Mustang Raid on Stavanger, September 1942

Discussion in 'Stories' started by Nick L, Jul 10, 2012.

  1. Nick L

    Nick L New Member

    Mar 27, 2010
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    "Perhaps this long range strike was prompted by… a pilot who was flying Mustangs with 309 Squadron"-from "P-51 Bomber Escort" by William Hess.

    The spools of tape in my memory bank start whirling and the old pictures reappear on the screen of my mind. Indeed, that is how it was.

    We were an Army Cooperation squadron, flying Lysanders in Scotland, and learning ourselves and teaching others to cooperate with the ground forces of the Scottish Command, which included units of the Polish Army. There was plenty of work, and thanks to our excellent mechanics we were able to fly more hours than any other squadron in the Army Cooperation Command. For the pilots the work was quite exacting, as apart from the actual piloting they had to shoot, bomb, photograph, navigate and also learn to send and receive coded messages by Morse.
    Nevertheless it was realised that Lysanders were completely unsuitable for these tasks in the circumstances of real war, and we hoped and prayed for re-equipment with faster and better armed planes. In this atmosphere tales were rife and scarcely a week passed without news of new and wonderful planes with which our squadron was about to be re-equipped.
    In the spring of 1942, I was asked by the Chief Pilot whether I would like to go on a course to fly Mustangs. Although my heart cried with joy I refused to volunteer, but said that certainly I would like to go if ordered.
    I must put in here a long aside about volunteering. We have a saying in Poland: "Volunteers perish", and when I was saying good-bye to my mother when leaving home for the war, almost her last words were (and she was an ardent patriot) "Do your duty, but do not volunteer."
    In 309 squadron, fed up with the phoney war in Scotland, two of the most experienced and excellent pilots, F/O Kornel Stefanus and F/O Bronek Baster asked to be transferred to bomber squadrons, which were at that time carrying out bombing missions over Europe. Their request was granted. Kornel was killed on the ground whilst still in an Operational Training Unit; during night flying an aircraft swung into a group of people at the end of the run and he was the only one killed. Bronek actually joined a bomber squadron but on his first operational flight he had to turn back because of engine trouble. The next day he was testing his aircraft after repairs and went into a dive which finished in the ground.

    Volunteering or not, I was sent on the course and found myself on the 14th of April 1942 in Old Sarum near Salisbury, together with Jerzy Golko - the first two pilots of our squadron, who were later to become flight commanders. After Lysanders, which had a fixed undercarriage, two-pitch propeller and automatic slots and flaps we had to learn the use of a retractible undercarriage, hydraulically operated flaps and a variable pitch propeller, with all their advantages and pitfalls. The intermediate aircraft was the two-seater Harvard, in which we were properly taught the cockpit drill by instructors before being allowed to fly solo. For Mustangs we used a nearby satellite airfield, as Old Sarum was too small for them. My first flight in a Mustang took place on the 30th of April and my first landing certainly put all kangaroos to shame.
    I must admit (quite shamelessly) that I fell in love with the Mustang straight away. Very quickly I learned its behaviour and reactions to the controls in the air, and I studied the written description of the aircraft with such meticulous attention that soon I knew more about its minor details than our instructors. At the first opportunity I paid a visit to the representatives of the makers, North American, in London and together with other information I got from them a little booklet giving the Mustang's fuel consumption for various levels of flight, air speeds and volumes of fuel in the tanks at the most economical setting of boost and revolutions. I found them fascinating.

    The course finished and we returned to our squadron which still flew Lysanders, but in the last week of May we were attached to the 26th squadron stationed then at Gatwick. They flew short reconnaissance and attack missions under the code name of "rhubarb" across the Channel to France and with them I made my first operational flight on the 27th of May 1942. The usual technique was to cross the Channel at wave top level in complete radio silence, attack any suitable target in the allotted area and return either at low level or taking advantage of cloud cover. The English coast was always crossed at 2000 ft. with the IFF (Identification, Friend or Foe, a magic box showing on radar screens the allegiance of the aircraft),
    switched on. In our case we stuck to the standard technique, flew to the Boulogne area and were reasonably lucky as regards the quality and quantity of our targets on road and rail. As a matter of interest this was also the only operational flight during the whole war from which I brought back a hole in my plane. In these circumstances it is impossible to be sure, but, from the position and direction of this hole it looked very probable that it was inflicted by my own No.3, (I was No.2), who followed me at tree top level and might have got a bit careless hedge-hopping and shooting at the same time. (Who said.:"Please God defend me from my friends and from my enemies I'll defend myself!"?)
    The booklet of the fuel consumption gave me no peace. I realised the potential operational range of the Mustang, started to study the maps in the Operations Room and came to the conclusion that the true range of the Mustang would make possible even operations from Scotland to Norway.

