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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
© Polish Squadrons Remembered