Lancaster gunner’s heroic attempt to save friend

Still from a film shot from an Avro Lancaster by the RAF Film Production Unit, showing smoke rising from exploding bombs during a night raid on a road junction at Argentan, France. 1,065 aircraft of Bomber Command were active on the night of 6/7 June 1944, bombing railway and road centres on the lines of communication behind the Normandy battle area.

Still from a film shot from an Avro Lancaster by the RAF Film Production Unit, showing smoke rising from exploding bombs during a night raid on a road junction at Argentan, France. 1,065 aircraft of Bomber Command were active on the night of 6/7 June 1944, bombing railway and road centres on the lines of communication behind the Normandy battle area.

Avro Lancaster B Mark II, LL725 'EQ-C', of No. 408 Squadron RCAF, on the ground at Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire. Armourers are backing a tractor and trolley loaded with a 4,000 lb HE bomb ('Cookie') and incendiaries under the open bomb-bay. LL725 was lost over Hamburg on 28/29 July 1944.

Avro Lancaster B Mark II, LL725 ‘EQ-C’, of No. 408 Squadron RCAF, on the ground at Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire. Armourers are backing a tractor and trolley loaded with a 4,000 lb HE bomb (‘Cookie’) and incendiaries under the open bomb-bay. LL725 was lost over Hamburg on 28/29 July 1944.

The USAAF and RAF bombers were now hitting a wide range of targets in France in support of the Overlord landings. In addition to the transportation targets which sought to cut off the German supplies and reinforcements to the battlefield area, they were hitting troops concentrations and communications centres. Such were the RAF targets for 671 planes despatched on the night of the 12/13th.

Among the 23 planes lost was one exceptional story, which gained recognition with the award of the Victoria Cross. For such an award there had to be an eyewitness account of the actions of the recipient. Pilot Officer Mynarski’s actions were witnessed by the man he was trying to save – the rear gunner of the Lancaster who was trapped in his turret, destined to crash with the burning aircraft. It was only because Pilot Officer Pat Brophy miraculously survived the crash – the rear turret was detached from the aircraft when it hit the ground and he was thrown clear – that he was able to provide the account that led to the award of the VC:

Andrew Mynarski VC

Andrew Mynarski VC

Pilot Officer Andrew Charles MYNARSKI (Can./J.87544) (deceased), Royal Canadian Air Force, No. 419 (R.C.A.F.) Squadron.

Pilot Officer Mynarski was the mid-upper gunner of a Lancaster aircraft, detailed to attack a target at Cambrai in France, on the night of 12th June, 1944. The aircraft was attacked from below and astern by an enemy fighter and ultimately came down in flames. As an immediate result of the attack, both port engines failed. Fire broke out between the mid-upper turret and the rear turret, as well as in the port wing. The flames soon became fierce and the captain ordered the crew to abandon the aircraft.

Pilot Officer Mynarski left his turret and went towards the escape hatch. He then saw that the rear gunner was still in his turret and apparently unable to leave it. The turret was, in fact, immovable, since the hydraulic gear had been put out of action when the port engines failed, and the manual gear had been broken by the gunner in his attempts to escape.

Without hesitation, Pilot Officer Mynarski made his way through the flames in an endeavour to reach the rear turret and release the gunner. Whilst so doing, his parachute and his clothing, up to the waist, were set on fire. All his efforts to move the turret and free the gunner were in vain. Eventually the rear gunner clearly indicated to him that there was nothing more he could do and that he should try to save his own life.

Pilot Officer Mynarski reluctantly went back through the flames to the escape hatch. There, as a last gesture to the trapped gunner, he turned towards him, stood to attention in his flaming clothing and saluted, before he jumped out of the aircraft.

Pilot Officer Mynarski’s descent was seen by French people on the ground. Both his parachute and clothing were on fire. He was found eventually by the French, but was so severely burnt that he died from his injuries.

The rear gunner had a miraculous escape when the aircraft crashed. He subsequently testified that, had Pilot Officer Mynarski not attempted to save his comrade’s life, he could have left the aircraft in safety and would, doubtless, have escaped death.

Pilot Officer Mynarski must have been fully aware that in trying to free the rear gunner he was almost certain to lose his own life. Despite this, with outstanding courage and complete disregard for his own safety, he went to the rescue. Willingly accepting the danger, Pilot Officer Mynarski lost his life by a most conspicuous act of heroism which called for valour of the highest order.

Low oblique aerial view of the Transport Command Delivery Park on the Northeast Apron at Prestwick airport, Ayrshire, showing aircraft marshalled after being flown across the Atlantic. Among the aircraft shown are Consolidated Liberators, Douglas Dakotas, North American Mitchells, and Canadian-built Avro Lancaster B Mark Xs.

Low oblique aerial view of the Transport Command Delivery Park on the Northeast Apron at Prestwick airport, Ayrshire, showing aircraft marshalled after being flown across the Atlantic. Among the aircraft shown are Consolidated Liberators, Douglas Dakotas, North American Mitchells, and Canadian-built Avro Lancaster B Mark Xs.

The first Canadian-built Avro Lancaster B Mark X, KB700 "The Ruhr Express", taxying after landing at Northolt, Middlesex, following a delivery flight across the Atlantic. KB700 was the first of 300 aircraft built by Victory Aircraft of Malton, Ontario, and flew operationally with Nos. 405 and 419 Squadrons RCAF.

The first Canadian-built Avro Lancaster B Mark X, KB700 “The Ruhr Express”, taxying after landing at Northolt, Middlesex, following a delivery flight across the Atlantic. KB700 was the first of 300 aircraft built by Victory Aircraft of Malton, Ontario, and flew operationally with Nos. 405 and 419 Squadrons RCAF.

Leave a Comment

Earlier in the war:

Later in the war: