The Vilnius people who crossed the Atlantic Ocean. The Adamowicz brothers rise and fall…

On the 70th anniversary of the death of Lithuanian pilots Steponas Darius and Statys Girėnas it is worth to remember about… the Polish pilots from Vilnius Region, amateurs, who – contrary to the Lithuanians – succeeded in a similar mission. They crossed the Atlantic Ocean (a year later) successfully (although not without the problems) and – they did it for Poland.  The Adamowicz brothers – Bolesław and Józef were (like the Lithuanians) the emigrants – they came to USA for living in 1911, only to go back to their fatherland on the wings of fame and glory. Even the plane, which they bought for their earnings, was identical to “Lituanica” – the American „Bellanca“ J300. The Adamowicz brothers were the first Poles, who crossed the North Atlantic and brought their plane from USA to Poland by air. But the very first Pole, who crossed the Atlantic Ocean – its southern part – on his own, in the plane of Polish make (RWD-5 bis), couple of months before Darius-Girėnas team, in May 1933 – was a Polish Air Force Captain  Stanisław Skarżyński.

The brothers – Józef (1893-1970) and Bolesław (1896-1979) Adamowicz – were born in Vilnius Region, in the village called Janowszczyzna located closer to Mińsk than Vilnius, next to Olkowicze in the Vileyka county, that time belonging to Vilnius Governorate (later Vilnius voivodeship of II RP). Olkowicze and Krajsk, where they attended the school, are today in Belarus, where we can therefore read nowadays about the “extraordinary achievement of humble Belarusian lads”, of the Czkałow achievement caliber…

Józef and Bolesław followed the older brother Bronisław, who emigrated to USA in 1905 – they moved to America just before the outbreak of World War I and settled down in Brooklyn. They initially worked as simple workers, but after a few years, in 1918 (they called themselves already Ben and Joe) they opened their own soft drinks factory. The business was doing very well, and because the brothers were fascinated by the technical gadgets, they took up interest in the motorbikes, followed – after ten years – by their love for the planes. They had finished a course of flying lessons in 1928 and they bought their first plane – biplane WACO – for 3,400 US dollars.

The famous first solitary flight made by Charles Lindbergh in 1927, and the first unsuccessful Polish trial crossings of the Atlantic Ocean made by Ludwik Idzikowski and Kazimierz Kubala in 1928 and 1929, (they stood in the crowd of Polish immigrants sponsoring the pilots and awaiting the “Orzeł Biały” (Amiot 123) arrival at the New York airport…), and all the successive efforts of the great flights era, stimulated the Adamowicz brothers ambition. They came to the conclusion, that “a Pole has to succeed in crossing the Ocean, Poles cannot be worse than Americans, French, Danish or Italians”. They started to think about it seriously after quite accidental win in the non-professionals competition of touristic planes in 1932.

Following Hausner case?

The decisive factor, which made our non-professional pilots minds up for crossing the Atlantic Ocean (which many contemporary flying aces, performance fliers, professionals and air force pilots dreamt about), was probably the failed try made by another Pole from USA – Stanisław Hausner. Born in the Rzeszów Region in 1900 Hausner, as a 21-year old man, started to think about the northern crossing of the Atlantic Ocean from USA to Poland.  He became the pilot-mechanic for the well-known Warner – Bros Entertainment Inc., and on 28th of May 1932 attempted a flight from the Newark airport (New Jersey) to Warsaw, but after six hours he had to come back: the plane failed, the weather failed as well.

He tried again a few days later. The destination airport (Okęcie airport in Warsaw) was informed, but he was not spotted in Newfoundland, nor in Ireland, neither in London (that was the planned route), and people started worrying. Searching for the pilot on the Atlantic Ocean lasted the whole week and he was proclaimed missing, until on the night from 11th to 12th of June 1932 the world news agencies broadcasted the breaking news: “Hausner is found and saved”. Some 800 km from the Portuguese coast the British tanker ship spotted the floating plane – it was “Rosa Maria” with Polish pilot on board.

