He was born on 28th December 1910 near Wielun and was educated at Sosnowiec. In 1931 he was at the Infantry Officer school at Zambrow and later Torun. His fancy was for flying and, in 1932, he joined the Aviation Cadet School at Deblin; he graduated as a Second Lieutenant in August 1934 and was attached to 22 Squadron. He undertook pilot training at Deblin; the date is uncertain but probably 1934/35.
In 1936 he was suspended for six months and after this he was only allowed to fly as an observer. The reason for this is unknown but he appears to have been a bit of a rebel and he appears to have taken the controls of aircraft on occasions. It is thought that he struck, and killed, someone on the ground when coming in to land. This led to almost a year under an enquiry, during which time he appears to have been held in a military fortress. Following this disciplinary action, he was returned to 22 Squadron and transferred to an administrative role. Shortly afterwards he transferred to the reserves and became a civilian journalist in Krakow in May 1939.
He was mobilised immediately before the outbreak of war and subsequently escaped by air to Daugavpils in Latvia where he and his aircraft were interned. With about sixty others, he made an unsuccessful escape attempt from the camp at Liepaja in October 1939 before escaping by air from Riga to Stockholm in Sweden. He went on to London and then Paris and became an officer in the Polish section of L’Armee de l’Air in France.
On the capitulation of France he escaped across the Pyrenees through Spain to Gibraltar and there by sea to Liverpool, where he arrived on 5th August 1940 and joined the Polish Air Force in exile. Mysteriously, he ended up in an internment camp at Rothesay on the Isle of Bute (also known as the Isle of Snakes) – perhaps for some misdemeanour left over from pre-war Poland. He was there from August 1940 until June 1941.
After this he attended flying training schools at RAF Hucknall and RAF Newton ant then moved on to 18OTU, 305 Squadron and 138 (Special Duties) Squadron by March 1942. He flew with them until July 1944.
Boleslaw was a rebel with a cause; he was frequently in trouble with his superiors but he was a man with an incredible fighting spirit and unsurpassed courage. He undertook not one, but many, secret flights and clocked up nearly 580 hours flying Special Duties missions over enemy territory, even landing there on occasions.
Within about a month of joining 138 Squadron he took off, on 12th April 1943, from RAF Tempsford on the multiple operation Director 22, Reporter and Surgeon on Board Handley Page Halifax BB340 (NF-D). His mission was to deliver a British and a French agent into occupied France. On the outward journey they were hit by flak and he was forced to crash land at Douvres-la-Delivrande in Calvados, 12 kilometres north west of Caen.
In spite of the circumstances only one of the ten people on board was killed (by the flak that brought them down), four were captured and made Prisoners of War and Korpowski and two others evaded the Germans and made it back to England. He was assisted by the French Resistance and crossed the Pyrenees into Spain and on to Gibraltar from where he was flown back to England. This photograph (courtesy of Wojciech Zmyslony) shows the Germans inspecting the wreckage of Halifax BB340.
As for the two agents, they were quickly captured and Claude Jumeaux died in captivity but Lee Graham survived the war.
Almost exactly a year later, on 15th April 1943 he was the co-pilot on an SOE mission, Wildhorn I from Campo Casale airfield at Brindisi, Italy. This operation had been in the planning stage since 1942 but the Halifax was the only aircraft that had the range to reach Poland but it needed concrete runways of 1200 – 1400 yards length, which were not readily available to hostile aircraft visiting Poland!
Once bases were established in Southern Italy, the mission was possible because it could be achieved by shorter range aircraft which were capable of landing on grass runways. It was decided to use a Douglas Dakota FD919, borrowed from 267 Squadron. And so the mission flew over Lake Scutari (Albania/Montenegro) and the Tatra Mountains of Hungary where they climbed to avoid anti-aircraft fire.
On arrival at their destination, the village of Belzyce Matczyn close to Lublin, they switched on their lights and saw that they were coming in to land too fast and too close to a large barn for comfort; they pulled up sharply and made it with 25 yards to spare on the second attempt. They had landed in pitch darkness, on a beetroot field and had to keep the engines at full throttle to stop the Dakota from sinking in the soft ground.
With no time to waste, they discharged their SOE passengers: Capt Lopianowski (Code name Sarna) and Lt Kostuch (Code name Bryla) and their amazing cargo of US Dollars and fake ID books as well as despatches for the Armia Krajowa.
With equal haste, they picked up their return passengers and were back in the air within 15 minutes. This was a very special group who were to join the Polish Government in exile in
London. They were: General Stanislaw Tatar (aka Tabor or Turski) who was Deputy Chief of Staff of the Armia Krajowa; Lt Col Ryszard Dorotycz-Malewicz (Head of AK Courier Operations); Lt Andrzej Pomian (of the AK Department of Information and Propaganda); Zygmunt Berezowski (Nationalist Party Member) and Stanislaw Oltarzewski (a Government Delegation Member).
They had achieved the impossible in flying 800 miles into enemy territory in an unarmed aircraft, landing in the dead of night on a sodden beetroot field and making their escape. The mission was a complete success and the crew were rewarded by being to return to England with their passengers; a well earned spell of leave.
As a footnote to this, by the end of their time in 138 Squadron, the pilot (F/Lt EJ Harrod) and Boleslaw Korpowski were both recipients of the Virtuti Militari and the British Distinguished Flying Cross. It seems unlikely that either of them would be too concerned that British Civil Servants in Whitehall were upset because their passengers had travelled under false names on the aircraft manifest!
After July 1944 he served with another OTU, 304 and 301 Squadrons and stayed on after the war flying in Transport Squadrons of the RAF until his demobilisation on 17th March 1947. After the war he emigrated to Australia and was very active in Polish affairs and journalism until his death in Sydney on 24th June 1983.
During his military career he fought with distinction and was awarded the Silver Cross of the Order of Virtuti Militari, the Cross of Valour four times, the Silver Cross of Merit with Swords, the Army Cross and the British Distinguished Flying Cross.
He was always a controversial character and created a stir in Australia when he accused the authorities of discriminating against him and rejecting his application to the RAAF because his parents were not naturalised British Subjects. A transcript of the article in the Sydney Morning Herald of 13th November 1950 follows:
Minister’s Advice To Airman
The Minister for Air, Mr T W White, said tonight that he would be interested to hear personally from former RAF Squadron Leader Boleslaw Korpowski. A Pole, Korpowski, claimed in “The Sunday Herald” that the RAAF rejected him because his mother and father were not naturalised British subjects.
Mr White said “I know what a really good job Polish pilots did in the war. I have not heard of this particular case before.” Mr White suggested that Korpowski should also talk to Wing Commander J Waddy in Sydney. Wing Commander Waddy is a member of the Air Force Association and is also on the Air Board. Korpowski is president of the Polish Branch of the Air Force Association.
Mr White said there were many reasons why a pilot might be rejected for further service. He might no longer have the necessary medical requirements, and he might be too old. Because he did not know these things, and did not know what branch of the service Korpowski had asked to join, he could say little on the case at present.
An Air Force public relations officer said he knew of Korpowski’s war record. He was mentioned frequently in the published history of the Polish squadrons. “I did not know he wanted to join the RAAF though,” he said. The Minister for Immigration, Mr H Holt, said the Government was considering how it could overcome legal difficulties preventing migrants joining the Services. Mr Holt said that Poles made up 29 per cent of Australian migrants from non-British sources. Since the end of the war more than 50,000 had come here.