One of the only two remaining Avro Lancaster bombers that are still flying today was on display and did a fly-past for gathered crowds at Durham Tees Valley airport today.
The famous World War Two aircraft, named ‘Mynarski’ is owned by the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum and is beginning a 2-week tour of the UK. The aircraft is named after Pilot Officer Andrew Mynarski who flew from the airport during World War Two and which was then called RAF Middleton St George.
Pilot Officer Mynarski, a Canadian flying with the Canadian Royal Air Force was posthumously awarded a VC after giving his life while trying to save a colleague when their Lancaster bomber was shot down in June 1944. A short service was held next to the statue of Pilot Officer Mynarski.
This is his and the crews story….
In the aftermath of D-Day attacks on 12 June 1944, Pilot Officer Mynarski was aboard Lancaster bomber KB726,taking part in the crew’s 13th operation, a raid on northern France. They reached their target at midnight, Tuesday 13 June. After encountering flak over the coastline and briefly being “coned” by searchlights, the Lancaster was attacked by a Junkers Ju 88 enemy night fighter over Cambrai, France. Raked by cannon fire with major strikes on the port engines and centre fuselage, a hydraulic fire engulfed the bomber. Losing both port engines, the crew were ordered to bail out. As Mynarski approached the rear escape door, he saw through the inferno in the rear, that tail gunner Pilot Officer Pat Brophy was trapped in his turret. The tail turret had been jammed part way through its rotation to the escape position.
Without hesitation, Mynarski made his way through the flames to Brophy’s assistance. All his efforts were in vain, initially using a fire axe to try to pry open the doors before finally resorting to beating at the turret with his hands. With Mynarski’s flight suit and parachute on fire, Brophy eventually waved him away. Mynarski crawled back through the hydraulic fire, returned to the rear door where he paused and saluted. He then reputedly said “Good night, sir,” his familiar nightly sign-off to his friend, and jumped.
Except for Brophy, all crew members of the Lancaster managed to escape the burning bomber. Five left through the front escape hatch on the floor of the cockpit. When bomb aimer Jack Friday, tried to release the escape hatch cover in the aircraft’s nose, the rushing wind ripped it from his hands. The hatch cover caught him above his left eye and knocked him out. He fell into the open hatch and jammed it closed until Flight engineer Roy Vigars reached him to quickly clip on Friday’s parachute and toss him out the hatch while pulling the unconscious crewman’s rip cord. Only Mynarski managed to leave via the rear escape door.
Mynarski’s descent was rapid due to the burnt parachute and shroud lines, resulting in a heavy impact on landing. He landed alive though severely burned, with his clothes still on fire. French farmers who spotted the flaming bomber found him and took him to a German field hospital but he died shortly afterwards of severe burns. He was buried in a local cemetery. Brophy remained trapped in the bomber and remained with the bomber when it crashed in a farm field. As the bomber disintegrated, and began breaking apart, Brophy survived the crash and the subsequent detonation of the bomb load. Still lodged in his turret, the crash broke the turret open with him pitched out, striking a tree and being temporarily knocked out.
Four of the crew members: Brophy, navigator Robert Bodie, radio operator James Kelly and pilot de Breyne were hidden by the French and, except for Brophy, returned to England shortly after the crash. Vigars remained with the unconscious Friday and both were captured by the Germans, being interned until liberated by American troops. Brophy joined French Resistance fighters and, after joining a resistance unit to continue the fight on the ground behind enemy lines, returned to London in September 1944, where he learned of Mynarski’s death. It was not until 1945 when Brophy was reunited with the rest of the crew that the details of his final moments on the aircraft were revealed. He related the story of the valiant efforts made by Mynarski to save him.
Mynarski lies buried in Grave 20 of the CWGC plot in the Méharicourt Communal Cemetery, near Amiens, France.
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