansler was overjoyed and started to think that he and his crew would be home for Xmas.
Following our success in the morning, we set out for another set of partisan school teachers that I knew nearby where we stayed for lunch and dinner while drying out our thoroughly soaked clothes and boots.
Following dinner we left for local headquarters in Kostrza where "Filip” (aka Capt. Julian Krzewicki) (who Hansler called Captain Phillips) was then located. Hansler's old friend "Karol" (Filip's Adjutant Ludwik Schweiger) was there as well. After briefing Filip on our success of finding a landing field, he pulled out a map of the area from which we took the elevation and location coordinates. That night we went back to the house where Filip and his wife Barbara ("Wieslawa") were being billeted for drinks and discussion. That night we stayed in a room located at the partisan headquarters.
The next day, which was on or about November 10, I went down to the partisan radio station to send a message out that we had found a suitable landing strip and gave the co-ordinates, elevation and so forth.
Hansler then went to Kostrza to stay with the partisan family - husband and wife with four daughters, while I went back to get the other four B17 air men.
Once we were all back together we stayed to the east of the designated Jodłownik landing strip in a place called Szyk. I had arranged for the 5 American airmen to stay in the barn of a partisan family I knew.
Further up the hill the partisans had a small encampment of about 15 soldiers. About a quarter mile away there was a mill where they ground grain to make flour. Most importantly, as I said previously there were few Germans in the area so the men could, with reasonable caution, wander around without too much worry. Short of being in the middle of a forest, this was as safe as they were going to be reasonably close to the designated landing strip.
While we now waited for feedback from the Allies in Italy as to details of the air rescue, my job of finding an air strip and finding a safe house for the men was done. Borowy now had other tasks for John and I and so we had to leave the B17 crew to their own devices. John and I did of course come back to check up on the men from time to time as circumstances permitted. But until such time as we had details as to an air rescue there was not too much further value we could add. I did ask Abbot Hubert to stop in and visit the men from time to time as his schedule permitted - which he did with some regularity.
WAITING FOR AN AIR RESCUE FRUSTRATION BOILS OVER, AN UNFORTUNATE OUTBURST LEADS TO AN ULTIMATUM
It was at this time that some frustration and some acrimony developed between the B17 airmen and the partisans.
The B17 air crew had now been in-country since September 13, 1944. The first communication with their forward base in Italy had been on September 25th when they were instructed to start looking for the location of a rescue air strip, they had received further communication on October 25th to find a suitable location for a rescue air strip, and it wasn't till early November when I had been detailed to find such an air strip that anything had happened.
The men were clearly impatient that things were not happening faster. They had been evading capture from the Germans for almost 2 months now. All of them had expected to be home by now. In their mind, the Poles were not pushing their rescue hard enough. Some of them even voiced the opinion that the Poles had had no intention of organizing a rescue but simply wanted to keep the downed aircrew in place such that the Allies would continue to drop supplies to sustain the aircrew as well as the partisans. Some were suspicious that John and I did not show as overt excitement at the prospect of a rescue because we were too engaged with the partisans. In short, their inactivity fueled all sorts of wild speculation.
At this period in time it was also clear to the air crew that the partisans attention was not focussed on them. The intensity of the conflicts with the Germans had never been as high with mutiple skirmishes and all out battles occuring on an almost daily basis. When German soldiers were killed, Germans took revenge by executing local villagers, including a time babies (see story at bottom of page for an example)! The Russians also got involved as well and sabotaged the Germans. The Germans retaliated against the Polish villages, thinking it was Polish sabotage. The Poles struck back against the Russians who then ambushed Polish partisan units as retaliation. The whole situation became very dangerous. The aircrew probably rightly thought they were in the middle of a shooting gallery that could go very wrong at any moment.
Unfortunately neither John nor I nor "Karol" were around to nip this simmering anger in the bud. I guess the men refrained from complaining when Abbot Hubert was around.
Frustrated by the lack of then progress regarding the air rescue; frustrated by being passive spectators in the crossfire between the Germans, Russians and Poles; frustrated by subsisting on daily meals of potatoes and cabbage soup (as were the partisans); frustrated by the lack of warm clothing in the particularly cold winter of 1944; the frankly tough conditions; perhaps frustrated being away from home in a country whose language they did not speak; the airmen started to curse the war, Hitler and finally Poland.
Unfortunately one of the B17G crew got a little too loud and carelessly said;
"F**king Europe, F**king Hitler, F**king Poland"
in front of one of the Polish partisans who understood enough English to know what was being said.
Borowy was quite beside himself as to what to do.
Finally Borowy straightened them out, and for the second time, bluntly stating that if they weren’t happy with the Polish partisan care and did not want to remain under partisan protection, then he'd arranged for them to be turned over to the Germans as P.O.W.s.
The oldest of the American pilots, Lt. Hansler, quickly apologized on behalf of all the men,
especially for the "F**king Poland" comment, and assured Borowy that they all wanted to remain with the Polish partisans - which they did for the next 5 to 6 weeks.
Hansler also took this opportunity with Borowy to ask for warm clothes for everyone as they were still wearing the civilian clothes given to them by the villagers in Jablonka. Borowy promised to see what he could do.
Borowy did deliver on his promise of providing warmer clothing, for each of the airmen received a pair of sheepskin-lined pants with individual identification marks stenciled on them - Suhling's was S2329 , the S for "Suhling" and the final 4 numbers for his serial number. Hansler talked a Polish cobler into fashioning him a pair of shoes with wooden nails (as metal nails were not available)!There was some resentment and frustration that lingered amongst some of the partisans as to the "F**king Poland" comment and other slights that were re-played throughout the ranks, however for the vast majority, and most certainly the leadership, the B17G Americans, although some thought a handfull to maintain, were heroes for their war efforts against the Germans.
