On this day, 28th August 1942, 56 emergency landings
Fifty six emergency landings on the night of 28th August 1942 left devastation that would lead to the approval for the new runway to be built. The Station Commander had already seen the increasing numbers of emergency landings increasing, with damaged aircraft of Bomber Command trying to make it to Manston in every kind on imaginable trouble. At the time, the airfield was comparatively limited for such landings, with many aircraft overshooting, adding to the damage to them, increasing casualties and also damaging the airfield and buildings. The undulating surface made matters worse, although Wing Commander Gleave had already pleaded for the construction of a really large runway with “lead in” lights, so far he had not been successful. The scene of carnage eventually led to the approval of the new runway.
The night began when an Armstrong Whitworth Whitley bomber crashed close to the airfield. The crew were uninjured by they were checked out in the sick quarters anyway. Further details or confirmation of this aircraft are yet to be found.
20:15hrs: The Northolt Polish Spitfire Wing, consisting of 302, 306, 308 and 317 Sqns started landing without warning in the gathering darkness, 45 aircraft in all.
Amongst the action and unnanounced arrivals, were a large number of movements by No.3 Squadron’s Hurricanes and No.23 Squadron Mosquitos.
23:59hrs: A Wellington IV Z-1460 – SM-N of No.305 (Polish) Squadron crash landed on the beginning of the flare path.
Crew: F/L Tadeusz Czolowsky – Pilot (RTD), Sgt Mieczyslaw Seredyn (783156) – Co-Pilot (RTD), Sgt Mieczylaw Cwiklinski (792914) – Wireless Operator/Gunner (POW), Sgt Stefan Piotr Rueger (794248) – Tail Gunner (KIA), Sgt Franciszek Kula – Front Gunner (P782693) – (Evaded), F/O Henryk Alexandrowicz (P/0240) – Navigator (POW).
They had been attacked on their way to Saarbrücken by three night fighters in succession before reaching the target, one of which was thought to have been shot down, and after the aircraft caught fire, the bombs were jettisoned. The tail gunner (Rueger) was killed in one of the attacks.
The Navigator (Alexandrowicz), Wireless Operator (Cwiklinski) and Front Gunner (Kula) baled out over enemy territory when it was thought the aircraft was unlikely to stay airborne. P/O Alexandrowicz, Sgt Cwiklinski and Sgt Kula parachuted down at Braine-l’Alleud. The wireless operator, Cwiklinski, fell in a schoolyard and apparently Alexandrowicz was wounded in a leg by a bullet. Sgt Cwiklinski and P/O Alexandrowicz were captured. Sgt Kula evaded and made it back to Britain by October.
The Pilot and Second Pilot brought the aircraft back to Manston after managing to put the fire out.
Joint citation for Fl/Lt. Czolowski with Sgt. M. Seredyn. Awarded the DFM:
“On the night of 28th August, 1942, Fl/Lt. Czolowski and Sgt. Seredyn were 1st and 2nd pilot respectively of a Wellington aircraft detailed to attack a target at Saarbrucken. When nearing the objective, flying at 18,000 feet, the Wellington was subjected to separate attacks by 2 fighters. The first attack was driven off leaving a trail of black smoke. During the second attack the rear gunner in the bomber was mortally wounded whilst the aircraft sustained severe damage and the fuselage filled with smoke from ignited incendiary bombs. Height had been lost to 5,000 feet and the undercarriage, bomb doors and flaps were hanging down and there were no lights. Fl/Lt. Czolowski jettisoned his bombs and ordered the crew to abandon the aircraft. Sgt. Seredyn volunteered to remain and after assisting others of the crew to abandon the aircraft succeeded in extinguishing the fires. Displaying superb airmanship Flight Lieutenant Czolowski continued the return journey and despite further difficulties which were encountered, returned to base where a crash landing was made successfully. Fl/Lt. Czolowski and Sgt. Seredyn displayed courage and fortitude worthy of high praise”.
00:30hrs on 29th August: A Wellington from No.101 Squadron landed, having failed to reach its target in Nuremberg it was desperately short of fuel.
01:50hrs: A Wellington from No.460 Squadron landed, also out of fuel. The pilot overshot the runway and the aircraft was totally wrecked, but the crew escaped without injury.
