|Birth name||Włodzimierz Adam Kolanowski|
|Born||11 August 1913|
Pawłowice, Leszno County, Poland
|Died||31 March 1944 (aged 30)|
Jelenia Gora formerly Hirschberg
Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery, Poland
|Service/||Polish Air Force|
|Years of service||1934–1944|
|Rank||Flying Officer and Porucznik|
|Unit||No. 301 Polish Bomber Squadron|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
|Awards||Mentioned in Despatches|
Włodzimierz Adam Kolanowski (11 August 1913 – 31 March 1944) was a Polish Vickers Wellington bomber “Observer and Captain” flying from England when he was taken prisoner during the Second World War. He is notable for the part he took in the 'Great Escape' from Stalag Luft III in March 1944 and as one of the men recaptured and subsequently shot by the Gestapo.
Kolanowski was born in Pawłowice, Leszno County, Poland only about 60 miles from Stalag Luft III where his father worked as a cook in the palace of Count Christopher Mielżyńskiego . He moved with his family to Psarski near Srem, where his father worked as an estate official. He enlisted in the Polish Army in September 1934 and rose quickly through the ranks being commissioned into the 66th Infantry Regiment in October 1937. Slightly more than twelve months later he transferred to the Polish Air Force and trained as an “Air Observer” at Dęblin with specialization in aerial surveying and cartography. In August 1939 he joined No. 222 Squadron stationed in Biała Podlaska.
After the fall of Poland under the German and Soviet invasions of September 1939 Kolanowski’s unit crossed into Romania where they were briefly interned before being allowed to cross into Yugoslavia and then Greece in a journey to France where the French Air Force was accepting Polish airmen and forming volunteer squadrons in Marseille. He enlisted there on 13 November 1939 and was assigned to “No. 11 Squadron” Polish Air Force in France, but the unit had no aircraft. When France fell he travelled to England on 30 June 1940 and volunteered to fly operationally. He was assessed, re-trained, briefly served as an instructor and as a flying officer in the Free Polish Air Force joined No. 301 Polish Bomber Squadron flying Vickers Wellington bombers from RAF Hemswell. He was an “Observer” (the aircrew role of Navigator /Bomb Aimer) and in command of the aircraft and its crew.
Prisoner of war
Kolanowski was in command of Vickers Wellington Mark IV (squadron codes GR-Z, serial number “Z1277”) on the night 7–8 November 1941 attacking the German city of Mannheim. His aircraft was flown by Sergeant Bolcewicz and it took off at 18:47 hours GMT. The bomber received anti-aircraft flak damage and had to land near Maldegem, Belgium where its entire crew were made prisoners of war. Kolanowski went straight into the prison camp system.
He ended up as Prisoner No. 678 in prisoner of war camp Stalag Luft III in the province of Lower Silesia near the town of Sagan (now Żagań in Poland). In prison camp he was regarded as an extremely important member of the escape group, not only as he had grown up only 60 miles away but also as he was experienced in surveying techniques for map making. He worked with Des Plunkett and Tony Hayter to produce multi-coloured maps of the areas relevant to escaping airmen.
Kolanowski was one of the 76 men who escaped the prison camp on the night of 24–25 March 1944 in the escape now famous as "the Great Escape". The initial groups out of the tunnel were those who needed a head start in order to get to the local railway station and catch their appropriate trains. Kolanowski was delayed and unable to catch the train as planned he joined a group of English escapees to walk towards Czechoslovakia.
In the freezing night air he made the best progress possible and hid in woods about sixteen miles from the camp during daytime then proceeding through two villages until captured by the German auxiliary police of Hitler Youth on 28 or 29 March.
He was delivered to Görlitz prison to join Jack Grisman, Ian Cross, Sandy Gunn, Al Hake and others in the cells. During interrogation he was almost certainly one of the men warned that he would be shot.
At Görlitz prison on the morning of 31 March 1944 Keith Ogilvie saw Adam Kolanowski, Edgar Humphreys, Dutchy Swain, Chaz Hall, Brian Evans, Wally Valenta, George McGill, Pat Langford, Bob Stewart and "Hank" Henry Birkland being led away to a covered truck, They were all shot in a clearing off the Görlitz to Sagan road just outside Görlitz and cremated at Liegnitz by the Gestapo.
