Following the Nazi invasion of Poland on first September 1939, many Polish airmen, determined to continue fighting for their country’s freedom made their way to Britain. By the end of July 1940 there were over eight thousand Polish airmen in Britain. Initially they were incorporated into British Squadrons but in July and August 1940 numbers 302 and 303 (Polish) Fighter Squadrons were formed.
As a result of Nazi propaganda there was some doubt about the abilities of the Polish air force which lead Canadian Flight Lieutenant John A. Kent, who was posted to No. 303 (Polish) Fighter Squadron, so that it had an English speaking commander, during the Battle of Britain, to comment 'All I knew about the Polish Air Force was that it had only lasted about three days against the Luftwaffe, and I had no reason to suppose that they would shine any more brightly operating from England'.
However, as Hitler’s Luftwaffe attacks on Britain increased in the lead up to a planned invasion and RAF planes where being shot down at an alarming rate with the consequent loss of pilots, there was little alternative but to allow the eager Polish pilots into the air. They had undergone intensive English lessons as most of the Polish pilots could not speak any English, and undergone training on tricycles equipped with radio, speed indicators and compasses to learn formation style flying, much to the irritation of the experienced battle-hardened Polish airmen. In total 145 Polish airmen fought in the Battle of Britain - 79 in various RAF squadrons, 32 in No. 302 (Polish) Fighter Squadron and 34 in No. 303 (Polish) Fighter Squadron. Their bravery and skill became legendary. Just a few of the feats of the Polish airmen are as follows-
On 24thAugust Sergeant Antoni Glowacki of No. 501 Squadron RAF, claimed five enemy bombers, which were shot down over three separate sorties. He was one of only three pilots who achieved 'Ace-in-a-Day' status during the battle. (Ace being attributed where 5 or more enemy plane’s had been shot down)
On 303 Squadron’s second day in action on the 2ndSeptember 1940, 6 Polish pilots took on 150 Messerschmitts, in the dogfight which ensued, all the Polish pilots survived and 2 of them broke formation to pursue the enemy planes back to France, before returning to their base. (Exceptionally one of the rebel pilots, Josef Frantisek, who was actually Czech, was then given a dispensation to break formation and pursue enemy planes at his discretion)
303 Squadron is accredited as best scoring unit of the Battle of Britain.
On the first day of the Blitz on 7thSeptember 303 Squadron are attributed with shooting down 16 enemy planes without a single loss on their side in a record breaking fifteen minutes.
Nine of 303 Squadron's pilots qualified as 'aces.'
Sergeant Josef Frantisek, of 303 Squadron shot down 17 enemy planes, the highest scorer of the Battle of Britain.
Four Polish officers were awarded Distinguished Flying Crosses after the Battle of Britain.
During the Battle of Britain, Polish pilots serving in all RAF squadrons achieved a remarkable score of 203.5 destroyed, 35 probably destroyed and 36 damaged.
Twenty-nine Polish pilots, including Josef Frantisek, lost their lives in combat against the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain.
Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding said after the battle: 'Had it not been for the magnificent work of the Polish squadrons and their unsurpassed gallantry, I hesitate to say that the outcome of battle would have been the same'.
Another major contribution by the Poles to Allied victory was first breaking the Enigma code an achievement credited with saving thousands of lives.
Author The Cypher Bureau-(How the Poles solved Enigma)