December 7, 2011

Secret Polish Forces of WW2: The "Silent & Dark Ones" PART II: MISSIONS Operation Most III


In Operation Most II, the Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa)  was instrumental in providing its' British allies with invaluable intelligence about the German V-2 Rocket (also known as the A-4).  The V-2 was a liquid-propelled rocket developed by Gemany - the ancestor to the long-range ballistic missile.  

The Nazi Germans tested their rockets at Peenemunde, in Germany near the Baltic sea coast). From the start the testing programme was plagued with a plethora of technical problems - rocket failures, explosions, unstable trajectories, premature engine cut-off and so on.  On June 13, 1944, one of the rockets exploded in an air-burst several thousand feet over a farm in the county of Backebo, in Sweden. There were no injuries. But thanks to the local residents the British were able to obtain the invaluable wreckage and attempt to reconstruct the V-2.

The combination of Polish Intelligence, the Oslo Report, and RAF photo reconnaissance prompted a meeting of the British Cabinet on June 29, 1943. In the ensuing debate, Professor Frederick Lindemann opposed the bombing at Peenemunde. He questioned the credibility of intelligence reports, and claimed that there was no evidence that the German V-2 rockets even existed. In the midst of counter-arguments, Churchill interceded, "Peenemunde is...beyond the range of our radio navigation beams and...we must bomb by moonlight, although the German night fighters will be close at hand and it is too far to send our own. Nevertheless, we must attack it on the heaviest possible scale." On July 15, 1943, the British Chiefs of Staff, Herbert Morrison, Lindemann, and Churchill devised the bombing plan to be conducted at the earliest opportunity.

The bombing run proceeded as planned. During the night of August 17-18, 1943 Operation Hydra Bombing went into action. The RAF dispatched its' squadrons for a massive allied air raid over Peenemunde Army Research Center and in a series of three waves of strategic bombings, attempted to destroy Germany's V-2 weapons programme. Though the Operation caused extensive damage, it was by no means a success. It caused only a temporary delay in German weapons testing by a period of seven weeks. In its' wake the allies suffered casualties amounting to 215 British RAF personnel killed, loss of 40 bombers, and hundreds of civilian deaths in nearby concentration Camp Trassenheide. German casualties were two V-2 rocket scientists.

Bomb Craters at Peenemunde- Operation Hydra

Though impressive the above photograph is deceptive. The Germans fabricated many of the bomb craters in an attempt to mislead Allied Command of the extent of damage actually inflicted. But the Allies were not without an ace up their sleeves. Several of the bombs had timers that were set to detonate up to three days later, severely hampering German salvage attempts. 

After Operation Hydra, the Germans moved their rocket production and testing to Blizna in southeastern Poland, and to Tuchola Forest (near the town of Tuchola in northern Poland).  The V-2 rockets were constructed at the Mittelwerk site using forced labor of inmates from the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp. It is estimated that approximately 20,000 prisoners from this Camp died, mostly from disease or starvation. From these, 9,000 perished from sheer exhaustion and 350 were hanged, including 200 of whom were executed for having conducted acts of sabotage in the manufacturing plant.

German V-2 Rocket

In 1943 the Intelligence Divison of Armia Krajowa was able to retrieve a few parts of German rockets that were being tested near Blizna and by April of 1944 more such parts became available to the Polish underground as German testing and misfiring of rockets increased in frequency.  Several rockets had fallen near the village of Sarnaki, in the vicinity of the Bug River (south of Siemiatycze) but before the Germans could find and retrieve the wreckage, members of the Armia Krajowa had quickly located and salvaged the parts. They were then shipped to secret labs in Warsaw where the rocket parts were analzyed by a specialized team headed by Professor Janusz Groszkowski, Marceli Struszynski, and Antoni Kocjan, among others.

Members of Armia Krajowa salvage parts of V-2 Rocket from Bug River

Janusz Groszkowski, Polish Scientist

Marceli Struszynski, Polish Scientist

Antoni Kocjan, Polish Intelligence Agent

In March 1944, British Intelligence received a report from an agent of the Armia Krajowa (Home Army) who had surveyed the Blizna railway line and noticed that it was heavily guarded by SS German soldiers. In plain sight was a freight car loaded by "an object which, though covered by a tarpaulin, bore every resemblance to a monstrous torpedo."

Impact sites of V-2 Rockets in Poland

The Polish Underground had hoped to obtain an undetonated V-2 rocket for further analysis. The opportunity arose on May 20, 1944, when a V-2 rocket fell on the swampy shores of the Bug River, near the village of Sarnaki. Remarkably, it was found to be relatively intact.  Local Polish villagers succeeded in hiding it from the Germans. The V-2 was successfully dismantled and smuggled across Poland and then by plane to London, England.

Operation Most II was carried out during the night of July 25-26, 1944. The RAF had dispatched a Dakota transport plane of the 267th Squadron from Brindisi, Italy to its destination at a remote AK outpost located near the village of Jadowniki Mokre, 60 kilometers (37 miles) east of Krakow. The passage was an extremely dangerous one as the presence of German troops in the nearby villages was considerable. When it came time to take off, the plane's landing gear sank in the marsh, risking the failure of the entire Operation. Fortunately, with the help of the partisans the plane was eventually able to take off and returned to Brindisi with the parts of the V-2 rocket.

