Air force support

In order to effectively support underground organizations in countries occupied by the Third Reich or its allies, SOE needed aviation units for special tasks at its disposal. To this end, it was decided to separate planes from the Bomber Command. It was a difficult decision for the desperately defending United Kingdom, because every combat aircraft was worth its weight in gold. Finally, on August 20, 1940, the 1419 Special Duty Flight was formed at Newmarket, a squadron to support special tasks planned by SOE. On the night of 15 February 16, 1941 (flight operation „Adolphus”) the squadron made its first flight with paratroopers to Poland. The flight took place on the trial route. In connection with the reinforcement of the anti-aircraft defense by Germany, it was decided to fly longer but safer. Due to the lengthening of the route, Whitleys used so far had been replaced by bombers with a larger range – Halifaxs, which, however, had to be adapted for the drop operations.

Members volunteered for the squadron after accomplishing a round of operational flights over the Third Reich. Within the ranks of 1419 Special Duty Flight members took special flights in completely different conditions. The flights took place during the full moon nights, and from the beginning of the second to the end of the third quarter of the moon. For reasons of security and the long distance from the base, the use of navigational aids, radios or radar devices was not an option. The astronavigation was not good at the low altitude. Members of the crews were left to master visual navigation, which consisted of comparing the map with the terrain, which was not an easy matter and put a difficult task before the navigator. An important issue was to master the skill of safe and thorough air raid onto the receiving outpost. It was necessary to communicate with it properly and then carry out a dump of people and supplies according to the instructions. The speed of the aircraft at the time of the discharge had to be up to 150 miles / hour (about 241 km / h), as the parachutes could have burst at higher speeds. The jumpers were usually dropped at a speed of 120 – 130 miles / hour (around 193-209 km / h). The drop height could not be less than 150 m for the paratroopers and 100 m for the equipment, otherwise paratrooper deaths or destruction of supply containers could occur.

The preparations lasted until the autumn of 1941, when the first regular flights were started. Air operations were facilitated by the longer autumn-winter nights which protected airplanes from anti-aircraft artillery deployed along the route and from the operation of German night fighters. At the end of August 1941, the Newmarket airport took 138. Special Duty Squadron. On his squadron badge there was an inscription „For Freedom” . In the second half of the year, a liaison officer from the VI Branch of the General Staff of the Supreme Commander, LTC Roman Rudkowski as well as three Polish crews trained on low flights were appointed to the squadron. The flight of the first Polish crew in Newmarket lead by CPT nav. Stanisław Król, ended tragically. On the night of November 7-8, they made a flight to Poland, on the so-called route number 1 lead to the north of the island of Sylt, via Denmark, then at Bornholm, then directed to the south, towards Toruń and Płock. The flight ended with a forced landing in Sweden and internment of the crew. In November 1941, the squadron moved to the Laconfield airfield near Stardishall where at the end of the year other Polish crews joined it. On March 14 the following year, the squadron eventually moved to the Tempsford airport in Cambridge County, where it remained until the end of the war.

Polish crews flying in the 138th squadron also ran special flights to other countries of occupied Europe. In return, the British crew flew over Poland. Luftwaffe night fighters appeared more and more often on the flight route. This led to the search for a safer flight routes which ended with a shift somewhat north of Denmark (the so-called rout No. 2). This led to the improvement of flight safety, at the same time however the range of aircraft operation over occupied Poland decreased. In order to increase the possibilities of helping the country, the Polish authorities were trying to obtain Liberator type aircraft with a higher lifting capacity and range. At the same time, the British were asked to move the airport to the east coast of England, which would shorten the route by 60 miles, but it was not possible to obtain their consent. In order to hinder the operation of the German night fighters, attempts were made at the beginning of 1943 to fly into the moonless nights. For the most part, the already experienced crews took in these flights, and the outposts close to the Vistula and the Bug rivers were chosen, making it easier to find. Initially, only material discharges were performed.

Cichociemni discharges in the moonless nights began in the spring of 1944. The two-year efforts of the Supreme Commander and Branch VI, initiated in France, finally brought the desired effect. The British agreed to set up a Polish super-squad C squadron at the 138th Squadron. At the beginning of the year, additional Polish crews joined the squadron. On March 31, 1943, the 301th Bomber Squadron was dissolved and on April 1, 1943, the Polish C squadron was officially established (six crews + 1 spare), still called the 301st squadron among Poles. About 81% of the squadron had its own Polish ground service, which was important. Airplanes supported by British mechanics showed a number of defects during flights, and probably the most frequent was the jamming of ejectors of the bomb chambers, which resulted in the returning of loaded containers back to England. With Polish service, this conditions has improved significantly.

