Operation Frantic 1944
At the Tehran Conference (code name Eureka) held between 28th November and 1st December, President Roosevelt raised the question of using Soviet airfields to raid both Europe and later Japan from Siberian airbases. While the discussions focussed on Operation OVERLORD and Operation BAGRATION, political discussions mainly by Stalin and Churchill covered the Curzon Line (The Polish Question), areas of influence in Europe and the Balkans with Roosevelt beginning to turn his attention more towards the Presidential elections in the US than some details within the overall discussions at the conference.
Allied combined bomber operations began in 1943 after the Nazis had moved key factories further east stretching the limits in the operational envelope for the RAF/ PAF and USAF bomber squadrons. The concept of ‘shuttle operations’ could ease logistics and improve efficiency through the ability to re-fuel and re-arm for the return flight which would make operations more effective through being able to cover greater distances and selected targets. As the Soviet advances piled pressure on the Nazis on the eastern front, shuttle operations became more feasible. Any success from these collaborative operations would pave the way for further missions from Siberia to bomb Japan as a political and strategic decision acting as a ‘panacea target’ (Conversino, 1991). The invasion of Italy had enabled the base at Bari to be more effectively used over the Balkans and central Europe through SOE’s support of Poland’s AK (Cynk, 1998) and later the Slovak Uprising (Downs, 2002). The shuttle operations were planned to fly from USAF bases in Britain, bomb eastern Germany and land in the Ukraine. Refuelling and re-armed, they would then bomb targets in central and eastern Europe and land in Italy at Bari, Brindisi, or the Foggia airfield complex. Refuelled and re-armed bombers could then attack targets enroute for Britain.
The team of negotiators led by Major General John R. Deane would enable the Americans to use bases in the Ukraine at Poltawa and Mirgorod for bombers and Pyrjatyn for fighter escorts. The Soviets would provide ground crew and airfield defence with munitions and fuel being transported separately via the Arctic Convoys to Murmansk and Archangelsk or across the Caspian Sea. Key USAF personnel were flown via transport aircraft from Mehrabad airbase (Tehran) in Iran to the Ukrainian airfields. Military co-ordination would be through General A.V. Nikitin with the 210th Fighter Air Division and was responsible for air defences over these bases. Despite this, the Luftwaffe raided the base at Poltawa on 21st – 22nd June 1944 causing extensive damage to the base and USAF aircraft on the ground placing the operation under political stress.
While the Allies had cooperated through lend-lease to the Soviets, the level of co-operation both politically and operationally would be challenging despite Britain’s SOE incorporating Operation PICKAXE into their activities in Europe which seemed contrary to the Allies efforts (O’Sullivan, 2010). Stalin remained suspicious of the Americans who might use the operations for intelligence gathering (Conversino, 1991; Radzilowski and Szcześniak, 2017). Stalin finally approved of the FRANTIC 7 operation on 11th June 1944 only after further difficult and exhausting negotiations with Moscow. It is assumed the final agreement to proceed was through OVERLORD had just commenced (Conversino, 1991, Davies, 2003) and opening a 2nd Front that had been one of Stalin’s priorities for the Allies.
The British air support for the Rising 44 was not without controversy due to allocation of resources as no bomber command support from Britain was planned (Orpen, 1984) and the existing supply operations from Italy would not cover the increasing daily needs of theAK or other Balkan operations. During the Rising SOE and RAF/ PAF Special Duties Squadrons based in Italy faced poor weather conditions with a 25% loss rate (Anon, 2016). Although the Soviets carried out air supply drops between 13th and 30th September, the cannisters had no parachutes and therefore rendered most of the supplies unviable despite the volume dropped.
which demonstrates operational limits on normal ‘sorties’
The FRANTIC shuttle missions started:
- Frantic 1: 2nd to 11th June (15th Airforce) 130 B-17s and 70 P-51s took off from Foggia in Italy to bomb rail communications at Debrecen, Hungary and landed Poltawa. On 6th June 104 B-17s and 42 P-51s took off and attacked the airfield at Galați in Romania with a follow up mission on 11th June consisting of 126 B-17s and 60 P-51s bombing Focșani in Romania before returning to Italy.
