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The Men Who Went To Warsaw

Author: Laurence Isemonger

Reviewed By: Phil Cater

This impressive book is a relatively heavy volume in comparison to others in the excellent ‘African Aviation Series'.

The operational history of the Liberator in SAAF service in 31 and 34 Squadrons is covered in great depth. Containing just a few photos of SAAF Liberators, and a Ron Belling painting on the cover depicting a mining drop, this book is of limited use as a photo reference. It is largely constructed around numerous personal anecdotes, detailing the trials and tribulations of the Liberator crews. From their first operations over Crete, initial operations over Italy, mining of the River Danube, participation in the famous Ploesti oil refinery raids over Romania, bombing and supply drops over the Balkans, and ‘bomphlet' drops (propaganda leaflets). Then later to shows of strength over the contested city of Trieste following the German surrender, to repatriation flights following VE day, and the final stand down of the squadrons at the very end of 1945.

However, the main focus of the book is the epic missions from Foggia, Italy, all the way to Warsaw, where desperate attempts were made to sustain the ill-fated uprising by Polish Resistance forces - summarised as follows -

"During the period August 13 to Ocober 16 1944, forty-one Liberators from 31 and 34 Squadrons took off from bases in Italy, loaded with supplies for the Polish insurgents. They had to fly through some of the most heavily defended night-fighter spots of Europe to reach the burning Polish capital. Warsaw was in flames as the Liberators came in through a barrage of steel. Unable to change course or altitude, they were sitting ducks for the German gun crews who fired at them with everything they had. Two minutes into the run-in, the Liberators had to go down to rooftop level, the friendly darkness banished by searchlights and blazing buildings. Then fly through a heavy curtain of merciless flak to reach the dropping zones for the badly-needed supplies they carried. Of the 41 SAAF Liberators that set out on the 1800 mile nonstop flight to Warsaw and back, eleven aircraft did not return. Eighty three airmen were lost on these missions of mercy."

There is a curious anomaly in chapter 47 - dedicated to a Padre Pio, which does seem out of context with the rest of the book. However, the twelve pages of Italian religious anecdote can be skipped if not to the readers taste!  The final analysis of the book has also been somewhat overtaken by events - ‘Russia will never let Poland out of the Communist bloc...." Suggesting that the book was drafted many years before its recent publication.  But despite such eccentricities, this is still one very worthwhile read.

What is made clear is the huge price many young aircrew paid - and in the case of the Warsaw missions, the ultimate sacrifice of these men owing more to high level political posturing rather than to achieving any realistic military goal. Lawrence Isemonger's main achievement in researching and writing this book has been to capture and record for posterity the sacrifice which his comrades made nearly 60 years ago.

Go buy this book - while it's on the shelves!

298 x 210mm, photos

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