Just as a tiny postscript to the Jozef Stendera story, I noticed a detail in red in his Flying Log which lead me to the thought that this was another unrecorded 304 Squadron loss. It also lead me to some further information on another Polish airman, which proves my, long held, opinion that the tiniest bit of information can produce the most amazing results.
On reading Jozef Stendera’s entry in his Flight Log, I was interested – but not totally impressed – with this brief mention of a crash landing in Cornwall. At that time, I was less than excited except for the fact that other researchers had dismissed the incident as trivial, but I knew that Jozef Stendera had been quite badly hurt – almost scalped.
Some further investigation has revealed that the aircraft was a total write-off and Jozef’s injury may have been trivial by wartime flying standards but could have been very much more serious had his pilot strictly followed the rules.
This refers to the routine Anti-submarine patrol of a Leigh Light equipped Wellington Mk XIV bomber out of RAF St Eval, in Cornwall, which lost hydraulic power and returned to base, just over eight hours into its patrol. The pilot of the aircraft was forced to abort plans of returning to RAF St Eval due to low cloud and take the risky option of landing at RNAS St Merryn, a Fleet Air Arm base which had four short runways orientated so that aircraft could land and take off, no matter what the wind direction. These runways were intended for fighters and bi-planes – not Vickers Wellington bombers – and were only 1,100 yards long!
In the early hours of the morning of 20th March 1945, 304 Squadron Leigh Light Wellington Mk XIV, serial NB767 (QD-L) was in the difficult position of having unserviceable hydraulics and presumably ditched its bomb load into the sea before attempting to land. The flight controller at RNAS St Merryn ordered Red Verey lights to be fired – warning the pilot not to attempt a landing. However, after two failed attempts, which lead to overshoots, the pilot decided to ignore these orders and to land due to overheating of his engines.
In his situation of reduced control, due to virtually useless hydraulics, he landed and it quickly became apparent that there was insufficient landing space, so he retracted the undercarriage to bring the aircraft to a halt – writing it off in the process – but saving the lives of all six men aboard.
Accident investigators were unable to find any hydraulic leaks as the operating jacks were too badly damaged and the aircraft was a total write-off. However, the difference in flying time to RAF St Eval was minimal and there is no reason to doubt the pilot’s motivation.
I was aware, from Jozef Stendera’s Flying Log, that the Pilot was P-794515 W/O Henryk Sawosko and, obviously, one of the Wireless Operator/Air Gunners was P-705623 Jozef Stendera. From the Form 1180, I found an almost illegible hand written name for the co-pilot, which was easily identified as Stanislaw Gajszyn, from his easily legible Service Number P-703997.
Remaining mysteries are Stanislaw Gajszyn’s rank – Squadron Leader on the crash card; but Warrant Officer everywhere else. There is also the question of the rank and identity of the other three members of the crew.