- Frantic 2: 21st June consisted of 145 B17s, 72 P-38s and 38 P-47s to bomb a synthetic oil plant in the Ruhr and marshalling yards at Riesa with the B-17s landing at Poltawa (73) and the rest to Mirgorod and the escorts to Pyrjatyn. It was this mission that was subjected to the Luftwaffe raid on 21st – 22nd June 1944. For some uncertain reason, the USAF fighters were grounded, and this increased the overall damage to the mission. The surviving B-17s at Mirgorod and P-51s from Pyrjatyn were flown further east for safety before returning to the Ukrainian bases for re-fuelling and arming. On 26th June the fleet of 73 B-17s and 55 P-51s bombed the refinery and marshalling yards at Drohobycz (now Drohobych) on the way back to the airfield complex at Foggia. On 2nd July the 8th Airforce P-51s and 15th Airforce fighters escorted a mass bombing raid consisting of 509 bombers on targets located at Budapest, Vecses airfield and an oil refinery. On 3rd July 57 B-172 from the 8th Airforce escorted by 38 P-51s were joined by 44 15th Airforce bombers and attacked marshalling yards and workshops in Arad, Romania before returning to base in Italy. On 5th July 72 8th Airforce B-17s, B-24s from the 15th Airforce and 42 P-51s bombed the marshalling yards at Béziers in southern France on their back to Britain. 11 P-51s returned to Italy before returning to Britain a few days later.
- Frantic 3: Spanned 22nd July until 26th July ferrying in fighters to the Ukraine bases attacking airfields at Buzău and Ziliştea before landing. From here, they attacked the airfield and aircraft factory at Mielec before returning to the Ukraine. On 26th July they returned to Italy and attacked the airfields in the Bucharest – Ploieşti to complete their mission.
- Frantic 4: Took off from Foggia airfield complex on 4th August consisting of 70 P-38s and P-51s to attack the airfield at Focșani in Romania before landing at Pyrjatyn. On 6th August the fighters left the Ukraine and attacked marshalling yards at Craiova and railway targets on the Bucharest – Ploieşti which hampered movements of oil and troops. The mission was completed on their return to Italy.
- Frantic 5: 75 B-17s took off on 6th August to bomb the Kurt Kannenberg factories that assembled Focke-Wulf fighters at Gdynia (Rumia) on the Baltic coast escorted by 154 P-51s and after the attack flew on towards their bases in the Ukraine. On 7th August 55 B-17s and 29 P-51s attacked the Erdöl oil refinery at Trzebinia that was also an important rail junction between Kraków – Katowice with POW camps and a newly built sub camp of the Auschwitz complex. The fleet returned to their bases in the Ukraine without loss, however many Polish slave workers were killed. On 12th August the fleet flew to Italy direct and the next day, 13th August started their return leg to Britain with a bombing mission on the airfield at Toulouse (Francazal).
- Frantic 6: On 11th September 75 B-17s from the 8th Airforce escorted by 63 P-51s bombed oil refineries at Chemnitz (Karl-Marx Stadt during the Cold War) and then onto the Ukraine bases. On 13th September 73 B-17s and 63 P-51 escorts flew to attack the steel and armaments factories at Diósgyőr in Hungary before flying to the Foggia airfield complex. With increasing tension between the Soviets and the Allies over the Warsaw Uprising and the need for resupply, Frantic operations were logistically stretched requiring the Frantic 6 mission to return to Britain.
The FRANTIC 7 Mission:
The Uprising in Warsaw was launched on 1st August 1944 at 17.00 (W Hour or Godzina “W”) and formed part of operation TEMPEST (BURZA) that caused chaos and confusion amongst the German occupiers in numerous districts throughout Poland (Ciechanowski, 1974; Bałk, 1995). Link: Warsaw Rising. By mid-September and despite bitter street fighting, Polish Divisions under Berling attached to the 1st Byelorussian Front, were on the eastern bank of the Vistula and ordered to halt by Stalin in a cynical move to destroy future opposition to Sovietization of Poland (Ciechanowski, 1974; Davies, 2003; Rees, 2009; Kochanski, 2012). At the height of the Uprising, Berling led an assault crossing the Vistula onto the west bank that subsequently failed leaving the First Polish Army with heavy casualties and he was later dismissed.
The air-bridge drops to support the Rising was impressive, but logistically flawed due to high altitude drops with only 36.8% of the supplies reaching the intended locations of the AK (Garlinski, 1969). It was planned the 95th Bomber Group and part of the 390th Bomber Group were designated to Poltawa; 100th Bomber Group and the remainder of the 390th to Mirgorod (Myrhorod) and the 355th Fighter Group to Pyrjatyn flying P-51s with drop tanks. All these airfields were some 2,897 km from Britain with the shuttle operations enabling action on the outward and return flights (Radzilowski and Szcześniak, 2017).