EXECUTION OF THE TRAITOR "GUSTAV FREYTAG"
As it turned out, living in a cabin near the Americans hideout was a traitor, a Volksdeutsch, by the name of Gustav Freytag, the son of the owner of the shop "NUR FUR DEUTSCHE" in Zakopane. Freytag had served in Krakow with the Wehrmacht and in August 1944 had deserted and was now hiding out in a cabin near the Americans hideout near Szyk. He was looking possibly in evading to Hungary.
The local peasants who were sympathetic to the partisans, and were aware of the situation of the Americans, pointed out the location of Freytag's hideout. It is not clear if the peasants claimed that Freytag was a "confidante", an enemy spy, and thus the Americans hideout was potentially threatened. The story differs depending on who is telling it.
Regardless, the Americans caught up with the traitor Freytag on or about December 9, 1944th and killed him. They confiscated Freytag's clothing, supplies and a gold ring which had an embedded diamond and bartered with the peasants exchanging the ring for food.Ref: 3.25 page 308
One of the Americans who talked about the executuion later had a different story.
The claim was that "the Polish partisans ordered the B17G air crew to kill the traitor Gustav and in return they could have all of the clothing and equipment in Gustav's house".
Their analysis of the situation continued; "Although they could have said "no"; the order put the five of them in a difficult position -- follow the order or freeze - because they were still in desperate need of warm clothing as the winter was unusually cold".
"They rationalized the situation concluding that the only way to move forward in this situation was to act as a soldier under an officer's command so they decided to follow the order."
"By drawing lots, S/Sgt Harold Beam was chosen for the task".
"Beam killed the traitor Gustav with one shot to the head. Immediately thereafter, the partisan who had given the order emptied his entire magazine into Gustav's body. Beam's fellow crewmen had watched this execution, and were then ordered to bury Gustav's body nearby. "
The foregoing is the account provided by one of the Americans. This rendition of the story contradicts that of Włodzimierz Budarkiewicz ps. "Podkowa" Second Commander of 1 psp AK Ref: 3.25 page 308 and that of most Polish historians who both have problems with this version saying that that at no time was there an execution order on Freytag. Probably the Americans were worried that their hideout would be given up and took matters into their own hands.
Whatever story is correct, it is certain that Beam confiscated the clothing off of the traitor he'd killed.
2nd Lt Spencer Felt would later recall(Personal Communication with Editor) speaking to Beam and listening to him explain with some pride how he'd obtained the clothes he was wearing!
Spencer was never to sure as to what to think of Beam from that moment forward.
War does strange things to people.
OTHER EVADERS JOIN THE AMERICANS FOR AIR RESCUE DECEMBER 1944
Middle of December 1944, F/Lieut. Władysław Schöffer (P1961) ("Samborski" ), a Belgian soldier (Sgt. F. Slosse) who had escaped from a prison camp, and a South African soldier (Rfn. B. J. Curtis)´ escapee showed up having heard of the possibility of evacuation by air.
Borowy also asked F/Lieut. Schöffer to take an active role in watching out for the B17 air crew.
(Unfortunately this never worked out as Schöffer presented himself as one Stanley Staf and was very vague in his background and was not the best communicator. The Americans ended up ignoring him and going their own way.)
We continued to maintain radio contact with London via the special Pelikany (Pelican) radio station unit of 1 psp AK described earlier under the command of "Tolek" (por. Antoni Turski) – an officer who came from Komenda Okręgu Kraków AK. The Allies would send us coded message in dance tunes played over the BBC overseas programs.
Apparantly as the month of December was coming to an end the B17 air evaders were getting restless again. Some of the Americans again started to speculate that the partisans had really not communicated the need for a rescue plane to the allies. Paranoia was present, but no one from the partisans was there to explain the facts. We were all busy with the Germans and the Russians.
THE B17 AIR CREW CELEBRATE XMAS AT SAFE HOUSE NEAR SYZK
Time dragged on for the B17 air crew. Father Hubert would stop by once in a while and they would talk for hours about everything under the sun.
The air crew were invited for Xmas to the school house where the 2 school teachers lived. They cleaned up the best they could and on Xmas eve they made their way to the school house. Father Hubert was there as well.
The school teachers put on a wonderful multi-course dinner for the men that lasted several hours. Father Hubert said midnight mass and gave them all communion - even though some of the men were not Catholic. After the mass they stayed for hours talking and drinking.
AN AIR RESCUE DATE IS SET - BUT DISAPPOINTMENT SETS IN
Finally London communicated to the Poles THE PLAN. The plan was to land 2 Dakota aircraft at our designated airfield near Jodłownik
January 1945 and pick–up all of the downed Allied airmen.
The rescue flight scheduled for the first week of January came and went. The flight was cancelled allegedly due to bad weather over the Alps - although no one was ever sure if this was just an excuse. There was also some talk that the Russians were not co-operating in scheduling a follow up flight.
By this time the men's emotions had already been fully exercised and they took the cancellation news with stoic silence. Perhaps the sight of the partisans disappearing into the woodwork and the Russian front clearly advancing had their thoughts elsewhere - survival.
EDITOR'E NOTE REGARDING AIR RESCUE:
The SUBJECT of the AIR RESCUE of the downed American B17 air crew is a subject that seems to elicit no clear answers as to who did what and when and why the air rescue did not happen in a timely manner.
