Well folks, not all of the heroes in Winnipeg came from the army.
Let me tell you about Andy.
Andy was one of six siblings born to Polish Immigrants. He attended two primary schools in that city and by the age of 16 he was probably in high school when his father passed away. Like most boys Andy took on odd jobs after school hours to help make ends meet. He'd find work cutting chamois (the famous cloth used in car washing) and in carpentry. He was a great woodworker and loved even making furniture.
In 1941 his thoughts of soaring through the clouds saw him joining the RCAF. Basic training at Edmonton followed by wireless courses at Calgary, gunnery school at MacDonald Manitoba and by Christmas of 1941 Private Andy was graduating from air gunnery school at Halifax and wearing the rank of a Temporary Sergeant.
By December of the following year Andy had shipped oversees and joined up with the 419th Moose Squadron, so called after the squadron's first commander. The men would become known then and to this day as Moosemen. He was assigned the job of mid upper gunner which meant that his place of work was inside a small turret on top of the plane and about mid way along its length.
He would take initial training and part in various sorties on several types of planes operating out of Middleton St. George, Yorkshire England. Some of these include the Vickers Wellington, Hadley Page Halifax, Avro Lancaster and finally the Avro Lancaster MK X bombers.
These later bombers were built in Ontario by Victory Aircraft Ltd, later becoming A.V. Roe Canada Ltd and still later the company Avro Canada, who, by war's end had made 430 planes for the war effort.
By June of 1944 Andy would find himself in the thick of battle whilst carrying out the duties laid out in General Eisenhower's plans to create a massive disruption to the transportation system of the Western Europe. This plan called for the US Air Force and the British Air Force (read Canada as well) in bombing highways and rail lines and any routes the Germans could take to bring forces anywhere near the Normandy beaches were the massive landings were planned to take place.
On 12 June 1944 all of the gunners were promoted to the rank of Pilot Officers. At about 10 p.m. that night Andy and the rest of the 7 man crew of his plane (6 were Canadians) were given their orders to board the plane for a mission. Just before boarding Andy looked down at the ground near his plane and found a four leaf clover, the world renown sign of good fortunes. He picked it up and before boarding he gave it to his close friend and crew member, Pat Bromphy from Port Arthur, now Thunder Bay Ont. For some time Pat had held the rank of Pilot Officer and so was senior to Andy, but ranks aside both were very close friends and tended to hang out together and off from the rest of the crew. Both were gunners and so that strengthened their friendship.
The MK X was designed for flights at the 25,000 ft. range... not the 2,000 ft. range above ground. But it was at this drastically lower altitude that the men had to fly to ensure incredible accuracy to destroy their very important targets, yet not have high collateral damage. A failed mission would result in far higher casualties during the several days of Normandy landings. But at such low range their were sitting ducks for the flak sent into the air and the low altitude flying German night bombers.
The target that night was the heavily protected rail marshalling yards at Cambrai in Northern France, shown below and marked with the letter... "A". In the upper left of the map you can see the southern tip of England.
On the very night of this attack, Andy's old comrades in the Royal Winnipeg Riffles were carrying out their duties in the area marked with the letter "B" above. Perhaps they saw the formation of planes flying overhead or Andy observed them enroute to his own destiny. We may never know!
It was very soon after leaving the English Channel behind them that the crew became "coned." An Air Force term meaning they had been caught in the blinding lights of several land based high powered search lights. The 22 year old pilot quickly put the plane into a dive and then reversed directions upwards and escaped the lights but no sooner had this been avoided when the crew found themselves in the cross hairs of a enemy night bomber called the Junkers JU 88. These planes had heavy cannons on board and also the ability to not only fly low as a routine, but could fire almost straight up and thus at the soft belly of the Lancaster MK X, a plane that unlike many other types, did not have and under belly gunner and turret.
On Friday I'll return with more on the incredibly amazing story of Andy and his crew.
You do not want to miss this one!