First hand account of aspects of the death of General Sikorski in the crash of the Liberator AL523 at Gibraltar on July 4th 1943.
Written in June 2014 by CWT Walker.
Introduction and this access page prepared by David Walker his son. Email: micscape AT ntlworld DOT com
"As I left the scene, my thought was; I hope they know what they are doing."
Father's thoughts quoted from report below after observing the unsupervised loading of large quantities of baggage into the Liberator at Gibraltar.
My father Charles William Thomas Walker (Bill Walker) was a Leading Aircraftsman in RAF Coastal Command based in Gibraltar in 1943. He was witness to aspects of a still controversial crash of a Liberator AL523 which took off on the evening of July 4th 1943. One of the people who died was General Sikorski (see eg the Wikipedia entry for a biography). My father was billeted near the parked aircraft and the billet was on the shoreline near where the aircraft crashed. At the time of the crash he had been posted there for ca. 18 months so familiar with normal activities at the time.
My father wrote up his wartime experiences for family use. He clearly recalls being an eyewitness to aspects of the immediate aftermath of the crash and aspects of the plane loading. As he may be one of the few eye witnesses still alive and who was not asked to be a witness at the time for the Inquiry (now aged 92), with his collaboration I have transcribed his handwritten document of his account to put in the public domain (see below). The account has an Appendix where he also makes comments on aspects of a transcript of AIR 2/9234, the report of the Inquiry into the crash.
I'm not a historian so can't authoritatively comment on whether his account offers any new insights into aspects of the crash but is presented if of value and in a neutral manner; his memories may have faded or recalls aspects incorrectly for an event over 70 years ago.
My own interest in the accident was piqued however and have read and compared the main resources in English I'm aware of (see Resources below). Many of the key resources are no doubt in Polish but am unable to read those. The background reading did enable me to quiz my father on aspects of his account that differ or offer possibly some new insight that the current reports do not include, so these are expanded upon on my suggestion in his account.
Key aspects that may be of interest after reading other accounts:
- Agrees with other reports of a ca. 20 minute delay at take off point
- Agrees with early take off before end of runway
- His is the only eye witness account have seen to date of actual unsupervised loading of extensive baggage onto the aircraft at Gibraltar by the passengers due to late arrival of aircrew. Confirmed by chatting with a duty crew at the aircraft and again with that person the day after the crash.
Aspects of my father's account that seem puzzling (to me his son as a neutral commentator after reading the other main resources in English):
- There are differing published accounts by witnesses of how dark it was at 2307 local time (double summertime, i.e. GMT+2h) at time of crash. Some report pitch dark or variants, although the surviving pilot Prchal reported 'good visibility and a good horizon (AIR 2/9234)'. My father describes it as 'dusk' and states could clearly see the last moments of the aircraft after ditching, despite being well after calculated sunset (2142) and moonless night. (Online astronomy almanac software calculates for Gibraltar on July 4th 1943 that 2307 local time to be 18 minutes after the official end of 'nautical twilight' defined as when horizon is no longer clearly seen for navigation. Astronomy software that accurately mimics sky eg Stellarium shows it to be quite dark. See below.)
- He reports trying to use a dinghy on beach with others but no oars so no further action taken. Unclear if this was an extra dinghy in addition to that reported to have been launched (see AIR 2/9234).
- All descriptions of the Liberator internal controls have seen to date describe cables. Although my father was unfamiliar with the model, from his look inside when this Liberator was parked, he clearly recalls the rod structures shown in Figure 2 which he believes were controls of some sort. Are these known controls of a Liberator of that marque, or has he confused them with some other structures, if the former, are they equally and/or more likely to be blocked with unsupervised loading than cables?
First hand account of aspects of the death of General Sikorski in the crash of the Liberator AL523 Gibraltar July 4th 1943. by CWT Walker, LAC 1, RAF Coastal Command.
Acrobat pdf format, 9 pages with 2 figures (including his map recalled of the airfield).
Charles William Thomas Walker's audio account of the Liberator crash on the Imperial War Museum website. Scroll to Reel 13 of 23 and is from 8.5 - 30 minutes of this reel. (Provides some extra details not related in text account.)
Simulation of possible lighting conditions:
For my own benefit, being neither a sailor, nor aviator nor having ready access to skies away from urban areas, I tried planetarium software to recreate the theoretical best natural lighting conditions at the location and time of the crash. These suggest very little natural light at time of crash. Comments welcomed.
