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Captain Kazimierz Szrajer VM KW DFC

Captain Kazimierz Szrajer VM KW DFC
Born: 30th December 1919, Warsaw, Poland. Died August 18th 2012 Age 92

This is his incredible story as written by Mr. Brian Harris:
Kazimierz Szrajer – known to all those who met him as ‘Paddy’ – began by flying gliders in his native Poland at the age of 16 years. His parents banned him from pursuing this hobby after his brother – a Navigator was killed in a flying accident. Along with many of his countrymen he came to England at the beginning of the Second World War in order to fight for his country. During his wait to join one of the flying schools he worked as an instrument mechanic with 303 Squadron – Spitfires and Hurricanes.

‘Paddy’ (left) – having a flying career spanning more than forty years and 25,100 hours

He joined 15 EFTS – Elementary Flying Training School – at Carlisle and started training on Miles Magisters. He performed his first solo on Magister T9730 on April 27, 1941. By now he was a Pilot Officer and his next posting was to 3 SFTS at South Cerney for twin-engined conversion on Oxfords. After that on to 18 OTU at Bramcote, to be checked out on the Vickers Wellington.

His first posting to an operational unit came at the end of September 1941 with his arrival at 301 (Polish) Squadron at Hemswell flying Wellingtons. First operational trip was to Hamburg on October 26, 1941 in Wellington IV Z1253 carrying 5 × 500 pound bombs. Total flying time was 6 hours 45 minutes. Twenty-one operational bombing sorties then followed, to such places as Kiel, Emden, Cologne, Essen, Wilhelmshaven, Dusseldorf, Munster, Bremen and Le Havre. On January 6, 8, and 10th 1942, sorties were flown to Brest – carrying 6 × 500 pound bombs – against the battleships Gneisenau and Scharnhorst. However, little damage was inflicted on the two ships.

On April 4th, 1942 a seized engine in Wellington R1525 resulted in a crash landing north of London. On a raid to Dortmund on April 14, Paddy’s Wellington Z1468 was shot up and force landed at Coningsby, hitting a crane on landing. No injuries were received in either crash and an uneventful raid to Hamburg was carried out on April 17. Two raids on the Dornier factory at Rostock were flown on April 23 and 24. These were Iow level raids carrying incendiary bombs.

Paddy’s last flight with 301 (Polish) Squadron was on April 27th 1942 to Cologne carrying 1 × 1000 pound bomb and 5 × 500 pound bombs. Wellington Z1280 was attacked by a JU-88, the bombs had to be jettisoned and the Wellington crash landed at Helmswell. An eventful month!!

Paddy was then posted to 138 Squadron flying Handley Page Halifaxes and based at Tempsford. His first operation was to Orleans, France to drop agents. There followed a number of flights to Europe dropping agents and supplies for the resistance forces, including 13 to France, 5 to Norway,4 to Poland, 10 to North Africa. Also during this period were some special flights to Gibraltar, Malta and to Africa.

Paddy flew Halifax W7774 on a mission to bomb Gestapo Headquarters in Warsaw on October 29, 1942. A full moon foiled this attempt and the airport in Warsaw was bombed instead. Random bombing was not carried out due to the civilian population in Warsaw. On the way back the Halifax was attacked by a JU-88 over Denmark. Damage was serious enough to warrant a ditching in the North Sea. The first dinghy launched was found to have a bullet hole in it, however the spare one was utilised. After two hours in the dinghy, the crew was picked up by a rescue launch, very little the worse for wear. His tour of operation with 138 Squadron ended in February 1943 with the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Many years later, Paddy met a former member of 138 Squadron who is also now living in Canada. They were in the Squadron at the same time, although they did not know each other. Upon comparing logbooks, Paddy discovered that the other pilot had been sent from Tempsford to a station on the coast to await a potential rescue mission for one of his Squadron in case the Halifax came down in the sea too far from the coast for the rescue launches. It was Paddy’s aircraft that he was waiting for!

At this point in time, Paddy took some time off in order to continue his studies and his return to flying came in January 1944, with his posting to 1586 Flight in Brindisi, Italy, once again flying Halifaxes. Again, the dropping and retrieving of agents was a speciality of 1586 Flight. Sorties included thirteen within Italy, five to Greece and various missions to Poland and Yugoslavia.On June 25, 1944 a very special mission was flown to Poland. A V-2 rocket on a test flight crash landed in Poland and was hidden by the Polish Underground before the Germans knew where it had landed. At this time, Allied Intelligence in London knew of the existence of very advanced weapons but only had scanty knowledge of exactly what they were. When the Polish Underground contacted London to let them know that they had a virtually complete V-2 rocket disassembled and hidden away, immediate steps were taken to retrieve important parts.

