2 Oct 2022
Air Bridge Memorial Ceremony 25 September by Jim Seymour
I was honoured to represent the Polish Air Force Memorial Committee at the Air Bridge Remembrance Ceremony at the Commonwealth and Polish War Cemetery, Newark on Trent on Sunday 25 September. This service is held annually and commemorates the British, South African and Polish aircrews who flew missions in order to support the gallant Polish underground Home Army who had risen up against the Nazi occupying forces between August and October 1944.
The exploits of Polish aircrews in fighter and bomber squadrons are rightly celebrated, however the Warsaw Air Bridge operation is perhaps not as well known and deserves to take it's place amongst some of the most heroic efforts of the Second World War.
In order to maintain an essential flow of arms, ammunition, and medical supplies to the Polish Underground Home Army, 1568 Polish Special Duties Flight (later 301 Polish Bomber Squadron), based at Bari and Brindisi in Italy, commencing on 4 August flew missions using Halifax, Dakota and Liberator aircraft. These missions continued until 21 September and over 200 flights were made, with a terrible price being exacted. The aircraft had to fly round trips of 1,700 miles through areas strongly defended by enemy fighters. In order to drop accurately, the aircraft had to fly at low level, and at low speed, mainly at night thus presenting an easy target to enemy anti-aircraft gunners. Terrible losses were sustained, for example during the night of 4-5 August, 5 out of 7 aircraft were lost.
The Uprising was fought for 63 days with very little external support, it was the single largest military effort undertaken by any European resistance movement during the Second World War. The gallant efforts of the Polish Home Army were doomed to failure with an estimated 15,200 Poles killed and missing in action with another 5,000 wounded. A total of 41 aircraft were destroyed and 250 airmen from the RAF, South African Air Force and Polish Air Force were lost.
Pictured are the medals and decorations of Jim Auton, a sergeant navigator / bomb aimer with 178 Squadron RAF based in Italy in 1944. Jim participated in the Warsaw Air Bridge operation, most famously during the night of 13/14 August when he and the crew of Liberator KG873 spent over 45 minutes circling Warsaw in flames whilst coming under intense enemy fire - they would only turn for home when they were certain that their supplies could be dropped safely to the Polish resistance.
Jim never forgot the sights he had witnessed and, after the war founded the Warsaw Air Bridge Charity and personally designed the monument to his fallen comrades, which was erected in Newark cemetery in 1989.
For his work, he was described as a "true friend of Poland". Jim died, aged 95 in February 2020. He was awarded medals by six different countries and was one of the most highly decorated veterans of the Second World War.
Lest we forget "Za Wolnosc"
RAF Liberator over the Eastern Front. Author Jim Auton MBE. ISBN 978 1 84415 729 7. Publisher Pen & Sword.