Above: A sky simulation using the planetarium freeware Stellarium of the view East from Gibraltar out to sea on July 4th 1943 2107 GMT (2307 local time) at time of crash, showing best case conditions for a clear night and no manmade light. The horizon line passes through the red 'E'. Stellarium is reported to be one of the best to accurately recreate sky brightness levels for clear skies.
Above: Same location and time except shows the sky view 18 minutes before the crash at 2049 GMT (2249 local time) which almanac software calculates to be the official end of 'nautical twilight'.
Selection of resources in English on the crash
Books devoted to the crash and/or Sikorski death: Both widely available secondhand eg. on sites such www.abe.com.
- Irving, David, 'Accident. The Death of General Sikorski', pub. William Kimber, 1967.
A free Acrobat pdf version is available on David Irving's website, readily found with a Google search. The latter version (when last accessed) is text only without the book's figures and map.
- Thompson, Carlos, 'The Assassination of Winston Churchill', pub. Colin Smythe, 1969.
Books containing chapters on the topic
- Bartelski, Jan, 'Disasters in the Air. Mysterious Air Disasters Explained', Airlife Publishing Ltd., 2001. Chapter 2. '1943. Is the Gibraltar Disaster a Real Mystery', pp. 26-57.
- McKee, Alexander, 'Into the Blue. Great Mysteries of Aviation', Souvenir Press Ltd., 1981, chapter 10, 'Death of a Prime Minister. General Sikorski: 1943', pp.213-222.
- Sword, Keith (Editor), 'Sikorski: Soldier and Statesman. A Collection of Essays', Orbis Books Ltd., 1990:
Essay: Łubieński, Ludwik, 'The last days of General Sikorski an eyewitness account', pp.146-156.
Appendix 2. 'Sikorski Accident Report. Reproduced from the files of the Public Record Office', pp.167-209.
Magazines containing articles on the topic (Back copies often available from various on-line dealers.)
- After the Battle, no. 20, 1978, pub. Battle of Britain International Ltd., 'The Death of General Sikorski', pp.1-18.
Contains a copy of 'Exhibit A' the official map from AIR 2/9234.
- After the Battle, no. 24, 1979, pub. Battle of Britain International Ltd.'The Death of General Sikorski', pp.1-18.
- Bartelski, J., 'What did happen to General Sikorski?', Aeroplane Monthly, pub. IPC Magazines Ltd., vol. 21, no. 9, September 1993, pp.12-15.
- Bartelski, J., 'What did happen to General Sikorski?', Aeroplane Monthly, pub. IPC Magazines Ltd., vol. 21, no. 10, October 1993, pp.46-49.
Air Accident Report AIR 2/9234
Current reference number in National Archives, Kew: AIR 2/9234
Online record page: http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/SearchUI/Details?uri=C6335166
Report map record page: http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/SearchUI/Details?uri=C360894
'Related papers' record page - not sure what these are (possibly the photos and other exhibits): http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/SearchUI/Details?uri=C2642981
Recent book in Polish 2012 (I'd be very interested in reading this but my lack of Polish prevents this. Any links to an English transcript would be of great interest.)
Title: Studium katastrofy Liberatora AL 523 Gibraltar 1943. Wydawnictwo: Wydawnictwa Naukowe Instytutu Lotnictwa
Author: Jerzy Zięborak
Google translation from the Polish of the book's description on the publisher's website:
Released a new publication of the Scientific Research Institute of Aviation Publications presents the author's view, George Zięboraka the causes and course of the disaster, which killed General Wladyslaw Sikorski. The book contains some studies from Aerokoła and the results of research carried out by the author together with his proposals. The origins of these works date back to 1945. These include the analysis of the course taxiing, take-off and short flight aircraft Liberator AL 523, completed his breakdown on the surface of the sea. The basis for the analysis is the designation of the actual total weight of the aircraft and the corresponding center of gravity. The author based on data contained in the report of the British Commission, statements of witnesses and design documentation and operating the aircraft. On their basis have been identified causes of the disaster and answers to questions about: Founded by the pilot lifejacket MaeWest, problems with taxiing and falling mailbag, aircraft collision with water, leaving the course of the aircraft by the pilot, locate the wreckage, qualifications Prchal and its role in camouflage against intelligence cargo.
Title: Study of the crash of the Liberator AL 523 Gibraltar 1943. Publisher: Publishing Research Institute of Aviation. Author: George Zięborak
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