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The MIG-15 Defection to Bornholm Denmark

On Thursday March 5, 1953 at 0940 a small Danish island in the Baltic Sea named Bornholm became a world known locality. (a date which became World renowned as the day Stalin died). The Polish sub-lieutenant Francizek Jarecki on that date decided to defect and land his MiG-15bis at Rønne Airport on Bornholm and ask for political asylum. This was the first time that the Western powers had the opportunity to examine an undamaged fighter of this type.

MIG-15 with Pilot

Polish Air Force MIG-15bis after landing in Rønne. Pilot Francizek Jarecki is in the black flight uniform.

The Pilot

Frank enrolled in Glider school at the age of fifteen. Although the required age was sixteen, Frank, determined to fly, lied about his age. He finished out his high school career focusing on mechanics in Bytom, where the instructor took notice of his excellent grades and flying talents. He confided in Frank that to make his dreams of flying come true, he should remain a loyal friend to “the Party.” So Frank joined the Communist Polish Youth Alliance where he formed his own local chapter, the Friends of the Soviet Union… “the things you do if you, if you want to fly,” remembers Frank.

Frank’s hard work paid off in 1950 when he enlisted in the Air Force Academy in Deblin, forging his mothers name on the consent slip. Out of 10,000 applicants, Frank was one of the lucky 150 accepted in the Academy.

However, after the government’s initial acceptance, the men are put through a series of tests, not just for common knowledge or knowledge of mechanics, but also their knowledge of Communism. The men who passed this test were sent one by one into a tribunal.

The tribunal judges could not see through Frank’s web of lies. They did not detect his bitterness being the son of a slain Polish Army officer, that he was a year younger than he had claimed, or that he had relatives living in the United States. If they had known any one of these facts, Frank never would have become a pilot for the Polish Air Force.

Francizek Jarecki was an elite pilot of the Polish Air Force and had in 1952, after having completed the Flying School as no.1, at the age of 21 been transferred to the 10.Sqduadron based near Slubsk. This squadron was only manned by elite and absolute political reliable personnel due to its nearness to Bornholm. Jarecki explained during his interrogation that as a student he was a president of the local Polish-Russian friendship association, became a member of the Communist party and was selected as a political officer in his squadron. As such he promoted Communism and was supposed to report on lack of loyalty of his fellow comrades. At Slubsk Air Base he was so trusted that a billboard was displayed with the text: “Pilots! Strive yourselves to be as dedicated as Lt. Jarecki”.

In secret Jarecki hated the regime. Strangely enough, he had received a short-wave radio personally from Russian General Ivan Turkyel. This was a price for Jarecki being the most successful student in his class at the Flying School. The Polish pilot used this radio to keenly listen to the BBC.

Frank had chosen his escape destination of Bornholm, Denmark from remembering a propaganda comic book he had seen years before. He had heard that the island was occupied by Americans. He had no map of Bornholm because the Western Countries were left off their maps. Also Frank had no idea how the Americans would feel about him being a communist fighter pilot…maybe he would be shot out of the sky before being given a chance to explain that he was not one of them…that he was not “really a communist.”

The Defection

On March 5 Jarecki was formation leader for a flight of 4 MiG-15s. The formation was divided into two and two and the first two took of followed by Jarecki and his wing-man who followed in parallel at a higher level. The route they were to follow is shown on the map bellow. The chart Jarecki had in the cockpit did not show Bornholm, but he had on another occasion seen that the island was north of Kolberg at a distance of about 100km.

Bornholm Map

Map of Jarecki’s flight on 5 March 1953. (via Ole Nikolajsen)

MIG-15bis after Ronne landing

Polish Air Force MIG-15bis after Rønne landing.

Just before Kolberg, Jarecki broke the formation, dived towards the sea and jettisoned his drop-tanks. Below 1000 feet he set course for Bornholm, which he reached in about 10 minutes. His wing-man reported about the incident to the GCI and was ordered to execute operation “Krest” – which was to follow and shoot Jarecki down. This was not possible because Jarecki had too big a lead.

The Landing

Jarecki had been briefed that there was a large American Air Base on Bornholm so he had little worry about his landing. Thus his surprise was great when he realised that there was no Air Base or American aircraft on the island but only a 1200 m long grass strip of Rønne Airport hardly suitable for landing his jet. To the amazement of the local population Jarecki circled the island looking for the “American Air Base” until he realized that the only way down was at the small strip. He executed a perfect wheels down landing!

He got out of the plane and looking around saw a sign that was in Russian. Fearing he was still on Russian soil, Frank panicked, so he grabbed his pistol and cocked it thinking “the Russians will not take me alive.” In the distance he spotted a farmhouse with a woman and a baby staring at him. He began to approach her when a group of men came out of the woods. The men assumed Frank was a Russian. Finally realizing he was safe he announced, “Communist Kaput Asylum”.

The “Return” of the MIG-15bis to Poland

The military quickly fenced the area to secure the valuable price which was hidden under a tarpaulin. A Catalina from the Danish Air Force was hurriedly dispatched with a group of technical experts and the Chief of Air Force.

Dismantling og MIG-15bis

Picture of the partially dismantled aircraft before it was transported to Copenhagen. (via Ole Nikolajsen)

MIG-15 Guns Dismantled

Picture of the removed armament .(via Ole Nikolajsen)

Ready to ship to Copenhagen

Partially dismantled aircraft before it was transported to Copenhagen. (via Ole Nikolajsen)

Under Accident Commander Colonel Erik Rasmussen the aircraft dissembled and investigated. The initial investigations lasted for two days before the aircraft was brought to the Rønne harbour and shipped to Copenhagen, dutifully escorted by ships of the Danish Navy. At Værløse Air Base the Headquarters of the Air Material Command the aircraft was totally dismantled and investigated.

The workmanship of the fuselage impressed the investigators and it was also rumoured (but never confirmed) the electronics contained American parts. There is no doubt that all the results of this inspection were immediately forwarded to the other NATO allies. The aircraft was then packed in crates and returned to Poland, on 20 March.

Re painted MIG 15

Polish Air Force MIG-15bis in the markings of the aircraft who defected to the Danish Island of Bornholm on March 5, 1953. On display at the Danish Flymuseum, Stauning.

Postscript

Francizek Jarecki, RIP
Born: September 7, 1931, Gdów, Poland
Died: October 24, 2010, Erie, Pennsylvania, United States

The Danish Air Force at the time did not have any radar station on Bornholm which could detect aircraft coming from Poland and thus the MiG-15 arrived totally undetected. First in 1954 was the first radar installed on Bornholm, but a real effective long range radar was not present until 1962.

On 25 September 1956, 2nd-Lieutenant Zygmomd Goezniack left Poland in his MiG-15bis and tried to land on the newly asphalted runway at Rønne Airport. Unfortunately work was still in progress as machines and workmen were occupying the runway. Consequently the aircraft successfully landed wheels-up on the grass. He also was given asylum.

Propaganda leaflet

Propaganda leaflet encouraging Communist pilots to defect with their jet fighters. North Korean pilot No Kum-Sok eventually claimed the $100,000 reward offered in the pamphlet. The story of Franciszek Jarecki is also included in the leaflet.

Source: RDAF Historic Collection, photo contributors noted and Danish Flymuseum Stauning.

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