THE BRIEF HISTORY of No. 309 POLISH SQUADRON

Written by Wilhelm Ratuszynski

 

        After already four bomber and five fighter squadrons were established on British soil in 1940, the time came for the Polish Army to have its winged arm required by the modern warfare. The Agreement of Mutual Assistance between the United Kingdom and Poland signed in August, called for a formation of such a unit. Accordingly, the Air Ministry soon approved formation of another Polish Air Force unit: No. 309 Polish Army-Cooperation Squadron. Its organization started on 8 October 1940 at RAF Abbotsnich in Scotland, and soon (November 6th) its headquarters moved to Renfrew, where some facilities under repairs.
    All the technical and flying personnel was to be formed by people from various pre-war Polish units, but before the unit reached operational efficiency, it was also manned by British officers and airmen. The squadron received used Westland Lysanders Mk III, a two-seater designed specifically for army cooperation and tactical reconnaissance. The aircraft was armed with four machine guns and light bomb racks.
    The command of the squadron was given to S/Ldr Pistl, experienced high-rank officer, who was advised by W/Cdr Mason.

      

The original badge of the squadron. Silver with golden arrows and "309" numbers.

 

    On the November 12th, the first Polish flying personnel arrived to Renfrew: F/Lt. Lukasik, F/Lt Wolf, F/O Bernat, F/O Kasprzyk, F/O Narewski, F/O Baster, P/O Berezecki, P/O Lopacki, P/O Sowalski and P/O Stefanus, and 51 other ranks. Soon more came in and with de beginning of December, full scale training begun, was conducted according to preexisted guidelines of Polish units: low level visual recon­naissance, picking up and delivering messages, artillery spotting and ranging, as well as bombing. Due to various difficulties occurring during training flights, it was decided that the pilots should follow the course designed for an RAF operational Training Unit.

    On the December 1st, 1940, the 309 Polish Squadron transferred from 22 Group to the newly formed 71 Group. Four days later The first operational flight took place:  two-aircraft section patrolled the Clyde River estuary. The task was to keep in readiness against marauding German planes, the role in which Lysnaders were absolutely inadequate with the maximum speed of just over 200 m/h. What’s more, the airfield was very unsatisfactory in many ways. Small and with boggy surface, it bordered with Glasgow balloon barrage and shred with Scottish Airways and A.M. Airworks.

 

    On the beginning of 1941, all pilots were fully trained in Lysanders flying, and theirs effort were recognized with many promotions. In January, at West Freugh, the crews begun training with Army units, and soon two things became apparent: The Poles would make excellent fighter pilots and that their rather impatient temperament has to be tempered.

    Rather uneventful three months followed, but in early March 1941 Germans bombed Renfrew airfield several times, causing extensive station damage and number of casualties. Between March 3rd and 8th, the Luftwaffe visited Glasgow and Renfrew daily, and the 309 kept a flight of the aircraft at Scone, where the best chance existed to intercept German planes passing over Perth. Although scrambled several times, the Polish Lysanders had no chance to intercept faster German bomber. The crews commenced night flying training but with very little enthusiasm.
    During three-days nights raids on the Glasgow (12/14 March) the 309 suffered several of its personnel killed or wounded.
President Raczkiewicz visited the unit in April, followed soon after by HRH the Duke of Kent accompanied by General Sikorski.

    On 15 May 1941, the squadron was moved to Dunino, near St. Andrews (Scotland). It was an all-grass airfield surrounded by woods, where the whole personnel were billeted in tents. From Dunino, the squadron flew training flights and participated in maneuvers of British and Polish Army units. These were both day and night flights.
    The crews greatly increased their total flying hours, but the ground crews struggle to keep worn out Lysanders serviceable. The effect of their hard work was an official recognition for the 309, as the unit with the best serviceability and greatest number of flying hours in the Army Co-operation Command. No new aircraft were received, and eventually many had to be grounded due to a lack of spare parts or facilities for major repairs.


