Following is and excerpt from "Destiny Can Wait", a book published by Polish Air Force in England. It contains two interesting narratives written by the squadron's pilots
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      No. 318 Squadron was formed on 20th March, 1943, at Detling, Kent, and was intended to co-operate with the 2nd (Polish) Army Corps as soon as its training ended. The Squadron was first equipped with Hurricanes Mk. Ic - an aircraft which was then already out-of-date, suitable perhaps for training purposes, but not likely to arouse any enthusiasm among the crews. Further, many of the pilots had a prejudice against reconnaissance work: as fighter pilots they considered such service to be non-operational; an ’office work’ as they called it. When the Squadron was finally constituted it had 23 fully-trained pilots and three just completing their training. See photos.

    Left. In the background of the group of ground personnel, probably the first a/c received in Detling, Hurricane MkI V6347.

The Squadron was posted away to the Middle East on 15th August, 1943. Six months after formation they were already on board S.S. Empress of Australia bound for Egypt. This was an interesting beginning and promised well - the mysterious and romantic East! (they found later that the mystery was where to find the romance). They reached Port Said safely on 29th August, went by rail to near-by Almaza to collect their equipment, and, a few days later, set off in lorries across the Sinai desert to Palestine. See photos. The pilots followed a week later in Hurricanes Mk. II. Both groups considered their exodus a vast improvement over the original.
    They were stationed at Muqueiliba, near Nazareth, where they completed their army co-operation training and got used to desert life. At least they got as used to it as they could. All pre-conceived notions of oriental glamour were shattered by the unpleasant reality of scorpions, tarantulas and mosquitoes, the scorching heat which made it agony for the maintenance crews even to touch the metal parts of the aircraft, the marshy, malaria-infested valley in which the airfield was situated, and the fact that every second man was soon on the sick list. They carried on as well as they could, but Air Headquarters Middle East took pity on them, and a change of scenery and climate was recommended. They were transferred to Gaza on 13th October, 1943, where they showed great promise during maneuvers.

    Right: No. 318 Squadron Hurricane during exercises near Tabor Mountain.


    There was enormous satisfaction when their return to Egypt was fixed for 20th December. Their delight was not solely due to a natural desire for active service. They were shaking off the desert dust of Palestine, when one of the pilgrims voiced the opinion of all his fellow-sufferers: “Don’t know why the Jews and the Arabs fight to stay here - I’d sooner fight to get out.”
   
The Squadron was stationed at Quassassin (See photos) aerodrome; they soon decided to omit the ‘Qu’ when alluding to the place. It was in the desert, their quarters were in tents upon the sand, and it was still very hot. Co-operation exercises with Polish, British, Egyptian and Greek troops were done with a will - they were the last before front-line service. Two pilots were killed in a collision; otherwise this final training stage was uneventful. The Squadron was converted to Spitfires Mk. V in March 1944, and on 9th April left for Italy with 22 pilots on its strength.

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Left: Quassassin airfield. This picture was taken by P/O Buckiewicz flying one of the squadron's Hurricanes. Click on the thumbnail to see big image.

 

     No. 318 Squadron took over on 1st May, 1944, from No.208 (British) Fighter-Reconnaissance Squadron at Trigno aerodrome near Vasto, on the eastern coast of Italy. See photos. They began operations the next day and were attached to No. 285 Reconnaissance Wing, part of the famous Desert Air Force, which was still co-operating with the 8th Army.
    The front ran from the port of Ortona to Prescaconstante. Although No. 318 Squadron was co-operating with the 8th Army, most of its sorties were in co-operation with the 5th Army Corps, which was then carrying out an inde­pendent operation on its sector of the Adriatic coast.


Polish Spitfire MkV taxing at Tringo.