    In June we returned to our parent squadron in Scotland, gradually collected our new planes, retrained our pilots and after a few moves found ourselves as a detached flight on Dalcross aerodrome near Inverness. In the meantime I came to realise that while the form of the tables produced by North American might have been alright for flight planning on the ground, it certainly was not suitable for use in the air. For this a form of graph was necessary which would supply all information at a glance. Basically it had to indicate the settings of boost and revolutions for any required air speed and flight level which would result in the lowest usage of fuel and also show the resultant consumption.
    I should add here that my training in Civil Engineering, (in which I qualified before the war), conditioned me to the use and design of graphs. With a lot of thought and several trials the problem of packing all the necessary information in a reasonably small space in an easily understood fashion was solved, and, after two months
    of calculation and drawing in my own time, a graph was produced to a large scale in two parts, photographed in the squadron's photographic section and the curves on the prints coloured. The prints were then glued back to back, resulting in a single two-sided graph of a size that could be conveniently taken and read in the aircraft. This was tried out in our squadron and no difficulties were found in actual use (although there were no other civil engineers amongst us), and the resulting fuel saving was of the order of 20 to 30%.

    Being satisfied with the practical results I thought it worthwhile to allow other squadrons of the Army Cooperation Command to profit from my work and on the 24th of July I wrote a suitable letter to my Group (for passing it to the Command), enclosing the prints of my graph and explaining its use and obvious advantages. This letter was never answered. But as the period of waiting for an answer extended,so the idea crystalised in my mind that the only way to shake the authorities from their complacent slumber was to prove my theories in an operational flight of such a range that it would make them take note of the opportunities existing and not yet taken.

    I do not remember by now where I "scrounged" the navigational map of the area. It was a 1:1,000,000 Mercator projection plotting map used in Bomber Command. It had very few details, but this was the only map I could lay my hands on. Its study confirmed the feasibility of an operational flight over Norway from a base in Scotland and indicated that the most interesting target for a "rhubarb" was the Stavanger area.
    Whilst our daily training flights were being carried out I could not, of course, rebel and run away from my appointed tasks. But an opportunity arose when a big party was due to take place at our squadron’s headquarters at Dunino near St. Andrews and most of our pilots were flying there to attend. I volunteered to hold the fort and was left in charge of what was left of the flight. The hour of destiny had struck!

    The 26th of September was spent on frantic checking and rechecking of the basic planning, deciding on details and so on. Nevertheless I managed to attend an ENSA concert in the evening.
  2. Nick L

    Nick L New Member

    Mar 27, 2010
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    The 27th of September was my D-day.
    I saw clearly the following deficiencies in the situation and equipment:
    1. For operations against Stavanger, Peterhead was the natural base, Dalcross being almost 100 miles farther from the target.
    2. As mentioned before I did not have a detailed map of the target area, and therefore I knew neither of objects of special interest nor of those best left alone.
    3. I had no Norwegian money nor emergency rations, which could have been useful had I been shot down over enemy held territory.
    4. My "own" fully operational aircraft was at Dunino. The Mustang available at Dalcross had just passed a periodic inspection, but had:-
    no radio,
    no oxygen,
    no camera,
    only 0.3" machine guns fitted with ammunition,
    a badly, (if at all), compensated compass.
    5. The winds were generally from a westerly direction, whereas easterlies would have been more favourable.
    The forecasters stated that a "low" situated over Iceland was slow moving and creating a stationary situation with good, clear weather. Freezing was expected between 3000 and 6000 feet.

    The winds were given as follows:
    Height ft Direction degrees Velocity mph
    0 225 20
    2,000 - 6,000 220 35
    15,000 250 40
    My plan of the operation was as follows:
    Climb to 16,000 ft.
    Fly at that height to a point 100 miles distant from Norway.
    Gradually lose height down to sea level.
    Spend 20 minutes over the land attacking suitable targets at the speed of 280 mph.
    On return fly at sea level for 100 miles in the direction of Peterhead.
    Complete the flight over the sea at 2000 to 3000 ft height right to Peterhead.
    Land at Dalcross or, if short of fuel, at Peterhead.
    Using my graph for planning the fuel consumption I had prepared the following table:
    From To IAS
    mph Height
    x1000ft Track
    degrees MC
    degrees Distance
    miles GS
    mph Time
    mins Fuel used
    Dalcross 16,000ft 170 0-16 75 87 22 170 8 15
    16,000ft 100m. from Stavanger 225 16 75 87 248 264 52 23
    100m. from Stavanger Stavanger 200 0 75 89 100 217 28 12
    Stavanger Stavanger 280 0 90 280 20 22
    Stavanger Peterhead 200 2 250 256 298 170 105 41
    Total 758 213 113
    Fuel Left 27
    IAS - Indicated air speed
    MC - Magnetic course
    GS - Ground speed

