1940: A Polish pilot is interviewed by an intelligence officer after a sortie for reconnaissance information.
The British authorities initially agreed to take only 2,000 airmen and incorporate them into the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR) because at first they would not allow the formation of independent Polish Air Force Units under Polish command.
In early August 1940, following the fall of France, a Polish-British Military Agreement was reached, and permission was granted for the formation of an independent Polish Air Force under RAF operational control. The first squadrons to be formed were the 300 and 301 bomber squadrons and the 302 and 303 fighter squadrons.
Squadrons 302 and 303 played an essential role in the victory of the Battle of Britain, earning the pilots many distinctions for their well-developed battle skills and courage that resulted in a high success rate. During the Battle of Britain, there were 145 Polish fighter pilots serving in the RAF, the largest group of non-British pilots.
Sir Archibald Sinclair, Secretary of State for Air is quoted as saying ‘Our shortage of trained pilots would have made it impossible to man the squadrons which were required to defeat the German air force if the gallant airmen of Poland had not leapt into the breach.’ Air Marshal Hugh Dowding also admitted that the outcome of the Battle of Britain would have been very different if it had not been for the gallantry of the Polish airmen.
These Polish squadrons flew many operations, and were soon joined by additional Polish squadron. By the end of 1943, there were 15 Polish squadrons established in Great Britain – ten were fighter squadrons complete with all the infra-structure. The Polish Air Force was the fourth largest of the allied Air Force Units and, on 1 December 1943, there were 11,638 personnel. In May 1945, the numbers had risen to 19,400 personnel, mostly based in Great Britain or in North Western Europe.
Polish bomber crews, based in Lincolnshire, took part in the bombing of Germany, incurring huge losses. The Polish Air Force also provided aerial cover in the 1942 Dieppe landings. It was involved in the Air Defence of Great Britain, and took part in operations in North Africa, the Normandy Invasion and in operations in Northern Europe. It also saw action in Italy, and helped the Home Army (Armia Krajowa) and the Warsaw uprising of 1944. Aircrews were also engaged in anti-submarine patrols and convoy duties. They also served in Ferry Command, later to merge with Transport Command and the Atlantic Ferry Organisation (ATFERO). Prestwich was a major trans-Atlantic ferry base through which passed thousands of North American built aircraft, the Air Transport Auxilliary (ATA), plus technical ground staff in RAF units.
A few Polish squadrons had bases in Scotland, both during and after the war, with many Polish aircrews being trained there. Polish squadrons did not stay long in Scotland, except for the 309 Squadron and the Balloon Flight. Air Force training classes were situated at the Polish Military Staff College, near Peebles, and the operational training unit was based at Grangemouth.
Sortie report - click image to enlarge
Nov. 17, 1943: Air Vice-Marshal H.W.L. Saunders decorates Wing-Commander Gabszewicz with the Distinguished Service Order.
THE POLISH AIR FORCE (PAF)
The Polish Air Force, comprising around 300 aircraft, first fought in the 1939 invasion of Poland by Germany and Russia, shooting down 126 enemy aircraft. Following the fall of Poland, an estimated 7,000 airmen escaped, along with 90 operational aircraft, through Hungary and Romania, to France. Being veterans of the Nazi 1939 invasion of Poland gave these airmen significant operational expertise. In the Battle of France, Polish planes shot down 56 German aircraft, but again the fall of France to the Germans resulted in 8,400 Polish airmen escaping to the UK.
In 1943, a Polish WAAF unit was formed and the women carried out a variety of operations.
Autumn 1946 saw the Polish Air Force start to disband; at the beginning of 1947, there were about 11,000 personnel who had joined the Polish Resettlement Corps with camps based in England and Scotland. At the end of the war, some of the Scottish airfields became housing units to the Polish Army, and later the Polish Resettlement Corps. In July 1948, the Polish Air Force had totally disbanded, and the PRC disbanded in October of that year. The Yalta Agreement of February 1945 had seen the Soviets take over what was the Eastern Poland (Kresy) Region, and most of the airmen were either unwilling or unable to return home.
In September 1992, after the fall of communism in Poland, the Standard of the Polish Air Force was returned, and handed over to the present-day Polish Air Force,
One hundred and eighty-six Polish airmen were awarded medals, including one the DFC, eight the DSO and one the DSO and bar. Altogether, 1,903 Polish airmen lost their lives in WW II.On 13 September 2008, a memorial was unveiled at RAF Grangemouth, Scotland, to commemorate the trainee pilots and their instructors who were killed during the war. The names of those killed, originating from Australia, Canada, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Ireland, Holland, New Zealand, Poland, Great Britain, and America, are engraved on the memorial, which was built close to where the original hangars stood on the old airfield in Boness Road, Grangemouth.
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