    It was a period of position warfare, and the Squadron executed routine reconnaissance, mostly at dawn and dusk, rarely during the day. The most frequent task was ranging for heavy artillery, and during May 1944 this accounted for about 60 per cent of its operational sorties. The identifying and selection of targets was based on vertical air photographs. Complete sets of photographs of the areas behind the enemy’s lines were made every day by a special reconnaissance squadron using long-focus (90 cm.) cameras which gave sharply defined photographs to the scale of 1.5,000 from an altitude of 16,500 feet. The next step was for a couple of Spitfires from No. 318 Squadron to photograph the objectives at a height of just over 6,500 feet. The enemy’s artillery positions were fiercely defended by every kind of flak, and the approach to the target was made in a dive at top speed, weaving and twisting. Little time was lost in breaking away after the camera had done its work.
    In No. 318 Squadron’s reconnaissance area alone - about 40 square miles -  apart from large numbers of medium and light guns, 70 heavy A.A. guns were spotted. There were certainly others which were not spotted owing to the enemy’s excellent camouflage and use of cover. The Squadron was lucky compared with its British neighbors, but four of its aircraft were badly holed by flak during May. They got back to base safely, however, and without any casualties.

   

Left: Recco photo of a bridge reported hit by an Allied bomber. Blue arrow shows approximate location of a crater.

 An Allied offensive was launched on the central sector of the Italian front toward the end of May. Little progress was made until the 2nd (Polish) Army Corps stormed Monte Cassino, which forced the enemy to withdraw along the whole front. The 2nd Army Corps then took over from the British 5th Army on the Adriatic sector, and thenceforth pressed the Germans northwards from that position. Much of the work of No. 318 Squadron was in co-operation with 2nd Army Corps.
    The Squadron carried out visual and photographic reconnaissance, often as far as a hundred miles behind the German lines. Enemy detachments, lines of communication and ports were observed, and the information collected was Often of vital importance to the course of operations. The Squadron also continued to spot enemy targets and helped in artillery-ranging. The pilots for the most part flew at about 6,500 feet, above the great concentration of light and medium flak. Reports were only rarely made from the air, as there was little gain in time~ with the Mustangs capable of flying at over 300 miles an hour. R.T. messages were, however, sent if large enemy columns were spotted. Fighter-bombers then took off to attack the target.
    The Squadron made 290 reconnaissance and
65 artillery-ranging sorties during June 1944, making a daily average of 16 sorties, although there were often days when as many as 34 flights were made. There were 31 pilots engaged on operations and five completing operational training on the strength of the Squadron. The Squadron was still quartered in tents; but this was no hardship in summer under Italian skies and on front-line service.
    A principle always applied in the Desert Air Force, and still upheld, was that air reconnaissance squadrons should be stationed as near the front as possible. This facilitated the quick delivery of intelligence to the army headquarters for which the squadrons operated. It meant changing airfields frequently; but these moves were carried out very efficiently - as a routine matter - and with no interruption in operational flying. The ground personnel and equipment were transported in 70 lorries and cars making a double journey. Three changes of airfield were made in June and in September (to St. Vito, Tortoretto and Fermo, and to Cassandra, Piagiolino and Rimini respectively). Two changes were made in October - to Bellaria and then to Forli.
    Taking over a new airfield was always hazardous, as the Germans laid large numbers of mines and, in the hurry to continue operations, some could easily be overlooked. Thus, at Rimini in September 1944, although close on 2,000 mines had previously been removed, two aircraft and two fuel bowsers were destroyed by mines.
    Some of the airfields were almost too near the front and well within range of enemy artillery. Cassandra airfield, for example, was less than 10 miles from the front, and was shelled by 17 cm. (6.7”) cannon which had a range of nearly 20 miles; and at Falconera airfield in August the Squadron was under shellfire on seven nights in succession. The front moved northward fairly quickly during that month; and as the Poles reached Ancona the enemy’s fighter defense stiffened in the zone just behind the line.

    July 1944 was a busy month for the Squadron. Co-operating with the 2nd (Polish) Army Corps during the fight for Ancona, it carried out 425 recon­naissance and 82 artillery-ranging sorties during the month, apart from 176 sorties against ground targets (mostly motorized columns). Six of the Squadron’s aircraft were damaged during the Battle of Ancona, but only one pilot was wounded. One casualty for a grand total of 683 operational sorties! The Squadron’s luck was holding out remarkably. The German defense suddenly broke down and the battle ended sooner than expected, with the enemy retreat­ing in broad daylight, hurriedly and in some disorder. The Squadron enjoyed itself strafing the Germans and their transport columns.
    ‘A’ Flight of the Squadron moved to Castiglione airfield on 21st July in order to carry out special reconnaissance for the 5th (U.S.) Army. On completing this mission it returned on 31st August to the base at Piagiolino aerodrome, near Mondolfo. It was there, on 29th July that the O.C. No. 318 Squadron was presented to H.M. the King.
    