Interestingly, Spencer Felt Jr. claims that the B24 downed air crew were not aware of a planned air rescue - they just did not think one was going to happen "because there was no where to land the plane". Even Aloys Suhling of the B17 crew claims that he personally never took the air rescue as a serious possibility; "as it would have been a risky, risky thing to do as there wasn't anything close to a safe landing strip available during daylight, let alone during the night." (Perhaps after 70 years Mr. Suhling's memory has faded a bit, but one would have thought that the air rescue possibility would have made a major lasting impact.) So it would seem that the Polish partisans including Hubert Brooks did not make a major production of the identified Jodłownik air landing strip. One can speculate that they did not tell the air crewes about this because they saw how bitter and complaining the B17 air crew became when actions did not happen immediately. Perhaps their strategy was to wait until they got confirmation from Italy before engaing the downed air crewes in this rescue operation.
Regardless, it is clear from the Radio Communication messages seen on this web page that the partisans did indeed notify the Allies and in at least one documented message the partisans were pushing for their extraction.
Whether the partisans could have acted sooner - it wasn't till early November that Hubert Brooks was detailed for the assignment to locate a rescue air field - is a matter for debate. Perhaps the right person to do the survey (as the Allies had exacting requirements for any rescue field) was not available till Brooks showed up, perhaps the partisans were just too busy with staying alive and fighting the Germans, or perhaps the partisans were aware of how slowly other air extractions of 'far more impotant people' in Poland had gone as well as the deep losses suffered by the AK in supporting an air extraction - see reference site that follows.
According to US Air Force Report 121 Special Operations: AAF Aid to European Resistance Movements, 1943-1945, by Harris G. Warren (1947) there were 2 types of landing operations behind enemy lines;
As a result of the risks, and the 700+ mile distance from the forward base in Italy, very few aircrew rescue missions were made into Nazi occupied Poland.
One such notable and successful air rescue of senior partisan leaders from southern Poland, and one that best exhibited anglo- Polish co-operation, was the air rescue that occured on April 15, 1944 out of the forward air base at Brindishi Italy. This air rescue was 5 months in planning, and although successful, resulted in 42 partisans being killed and many more wounded. The underground clearly had the message that these rescue operations were frought with risk.
Final approval of any given mission would be dependent on the estimate of the risk based on both Nazi and Soviet strength in the area, from AA flak and presence of German night-fighters together with meeting the predesignated specifications for the landing ground conditions (see Allies Air Field Requirements), weather at the site and for the flight crews of 267 Squadron had safety of flight concerns over the use of an unarmed Dakota which was no worse than a Halifax with only a rear gun turret (mid October 1944 267 squadron for a period refused undertaking Wildhorn missions into Poland because it was too dangerous - see October 14, 1944 Memo from Captain J Podoski, not to mention the fighting over priorities - with the air rescue operations being just one of them.)
(This example of one of the few air rescue operations in Poland was undertaken by Polish Special Duties Squadron 1568 which had moved to Campo Casale, Brindisi (known as Base 11 or Operation Daybreak or Jutrzenka) and later came under the command of Colonel Jazwinski. The 1568 reported into the RAF 334 Special Duties Wing, which in turn was a part of the Balkan Air Force.)
As well, Operation Wildhorn also known as ‘Bridge’ or ‘Most’ in Polish - as referenced in the above December 31, 1944 Radio Communications Message - did occur and was planned as a series of ‘air-bridges’ for the movement of specialist war material and infiltration/ ex-filtration of agents and couriers or military personnel from the AK. See Poland In Exile web site for detailed information on a number of Operation Wildhorn activities and the difficulty in getting very high profile AK partisans out of Poland.
Once the Allies had a foothold in Italy, new routes, which avoided flights over Sweden (Route 1) or Denmark (Route 2) opened up, but were still never the less as hazardous.
Route 3 flew over Lake Balaton in Hungary to the Tatra Mountains and then to Krakow in southern Poland, some 600 miles. Although this was a popular route, it was abandoned after Soviet advances in the spring of ’44.
Route 4 was further east and flew over Budapest while Route 5 flew via Albania and Yugoslavia to Lwow. The Polish ambassador to Moscow had tried to negotiate use of Soviet bases to no avail.
As mentioned previously, the Operation Wildhorn rescue missions into Poland seems to have been directed at very high profile, high value personnel ... never mind 5 downed American B17 airmen.
Quite separate from Operation Wildhorn, other air crew rescue units in the region included; i) the British unit known as "A" Force, which by 1944 had expanded to include rescue operations in the Balkans, Sicily, and Italy;
as well as, to a much lesser extent,
ii) a second British unit, Force 399, attached to Special Operations Mediterranean, and iii) finally a handful of US personnel from Company B, 2766th Regiment (PROV), OSS participated in some rescue operations.
However when the British withdrew their support of the Chetnik Mihailovic regime in May of 1944 there was a void created with respect to air crew rescue as all operations effectively ceased.
Subsequently, the BAF with the RAF 334 Wing (which included the Polish 1586 Flight wing) would fill some of the void ...however very few operations resulted into Nazi occupied Poland.
Into this void also stepped Major General H. F. Twining, Commanding General of the US Fifteenth Air Force. Twining knew that in the coming months a continued and, in all probability, an increased bombing offensive would be carried out in the Balkans and southern Europe. The responsibility for the bulk of this task would fall on the shoulders of Bomb Wings from the Fifteenth Air Force. Without a doubt, several hundred- perhaps even a thousand- Americans would, during the course of these missions, be forced to parachute or crash-land into Axis held domains.