Kolanowski was one of the 50 escapees executed and murdered selected and listed by SS-Gruppenfuhrer Arthur Nebe to be killed, by the Gestapo. Originally his remains were buried at Sagan, he is now buried in part of the Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery, in Park Cytadela. His name was amongst those in the list of the murdered prisoners which was published in the press in the UK and Commonwealth countries when news broke on or about 20 May 1944. Kolanowski is commemorated on the Polish Air Force Memorial at Northolt, Middlesex. He is also commemorated on the Dunsfold War Memorial website.
|Nationalities of the 50 executed|
|3 South African|
|2 New Zealanders|
His conspicuous bravery as a prisoner was recognized by a Mention in Despatches as none of the other relevant decorations then available could be awarded posthumously.
The Gestapo executed a group of 50 of the recaptured prisoners representing almost all of the nationalities involved in the escape. Post-war investigations saw a number of those guilty of the murders tracked down, arrested and tried for their crimes.
- Vance (2001), p. 184
- Sikorksi Institute, London. Polish Air Force index card – P.0243 Kolanowski
- Walton (2014), p.113
- Vance (2000), p.183-185
- Chorley (1993), p.177
- Andrews (1976), p.37
- Vance (2000), p.183-185
- Vance (2000), p.245
- Read (2012), p.222
- Vance (2000), p.254
- Andrews (1976), p.49
- Burgess (1990), p.158
- Read (2012), p.244
- Andrews (1976), p.187-188
- "Stalag Luft III: The Fifty". Pegasus Archive.
- Vance (2000), p.289
- Carroll (2004), p.250
- Andrews (1976), p.34
- RCAF Website listing the officers murdered
- Read (2012), p.305
- Burgess (1990), p.271
- Kochanski (2012), p.497
- Western Morning News, Dundee Courier, Yorkshire Post, etc. 20/05/1944
- Northolt Memorial PDF file – WA Kolanowski
- Dunsfold War Memorial
- Read (2012), pp.294–297
- Vance (2000), p.310
- Andrews (1976), p.182-183 and p.186-7
- Yale Avalon Project-War Crimes Trial Part 8 – victim Kolanowski
- Kochanski, Halik (2013). The Eagle Unbowed: The Poles and the Polish in WW2. Penguin. ISBN 1846143586.
- William R Chorley (1994). RAF Bomber Command Losses, Volume 3. Midland Counties. ISBN 978-0-904597-89-9.
- Andrews, Allen (1976). Exemplary Justice. Harrap. ISBN 0-245-52775-3.
- Walton, Marilyn (2014). From Interrogation to Liberation. Authorhouse. ISBN 978-1491846889.
- Ash, William; Foley, Brendan (2005). Under the Wire: The Wartime Memoir of a Spitfire Pilot, Legendary Escape Artist and 'Cooler King'. Bantam. ISBN 978-0-593-05408-6.
- Brickhill, Paul (2004). The Great Escape. W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-32579-9.
- Burgess, Alan (1990). The Longest Tunnel: The True Story of World War II's Great Escape. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-59114-097-9.
- Clark, Albert P. (2005). 33 Months as a POW in Stalag Luft III: A World War II Airman Tells His Story. Fulcrum Pub. ISBN 978-1-55591-536-0.
- Durand, Arthur A. (1989). Stalag Luft III: The Secret Story. Patrick Stephens Limited. ISBN 978-1-85260-248-2.
- Feast, Sean (2015). The Last of the 39-ers. Grub Street. ISBN 978-1909166158.
- Herington, John (1963). Air Power Over Europe, 1944–1945. Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 3 – Air. Volume IV (1st ed.). Canberra: Australian War Memorial. OCLC 3633419.
- Read, Simon (2012). Human Game: The True Story of the 'Great Escape' Murders and the Hunt for the Gestapo Gunmen. Berkley. ISBN 978-042525-273-4.
- Carroll, Tim (2004). The Great Escapers. Mainstream Publishing. ISBN 1-84018-904-5.
- Vance, Jonathan F. (2001). A Gallant Company. Pacifica Military. ISBN 978-0-935-55347-5.
- Project Lessons from the Great Escape (Stalag Luft III), by Mark Kozak-Holland. The prisoners formally structured their work as a project. This book analyses their efforts using modern project management methods.