International Campaign for Real History

Among documents disclosed by David Irving for his libel action against Hungarian born Gitta Sereny is this five page typescript memoir by the former governor of Gibraltar, Lieutenant-General Sir Noel Mason-Macfarlane, on the events of July 4, 1943.

He wrote it on July 18, 1945, as Mr Churchill, now his enemy, dined in Potsdam with Stalin. Mr Irving discovered it among the general's family papers in Scotland in 1966.

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18.7.45.

The morning of the fateful day on which Sikorsky [sic] met his tragic end dawned in an atmosphere of pure comedy. As has so often been the case and probably without being itself aware of what it had done, the Foreign Office was responsible.

General Sikorsky, with several members of his staff, were staying with me in The Convent on their way back from the Middle East, and were not due to leave for England until late that night. They occupied all the guest accommodation in the house.

In spite of the fact that Russia and Poland had broken off diplomatic relations, I received a message late on the previous evening telling me that Mr. Maisky would be arriving at Gibraltar by air in the early morning, on his way to Moscow, and asking me to extend to him my hospitality.

In the normal course of events, Mr. Maisky's aircraft would not have left Gibraltar for Algiers until about 3 p.m. The difficulty of the situation was all too obvious and I did a quick think as to how to meet it!

A certain amount of subterfuge was obviously necessary, and I arranged with my A.O.C. that Maisky's aircraft should leave for Algiers at 11 a.m. on the grounds that bad weather was anticipated at Algiers later in the day. I then explained the whole situation to General Sikorsky and asked him to arrange that he and all his Party remained in bed until 11 a.m. I cleared out of my own set of rooms at the far end of the house, and after meeting Mr. Maisky at about 7 a.m., installed him in these rooms and breakfasted with him there. During breakfast, a messenger arrived from the Air Force to say that Mr Maisky would have to proceed on his voyage at 11, and without any untoward incidence occurring, I saw him off with considerable relief at that hour, returning to the house to find Sikorsky and the Poles rising from their beds in considerable amusement.

I heard later that when Maisky was told in Cairo that Sikorsky had been killed taking off from Gibraltar late that night, his only comment was "That is really most interesting. It explains why Macfarlane was in such a frightful hurry to get me off the Rock."

Sikorsky's last day in Gibraltar was a busy one! He

 Submerged Liberator wreck

Picture: The submerged wreckage of the RAF Liberator bomber in which Sikorski died (from David Irving: ACCIDENT).

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inspected quite a large contingent of Polish escapees who looked very smart in their battledress, and after lunch, accompanied by Sir James Greig, who was also on his way home from the Middle East, I took him for a tour of the Rock's defences and of other tunneling work done since 1940.

We had a very cheerful dinner, during which four pipers from the Royal Scots played their way round the dining room in customary fashion.

We all set out for the aerodrome in very good spirits at about 10 p.m., and found Sikorsky's Liberator all ready for him, with engines nicely warmed up. We saw the whole party on board, including Brigadier Whiteley, M.P., and Col. Victor Cazelet, M.P. In the last board was Sikorsky's daughter, booking extremely attractive in battledress with a Polish cap.

I knew the pilot -- a Czech named Perzl [sic] -- quite well, having flown with him on two or three previous occasions and while the second pilot was finishing warming up the engines and doing preliminary cockpit checks, I had at least 5 minutes talk with him outside the aircraft. He was absolutely normal, and in fact, the best type of prewar civilian airline pilot, which we had always known him to be.

Finally, he climbed aboard and while he taxied to the Western end of the runway, Simpson, my A.O.C. , and I walked down to the edge of the runway to give them a parting wave as they went by. Having turned his aircraft at the end of the runway, the pilot again reved up each of his engines in turn and then started his take off run. The runway was 1800 yards long and he took off easily with at least 500 yards in hand. In fact, by the time he was over the eastern end of the runway, he had reached an altitude of at least 2 -- 300 ft.

