Second World War hero returns to Northamptonshire base

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One of the heroes of the Second World War visited the site of his former base in Harrington yesterday (Tuesday).

1st Lt Eugene Polinsky, 98, was a navigator on 35 secret missions in a B-24 Liberator from the airfield near Rothwell in 1944.

Eugene with his medal.  Pictures by Alison Bagley.

Eugene with his medal. Pictures by Alison Bagley.

Over the course of six months he and other members of the Ellis crew, as a member of the USAAF, dropped agents and supplies into occupied Europe to help the resistance.

Since the war ended he has returned a number of times and came back again yesterday to visit the Harrington Aviation Museum on his way to an event in Belgium.

Mr Polinsky, known as Gene, took time to speak to museum committee members and was delighted to be back in Northamptonshire.

He said: "So much has changed over the years.

Eugene, with his daughter Julia, pointing to a record of his supposed death.

Eugene, with his daughter Julia, pointing to a record of his supposed death.

"We had all of our mission briefings in the building that is now the museum and it's wonderful to be part of this history."

Mr Polinsky, the last living person from his crew, was part of Operation Carpetbagger under the 492nd Bombardment Group.

Flying at no higher than 7,000 ft in their B-24 planes, painted black and flown in the dark, they plotted routes to avoid enemy gunfire and took off at around dusk.

They avoided combat with the enemy before dropping to between 400 and 600 ft to drop a total of more than 4,000 tonnes of arms, supplies and equipment or agents to France, Belgium, Holland and Denmark, all occupied by the Nazis.

Eugene with family members and Harrington Aviation Museum Society members.

Eugene with family members and Harrington Aviation Museum Society members.

Mr Polinsky's crew played a key role in liberating Antwerp in Belgium.

The Carpetbaggers attempted to fly in limpet mines to help the resistance group save the harbour from destruction and three crews didn't make it. But the fourth - navigated by Mr Polinsky in what was to be his final mission - succeeded and survived.

But the missions were so secret that it wasn't until 2001 that Mr Polinsky realised the importance of the role he played.

Unbeknown to him the missions came under the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) - the predecessor to the CIA - under the control of General "Wild Bill" Donovan.

Eugene chats with Fred West from the society.

Eugene chats with Fred West from the society.

The airfield was simply known as Station 179 and, although locals knew it was there, only secret missions left it. Not even administrative officers and crew members were told what was going on.

When asked why the B-24 planes were painted black, Harrington airmen were told to reply it was for "night pathfinding operations".

Mr Polinsky, who was 23 when he was based at Harrington, said: "I was in the middle of one of the most amazing things that has happened and I never even knew until 2001.

"We really had no idea what we were doing or how important it was."

Fred West is the secretary of the Harrington Aviation Museum Society and his wife Betty used to watch the aircraft take off at night.

Mr West said: "Gene has been back here several times over the years but not for a while and there are not many Carpetbaggers left, so it's a rare occasion to have one visit us.

"I've been helping out for 15 years or so and we've only had three Carpetbaggers here.

"We really enjoy meeting these people and hearing their stories. They are fascinating."

Mr Polinsky was a navigator in 35 missions, all in the dark, between March 6 and August 9, 1944.

His actions saw him awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters.

Mr Polinsky, who grew up in New Jersey, used to spend his leave time during the blitz in London and often visited the theatre after taking a train. He has since gone on to become a Grammy-winning producer.

But he did enjoy dances in Harrington with local girls.

He added: "It was just splendid!"

Despite his successful missions it was mistakenly recorded that he had died after a plane came down over Norway.

But it soon transpired that the crew member on-board the the downed plane was a Polansky and not a Polinsky.

He later received a medal for his actions at Congress in Washington and was amazed at how key Carpetbagger missions were.

He said: "Carpetbaggers was at the top and I just said 'how?' and 'why?'

"It was so strange because we didn't know anything."

The OSS symbol and the Carpetbaggers heraldry badge will be placed on the refurbished nearby war memorial, just down the road from the museum.