In 2014 I first became aware of an intriguing connection between the crew of B for Baker and one of only 13 Bomber Command aircrew to be awarded the Victoria Cross, a Canadian gunner named Andrew Mynarski. As I discovered, before he went to a Canadian squadron, Mynarski spent several months flying with the core group of men who would become the crew of B for Baker.
While the information I managed to gather in 2014 wasn’t enough to be absolutely certain that Mynarski had flown with the crew, it was sufficient to support a strong circumstantial case. I would need to see Mynarski’s logbook to be sure, though.
Well, it’s taken six years, but thanks to the assistance of Lech Lebiedowski, the curator of the Alberta Aviation Museum, and the generosity of Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame, which holds of the original document, I’ve now seen scans of the relevant pages of Andrew Mynarski’s logbook – and they do indeed confirm what I suspected.
By September 1943, Andrew Mynarski had been at 1661 Conversion Unit, RAF Winthorpe for three months. Within a month it looks like he completed most if not all of the usual HCU training programme, flying with a sergeant pilot named Blackmore. There’s then a big gap in his logbook of more than two months. I don’t know the reason for the long break, but I do know that his next recorded flight, 2:30 hours in a Manchester, with Pilot Officer Hamilton at the controls on 26 September, also appears in Dale Johnston’s logbook. Johnston, of course, would go on to be the wireless operator in the crew of B for Baker.
From then on, the logbooks of the two men follow each other closely, with only minor disagreements about aircraft identification letters or the dates of some flights, all the way through the Heavy Conversion Unit course at Winthorpe, across to 9 Squadron at Bardney, and to another Heavy Conversion Unit at Syerston at the beginning of December 1943. From this information it’s clear that the two men were flying on the same crew.
I’m lucky enough to have copies of the logbooks of two more members of the eventual crew of B for Baker – pilot Phil Smith and navigator Jack Purcell – so I thought I’d cross-reference between all of them to build up a picture of when each man joined or left the crew. Then I added what posting information I had for the remaining three members of the crew.
And because it’s sometimes easier to see connections in a complex story in a visual way, I then ended up pulling out my long-neglected colour pencils and building a literal picture:
In this diagram – which, I’ll grant you, looks a bit like a map of a not-very-useful underground train network – locations are marked down the left-hand side, dates run from left to right across the top and each man’s path is represented by a different coloured line. Looking at the full-size image (click here), it’s reasonably easy to see how the core of the crew – Johnston, Hill, Tabor and Parker – moved through things together, remaining a unit from the first HCU at Winthorpe right through to 467 Squadron at Waddington. Mynarski was at Winthorpe at the same time that Johnston et al. were, but on a different crew until some time just prior to 26 September (when the first common flight appears in the logbooks). Similarly, Jack Purcell was also on a different crew at Winthorpe – see my previous post for details – until his logbook also starts showing the same flights as the other two from 3 November.
Notice the green line running down to join the conglomeration at the very end of November 1943? That one represents Phil Smith, who had been instructing at an Operational Training Unit until he was posted to 1668 HCU at Syerston. He would have arrived there around the same time as the other six, and from here on his logbook reflects the others.
So we’ve established that Andrew Mynarski flew with Jack Purcell and Dale Johnston from September 1943, and that they all flew with Phil Smith at Syerston in December. But when did Mynarski leave the crew?
This is where Mynarski’s logbook threw up something of a surprise. It reveals that he flew with this crew right up to 21 December, just ten days before Smith and co. left Syerston for Waddington and 467 Squadron. Mynarski’s next flight – with a new pilot – isn’t until 5 January.
This is a lot later, and a lot further through the HCU course, than I expected. My theory, prior to receiving this information, was that Mynarski had left the crew immediately upon arriving at Syerston. After all, the man who would replace him as rear gunner, an Australian named Gilbert Pate, had himself already been at Syerston for a couple of weeks when everyone else turned up. Evidently, though, that was not the case.
Why did Mynarski leave the crew? That’s something that the information in his logbook can’t tell me. I know that the Royal Canadian Air Force was gradually rounding up Canadian aircrew for transfer to the specifically Canadian 6 Group from early 1943. Perhaps it had something to do with that initiative, though January 1944, a year after the formation of 6 Group, does seem quite late in the piece to be doing it.
I don’t think that is a question that will ever be answered with 100% confidence. Still, it’s nice to have confirmation that Pilot Andrew Mynarski VC did indeed fly with the crew of B for Baker.
My grateful thanks to Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame, based in the Reynolds-Alberta Museum in Wetaskiwin, Canada, for providing access to the information in Andrew Mynarski’s logbook, and to Lech Lebiedowski for making it happen.
©2020 Adam Purcell