The matter of the allocation of new aircrafts (of Liberator type) went very slowly. Initially, the Supreme Commander GEN Sikorski conducted talks with the British, but he received a refusal in reply with justification that there was no evidence indicating the superiority of the Liberator over the Halifax. This was obviously not true. In reality it was about the significant losses of British Bomber Command, for which possession of long-range bombers was extremely important. Faced with this attitude of London, efforts were made to obtain air crafts directly from the US, initially 6, then 12 Liberators, but they also did not bring the intended results. In the absence of assistance from the United States, the Polish authorities returned to the negotiations with Air Ministry, which on January 30, 1943 promised three Liberators. This type of aircraft was a day bomber and did not have silencers on the exhaust pipes, which was necessary for night flights. Adaptation of planes by English and American teams lasted until the end of summer. In the second half of September, the squadron received modified Liberators.

Germans, concerned about the scale of discharges to occupied territories, strengthened air defense over Denmark. Security of the action was undermined when the massive bombing raids on central Germany began to fly this route, and in August 1943 there was an air raid on the German missile and research center in Peenemünde on the island of Usnam. This caused increased losses among the crews supporting the resistance movement in Poland. On October 12, 1943, only one efficient Halifax remained in the squadron. Further flights on route 1 became too dangerous, so it was decided to fly route No. 2, bypassing Denmark from the north. Flights with a new route were also considered too dangerous, due to the flight length of 14-16 hours, which was the range limit for the Halifax and Liberators. In order to be able to continue flights to Poland, a decision was taken to move the base of aircraft from Great Britain to the Mediterranean, from where it was closer and theoretically safer. The matter of establishing a base in this area was considered in the first half of 1943 before the Allies landing on Sicily. It was assumed then that it would be possible to run flights to Poland from the north and south, which gave the opportunity to reach every corner of Poland. Initially, it was proposed to establish a base in the territory of Africa, in the area of the SOE branch in Cairo. Ultimately, it was decided that it would temporarily be located in Tunis, from where it would be transferred to the Italian territories captured by the Allied forces. Even before the southern route opened, in December 1943, the British definitely closed the northern route. At the beginning of November 1943, the Polish squadron was excluded from the composition of the 138th Squadron and as an independent 1586. Special Duty Flight transferred to 334. Special Duty Wing, operating on the Baltic, northern Italy and southern France. At the beginning the 1586. Squadron took off from the Regia Aeronautica airport in Sidi Amor in Tunis. After a month of unfavorable weather, airplanes made 15/16 and 18/19 December operational flights to Poland. The squadron was transferred to the Campo Cassale airfield near Brindisi, which turned out to be unsuitable for long-range airplanes. It had two runways, but due to its short length one was not suitable for the Liberators or the Halifaxes. For the side wind susceptible Halifax airplanes the use of only one lane was dangerous in unfavorable wind conditions. Earlier a British planes from the 138th squadron stationed there had abandoned the airport. At the beginning of December the British squadron was directed to Brindisi with the task of supporting the efforts of the 1586th squadron’s flights to Poland. Unfortunately, when the 1586th squadron pulled up at Campo Cassale, there were already no English there. In February 1944, the 1586th squadron was temporarily extended to 18 air-crafts and 16 crews, with reservation that only Polish crews were to fly over Poland. The squadron was given ownership of 12 machines, the missing 6 were to be borrowed from the 148th Wing of the British Wing No. 334. The problem, however, was to complement the crews in the Polish squadron, but over time a satisfactory solution was achieved. Polish and British commanders agreed that during the unfavorable weather conditions on the route to Poland Poles would fly over to the Balkans and northern Italy, and in exchange the British would fly their crews over Poland. Well-arranged cooperation led to the situation in the spring season, when the weather was better, that the number of aircrafts directed to Poland reached 20 during one night. The situation changed when atmospheric conditions became almost fatal, and flights to Poland were still sporadically attempted. The tragic consequence of these attempts were crashes of two Liberators and the death of both crews during a landing in a strong storm while returning from the operation. 2 Halifax and one Liberator needed repairs, so again the squadron had only one working Halifax. At the end of March 1944 flights could be intensified again. This resulted from weather improvements and ineffective air defense of the enemy. The flight break caused by short nights also dropped considerably, from 5 months on northern routes to only one month in June, on new routes. Shortening of the route allowed to reduce fuel consumption, so planes could take off with more equipment on.