A C47 was dispatched from Brindisi to in Doland. The crew comprised Fl/Lt. Culliford (a New Zealander), Navigator F/O. Williams and Radio Operator Fl/Sgt. Appleby. Paddy was detailed to go on the mission as none of the crew spoke Polish. The code name for the mission was ‘ Underwriter’.

The airstrip chosen for this mission was near Tarnów in Southern Poland. It had only recently been abandoned by the Germans but as the fighting front was nearby, there was no way of knowing when they might be back. In addition to the bag containing parts of the V-2 gyroscopic system, there were to be five passengers, all of whom were important to the defence of Poland.

The award of his DFC at Tempsford (courtesy Franek Grabowski and Adam Jackowski)

Once the engines were started it was discovered that the C47 was stuck in the mud. Everything was offloaded, trenches dug in front of the wheels and then the trenches were filled with straw. Passengers and cargo were re-loaded, the engines were re-started but to no avail – the C47 would still not move. This time wooden boards were laid in front of the wheels. It was also believed that the brakes had jammed so the hydraulic lines were cut with a penknife. This time take off was successful. Had take off been impossible, regulations required the crew to set fire to the aircraft – not a pleasant prospect with the enemy so close by. A total of one hour and six hair-raising minutes were spent on the ground and dawn was approaching rapidly when the C47 eventually got airborne.

After take off the gear would not retract due to the hydraulic lines having been cut. Various liquids that were on board were poured into the hydraulic system in order to keep it functioning so as to make a safe returning landing at Brindisi. This was successful and the trip took 4.55 from Brindisi and 4.15 for the return journey. This fantastic trip is recorded in the book ‘Hitler’s Last Weapons’ by Jozef Garlinski.

In March 1945 Paddy joined 45 (Uganda) Squadron based at Stoney Cross flying Short Stirlings for Transport Command. Regular trips were flown to Lydda, Castel Benito, Karachi and other points in India. After the Japanese surrender numerous flights were made from the Far East bringing home survivors from Japanese prisoner of war camps.

One of Paddy’s first officers during this period was Brian Trubshaw, later to gain fame as test pilot of the Concorde. Later a move was made to 51 Squadron at Stradishall for conversion to Avro Yorks. After conversion to the York, Paddy was posted to 242 Squadron at Oakington in August 1946. Regular flights were conducted to Singapore and back – a trip lasting eleven days and encompassing some ninety hours of flying. It was on these trips to Singapore that the nickname of Paddy was acquired.

In January 1948 came a further posting, this time to 40 Squadron at Abingdon, again flying Yorks. As with 242 Squadron most of the flying was to the Far East. Paddy’s final flight with the Royal Air Force was on November 11, 1948 doing local training on York PE102. 40 Squadron was then involved in the Berlin Airlift, but due to his Polish nationality, Paddy was unable to partake as a member of RAF Paddy had reached the rank of Flight Lieutenant on his departure.

Paddy joined Lancashire Aircraft Corporation and the 3rd of January 1949 saw him doing local training at Bovingdon being checked out – again – on Halifaxes. On January 17 he ferried Halifax G-AKBI to Bovingdon from storage at Edzell in Scotland. This trip was carried out with only one crew member on board – Paddy.

On January 27 he ferried a Halifax from Bovingdon to Schleswig in Germany. Between that date and July 12, 1949 he completed 149 trips between Schleswig and Tegel (Berlin) flying Halifaxes on the Berlin Airlift. After that, life at Lancashire Aircraft Corporation quietened down somewhat. He spent the next few months doing some scheduled flights in Consuls, some pleasure flying at Blackpool in De Havilland Rapides and the occasional charter in Halifaxes.

In November 1949 Paddy joined Eagle Aviation and was back flying Yorks again. His first long distance flight with Eagle covered the period from March 17 to April 22 1950. This was a trip from Bovingdon to Johannesburg carrying a complete television station for demonstration to the South African Government. York G-AGNY was utilised for this flight. On July 6, 1950 Paddy departed Teheran – again in York G-AGNY – ostensibly for Nicosia, but landed illegally at Lydda. The crew were interned in Israel for five days for this!

Halifax GR-L flown by Paddy (courtesy Wikipedia)

A ship’s propellor shaft was flown from Bovingdon to Mauritius via Amsterdam, Rome, El Adem, Khartoum, Entebbe, Dar Es Salaam and Tanarive in York G-AGNM between July 22 and 25 1950. Occasional DC3 flights carrying lobsters were performed during this time. September 1950 saw Paddy carrying Hadj pilgrims from Karachi to Jeddah, with a stop at Bahrein, in York G-AGNM. Paddy left Eagle Aviation in October 1950.

