WANDERINGS WITH A CLANDESTINE
From time to time we had an unscheduled visit from the fellow known to us as "Strumien". He was one of a number of radio operators at the disposal of our high command. He would come to our territory to "play" on the small short wave radio - transmitter, previously air-dropped to us with other equipment. For safety reasons and to avoid possible misuse the radio could not be operated without a small device called, correctly or not, "quartz", that kept it on the right transmitting frequency. That small cube was supplied by the operator. The third element necessary was the set of coded dispatches which would be delivered by special courier. All three elements would get together only when the whole operation was secured by a well armed squad of underground soldiers. There had to be a great degree of mobility by such a team because the German radio-locating stations, stationery and mobile, were capable of pinpointing a "playing" operation in barely two days and organize a large scale manhunt.
It was not the first time for me, but most of the boys in my squad were new to the routines. The first stop was near a little hamlet called Stawy (Ponds). Once a large fish farm, it was a good place, providing easy retreat into a swampy wilderness in case of danger. There was an old barn, badly in need of repairs, but sufficient for our operation. The most tiresome task was the around the clock guard duty especially for the squad commander who rarely had a chance to rest. During the day the men not standing guard or having their rest, were hand cranking the generator supplying the electricity to the transmitter. It was hard work because the cranking speed had to be uniform, but each time the radio operator pressed the key it felt as if the brake was applied. And one must not stop.
Our radio operator, once he managed to get contact with England in the morning, would not stop for food or drink, but would keep pressing the key transmitting coded messages in "Morse", or for a change receiving and writing down mysterious groups of letters. Sometimes, due to interference or atmospheric conditions, he would lose the contact, and would have to repeat parts of his transmission. Down there in England, the operators would change every hour or so; here he was alone a whole day. The only breaks he would get were if a German plane flew by, or if there was some enemy movement near by. The crank operated generator was quite a noisy device, and we had to be careful not to attract unwanted attention.
At nightfall it was time to move to the new location, somewhere in the vicinity of the village of Jarnice. As per regulations we should have avoided population centers, but the summer nights are short, we had to reach our destination before daylight and bypassing the town would have taken a few more hours. I decided to walk, in a combat formation, right through the town.
There was not much trouble expected from the local detachment of German gendarmes. They had learned their lesson the hard way some time ago. Not one of them would dare to be outside their fortified post at night. A lone search light from their tower kept sweeping the market square, but that was easy to avoid since, like most of their operations, it worked with Teutonic regularity. Nevertheless, we were alert and ready for the unexpected. Any town under a curfew and black out has, at night, that eerie air of abandonment, but this was my town, and while leading an armed squad along the streets that I used to walk to school, somehow I knew, that behind the dark windows there were people watching us and sending their silent blessings our way. Only when we entered the street leading through the ruins of the now empty ghetto from which about sixteen thousand Jews perished, murdered on the streets or in the Treblinka death camp, the feeling of desolation became overpowering.
On arrival at our new location we barely managed some breakfast when our radio operator was back at his work. This time we were guests on a large and friendly farm. Our hosts were trying to make our stay as pleasant as possible. Their two sons were also somewhere in the Underground. It was specially moving to see a woman pouring motherly attention on virtual strangers hoping, no doubt, that somewhere another mother would feed and comfort her son.
It was the last day of our task. I had hardly slept during the last few days, and was working hard to stay awake by reading, helping to crank the generator, checking if the men on guard duty were alert, and so on. A few of my men were asleep in the corner of the room, their rifles leaning against the wall nearby. Almost by force of habit, I started to check these rifles. I would open the breach of each one press the trigger, and while holding it, close the breach again. It would relieve the unnecessary tension on the spring of the firing mechanism while the rifle was not in use. In my tired state I must have missed some sequence because on the fourth rifle, when I inadvertently touched the supposedly released trigger, the gun fired, its business end close to my face. The bullet penetrated the ceiling and galvanized steel roof of the house, but did not attract any noticeable attention - there were no close settlements around and a good view of the surrounding area. As for our radio operator - he did not stop his work for a moment.
That evening, the task completed,
Strumien left us for his next assignment. I arranged secure storage for
the transmitter and our armament, and sent my men home. As for me, I returned
to my small guerrilla detachment which consisted of the command staff of
our military district. There, besides being a man for special assignments,
my task was the security which I provided with a "bren" light machine gun.
On my arrival I received a small reprimand from the District Commander
for crossing the town and unnecessarily stirring German emotions.
Apparently the day after our crossing, armored patrols were sent by them
along the highway as far as forty kilometers and reports of our squad of
twelve men grew to the size of at least a company.