02:30hrs: Another Wellington, X3718/Q from No.115 Squadron landed due to experiencing a fuel shortage after bombing Saarbrücken.
Crew: P/O Richard David Owen (Captain), P/O F.H. Ellis (Navigator), Sgt W. Williams (Wireless Operator), Sgt J. Allan (Front Gunner), F/O S.J. Stephens (Rear Gunner).
X3718/Q piloted by P/O Owen would be lost on operations on 18/19th September and the crew lost without trace.
03:30hrs: One of the larger four-engined Short Sterlings landed from No.149 Squadron.
03:44hrs: A Sterling from No.214 Squadron landed with one unserviceable engine and another failing.
03:57hrs: another Sterling from No.15 Squadron landed.
04:00hrs: No.218 Sqn Short Sterling I N3717 HA-S crewed by F/Sgt B.C. Bull, Sgt I.A. Campbell, P/O J.C.F. Du Toit, Sgt. Pool, Sgt S.V. Reeves, Sgt. W.V. Richardson and Sgt. G.A. Wishart crash landed at Manston after taking off as one of six crews from Downham Market at 2050hrs for operations over Nuremberg.
They had diverted on their return to Manston due to a fuel shortage, but after being told to avoid the obstruction of the first Wellington (No.305 Polish Squadron) by keeping to the right of the main runway, when they were on final approach, their aircraft was illuminated by a chance light. With his night vision impaired, the pilot (Du Toit) landed too far to the right. The Stirling swept through a line of the Polish Wing Spitfires, destroying one Spitfire Mk.Vb (BM566) of No.317 Sqn which burst into flames and damaging many others. Wrestling with the controls, the pilot on only his second operation as captain, swept on into a dispersal bay already occupied by a Fleet Air Arm Fairey Albacore (X9112), ending in a tangle of metal.
The crew emerged uninjured but their aircraft was beyond repair and struck off charge. Despite the efforts of the station’s fire service and local fire fighters that had been called in, little could be done to save some of the Spitfires.
Shortly after 04:00hrs: No.7 Sqn Sterling I R9158 MG-E crewed by Sgt. D.H. Jones, Sgt. J.W. Mackie, Sgt. R.H. Middleton, F/Sgt H.F. Russell and Sgt. N. Vickers crash landed at Manston after taking off from Oakington at 2038hrs for mission over Nuremberg.
The aircraft landed short of fuel and with the engines cutting out. Again, trying to avoid the flare-path Wellington, they too landed too far to the right. They swept through a gap in the line of Spitfires, with medical officers, the Fire Party and others scattering out of his way. The aircraft hit a long wooden hut and cannoned into a Bellman hanger, damaging both considerably ending up against the wall of the station armoury. Two men who would normally be asleep in the hut were fortunately out working on the airfield amongst the chaos. The aircraft was classified as a Cat ‘E’ write-off and the accident later attributed to enigne failure and a shortage of fuel.
Many other airmen had lucky escapes and a flight Sergeant, who was co-ordinating on the airfield, claimed that he nearly had his head taken off by the wing of a Sterling and the Medical Officer (MO) had to run for his life to get out of the way of the aircraft.
04:15hrs: Another Wellington from No.101 Squadron landed.
04:30hrs: another Sterling from No.218 Squadron landed, the last aircraft of the night. It was so short of fuel it was unable to taxi completely after landing, due to the engines cutting out as it touched down and had to be towed off the runway.
Next morning, between 06:45hrs and 07:15hrs, what was left of the Polish Fighter Wing took off to return to Northolt.
The north-western corner of the airfield was littered with wrecked Wellingtons, Sterlings and others, including serviceable aircraft. Many had arrived from the parent airfields of the landed crews to collect and return them to their bases.
The airfield and many of its hangers and buildings were in a terrible state and Wing Commander Gleave walked amongst the chaos, ordering the scene of carnage to be photographed in every detail and sent along with a detailed report to Air Vice-Marshall Leigh-Mallory (AOC of Fighter Command) who immediately sent them on to the Air Ministry for immediate action. The photos are thought to include those in this post.
Finally approval was given in principle for the construction of the new runway, although it wouldn’t be until 1944 that it was completed.
The History of RAF Manston, FO W. Fraser RAF.
A Detailed History of RAF Manston 1941-1945, Joe Bamford, John Williams, Peter Gallagher.