Above: the unit's AR-O in flight

    Toward the end of spring 1941, the Air Ministry recognized the tactics of Army Co-operation Command as obsolete, its aircraft too slow and very easy target for enemy flak and fighters. It was learned that what Army needed was effective tactical photoreconnaissance, permitted by already developed high-speed photography, and done by fast flying planes. Lysander couldn’t fulfill the role, and the unit was to be reorganized and converted to another type of aircraft.
   
The squadron dawdled through the rest of the year, waiting for its turn to convert. Except for some theoretical classes, very little was done in that matter. The process of adapting to the new guidelines was very slow and many airmen were disheartened. The unit became practically not operational.

 

    Finally, in the spring of 1942, the first group of pilots was sent to RAF Gatwick near London, for initial training on Mustangs Mk I with Allison engine. Those left behind were fuming with burning envy. Soon another set of pilots left for Gatwick. Eventually, the unit’s training pilots officially became the Flight “B” commanded by F/Lt M. Piotrowski. From Gatwick, the first operational sortie on Mustang – reconnaissance over France – was done on 21 May 1942. The pilot was probably F/Lt Piotrowski.
   
The first two Mustangs were delivered to Dunino on 7 June. As more Mustangs were received, the Flight “C” was formed, which inherited the planes used previously by the Flight “B”. Because after heavy rains Dunino airfield was unsuitable for Mustangs, the latter one was relocated to Crail on 15 June.
   
In July the flight finished its gunnery course at Inverness. In August the 309 was fully converted to Mustangs.

 


Mustang Mk.I AM214. At that time, 309 aircraft carried a single code letter. (J. B. Cynk collection).

 

   For some time Mustang’s operational range was greatly debated among the 309 pilots, who were the first Polish unit to fly that aircraft. Contrary to a common knowledge that Mustang couldn’t be flown to Norway and back, F/Lt Janusz Lewkowicz - fully qualified aeronautical engineer himself - made some calculation and was convinced it was not so. His calculations were duly submitted to the Group Headquarters where they were simply ignored. To prove his point, he made an unauthorized flight to Norway (September 28th), where he strafed some military installations at Stavanger and returned safely. This flight became notorious among Polish airmen and nothing short of a sensation among Allies air forces. For his flight, Lewkowicz was reprimanded for breaking the regulations and at the same time sincerely congratulated by Air Marshall Barratt. After that, nearly overnight, the Group’s planners had to reevaluate the task for the Mustang squadrons. Read more.

    In fall 1942, the squadron continued to operate disjointedly. On 26 October the Flight “A” and “C” (still operating their outmoded Lysanders) were moved to Findo Gask (Perth), and on 15 November, the Flight “B” found its new base of No. 35 Reconnaissance Wing at Gatwick.
    On 5 December, the “B” Flight commenced its operational duties, reconnoitering the fortification along the French coast, between Le Havre and Boulogne.
   The aircraft operated in pairs, crossing the channel few feet above water to avoid enemy’s radar detection. The leader of the section would fly at some 900 feet and top speed taking pictures and making a visual reconnaissance, while his weaver would keep a lookout against enemy fighters. The actual picture taking never lasted more than 2, 3 minutes, during which the pilot had to operate the camera and fly at precise altitude and angles keeping constant speed. This wasn’t an easy task, and pilot had absolutely not to pay any attention to what was happening on the ground. Sometimes, lone hedgehopping aircraft, made attacks on certain installation.
   On 7 December the whole 35 Wing was to fly recco sorties over France, and many pairs of Mustang took off into extremely foggy weather over the channel. In less than 20 minutes, they were called back to base. All but one par returned. Two Polish pilots of No. 309 Squadron continued in their flight, crossed the channel and found their objective basking in a bright sunshine and carried out the task. One hour after the call back, they returned with excellent photographs of important strongholds around Fécamp.
   Later in December, the weather permitted very little flying, whole coast often being covered with fog. In view of that, the Flight “B” was sent to Findo Gask, to join the rest of the unit. But the short soggy airfield proved to be unsuitable for Mustangs.