Intense ground fighting and poor weather conditions added operational difficulties from both Italy and Britain, for example on the 15th September 1944 the USAF 8th Airforce dispatched 108 bombers in an operation to support the Poles that was recalled due to poor weather across Europe that also grounded the Italian operations (Orpen, 1984; Anon, 2016).
On 18th September 1944 at 06.00 hours after an aircrew briefing, the airborne armada took off in thirty second intervals from USAF bases across East Anglia and assembled over the pretty coastal town of Southwold (Radzilowski and Szcześniak, 2017) and picked up by the pathfinders. A Mosquito reconnaissance plane from 653rd Light Bomber Squadron based at RAF Watton, was twenty minutes ahead of the armada and would convey weather conditions and enemy fighter information (Radzilowski and Szcześniak, 2017). The armada consisted of the, 95th (based at Horam), 100th (Thorpe Abbotts) and 390th (based at Parham) bomber groups flying B-17s and escorted by three fighter groups: 4th (based at Debden), 355th (Steeple Morden) and 361st (based at Bottisham). Around 07.30 the aircraft began to climb to 14,000ft in two-minute intervals and then climb to 25,000ft over the North Sea and crossed the coastline over Schleswig-Holstein, and then the Danish Island of Lolland before crossing the Baltic Sea. The armada then turned towards Chojnice and then Chełmo (Radzilowski and Szcześniak, 2017).
The 43 P-51s (design based as an upgrade of the Spitfire) of the 361st Fighter Group had left Bottisham at 07.40 and rendezvous with the bombers near Kappeln on the eastern coast of the Danish Peninsula. The escorts of from 361st covered the armada as far as Bornholm Island attacking airfields and airborne German fighters when encountered. A group of 39 planes from 4th Fighter Group met the bomber armada between 09.10 and 09.20 between Heligoland and Westerhever between 15-18,000 ft and then the 355th Fighter Group took over escort duties over Toruń with the armada stretching from Szczecin to Toruń, causing some operational difficulties for the P-51s and an approaching weather front delayed their arrival over Warsaw.
The armada flew on towards Warsaw in almost perfect formation arriving at midday and circled the city for an hour dropping 1,284 cannisters of arms, ammunition, food, and medical supplies (Orpen, 1984, Forczyk, 2009) which would take seven minutes to reach the ground (Radzilowski and Szcześniak, 2017). The ground held by the AK was daily shrinking and so small that according to Forczyk (2009: 83) only 21 cannisters were recovered, however, Orpen (1984) and Radzilowski and Szcześniak (2017) suggested it was around 288, Bałk (1995) 188 and Kochanski (2012: 419) identified 388 cannisters were retrieved by the AK, meaning between 22-30% reached the beleaguered Poles. German counterintelligence put the figure on 250 containers. In reality, around 80% fell into German hands (Davies, 2003).
The re-supplying of the AK was not a surprise due to the size of the armada with the German 9th Army warning the 5th SS Panzer Division ‘Viking’ of the airdrop and indicated paratroopers would probably be dropped into the Kampinos Forest (Davies, 2003; (Radzilowski and Szcześniak, 2017). Some of the 95th Bomber Group overshot their Initial Point (IP) at Nasielsk despite a pathfinder accurately pinpointing the drop location. The 100th Bomber Group had unfortunately overtaken the lead and had to circle over the correct IP, causing the formation to break up and adjust their run into the designated drop zone (Radzilowski and Szcześniak, 2017). Small groups of German fighters (Me 109s) stationed at Modlin and Kroczewo were engaged by some P-51s on an interception course with the bombers and the subsequent dogfight over Szczytno – Zakroczym – Nasielsk saw the fighters chased off with some P-51s taking the opportunity to attack airfields and other aircraft before returning to escort duties. Another wave of German fighters (12 Me 109s and 2 Fw 190s) broke cloud cover and attacked the rear of the 390th Bomber formation with loses mounting up on lone bombers flying out of formation, usually due to damage from the fighters. Only 2 bombers were shot down by the German fighters (Forczyk, 2009) with 3 in total (Radzilowski and Szcześniak, 2017). Fighter losses were low with only 2 being shot down.
