Warrant Officer Frank Langford, 542992 SAAF, Air Gunner - RTSA
Awards and Decorations
- 1939-1945 Star
- Italy Star
- War Medal 1939-1945
- Africa Service Medal
- Badge of the Polish Army
Squadron and Movements
31 Squadron SAAF (Italy)
Although this medal group is not for valour, it deserves special mention due to the extreme difficulty in carrying out flight operations. The distance to be flown over enemy territory and the flight time were very long (2815 km / 10-11 flight hours), and the actual supply drop Over Warsaw was exceptionally hazardous.
Official 31 Squadron personnel records indicate that from the 80 flight personnel attached to 31 Squadron SAAF at the beginning of the re-supply operations , 44 were KIA in a period of 32 days.
542992 Warrant Officer Frank Langford (age 23) joined the SAAF on 11th December 1942 and was designated for air gunnery training. After several training postings Langford was promoted Technical Flight Sergeant on 19th June 1943. On the 5th April 1944 Langford was promoted to Warrant Officer and attached to 31 Squadron SAAF based in Italy. He was discharged from the SAAF on 20th November 1945.
LEFT: Period photograph of Warrant Officer Langford SAAF wearing air gunner wings.
The records for Langford indicate that he was attached to 31 Squadron SAAF from 5th April 1944 to 15th August 1944. Langford most likely flew as part of the contingent of 1585 Polish Flight before taking part in the first major operational flight on the night of 13/14 August, in which he received some minor injury (records do not indicate injury). Langford was posted from 31 Squadron after received unknown injury.
When the Russian offensive approached the outskirts of Warsaw, Poland in August 1944, the Polish Underground Army (Arma Krajowa) rose from the ruins of Warsaw to fight the German occupiers. The Russian command halted the Polish advance due to political reasons and refused to re-supply the Polish Army (the Russian Government wanted to install a puppet Government in Poland and success of the Polish Underground Army would have made this more difficult). The Poles, fighting tenaciously against overwhelming odds, became dependent upon the West to air drop supplies of arms and ammunition from Foggia Airfield in Italy.
The first flights were made on the night of 8/9 August by No: 1586 Polish Flight equipped with Halifax and Liberator aircraft. However, it became apparent that more aircraft would be required to handle the urgent daily requirement of 60 tons of supplies. The services of 205 Group RAF were sought which included 31 and 34 Squadron of 2nd Wing SAAF and 178 Squadron RAF.
The first full scale operations began on the night of 13/14 August, 1944 when 28 Liberator aircraft, including 10 aircraft from 31 Squadron set out on the hazardous flight to Warsaw from Italy. Opposition en-route to the target comprised anti-aircraft batteries and night fighters, while severe electrical storms could be encountered whilst flying over the Carpathian Mountains.
The blazing city of Warsaw could be seen 60 km from the target and aircraft had to descend to 150 meters above ground with flaps deployed to reduce air speed to 215 km/h. This was to ensure that parachute lines attached to the supply canisters did not rip when deployed from the aircraft.
The slow and low flying aircraft were illuminated by both the fires from the city, and multiple German searchlights attached to numerous German ant-aircraft batteries. The aircraft pilots were required to fly along the Vistula River, cross four bridges spanning the Vistula and turn 180 degrees left to drop their supplies in small reception areas.
It was during the execution of these flights that 31 aircraft were lost, of which 11 were SAAF. Some aircrew managed to parachute to safety, however, many aircraft exploded mid air due to the nature of the material they were carrying (ammunition), whilst a few were able to crash land in nearby combat airfields operated by the Russians.
Due to the number of aircraft losses (remember that each aircraft carries 7-10 men), the dropping zones were moved to the woods surrounding the outskirts of Warsaw before high altitude drops were made in an attempt to reduce the grievous losses. The last flights took place on the night of 22/23 September. The Polish Army surrendered to the Germans on 2 October.
