Sunday, 25 May 2008


Originally posted 20th April 2008
There was no cogent reason for the destruction of Poland, other than the German dream of lebensraum, which led to the deaths of 5 million Poles, the devastation of a country and the ultimate defeat of Germany and the final collapse, after 12 years, of a Reich that was designed, intended and stated to be there for a thousand years. In the summer of 1939, Germany turned its Blitzkrieg on Poland and Great Britain did the honourable thing, followed its treaty obligations and declared war on Germany. Sadly, at the end of the conflict, Britain and America caved in to the whims of Josef Stalin and gave away Polish sovereignty to Russia. A real slap in the face to our staunchest ally and an act of such ignominy towards the many thousands of Poles who fought for us during the War years. I hardly dare say that the battle hardened Poles were the fourth largest force fighting for our freedom at that time. In fact their fighter pilots were the most successful during the dark days of the Battle of Britain. Although battered by the German Blitzkrieg (German pilots were battle hardened by their efforts in the Spanish Civil War) and with most of their aircraft destroyed on the ground, the Poles fled to France, where they fought on against the hated enemy. With the almost immediate collapse of the French forces, the Poles might have given up, but they fought bravely on and made their way to Britain, the last bastion of resistance to the German might.
Travelling via diverse and tortuous routes, they came in their thousands to build up a core of fighting forces to resist the Germans. With refugee status, they were under no obligation to fight but still they provided a land army, naval presence and 15 Air Force squadrons to keep the battle going.
After taking a mauling by the Luftwaffe, the Poles were defeated on the home front, devastated by the swift collapse of France and ran to Britain. But they did not run for cover; they ran to fight another day, only waiting to be re-equipped by the British. When that re-equipment came, they proved themselves to be without equals in courage and fighting spirit.
This is the basis of the Polish fight back and what follows is my assessment of 304 Squadron as a representative sample of Polish forces and the history of their efforts.
The squadron was formed at RAF Bramcote, on 23rd August 1940 from 185 men, including 31 Officers, most of whom saw action in Poland and France with 2nd Air Regiment (Cracow) and 6th Air Regiment (Lwow) and with the French Army. This became 304 Silesian Squadron, commanded by Wing Commander Bialy with Wing Comander WM Graham as its British adviser. It was attached to No 1 Bomber Group and was given 16 Fairey Battles for training purposes. The main problems were the language barrier and the lack of instructors on an aircraft which was unfamiliar to the Polish fliers. At the time, the Battle of Britain was in full swing and bombers were relegated to a back seat. In December 1940, the squadron converted to Vickers Wellington Mk Ic medium bombers. At this time, the squadron suffered its first (accidental) loss when R1268 crashed near Edmondsley, 5 miles west of Durham on 14th December 1940, during the transition period between RAF Bramcote and RAF Syerston.
This crash has not been recognised in many sources, including the history of the squadron, written by Wilhelm Ratuszynski, and the general impression is that the first loss was on 15th April 1941 when Wellington R1212 lost power in both engines simultaneously and crash landed on hilly ground, killing three crew membersTheir first operational mission was on 24th April 1941 when Flying Officer Sym and Flight Lieutenant Czetowicz flew a mission to bomb fuel dumps in Rotterdam. This was to be the precursor to attacks on Bielefeld, Brest, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Essen, Frankfurt, Mannheim, Nuremburg and Osnabruck. After a long series of raids on Europe, the squadron sustained heavy losses and, on 10th May 1942 was re- assigned to Coastal Command. This was originally a temporary measure but was soon confirmed as permanent.
They were transferred to RAF Tiree and had to accustom themselves to much longer flights over water on anti-submarine patrols. The first attacks on submarines were made in May 1942 and the first successful attack was credited, by the British Admiralty, to Flying Officer Skarzynski.
