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Even though he didn’t even visit the country of his ancestors, he fought for Poland in a Polish Squadron. British and American press hailed him as a hero.


5 March 1943, Sergeant Bruno Godlewski, called Bronisław or Bronek by his Polish Air Force comrades, is preparing for his ninth combat mission. As the briefing goes on, he probably knows it won't be an easy target, definitely not another “milk run” to France. This night the RAF will strike the so-called “Flak City”, one of the most feared locations among the Bomber Boys. The Battle of the Ruhr is about to begin. His Squadron will hit the Krupp works in Essen.


Bronek welcomed the fourth year of war in a special way. On 1 January 1943, he was finally assigned to a squadron with a combat status after spending months in an Operational Training Unit where he had met his crew. He was a tail gunner assigned to a Polish Bomber Command’s 305 Squadron and he came a long way before he went on his first combat sortie over France on 26 January 1943.


He was born in 1924 in Chicago to a family of poverty-stricken Polish immigrants. Bruno was the oldest of the siblings, and as soon as he reached 18, he volunteered to join the army. A career in the military seemed to be a reasonable solution for a boy who previously held dead-end jobs and earned peanuts. However, he did not join the U.S. Army. Instead, he found himself in the ranks of the Polish Army. This was possible due to the efforts of the Polish government-in-exile, which conducted recruitment campaigns among Polish-Americans. Bruno was about to join the elite, the Polish Air Force.

The Air Force has always been one of the most specialized branches of service. Not anyone could be a pilot, a navigator or even a bombardier. Fortunately for many young boys who lacked education or specific skills, there was an assignment which was relatively easy to get, although the job was anything but easy. To be an efficient air gunner, you had to be an excellent marksman hunting for enemy fighters in pitch black night, informing your pilots about the incoming enemy while squeezing MGs in a cramped turret at 20,000 feet in freezing temperatures. Everything could go wrong at any time and death usually came quick. That was the reality of the brutal air warfare over Europe. The chances of conducting a successful combat tour were rather slim and at the beginning of 1943 the rate of losses was very alarming.

Bruno eventually became a tail gunner in a crew consisting of pilot Sgt Jan Drobny, co-pilot Sgt Kazimierz Artymiuk, navigator P/O Stefan Bogusławski, bombardier Sgt Franciszek Sowiński and radio operator, Sgt Marian Więcek. They were assembled in 18 Operational Training Unit in Bramcote, England. Before Bruno joined his new mates, he had passed an excessive air gunnery training course.

At that time, the Polish 305 Squadron "Land of Greater Poland" was stationed at the RAF Ingham base. The unit was already a seasoned RAF Bomber Command force, flying operational sorties since April 1941. The squadron used Vickers Wellington MK.IV bombers, a reliable machine, nicknamed “Wimpy” by the RAF. In early 1943, the aircraft was still in use as a frontline bomber, although as more units were conversed to four-engine machines the “Wimpy” became less and less effective and needed.

Bronek Godlewski flew at least five different Wellington Mk.IV bombers with the same crew on eight missions that took him to such target locations as Lorient, Hamburg and Cologne. The mission scheduled on 5 March 1943 was considered the most dangerous so far. Godlewski and his crew were assigned a Vickers Wellington bomber which they had never flown before, a “Wimpy” with code letters SM-S and the serial number R1525. They took off in the evening and reached Essen.

In July 1943, the U.S. Army magazine “YANK” published an article about the Polish Air Force called “Poles Fight Back”. Sgt Walter Peters, the YANK Staff Correspondent wrote: “Group Captain is very modest about his exploits, but he highly praises two Americans in his squadron. One of them is Sgt. Bronisław Godlewski of Chicago, described by Group Captain as "one of the bravest men he ever met."

In his article, Sgt. Peters described what had happened to Godlewski during that fateful Essen raid.

“After dropping their bombs, they were attacked six times by enemy fighters. A hundred rounds from the German machine guns shattered Godlewski's gun turret. But he held his MGs so firmly, at the same time giving the pilot directions on which to take evasive action”.

Despite the frantic efforts to avoid repeated attacks, the damage was inevitable. The bomber had a malfunction of the flaps and the landing gear would not extend. The seriously crippled bomber marked with numerous bullet holes left by the attacking Messerschmitts somehow reached England. Godlewski was injured and bleeding. The navigator Stefan Bogusławski, who was a medical student in civilian life, tried to help him while still on board, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to do much. If Godlewski was to survive, it was necessary to land as soon as possible.

They made it thanks to the flying skills of Sgt Kazimierz Artymiuk, who carried out a successful wheels-up landing near the airbase. For that exploit, he was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal. “When they landed, Godlewski's colleagues found him unconscious in the turret, seriously wounded. It took half an hour to free his mangled hands, so tight were they still squeezing the guns,” wrote Sgt. Peters.

Godlewski was transported to the Haymeads Emergency Hospital in Bishop's Stortford where he had both arms amputated at elbows. On 2 April 1943, he was visited by Stanisław Ujejski, the Deputy Commander of the Polish Air Force, who awarded him with Virtuti Militari, the highest military decoration for heroism and courage in the face of the enemy at war.

Bronek Godlewski eventually returned to Chicago as a war hero. His story has become known on both sides of the Atlantic thanks to the media coverage. The Polish community in Chicago, upon hearing of the young soldier's drama, decided to organise a fundraiser for his recovery. Eventually, he became the owner of two bars, run by his mother. Later, he moved to California, and at the end of his life lived in Dunedin, Florida, where he died on 12 June 1989, at the age of 65.

Source: IPN Facebook page

Copyright: Godlewski family

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