What happened is that the fuel tank broke, the fuel started to leak and after 28 hours of flight the engine simply stopped. The pilot splashed down on the water quite skillfully and drifted for six days in his more and more immersed biplane, which was floating only because… of the empty fuel tanks – they functioned as the buoyancy chambers! He saw the passing ships quite a few times, but was not spotted. As the tanker ship captain later commented, the pilot being already on board of the ship, whispered to him: “Thank you captain. I have waited for seven days.  Please inform my wife and save my plane” and he fainted.

Hausner was not discouraged by his failure and after leaving the hospital he started arrangements for the third try of northern crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. He planned to start from New York, to get to Warsaw and then continue to fly farther and farther East, till the Ural Mountains… But the Adamowicz brothers were the first ones arriving to Warsaw.

“Lituanica” and “City of Warsaw”

Thinking of the flight the Adamowicz brothers sold the old plane, and – for the sum of 22,000 US dollars (quite a fortune that time) – bought a special version of the popular touristic plane Bellanca – J 300, adapted for the long distance flights. Darius and Girėnas, at the same time, bought for 3,200 US dollars the basic version (6 passengers) of Bellanca CH-300 Pacemaker, and the American Lithuanians spent another 4,200 US dollars to adapt it for the flight.

Bellanca plane of the Adamowicz brothers had smaller engine than “Lituanica”, therefore it flew at the lower speed (some 200-210 km/h), but also had the lower fuel consumption. The brothers installed two extra fuel tanks of 440 gallons capacity, in addition to the standard fuel tank with capacity of 1627 liters. The plane was equipped with the gyro-compass only, since they could not afford a radio or an autopilot.  “Lituanica” was similarly equipped, and after modification she had taken more fuel (some 3540 liters), it had longer wings and a new propeller. Darius and Girėnas gave up on the parachutes and the radio station – the plane was overloaded, each kilogram counted, but the Lithuanians did not give up on taking the post – about 1000 letters. The postal bag weighed 25 kg, but it paid off to take it – the air mail worked already on the individual continents, but no pilot crossing the Atlantic Ocean thought about signing the agreement with the post office and taking the letters with them, yet…

The Lithuanians and the Poles from Vilnius Region were preparing for their respective flights at the same time – summer 1933. There was a national propaganda factor important for both the teams: one team after completion of the plane alteration (biplane received the new sheathing) painted it in orange (so that it was visible from a distance, for example on the ocean surface) and named it “Lituanica”; the others changed only their Bellanca plane name from “Olympia” to “City of Warsaw” (emphasizing “city”!), added inscription “New York – Warszawa” and decorated the fuselage with the Coat of arms of Poland – the White Eagle, so that everyone knew what nationality the Adamowicz brothers were. The plane retained its original color scheme: fuselage – white, engine cover and landing gear – red, wings and aircraft ballasts – navy blue.

Darius and Girėnas started the first – on 15th of July early in the morning and on the night from 16th to 17th of July they planned to arrive to Kaunas. The lights were on at the Aleksotas elderate of Kaunas, the crowd of 20 thousand people gathered there and the Lithuanian Air Force welcoming planes were up in the air from the evening… The Lithuanian heroes arrived to Europe successfully, but then, being already in the Germany skies, they flew into the storm (one of the most severe that year).

The circumstances of the accident are discussed till now, but the most credible version is the following: the pilots decided to touch down and wait until the weather improves, they spotted a suitable flat area in the Kudham village region, not far away from the town of Soldin (today Polish Pszczelnik and Myślibórz in the Western Pomerania) and decided to turn back over the nearby forest. They had probably made few circles trying to land at night in such a difficult conditions. Statys Darius was an experienced pilot and not once he had practiced such landing, orientated by – for example – a bonfire. The pilots evaluated incorrectly their altitude approaching the landing spot from the forest side, or they had not noticed the forest hill, protruding from the flat field, anyway – they hit the tops of the trees… They both were killed on the spot.. There were still 650 km to Kaunas.