Kazimierz Szrajer was the second pilot on the plane. Here is a first-hand account in his words:

"...These events took place in July 1944 toward the end of my operational tour on Halifaxes. I was with the 1586 Flight stationed at Brindisi, Italy. I was called by our squadron leader who informed me that I was assigned to the British crew of a Dakota for an assignment to Poland. We were to land there for a pickup. He advised me to be physically and morally prepared for this flight. I felt deeply honoured and for a next few days I was excited, impatiently waiting for my assignment.

Finally, in a morning of July 25th, I was informed that the flight would take place that night. The plane was to land at Brindisi to pick me up. I suddenly realized that I never flew that type of aircraft, and started be a little apprehensive. My commander assured me that I'll do just fine and that the British pilot would brief me about plane's systems and a take-off procedure. That exactly what happened. I took F/Lt Culliford, a New Zealander, about five minutes to introduce me to Dakota. After referring me to instruments, fuel and undercarriage system, he made a fully qualified co-pilot. Our plane had two extra tanks installed in the fuselage, what extended its range significantly and allowed us to stay airborne for at least 13 hours. Our crew consisted of: F/Lt S.C. Culliford (pilot), F/O K. Szrajer (co-pilot and translator), F/O J.P. Williams (navigator) and F/Sgt J. Appleby (wireless operator). It was to be my twentieth flight to the occupied Poland.

By pure luck, this mission was almost scrapped by the last minute, when unexpectedly, a day before the operation, the Germans set up an outpost with two FW190s fighters on the very strip designated for Dakota to land. Fortunately, they left the same day and Resistance was able to prepare everything on time.

We took off from Brindisi at 7:30 p.m. escorted by a Polish Liberator. It was mostly for our psychical comfort, since both planes were easy target for German fighters. On board we had some equipment and four passengers. Not only the common sense but also strict regulations prohibited us from knowing who they were. After the war I learned from different sources that our passengers were: Kazimierz Bilski, Jan Nowak, Leszek Starzynski and Boguslaw Wolniak. During crossing of the Yugoslavian coast nightfall came. Until that moment I had a radio contact with our escort, which took its own course. Ours led through Yugoslavia, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Over Hungary we saw AA in action, but far from us and apparently stimulated by somebody else. Our orientation point for landing was the outlet of the River Dunajec to the River Vistula. We reached it according to plan, right on time. Down there they waited for us, and after signals exchange, the lights appeared on four corners of the landing strip. Pilot made two attempts before putting down the plane. Right after we stopped I opened the door to established contact with the receiving party. I was welcomed by Wlodzimierz Gedymin who commanded on the ground. Our passengers left, the equipment was unloaded and took five new passengers. They were: T. Arciszewski, J. Retinger, J. Chmielewski, T. Chciuk and C. Micinski. Jerzy Chmielewski was in possession of the V-2 parts and written report on them. He was responsible for the watch on Blizna.

After only several minutes on the ground we got ready to take off. It turned out that the field was oozy. Our Dakota was stuck in the mud. I immediately realized my situation: I was on a Polish soil and I could join the Polish Resistance and in few days meet my family and friends. The Polish officer was asking me a lot of questions about certain people, Polish units, etc. while there was no time to waste. We franticly tried to free the aircraft, all in vain. We were running out of time and we discussed burning the plane. Finally, after an hour and five minutes on a ground, we succeeded and took off for home.

We still had a big problem on our hands. In our desperation to budge the aircraft we severed their hydraulic hoses to eliminate the possibility of the wheels' locked breaks. This prevented us from lifting up the undercarriage. Flying with the wheels down created a drag what threatened with running out of fuel before reaching our base. We filled the hydraulic tank with whatever fluid we could get: water, thermos tea, whatever. By the time we passed the Tatra Mountains we had the wheels up. Then I went to see to our passengers and instruct them about parachute harness in case of need. Back in the cockpit I took over the controls. It was a beautiful, starry and calm night and we all calmed down, calculating that after three hours of flight we'll back home and relatively safe. I reflected on the group of people we left in behind us, who already for five years fought with the hated occupant, and who put a lot of effort into the "Third Bridge". Our successful flight back to Allied territory with the parts of V-2 was their triumph..."

Douglas DC3 DAKOTA
 This type of the aircraft was taken to the air by Kazimierz Szrajer in the 'Third Bridge' operation to smuggled parts of German rocket V-2 from occupied Poland to the West in July 1944

By the end of the month the precious cargo was delivered to London. Kocjan Antoni was to have been part of the entourage and it was his intention of personally delivering the V-2 rocket and all its' documentation to British authorities. As fate would have it, Antoni and his wife were arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned at Pawiak. They were executed on August 13, 1944.

Documentation of V-2 Rocket drawn and submitted by Polish Underground

Among the participants of Operation Most III were Jerzy Chmielewski,  Jozef Retinger, Tomasz Arciszewski, Tadeusz Chciuk, and Czeslaw Micinski. The Captain was a Pole by the name  of K. Szrajer, and crew were also Poles; Kazimierz Bilski, Jan Nowak,  Leszek Starzynski, and Boguslaw Ryszard Wolniak. The plane's navigator was British.

Among the AK "Urban" group were Adam Gondek and Captain Wladyslaw Kabat ps."Brzechwa" , commander of the Motyl (Butterfly) landing security.  Other participants were
Kpr. Franciszek Nowak "Pomidor", Dr. Jan Deszcz "Wacek", Kpr. pchor. Wladyslaw Bysiek "Morena", Plut. Jozef Lupa "Czarny Sep", Ppor. Franciszek Kuczek "Deska", Por. Mieczyslaw Czech "Jurand", Por. Pawel Chwala "Skory", Ppor. Jan Gomola "Jawor".

PART II: MISSIONS  Operation Belt

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