    I asked the Operations Room for permission only for a navigational flight over the sea. After a certain amount of "argie-bargie" I obtained it with the distance limited to 200 miles from the coast and the time to 4 hours. Obviously they were uneasy about long range flying over the sea and permission to fly to Norway was out of the
    The precautions before the flight which I was able to take were severely limited, but I did the following:
    I left all documents, notes and money at the flight office,
    I entered in the flight order book "Rhubarb- Stavanger area" and left the navigational plan,
    I took with me matches to be able to burn the plane in case of being shot down,
    I took with me some bars of chocolate and first aid box.

    I took off at 10.05 hrs. At 10.11 I was on course and at 10.18 I had reached 16,000 ft. Estimated time of arrival (ETA) at Stavanger was 11.38. Observing the ground through intermittent cloud I noticed that I was drifting southwards, so after several tries I corrected the course to 0650M. I did not switch on the IFF.
    The flight at this level (without oxygen) was quite tiring. I felt cold and my eyes hurt. But I was lucky with the weather, which was simply beautiful. Blue skies, dark blue sea, visibility limited only by the curvature of the earth. At 10.40 the stratus cloud below me broke up and only a sparsely spaced cumulus remained. At 10.48 I changed over the tanks so that I would arrive at Stavanger with them evenly filled in case a shot holed one.
    At 11.10 I went into a very shallow dive and almost immediately felt better. I changed the course to 087°M and soon was low over the sea.
    The first indication of the proximity of land was a concentration of stratocumulus cloud visible at a distance of several miles. At 11.26 I noticed land on the horizon and soon I had my first fix. My course took me close to the island of Utsire and as this is the only island that far away from the mainland in this area, I was sure of my position. I realised that the correction applied to my course over Scotland was somewhat too large, so that my target, Stavanger, was to my right.
    I crossed the coast of the mainland near the village of Haugesund,(my second fix), at 11.38 and having increased the IAS to 280 mph turned southwards hedge-hopping. The roads were nearly empty. I shot up a car, two small lighthouses and a small camouflaged building that looked like some sort of observation post.
    Soon I arrived at Stavanger bay. At its northern entrance I noticed a gun emplacement, but it looked to me as if it were a dummy. In the bay were many islets and among them several fishing boats were visible. On the North side of the largest islet, however, three small ships were anchored, camouflaged in grey and flying a balloon - probably Flak ships. This was certainly not a target for 0.3" machine guns. To spoil their aim I started waving up and down, but in actual fact I did not observe any hostile action from them.
    The town of Stavanger is spread on the South side of the bay and I continued to fly South on its western side. In one place I noticed a small lorry and thought that perhaps it was being driven by a Norwegian. Imagine my anger as, just when I was passing it and it was too late to press an attack, a soldier in "feldgrau" jumped out of the cabin!
    Further on I saw a camouflaged small building too much to the left to shoot at and suddenly, after passing over a small ridge, an aerodrome right in front of me, a white barrier underneath me and on the right a larger camouflaged building which looked like an officers' mess with a few people in front of it. Not a single aircraft was visible on the ground and no other target offered itself for an attack, so I flew across the aerodrome hugging the ground.
    Suddenly I saw in front of me something that looked like a swarm of red bees, but which was in fact a liberal amount of tracer. I said to myself, "You'll have to try harder than that you old codgers," put my aircraft into a low tight turn and the swarm of bees disappeared.
    As the defences had obviously been alerted now, there was no future in lingering around, and still less in turning back. Flying ahead I noticed two aircraft with radial engines which apparently had just taken off from another aerodrome further South. Thinking that they had been scrambled to look for me I put on full boost and revs and gave chase, attempting to catch them unaware from underneath, but then they turned South, evidently uninterested in me, I turned west towards the sea, crossed the coast at 11.58 and set my course 2560M; ETA at Peterhead 13.43.
    When I looked back I saw several puffs of white smoke, but really miles behind - what a waste of ammunition! I kept at sea level continuously looking over my shoulders for a hundred miles, after which at 12.25 I climbed to a much more comfortable 2000 ft. The engine was not very happy on such a lean mixture, so I made it marginally richer. At 12.50 I changed over the tanks from right to left, estimating that the right one was virtually empty and not wishing to run any risks by flying on the right tank until the engine cut out.
    After all the excitement, the reaction must have set in. Suddenly I felt hungry, tired and even sleepy. I ate two bars of chocolate, but this relieved only the hunger. I was continually looking at my watch and I had the impression that time was standing still. The situation was not helped by the fact that the visibility had decreased so that not only the horizon but almost nothing at all was visible in a horizontal direction, and the cone of visibility was very narrow in a vertical direction. The impression was of being suspended in space, and instrument flying was the order of the day, but it required a certain amount of concentration which was difficult to sustain in my state.
  3. Nick L