New York – wandering all over Europe – Warsaw

Józef and Bolesław Adamowicz planned to start the flight few weeks later – in August 1933, not from New York, but from small airport – Harbor Grace in Newfoundland. It happened accidentally, that the pilot who was to get the plane prepared for the flight, damaged the biplane during touching down… The aircraft needed mending, therefore the start was put off – for a year. Bolesław used the period of a forced stopover to improve his navigation skills and he passed the instrument flight examination (just few days before the start!).

On 28th of June 1934 the Adamowicz brothers took off from the Floyd Bennett Field airport near New York City (“Rosa Maria” of Hausner and “Lituanica” took off from there, as well) towards the most north-eastern airport in Newfoundland; they were flying by themselves and landed without any problems. The next day, on 29th of June at 5:00 am the brothers took off for crossing the Atlantic Ocean; they had signed in the plane’s logbook: “June 29. Take off 5 O’clock From Harbour Grace for Warsaw, Poland”.

The flight proceeded without problems initially, at the altitude of 3000 m, but after six hours of “hovering over the ocean” the air temperature dropped and the ice started to cover the plane, impeding maneuverability. As the ice accretion increased its weight (and it was already overloaded), the plane started to fall down… The situation was getting out of control and a disaster seemed to be inevitable.  Józef, who kept the logbook in English, after the notes: ice.. ice.. wrote dramatically in Polish – Vilnian dialect “God, save us”…

At the altitude of about 1200 m the warm air started to melt the ice and Bolesław sitting at the helm, regained control of the plane. After the next few hours of the low altitude flight, the brothers got into the storm with thick clouds and gusty wind, but they succeeded to climb above the clouds to the height of 4000 m.

And then, after 11 hours of flying, they discovered that one of the tanks is leaking – they were losing fuel. They pumped the reserve fuel from the jerry cans to the main fuel tanks and after about 20 hours of flight the brothers, eventually, spotted the Europe coast, but… they did not know what their exact position was. The clouds and the fog covered the land, and during the next three hours the Adamowicz brothers were flying to the East out of sight of land, then they turned back and continued in the opposite direction. Finally, knowing that the fuel is about to finish and taking advantage of a little better visibility, not being able to localize any of the cities, they landed on the randomly chosen landing field – a pasture, jumping over the herd of cows and breaking a wooden fence, as it occurred, next to Fleury-sur-Orne town in Normandy (France).

Stefan Jamiołkowski, a Pole living in the area, took care of them; the journalists, the pilots and the local government officials from the nearby cities came.  The next day the Chief of Staff of the French Air Ministry – captain Picard and the Polish Embassy Military Attaché – colonel Jerzy Błeszyński welcomed them. After the repair of the tail wheel, which was broken slightly during the touchdown, the brothers took off for Paris (the French Air Force plane escorted them the shortest way), where their arrival was a true sensation. The official welcoming celebration took place at the French Air Force airport – Le Bourget.

After refueling the brothers continued their flight to Warsaw, where they were awaited on the 1st of July about 6:30 pm. There were crowds gathering at the Okęcie airport, there. To „welcome the Atlantic Ocean conquerors” the Polish fighter planes were scrambled, but it was all in vain – “City of Warsaw” did not turn up. Apparently the fuel tank started leaking again and the Adamowicz brothers were forced to land in Brandenburg, close to Crossen (now Szczawno near to Krosno Odrzańskie), nearby the Polish-German border. The German Police officers were unfriendly towards them. They were put up for the night by the owner of the nearby estate. A correspondent of Polish Telegraphic Agency from Berlin found the pilots and informed the press about their fate. The Germans brought them the needed fuel on the next morning – the pilots had to reimburse the incurred costs. The French offered their help for free…

On the 2nd of July the whole city of Warsaw awaited their heroes, but the brothers again did not arrived:  they had missed their beloved city and landed mistakenly… in Toruń! „We were looking for the big city and big river with the bridges, i.e. Warsaw and Vistula” – they recalled later. „We are in Poland” – excited Joe shouted. „And there is Vistula and Warsaw with the bridges” – called triumphantly Ben a little later. „Look, look – over there? The airport, Polish airport!” –  Joe called again.