At that time there was a dearth of flying jobs available in Britain and Paddy went to Germany. He spent from July 1951 to November 1952 flying C47’s and C54’s on experimental work throughout Europe with 412 Technical Research Unit of the United States Air Force based at Frankfurt.

In February 1953 Paddy joined Air Charter in Hamburg and spent the next few months flying cargo from Hamburg to Berlin – in Yorks, G-AGNU, G-AGUT, G-AMRI and G-AMRJ. Air Charter commenced trooping flights from the U.K. in August 1954, mainly to Malta and Fayid. For the purposes of these flights the crews had to wear military uniforms, carry military identification cards and were all classed as ‘Flight Lieutenants’. After a short spell in June 1955 flying Yorks from Hanover to Berlin, Paddy left Air Charter on August 18, 1955.

Paddy and his family emigrated by ship to Canada where he joined Maritime Central Airways in October 1955. He began by flying Yorks CF-HIP, CF-HMU and CF-HMW from Mont Joli (Quebec) to Frobisher Bay (Northwest Territories). The Distant Early Warning Radar Chain (DEW line) was then under construction stretching from Alaska through northern Canada to Greenland. Frobisher Bay was then a main base for shuttling equipment to the construction sites. Maritime Central, along with many other Canadian and American airlines was one of the major contractors. The Yorks were soon replaced by DC4’s, Paddy receiving his training during March 1956.

A number of landings on ice strips were later carried out. A major factor to be borne in mind when carrying out operations from ice strips is the thickness of the ice. One also hopes that the weather – ever unpredictable in the Arctic – will not close in and strand an aircraft on an ice strip – especially in the spring when the ice begins to melt ….

Between June 4 and 8 1956 a transatlantic route proving flight was undertaken by Paddy with DC4 CF-MCB. The routing was Montreal-Gander-Shannon-Heathrow-Schipol-Le Bourget-Prestwick-Keflavik-Moncton. On July 8 Paddy flew Maritime Central’s first transatlantic revenue flight with DC4 CF-MCD routing Mont Joli -Goose Bay-Prestwick-Heathrow-Keflavik-Goose Bay-Mont Joli. On the return to Canada CF-MCD carried a load of monkeys for medical research.

During the next few months a number of passenger charter flights were conducted across the Atlantic. The first flight carrying Hungarian refugees to Canada departed Mont Joli on December 4, 1956. Paddy departed at 1840 GMT on the 4th and flew to Gander, Shannon, Vienna, Prestwick, Keflavik and back to Goose Bay. The trip comprised 40.10 flying time and a duty time of 53.10! Such flights continued, along with normal charter flights, until the end of September 1957 when Paddy was laid off by Maritime Central.

Paddy with his wife Liliana on a skiing trip (courtesy Franek Grabowski and Adam Jackowski)

During November of that year, Paddy flew York CF-HAS of Transair from Churchill (Manitoba) to the various DEW line sites on re-supply missions. This he did on a free-lance basis. In March 1958 Paddy joined Nordair, then a subsidiary of Maritime Central. Nordair had just begun operating DC4’s to the DEW line and were operating scheduled services to northern Quebec. DC3’s and C46’s were also in use.

On August 29, 1961 Nordair inaugurated a service from Montreal to Sarnia (Ontario) with stops at various cities in Southern Ontario. DC3 equipment was used. Two Handley Page Dart Heralds were ordered for this service. During December 1961 Paddy was in England for training on the Dart Herald. Training was conducted at Woodley and Gatwick in G-APWB. On February 14, 1962 Paddy departed Radlett in Dart Herald CF-NAC and routed to Gatwick, Prestwick, Keflavik, Frobisher Bay and on to Montreal. The longest leg was from Keflavik to Frobisher Bay in 7.15.

The second aircraft CF-NAF was delivered four weeks later. Paddy trained all the Nordair crews in Montreal for the Dart Herald. Unfortunately the route was uneconomic and the two aircraft were sold to Eastern Provincial Airways in August 1962.

Nordair leased DC7C CF-NAI from Liberty Air in the U.S.A. on May 20, 1964. Training commenced on June 2 in Montreal. Only two crews were checked out on the DC7C. Paddy’s first flight left Montreal on June 23 to Vienna (13.25), ferried to Amsterdam and then back to Montreal (13.00). Canadian airline regulations at that time did not allow leased aircraft to be used on domestic flights so the DC7C was only utilised on overseas charter flights. Not having a cargo door, it would not have been too efficient on the Northern flights as cargo makes up the bulk of the load. Other cities visited by CF-NAI during the summer of 1964 were Calgary, Keflavik, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Paris and Zagreb.

