SAAF LIBERATOR'S DRAMATIC FLIGHT DURING WARSAW UPRISING (1944)
With Soviet forces approaching Warsaw, General Bor Komorowski, Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Home Army issued a proclamation on August 1st 1944, instructing the Home Army in the capital to rise up "against Poland's old enemy, the German invaders". The assault on the Germans began, but unfortunately no support was forthcoming from the Russian Army, which was only 13km distant from the centre of Warsaw. The Home Army sent out radio messages requesting assistance, since they were desperately short of ammunition and other supplies. The Allied command responded by arranging for a number of supply drops to be made, using Liberator aircraft, which were currently being operated by 31 Squadron, SA Air Force, from their base in Foggia, Italy.
The aircraft were loaded with huge containers instead of bombs, which were packed with arms, ammunition and Red Cross supplies. A total of 12 containers were loaded per aircraft.
On 13th August 1944, SAAF Liberator "K for King" took off from Foggia at approx 19h30 local time, and headed for their destination - Warsaw. Amongst the crew was
2nd Lieutenant Burgess 2nd Pilot
Their route took them over Northeastern Europe, passing between Vienna
and Budapest. Both cities were heavily defended to protect valuable war
As they approached the outskirts of the city, heavy anti-aircraft fire and searchlights followed their progress. One aircraft in from the "K" was hit and dived into the burning buildings below. Another plane's engines caught fire and then the plane blew up
As they approached the drop zone, they had reduced height to 500 feet, and with flaps down were flying at approx 140 miles per hour - at this height and speed they were "sitting ducks" for the German ground forces who threw everything they could at them - rockets, anti-aircraft guns, small arms fire etc.The the port outer engine was hit and stopped. The pilot, near the drop zone now, jettisoned his load of supplies, pulled back the control column and attempted to make height and get away from the hail of shells and bullets being aimed at the plane. He was badly shaken and as other reports of the radio and navigational instruments being shattered came in from the crew, he decided the time had come to bale out! So, he grabbed his parachute, opened the bomb bay doors and dropped away from the plane, leaving 2nd Lt Burgess and the remainder to fend for themselves Shocked and disbelieving, Burgess had to take over the controls and try to save the plane, which was diving headlong towards the ground. He managed to stop the dive and regained height to around 1000 feet, at which stage he asked the Navigator, Sleed, to come up to the cockpit to help him fly the plane. They were still being shot at and blinded by searchlights. Sleed arrived - pointed to the empty pilot seat and raised his eyebrows. Burgess told him what had happened to the pilot and the two of them called up the remaining crew on the intercom and made them aware of the situation. They were faced with a choice of parachuting out of the plane like the pilot had done, or remaining on board in an attempt to land safely somewhere. They all chose to stay with the plane. Later Bates relieved Sleed, so that he could attempt to sort out some sort of flight plan, Burgess suggested that their only hope was to head East towards Russia, but his main concerns were that of controlling the plane which was heavy to fly, so Sleed was able to assist him with the controls, and they were also very worried about their fuel load. The time was now approaching 03h00 as they weaved and climbed their way out of the danger area. The automatic fuel pumps were smashed to pieces, but Sleed managed to get the transfer of fuel going using hand pumps, and the main tanks were filled with enough fuel for a few more hours flying time. Suddenly, around 04h00 the plane lurched and started diving down at an alarming speed. Miraculously they managed to pull out of the dive and maintain level flight again.
By 04h30 dawn was breaking. They did not know whether they were over Russia, Lithuania or anywhere by 05h00 they could see huge fields stretching ahead and below them, and Burgess decided they must now make an attempt to land. The hydraulics controlling the landing gear had been shot away, so they had to "wind" the wheels down using hand-operated handles.
They had no brakes and no flaps to control the speed of the plane, by
05h30 the decision was made to land, and Bates was given the task of controlling
the throttles of the three remaining engines while Burgess lined the plane
up for landing. The crew strapped themselves in and Burgess managed to
land the plane safely in a very muddy field. All the crew got out as quickly
as they could. and destroyed confidential documents and equipment so that
these could not fall into the hands of the enemy. Shortly afterwards a
group of civilians and soldiers came running across the field
2nd Lt Burgess was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) "For outstanding courage cool-headedness and bravery. He was the most junior SAAF officer to receive this award.
Lt Sleed was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross; Sgt Bates the Distinguished
Flying Medal, and Sgts Appleyard, Cross , Lewis and Payne were also awarded.