Jim Auton, RAF hero of the Warsaw Uprising, was laid to rest with hundreds of strangers paying their respects

February 7, 2020

Paul Trickett from Newark, Jim Auton’s devoted friend and carer, has written below text as an eulogy. It was read by Dave Baliol-Key at the funeral Mass on February 6th 2020 at the St Mary Magdalene Church in Jim’s home town of Newark.

Jim took part in one of the most daring RAF operations of WW2 – Warsaw Air Bridge in order to supply the Home Army (Armia Krajowa) with weapons, ammunition and medicine during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. He was the last surviving British airman who took part in this near-suicidal mission.

Below you can read the whole eulogy:

“At 5pm, on August 1st eager for revenge after five years of brutal occupation and encouraged by messages from the nearby Russian Army the Polish resistance attacked many German positions throughout Warsaw. There were 50,000 members of the Polish resistance in Warsaw but only 5,000 had any weapons, and those that did had only limited ammunition. Opposing them were 20,000 well equipped German troops with tanks and artillery but the resistance hoped that the Russians who were just a few miles away would soon help. That night across the city Polish flags flew from windows and people danced and partied in the streets in celebration of their newfound freedom. However, the leaders of the resistance were worried that they had failed to capture the heavily defended weapons depots and they were using up their own ammunition at an alarming rate. So, the following day they sent messages to the Polish commander of the RAF special duties flight based at Brindisi in Italy asking for supplies of weapons and ammunition to be dropped by parachute to them.

In Berlin Hitler was furious about the uprising and ordered Himmler, the leader of the infamous SS to crush it by killing everyone in the city. Accordingly, the German Army encircled the city and each day for the next seven days an average of nearly 10,000 Poles would be murdered, no one was spared: babies, children, women and the elderly. Meanwhile the Russian Army had stopped advancing, Josef Stalin was content to watch the Polish resistance fighters and the German Army fight each other. The population of Warsaw was now facing their darkest hour and they needed all the help they could get to keep fighting.

Churchill personally ordered that more RAF aircraft should support the Polish freedom fighters. Twenty extra aircraft were taken off their usual bombing missions and added to the eight aircraft already dropping supplies over Warsaw. Ten of these aircraft were from No. 178 Squadron whose airmen included a certain Jim Auton who so far had survived 11 combat missions.

At the briefing prior to take off a Polish pilot who had survived the previous missions to Warsaw was introduced to the airmen, he gave an impassioned speech saying, ‘For 13 days the Polish people fight, if you don’t help them, they will all die’. He also advised the airmen that the best way to survive the 80 anti-aircraft guns and  searchlights in Warsaw was to fly as low as possible just above the rooftops, but at the same time to avoid the city’s tallest building, which whilst in ruins was still standing over 200 feet high. Jim’s role as bomb aimer was to spot the drop zone in the city centre which would be marked out in the shape of a cross, this would be created by a group of women and young girls who at an allocated time would run out of their shelter and lay with torches on their chests.

It was a near-suicidal undertaking for the airmen flying to and from Warsaw as it was an eleven hour journey of nearly 3000 kilometres mainly over enemy held territory during which they would have to avoid both anti-aircraft gun batteries and squadrons of Luftwaffe night fighters hunting them down.

However inspired by the Polish pilots words Jim and his fellow crew members, all aged between 18 and 20 years old, decided among themselves that they would do their absolute best between them to ensure that the Poles would get their precious cargo of 12 containers of weapons, ammunition and medical supplies.

Five hours after take-off their first glimpse of Warsaw was as a sea of fire visible from around 100 miles away. Russian and German anti-aircraft began to intensify the closer they got to the city centre, but a combination of fire, smoke, dust and searchlights made it impossible to see the cross shaped drop zone. Their aircraft dropped down to a height of 500 feet for a closer look and then even lower as the pilot took the Polish airmen’s advice when they came under anti-aircraft fire. Other crews who had also failed to see the drop zone soon began to give up and started to fly back towards Italy still carrying the supplies which the Poles needed so desperately. However, keeping their promise not to let them down for some fifty minutes Jim and the crew bravely circled the burning city at a speed of around 150 miles per hour deifying the continuous streams of German bullets and shells which sought to destroy their aircraft. Finally, just before 2am Jim recognised a district of Warsaw which was held by the resistance and accordingly they released the twelve precious containers and began the dangerous flight home.

Hours later and just seconds after landing back in Italy their aircrafts engines spluttered to a halt completely out of fuel with not a drop to spare. That night only five out of the ten aircraft sent from 178 Squadron successfully dropped supplies into the centre of Warsaw, one aircraft was lost in action, and two had returned with battle damage.

The following night as Jim’s crew rested the same aircraft which against all odds had bought them home safely, Liberator KG 873, was shot down by a night fighter over Poland, there was no survivors. It was one of three aircraft lost by the squadron that night for the result of only 12 containers successfully dropped.

On 15th August Jim and his fellow crew members were sent back to Warsaw for a second time, this time after flying at low level through a mile-long corridor of anti-aircraft and small arms fire they successfully delivered another twelve vital containers into a forest drop zone just outside Warsaw.

On August 17th having lost a total of five aircraft in action so far and with others badly damaged the squadron was now left with just two airworthy aircraft. Jim and his crew were stood down, they had now survived 13 missions…only another 27 to go until they could return back to Britain.

The Warsaw Uprising would continue, and the Poles would finally be defeated after 63 days of combat.  It left an estimated 180,000 Poles dead including an estimated 60,000 children and the city once known as ‘The Paris of the East’ was left devastated. The desperate effort from the Mediterranean Air Force to supply the Polish resistance had cost 39 aircraft and 256 airmen had been shot down, around 235 containers were received by the grateful resistance fighters in Warsaw. In 1989, in Newark Cemetery a monument was erected by Jim to honour the sacrifice and bravery of the allied airmen who had lost their young lives helping a city of over a million people survive a genocide”.

Paul Trickett

Pictures: Paul Trickett and British Poles

 

 

 

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