It was a pitch dark night and the searchlights with which the whole aerodrome area was normally illuminated all night had been switched off, as was always the case during the take off of a machine , so as to avoid glare interfering with the pilot. In effect, by the time she reached the end of the runway, all that we could see of

 
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the aircraft was her navigation lights. We were just turning away saying to ourselves "well there's another valuable cargo safely on its way" when we suddenly noticed the navigation lights ceasing to rise and start slowly to descend. Simpson and I both made the same remark: anyone could tell that it is Perzl who is flying that aircraft, as, after gaining a little height he always put his nose down to get up rather more speed before starting his initial climb to cruising height. We waited a moment expecting to see the lights start to rise again. But they never did! In fact, the aircraft flew on a level keel and apparently in perfect shape straight into the sea at an angle of about 10, and hit the water with a sickening crash about 3/4 mile from the shore. A split second before she hit the water, the pilot cut out his engines, which had apparently been running perfectly.

The next few minutes was a period during which I have seldom felt so helpless. Owing to the exposed nature of the coast, it was not possible to keep any air-sea rescue craft on the east side of the Rock, except for one small dinghy, which was quickly manned and started to pull out to the wreck, part of which remained floating in the light of the searchlights which had come on at once after the crash for several minutes. We knew that it would take the high-speed launch at least 5 or 6 minutes to reach the scene of the wreck from their moorings in the harbour on the west side of the Rock, and there was simply nothing to be done, except wait. Before the first high-speed launch reached the scene, what was left of the wreck had all sunk out of sight. Within a very few minutes, the first h.s.l. started back, and I drove down at once to the waterport to discover what they had found. They had three bodies on board, Sikorsky, and his Chief of Staff, Klemnizky [sic], and the pilot. The first two were dead and had both suffered head injuries which must have resulted in instantaneous death. The pilot was still breathing and he was rushed off to hospital.

During that night and in the course of the following days, the bodies of all who had been in the aircraft were recovered, with the exception of four; Sikorsky's daughter, and secretary, and two of the crew were never found. Eighteen bodies in all were recovered, and

 
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in every case, as in the case of Sikorsky and his Chief of Staff, they had obviously been killed by the impact of the crash.

A very searching Court of Enquiry was held into the whole affair. The pilot, who was little more than badly knocked out, except for a cut face and one broken bone in his right arm, was soon able to give evidence, and stuck stoutly to his story that, having, as was his habit, put his nose down to gain speed, when he tried to pull back the stick and start his climb, the stick somehow became stuck and would not move, and he thus flew straight into the sea. We recovered all the aircraft which was lying in only about 25 ft. of water, and in spite of detailed investigations by experts of every description, we were unable to determine how or why the joystick could have become stuck. The aircraft was definitely not overloaded, and we experimented with other similar aircraft by loading baggage in every conceivable position, but it was clear that any hold up in the joystick or its mechanism could not possibly have occurred through badly packed baggage shifting. The Court of Enquiry finally arrived at the conclusion that the accident was to all intents and purposes inexplicable, and ruled out any possibility of sabotage as the machine had a Commando and R.A.F. guard on her during the whole stay on Gibraltar aerodrome, while Sikorsky was on the Rock.

There was one very extraordinary fact. The pilot, like nearly all pilots, had his idiosyncrasies, and he never, under any circumstances, wore his mae west, either taking off or landing. He had his mae west hung over the back of his seat where it would be handy, if required. He stoutly maintained in evidence that he had not departed from his usual practice, and that when he started his take off run, he was not wearing his mae west. The fact remains that when he was picked up out of the water he was found to be not only wearing his mae west, but every tape and fastening had been properly put on and done up.

Personally, I am reasonably convinced that the accident was definitely one which falls into the category of the human element. Although when I said 'goodbye' to Perzl just before he climbed aboard he appeared absolutely normal, I think that he must have had some form of mental abhoration [sic] which led him, for the first time in years, to

 
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put on his mae west. I think that this mental abhoration [sic] ceased while he was actually taking off , but that it came on again almost at once, that in the darkness he lost his horizon. and that in fact he flew the aircraft inexorably straight into the sea without realising what he was doing until the very last second when it was too late to do anything except switch off his engines. All this is further corroborated by the fact that, when the aircraft hit the water, the undercarriage was still down and locked in the 'down' position, whereas, normally, any pilot would pull up his undercarriage within a matter of seconds of becoming airborne. Many of us on the Rock indulged in a great deal of thought and speculation regarding how such an inexplicable crash should have occurred, and all those whose judgement I value, including my A.O.C. finally agreed with me that the disaster was clearly due either to an error of judgement, or, more likely, a temporary blackout on the part of the pilot.

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