Vickers Wellington HF208 crash at Mount Brandon, Co. Kerry, Ireland

On 20th December 1943, a Vickers Wellington came down on Mount Brandon in Co. Kerry, Ireland killing all six Polish crew members from R.A.F. 304 Squadron.

Shortly after dawn on 20th December 1943, Vickers Wellington HF208 took off from R.A.F. Predannack in Cornwall, England. On board, six Polish airmen of R.A.F. 304 (Land of Silesia) Squadron prepared to carry out a U-Boat patrol over the Bay of Biscay. The weather over the English coast was bitterly cold.

Pilot Flight Sergeant Adamowicz and co-pilot Sergeant Czerniowski took to the air in the British-made bomber. The navigator was Sergeant Kuflik and the wireless operator was Sergeant Kowalewicz. The remaining crewmen were air gunners Pietrzak and Lugowski.

HF208 carried a Leigh Light which allowed it to illuminate U-Boats on the surface at night. This type of device was first trialled at R.A.F. Limavady, Co. Londonderry in 1941. By the end of the war, the Leigh Light had enabled planes to make 218 attacks on U-Boats and 206 on shipping, destroying 27 U-Boats in the process.

Fatal flight over Éire

Midway through the patrol on the morning of 20th December 1943, Adamowicz radioed back to base. With malfunctioning radio location equipment, he requested a return to the Cornish airfield. Navigator Kuflik had difficulty getting a fix on their location. HF208 was last spotted flying over Lismore, Co. Waterford, Ireland.

In poor visibility, HF208 crashed near Arraglen on Mount Brandon, Co. Kerry, Ireland. All those on board died as a result of the incident.

A local man, Michael Brick, raised the alarm with the Irish Army Headquarters at Tralee. A Garda officer from Cloughan village, members of the Local Defence Force and a Red Cross team from Dingle accompanied the Irish Army patrol. They located the wreckage and the bodies of the crew in dark and cold conditions. The bodies of the six men were handed over to the British Army by an Irish Army guard of honour at Middletown on the Co. Monaghan and Co. Armagh border.

RAF 304 Squadron, based at Predannack, Lizard, Cornwall, flew Wellington Bombers. The members of this Squadron were Polish. Like many others, they too were involved in hunting U-Boats. On the 20th of December, 1943, their aircraft was seen by several Look Out Posts (LOPs) skirting along the coastlines of Kerry, Cork and Waterford. Indeed records show that their last reported position was over Lismore in County Waterford heading east-southeast presumably to Predannack. I cannot offer any reason why their aircraft should end up on the slopes of Mount Brandon a few hours later with the loss of all six crewmen on board but I can relate that all the crew were shot by the exploding ammunition in the fire that engulfed the aircraft. All the bodies were recovered outside the aircraft. None suffered burns.

Later information from Irish authorities dispelled the claims in this report. At 1122hrs, the time of the crash, the weather was bad. Reports indicated snowstorms in the area but no thunder or lightning. The Irish guard, Sergeant Duffy was on the scene at 1225hrs on 21st December and was responsible for handing the site over to the Irish military at 1500hrs. He also disagreed with the information from the report.

Two of the men killed suffered burns in the accident. No injuries were sustained by gunshot or exploding ammunition as the report claimed. The names of the six men were taken from identity discs in their uniform pockets before their bodies were removed at 2100hrs. Local coroner Sheehan decided no inquest was necessary.

On the scene at Mount Brandon

More contradictions to the report came from Captain Pringle of the Irish Army. He visited the scene and found four aerial depth charges, two incendiary devices, flare floats and ball and tracer ammunition. It was all written off as damaged or unserviceable. None of it, though, had detonated or was responsible for injuries or death. A controlled charge placed on the depth charges destroyed all the excess ammunition at the scene.

The Wellington lies on a steep rocky slope 2500 feet above sea level and 3 and a half miles from the base of the mountain over Marsh and Ravine, two streams and boggy land.

Plans to remove the wreckage would have proved too expensive. Difficulties arose due to the remote location in boggy, mountainous land. A British Engineering Officer visited the scene before stating there was no interest in retrieving the wreckage. Even the scrap metal would only have been worth £10-£20.

Remembering the crew of HF208

Last Name First Name(s) Rank Role Information
Adamowicz Klemens Flight Sergeant Pilot R.A.F. P-780537.
Czerniowski Stanislaw Flight Sergeant Co-Pilot R.A.F. P-794362.
Kowalewicz Pawel Flight Sergeant Wireless Operator R.A.F. P-703968.
Kuflik Pawel Naftali Hirsz Flight Sergeant Navigator R.A.F. P-794712.
Lugowski Kazimierz Flight Sergeant Air Gunner R.A.F. P-703438.
Pietrzak Wincenty Flight Sergeant Air Gunner R.A.F. P-782657.

The graves of Adamowicz, Czerniowski, Kowalewicz, Pietrzak, and Lugowski are in Milltown Cemetery, Belfast. Sergeant Kuflik’s grave is in Carnmoney Jewish Cemetery, Carnmoney, Co. Antrim.

Visitors to the crash site at Mount Brandon may still see visible parts of the plane’s framework in a gully on the mountainside. A memorial plaque commemorates the Polish aircrew on the wall of O’Connor’s Bar and Guesthouse in Cloghane, Co. Kerry, Ireland.

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