On June 13, 1944, at Air Force Headquarters in Bari, Italy Twining establised the US Air Force's first Air Crew Rescue Unit (ACRU) under the command of Colonel George Kraigher - a Yugoslav born American citizen. This was the first flying unit created solely for the purpose of extricating downed Allied airmen from enemy-occupied territory. The units first mission in (Chetnik) Yugoslavia was in August of 1944 and its last mission was on April 8, 1945.
By the end of the war, the Fifteenth Air Force Air Crew Rescue Unit (ACRU) had recovered over 5,700 American airmen - all told, nearly 21% of all US Army Air Force (AAF) personnel reported
missing throughout the Mediterranean air campaign.
ACRU's wartime operations involved evacuation of airmen from 15 European nations including Russian-occupied Poland (where 215 air crew were extracted), Germany, Austria, and Hungary. The largest number of personnel, over 2,300, were recovered from Axis occupied and civil-war-tom Yugoslavia. The ACRU was to co-ordinate extensively with the British "A" Force and the BAF organization.
All available documentation seems to suggest that the Fifteenth Air Force Air Crew Rescue Unit (ACRU) extended operations into Poland after the Russians had over run the Nazi positions. Thus it would seem, in all liklihood the organization communicatiing with the 5 downed American B17 airmen was the BAF and its 334 Wing.
As a result of the above it is not clear that the "fault" for the failed air rescue operation, if there is blame to be assessed at all, rests not with the Polish partisans on the ground, but rather with the machinations of command back at base in Italy.
document C 16761/176/G labelled MOST SECRET released by the British National Archives
introduces perhaps another potential reason WHY there was a DELAY between the
November 10, 1944 communication
of an rescue airfield near Jodłownik and the end of December plan pick up date. The document sates that:
"On Nov 25, 1944 Lt. Col H.B. Perkins, acting on behalf of the British Foreign Office informed Maj. General S. Tabor Deputy Chief of Staff, Polish Forces that that the British Government were withdrawing facilities which had been granted to the Polish authorities in connection with assisting the Polish underground. Then on November 30, 1944 Major General Taborwas informed of the decision that “no flights are allowed to Poland until the clarification of the situation, with the exception of the Wildhorn operation". Moreover no passengers could be taken with the Wildhorn operation. The British Military mission is stopped in Italy. Further restrictions on communications with Poland have been introduced."
The document indicates that General Tabor looked at this as a temporary setback.
Whatever the reasons for this decision by the British Foreign Office, the TIMING might indicate why there was a delayed response to the request for an air rescue November / December 1944. It also suggests that the partisans were not given a reason for the delay.
Other British National Archives documents such as contained in file HS4_145 Ref 3.42 indicate that in the late September 1944 to early 1945 time frame there was some distrust that exsisted between the British Chiefs-of-staf, SOE and Polish Colonel Jazwinski with the the London based Polish Government in exile, and in particular General Sosnkowski. It is not clear if the infighting and the view of the limitations of aircraft flown out of Italy and the encouragement of false hopes played into the delay and/or planning of the Jodłownik rescue mission.
As a final comment, it is interesting to note that the December 31, 1944 radio communications memo discusses the pick up of 33 people consisting of 17 Americans, 10 English and 6 Poles.
There are two aspects to this remarkable message.
From this story I know of 14 Americans (5 B17 + 9 B24), and 5 (Brooks, Duncan, Schoffer, Curtis, Slosse) "British" personnel to be rescued.
No documentation has been found to identify who the other American, British or Polish personnel were to be rescued at this particular site.
(It is known that Zych, Gromoski, Jaworski, Sgt J. Ward, and Adam were in the area after a failed pick up at the Radom site, it is also known that Colonel Rudkowski and M. Witos were also in the area hoping for an air rescue, and there were other radio communications traffic between the partisans and London identifying "foreigners" waiting to be rescued in Poland, however whether these individuals were part of the list of 33 is not known for sure.)
Another story to be told!
The story of the downed B17G air crew resumes below in the section heading entitled "B24J AIRMEN JOIN B17G AIRMEN in the Village of SZYK in the LIMANOWA REGION"
Mid December of 1944, nine American airmen ended up in territory controlled by partisan leader Lampart (Major Julian Zapała - 1 PSP AK Battalion IV commander.)
On 18th December these airmen had parachuted out of a long range B24 Liberator bomber (Serial No. 42-51714) Liberator aircraft nicknamed " California Rocket" on the left side and "POP" on the right side, belonging to 757 Squadron, 459 Bombardment Group of 304 Wing of 15th Air Command USAF, sent from a base in Giulia Airfield, Cerignola, Italy on MISSION #1676 to bomb a synthetic fuel factory in Ref: 3.14 Osweicim (Poland) .
Their story with the Polish partisans and their liberation by the Russians follows.
Downed B24 Liberator (42-51714) STORY BACKDROP
This aircrew, who were formed and trained in Casper Wyoming, was on their second mission with the bombing mission of the refinery in Oswiecim Poland.
Their first had occured the day before to Odertahl, north of Auschwitz Poland, on an oil refinery. It had been a very long day, 4 hours up and 4 hours back at 20,000 to 24,000 feet. (The crew would fly in electric felt slippers and fleece lined leather boots and electric suits and electric gloves to tolerate the extreme cold). The gas gauges were shown on empty upon return.
The pilots were not overly fond of the B24. It was a difficult airplane to fly. The B17 was a lot better plane.