The joyous Varsovians watched in awe as the armada passed over them dropping their cargo over the city that soon turned to frustration (Davies, 2003) with many AK units making a desperate and dangerous dashes to collect them (Radzilowski and Szcześniak, 2017). The ferocity of the AK fighting within the city street to street and in the Kampinos forest coupled to Soviet forces on the banks of the Vistula; the arrival of the huge armada above the city, convinced the Germans it was a co-ordinated operation against them (Radzilowski and Szcześniak, 2017). After the drop was completed, AK and particularly Soviet propaganda covered a range of claims to make capital from the FRANTIC 7’s mission and the degree of success (Davies, 2007; Radzilowski and Szcześniak, 2017) with the AK and government-in-exile hoping and petitioning the Allies would repeat the mission. The humanitarian need for food and medical supplies enabled sufficient support for FRANTIC 8 to be considered where on 27th September 1944 72 B-17s, 64 P-51s and two Mosquitos were earmarked for the mission. Poor weather an uncertainty on ground positions of the AK caused a delay and deliberation over the mission that was subsequently postponed to 1st October and then postponed again. The Soviets pointed out any further missions would only supply the Germans and many AK units were either decimated, captured, or evacuating the city through safe routes through the sewers. General Bór-Komorowski signed the ceasefire on 2nd October 1944. The Uprising of ‘44 was over. For many, too little and too late (Orpen, 1984).
The air armada reached their bases in the Ukraine without further incident. On 19th September 100 B-17s and 61 P-51s took off for Italy and bombed the important marshalling yards at Szolnok in Hungary before flying onto Foggia. Bad weather in Italy grounded the mission and then they returned to Britain on 23rd September 1944, completing the 7th Frantic mission.
From 4th October 1944, the bases in the Ukraine were started to evacuate the equipment and personnel with the AK being informed no further shuttle missions would be flown.
It is widely acknowledged that had the FRANTIC 7 mission taken place earlier in August 1944, the supply of war materials to the AK could have changed the historical outcome (Radzilowski and Szcześniak, 2017). After the Luftwaffe attack on Poltawa on 21st – 22nd June 1944, the Americans wanted to bolster the airfield defences with night-fighters and more fighters acting as interceptors to give greater security. By that time, Soviet hesitancy and obduracy was impacting upon the mission so that by the time the Uprising started, critical time had been lost, but also the Soviet’s had gained the upper hand over retreating German forces pushing them back westwards, changing Soviet attitude.
The success factors are often less well lauded. The logistical planning for personnel, munitions and fuel was a manufacturing and supply chain triumph against weather, distance, and changing ground conditions during an intense period of the war. Less well understood at the time would be Stalin’s cynical behaviour towards both the Warsaw Rising and the Slovak Uprising that had similarities in operations and the unfolding politics. Stalin’s ‘sleight of hand’ had clearly crushed hopes for any independence movements. Stalin had succeeded in delivering the completion of a resolution at the Cominton’s 5th Congress for East Galicia to be incorporated into the Soviet Union (Rogalski, 2017) that as a direct result instigated a civil war in Eastern Poland between the Poles, Ukrainian and Soviet forces. Link: Vistula At the Tehran Conference, the Poles had been excluded. Both Roosevelt and Churchill had already conceded to Stalin the proposed Curzon Line (now referred to as the ‘Polish Question’). It was in their view a settled issue with Mikołajczyk being cornered into accepting the outcome (Davies, 2003; Rees, 2009; Kochanski, 2012). These were the first seeds of the ‘Cold War’. On 11th May 1945 President Truman cancelled lend-lease aid to the Soviets and recalled ships in transit, much to Stalin’s vexation and protests (Herring, 1969). The level of Stalin’s contempt can also be analysed through the erratic repayment of Lend-Lease which was defaulted on during the Cold War and retention of unused equipment and machinery not being returned to the US under the agreement as this would harm the Soviet image of invincibility (Nikolina, Melnychuck and Ocheretianyi, 2021). Stalin saw the cancellation as an act of American imperialism (Munting, 1984). In 1972 the US asked for $1.3 billion repayment of $11.3 billion owed (today approximately $180 billion) and later settled for only $170 million in an attempt to ease Russian-US tensions and enable Russia access to wider Western funding and credits to prop up its ailing economy.