Salvaging parts from 318's Spitfire MkV downed near Loretto.

Mobile operations ceased for some time when the Germans made a stand on the strong and carefully prepared Gothic Line. There was heavy fighting during September 1944, when the Allies tried to break through, and the Squadron took an active part in these operations. Three-quarters of its sorties were ranging for heavy artillery, effectively carried out in spite of the enemy’s efforts to secure local air superiority. Five of the Squadron’s aircraft were damaged by flak during this period, but without casualties. Rimini aerodrome was shelled by the Germans on the night of 30th September; and again the Squadron, with its usual good fortune, got off scot-free. No. 241 Squadron of the R.A.F., stationed on the same - airfield, had 10 personnel killed and some 15 or more wounded.
    No. 318 Squadron was converted to Spitfires Mk. IX in October 1944. It was just as well, because the enemy’s fighters were never more active on the Italian front than at this time, and often intruded as far as Rimini. The Squadron was transferred to Forli, where it was harassed nearly every night by German artillery and twice bombed by the Luftwaffe.
    During this period of position-warfare the Squadron carried out routine reconnaissance at fixed hours along regular routes. The only breaks in the monotony were those afforded by spotting and ranging for the artillery. On one of these sorties, on 11th January, 1945, the operational. officer of the Squadron had to take some oblique photographs behind the enemy’s lines at the danger­ously low altitude of about 3,000 feet. Just as he was making his run-up he came under intense flak fire. He promptly dived, let go a few bursts of cannon and machine-gun fire at the German batteries pumping away at him and silenced them. He then quietly returned to 3,000 feet and carried out his mission un­disturbed.
    The Squadron carried out long-distance reconnaissances during January in the Verona-Venice-Treviso region, where Italian fighter squadrons equipped with German aircraft were stationed. Thanks to special precautions - six Spitfires giving overhead cover while two more took photographs - the reconnaissances were carried out successfully.
    The 8th Army began an offensive in April 1945, during which the 2nd (Polish) Army Corps took Bologna. The enemy retreated, and No.318 Squadron was for some time busily engaged in observing the withdrawing German detachments and strafing them simultaneously.
    One of the pilots was shot down and went to a near-by farm for a glass of milk. There he found out he was on the wrong side of the front, and ran back to his Spitfire, taking every precaution to escape detection. He was wondering how to get back to base when most unexpectedly an Australian light tank appeared and took him on board. Just as surprisingly, the pilot and the Australians safely rejoined their units without the slightest difficulty, not even once sighting the enemy. Such things could happen in winter on thinly held sectors.

    Life in the Squadron was not one long round of flying, reconnaissance and fighting. There were peaceful, leisurely times which were just as much part of the routine as operations.

    Here is a description, written by one of the Squadron, which gives some idea of this other aspect of wartime life:
“The daily routine is much the same as at home. You work similar hours, according to your job - and your C.O. - and take your meals at the usual times from the mobile cook-house. Everything is mobile except the base itself. Stores, offices, workshops, quarters, and so on. Much can be done in tents, but much more can be done if the bulk of the job can be taken up immediately after a move by having a ready-fitted trailer or lorry.
    “In the evening you make your bed after dinner - we keep the Middle East rule of dinner at tea-time and no supper - and drop your mosquito net. It makes you feel wonderfully private when you get under it at bed-time and tuck its bottom edge under the blankets. But you must have it down before the ‘mozzies’ come out at sundown, or they will be under it first. That job done, you are ready for a stroll.
    “If you are in the country or by the sea, you have no doubts about where to go. Even the tiniest hamlet attracts your interest, and you stroll along to it - to say ‘Buona sera’ to the elderly inhabitants sitting at the cottage doors. You will possibly see the kiddies who come for your washing, or you may catch a glimpse of the Signora herself, slapping away on a wash-board with a wet shirt that looks suspiciously like yours!
    “You can watch the towns returning to normal life. The barbers open first; before long, the town major gets them sorted out and places some ‘out-of-bounds’ so that the local civilians can get a hair-cut and shave. These Italian barbers are great fellows: they all belong to a conspiracy sworn to clip round the fringe of your back hair, shave the neck, and leave the flowing locks on top untouched. You may insist on having these cut; then, if the barber comes to the conclusion that you are really quite mad, he will humor you. They will some­times ask you if you want an Americano or an Inghlese hair-cut. It doesn’t really matter what you say: the barber will beam at you and give you his stock hair­cut. After the barbers, tiny shops open to sell nuts or small quantities of fruit, or such articles of food as can be had. Then, the bicycle shop miraculously unearths (probably quite literally) cycle parts and gets going. And so the hamlet revives. Little by little, the population returns, and life begins to pulse quietly in peace.""