Lieutenant Barski was the officer in charge of the 4th Air Force regiment in Toruń that day. It was summer time, hot afternoon, and an unidentified plane appeared over the airport – single engine aircraft with strange signs on it. The plane approached the landing spot. They were marshaled to the indicated apron. Lieutenant Barski approached the plane, from which – after the engine was switched off – two short, fat, stocky and chubby men came out. Lieutenant Barski thought, that they did not look like the fliers. “Hallo boy!” – one of them called – “We are in Warsaw. Right?”

The army men took care of the conquerors of the Atlantic Ocean crossing and notified Warsaw.  Warsaw asked for few hours needed to prepare a welcoming ceremony for the pilots – national heroes – at the Mokotów airfield (it was already like a third time “approach”…). In the meantime therefore, the brothers visited Toruń, warmly welcomed by the city residents, who very quickly learned about the unusual guests. The last stage of the epic flight of the Adamowicz brothers was covered with the assistance of the co-pilot Aleksander Onoszko, who took over the navigation. This is how he related the landing in Warsaw later on: „Just imagine (…) I can see the crowd down there, so I am approaching the Okęcie, to land on the Rakowiecka Street, far away from the crowd. When we are just above the Mokotów airport, one of the Adamowicz brothers asks me nervously where the airport has gone? He could see neither the airfield nor the people!”.

Being a guests at the Żeligowski and Stalin places

Over a dozen thousands of people awaited the brothers at the city of Warsaw; among them the Capital City acting President – Karol Ołpiński, the Head of Aviation – General  Ludomił Rayski, the Vice-Minister of Transportation – Aleksander Bobkowski, the USA Ambassador, the Polish Army generals and the journalists. „There were youngsters and old people, young ladies, army officers, and even the Jews” – Ben, that is  Bolesław, recalled later. The flowers were thrown at them and the crowd got them on their hands and „placed them in a car”. „Ben, what is it? Can you understand? It is for us” – Joe said. Confusion and bursts of passion were so great, that it was impossible to make a welcoming speech.

A cavalcade of cars, covered with the flowers thrown at them from the windows and balconies, moving very slowly through the excited crowd reached the Town Hall. And only then the President Ołpiński, USA Ambassador and Deputy Speaker of the Senate were able to make their speeches. The badges of honor of the city of Warsaw were given to the brothers. The Polish anthem “Mazurek Dąbrowskiego”, the songs “Pierwsza Brygada” and “Warszawianka” were played by the orchestra and Józef – thanking Warsaw – in his American-Polish-borderland accent said: „We wanted to praise the name of Poland. We are so happy, that we are the winners of the Atlantic Ocean crossing and our win is the win of Polonia in USA. But our greatest pride is, that our flight from New York to Warsaw glorified the Polish aviation”.

The Adamowicz brothers were welcomed in equally warm way as in Warsaw, by the residents of Bydgoszcz, Łódź, Grudziądz, Częstochowa, Gdynia, Kraków, Śląsk, and – of course – their beloved Vilnius. The newspapers were writing about them, they were decorated with the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta IV-th class, the honorary citizenship of the cities were handed over to them and the parties were thrown. Their achievement brought such excitement, because the brothers were – as they were described in the newspapers – the very common people, two old men with the bald heads, quite fat and jovial, looking like the businessmen of the gastronomy profession. In fact, their achievement with their limited experience in aviation, was quite daring and adventurous, and they themselves admitted that they really had quite a lot of luck. Bolesław – in a moment of sincerity – admitted, that they would never sit at the helm of any plane again, since the experience of flying over the Atlantic Ocean was enough for them.

