06.02.1942 No. 300 Squadron Wellington IV Z1282 BH-F F/O. Kraciński
Operation:Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, Brest, France
Date: 6th February 1942
Unit: No. 300 Squadron (Polish)
Type: Wellington IV
Base: RAF Helmswell, Lincolnshire
Location: Blackhorse Gardens, Exeter
Pilot: F/O. Henryk M. Kraciński P-0159 Polish Air Force Age 28. Seriously injured. His injuries were so serious he did not return to active service. He retired from the Air Force in 1947 when 300 squadron disbanded and died on the 13th August 1998, aged 83.
Pilot 2: P/O. Wojciech Veit P-1630 / 783668 Polish Air Force Age 25. Killed
Obs: F/O. Jan Chomka P-1261 Polish Air Force Age 41. Seriously injured. His injuries were so serious he did not return to active service. He died on 19th January 1992, aged 91.
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Czesław Biały 792267 Polish Air Force Age 41. Killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Stefan Niczewski 784833 Polish Air Force Age 27. Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Zygfryd Błachowski 781526 Polish Air Force Age 28. Survived (1)
Update September 2017: Webmaster met with the daughters of the pilot at the Polish Memorial occasion at Northolt.
They confirm that the plaque is still in position and we have asked the Airport in Exeter if they are able to take a photograph for the page.
A plaque was placed at Exeter Airport by the pilot Henryk Kracinski in 1993 - does anyone live nearby and are able to take a photo for the family?
See end of page.
REASON FOR LOSS:
At approximately 17:15 hours on the evening of 6 February 1942 a force of nine Wellington bombers from 300 Squadron took off from RAF Hemswell in Lincolnshire. They were part of a main force totalling 57 Wellingtons and three Stirlings. One such aircraft was Z1282 BH-F (F-Freddie) from Hemswell flown by Flying Officer Henryk Kraciński. The targets were the German capital warships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, which were sheltering at the time in Brest harbour, France.
Above L-R: as described - see credits
The most obvious route for the 300 Squadron Wellingtons would have been to approach the target from the east via Cherbourg. Captain H M Kraciński and navigator Jan Chomka elected to avoid this route as they had already encountered heavy flak concentrations on previous missions and decided that an approach from the west Atlantic side along the Cornish peninsula was a safer option. A direct route from Cornwall over the occupied Channel Islands was ruled out, because of fighters based there.
After a long curving sweep over the Atlantic they began their run-in. While over the French coast they came under a heavy flak concentration and it was first thought by the crew that this unwanted attention was coming from the ships making good their escape. (This was not the case as the battleships did not leave until 12 February when they made their now historic daylight break from Brest heading eastwards up the English Channel towards the safety of German ports). It is almost certain that the heavy concentration came from either flak ships anchored out to sea, or from German naval units which were part of an escort assembling to protect the capital ships prior to their break-out.
The weather on that February night was appalling and as the Wellingtons passed through a marked frontal system over the target area the bombs were released and the aircraft headed for home. The crew of Z1282 were unaware that during the release of their bombs, a photoflash flare had failed to drop and remained hooked up in the bomb rack, this was almost certainly due to the flare release mechanism icing up during the aircraft's passage through the frontal system.
The bomb doors now closed, the crew were unaware of their potentially lethal passenger as they made their way home across the English channel towards the south-west of England. The pilot decided to drop below the bad weather belt in order to obtain a radio navigation fix from RAF Exeter before heading north-east back to Hemswell via Abingdon where another fix could be obtained should they need it.
The aircraft had for some time been flying through a warmer air mass causing the selection gear to thaw and become active. It was while over the south-west coast, as the pilot made a tight turn to get onto a bearing, that centrifugal force induced the aircraft to release the flare on to the closed bomb bay doors with disastrous consequences: it ignited and the explosion blew out the astrodome and tore away fabric as far back as the tail.