Formation flying is very tiring. What Beimbrink (pilot) and Felt (co-pilot) would do was to usually fly only 20 minutes at a time, one would fly 20 minutes and then the other would fly 20 minutes
and so on. Flying in formation is very tense every moment. Imagine the challenge of keeping perfect distance with the plane in front of you and you're moving back and forth not more than 50, 60 or 100 feet from another plane
and you have a wing span of 110 feet and you did not want to overlap wings.
The purpose of close formation flying was that the guns of the whole formation could converge in cross-fire on an attacking fighter. It made for rather a withering barrage of fire power for an attacking plane to come in to as each B24 bomber had ten 50 caliber guns.
You're all right navigating around the flak when you go towards the target, but when you get past the I.P. (initial Point), ten or twelve minutes before the target, then you have to fly straight and level. That's about when the bombardier of the lead plane takes over his aiplane. Till then you can dodge the flak but after the Initial Point you had to fly staight and level through the flak. Very stressfull for all on board.
Crews rarely flew two days in a row because of fatigue, however the B24 Liberator (42-51714) crew were assigned a mission #166 the next day on the 18th of December 1944 and they departed Giulia Field Cerignola Italy on a heavy bombardment mission to a synthetic fuel plant – a chemical plant right at Oswiecim (a.k.a. Auschwitz )in Poland.
For this second mission, the crew had been woken up around 4 A.M. and had breakfast followed by the officer's attending "the briefing" for the day.
On this day they were told:
" By the way the Germans have a new kind of airplane. It's called a jet."
The crew asked "What on earth is a jet?"
It was explained to them:
"You don't have to worry about a jet for 2 reasons. One, the Germans don't have very many, so your chances of being attacked by one are slim.
And two, if a jet does attack you, you're dead, so you do not have to worry about it!"
That's what was said!
The second mission wasn't any more dangerous than the first. As mentioned, it was a chemical plant contiguous to Auschwitz, three miles away. The crew were told not to drop the bombs early because there was a concentration camp nearby.
(Editor's Note Taken From Ref: 3.14 the 459bg.org Website : Although close to German Slave Labor and Jewish Elimination Camps (Auschwitz), the Refinery Complex was separated from the Camps so that U S Army Air Force long range bombers with precision Norden Bomb Sights could hit this important target on several occasions.)
The flight in formation from Cerignola had gone smoothly and they'd reached the I.P. over Strumien, Poland and took a heading of 59 degrees magnetic and flew over Lake Goczałkowickie with a distance to target of about 22 miles. On the turn they got hit by flak which got to the plane's oil supply lines. With the oil pressure dropping quickly they had to turn off number 3 engine, the inboard on the right hand side, to avoid windmilling which would have shaken the plane apart. A little while later they also had to shut down number 4 engine for the same reason. Now, the two engines on the right-hand side were inoperative. Obviously it’s a lot better if you lose one engine on each side, then the plane is balanced. But if you lose two on the same side as happened here it puts all the power on one side and you have to do left-rudder to counteract it and that creates more drag and you can’t maintain your altitude.
When it was clear that they were not going to make it to target, Beimbrink told bombardier Nelson to put the nose pins back in the bombs (to make them inactive) and jetison the bombs.
With the second engine gone the plane lagged far behind the formation so they headed towards Russia (a lot closer than their base in Italy). Dejewski quickly gave a course correction to keep them away from the well fortified city of Krakow and had them heading for the mountains.
Just as the B24 turned to south towards the mountains three ME-109s who could have been sitting back and waiting for cripples came into view.
Perhaps they were just returning from the Russian front and were out of ammo, for they stayed out of of the B24's firing range and left the crippled B24 alone.
Finally, as a result of the increased drag and quickly losing altitude, the temperature on the cylinder head of the number two engine, the inboard engine on the left-hand side, started climbing and the engine started to heat up.
It was clearly time to bail out before engine 2 stalled and the plane flipped over. The order was given to jump when you were ready. They were located approximately 15 miles east of near Nowy Sacz.
All of the crew, except the pilot and co-pilot, bailed out "paratrooper style" one after the other each within within 20 seconds of the other. It was approximately 1300 hours.
Beimbrink then set the autopilot to hold the plane level so when he went to bail out, the airplane would be level and not fall into a spin.
Beimbrink told co-pilot Felt to go and Felt quickly exited via the bomb bay (found out later the ground was at 4,000 feet and they'd bailed out at 6,000 feet above the ground).
Beimbrink followed last. Unfortunately Bill Beimbrink's chute never opened and the crew were unable to locate him on the ground.
Years later, spring of 1945, the surviving air crew heard that the Polish partisans had found Beimbrink's body and buried him in the hills. At the time they kept things quiet such that the Russians didn't realize that there were partisans in the area.
Of the 15 aircraft shot down over Poland during World War II, the California Rocket crew was the only group saved by the Polish Home Army - the other crews were either captured or killed (Note the B17 crew technically landed in Slovakia.) This is seen as a major accomplishment by the AK underground army.)
Pages from Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) 10688
for 2nd Lt. Beimbrink's B24J (SN 44-51714) Bombing Mission of Oswiecim, Poland (Departing Giulia 1, Cerignola, Italy)
The STORY of the B24J "California Rocket" crew has been reported in various sources including:
B24 Liberator CREW ON THE GROUND IN POLAND
When the B24J crew parachuted to earth close to the small villages of Upper and Lower Ochotnica, it was December 18, 1944 and there was 18 inches of snow on the ground!
The B24J (SN 44-51714) "California Rocket" aircraft itself crashed on the southern slope of the ridge Kiczora-Przysłop-Gorc.