    Nick L New Member

    Mar 27, 2010
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    In the meantime certain developments had taken place on the ground back in Scotland.
    First - the story goes - I fell off the plotting table, which was not what the Ops Room expected or desired. They telephoned the flight but nobody in authority was available. Then the station Commander was sent to the flight office where he found in the flight order book my entry "Rhubarb - Stavanger area". A measure of surprise, alarm and despondency developed, the despondency being caused by the fear that I was an enemy agent who had taken a Mustang to the Germans, or else that I had supplied them with some vital information. A flight of Spitfires was sent out to search for me, (some said to shoot me down), but needless to say in the poor visibility they had no·chance in spite of the fact that I had switched on my IFF a hundred miles from land and must have been clearly visible on every radar screen.
    At 13.40 I saw some ships sailing West, which indicated the proximity of land, and at 13.43 land itself, about a mile away. Please note the accuracy of my navigation: the ETA at Peterhead as calculated when leaving Stavanger was exactly 13.43! The only minor discrepancy was that this was not Peterhead, as the large Stathbeg lake was nowhere to be seen. I crossed the coastline and flew to the right along the sea and was immediately struck by the familiarity of the land underneath. The peculiar pentagonal shape of a wood next to a grass airfield made it a certainty; this was Dunino, my parent aerodrome! This meant that in fact I was out by 120 in my track and by almost 40 mph in my ground speed, and although the time of flight was as calculated, the distance covered was nearly 70 miles longer.
    At the moment of recognition, however, these thoughts, I must admit, never entered my head. I simply circled the airfield, applied rich mixture, changed to fine pitch, put my flaps and undercarriage down, and landed at 13.50.

    When I taxied to the refuelling point, switched off the engine and got out of the aircraft, a window of the headquarters barracks opened and the face of our S/Ldr Ops appeared, who shouted to me: "What the hell are you doing here?” I replied, "I have just returned from Stavanger". I got a dressing down on the spot, then was taken to our Wing Commander and got a second talking to. In the meantime I ordered a cable to be sent to Dalcross that I had landed at Dunino.
    The fact that I had landed at Dunino was a stroke of luck as the Wing put me under house arrest! Not unexpectedly I was outraged in my innocence, but being among sympathetic friends made my life more bearable. The house arrest was changed within a few days to an order limiting my movements to the confines of the airfield. My friends brought my things from Dalcross and my .22 rifle, so that I was able to spend my time shooting rabbits in the woods. I was released from all restrictions and returned to flying duties at Dalcross on the 5th of October, that is after eight day.

    First, however, I was told to write two reports, one general and the other navigational. This work took almost two days as it had to be done both in Polish and in English. In the navigational report I had to comment on my fuel consumption and I was glad to be able to state that the actual amount of fuel found in the tanks of my aircraft on landing at Dunino was 14 gallons, which still would given me another 35 minutes of flying and over 100 miles range. The 13 gallons discrepancy in fuel consumption from the calculated to the actual was attributable partly to the unforeseen flying for 5 minutes at full throttle in pursuit of the enemy fighters (which accounted for an extra 8 gallons) and partly to enriching the mixture on the return flight, which was probably responsible for the rest.
    The large navigational error on the return flight is not easy to explain. The 120 error in track direction might have been caused by the incorrectly compensated compass, but it is most unlikely that the air speed indicator was faulty, therefore the only probable explanation of the large error in ground speed is that the wind forecast was incorrect. A combination of these two causes is also possible.
    Taking everything into consideration it would appear that although from the point of inflicting damage on the enemy the mission was not a great success, certainly I managed to prove that Mustang I's operational range was around 400 miles over water.

