Life during the occupation – activity at the Air Base at the Okęcie airport

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Polish aviation we recall the character of Stanisław Cierniak, a long-term employee of the Institute of Aviation, and during the occupation a member of the secret organization “Air Base” operating at Okęcie airport.

Many Poles employed during the occupation at the airport in various ways practised sabotage. Some organised long-term sabotage, and others incompetently, or due to an unfavourable coincidence, paid with their lives.

The airport housed several German companies. During my time in the company Frontreparatur Flugzengwerk – Front Aircraft Repair Workshops, I carried out sabotage for quite a long time.

To have easier access to storage workshops I made while working for the German supervising personnel, various items for their personal use, such as toys, jewellery, etc. Meanwhile I employed other employees. These items had to be finished round the back (and not in the general hall), so there was facilitated access to the warehouse. The warehouses housed thousands of new, expensive engine hardware units and airframe components and parts assembled in the workshop, with contractor numbers hanging on them. Records of traffic (of devices) were not carried out. Units, which during assembly of a component were considered defects, were thrown into a container outside. After filling, these were taken away and replaced with empty one. Nobody checked the container.
As the above description shows, the actions were made easier, of course, by maintaining caution at every step, and the results:

  • In the described products defective materials were used.
  • Not all products went to the Germans.
  • People did not work according to their engagement (designated tasks).
  • The surveillance was engaged to make sure we were not caught (corrupted, watched so there were no “accidents”).
  • The container filled up faster than it should, in accordance with the intended use.
  • I do not know what effects changing the numbers (contractors) of the assembled components had.

Components were assembled by Poles and Germans. I know, however, that on the chocks units fell off, and in flight (that) I don’t know.

I had a house and a review carried out by the aerodrome police, under the so-called “tower” (the water tower for 1 Air Regiment, demolished on January 17, 1945).
Another type (of land for conducting sabotage) was the airport. At the airport, hundreds of aircraft engines which were brought for renovation were stored. The engines were packed in racks, so-called half-boxes. Between the boxes people hovered constantly. Among them were those who in the simplest way damaged the equipment of these engines. It was dangerous and often ended in arrest.

I always went out to the airport with a friend, mostly from the Air Base knowing that he was certain. We were walking between the crates standing there with engines. We slightly damaged some of the motors (judging) so that during repairs they would have to be replaced. During this period, one day during breakfast I was with a friend sitting at a workbench over the open drawer and read the newsletter. Suddenly, from behind we could hear footsteps approaching. My colleague grabbed the newspaper together and we sat quietly. Two serious men in black coats and hats, with a soldier standing by us and saying nothing. It seemed to me that this lasted a very long time, that it took forever. After some time, they indicated my colleague and said in Polish that he was to go with them.

After a few days I saw my colleague (whose name was Hieronim Pieczeńczyk) hanging along with four others on the gallows set at the airport.

After some time I learned from colleagues that Pieczeńczyk had been seen in Szucha Avenue as he pressed something in a crack in the door.

On August 1, 1944, after the cancellation of the attack on the airport, we went to the assembly point to the house at ul. Centralna 14 at Okęcie. Since then the building had been blocked by German patrols. The burning of the building standing “vis a vis” our windows we observed visually. The building was blown up with aircraft bombs and burned the rest was burnt along with the residents at night. After this tragic incident came to our house a branch of the armed patrol to detect, as they said, a “bandit”. They collected all the inhabitants in the staircase. After a statement by me in German, so far as that there were no strangers in the house, but only the residents themselves, there was a casual conversation (the house numbered 14 flats, but very few men, maybe residents 3 and 4 insurgents). I spoke with the leader, and others with the remainder. I noticed that the commander while talking to me, was watching the others. One of the young insurgents acted very unwisely. After leaving the building, the commander stepped back a few steps and called me. I walked over to him and he to me purely in Polish: throw the youngster out of the house, because you will all burn alive. You’ve been rescued because they do not understand Polish. From that house there was a shot. And he left. Soon after I was in a camp.

*** Engineer Stanisław Cierniak was born in 1908 in Dolsk, and from an early age was associated with aviation. He started his career in 1927 at the “Samolot” plant in Poznań. The outbreak of War in 1939 found him in Warsaw, in the Experimental Aviation Workshops. During the occupation he belonged to the secret organization “Air Base” operating at Okęcie airport. After the liberation, together with Prof. Sołtyk in the Experimental Aviation Workshops in Łódź he rebuilt Polish aviation. From 1950 until his retirement in 1978 he worked in the WSK and the Institute of Aviation. At the Institute of Aviation, Eng. Stanisław Cierniak worked in the team who designed agricultural flight equipment for the agricultural aircraft Kruk and M-15, and earlier on the prototyping aircraft designed by Prof.  Sołtyk. He had extensive workshop experience, valuable in design work.

The above text is the memoirs recorded on a typewriter by the over 80-year-old author, who with minor additions we present to you, believing that it provides a profile of Eng. Stanisław Cierniak and recalls a fragment of the history of the place where we work.

These memoirs appeared in the book „Tu byli, tu pracowali… 100 twarzy Instytutu Lotnictwa” published in 2017 by the Institute of Aviation Research Publisher.