It is interesting to read Bill McCuttie's notes in the MACR10688 document above what the partisans did to the crashed B24J and how one of them was summarily shot to death wearing an American B10 jacket.
With the exception of co-pilot Spencer Felt, all of the aircrew had parachuted into roughly the same location close to the small villages of Upper and Lower Ochotnica and were able to quickly join ranks. Venable had torn the ligaments in his knee landing but everyone else was OK.
Not too long after Dejewski, Dallas and Venable who was supported by Sich and Blehar joined ranks three men came up the hill towards them. They clearly were not German soldiers and seemed friendly.
They were two young (Gorale) highlanders along with what turned out to be a partisan courier. This courier was somewhat uniquely dressed in a long black cape and black fedora.
The navigator, Tad Dejewski, could speak Polish (his parents had emigrated to the States in 1915 but they would talk Polish at home) so he was able to converse with them. As it turned out with one of those small world coincidences the courier came from Sierpc, Dejewski father's hometown. This broke the ice.
About 1430 hours, they started walking down the mountain (the Luban Range) and within two hours reached a small chalet. The sun went down and it got dark very quickly. The five of them went into a fairly large size room illuminated by about a 25-watt bulb. A knock on the door and a couple of partisans brought in Racine. He had landed a bit west of the other men and had hooked up with other highlanders.
They now had a total of six after bailing out. Only the courier gave me his name, Zbigniew Faix-Dabrowski, all the others just used their pseudonyms.
The owner of the chalet prepared a room for them and told them they would have to leave at daybreak.
At 0300 hours, the lights came on and the owner came up to Dejewski and told him the Russian Partisans are coming to take the airmen to their headquarters. The partisans advice is to avoid them and go with one of the Polish partisans to the Battalion Headquarters of 'Lampart' which was not too far away.
It was a long walk in the deep snow but at least they had a horse drawn sleigh for the injured Walter Venable. They stopped at a little hamlet and walked up to a cottage, opened the door, and there was Bill McCuttie.
Daybreak the following day found them walking again with their guide leading the way. The guide was wearing a German uniform, a sleeveless
sheepskin jacket and a large belt with a couple of grenades attached to it. A rifle was slung over his shoulder. He also had a red and white armband on his left arm.
Sich and Blehar were at the rear of the column. One of them said,
"Isn't that Spence over there at the tree line?"
Spencer Felt had recognized them from about a hundred yards down the road but hesitated to call us because he thought they were caught by the Germans.
Co-pilot Spencer Felt had landed about 10 miles west from his crew mates.
Upon landing, Felt started walking east until he found an abandoned shepard's hut where he spent the first night.
Next day he continued to walk east and about noon time he came to an overlook to a road and sees a guy dressed in civilian clothes, with a German machine gun over his shoulder.
This civilian was leading a horse and the horse is pulling a sled, and on the sled is radio operator Venable!
Then another guy comes around the corner dressed in a German uniform and again with a German machine gun over his shoulder and behind him are 6 members of his crew - Tad Dejewski and the 5 other guys!
First Felt first thought that his crew mates were captured then he thought what is a civilian doing with a gun out front and why is there no one walking behind my crewmates, and finally why are they walking away from the village towards the mountains?
So Felt calls out to Tad Dejewski, and Tad responds and introduces him to the person in the German uniform Zbigniew Faix-Dabrowski as a partisan courier.
Faix-Dabrowski later turned out to be the clerk of the leader of the underground Lampart (Major Julian Zapała) (He also turned out to be the only Polish partisan who spoke a bit of English).
(As mentioned previously the Polish partisans needed warm clothing and often turned to confiscated German clothing. They tried not to kill the German soldier, as then the Germans would take reprisals with the civilians in the villages.)
Spencer Felt was number eight of the crew. One day had gone by and all they needed to find was Nelson the Bombardier and the Pilot, Biembrink (who they still hoped was alive).
They reached Lampart's headquarters early in the afternoon. It was in the woods of the foothills of the Turbacz mountains in a clearing the partisans called Kurnytową. The partisans in the camp clearly did not have much food but they gave what they could to their guests. Before they left the partisan camp very late that afternoon Lampart gave Dejewski a Skoda 7mm pistol with eight cartridges.
That night the crew returned to the cottage where they's left Venable. Early the next morning there was a knock on the door and there was number nine, Bob Nelson, the Bombardier.
After three days at Lampart's headquarters they were transferred to another division of the partisans in the Limanowa Region, north east of where the crew had bailed out. They walked twelve kilometers and were quite tired from the hike. The guide took us to the town leader's home. Next morning at 0700 hours they left to walk another five kilometers to Szczawa and then two more kilometers to the end of the road to a little place called Bukowka. Here they met the commander of the outpost, which was manned by a winter contingent of Polish partisans.
Everyone was wearing white parkas. As we would later find out so did the the Germans, the Polish and the Russian Partisans.
The partisan ommander located three cabins in the hills where they could stay. Blehar stayed in one with Venable, Sich in another with Dallas and Racine and Dejewski took the third cabin with Nelson, McCuttie and Spence Felt, (who was in command of the crew since Pilot, Bill Beimbrink was still missing).
When the Germans came looking for the airmen they were taken to the little village of Szczawa, a few farm houses and a sawmill.
At that time they were told of 5 other American (B17) airmen that had landed in late September, not in this particular area, but were amongst the Polish home army about 12 kilometers away.
For the next 2 weeks they spent their time in Szczawa by the sawmill. The Poles fed us what they could but it was very little - sometimes they'd have to go without food for 2 days.
