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Herbert Noga

The following story has been kindly donated by Harold Heys. All copyright belongs to Harold Heys and permission is required for any part to be copied. The Bartkowiak family reserve all rights to these materials for any publication including electronic media.

July 2015

SEVENTY years ago a lone fighter plane, cruising over Darwen Moor on the edge of the Pennines, came down above Bull Hill.

And still the mystery of why the North American P51C Mustang, the world's finest long-range single-seat fighter, crashed, killing Polish pilot Herbert Noga, puzzles local and war historians.

The P51-C Mustang, built in Dallas, Texas, with Packard-built British Merlin engines, was very reliable and a far cry from the string-bag death-traps of the Great War.

It was the height of summer, just before 4 o'clock on Sunday afternoon, July 29, 1945. It was a fine day although it was misty from the industrial haze that hung over the area. The war in Europe had ended a few weeks earlier.

It was just a ferrying job from the HQ of the legendary Polish 316 Warsaw Squadron at RAF Coltishall in the Norfolk Broads to the Polish Air Force base at Blackpool or perhaps the vast US centre at Burtonwood. No one is sure.

But, of course, the war against Japan was still raging and it would be several days before the dropping of two atomic bombs hastened the end of the war in that theatre a few weeks later. No doubt the authorities had an answer to the mystery; but it was still war-time and they weren't telling.

Probably the first on the scene of the crash were the young Cartlidge brothers, Bill and Jim, and their pal John Nowell who had been playing across the main road near to Jack's Key Lodge. They heard the plane "coughing and spluttering," John recalled. They heard the crash, and raced on to the moors.

They found the Mustang splintered into pieces, embedded deep into the moorland peat. They found Herbert dead and they also found one of the plane's machine guns which they took for "safe keeping". Of course, young lads playing with a heavy machine gun in the terraced streets of the town in the valley below, quickly attracted the attention of the local constabulary who took it away for even safer keeping.

Bits of the plane continued to turn up around the crash site for many years and some are on display at an air museum in Liverpool.

On the afternoon of the crash I went up on to the windswept moors with a couple of pals, Martin and Trevor, and we laid a few red and white flowers on the site at Black Hill. I said a few words to thank Herbert and his pals for their invaluable help early in the war when Britain stood alone.

Enquiries in Poland have resulted in little information emerging about the 24-year-old. Born in Raciborz, south of Warsaw, he was single and had escaped through Rumania to reach England and join the Polish Air Force.

His squadron's last major involvement in the war involved shooting down German rockets and escorting hundreds of bombers in the attack on Hitler's mountain retreat at Berchtesgaden.

Nearly 20,000 Polish airmen fought bravely throughout the war but they must have felt badly let down as it ended. With their home country now under the influence of Russia – hated more than Germany by most Poles – few planned to go back into political turmoil and uncertainty. The rest faced a life in exile with little encouragement from the British Government who didn't want to upset their erstwhile Soviet allies.

Warrant Officer Noga was buried with full military honours at Layton Cemetery, Blackpool.

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