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303 (Polish) Squadron: Battle of Britain Diary

john peczkis|Monday, June 20, 2011

This book, besides describing the air battles of the Battle of Britain, offers biographical detail on the Polish pilots. The author, Richard King, is an Englishman with no trace of Polish ancestry. He simply became fascinated with the contributions of the Polish aviators, and decided to thoroughly research the topic and write this book.


The author notes how skeptical the British at first were to the possibility of the arriving Poles doing a good job. They had believed German propaganda, which had insisted that the Polish Air Force had been destroyed in the first day or two of the 1939 war, and that this owed to the ineptitude of the Polish flyers. Neither was true. Once the Poles demonstrated their skills, there was a sea change in British attitudes. The author comments: "[Ronald] Kellet's initial misgivings disappeared completely and he became a staunch supporter of the Poles, challenging negative comments from any source, even Churchill and Dowding. [Johnny] Kent and [Athol] Forbes were no less vigorous in their support...Kent would later bloody a British officer's nose for not standing for the Polish national anthem." (p. 306).

The skill of the Poles owed largely to their previous experiences in 1939 Poland and 1940 France. The Poles specialized in close-range shooting against the Luftwaffe planes. (p. 132). Polish "kill" claims were largely and independently validated by the observations of Group Captain Vincent. (pp. 296-297). Far from being undisciplined as sometimes claimed, Polish fighters exhibited considerable discipline in breaking off their own attacks in order to protect colleagues in battle. (p. 146).

King discusses the matter of airplane gunfire being directed at defenseless, baled-out pilots. (pp. 75-76). It is ironic that Germans make this accusation against Poles when, according to some Polish pilots who had survived this experience, it was none other than the Germans who were shooting at baled-out Poles during the 1939 war. (p. 75).

Finally, King describes an air-to-air gunnery competition organized by AVM Leigh-Mallory. (p. 301). The 303 (Polish) Squadron scored 808 points (sic) for 1st place, the 302 (Polish) Squadron scored 432 points for 2nd place, the 315 (Polish Squadron) scored 183 points for 3rd place, and the highest-scoring British and Commonwealth squadron scored 130 points for a distant 4th place. King comments: "Having taken a clean sweep of the first three places, could there be any better endorsement of their gunnery tactics or further argument as to the prowess of the Poles, and, in particular, 303 Squadron?"

The legacy of the Battle of Britain was a bitter one, with the Poles excluded from the VE parade so as not to offend the Soviets, and saddled with a Soviet Communist puppet state thanks to the Churchill-Roosevelt betrayal of Poland. King comments: "Looking back on the events of 1945, it is staggering just how badly the Poles and the Czechs were treated. Whilst the Polish contribution to all the theatres in which they had so brilliantly and gallantly served was immense, there is little doubt that their role in the Battle of Britain, coming at such a critical time, was pivotal both to the course of the Battle and ultimately World War Two itself." (p. 291).
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