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Intrepid Pilot Landed Behind German Lines To Rescue Polish Leaders

24 December 1921 - 12 September 2010

Flight Lieutenant Jacek (Jack) Blocki was one of only 65 pilots of Bomber Command to complete two Operational Tours during the Second World War. He was awarded the Virtuti Militari, Poland’s highest military award, the equivalent of the Victoria Cross.

jacek blocki

Jack escaped from Poland and the advancing German forces to the UK in 1939, enlisted in the Royal Air Force and trained to become a Bomber Command pilot. By 1941 aged 20, in the rank of sergeant, he was a senior pilot in 305 Polish Bomber Squadron flying Wellington Mk11’s, well into his first tour of operations and was nicknamed ‘Lucky Jack’. On his 11th operational mission to Saarbrucken in the German Ruhr, Jack’s Wellington ‘S’ for Sugar was severely damaged by anti-aircraft fire including the loss of one of its two engines. With 33 holes in the fuselage, nonexistent wing flaps, only one engine and with wounded crew Jack brought ‘S’ for Sugar home to RAF Lindholme. In 1942 he completed his first Operational Tour, was promoted Flight Sergeant, awarded the Virtuti Militari and rested as a flying instructor. During his first 1,000 hours of flying he clocked up 600 at night.

Early 1943 Jack was commissioned in the rank of Pilot Officer, converted to the American B24 Liberator bomber and commenced his second Operational Tour with 1586 Special Duty Flight based at Brindisi, Italy. The role of 1586 was highly classified; it primarily involved the parachuting of agents and materiel into German occupied Europe, including Poland. Practically all operations were at night, requiring precision low level flying through the Alps to the Baltic in the North and Balkan Mountains in the South.

By April 1944 Jack had completed a further 300 operational flying hours and near the end of his second tour when he was selected to participate in ‘Operation Butterfly’; the extraction of Polish government members from Poland. Jack, as second pilot and navigator, flew in a DC3 Dakota having had only one day’s familiarisation with the aircraft, from Bari in Italy to grass landing strip near Krakow, Poland. The landing strip was far behind German lines. In May 1944 the Soviets were nowhere near central Poland. On landing in the dark, Jack bundled the officials onboard grabbed a handful of Polish grass and with tracer illuminating the sky he assisted the Dakota captain with a particularly ‘hairy’ take off.

This was Operation Wildhorn II, called by the Polish side 'Most' (bridge). The codename of the landing ground at Zaborów near Tarnów was 'Motyl' (Butterfly). The mission was carried out on the night 29/30 May 1944 by Dakota KG477/V of 267 Squadron escorted part of the way by Polish Liberators GR*R and GR*S that were to drop supplies in the area of Lwów. Two passengers were delivered, General Tadeusz Kossakowski and S-Colonel Romuald Bielski. It took off six minutes later with three passengers, among them Colonel Roman Rudkowski chief of the AK air intelligence.

This was the final operation of his second Operational Tour. On return to the UK Jack, now a Flight Lieutenant, along with the Dakota captain Flight Lieutenant Jim O’Donovan was summoned to Headquarters Bomber Command to meet their passengers. In the company of the British Foreign Minister they were introduced to the Polish Government in London. Jim O’Donovan was awarded the Virtuti Militari, Jack having been previously awarded the medal was offered any posting of his choice. Knowing he was to be rested having completed his second Operational Tour Jack asked for the Ferry Command Service based in Canada. He spent the remaining few months of WW2 ferrying aircraft from Canada to the UK.

During his first Operational Tour Jack met, fell in love with the only lady in his life Hilda. They married between Operational Tours and their son, Michael, was born in 1945.

In 1947 Jack was granted a permanent commission in the rank of Flight Lieutenant and appointed Flight Commander of eight Anson aircraft at RAF Topcliffe, followed by command of 23 Group VIP Communication Flight at RAF Swinderby. In the early 50’s the RAF decided no aircrew over the age of 30 would fly in operational bomber squadrons, thereby at the age of 32 Jack decided to apply for ground specialisation and qualified as a high intensity Air Traffic Controller. Postings to Singapore and Malaya followed, returning to the UK in 1957. In 1968 and during the height of the Communist regime in Poland, Jack was informed of his elderly mother’s terminal illness. Accompanied by Hilda, he set off for Poland in their ‘Devonette’ campervan with the Union Flag flying from the wing mirror!

1970 saw Jack at RAF Ouston and the beginning of his love of offshore sailing. Attending night school at South Shields Marin Collage he qualified as Yacht Master, albeit with little practical experience, and a seed was sown. Jack’s final posting was to RAF Nicosia where in 1974 having obtained a loan against his impending service terminal gratuity he purchased a brand new 32 foot Bermudian sloop, named her Smoo-Cher after his boxer dog and planned to sail her from Plymouth to Larnaca. Having obtained his total annual leave of six weeks, Jack with Hilda as crew set off on the 22nd of February and having experienced Force 10 gales in the Bay of Biscay, stops at Gibraltar, Sicily and Greece they entered Larnaca Marina on the 10th of April.

In July 1974 Jack was stationed at RAF Nicosia with Hilda in married quarters when the Cyprus coup took place quickly followed by the Turkish invasion. Between strafing Turkish jets and Greek artillery Jack and Hilda took cover under their solid oak dining room table. Hilda was evacuated to the UK, Jack to RAF Akrotiri and with much concern; Smoo-Cher remained in Larnaca Marina. A lift was hitched on a helicopter and Smoo-Cher was sailed to the safety of Akrotiri Mole. Jack then wore the Blue Beret of the United Nations for a nine month unaccompanied tour whilst Hilda was in a Brize Norton married quarter. Hilda returned to Cyprus and on Christmas Eve 1976 Jack retired from the RAF, set about building their house in Erimi and sail the Mediterranean.

1976 also saw Jack join the Episkopi Hash House Harriers with which he completed a phenomenal one thousand five hundred and eighty five runs with one hundred and twenty two hares. We will never see the likes again.

Bomber Pilot, Ocean Yachtsman and Episkopi Hash House Harrier, Jack died on the 12th of September 2010, aged 88 years. Of the 125,000 who served with the Command during WW2 only 65 pilots completed two Operational Tours – Jack was one of them. He was awarded the Virtuti Militari. On completion of each of his Operational Tours both of his aircraft crews were lost whilst flying with other pilots. The Bomber Command Memorial was very dear to Jack.

Source: Episkopi Hash House Harriers

SY 2022-06-18

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