unit began its formation in July 1940 in Blackpool. The flying personnel
consisted of very experienced pilots of the 111 "Kosciuszko" and 112
"Warszawa" Eskadra of the Polish Air Force. Poles never really
considered it a new unit, but a continuation of the squadron's history dating
back to 1918. The unit was formally commanded by British Officers: S/Ldr Ronald
Kellet CO, and F/Lt John Kent (Canadian) and F/Lt Athol Forbes, commanders of
Flight "A" and "B" respectively. Their Polish counterparts were S/Ldr
Krasnodebski with F/Lt Urbanowicz and F/Lt Opulski.
On the very
next day upon arrival, the Poles commenced their training on Miles Master, and
on the 6th on Hurricane Mk Is. As previewed, in August the unit received
initial complement of 18 fighters. Some had problems to adjust themselves to new
equipment, which for some made a huge difference of what they flew before.
While the Poles were training, the Battle of Britain was in its full swing, and toward the end of the month they were impatient, and begun openly complain about not being sent into action. Jan Zumbach later wrote in his book: "We were fed up with British stubbornness, playing around with Blenheims and being confined to our sector." Their status changed suddenly, when on August 30th, F/O Paszkiewicz shot down a Dornier during a training flight. Thus, although still not operational, the squadron achieved its first success and joined the raging aerial battle. Its finest hour had arrived.
On October 11th, after nearly six weeks of being in the thick of fighting, the
exhausted 303 was moved to Leconfield. It then became a
intensive fighter training unit, and begun receiving replacements for those who
had been killed, wounded, or sent to OTUs as instructors.
The Battle of Britain (BoB) was in its last stages, and
although the favorable weather for invasion could still come, its threat was
vanquished. The Luftwaffe was still a handful, but the Fighter Command could
breath easily now.
By early 1941, the defense of the island remained the RAF Fighter
Command prime task, but now it could venture into other jobs. The main German
fighter Bf109 was still superior to Hurricane and Spitfire in climb rate and
altitude performance, what caused the RAF planners to conceive a new fighter
tactic called "Mosquito" (later called Rhubarb). Their objective was to
harass and irritate the enemy by surprised, hedgehopping attacks against a
variety of its targets on the ground. This suited very well Polish spirit and
mentality to seek and engage the enemy.
In February, the unit joined
"Circus" operations, with the first such sortie being flown on the 2nd.
Several more followed, and none was easy. If the squadron did not engaged enemy
fighters often the flak shrapnel damaged planes. March was filled with typical
over-the-channel service: offensive missions, scrambles for interceptions and
a part of the Wing, the squadron flew offensive missions over the continent. In
April the 303 flew many fruitless interception against sporadic raids of German
aircraft. No wonder that the most popular among pilots were "Mosquito"
Till July 13 - when it was rested at RAF Speke near Liverpool - the
squadron carried out almost daily operational sorties of various types.
No less successful was a sortie on June 18,
when in a fierce fighting over the France the 303 pilots shot down four Bf109s
without losses. A week later the "Kosciuszko" squadron chalked up six more
The Wing's units changed from time to time when the front-line
squadrons were routinely relieved, by those stationed farther north. This system of
service by rotation was not popular among pilots, but gave them a well-deserved
rest, so needed for the future service. After five month of strenuous
operational duty the 303 was rested. The move came on July 13. Its new base
became Speke, and now the 303 belong to the 9 Fighter Group.
Typically for squadrons in for a rest period, part of the 303 flying
personnel changed. New pilots relieved those transferred to other duties or lost
in operations. Therefore, apart of normal service (during the rest squadrons
continued operational flying but not in expected combat zones) many training
flights were done. When returning to front-line service, the squadron had to
have full complement of fully qualified fighter pilots.
On 7 October 1941, the squadron returned to
Northolt and the 1 Polish Fighter Wing. Soon after it was reequipped with
Spitfire Mk Vs. That month the unit flown four offensive sorties: three
"Circus" and "Rhubarb". In each one, pilots fought with German fighters,
new FW190s among them. New scores were added.
