Polish Pilots in II World War. First to Fight (03:56m)
"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few" (Winston Churchill)
When Churchill proclaimed these words he was referring to the Royal Air Force Squadrons. Among them were the Polish ace pilots of the 303 squadron flying under the command of the RAF. Their heroism and magnificent skill had earned them the deepest respect and gratitude of Great Britain.
The RAF Command were initially unaware of the talents of the Polish aces and had put them through a rigorous prolonged period of training, much of which was unnecessary. These Polish pilots knew how to fly a fighter plane. Eventually they had their opportunity to show their skills and proved to be as good and even better than most British pilots.
During a training flight on August 30, 1940, F/O Ludwik Paszkiewicz who was attached to the 303 squadron spotted a group of German bombers. Though the RAF ordered him to avoid combat, he ignored the order and pursued the enemy aircraft scoring a kill. It was the first shot made by a member of the 303 squadron.
The RAF commanders recognized immediately that the Polish unit had full operational capacity and they were dispatched to the front line, and not a moment too soon. On August 31st, the first day of real action, 6 pilots from the 303 squadron shot down 6 German aircraft without suffering any losses. On the same day, other squadrons of the RAF unfortunately suffered the greatest losses ever experienced in the Battle of Britain.
The 303 squadron was formed on July 15, 1940 under the command of S/Ldr Ronald Kellet, and his Polish counterpart S/Ldr Zdzisław Krasnodębski. The pilots came from the 111th and 112th squadrons of the 1st Aviation Regiment in Warsaw.
The 302 squadron was formed on July 10,1940 under the command of S/Ldr Jack Satchell, and his Polish counterpart S/Ldr Mieczysław Mümler. These pilots came from the 3rd Fighter Squadron of the 3rd Aviation Regiment which was based in Poznan before World War II. And both squadrons defended the skies over Great Britain, flying Hawker Hurricane Mk. I Fighter planes.
The Polish pilots performed the most amazing aerial combat maneuvres and were most skilled in spanning the skies, spotting the enemy before other squadrons ever noticed them. The Poles racked up an astounding number of kills, but the commander of the Northolt RAF station, W/Cdr Stanley Vincent refused to believe it, nor any of the other RAF officers. He had to see for himself and one day flew together with the 303 squadron to observe their battle against the German bombers. He was shocked by what he saw and after the battle confirmed his findings:
"Suddenly the sky became full of firing aircraft, parachutes and parts of broken wings".
The Commander tried to participate in the battle, but each time he wanted to attack the Germans, a Polish pilot anticipated him. He never got the chance!. After the landing he said to the Intelligence officer:
“My God, they are really doing it!".
Though all the pilots of the Polish squadrons were exceptional,special mention should be made of a few of them, all part of the 303 squadron: the top pilot was F/Lt Witold Urbanowicz who scored 15 kills; F/O Zdzisław Henneberg, P/O Jan Zumbach and Sgt. Eugeniusz Szaposznikow (each with 8 kills),and
P/O Mirosław Ferić with 7 shots.
|F/Lt Witold Urbanowicz|
|F/O Zdzisław Henneberg|
|P/O Jan Zumbach|
|Sgt. Eugeniusz Szaposznikow|
|P/O Mirosław Ferić|
The best pilot of them all was not Polish. He was a Czech flying with the 303 squadron, Sgt.Józef František. He refused to fly with any other squadron as he so admired and respected the Polish ace pilots. During the Battle of Britain he invented a technique of "hunting" enemy aircraft, and thus achieved 17 kills. Sadly, he was killed in an accident on October 8, 1940.
In addition to the two fighter squadrons, the Polish contingent had two bombers squadrons: the 300 sqn "Ziemi Mazowieckiej" and 301 sqn "Ziemi Pomorskiej", both equipped with Fairey Battle Mk. I bombers.
On the night of September 14, 1940, they entered the combat and took part in the so-called Battle of Barges.Throughout the Battle of Britain, the Polish aircraft from 300 and 301 squadrons made night bombing raids of the German landing ships positioned at Boulogne, Calaise and Oostende.
Within days congratulatory telegrams came flooding in praising the Polish pilots. One of them was sent by the Director General of the BBC:
"The BBC sends warm greetings to the famous 303 Polish Squadron with lively congratulations upon its magnificent record and all best wishes for its future. You use the Air for your gallant exploits and we for telling the world of them. Long live Poland!".
(-) F.W. Ogilvie
|Polish Ground Crew|
A total of 2,944 pilots fought in the Battle of Britain - 497 lost their lives. Polish pilots numbered 145 but lost 32 in battle. The RAF, which included the allied pilots from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland,United States, Canada, Free France, Belgium, South Africa, and South Rhodesia, shot down a total of 1,733 German aircraft. The Polish pilots were accredited with shooting down 203 German aircraft. The Luftwaffe shot down 915 British fighters. Because of the heavy RAF losses, the proportion of Poles on the front lines was increased by 20%. In the words of Air Chief Marshall Hugh Dowding, AOC Fighter Command of RAF:
“all (Polish) squadrons swung into the fight with a dash and enthusiasm which is beyond praise. The first Polish squadron (303) during the course of one month shot down more Germans than any other British unit in the same period. Other Poles were used in British squadrons, but they were probably most efficient employed in their own national units."
Even after the end of the Battle of Britain, more Polish squadrons were being formed. The squadrons served all over occupied Europe fighting the Luftwaffe and conducting bombing raids over Germany.
They fought in North Africa and became known as the famous Polish Fighting Team, nick named
The Polish pilots flew combat missions over Italy, and covered the landing in Normandy.
By the end of the war there were a total of 15 Polish squadrons: seven day fighter squadrons (302, 303, 306, 308, 315, 316 and 317), one night fighter squadron (307), four bomber ones (300, 301, 304 and 305), one army cooperation squadron (later fighter reconnaissance squadron, then bomber fighter, later fighter - 309), one fighter reconnaissance squadron (318) as well as one air observation post (663).
Polish squadrons were also a part of the occupational forces in Germany.
On Remembrance Day, let us remember with pride and gratitude "the few" who altered the course of history and saved Europe from the grip of German might. The Polish pilots were far away from their homeland fighting for the freedom of Europe. They exemplified the best qualities of a Polish soldier: Bravery. Toughness. Perseverance. And most of all - Honour.
Engraved on a moment dedicated to the Polish airmen of the RAF in Great Britain are these words, that live for time immemorial.
"I have fought a good fight, I have finished the course,
I have kept my faith".