Nordair purchased DC6A CF-NAB in December 1963 and this was placed into service on the Arctic flights as well as transatlantic charters. Paddy did very little flying on the DC6A due to the above mentioned fact that he comprised 50% of the captains on the DC7C! However on July 9, 1964 he completed three hours local training on CF-NAB in Montreal. Two days later he completed a trip from Montreal to Nassau and Montego Bay. His only other DC6A flight was on August 25 from Montreal to Frobisher Bay and return.

Douglas DC-8 C-GNDA at Montreal 1975 (courtesy Piergiuliano Chesi)

The summer transatlantic charter season being over, the DC6A continued its flights to the Arctic and the DC7C commenced charter flights to the Caribbean. On October 31, Paddy flew CF-NAI from Montreal to Montego Bay and back. One week later a round trip to the same destination from and to Toronto was completed. On November 21, some unwanted excitement marred the flight from Montreal to Montego Bay. An engine fire caused an en-route emergency landing at Washington/Dulles. The flight later continued to Montego Bay and then back to Montreal without further incident. Paddy flew Nordair’s last trip with the DC7C on December 14 routing Toronto/Freeport/West Palm Beach/Freeport/Toronto. After this flight, the aircraft was returned to Liberty Air.

Nordair had been looking for a long rangę aircraft on which to standardise. A cargo door was a necessity due to the requirement for scheduled services to the Arctic. The Lockheed L1049H Super Constelation was chosen by virtue of the fact that four were available at almost give-away prices. They were purchased from International Aviation of Miami and had previously been operated by National Airlines. They had been in open storage at Miami for almost two years, but they had the advantage of being a matched fleet. The first, CF-NAJ, was ferried to Montreal on December 6, 1964. Paddy ferried the fourth one, CF-NAM, on December 20. He flew under supervision as he had not yet been endorsed on the aircraft – the ferry flight was part of his training! With the arrival of the Super Constellations, the DC6A CF-NAB was sold to Aaxico Airlines in mid-December.

Crew training was carried out during December 1964 and January 1965 and the first one entered revenue service the following month. Arctic services by this time had been extended north of Frobisher Bay to Hall Beach and Resolute Bay, both north of the Arctic Circle. On March 18, 1965, an unusual flight left Montreal with Paddy in Command of L1049H CF-NAL. Canadair chartered the aircraft for a month long tour of South America to demonstrate the CL-41 Tutor. This was carried aboard along with the necessary personnel and spares. Ports of cali were Caracas, Maracaibo, Bogota, Quito, Guayquil, Lima and Las Palmas (Peru).

Paddy in the cockpit of a Nordair aircraft (courtesy Franek Grabowski and Adam Jackowski)

With the advent of the summer season, transatlantic charters began again. Only three Super Constellations were required for the charter and scheduled flights and CF-NAM remained stored at Dorval still in National Airlines markings. World Wide Airways was also based in Montreal and utilised three Super Constellations – two owned and one leased – exclusively on charter flights. In August 1965, the company was declared bankrupt and the Canadian Government asked Nordair to carry out World Wide’s commitments. A dramatic increase in transatlantic charters happened overnight and arrangements had to be made to transfer the lease of CF-WWH to Nordair.

On one of its first visits to Gatwick, CF-WWH – still in World Wide colours but with Nordair titles – was seized by the handling company for non-payment of World Wide’s debts. Paddy was in command of this flight and spent a couple of days at the Canadian Embassy in London attempting to sort the problem out.

Hindsight shows that CF-WWH should probably have been re-registered to have avoided this problem. Witness the re-registration of the Court Lind BAC111’s when they were taken over by other airlines flying to the same destinations after the Court Line collapse. More recently elements of the Laker fleet have been re-registered for use by other airlines for the same reason.

On October 7, 1965 Paddy ferried CF-WWH from Montreal to Burbank on the termination of its lease. By this point in his career, Paddy had become Nordair’s check pilot responsible for training and standards. Occasionally, due to a lull in the workload, Paddy would be back at the controls of a DC4, DC3 or C46. Interesting charters – mainly cargo – came along every now and then to break the routine of transatlantic charters in the summer, Caribbean charters in the winter and scheduled flights to the Arctic. One reason was that, other than Air Canada’s DC8 freighters, Nordair had the only large cargo aircraft in Canada.

