Wednesday, 26 January 2011


This is a new and updated version of an old posting. It contains more details, particularly of his early life fighting in the Bolshevik War. Inevitably there is duplication but it gives a more accurate picture of the man.

He was born 1 May 1899, near Warta Sieradz and in 1918 he was already a volunteer in the military and was involved in disarming the surrendered German forces. He fought in the 29th Kaniowskich Rifles during the Bolshevik War and was wounded in the back in December 1919. On 16th August 1920 he received shrapnel wounds in the knee, by shrapnel from a grenade in the Battle of Radzymin, and, due to severe infection, he was told he would never be fit to fight again. He was awarded the Silver Cross of the Order of Virtuti Militari for his actions in this battle.

However, he remained in the army and, in June 1925, he went to the flying school in Bydgoszcz. During his first flight, his aircraft burst into flames but he managed to land safely; he graduated as a pilot in 1925 and was posted to an Air Regiment based in Warsaw. On 1st January 1927 he was promoted to Captain. Prior to the outbreak of war, he progressed through various squadrons and rose through the ranks to commander of an air regiment.

Between the wars he made his name as an aviation pioneer with major flights across Africa and across the Atlantic and became the only Pole ever to win the Bleriot medal (in 1936) for setting an international distance record of 3582 kilometres for a Class II tourist plane. On 1st January 1934 he was promoted to major and, in 1938 to lieutenant colonel at which point he became deputy commander of the 4th Air Regiment in Torun. In August 1939 he was sent to Romania as the Deputy Air Attache.

When war broke out, he played a major part in organising the transit of Polish airmen to France before escaping himself. In France he helped to organise the elements of the Polish Air Force in exile. In late June 1940 he arrived, via France, in England and in 1941, he took command of the Polish Flying Training School at RAF Hucknall, later moving to RAF Newton in the same capacity.

At his own request, in December 1941, he went to RAF Bramcote to train on Wellington bombers and, in April 1942, he assumed command of RAF Lindholme which was the home base for 304 and 305 Polish Squadrons. Although not directly attached to either Squadron, he was still a fighter at heart and began to fly bombing missions as second pilot. On 25th June 1942 he was on a 305 Squadron mission to Bremen when one engine failed and they were forced to ditch in the North Sea about 40 miles off Great Yarmouth.

He was the last to leave the aircraft and the rest of the crew managed to get into a dinghy and heard his cries for help for about half an hour but were unable to save him. He had taken refuge on a piece of wreckage but was swamped by a wave and washed away. The rest of the crew were picked up by a Royal Navy vessel after about eight hours in the water but Skarzynski drowned and his body was washed ashore on Terschelling Island in the Friesian Islands off the coast of the Netherlands. He was buried in West Terschelling cemetery. He was posthumously promoted to Group Captain. In 1983 a plaque was fixed to his gravestone; it reads ZAWSZE RAZEM JULIA which means “Forever together, Julia” and marks the fact that his wife’s ashes were buried in his grave.

During the course of his career he was awarded the Silver Cross of the Order of Virtuti Militari, the Cross of Independence, the Officer Cross of the Order of Poland, the Cross of Valour (four times), the Gold Cross of Merit and the Silver Cross of Merit. He also won the Cross of the Romanian Crown, the Hungarian Cross of Merit, the Brazilian Southern Cross and the French Legion d’Honeur. He was posthumously promoted to full colonel and awarded the Order of Polonia Restituta II Class.

He was used as the model for Edward Wittigowi’s design for the monument to airmen in Warsaw.
Photo courtesy of www.polishairforce


realwildchild said...

Hi. I found Józef Nilski at your site. He was my grandmother's brother. I want to say thank you, cause she didn't know what happened with him until now. Do you have any contact with his family?
This is my e-mail:
I will be grateful if you answer.

ARCHIVE said...

Hello Matylda,

Thanks for reading my blog and for your response. I will try to contact them for you. Unfortunately Yahoo lost my entire email file including email addresses. It may take some time, but I will find them and try to put you in touch.