    On 10 January 1943, the Mustang flight relocated to Peterhead, from where it flew convoy patrols. On 14 February, S/Ldr W. Piotrowski replaced the unit’s first and the longest reigning CO, S/Ldr Pistl.

    In March, also the Flight “A” received Mustangs, and starting from 8 March it trained at Kirknewton. Once the flight’s training was over, the 309 transformed itself very quickly into a full fighter-reconnaissance unit. The Flight “C” was disbanded, its airmen sent out to various units, and its Lysnaders subjected to a good riddance.

    The most welcomed change came in June, when the unit was transferred to RAF Snailwell (Suffolk) and assigned to different duties. The 309 flew convoy patrols, which carried mostly in often foul weather were a nuisance to fighter pilots. The change was dictated by the disbandment of the Army Co-operation Command, which happened in December 1943. As a part of the 12 Group, the squadron began regular reconnaissance sorties over the Dutch ports between Terschelling (at the entrance to the Zuyder Zee) and the Hook of Holland, which were crucial points in the German industry supply route with Swedish iron ore and other raw materials. Simultaneously, the pilots went through a refreshing course in fighter tactics. Soon after, they were given also the task of attacking strategic points on Frisian Islands.
  
The squadron’s was most effective providing data on enemy shipping (attacked afterwards by British torpedo-carrying planes) and vital land targets. Toward the end of summer 1943, the enemy shipping between Scandinavia and the Netherlands declined sharply, due to its mounting losses. German bolstered their air defences in the area, and reconnaissance sorties became dangerous, particularly for Mustangs very vulnerable in low flying. Luftwaffe started to provide regular fighter patrols. Areas of ports Den Helder and Ijmuiden were strictly avoided. It’s worth noticing, that Poles of 309, although nearly always carrying in their tasks, suffered no losses in that period.

  On 14 October 1943, S/Ldr M. Piotrowski took over the command, and the unit continued its task with a little less intensity. Rumors had it that soon the unit will convert once again. Before that happened, the inevitable change of aircraft had to come. Read more.

Officially, No. 309 Squadron was transferred on 6th December, 1943, from Army Co­operation Command, where it had served since 23rd November, 1940, to Fighter Command. It joined No. 2 Wing, flying Mustang Mk IIIs, and the Polish fighter family in Great Britain now numbered 10 operational squadrons.


Short lived episod: the 309 equipped with Hawker Hurricane. Pictured isMk IIC version, LF630. (J. B. Cynk collection).

 

  In January 1944, in view of the planned invasion of the continent, the fighter-reconnaissance squadrons were reorganized. The decision was made to transform No. 309 Squadron into a fighter-bomber unit. Little disappointed Poles exchanged their Mustangs for worn-out Hurricanes Mk. IVs. Now their role was to bomb targets on the Dutch coast. The aircraft range, however, proved to be insufficient, and in April the squadron exchanged them for Mk. IICs, and equally fatigued lot. Meantime, S/Ldr Golko became the unit’s new CO, who strangely enough was a bomber pilot with no experience on fighters. On 23 April, with new old planes, the 309 was detailed off to RAF Drem in Scotland, to defend the area against German riders flying from Norway bases.

    The Hurricane was a vintage fighter plane during the Battle of Britain, but in 1944 it was obsolete and expelled even for most of OTUs. The squadron’s pilots were yet again deeply disappointed. Other Polish fighter squadrons received new aircraft and were preparing for an imminent invasion and became envy for the 309 airmen.

    During the months preceding invasion, the squadron spent endless hours in every day readiness. Yet not once the enemy aircraft showed up, and as to “rub it in”, they had to constantly patrol over the east coast of Scotland and the Firth of Forth, after a solitary Ju88 dropped some bombs on Edinburgh. Strangely enough, the general opinion was that this Ju88 lost its way, and blundered over the city.

 


Probably Spring 1945. As a fighter unit, the 309's code letters were changed to WC.