Boeing 737-242C CF-NAB Montreal 1975 (courtesy Piergiuliano Chesi)

However the day of the piston was drawing to a close. The Super Constellation was no longer competitive on transatlantic charters and Nordair ordered a Boeing 727 with a cargo door. Three crews including Paddy went to Seattle for ground school. Unfortunately the order was cancelled and the training was for nothing. The Super Constellation was replaced on transatlantic charters after the 1967 season with a Convair 990 leased from Modern Air Transport for the 1968 season. No Nordair crews flew this aircraft and the company pulled out of the market due to economic considerations. New management at Nordair in 1967 decided that the Boeing 737 would be the new standard equipment.

Two were ordered, both with cargo doors and special equipment to enable them to operate from gravel airstrips, which were prevalent in Canada’s northland. Paddy took delivery of the first one, CF-NAB, and ferried it from Seattle to Montreal on November 28, 1968 in 4.50. It was introduced immediately on the routes to Fort Chimo and Frobisher Bay and later on charters to Florida and the Caribbean. The Northern service was extended to Hall Beach and Resolute Bay in March 1969. Paddy was in command of CF-NAB when, on March 19, it became the first jet airliner to land north of the Arctic Circle – at Hall Beach.

Meanwhile civil war had broken out between Nigeria and the breakaway province of Biafra. Various relief organisations and churches had organised an airlift into beleaguered Biafra to provide much needed food for the millions who were starving there. Amongst the church groups was Canairelief, a Canadian organisation who purchased L1049H CF-NAJ at the end of 1968. Aircrew and ground crew were mainly Nordair employees on leave of absence. As the organisation grew the other three Nordair Super Constellations were purchased. Paddy was one of the many Nordair staff who volunteered their services for Canairelief. He arrived in Sao Tome on October 2, 1969 on a Martinair DC8 from Amsterdam.

From here Canairelief flew the Super Constellations by night to the airstrip at Uli in Biafra. This airstrip was a converted stretch of highway in the jungle. All flying was done by night, with no navigation lights, as the Nigerian Air Force would attempt to shoot them down. Aircraft flying ammunition into Biafra also used Uli and the Nigerian Air Force did not bother to differentiate between aircraft carrying ammunition and those carrying food. Paddy completed 36 trips into Biafra, mainly on LI049H’ s CF-NAK and CF-NAL, before returning to Montreal at the end of October. The only untoward incident was being shot at by trigger happy Biafran’s at Uli one night, fortunately with no damage except to the crews’ nerves.

Last entry in his log book, flying a Boing 737 (courtesy Franek Grabowski and Adam Jackowski)

Upon return to Nordair, Paddy re-commenced flying Boeing 737’s in an ever-increasing charter programme to Florida, the Caribbean and now Mexico. Services to the North also increased, as did the fleet of Boeing 737’s. Nordair soon decided to return to the long rangę charter business and DC8 61CF C-GNDA was purchased from Trans International Airlines. Paddy was in command of the delivery flight from Oakland to Toronto on November 2, 1974. In addition to charter work, C-GNDA, being equipped with a cargo door, was ideal for flights to the North. Frobisher Bay was the only place that could handle an aircraft of this size and it performed quite a number of flights to this north outpost with both passengers and cargo.

Paddy was the captain on this aircraft’s farthest ranging charter for Nordair. This was a trip to Guam to pick up refugees from Vietnam destined for Montreal.

In October 1977 C-GNDA was leased to Overseas National Airways to carry Hadj pilgrims to Jeddah from Abidjan on behalf of Air Afrique. Paddy spent two months on this contract. One year later the aircraft was again leased to Air Afrique for the Hadj, also performing a few flights for Royal Air Maroc. Once again Paddy spent two months in Africa. At the end of this contract C-GNDA was sold to Evergreen International Airways and Nordair purchased two DC8-521s.

Paddy flew these on charters across the Atlantic and to various sun-spots in the South. Not being equipped with cargo doors they were not used on the scheduled services to Canada’s north. In October 1979, both were leased for the carriage of Hadj Pilgrims; this time from Tripoli to Jeddah on behalf of Libyan Arab Airlines. Once again Paddy was flying in Africa. Both aircraft were withdrawn from service in April 1980 as uneconomic.

Paddy now returned to flying the still-expanding Boeing 737 fleet. He flew his last flight with Nordair as captain of flight 504 from Frobisher Bay to Montreal on May 12, 1981 in Boeing 737 CF-NAB.

Kazimierz Szrajer was living in Barry’s Bay, Ontario, Canada. Married Liliana who predeceased him. They had two children, a daughter, Anna and a son, Stefan.

With many thanks indeed to Brian Harris for this information and the story of his amazing life. Thanks also to Franek Grabowski and Adam Jackowski for assistance with this and the great photographs.

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• Last Modified: 08 April 2018, 13:39 •