29/30.10.1942 No. 138 Squadron Halifax II W7773 NF-S Fl/Sgt. Franciszek Sobkowiak
Date: 29/30th October 1942 (Thursday/Friday)
Unit: No. 138 Squadron
Type: Halifax II
Base: RAF Tempsford
Location: Hellern, Refsland, Norway
Pilot: Fl/Sgt. Franciszek Sobkowiak 780420 PAF Age 28. Killed
Fl/Eng: W/O. Franciszek Zaremba 780216 PAF Age 28. Killed
Obs: F/O. Mariusz Wodzicki DFC. 76627 PAF Age 27. Killed
Air/Bmr: Sgt. Czeslaw Kozlowski 784220 PAF Age 33. Killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: F/O. Franciszek Pantkowski P-1571 PAF Age 24. Killed
Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Tadeusz Madejski 780189 PAF Age 24. Killed
Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Waclaw Zuk 793039 PAF Age 20. Killed
REASON FOR LOSS:
Took off from RAF Tempsford at around 17:00 hrs on special operation "Pliers" to drop arms to the Polish Land Army and also to dispatch 3 Polish agents. The plan was to make a diversionary bombing on the Gestapo H.Q in Warsaw, then to make the drops.
However they failed to locate the reception post near Opele Lubelskie and decided to turn back. After 10 hours in the air it is thought that Halifax W7773 was shot down over Norway in the Egersund area. All the crew were killed together with the 3 agents, Lt. Wieslaw Szpakowicz, Lt. Stanislaw Hencel and sub Lt. Jerzy Bichniewicz.
Above left to right: Fl/Sgt. Sobkowiak, W/O. Zaremba, F/O. Wodzicki D.F.C., Fl/Sgt. Madejski, F/O. Pantkowski and Fl/Sgt. Zuk (courtesy Matusiak, Wojcik, Zielinski)
2 other aircraft left Tempsford for similar tasks at around about the same time. Halifax NF-A (operation "Brace") also returned after failing to find the drop zone and after a record time in the air (14 hours, 15 minutes) landed at the first airfield with dry tanks after crossing the coast.
The third aircraft Halifax W7774 NF-T (operation "Wrench") decided not to bomb the Gestapo HQ as they considered the risk too great to locals and bombed Okęcie instead. On its return it was attacked by Night fighters over Denmark and damaged - the crew managed to bring the aircraft back but ditched off the Norfolk coast. All the crew survived due to the efforts of the W/Op. Fl/Sgt. Wasilewski who was awarded the D.F.M. for his coolness in continuing to send distress signals which resulted in all the crew being rescued within an hour.
The lifeboat "Foresters Centenary" from Sheringham was launched to make the rescue (shown below)
The Sheringham Lifeboat - Foresters Centenary, also known as the "Airmans Lifeboat" because of the number of ditched aircrew it rescued, both Allies and Luftwaffe - on station from 1936 - 1961
Halifax W7773 NF-S during photo shoot by "Flight Magazine" (courtesy "Flight")
Wreckage of W7773 (courtesy Krzysztof Galinski)
The mystery of the disappearance of the plane with the Polish crew are partly explained after the war. Halifax W7773 crashed at the foot of Norewskiej rocks, near the town of Egersund, between Helleren and Refsland. The explosion scattered debris of aircraft within a radius of several hundred metres, some rolled into a nearby lake.
Also lost were 3 'Agents' - Wieslaw Szpakowicz "Pak", Stanislaw Hencel "Pik". Jerzy Bichniewicz "Bleckitny" who we understand share the same collective grave.
Initially buried 4 km north West of Ogna before being moved to Oslo in 1953.
Fl/Sgt. Franciszek Sobkowiak. Oslo Western Civil Cemtery. Plot ll, Row B, Communal Grave 8.
W/O. Franciszek Zaremba. Oslo Western Civil Cemtery. Plot ll, Row B, Communal Grave 8.
F/O. Mariusz Wodzicki DFC. Oslo Western Civil Cemtery. Plot ll, Row B, Communal Grave 8.
Sgt. Czeslaw Kozlowski. Oslo Western Civil Cemtery. Plot ll, Row B, Communal Grave 8.
F/O. Franciszek Pantkowski. Oslo Western Civil Cemtery. Plot ll, Row B, Communal Grave 8.
Fl/Sgt. Tadeusz Madejski. Oslo Western Civil Cemtery. Plot ll, Row B, Communal Grave 8.
Fl/Sgt. Waclaw Zuk. Oslo Western Civil Cemtery. Plot ll, Row B, Communal Grave 8.
In memory of the crew and Polish agents who lost their lives. With thanks to Marek Przybylowicz for further information regarding burial, Jerzy B. Cynk - Polish Air Force at War for operation details also to Bill Chorley - "Bomber Command Losses" Vol. 2. We would also like to thank Robert Gretzyngier, Woitek Matusiak, Waldemar Wojcik and Josef Zielinski for the use of some crew photographs. We highly recommend their publications regarding the WW2 Polish Air Forces.