Low level flying over water was an extremely stressful activity but the Polish airmen coped admirably. About a month after their arrival at RAF Tiree, on 13th June, 1942 they were transferred to 19 Group and sent to RAF Dale and RAF Talbenny in Pembrokeshire, South Wales.
From here, their operations changed to anti-submarine patrol and convoy protection in the Bay of Biscay. This was a more dangerous area of operations, but gave the Poles a better chance to have a go at German U-Boats. On 25th June 1942, seven of their Wellingtons joined a 1,000 bomber raid on Bremen and one aircraft was lost. The pace of war was dramatically increased and it is a credit to the ground crews that they kept the squadron airborne. On August 13th 1942 Flying Officer Nowicki and his crew engaged and sunk a surfaced U-Boat with only three depth charges. The squadron became such a menace to submarines that an increasing number of German fighters were diverted to attack the bombers.
On 30th March 1943 the squadron transferred to 16 Group at RAF Docking in Norfolk and were given Mk XWellingtons. It was intended that they should become torpedo bombers, but fortunately it was realised that theywould be too slow, and an easy prey for German fighters. On 10th June 1943 they returned to 19 Group, transferred to RAF Davidstow Moor in Cornwall and resumed anti-submarine patrols over the Bay of Biscay. They were re-equipped with Wellington Mk XIII’s which were specially equipped to detect submerged submarines. In September, they were again e-equipped with Mark XIVs which carried additional detection equipment and the newly developed Leigh Light which enabled them to detect surfaced submarines by night – a considerable tactical advantage.
Towards the end of the year, Luftwaffe fighters became more frequent and the Wellingtons of 304 Squadron took a battering but they were again re-equipped with Mk XIV’s which carried the Leigh Light and enabled the crews to detect surfaced submarines at night. On 13th December 1943 they were transferred to RAF Predannack, Cornwall and, in spite of bad weather conditions, the pace of battle speeded up with significant contacts with enemy aircraft and submarines.
1943 had been a very bad year for 304 Squadron and they sustained many losses. Shortly afterwards they returned to 19 Group and resumed anti-submarine activities over the Bay of Biscay.
On February 19th, 1944, the squadron transferred to RAF Chivenor near Barnstaple in Devon. The squadron flew 110 sorties totaling 1074 hours, in spite of bad weather.
In March 1944, Sergeant Baranski was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal for shooting down a German fighter in a near sea level encounter; such was his accuracy that the fighter exploded before crashing into the sea. For the rest of the summer, there were many contacts with enemy aircraft and in spite of taking tremendous punishment, most of the Polish aircraft made it home without serious injury to the crews. June and July was the squadron’s most successful period with 3 probable submarine kills.
In September 1944, the squadron was transferred to 15 Group and moved to RAF Benbecula to hunt submarines in the North Atlantic.
Early 1945 (January) saw the squadron command taken over by Wing Commander Zurek, who presided over Squadron Leader Pilniak and Squadron Leader Krsepisz who commanded A and B flights respectively. There were several unsuccessful attacks on U – Boats in this month.
On 5th March 1945, the squadron moved to 19 Group at RAF St Eval in Cornwall. They were paid a particular compliment at this time, when Air Commander Pritchett wrote a comment in the squadron diary; “They fly when seagulls won’t”.
On May 11th 1945, one of the squadron’s Wellingtons captured a German U – Boat and they flew their last operational sortie on May 30th 1945. On 14th June 1945 they transferred to Transport Command, flying out of RAF North Weald in Essex.
In August, they were re-equipped with Vickers Warwicks Mk I and Mk III and then, in January 1946 with Handley Page Halifaxes. Wing Commander Piotrowski took charge in September 1945. Most of their time was then spent ferrying supplies to Greece and Italy until they were disbanded in December 1946.
Wherever possible, I have credited the copyright holders of photographs used but I have been given photographs where the true copyright holders cannot be identified. In such cases, I will be happy to give due credit, if anyone can identify the owners. This is not a profit making document and is intended only as an historical record

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