Veteran Stories:
Bill Baluk

Air Force

  • No. 4 Class RCAF Engineers Course, St. Thomas, Ontario, 1943-44. Bill Baluk is 4th from left in Back row.

    Bill Baluk
  • Bill Baluk, No. 5 Initial Training School, Belleville, Ontario, 1943 (on left); and Bill Baluk, 431 Iroquois Squadron, RCAF, Croft York, 1945 (on right). Pictures taken in Oshawa, Ontario.

    Bill Baluk
  • RCAF No.5 Initial Training School, Belleville, Ontario, Class No.10, Flight No.79, 1943. Bill Baluk is the number 38, on right, 2nd row from the back.

    Bill Baluk
  • A page from Bill Baluk's Log Book.

    Bill Baluk
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"One of the soldiers asked me permission to come up and see the white cliffs of Dover through the windscreen, And tears were just rolling down his cheeks when he saw the white cliffs."

Transcript

Dear Lord, lest I continue my complacent way, help me to remember somewhere out there, a man died for me today. As long as there be war, then I must ask and answer, am I worth dying for.

In 1942 [1944] on the 4th of June, I sailed from Halifax on what I remember was the [RMS] Andes. It was a flat bottom boat that rocked like all get out. We landed in Liverpool. On our way over, we had a submarine scare and we went north to -- we were alone, there was no escorts because the Andes was supposed to do 26 knots, it was too fast for an escort. So we went north and landed in Liverpool on the 10th of June, 1944. On the sixth of June, the D-Day, we were in the middle of the Ocean when they announced it over the intercom.

From Liverpool, I went to Cheltenham. In the prior days, RCAF [Royal Canadian Air Force] people went near the south coast. But so many airmen had been killed by bombs and strafing from the German air force that they moved it to Cheltenham. From Cheltenham, I went to Ripon for an escape course but because there was an urgency for a need of flight engineers, I proceeded right on to Dishforth it was 1664 conversion unit, heavy conversion unit for four engine. We flew on Halifax number fives [Halifax Mk V, a make of bomber widely used by both the Royal Air Force and the RCAF], which has Merlin engines in it, instead of the [Hercules] radial [engine].

After graduating from Dishforth, I was posted to 431 Iroquois Squadron in Croft, Yorkshire. And there I met my crew, which had already been flying on Wellingtons [a twin-engine bomber] prior to my arrival. I had a hard time with the tail gunner, [William] Kuchma, because he could not see why a flight engineer was necessary. He thought it was unnecessary baggage and we did not need one, until our first operation, he realized otherwise.

We did not fly on operations until the second of December. At that time, the 431 Squadron was converting from Halifaxes to Lancaster number 10, Mark X bombers which are Canadian-built bombers. Well, we were what was called a spare duty crew, we would only take off and fly if another plane became disabled or unserviceable. Unfortunately for us, no one was disabled or unserviceable so we did not take off, and it’s quite a disappointment because you’re all psyched, you dress up in all your flying gear and get out to the plane and then they take-off and you watch them and you go home and take your stuff off.

My first operation in Croft was going over on the 15th of December to Ludwickshaven [Germany]. And that was quite an exciting experience. For a first time crew, it should shake you right to the bones. We had all our lights go out on our, half an hour before bombing, and it took us quite a few minutes to find out what was causing the interruption of the lights. And lights interfere, you’d have no intercom, you have no super charger, you have no remote control compasses, you have no heat, you have no radio, no radar, you’re pretty well helpless. Had we not been flying in a Canadian-built Lancaster Mark 10, which has thermostatic trip switches as opposed to fuses, we would never have got home. But fortunately, we had trip switches and after about eight or ten tries, we finally feathered the port inner engine and later found out that that engine had a defective generator in it.

We were diverted to Framlingham, which is a United States air force bombing aerodrome for B17 bombers. We had to do an overshoot on three engines and darned near hit the trees in our first overshoot. But we made a good landing and stayed overnight at the American air force. They ate like kings because they had a lot of food there that we did not have in our drome, or anywhere. In the morning, I went out to service the Lancaster and the port inner engine had already been defective and I found two other engines with no compression. So we had to leave our Lancaster there for repairs and we took off and landed at home in Croft with another Lancaster.

And the next, we did Cologne on the 28th of December, 18th of December we did Duisburg. On the 28th of December, we took off at 0309 hours, which is early morning, to Opladen railroads and on our way home, our rear gunner, Kuchma, he observed an ME109 [Messerschmitt Bf 109, a German fighter aircraft] following us and he stated to, over the intercom to the pilot, I will not shoot at him in case he hasn’t seen us. But all of a sudden the ME109 did a 360-degree turn and came at us on the port quarter and Kuchma shot at him and he reported him as shot down but it only got confirmed by intelligence as a probable damage.

And on the 11th of March, we had a daylight operation. I don’t like to call them raids because we were not doing anything illegal. And we took off at 1153 hours and there were 1,069 aircraft on that op. And on our takeoff, we ran into a lot of problems. We’d just taken off and I don’t know the height but I know he’d just pulled the wheels up, we hadn’t retracted the flaps yet and three engines began to oscillate from 3,000 rpm down to 100, back to 2,800, back to 50, down, it just kept doing this for quite a while. And we weren’t very high in height, I don’t really know how high we were but it’s scary. I did my emergency check and the pilot did his checks and we finally pulled the throttles back to the gate, which gives us 2,850 rpm and less boost and the engines picked up. We couldn’t have been too high off the ground, not more than about 400 or 500 feet. And we bombed the rest of the operation and it was no problem.

On Wangerooge [one of the East Frisian Islands] was, a very sad occasion. It was about just a week or two before the war ended. It was a beautiful sunny day, there were no fighter attacks at all or no fighters observed. And we lost seven bombers, two Lancasters from our squadron, 431, collided and everybody was lost. Two Hallies [Halifax bombers] collided from another squadron, and then there was two others crashed and a French bomber squadron also lost a bomber. A sad day, we lost seven bombers which shouldn’t have been lost.

And then the war was ended on the 8th of May, so on the 10th of May 1945, at 1532 hours, we were dispatched to Jouvincourt in France where we landed and brought back 24 British POWs who had been captured in 1941 or 1942. And it was quite a sad experience coming back. One of the soldiers asked me permission to come up and see the white cliffs of Dover through the windscreen, which I saw no harm in doing, allowed him. And tears were just rolling down his cheeks when he saw the white cliffs. And with that, he gave me a pocket diary, a German pocket diary from the German air force which he, and then he gave it to me, I brought it home, eventually gave it to a German Luftwaffe pilot.

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