Mar 1945. The 318th ground personnel recovering squadron's crashed Spitfire IX near Ravenna. On both pictures, second from right is F/Lt L. Chelminski, squadron's technical officer.

 The following narrative covers a typical period of routine reconnaissance, though one where the peaceful element is much less in evidence:
   “A brand-new airfield near the coast. Clouds of dust arise if you as much as stamp your foot, and what happens when a Spitfire or two take off must be seen to be believed. Some 15 miles away a menacing rocky hill rears up in front of the port. Any German who takes the trouble to climb it and take his field-glasses with him can follow every move we make. Just as we were getting into the swing of a discussion about where to put up the tents for our quarters, a Martin Marauder, making a forced-landing with only one engine running, crashed and broke up into a pile of smoking little pieces on the very spot whose merits I had been urging. It was annoying to have this triumphantly brought up as irrefutable proof that my choice had been all wrong.
    “We had a grand briefing at the Wing O.C.s. Something flapping at last, and a good thing too; it was getting a shade too monotonous. The 2nd Polish Army Corps was to attack Bologna the following day, which explained why they had demanded quite a batch of photographs a few days before.
    “The first reconnaissance on the morrow brought sensational news. The roads were simply packed with Jerries clearing out so hastily that they didn’t trouble about taking cover. They used to be more careful. Where flak had blazed away at us the day before not a single shot was fired now. I was to accompany Fit. Lt. K. - we call him ‘Lion Cub’ - who had been over the front this morning. He told me before our take-off that he had spotted a wood which some lorries had entered; none had come out. He showed me the place on the map and told me to have a good look. Well, we took off and when we got over our zone we separated—it’s really against regulations but we knew it was absolutely safe. He reconnoitred the roads while I attended to the river bridges: this enabled us to get through our reconnaissance in half the time. Then we met and set off to seek victims. I spotted a crowd of lorries blocked at a cross­roads. So I told Lion Cub about it, and he answered: ‘O.K. You go ahead and give ‘em some squirts. I’ll find something for myself.’
    “I was at 5,000 feet. I dived but held my fire. The sun was behind me so they couldn’t see me - but even if they had, it wouldn’t have mattered. I kept diving and finally gave them a long burst - saw the sparks fly on the roadway -  corrected and then let them have the whole boiling. You never saw such a mess! I was just pulling out of my dive over the tree-tops when I recollected that wood of the Lion Cub’s. So I got to four grand to call him; it wasn’t necessary, however; he nose-dived past me just as I got up. Went after him and then saw he’d been absolutely right - there was something on in the wood, some lorries moving about - have to tell the controller. I gave him the co-ordinates by Eureka, got his acknowledgement and orders to return.
    “We had bumper crops for three days. The Jerries lost their heads and we shot them up like a flock of sheep-not that I’ve ever treated any dumb animal that way. None of our kites ever returned with ammo. left in the tanks. We lost only one of our Spitfires, but Pit. Off. A. just managed a crash-landing inside our lines and got off lightly with a broken arm.
   “Bologna has been taken by the Poles. Immediately our mess is enriched by a number of easy chairs and tables, and the bar is resplendent with a stock of new glasses and decanters. In the good old days our forefathers picked up Persian carpets, gold and what not - all we can swindle now is some shoddy furniture and not much of that.” 

    The retreat of the German forces changed into a disorderly rout in May; even the flak was weak and disheartened. The second half of the month was mildly enlivened by distant reconnaissance as far afield as Austria and Yugoslavia. Exactly one year after beginning operations on the Italian front - to the very day - the war ended with the Squadron stationed at Russia aerodrome, near Ferrara.


Victory parade. Udine, Aug 1945, the 318's flypast
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