Ex Chief Pilot of Nordair. A real hero.

David Morton

Lifetime Supporter


In the Daily Telegraph today :

Kazimierz 'Paddy' Szrajer

Kazimierz “Paddy” Szrajer, who has died aged 92, played a key part in a nail-biting behind-the-lines mission to retrieve a captured rocket from the Nazi’s secret V-2 wonder-weapon programme.


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A V2 rocket Photo: ALAMY


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Kazimierz Szrajer

6:31PM GMT 05 Nov 2012

The rocket had failed on a test firing and had come down in a remote marsh area in Poland. But before the Germans discovered its location, it was retrieved by members of the Polish Home Army. The trophy was taken at a time when Allied intelligence knew of the existence of very advanced Nazi weapons, but had few details. So when the Poles 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 the most important components.

An RAF Dakota based at Brindisi was fitted with extra fuel tanks so that it could fly to a rudimentary airstrip near the front line in southern Poland and collect the parts and some key personnel. But the RAF also required a Pole who could act as co-pilot and interpreter. Szrajer – one of the RAF’s most experienced special duties pilots – was selected for the operation, code-named Wildhorn III.

The outbound flight departed on July 25 1944, flying over Yugoslavia and Hungary to Tarow, 200 miles south of Warsaw, where the crew identified torch signals from the ground and landed on the airstrip, which proved to be very soft. The rocket components were loaded and five high-ranking passengers boarded the aircraft; but, as the crew attempted to taxi for take-off, the port wheel stuck in the mud. Everything had to be offloaded, and Szrajer organised the partisans of the ground party in an attempt to free the aircraft. The wheel track was stuffed with straw, but a second attempt to taxi also failed. Wooden boards were then laid in the trench, but to no avail.

Szrajer discussed the problem with those on the ground and decided that the parking brake must have locked on. To free the wheel, the hydraulic leads supplying the brake were cut but a further attempt to taxi failed. With dawn breaking, and the noise from the revving engines likely to attract uninvited guests, the partisans dug trenches under the aircraft’s main wheels.

The Dakota’s captain, New Zealander Flying Officer Culliford, made preparations to destroy all papers and secret equipment, and to burn the aircraft should the last attempt to move the aircraft fail. With both engines at full power, the Dakota started to move and it staggered into the air — just clearing a wood. However, the crew’s difficulties were not over. Because its hydraulic fluid had bled away, the undercarriage could not be retracted. The pilot’s report merely stated that the reservoir was recharged “with all available fluids” until sufficient pressure was obtained to permit the undercarriage to be pumped up by hand.

On arrival at Brindisi after a five-hour flight the aircraft had no brakes, and the two pilots had to land on an emergency runway before unloading their precious cargo. The commanding officer of the squadron praised the four-man crew for the “courage, determination and coolness with which they carried out what must be one of the outstanding and epic flights of the war by an unarmed transport aircraft”.
The valuable rocket components were later flown to England, where the Dakota crew were presented with gallantry medals by the Polish Government in Exile. Szrajer receiving the Cross of Valour.
Kazimierz Szrajer was born in Warsaw on December 30 1919 and began flying gliders when he was 16. When the Germans invaded his homeland, he joined many of his countrymen and made the exhausting journey to freedom through Hungary and Yugoslavia, finally arriving in England from France.
After training as a pilot he joined No 301 (Polish) Squadron in September 1941 to fly the Wellington bomber. Over the next months he flew 22 bombing operations against some of Germany’s most heavily-defended targets. Three times his bomber was damaged and he was forced to crash land on his return.
In May 1942 Szrajer was transferred to No 138 (Special Duties) Squadron, where a Polish Flight was being formed. From the airfield at Tempsford he flew his Halifax to many parts of Europe to drop supplies and agents to Resistance forces, conducting 13 missions to France, five to Norway and four to Poland.
On October 29 he took off for Warsaw. But on the return flight his aircraft was badly damaged by a German night fighter and Szrajer had to ditch his bomber in the North Sea. One dinghy was punctured, so the seven-man crew had to clamber aboard the one remaining. After a few hours in the sea, they were rescued by a launch.
At the end of his tour in July 1943, Szrajer was awarded the DFC and the Virtuti Militari, Poland’s highest award for gallantry.
In January 1944 Szrajer returned to operations when he joined No 1586 Flight at Brindisi. He flew many sorties to support Italian, Yugoslav and Greek partisans, and dropped agents and supplies over Poland on six occasions before his epic flight to retrieve the V-2 parts.
Following the Polish uprising in Warsaw, seven Halifax aircraft took off on the night of August 4/5 to drop the first supplies to the beleaguered city. Szrajer was the pilot of one of the aircraft; it was his 100th and final operation.
Towards the end of the war, Szrajer flew to the Far East to repatriate survivors from Japanese prisoner of war camps. He remained in the RAF flying transport aircraft until the end of 1948, when he embarked on a civilian flying career almost as adventurous as his wartime experiences.
He joined the Lancashire Aircraft Corporation and flew converted Halifax bombers. In July 1949 he flew to Schleswig in Germany and over the next few months flew 149 sorties ferrying supplies into Berlin during the Airlift.
In October 1955 he and his family left for Canada, where everyone knew him as “Paddy”. He flew supplies to the Arctic to support the construction of the Distant Early Warning Radar Chain (DEW Line) that stretched from Alaska to Greenland. Over the next few years he made long-range charter flights to destinations all over the world.
After the outbreak of civil war between Nigeria and the province of Biafra, he volunteered in 1969 for a Canadian charity, Canairelief, to take food to the starving millions. Flying a four-engine Lockheed Constellation, he flew by night to an airstrip on a converted stretch of the highway in the jungle at Uli in Biafra.
Szrajer later became the chief pilot of Nordair and converted to the Boeing 737 jet airliner. He was the captain of the airline’s longest-range charter when he flew to Guam in the Pacific to pick up refugees from Vietnam destined for Montreal. He flew his last flight on May 12 1981, having amassed more than 25,000 hours’ flying time. He retired to Barry Bay in Ontario.
Kazimierz “Paddy” Szrajer was predeceased by his wife Liliana, and is survived by their son and daughter.

Kazimierz “Paddy” Szrajer, born December 30 1919, died August 18 2012