They were welcomed exceptionally warm in Vilnius. They met the city authorities and residents, including the General Lucjan Żeligowski (already retired). Father Paczkowski from the Adamowicz’s parish in Olkowicze handed over to them the diploma of a honorary citizenship of Olkowicze and the urn with the homeland earth. The brothers visited Gate of Dawn [Aušros Vartai], to thank Mother of God for the happy crossing the Atlantic Ocean. They signed in the commemorative books and gave their autographs.

The homeland – Janowszczyzna – was that time very closed to the Polish-Soviet border. Olkowicze were Polish, whereas Krajsk – on the Soviet side of the border. The only close related person – their sister – lived in Krajsk and was the USSR citizen. Kremlin followed the brothers triumph and invited them – through “Inturist” – to visit the “land of happiness”. The Adamowicz brothers agreed – and on 20th of July they visited Moscow, on 23rd of July – Mińsk, from where they came to their homeland. The old people talk about the Americans’ visit even today, that Stalin allowed them to meet their sister in Krajsk. They say she benefited from their visit: the Soviet authorities provided her with food products and household appliances, so that she was able to entertain her brothers, they gave her even a cow, so that she could appear “reach”…

They started to prepare for going home after a month of celebrating their achievement. The brothers sold their plane to the Air and Chemical Defense League and returned to USA. “City of Warsaw” plane was used by the Staff Training Squadron till 1937. The plane was used in the propaganda flights, was converted into the transportation plane later on for taking up the paratroopers. Bellanca made the cargo flights during the 1939 war and on the 7th of September was shot at by the Air Defense system (most probably Polish…) and made an emergency touchdown close to Brest at the Bug River. Unable to fly the historic plane fell in the hands of Germans, who mended it and handed it over to the allies – it was used at the Eastern front by the Romania Air Force… The other version says, that just before the war “City of Warsaw” was handed over to the National Museum, and was destroyed by the German’s air raid.

Mafia, sentence and oblivion

After the WWII the fate of the Adamowicz brothers was nearly unknown, no one talked about them anyway. Not only because the Polish emigrants, particularly from the Eastern borderland, somewhere from the Vilnius Region, were not politically correct role models at the time, similarly the Polish aviation achievements before the war, were not the politically correct subjects that time (excluding perhaps Żwirko and Wigura from Švenčionys, or Skarżyński…). It happened that the laurel wreath, received by the brothers in the Old Country, was taken out from them quite quickly in the New World, because of – among other things – their roots and mentality, which did not work in USA.

They thought about coming back to Brooklyn with optimism. Józef said that they would – after going back – add to their soft drink bottles the inscription “The Atlantic Ocean Conquerors”, and it would be the best advertisement for them. It is worth however to mention the history of the Atlantic Ocean conquest and give some thought to a question how even the well-off individual emigrants, yet with the support of the whole family (most of the brothers’ siblings and other relations emigrated to USA), managed, during the raging crisis era to collect 22,000 US dollars to buy the plane, whereas the whole Lithuanian immigrant society in USA was able to accumulate only 8,000 US dollars to support the  Darius and Girėnas project?

The first and the only comprehensive monograph of the North Atlantic Ocean conquerors (after the brothers death) was published in Poland two years ago. They were rediscovered by Zofia Reklewska-Braun and Kazimierz Braun, the authors of the book titled “The Adamowicz brothers. The emigrants and pilots. The first conquerors of the Northern Atlantic” (Rzeszów, 2011). And it was thanks to the initiative of their son, a well known film director Grzegorz Braun.

The authors tried to explain the troubles, which the brothers started facing after returning to USA.