    After returning to Dalcross I resumed my flying duties, but on the 19th of October I received a summons to a Court Martial. The charge was "Having received permission to fly 200 miles from the coast he flew to Stavanger" - quite undeniable. On the 20th of October I travelled by road to Dunino and then with my Wing Commander by night train to London, then on the next day to Bracknell, near which the Army Cooperation Command was billeted in a large and beautiful country house.
    Everybody including myself was a bit nervous.
    Just before the proceedings started I was advised by the Air Marshal's adjutant to reply, if at all possible, to the questions only with a "yes" or "no", because the Marshal liked it this way.
    The Air Officer Commanding (AOC) Army Cooperation Command was AVM Barratt, (Ugly Barratt to his friends), a short, stoutish, grey-haired man with bulging eyes. I was brought to his office without a hat, where he was sitting at the centre of the desk with two officers at his sides and more officers standing along the oak panelled walls, our liaison officer at the AC Command and my Wing Commander among them. Although I knew that the rule requiring the defendant to be without his hat was the result of an incident in the distant past in which somebody threw his hat at the Court President, I felt a bit downgraded.
    The proceedings developed roughly as follows:
    AVM: Have you received and read the charge ?
    Me : Yes Sir.
    AVM: Do you plead guilty or not guilty?

    Me : Guilty Sir.
    AVM: Do you wish to call any witnesses?
    Me : No Sir.
    AVM: Do you want to say any.thing in your defence?
    Me : No Sir.
    His eyes which were quite stern to begin with, but getting friendlier with each of my answers were almost smiling at the end of this questioning. He then read part of my,report,in/which I accused the RAF of "uneconomical methods of flying their aircraft" and then called a Technical Officer as a witness. The latter stated that in his opinion their tables gave similar results and that my graph was impractical. I replied that all none of our pilots had found any difficulty in using my graphs whilst flying.
    AVM: I give you a reproof. A reproof is not entered in your personal record. Go out now and return with your hat on.
    So I went out, collected my hat from the neighbouring room and walked in again. The AVM was now openly smiling, but I think that nobody was prepared for what we were about to hear. "Now I must congratulate you on a jolly good show" said the AVM, "I admire a man who does not avoid accepting responsibility for his actions. You can go now downstairs, ask the bar·to open and,have a drink on me since you fully deserve one.” He admonished me not to do it again, but my reply was rather non committal. (I should have realised then that if I had another idea about which I wrote to the Command, it would not be dismissed without an answer.)
    So I went down to the bar and had a sherry on the AVM. And suddenly my Wing Commander stopped being ashamed of me and started to introduce me proudly to the other brass in the Command as "the one who flew to Norway".

    Many months later, in May 1945, I was on my way from the Continent to this country on leave and at Croydon aerodrome, while waiting for further transport, got into a conversation with a Squadron Leader from another squadron. When I told him that I flew previously with the 309 Polish squadron he asked:"Was it not from your squadron that somebody flew to Stavanger ?" I replied "Yes - and that somebody was myself." "You know," he said, "when we read in the Ops report "One Mustang from 309(P) squadron, Rhubarb - Stavanger area" we started measuring on the map the distances involved and soon changed the targets of our operations from across the Channel to the Ruhr." Needless to say I was elated as this chance statement was the first indication that my effort was not in vain, and I had achieved what I had set out to do.

    I have learned recently from William Hess' book that the first attack by Mustangs on targets on the Dortmund-Ems canal in Germany had taken place in October 1942, that is only few weeks after my flight to Stavanger.

    Considering the disciplinary side, I was lucky having had in my AOC a reasonable and wise man, and who being a sportsman himself, probably appreciated the sporting side of my exploit. But even from the perspective of so many years I still feel that something was not quite right in the way I was treated, especially when one recollects that the ultimate cause of my action was not the lack of appreciation of my work, but the fundamental lack of manners on the side of the authorities, who had not even bothered to acknowledge a letter from a Flying Officer and still less to comment upon it.

    The old Austrian empire had a very high decoration, the "Order of Maria Teresa", which was awarded only to those servicemen who carried out
    a successful operation against the enemy contrary to an order or regulation. Good for the Austrians!

    written by Janusz Jozef Lewkowicz in the mid-1970s
  4. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

    Aug 24, 2008
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    Cheshire, UK
    Excellent! It's good to read the actual account of this operation, with all the facts. Thanks very much for posting Nick.
  5. Njaco

    Njaco The Pop-Tart Whisperer
    Staff Member Moderator

    Feb 19, 2007
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    Animal Control Officer
    Southern New Jersey
    Great story!

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