Poland has repatriated £4billion worth of gold fromLondonto Warsaw in a top-secret operation involving planes, helicopters, high-tech trucks and specialist police.
A total of eight night-time flights were made from an undisclosed London airport over the course of several months this year, transporting 8,000 gold bars weighing 100 tons to several locations in Poland.
The country’s gold reserves have been stored at the Bank of England for decades, having been evacuated from Poland at the outbreak of the Second World War amid fears they would fall into the hands of Nazis.
But Poland’s nationalist government has now begun repatriating the gold in order to ‘strengthen the country’.
Gold bars worth a total of £4billion have been repatriated from London to Warsaw over the last several months in a top-secret operation (pictured being loaded into a crate for transport)
A total of eight late-night flights took off from an undisclosed London airport (pictured) bound for multiple locations in Poland carrying 1,000 bars on each trip
Poland’s gold reserves (pictured) were evacuated at the outbreak of the Second World War to stop it falling into Nazi hands, and for decades has been stored at the Bank of England
Security firm G4S International Logistics were given the task of transporting the gold, which it described as one of the biggest movements of gold between banks in the world.
A spokesman said the final trip, which happened on November 22, saw trucks take 20 crates filled with bars from a facility in northwest London to a nearby airport.
The transport was given a police escort and tracked from overhead by a helicopter.
After arriving at the airport, the bars were strapped down inside a Boeing 737 transport plane and flown to two locations in Poland.
The crates were received by an elite police unit and were loaded on to three more armoured trucks before being taken to vaults belonging to Poland’s national bank in undisclosed locations.
There, everything was counted and measured to ensure nothing was missing.
Paul Holt, a general manager for G4Si, said: ‘It was all very secretive, and extremely important it was done well.’
Poland began increasing its gold reserves in 2018, before announcing that roughly half its store would be transported to Warsaw to ‘strengthen the nation’
A fleet of high-tech armoured vans, elite police units, helicopters and planes were used to transport the gold, which was one of the largest transfers between banks in the world
On Monday last week, Poland’s bank chief Adam Glapiński announced that the gold transfer had been completed.
He said 100 tons of Polish gold was now securely locked away in the vaults of the NBP Treasury in Warsaw.
A separate press release said: ‘To commemorate the return of gold to Poland, the NBP will issue a gold bar-shaped collector coin in December.’
Until recently, Poland held around 100 tons of gold reserves exclusively at the Bank of England, but announced in 2018 that it would buy another 100 tons.
The country then announced it would be repatriating half of the gold, following a similar move by the nationalist government of Viktor Orban in Hungary.
At the time, Glapinski said the gold ‘symbolises the strength of the country’, boasting that Poland could generate ‘multi-billion’ dollar profits by selling it – though stressed that he had no plans to do so.
Poland had $121.9 billion in official reserves, including gold, as of October 31 this year,Bloombergreported.
How Poland’s gold was secretly shipped through four continents for five years to hide it from the Nazis
At the outbreak of the Second World War, Poland’s national bank held a reserve of around 80 tons of gold worth $90million – $1.6billion in today’s money – which was viewed as a national treasure by the government.
When Nazi Germany invaded in September 1939, emergency plans were made to get the store out of the country to stop it being plundered by Hitler’s men.
Over the course of the next five years, the gold would be shipped through a dozen countries and across four continents in order to keep it safe.
The entrance to the main building of Bank Polski SA (left) and the treasury (right), where most of the nation’s gold was stored when war broke out in 1939
Its first journey was to Romania, where a small deposit was left at the national bank, before it was shipped to Turkey with the help of the British.
From Turkey it was loaded on to freight wagons and taken to French-controlled Syria, then on to Lebanon – all within the month.
The gold was then loaded on to ships and sailed across the Mediterranean to France, after assurances from Italy – then an ally of Germany – not to attack the convoy.
By October, the gold had arrived in Paris and was deposited at the Nevers branch of Banque de France, where it was hoped it could remain throughout the rest of the war.
However, the following year Nazi Germany invaded France, meaning it was necessary to move the gold again.
The gold was taken via the Middle East and Europe to Fort Kays, in modern-day Mali (sketch of the fort pictured) where it sat between 1940 and 1942
A convoy of ships took the gold to Africa – to Dakar – before it was moved to Fort Kays, in what was then French West Africa and is modern-day Mali.
France surrendered to the Nazis just a few weeks later, leaving the gold effectively in German territory.
Despite efforts by Charles de Gaulle’s Free French Army to seize the fort and return the gold to Poland, it would remain there until 1942 when the Allies launched Operation Torch – the invasion of North Africa.
As part of the operation, Major Stefan Michalski – a director of Bank Polski SA – was deployed on a special mission: to find and recover the gold, or else learn what had happened to it.
A letter from Stefan Michalski, a director of Bank Polski who was inserted into North Africa during the Allied invasion, reporting the gold is still there
Later the same year he reported that the gold was still in West Africa and Poland began negotiating for its release, with a pact signed in 1943.
In 1944 the gold was taken back to Dakar, where the decision was made to ship it in its entirety to the Federal Reserve in New York, a risky operation that was successfully completed by the end of March.
Once in the US, the gold was split into three lots – one to be kept at the Federal Reserve, one to be taken to the Bank of Canada in Ottawa, and a third and largest share to be taken to the Bank of England in London.
Between March and August 1944, the Bank of England’s share was shipped in small amounts in convoys carrying ammunition and war supplies, while being escorted by destroyers to keep it safe from German U-boats.
After that phase of the operation was complete, the final share of the gold was taken in three separate transports to Ottawa, during September and October.
Poland’s gold stores would eventually be consolidated at the Bank of England, where they remained until earlier this year, when part of the store was repatriated to Poland using jets.
Between March and August 1944 part of the gold was taken to the Bank of England by in weapons transports escorted by destroyers to keep it safe from U-boats (pictured, British destroyers in Brooklyn)