Friday, May 30, 2014

The Friday Flyby - 30 May

Hurricanes of No. 303 ("Kościuszko") Polish Fighter Squadron
303 Dywizjon Myśliwski "Warszawski im. Tadeusza Kościuszki"
It seems that yesterday's post has left me in a Polish frame of mind. So to speak. Besides which, the fame of No. 303 Squadron lends itself naturally to my "series within a series" of Famous Aviation Units (as part of the Friday Flyby).

The Royal Air Force (RAF) Museum's website has this to say about No. 303 Squadron:

The Poles were keen to fight but the RAF would not at first let them fly operationally. This was because few of the exiles spoke English and there was concern about their morale. What the British did not yet realise was that many of the Poles were excellent pilots. Having come through the Polish and French Campaigns, they had more combat experience than most of their British comrades and they employed superior tactics.

As the Battle of Britain wore on, and the shortage of trained pilots became critical, the exiles were accepted into RAF squadrons and two Polish fighter units, Nos. 302 and 303 Squadrons, were formed. Once committed to action, the Poles flew and fought superbly, shooting down 203 enemy aircraft for the loss of 29 pilots killed. No. 303 Squadron became the most successful Fighter Command unit in the Battle, shooting down 126 German machines in only 42 days. Czech Sergeant Josef Frantisek, also of '303', was the top scoring pilot with 17 confirmed victories.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, who led Fighter Command, would later write:

"Had it not been for the magnificent material contributed by the Polish squadrons and their unsurpassed gallantry, I hesitate to say that the outcome of the Battle would have been the same."
Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding
Commander of RAF Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain

In the same vein, RAF Uxbridge, which was the headquarters for No. 11 Group of Fighter Command which was responsible for the aerial defence of London and the south-east of England during the Battle of Britain has this as one of it's static displays -

Hurricane of No. 303 Squadron

You can tell this is a Polish aircraft by the Szachownica z kirem (chessboard with a pall) insignia on the nose of the aircraft just under the exhaust stacks.

Szachownica z kirem

Of course, there is this wonderful scene from the film Battle of Britain...

I think I have seen this movie 20 times and that is one of my favorite scenes!

Undaunted by Odds
by Robert Taylor

RAF fighter squadrons all had a distinctive 2-letter code painted on the side of the aircraft, No. 303 Squadron's code was "RF". The third letter on the side was the letter code for the individual aircraft within the squadron.

Squadron Leader Witold Urbanowicz's Hurricane MkI of 303 Sqn during a combat over Beachy Head in the summer of 1940 -

by Piotr Górka
No. 303 Squadron Spitfire Mk.Vb RF D of S/Ldr Jan Zumbach with Donald Duck nose art.

No. 303 Squadron was one of 16 Polish squadrons in the RAF, No. 303 was the highest scoring RAF squadron during the Battle of Britain. Here are some squadron statistics for WWII.

No. 303 Squadron downed 126 German aircraft ("Adolf's") during the Battle of Britain.

No. 303 squadron pilots in 1940. From left: P/O Ferić, F/Lt Kent, F/O Grzeszczak, P/O Radomski,
P/O Zumbach, P/O Łukuciewski, F/O Henneberg, Sgt. Rogowski, Sgt. Szaposznikow.

F/O Bronisław Kłosin holding an aerial gunnery contest award, on the left side of him, Flt Lt Bieńkowski, on the right side Flt Lt Zumbach.

Some of the high scorers of No. 303 Squadron were:

  • Squadron Leader R G Kellett DSO DFC, Original CO of 303 Sqn during the Battle of Britain, (five claims)
  • Flight Lieutenant John A. Kent, Canadian Flight commander during the Battle, (11 claims)
  • Sgt Josef František, Czech pilot flying with 303 Polish Squadron, was one of the top fighter pilots of the Battle of Britain, with 17 confirmed kills.
  • Flying Officer Witold Urbanowicz, Polish commander of 303 Squadron from 5 September 1940, scored 15 kills during the Battle of Britain (17 or 19 + 1 + 0 total)
  • Pilot Officer Jan Zumbach, commander of 303 Squadron from 19 May 1942, scored 8 kills during the Battle of Britain (12 1/3 + 5 + 1 total)
Sgt Josef František
Flying Officer Witold Urbanowicz

Pilot Officer Jan Zumbach
P/O Zumbach's Spitfire
The last thing you'd want to see on your Six, if you were German in 1940!

King George VI visited the unit during the Battle of Britain on September 26.