In combat in 1941, No. 303 Squadron aggregated 46 enemy aircraft destroyed, seven probably destroyed and four damaged, with a loss of 9 pilots (three COs). Two pilots were lost in accidents and were rescued from the channel. The unit also lost 20 Spitfires.
The beginning of the year featured long stretches of a bad weather,
and only one offensive sortie was flown in January. Few, one-section convoy
patrols was all the unit had done till mid February. On the 12th that month, the
whole squadron was scrambled for the search of German battleships "Scharnhorst"
and "Gneisenau", dashing through the channel. Led by W/Cdr Rolski, Poles
flew a fruitless sortie in a bad weather and were directed by the ops to patrol
some 100 km east of German convoy.
Toward the end of February, the weather begun to cooperate and the RAF seized the opportunity to renew its offensive actions. The American 8th Air Force joined in and the Allied bombing effort intensified. Numerous missions needed escort, and the 303 flew many of those. On 13 March, Poles flew as a top cover in the "Circus" of 8 Bostons on their way to Hazebrouck, and were attacked by Bf109s. In a fierce dog fight S/Ldr Kolaczkowski and F/O Drobinski downed one German fighter each, while F/O Lipinski was credited with a probable. Flight "A" commander, F/Lt Lokuciewski was shot down and taken prisoner and F/O Horbaczewski managed to return in a badly shot up plane.
Worth noticing are results of the prestigious 11 Group aerial gunnery competition held on April 11th. On 22 fighter squadrons, the Polish squadrons (303, 316 and 315) took three top places. As a winner, No. 303 Squadron received a trophy and official recommendation from Air Marshall Leigh-Mallory.
the frequency of offensive sorties increased and toward the end of April, the
303 flew over the Channel almost daily. Majority of these operations were
"Circus" and "Fighter Sweep". Poles engaged German fighters on numerous
occasions, scoring some and loosing some. Although Allies gained the air
advantage, German fighter units contained many excellent pilots, and the
Luftwaffe, modernizing its planes and adopting new tactics, still presented
itself as a formidable opponent in the air.
May 1942 was no less
busy. For the 303 character of the service did not change and lists of losses
and victories continued to lengthen. Changes among flying personal were common.
On of those was the changed of CO, when on 9 May S/Ldr Zak replaced S/Ldr
Kolaczkowski. Another change came on 25 May. The new CO became S/Ldr Zumbach.
new location, Kirton in Lindsey (Lincolnshire) was located 35 miles SW of Hull.
Pilots on duty stayed in readiness, usually in section strength. Newly arrived
personnel received a good dose of training.
15 August, the squadron temporarily moved to Redhill south of London. The move
came in preparation of the "Jubilee" operation at Dieppe. Together with the
303 came 317 Polish Squadron and four others. For the next three days there was
no flights and ground crew were ordered to have maximum number of serviceable
The day after the "Jubilee" the 303 returned to Kirton in Lindsey, where it continued to rest practically till March 1943. The rest of the year was uneventful. On 1 December S/Ldr Bienkowski assumed the command of the unit, replacing Jan Zumbach. On the 19th, the 12-plane detachment of flew over to airfield at the coast, from where it took part in a bigger operation against German fighters, designed to divert their forces from 90 B-17s bombing Ramilly in France.
In 1942 at Kirton, No. 303 Squadron renewed its traditional ties with
the Americans , when the 94 Squadron USAAF spent some time as part of No.
12 Group. Rather jovial relations were established between Poles and American,
which at the beginning were dominated by "trade"talks. A very good start to
this friendship was visit paid the previous year by Colonel Cooper, one of the
first American pilots in the old No.7 "Kosciuszko" Fighter Squadron.
In 1942, No. 303 Squadron totaled 21 enemy aircraft destroyed, 9 probables, and 2 damaged. The unit lost 10 pilots: four killed in action, two in accidents and four taken prisoners.
January 1943, the 303 carried out regular squadron-in-rest duties: training,
convoy patrols and readiness. Only once, on 21 January, the unit took part in an
offensive sortie over France, when one Flight joined 2 Polish Fighter Wing in a
sweep over Abbeville-Le Touquet.
