The Corner

Warsaw and Yalta

From one reader:

Not quite true that no supplies got through [to Warsaw]. This from

Call after call for supplies to be flown in by the Russians went

unanswered. Frequent appeals made by Churchill were ignored by the

Russians. Allied aircraft could reach Warsaw, but the range was to great

for them to return to base. The Russians refused to allow Allied

aircraft to land in Russians occupied-territory, refuel and return. The

Russian betrayal of the Allies placed Churchill in a terrible dilemma.

He had given pledge to support the Polish partisans. The only air force

units who could help were those based in Italy and specifically the

heavy bombers of 2nd Bomber Wing at Foggia which were under South

African control.

Churchill, realising these proposed Warsaw raids would be almost

suicidal for the aircrews, could not order such missions, but he asked

for volunteers. Without doubt, the Polish aircrews of 205 Bomber Group

all volunteered, and they were not alone. The crews of two South African

squadrons volunteered. And so did crews in Royal Air Force squadrons.

Night after night, on twelve-hour round trips, the B24 Liberator bombers

took off and flew the 2720 km from Italy through some of the most

heavily-defended German night-fighter hotspots, to reach the battered

Polish capital. There they descended to rooftop height to escape the

probing searchlights and the heavy flak, and to drop the precious

supplies they carried.

Between 8 August and 22 September 1944, British and Polish air

squadrons, alongside 31 and 34 Squadrons of SAAF, dropped supplies to

beleaguered Polish partisans fighting againstoverhelming odds in the

city of Warsaw. A total of 181 sorties were attempted, with the loss of

31 B24 Liberator bomber aircraft. The loss rate of 40% (almost one man

in evry two) was phenomenal. It has been debated that the sheer heroism

shown by the aircrews in attempting to complete their missions, was

beyond equal. “

And from another:

Stalin [at last]… relented and allowed a single [American] supply run to Warsaw in mid-September, 1944. By that point, the Polish Home Army was on the verge of collapse (after holding most of the city early the previous month) and over 90% of the 1200+ supply canisters we dropped fell into German hands. British bombers flying from Italy had made several largely ineffective night drops earlier in the summer but suffered heavy losses on the long round-trip flights over German-held territory and were forced to give up the effort.

George Kennan later wrote in his memoirs that Moscow’s refusal to allow us to use existing bases to provide meaningful support to the Polish rebels was the moment when, “if ever, there should have been a full-fledged and realistic political showdown with Soviet leaders.” Whatever Kennan said, or didn’t say, later in his life, he was absolutely correct on this.


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