SAAF – Most Noteworthy Acheivement Remembered by Poland
One of the South Africa Airforce’s (SAAF) most noteworthy achievements in the air operation over Europe was that of 31 and 34 Squadron, which flew 181 sorties from Italy to supply the Warsaw resistance movement in August and September 1944. The cost of the SAAF abortive "Warsaw Concerto" was tragically high in men and machines, but the daring and skill of the pilots and crew involved nevertheless earned the SAAF the lasting respect and admiration of the Polish resistance fighters.
In 1992, 67 ex-members of 31 and 34 Squadrons were awarded the Polish Warsaw Cross for the role in the relief operations.
What is the Warsaw Concerto?
The name “Warsaw Concerto” was given to a piano concerto written by British composer Richard Addinsell for the 1941 film, Dangerous Moonlight (also known under the later re-title Suicide Squadron). The theme of the concerto is also borrowed in a popular-music love song whose lyrics include "The world outside will never know..."
Determination and Devotion to Duty
The following passage is an extract from the book, “Eagles Victorious” written by Neil Orpen. Neil Orpen researched much of the history of the SAAF during World War Two. The following excerpt deals directly with the flight crew of Warrant Officer Langford.
The excerpt should give you an idea as to how difficult flying operations were during the re-supply missions.
To the north-west of Alexandrov, the city of Warsaw was still burning, with a dense cloud of smoke blanketing large sections of its sprawling mass of ruins. The Germans put up a hail of anti-aircraft fire which holed all but one of the four South African liberators, which managed to get back to Celone. As Capt. Serfortein’s aircraft approached the burning city, his navigator, Lt. Coleman saw one Liberator explode in the air. They had barely completed their own agonizingly slow running of the gauntlet, when another Liberator became engulfed in flames and plunged earthwards.
Capt. W. Senn, the pilot of one of the Liberators, was severely wounded in the thigh. His navigator, Lt. T. C. L. Simms, was wounded in the face and had to put out a fire, which had begun in his compartment, and the top gunner was shot through the hand. The rudder control wire of the Liberator was cut through by enemy hits on the beam, and the elevator control was partly severed, and further hits had smashed the nose wheel hydraulics. This was before Capt. Senn warned the crew to prepare to abandon the aircraft.
Discovering that the automatic pilot of the rudder was still working, and without a word about his own wounds, Capt. Senn (command pilot) immediately climbed out of the target area, with the tail gunner firing bursts into a battery of German searchlights, of which claimed to have destroyed four. With the bomber almost uncontrollable because of damage already sustained, and the navigator wounded in the face, Capt. Senn flew his Liberator 1450 km towards base without maps and under auto pilot control, never once mentioning to his crew, his own injury.
The whole crew, which included Sgt. Lack as second pilot, Lt. T.C.L. Symmes as navigator, and Lt. H.J. Kipling, WO F. Langford and Sgt Smillie and Sgt Owen, had upheld the highest traditions of the SAAF and RAF with admirable determination and devotion to duty.
LEFT: Escape and evasion chit carried by Warrant Officer Langford SAAF when flying over Russian occupied territory. The Russians were known to be trigger happy and all downed flyers were given these chits and explicit instructions in what to do if downed over Russian territory. The chit is made from rayon material was designed to either be sewn to the inside if a flight jacket, or as instructed to be carried in the pocket of the flyer. The chit is usually comprised of two pieces of material sewn together; one side is as shown while the other side provides instructions in English on how to sue the chit. For some reason the reverse side of this chit is missing. Perhaps Langford thought it unnecessary and removed it. The chit has edge stitching and the edges are folded suggesting it was at one stage attached to a flight jacket. Langford would also have been issued English./Russian phonetic cards in addition to other visual communication equipment.
LEFT & BELOW: Cloth badge and vertificate issued by the Polish Home Army awarded to Warrant Officer F. Langford of 31 Squadron, SAAF.
LEFT: First Day Cover. Number 181 of 10000 issued by the Polish Post Office to commemorate the Warsaw Concerto.