With air now passing through the exposed geodetic frame the captain was having to fight with the controls in order to keep the crippled bomber in the air. The crew did not want to ditch into the sea for risk of drowning, so they elected to make an emergency landing at RAF Exeter. The pilot, owing to the extreme difficulties, missed his first approach and while attempting to go round again the aircraft stalled and crashed in a two-acre garden narrowly missing houses in the tiny hamlet of Blackhorse Gardens.
Three of the crew were killed outright - the air gunner, the second pilot and the wireless operator. The pilot received serious facial injuries but despite this was able to climb out of the cockpit escape hatch unaided, and slide down the side of the aircraft. He was taken to the nearby cottage before going to hospital.
The navigator broke his left arm and hip and shattered his left knee. The rear gunner remained in his turret through the ordeal and fared better than the rest. After the crash he was able to walk away from the aircraft shocked but amazingly unscathed.
The wedding of F/O. Henryk M. Kraciński to Mary Regan in Blackpool on the 6th February 1943, exactly one year after this crash.
Note: I lived next door but one to the Regan family on Gorse Road in Blackpool. Please note that the spelling of Regan on the wedding photo is incorrect We always knew Mirek as Mirek not Hendryk. I am sure their Daughter Liz will confirm this. John Ogden, June 2020
Henryk and Mary had a son, Jan born in 1943 and a daughter Angela born in 1945. They then moved to Ireland and they had three more daughters Susan, born in 1960, Helen, born 1961 and Elizabeth born in 1963. Mary died just before Christmas in 2008.
Above: Polish section, Newark-Upon-Trent Cemetery (courtesy Laurence Goff)
P/O. Wojciech Veit. Newark-Upon-Trent Cemetery. Section O. Grave 307. Next of Kin Details currently unavailable. Born 16th May 1916. Kijowie, Ukraine.
Fl/Sgt. Czeslaw Bialy. Newark-Upon-Trent Cemetery. Section N. Grave 308. Next of Kin. Details currently unavailable. Born 19th June 1900. Warsaw, Poland. Fl/Sgt. Bialy was a holder of the Polish Cross of Valour and Bar.
Sgt. Stefan Niczewski. Polish War Cemetery, Newark. Section N. Grave 307. Next of Kin Details currently unavailable. Born 8yh August 1914. Kielcach, Poland
(1) Sgt. Zygfryd Blachowski. Although he survived this crash he later went missing - commemorated at the Polish War memorial Northolt. Returned to operations with 300 Squadron. At 2340 hrs on 4 September 1942, Wellington Z1320 BH-K flown by Sergeant L. Szychowiak took off to bomb Bremen, Zygfryd Blachowski was the assigned rear gunner. From the start, all contact was lost. The aircraft failed to return and was presumed to have crashed into the sea, and sadly, no trace of either the aircraft or crew was ever found. None of the crew members have no known graves, but are commemorated on the Polish Memorial at Northolt. Sgt Blachowski was the holder of the Polish Cross of Valour and three bars.
Left: The plaque at Exeter Airport - is it still there? Can you take an up to date photograph for us?
Researched for relatives of the crew with thanks to Liz Tattersall, daughter of the pilot Henryk M. Kraciński and also thanks to Adrian Leek who wrote this article and also assisted greatly in having a memorial plaque placed in Exeter Airport to honour the memory of the men who were serving with Polish 300 Wellington Bomber Squadron. At the same time, a second plaque was also unveiled to honour men of the three Polish fighter squadrons who served at the airport - then RAF Station, Exeter - 307, 308 and 317. Wing Commander Stanislaw Andrzejewski who commanded 307 squadron attended the ceremony with Henryk M. Kraciński. It was reported in the Express and Echo on Friday May 28th 1993. Not known if the plaque is still there! Perhaps a reader will verify and take an up to date picture for the website?
We would like to thank Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wojcik and Josef Zielinski for the use of some of these photographs. We highly recommend their publications regarding WW2 Polish Air Force and are happy to provide other researchers information where they can be purchased. Aircrew Remembered Archives.