 

    Finally, in September 1944, the unit was converted back to Mustangs Mk I and became purely a fighter squadron. It also received the new CO: S/Ldr Glowacki, hero of the Battle of Britain with status of ace achieved in one day. Toward the end of October, a full complement of Mustang Mk IIIs was ferried in, and after familiarizing flights pilots begun to take part in escort missions. The flying personnel also changed, as ten most experienced in air-reconnaissance pilots were transferred to other units. Four went to the Polish 318 Fighter-Reconnaissance Squadron operating in Italy, while other six joined back the No. 35 Reconnaissance Wing.
   On 12 December 1944, the squadron joined 133 Polish Fighter Wing stationed at Andrews Field. Since then, till the end of war, the unit flew almost solely escort missions to various targets in Germany. Sporadically, but to their delight, pilots were employed in ground attacking sorties.

    On 9 April 1945, during escort mission to Hamburg, the unit’s pilots stumbled on several Me262 jet fighters attacking bombers, and scored the last kills for the PAF during the war. F/Lt Gorzula, F/Lt Mencel and W/O Murkowski were each credited with one Me262 destroyed, while F/O Lewandowski and P/O Mozolowski damaged another.
   On April 25th, the unit made its last operational sortie, an escort as part of the notorious “Pickwick” operation. Read more.

 

The squadron’s wartime effort, from 8 October 1940 till 8 May 1945 can be summarized by 1230 operational flights in 3228 flying hours; 4 enemy aircraft shot down and 2 damaged; one pilot killed in action, and four airmen killed in training.

The unit was disbanded on 6 January 1947 while stationed at RAF Coltishall.

 

No. 309 Squadron List of claims against e/a.
Pilot
Claim
Notes
Des. Pro. Dam.
21 February 1945
F/Sgt Murkowski FW190 - - -
23 March 1945
Sgt Pietrzak - - Me262 -
9 April 1945
F/Lt Gorzula Me262 - - West of Hamburg
F/Lt Mencel Me262 - -
F/Sgt Murkowski Me262 - Me262
F/O Mozlowski / F/O Lewandowski Shared one Me262 damaged

 

No. 309 Squadron losses
To be revised
9-Feb-42. Tiger Moth T6764. F/O J. Sadowski. KAS
 
For unknown reasons lost over Finth of Clyde near Toward Point during liaison flight. Passenger, British officer also lost.
25-Feb-42. Lysander V9472. F/Lt P. Dunin KAS, F/O J. Homan KAS
 Crashed N of Galloway during training flight. Investigation revealed stirring system malfunction as a cause of accident.
28-Sep-43. Hurricane LF633 WC-T. F/Lt J. Strusinski. KAS
 
Shot down by an allied fighter off Peterhead during camera gun practice.
 27-Dec-43. Mustang NA83. F/O E. Rajewski. KAS
 Crashed during unauthorized mock dog-fight with with American plane near
Risby Village (St. Edmunds)
 18-Feb-45. Mustang SR418 WC-D. F/O K. Zielonka.
 Crashed near village of Inwoeth after being cut in half by a diving P47of 61FS, 56FG (USAAF), engaging in a mock  combat.
Pilot bailed out safely,  injuring both kneecaps.
 19-Mar-45. Mustang FX860. F/Lt S. Sawicki. KAS
 
Crashing at Broomfield with engine on fire. Pilot suffered extensive burns and died in hospital.
 16-May-45. Mustang KH540. F/Lt M. Befinger. KAS
 Killed after bailing out following a mid-air collision with another Mustang piloted by F/Lt Kubica during a training flight.
 16-May-45. Mustang FR383. F/Lt F. Kubica. KAS
 See above.
 2-Aug-45. Mustang FX876. W/O A. Pietrzak. KAS
 Probably due to a/c malfunction crashed during dive-bombing training flight near Oaks Field, Goulds Farm (Braintree).
 15-Oct-45. Mustang KN516. Sgt S. Swiecicki. KAS
 When pulled out of steep dive a/c broke in half near Dengie Flats in Essex.
 12-Feb-46. Mustang FB210 WC-P. F/O L. Krus. KAS
 For unknown reasons aircraft crashed during training flight near
Waldersmare Park, Eythotn in Kent.

  5


 

© Polish Squadrons Remembered