It was explained that the B17G air crew were located in Limanowa Region about a 12 km hike north of where the B24J crew where located at Szczawa.
During this time, they played a lot of chess, did a lot of singing, talking and speculating as to what happened to Beimbrink. Felt, now being the senior officer, made the crew hike every day to keep in shape in case some day they had to do a lot of walking.
Unlike their B17 counterparts the B24 crew had kept their aviation clothing and not exchanged for civilian clothing. Thus they were always quite warm as these clothes were made especially for the cold temperatures at high altitude.
They felt secure. The partisans had guards posted such that they had a 20 minute warning if a German patrol came close.
XMAS PARTY at the SZCZAWA SAWMILL
On Christmas Eve, the B24 crew were having a typical Polish "supper" in one of the homes. Following supper they went down to the valley where the people of the surrounding area gathered at the Szczawa sawmill and had their Xmas holiday celebration. (The B17G crew were located too far away to be invited. )
Hubert Brooks and John Duncan were not at this party as they were located in the Limanowa Region.
At the Xmas party speeches were made, the guests were fed fish head soup and each of the B24J crew were presented with a Xmas gift of a square of butter.
Being in the Nowy Targ region on other business, I was ordered to meet up with the downed B24 American air crew early January (4th or 5th)
The names of the American airmen from the crashed Liberator aircraft nicknamed " California Rocket" that I wrote in my "ZAPISKI" notebook were identified to be:
(0.2059017) 2/Lt Spencer Felt Jr. – the second pilot
(0.2064229) 2/Lt Thaddeus (Tad)Dejewski – navigator
(T.122067) F/O Robert Nelson – bombardier
(39568564) Cpl. Edward Sich – flight engineer
(14185196) Cpl. Walter Venable – wireless operator
(12238645) Pfc. Jack Blehar – scored lower tower (ball-turret gunner)
(19124917) Cpl. Clarence Dallas – front 'nose' gunner
(12228486) Cpl. William McCuttie Jr. – tail gunner
(11098611) Cpl. Bernard Racine – side (top-turret) gunner
B24J AIRMEN JOIN B17G AIRMEN in the Village of SZYK in the LIMANOWA REGION
The writing was on the wall that the end was nearing for the B24 air men located in Szczawa.
The main German Army being pushed back by the Russian Army met head on in the village of Szczawa. The B24 Americans wound up being in the middle of no man's land with all hell braking loose. The Americans later said that 155mm shells were whistling over their heads and that they could actually here the rotation of the shells. They nonetheless stuck it out in the cottage where they were staying.
On January 14, 1945, the Germans sent in troops to clean out the pocket of partisans in the hills near Szczawa. Four o'clock one morning the partisans woke up the evaders and told them to get ready to move out as the Germans were coming. The partisans had been notified that the Germans had left their headquarters in Kamienica. The Americans left immediately for the hills. Their hours of hiking around the area now paid off as they were able to quickly navigate around the German-partisan firefights. As they moved through the forest, they heard rifle and mortar fire. They later heard that the Germans had bracketed their living quarters and the third mortar shell exploded in the room where they were staying.
As the battle progressed, the nine Americans and a partisan Yugoslav officer (S. Wróbel aka “Szwejk”) who'd joined them sat at the edge of the tree line and watched the skirmish.
When darkness came they headed over the hill into the Zilesie. Now their chief problem was food. They were extremely hungry, living on potatoes and cabbage soup.
The Russian-German front was aprroximately 150 miles to the east of the evader hideout in Zalesie but there were Germans all around between Zalesie and the front line. There were also Russian partisans in the hills all around the area. The situation was explosive.
Recognizing that the Szczawa-Zilesie region was soon to be at or near the German-Russian front line it was imperative to move the air crew to safety as soon as possible. To this end it was decided to move the B24J aircrew north to join the B17G airmen (and Schöffer, Slosse and Curtis).
Moving north to Szyk also had the advantage of positioning the B24 crew with the B17 crew for a still hoped for air rescue pick up (The partisans in Zilesie did not know at that time did not know that the air rescue had been called off, but it would not have mattered.) If the air rescue did not happen it would position all of the allied evaders together to be "liberated" by the Russians and the eventual handover could be done in as safe a manner possible.
The partisans in the Szczawa-Zilesie camps were now either fading into the woodwork and did not want to be recognized, heading north for safety away from the front, or heading off to engage in some of the few battles remaining (see below). The allied evaders rested the night at a shepard's hut and made contact with some partisans who told them the Germans were really coming out in force the following day.
Next day the whole outfit moved north travelling about 15 hours from Zilesie to Szyk and arriving on the evening of January 15, 1945 (after stopping off briefly near the end of their march with Abbot Hubert for a meal).
In Szyk they met the five members of a B-17 Crew that bailed out on 13 September 1944. They gathered that the B17 crew had had a rougher time of it because no one on their crew could speak Polish.
The time together in Szyk was to be short -- less then a week -- with the advancing Russian army dictating events.
The B17 air crew were not overjoyed to see the new arrivals as they were crowded already. However they worked something out with the new arrivals staying in the adjacent barn by night, and joining the B17 crew in the house for meals.
The new addition that was appreciated, was Tad Dejewski was fluent Polish served the group well in working with the few partisans remaining in the area - but they quickly faded into the woodwork as well.
Although F/Lieut. Schöffer was now supposed to be taking an active role in watching out for them, we would later learn that few if any of the allied evaders were aware of this, and unfortunately few liked Schöffer finding him very evasive about himself and his background and constantly paranoid. Spencer Felt wondered if he was a confidante plant!