The Brauns try to interpret the pilots’ ways of life recalling the Poles situation in the East under the tsarist occupation, where people were forced to cheat in order not to give up to the imposed power. They explain the so-called “Polish schizophrenia”: at home, among the close relatives, Poles tried to observe the God’s commandments, followed the Catholicism, used the mother tongue; whereas the state was the symbol of oppression. It was therefore “permitted” that one „is different at home, different at school, and different at the authorities office or in the army”. „It is a very specific kind of Polish schizophrenia – the illness of the mind and soul”, which – after the short break for the II-nd Republic of Poland era – was reborn after Poland lost its independence in 1939, and is so very well known by the Poles in Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine…

Bronisław, the  oldest of the Adamowicz family (as the oldest one he played a role of the father of the family and was the co-author of the brothers’ achievement), Bolesław, and Józef – in order to settle down in America with their big family – were cheating on the USA immigration authorities many times, “they were imposing one another”, changing their personal data and “omitting the regulations at the both sides of the Atlantic Ocean”. The worst time came when the USA introduced a prohibition. Were the American officers able to imagine what the prohibition meant for the boys from Vilnius Region? The newly established businessmen producing “the cool and fizzy soft drinks” did not hesitate and cherished the tradition of their homeland – they did run moonshine… Whether they collected enough money for the plane selling their moonshine spirit – no one knows – but the money was for sure not only from selling the cool and fizzy drinks…

Someone submitted a denunciation. And it happened just at the time the “whole world” talked about them. A denunciator could have been – as the authors of the book think – a competitor on the soft drinks market, or simply someone jealous, may be even a Pole. It could have been also the mafia revenge.  The famous pilots should appear to them as strong competitors in the field of production and selling the buzz. It is possible as well, that someone was not very happy with the world fame of the Polish common workers… The Brauns write about “a general unkindness of the American society” towards the Adamowicz brothers. The two inconspicuous-looking men, without any education, manners or connections, were – after uncovering the moonshine case – the easy target of “the unconcerned and disdainful press journalists”. The newspapers were making mockery of them describing their look as crude, without manners, fat men. They laughed at their motivation of crossing the Atlantic Ocean (“to praise the name of Poland”).

During the legal process, which started against the brothers in January 1935, the court decided on the property accession on behalf of the state. Grover M. Moskowitz was the judge in the process of the second instance, ” known for his strictness and irreconcilability towards Poles”. The case was conducted “with the unconcealed hostility and contempt towards the defendants”, overruling many attorneys marks, interrupting the statements of witnesses or defendants. When instructing the jury, „he concentrated on the Adamowicz brothers”. He was not interested in who distributed the alcohol and who was selling it, or who benefited from its production.

On the 1st of April 1935 Bronisław, Bolesław and Józef Adamowicz were sentenced to 15 months in prison and to pay taxes, although the American law provides for the other punishments, like fines. The brothers wandered awaiting the admission to the federal prison in Lewisburg, the date was 27th of May 1936, living at the relatives’ or acquaintances’ places – since their house was confiscated as well. Not long ago they were a pride of Poland, “and now what a shame”… Therefore there was a little news about their fate in Poland.

They were conditionally released from the prison “for their good behavior” just after a year, three months before the sentence expiry. They planned to go for another trip “a flight all over the world”, or the flight over the North Pole to China, but these were just the dreams only. They survived thanks to their “exceptionally loyal family”. They worked as the simple workers in Brooklyn in the 40-ties, they had to forget about flying… And they were forgotten as well. The English speaking historians dealing with the Atlantic Ocean conquest, understate their achievement, rarely placing any reference to it.

Based on: Zofia Reklewska-Braun, Kazimierz Braun “The Adamowicz brothers”. The emigrants and pilots. The first conquerors of the Northern Atlantic”, „Nasz Dziennik”, “Regianalnaja Gazeta”.

Source: http://www.wilnoteka.lt/pl/tresc/wilniuki-co-takze-pokonali-atlantyk-o-wzlocie-i-upadku-braci-adamowiczow

Tłumaczenie by Jadwiga Granowska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Jadwiga Granowska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu. 

of July the whole city of Warsaw awaited their heroes, but the brothers again did not arrived:  they had missed their beloved city and landed mistakenly… in Toruń! „We were looking for the big city and big river with the bridges, i.e. Warsaw and Vistula” – they recalled later. „We are in Poland” – excited Joe shouted. „And there is Vistula and Warsaw with the bridges” – called triumphantly Ben a little later. „Look, look – over there? The airport, Polish airport!” –  Joe called again.

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