Andrew Charles "Andy" Mynarski VC, was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1916.
Andrew Mynarski joined the RCAF in 1941 and was assigned to No. 419 Squadron RCAF as a mid-upper gunner. The night of his 13th operation in a Lancaster Bomber over Cambrai, France, the aircraft was attacked and set on fire.
Pilot Art de Breyne ordered his crew to jump then he himself jumped. Unknown to Art, the rear gunner, Pat Brophy, was trapped in his turret and Mynarski was desperately trying to save him. By the time Brophy insisted Mynarksi jump to safety it was too late. Witnesses recall seeing Mynarski's flaming parachute tumbling from the sky. The sad irony is that Brophy miraculously survived the crash and lived to tell the tale.
As he waited for the ground crew to finish preparing the four-engine Lancaster bomber, Pilot Officer Andrew Mynarski handed his friend Pat Brophy a four-leaf clover. The 21-year-old Mynarski had found it growing nearby in the grass.
Mynarski, the mid-upper gunner, and the rest of the crew of 419 Moose Squadron Lancaster KB-726 (call sign VR-A) would need all the luck they could get that night; they were about to embark on their 13th operation, which would put them over their target, a railway marshalling yard in Cambrai, France, on Friday the 13th.
Mynarski’s luck ran out during the operation, but not before he showed himself to be courageous, loyal and selfless.
Accompanied by the distinctive roar of the Merlin engines of the rest of the Lancasters of Moose Squadron taking to the sky from RAF Middleton St. George airfield, KB-726 raced down the runaway and lifted into the air, heading southeast across the English towards Cambrai.
Mynarski, who joined the RCAF in 1941, was known as a quiet, but good-natured young man with a good sense of humour; without a doubt, he was also a loyal friend.
The bombers flew on towards the target in darkness. The lead planes approached the target shortly after midnight when powerful searchlights reached up into the sky, looking to mark targets for flak emplacements and the feared Junkers Ju-88 night fighters.
Lancaster KB-726 is Hit
Suddenly, the searchlights converged on KB-726, catching it in a cone of white light. A Ju-88 attacked, quickly knocking out both of the Lancaster’s port engines. With the plane in flames, the pilot ordered the crew to bail out. Mynarski climbed down from his turret and moved towards the rear escape hatch. He was about to jump when he noticed Brophy trapped in the rear turret. The Ju-88 had also knocked out the hydraulics, which Brophy needed to rotate the turret.
Instead of jumping into the night air, Mynarski crawled along the narrowing fuselage through burning hydraulic oil that ignited his flight suit and parachute.
Brophy tried to wave off Mynarski, yelling at him to leave the plane. Mynarski grabbed a fire axe and hammered on the turret. He tried wrenching the turret doors open with his hands as Brophy continued to yell at him to get out of the plane. By now, flames had fully engulfed Mynarski’s flight suit. Mynarski finally accepted that he couldn’t help his friend.
Much later, Brophy was quoted as saying that when Mynarski finally accepted that he had to leave, "he hung his head and nodded, as though he was ashamed to leave—ashamed that sheer heart and courage hadn't been enough." Mynarski, his eyes on his trapped friend, crawled back along the fuselage and through the burning hydraulic fluid. "On his face was a look of mute anguish," said Brophy.
Once at the escape hatch, Mynarski ignoring the fact that his flight suit was on fire, stood at attention, saluted Brophy and mouthed the words "Good night, Sir." It was his customary sign off. Mynarski jumped from the plane. French citizens on the ground watching Mynarski descend in flames, found him and took him in, but he died a few hours later.
The rest of the crew, including Brophy, survived. Remarkably, Brophy was thrown clear of the wreckage when the crippled bomber crashed. Members of the French Resistance saved Brophy and three other members of the crew. The remaining two members of KB-726 were captured and spent the rest of the war in a POW camp.
After the War
It wasn’t until the end of the war that Brophy told his story of Andrew Mynarski’s heroism, which led to Mynarski receiving the Victoria Cross. He was the first member of the RCAF to receive the Victoria Cross during the Second World War.
Brophy later said he survived the crash and the rest of the war because "divine providence intervened to save me because of what I had seen, so that the world might know of a gallant man who laid down his life for a friend."
That gallant man is remembered with two statues, one at Middleton St. George, home of the 6th Bomber Group, and the other in Winnipeg. A school and air cadet squadron, both in Winnipeg, are named in Mynarski’s honour. And perhaps most fittingly, the Mynarski Memorial Lancaster was named for him. This Mk. X Lancaster is only one of two Lancasters in the world that are still capable of flying.