In February 1944, Air Ministry agreed to a flight to Poland connected with the landing of the aircraft. The landing was to take place at a conspiracy airfield. A US twin-engine Douglas Dakota C47 was selected as the plane to this mission. After several shifts of the deadline, finally in April, May and July 1944, each month one operation of this type was carried out, which went down in history under the code name „Most” (Bridge). All the operations were successful, the crews provided people and supplies, at the same time taking the indicated persons and intelligence materials, including fragments of the German V2 missile. The situation worsened in the summer of 1944. The approaching front caused Germany to strengthened its anti-aircraft defense in the regions of Budapest-Vienna and Kraków-Tarnów. Radiolocation devices and night fighters appeared.

On July 25, the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Army, GEN Bor-Komorowski, sent a message to the Polish government in London, in which he confirmed his readiness to start an uprising in the capital, at the same time asking for the Polish Parachute Brigade, which he believed would have enormous political and tactical significance. GEN Komorowski also called for bombing of German airports near Warsaw, which would facilitate gaining an advantage over Germany. At the same time, however, the Supreme Commander GEN Sosnkowski visited the 2nd Corps in Italy, which was not conducive to quick decision-making in this matter. On July 27, 1944, it was known that mass support of British aviation was impossible, while at the outbreak of the Uprising, the Polish squadron was unprepared for immediate support of the Warsaw insurgents. In addition, due to the summer period, some pilots were sent to rest in Great Britain. Only on the night of August 4 to 5, the squadron supported by the British crews from the 148th squadron made the first drop for the uprising Warsaw. From that night until mid-September the squadron was taking discharges to Warsaw and Kampinos Forest, while suffering heavy losses from the fire of anti-aircraft artillery and night fighters. During the Uprising, more and more Polish crews arrived to Brindisi – at the end of August, 12 crews (mostly young and inexperienced) appeared, trained here on special flights. The British assigned 2 squadrons of Liberators, when it turned out that the efforts of the 1586th Squadron and 148th Squadron were not enough. These were: the British RAF 178 Squadron and the South African 31st SAAF Squadron, both of 205 Bomb Group. Squadrons from the 205th Bomb Group flew for the first time to Warsaw on the night of 13 to 14 August. For flights to the capital of Poland, they took off dozens of times, at the same time suffering heavy losses. After the fall of the Warsaw Uprising, they started six more times to fly over Poland, but managed to make only one dump. Since all efforts so far have been insufficient, the Polish authorities have asked the US government to carry out day-time mass dumping operations. The US Air Force agreed and assigned a 3rd Bomber Division of the 8th US Air Fleet. The expedition was ready already on September 12 and took off on September 15, but due to the bad weather it had to turn back. The second start took place on September 18 and the expedition of 107 American planes reached the fighting Warsaw without any major problems. The whole operation was code-named „Frantic 7”. The second expedition, this time the 72 B-17 was ready to take off on September 26, but it did not come to fruition due to the USSR’s refusal allow the use of the airfields in areas occupied by the Red Army.

Losses incurred by the Polish and Allied air forces during the uprising were disproportionately high for the effects achieved. This led to repeated stoppages of flights to Warsaw by the British command, which each time met sharp reactions from the Polish command, pushing for continuation and even increase of air aid for the fighting capital. Eventually, on September 21, 1944, the final ban on flying was issued and no Polish interventions were successful.

On September 14, 1944, General Sosnkowski gave the 1586th Squadron the honorable name of the 301th Squadron of the Pomeranian Region – Defenders of Warsaw. On November 7 this year Air Ministry approved the squadron size of 18 aircraft and 24 crews and restored the old RAF squadron number: 301. On the night of December 28th, 1944, 301 Squadron made the last drop of supplies over Poland. On February 28, 1945, the squadron was moved to transport aviation. Air support for the Polish resistance movement initiated on the night of February 15 to 16, 1941 and lasting until December 29, 1944 resulted in: 858 aircraft takeoffs, of which 483 performed their task. Polish crews participated in 241 flights, British and South Africans in 135, and American in 107. During air operations to Poland 70 air-crafts were lost, of which Polish losses amounted to 30 air-crafts and 112 airmen. 28 of them were sent to German captivity, 6 were saved by the Home Army and 78 were killed. It transferred by air 317 Cichociemni (one jumped twice), 29 political couriers (one jumped twice), one Hungarian and 4 Britons. Around 670 tons of equipment were transported, of which 443 tons were picked up by the Home Army, along with significant financial resources, including about 35 million dollars and 19 million German marks. The Allied air force made 858 flights to Poland, losing 68 aircraft and their crews.

acek Gancarson