Anon. (2016) RAF and the SOE: Special Duty Operations in Europe During World War II: An Official History”, Frontline Books, UK.
Bałk, S.S. (1995) “Poles on the Fronts of World War II”, ARS, Warsaw, Poland.
Ciechanowski, J.M. (1974) “The Warsaw Rising of 1944”, Cambridge University Press, UK.
Conversino, M.J. (1991) “Operation Frantic”, Air Power History, Vol.38, No.1, pp. 23 – 38.
Cynk, J.B (1998) “The Polish Airforce at War: The official History 1943 – 1945”, Schiffer Publishing Ltd, USA.
Davies, N. (2003) “Rising ’44: The Battle for Warsaw”, Macmillan, UK.
Downs, J. (2002) “World War II: OSS Tragedy in Slovakia”, Liefrinck Publishers, USA.
Forczyk, R. (2009) Warsaw 1944: Poland’s Bid for Freedom”, Osprey Books, UK.
Garlinski, J. (1969) “Poland, SOE and the Allies”, George Allen & Unwin, UK.
Herring, G.C. (1969) “Lend-Lease to Russia and the Origins of the Cold War, 1944 – 1945”, The Journal of American History, Vol.56, No.1, pp.93 – 114.
Kochanski, H. (2012) “The eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War”, Allen Lane, UK.
Munting, R. (1984) “Lend-Lease and the Soviet War Effort”, Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 19, No.3, pp. 495 – 510.
Nikolina, I; Melnychuk, T and Ocheretianyi, V. (2021) “Lend-Lease in the Structure of Soviet-American Relations”, DOI:10.31652/2411-2143-2021-38-82-89
O’Sullivan. D. (2010) “Dealing with the Devil: Anglo-Soviet Intelligence Cooperation during the Second World War”, Lang Publishing, USA.
Orpen, N. (1984) “Airlift to Warsaw: The Rising of 1944”, University of Oklahoma Press, USA.
Radzilowski, J and Szcześniak, J. (2017) “Frantic 7: The American Effort to Aid the Warsaw Uprisings and the Origins of the Cold War, 1944”, Casemate, USA, and UK.
Rees, L. (2009) “World War II Behind Closed Doors: Stalin, The Nazis and The West, BBC Books, UK.
Additional Useful Resources:
Borodziej, W. (2006) “The Warsaw Rising of 1944”, University of Wisconsin Press, USA.
Clutton-Brock, O. (2017) “Trusty to the End: The History of 148 (Special Duties) Squadron 1918-1945”, Mention the War Publications, UK
GMöller, P.L. (1999) “A Critical Assessment of the Warsaw Airlift (1944)”, New Contree, No.54, pp.39-57.
Möller, P.L. (2000) “The South African Airforce and the Warsaw Airlift of 1944”, Historia, Vol. 45, No.1, pp.135-148.
Myhra, P and Myhra, J. (NK) “A Frantic saga: A personal account of a U.S. Air Force secret mission inside the Soviet Ukraine during World War II”, Amazon / Kindle.
Oliveri, J.A. (2018) Operation Frantic: The Shuttle Missions to Russia”, Merriam Press, USA.
Peszke, M.A. (2006) “Polish Special Duties Flight No. 1586 and the Warsaw Uprising”, Air Power History, Vol.53, No. 2, pp.32-37.
“Warsaw 44” (2014) Directed by Jan Komasa with Józef Pawłowski, Zofia Wichłacz, Anna Próchniak, Antoni Królikowski, Maurycy Popiel, Filip Gurłacz, Tomasz Schuchardt and Sebastian Fabijański.
“Battle for Warsaw” (1978) Documentary directed by Peter Batty.
“The Warsaw Uprising” (2020) Documentary.
“Was Warsaw Uprising Necessary?”, (2016) Short TV documentary by Ryan Socash
Introduction to documentary from photo-stills by /r/Movies with threads to follow.
Selected youtube.com resources:
Frantic 7. The Warsaw Uprising, Polska Fundacja Narodowa
Frantic 7, Twinned city with Colombia Heights, MN, USA
Ruins of Warsaw 1945
Odbudowa Warszawy, 1945 – 1957
Rebuilding Warsaw 1946 British Pathé
Rebuilding Warsaw 1950 British Pathé
Bombing of Warsaw in World War II
The Men Who Went To Warsaw
Warsaw Rising: The Forgotten Soldiers of World War II