Mynarski is buried in the Meharicourt Communal Cemetery, Somme, France. His Victoria Cross is displayed in the headquarters of 1 Canadian Air Division in Winnipeg. The axe Mynarski used to try and free Brophy was recovered at the crash site and is now with No. 419 Squadron at CFB Cold Lake.
419 Moose Squadron
The name, motto and badge of 419 Moose Squadron were all inspired by the nickname of its first commanding officer, Wing Commander John "Moose" Fulton of Kamloops, B.C. The motto of 419 Moose Squadron—Moosa Aswayita—is Cree for "beware of the moose" and its badge is of a charging bull moose.
Both are fitting images for 419 Squadron, which by the end of the Second World War had flown a total of 4,325 operational sorties from Mannheim to Nuremburg, Malan to Berlin and Munich to Hanover, inflicting heavy damage on the enemy.
As a result of its wartime record, 419 Squadron became one of the most decorated units under the RCAF during the Second World War.
Moose Squadron was formed at Mildenhall, Suffolk, England Dec. 14, 1941. It was the first RCAF squadron to join the No. 3 Group of RAF Bomber Command stationed at RAF Middleton St. George initially as part of No. 3 Group of RAF Bomber Command. The squadron joined No. 6 Group (RCAF) when it was formed in October 1942.
At the beginning of its active service, 419 Squadron flew the Vickers Wellington, a twin-engined, long-range medium bomber. The squadron then moved up into the "heavies," first the Handly Page Halifax and finally the Avro Lancaster.
Recognition for Andrew Mynarski
Pilot Officer Andrew Mynarski received the Victoria Cross, one of two awarded to the RCAF during the Second World War, for an act of heroism during a sortie over enemy-occupied France. In honour of P/O Mynarski, 419 Squadron set aside a special room in which some wartime squadron awards, achievements and mementos were kept.
419 Sqn Postwar
After Japan officially surrendered, 419 Squadron was disbanded on September 5, 1945, ending its wartime service. 419 Squadron received the following battle honours for its participation in the Second World War:
- English Channel and North Sea 1942-44,
- Baltic 1942-44,
- Biscay Ports 1942-44,
- France and Germany 1942-45,
- Ruhr 1942-44,
- Berlin 1942-44,
- German Ports 1942-45,
- Normandy 1944,
- Biscay 1942-44
The Moose Squadron was reactivated on March 11, 1954 in North Bay, Ontario, flying the CF-100 jet aircraft and was designated 419 All Weather Fighter Squadron. In June 1955, the Moosemen were awarded the Steinhardt Trophy for being the most efficient squadron in Air Defence Command. In 1957, 419 Squadron moved to 4(F) Wing, Baden-Soellingen, Germany, becoming an integral part of the NATO force in Europe. Moose Squadron once again served the country well, earning recognition throughout its tour in Germany. In December 1962, the squadron was disbanded for the second time.
On November 1, 1975, 419 Squadron was officially returned to active duty and re-designated 419 Tactical Fighter (Training) Squadron, flying the Canadian built CF-5 Freedom Fighter. The squadron's primary task became the basic training of tactical fighter pilots. The first course commenced training in January 1976, and in those days, graduates proceeded onto a variety of fighter Aircraft, such as the CF-104, CF-101 and, of course, operational CF-5 squadrons. Before deactivation of the squadron in 1995, these pilots proceeded to 410 Squadron for conversion to the CF-18.
Reactivated again in 2000 flying the British Aerospace Hawk Mk 115, 419 Squadron followed in the footsteps of her most recent predecessors and again adopted the fighter training role, this time in the form of the NATO Flying Training in Canada (NFTC) program. Presently, instructor and student pilots from six different nations conduct fighter lead-in training at Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake. Students receive instruction in the basics of fighter flying before carrying on to their respective countries’ front-line fighters. Today, 419 Squadron provides a rounded, multinational experience to each aspiring fighter pilot as a member of the Moose Squadron.
419 Squadron and the City of Kamloops have shared an unprecedented and enduring military historical relationship since 1943 when the city formally adopted the wartime unit. In 1993, 419 Squadron Moosemen were further bestowed the honour of Freeman of the City by a unanimous decision of the members of City Council.
The year 2016 marks the 75th anniversary of 419 Squadron.