During all this time,
Poles did not encounter German planes. Only on three occasions in May, the 303
pilots had a chance to fight; on one of them S/Ldr Bienkowski claimed one FW190 damaged.
June 1st, the unit returned to Northolt, and once again became part of the 1
Polish Fighter Wing. The squadron began conversion to Spitfire Mk IX, a new
version designed to match performance of the German Focke Wulf 190. The new
version had almost twice the range of the Mk V, and sorties were considerably
longer, as the fighter could now reached far into France.
Toward the end of June, the unit flew many sorties, often two, three
times a day. Scraps with German fighters were sporadic. On the 24th, in a
dogfight over Flashing, F/O Kolubinski damaged one FW190, but two Poles were
shot down: P/O Karczmarz and P/O Kobylinski became POWs.
August 1943 was even busier. Many
"Ramrod" missions were flown. On several occasions, Poles also escorted
American B-17s. On August 17, while escorting some 60 B-17s, the 303 led by F/Lt
Arct surprised a group of FW190s sending down four of them without losses, with
F/Sgt Chudek scoring twice.
For the next two and a
half month, the 303 continued its intensive service over the channel, and the
pilots became quite familiar with some portions of its coastlines.
On November 12th, the 303 was detailed off to RAF Ballyhalbert (Northern Ireland) for another period of rest. On 20th, S/Ldr Koc assumed the command of the unit, which was in process of changing its Spitfires Mk IXs back to Mk Vs. As usually, the squadron pilots stayed in readiness, flew convoy patrols (Jurby on the Isle of Man), and trained. Together with the 307 and 316 Polish squadrons, the 303 became part of the newly created Air Defence of Great Britain (ADGB). Other Polish fighter squadrons became part of the 2nd Tactical Air Force and had much more chance to meet the enemy in the air. Feeling relegated to duties of secondary importance, the 303 pilots felt disappointed.
At the end 1943, No. 303 Squadron had a record of 203 enemy aircraft destroyed, 40 probables, and 25 damaged. Although the unit remained in operational service for the rest of the war, this record did not change.
remained in Northern Ireland till the end of April, 1944, when it was moved to the advanced
landing ground (ALG) at Horne some 30 miles south of London. See the orders. Over there it
joined the 142 Fighter Wing. Suitable airstrip covered with wire netting known
as the Sommerfield Track made up for the facilities. Everything the Wing needed
to operate was under canvas, as part of the plan to prepare units for field
operations from the airstrips in Europe. On the field airports intensive work
was to ensure the maximum mobility and self-sufficiency, andmany RAF fighter units went through that run-through before the Invasion.
On D-Day, the 303 took
active part in operations over the landings. Three full strength sorties were
flown without incidents that day, and for the next week the squadron continued to
fly patrols in the designated areas over Normandy.
On 18 July, the unit moved yet once more. It went back to
Westhampnett and received new Spitfires Mk IXs. The
Luftwaffe was hard to find in the air, but the flak defenses were getting
stronger. To that flak, the unit lost more aircraft and pilots in August and
September. However, those losses were not significant.
In 1944, the unit lost five pilots in combat, one pilot in flying accident and three were taken prisoners.
During the first months of 1945, the 303 continued to
operate over Holland, but on somewhat lesser scale. Eventful days were sporadic,
and unfortunately many of these were days of losses. On 25 February, the
squadron was led F/Lt Szpakowicz on an Armed Reco over Holland. His aircraft was
hit by flak during ground strafing and he had to ditch in a channel Zype near
Shouwen. The Flight "B" commander drowned. Two days later, F/Sgt Prusak was lost crashing his Spitfire during take
off at Harrington.
After the war, the squadron was relocated few times and
its fame as the best unit of the Battle of Britain wore off. The morale - as
among all the other Polish units - were law, and the commanders had a hard
time to keep discipline. The unit recorded several flying accidents, of which
four resulted in pilot's death.
November 26, 1946. S/Ldr Lokuciewski taking off the "Kosciuszko" squadron's badge off the weapon no more.
© Polish Squadrons Remembered