Thus by mid January 1945 "Filip's" Limanowa Region found itself with a total of 14 American airmen, 1 Belgium airman, 1 South African and 1 Polish RAF(Schöffer) and including John and myself: 1 Canadian and 1 Scot . All were now thinking about the safest manner to reach the Russians.
John and I continued to participate in several battles against the Germans right until the end - see below. Unfortunately our visits to Szyk had become almost non-existant and in fact we never saw the B24 Americans while they were at Szyk. I'm sure the B17 Americans were convinced that John and I would be killed in some battle and they would never see us again.
The Germans has conscripted one person from each household in the area, be it boy, woman , grandmother, to help dig trenches for the German army. The notion was that the German Army would use these trenches as a defensive line whenever the expected Russian surge occured. These trenches were deep enough that it was extremely hard to exit from as some of the men (Suhling) found one night when walking around in the dark. (The Germans would never use the trenches built in this area, as the Russians over ran them so quickly.)
By this time all hope for an air rescue had evaporated and the discussion centered on what to do. Since 'some of' the Polish partisans had talked about now engaging the Russians, the Americans decided that they had to disengage from the Poles as quick as possible and make contact with Russians.
The Polish underground had disappeared as they had said they would and the allied evaders were now completely on their own in the middle of no man’s land between the opposing forces. This was a very dangerous time.
A day or two later the evader outfit saw the advance of the Russian front, with Russian airplanes passing overhead dropping flares and bombs at night. One day, the men were outside the safe house when a Russian fighter approached. It seemed that the fighter had spotted them and started to straffe them. The men went immediately back into the farm house, falling all over each other in doing so. The Russian fighter "missed" them, but cut down a lot of the local tree tops. After the plane had left the area, the men had gone back outside and found the fin of a 250lb incindary bomb which had not gone off sticking out of the ground. There was a lot of discussion as to whether the firepower had been directed at them or at a rail line located about a mile away from the farm house where they were staying. A few days later Russian tanks went by.
The group did not want to hook up with the first wave of the Russian front and be dragged west, they wanted to wait for the Russian front line to pass such that they could get someone to send them east.
The allied evaders were sleeping in a room in the farmer's hut
when early one morning when a Russian barged into the hut where the allied airmen were holed up. The Russian came
into the cabin with
a carbide lamp in one hand and was brandishing an AK-47 type machine gun in the other, yelling (in Russian)
" Who are you? Who are you?"
Many of the Americans thought that it was all over, that the Russian soldier was seconds away from pulling the trigger. Fortunately Tad Dejewski understood what the Russian was trying to say and stepped forward with his hands raised yelling;
" Amerikanski! Amerikanski! Samelot (airplane)!".
The Russian soldier, who was actually Ukranian and thus could communicate on a basic level with Tad, was clearly uncertain, but after checking to see if there was any vodka or horses nearby that he could "liberate", departed and left them alone. Tad had asked him where his intelligence unit was and he told him in Limanowa, a little town about twelve kilometers northeast.
Clearly shaken, the airmen decided to try to contact the Russians directly themselves.
So when Schöffer told them to wait a few days longer until the Russian line passed through, the Americans ignored him.
The Allied evaders story continues in the next web chapter 3.9 with their "liberation" by the Russians...
We fought two more major battles during the late December 1944 - January 1945 time period.
The best known massacre in the country instigated by the Russians took place on December 23, 1944 in Ochotnica.
The Germans came up to the village around December 23rd to collect food for Xmas dinner and got in a fight with a Russian band of about a dozen men. Three German soldiers were killed by the Russians, and the next day the Germans took revenge by executing 56 of the Polish villagers, including 2 six-month-old babies. Among the 56 killed there were five members of one family. Two of the (Gorale) highlander brothers who helped the B24 crew down the hill the first day were part of that family. They survived.
At this time the AK partisans were actively engaged in operation “Burza” (“Tempest”) by attacking German forces as they retreated from the Soviet advance. And with even greater intensity and purpose, the Germans attacked the Polish underground in force to disrupt them so they wouldn't blow up bridges and inhibit their retreat
As well, our camp at Ochotnica was attacked by 1,000 enemy troops and we fought for three days before we scorched our way out leaving 200 Germans behind us.
One of the last attempts by the Germans to break the Polish underground activity occurred early January 1945 in the Szczawa region in the Carpathians hills (by the slopes of Mogielicy by the Grand Peak (Wielkiego Wierchu) and Kiczor).
The in-country German army command was well aware that local mobile Polish army resistance forces (1 PSP AK) in this region, could critically endanger the safety of the German forces should they have to retreat as a result of a looming Soviet offensive (crossing the frozen Dunajec river).
January 13, 1945 we fought the Germans in two battles.
First a main German army force carried out a raid against a Polish guerrilla troops in the village of Szczawa – near the sawmill.
The partisans won the fight decisively in Szczawa, killing 18 SS soldiers, wounding about 30, with the partisan’s losses at 1 killed and 1 wounded.
Then in second engagement in the adjacent region of Łącko – Kamienica – Lubomierz about 100 Polish partisan soldiers engaged approximately 900 German SS soldiers. Over the course of a 1 week engagement, despite the SS persistent mortar and machine gun fire and superior numbers, the partisans prevailed and the SS had to withdraw and thus failed in their efforts to pacify the area.
It should be noted at this time the 1 PSP AK units were extremely “seasoned” and capable and demonstrated great steadfastness even at critical moments when it would appear that they would be outflanked.
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The Life and Times of Hubert Brooks M.C. C.D.