In that photo above, just to the left of the King, partly visible is S/Ldr Urbanowicz, who took over after S/Ldr Krasnodebski was wounded. Presenting pilots is S/Ldr Kellet. The King shakes hand with P/O Januszewicz, on who's his right has P/O Henneberg, F/O Cebrzynski and F/O Paszkiewicz. To the left of Januszewicz are: P/O Grzeszczak, P/O Zumbach and P/O Feric. (Source)

That source linked above is an excellent website dedicated to No. 303 Squadron during the Battle of Britain. They start with this -
It must be said, that before the two Polish squadrons and one Czech entered the battle, the British Command regarded their Slavic allies as inferior pilots to their own, with broken morale, hindered by language incapability. Except for the language they were completely wrong.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you No. 303 Squadron of the Royal Air Force - 303 Dywizjon Myśliwski "Warszawski im. Tadeusza Kościuszki".

Dobra robota!

Repeat please...
Proszę powtórzyć


  1. Once again, learned a bit more on a subject I thought I knew a lot about. Thanks for the beginning of a good Friday.

    1. That's what I'm here for Juvat.

      Have a great weekend!

  2. Good post. I was going to write something with tongue firmly jammed in cheek but nope. I saw the Battle of Britain at the theater at Fort Myer when I was 9. The lasting impression it left me with was that I was there. My mother never understood that there are almost no pictures of me doing Navy. I sensed that only those who had really nice photos didn't come home. There were no photos, ergo, I came home.

    1. Now that you mention it, I have very few pictures of my time in the Air Force.

      The aerial sequences in Battle of Britain do have a very nice "You are there" feel. Love that movie.

      And you know the rules Cap'n, anytime you want to go "tongue in cheek" - go for it. (There are very few rules here...)

  3. Excellent post. I found this interesting, though: "In the same vein, RAF Uxbridge, which was the headquarters for No. 11 Group of Fighter Command which was responsible for the aerial defence of London and the south-east of England during the Battle of Britain has this as one of it's static displays -"

    I never saw that Hurricane in my three years at Uxbridge. I'm not saying it isn't there, because I left Uxbridge in 1983 and a LOT could have... and prolly did... change between the time I left and when the station closed. The only WW II aircraft I ever saw was a Spitfire, located in a place of hono(u)r as the Gate Guard at the main gate.

  4. Looks like the relocated it (both?) when they built the WWII exhibit. Google Earth .There's a Spit with D-day markings in the shadow of a tree to the south of the Battle of Britain Bunker and a Hurricane on a stick across the street from the bunker.

    1. Bingo!

      51°32′25.54″N 000°27′52.09″W puts you on Birch Crescent just outside the Battle of Britain Bunker. Hurricane to the NE and Spitfire to the SSE. (I'd hate to be a Heinkel in that situation!)

      (Thanks for having my six, Juvat!)

    2. Always! (It's what I do)

    3. Just got a chance to watch the clip (they frown on that at work). Think I'm gonna have to get a copy of my own.

    4. Looking at Uxbridge on Google Earth was both painful and enlightening. All of the 2119th's infrastructure is gone and it looks like the Powers That Be are steadily erasing what used to be the proud home of the RAF Band and the Queen"s Color Squadron.

      I suppose all things must pass. (sigh)

    5. @Buck - I get that, one of my favorite bases has been nearly completely subsumed by the Denver 'burbs. Lowry AFB.

      Sure, all things must pass, but we don't have to like it, neh?

  5. So what did the Poles fly in the Polish and French campaigns? Those are some pretty good stats, attributable I'm sure, to their experience and the equipment (Spitfires), which made for a good match.

    1. The Polish Air Force in 1939 equipped their fighter units with the PZL P.11 (175) and the PZL P.7 (105). Both of which were high-wing all metal monoplanes with open cockpits. With these aircraft the Poles shot down 170 German aircraft during the short (roughly a month!) Polish campaign. FOr the most part the Me-109 was superior to both of those Polish designs. But a good pilot is always a threat, no matter what he's flying (and nowadays, she!)

      During the brief campaign in France only one complete Polish unit was formed, GC I/145 flying the Caudron C.714. Apparently this aircraft, though light and fast, was limited in engine size due to its wooden construction. So it was very underpowered. (No raised eyebrows about the wooden design now, the Hurricane was made of wood as well. But it was a better design than the Caudron.)

      Numerous Poles were assigned to French squadrons and they mostly flew the Morane-Saulnier M.S. 406. This aircraft was sturdy and maneuverable but weakly armed and (again) underpowered. Both French aircraft types flown by the Poles were at a serious disadvantage when up against the Me-109.

      GC I/145 scored 12 confirmed and 3 unconfirmed kills during the brief campaign. Three of the Germans shot down were flying the Me-109, an impressive tribute to the Polish pilots' skill!

  6. Oh, never-mind. I see that it was the Hurricane.

    1. During the Battle of Britain No. 303 Squadron flew the Hurricane, later on they were re-equipped (like most of Fighter Command) with the Spitfire.

  7. Replies
    1. I don't know how many times I heard that, but it's the first time I've seen it.
      BTW - I passed along yesterday's post to my daughter, who's at least half Polish.
      She sends her thanks.

    2. Pproszę bardzo!

      Glad that your daughter liked the post, Skip!


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