303 (Polish) Squadron RAF

Witold Urbanowicz, Commander of the Polish No. 303 Kosciuszko Squadron which recorded the highest number of victories (125) during the Battle of Britain.
Urbanowicz himself recorded 17 victories, the second highest of any pilot in the battle

Last night, 1st July 2010, my wife watched a Virgin TV recording of a programme about  303 Squadron RAF and their extraordinary history. What started out as something 'rather interesting' turned out to be mind blowing to me, something I did not know about WW2 probably because the histories I have read have been written by biased people, or official people told to tone it done, at least, that's the impression it leaves me with. This morning when I went to work, I relieved a young lad from Poland who told me that 303 Squadron are VERY famous in Poland, so why not here?

OK, so where on earth do I start, before I have even done any research into it? 303 Squadron was formed from pilots who had fled Poland after the invasion of their homeland by Nazi Germany. Included in the Sqn was 1 Czech, a master pilot, but oh such a maverick!! In fact, he would tear off after German aircraft so often they decided to make it official, and he was the only one allowed to break formation and 'go it alone'. Up to now, there was only ever really one 'hero' in my life, that's was Naval captain Johnnie Walker, but now I am proud to add these lads to that list. What happened to the survivors after the war leave a nasty taste in my mouth. Some went home to Communist Poland and 'disappeared' - Soviet Russia does not like 'heroes'. One was accused of spying and escaped to the USA. Did you know that, of the 200,000 Poles who fought, and died alongside our men, not one marched in the 1946 Victory Parade in front of the King - they were not invited. Some governmental official did not wish to offend Stalin.

According to Wikipedia: The squadron was named after the Polish and American Revolution hero General Tadeusz Kościuszko, and the eponymous Polish 7th Air Escadrille founded by Merian C. Cooper, that served Poland in the 1919-1921 Polish-Soviet War. No. 303 was formed in Britain as part of an agreement between the Polish Government in Exile and the United Kingdom. After a distinguished combat record, the fighter squadron was disbanded in December 1946.

Eugene Horbaczewski

No. 303 (Polish) Squadron was formed on 2 August 1940, and became operational on 31 August of the same year, its initial cadre being 13 Officer and 8 NCO pilots and 135 Polish ground staff. Initially English-speaking serving RAF officers were appointed to serve as CO and Flight Commanders alongside their Polish compatriates, as the Polish pilots were unfamiliar with RAF Fighter Command language, procedures and training.

On 30 August 1940, the squadron scored its first victory while still officially non-operational, against a German Bf 110 (initially incorrectly recorded as a Do-17) fighter shot down by Ludwik Paszkiewicz during a training flight. The wreck was dug out in 1982. No. 303 Squadron claimed the greatest number of aircraft destroyed of the 66 Allied fighter squadrons engaged in the Battle of Britain, even though it joined the fray two months after the battle had begun. Its success in combat can be attributed to the years of extensive and rigorous pre-war training many of the long-serving Polish veterans had received in their homeland and surviving previous encounters with the Luftwaffe in inferior aircraft; far more than many of their younger and inexperienced RAF comrades being thrown into the battle. In its first seven days of combat, the squadron claimed nearly 40 enemy aircraft. Withdrawn from battle for a rest on the 11 October, the squadron had claimed 126 kills in six weeks. Relative to aircraft downed, losses were relatively small with 18 Hurricanes lost, seven pilots killed and five badly wounded.

During the Battle of Britain, even though the Hurricane fighters flown by the Polish pilots were considered inferior to the main German fighter (the Messerschmitt Bf 109), they were far superior to the outdated Polish fighter aircraft that defended the country's skies during the German invasion in September 1939. Due to the critical shortage of Allied aircraft and pilots, No. 303 Squadron frequently intercepted and engaged large formations of German bombers and fighters that outnumbered the squadron by as much as 10 to one. On one occasion, a pilot of 303, Sergeant Stanislaw Karubin, resorted to extreme tactics to bring down a German fighter. Following a prolonged air battle, Karubin was chasing a German fighter at treetop level. As he closed in on the tail of the German fighter, Karubin realized that his Hurricane had run out of ammunition. Rather than turning back to base, he closed the distance and climbed right above the German fighter. The German pilot was so shocked to see the underside of the Hurricane within arm's reach of his cockpit that he instinctively reduced his altitude to avoid a collision and crashed into the ground.

Although the number of Battle of Britain claims was overestimated (as with virtually all fighter units), No. 303 Squadron was one of top fighter units in the battle and the best Hurricane-equipped one. According to historian John Alcorn, 44 victories are positively verified, which makes 303 Squadron the fourth best fighter squadron of the battle, after Squadron Nos. 603 AuxAF (57.8 verified kills), 609 AuxAF (48 verified kills) and 41 (45.33 verified kills), which all flew Spitfires. It was also the most efficient unit, with high kill-to-loss ratio of 2.8:1. However, J. Alcorn was not able to attribute 30 aircraft shot down to any particular unit, and according to Jerzy Cynk and some other Polish historians, the real number of victories of 303 Squadron was in fact about 55–60. According to Polish historian Jacek Kutzner the verified number of kills of 303 Squadron is around 58.8, which would still place it beyond all other squadrons if it comes to amount of verified kills. This is presented by Kutzner's chart, which shows Polish confirmed kills (left column), confirmed kills of all Allied squadrons, including Polish (central column) and real German losses on each day when 303 Squadron was involved in air combats. (The Squadron's Group Commander expressed his doubts over the figures reaching his headquarters and decided to see for himself. He took off in a lone hurricane and shadowed the Sqn when on patrol. Surely enough they encountered a large force of enemy planes over the coast and they raced in to within 100 yards before opening fire and decimating the formations. The Group Commander wrote that 'every time I got a bead on a Jerry plane and prepared to fire, a Polish Hurricane would scream down past me and shoot the enemy down'. He flew back to base and reported to his Intelligence Officer that ' its all bloody true'- mk).

War over Europe

During 1941–43, No. 303 Squadron flew on Fighter Command's offensive sweeps over North West Europe, flying various marks of the Spitfire. Forming cover for the Allied raid on Dieppe (Operation Jubilee), 303 Squadron claimed the highest number of aircraft shot down of all Allied squadrons participating. In July 1941 it moved to Speke for the defence of Merseyside returning south in October to resume offensive operations.

On 11 April 1942, when an aerial gunnery contest was staged within No. 11 Group RAF, the three competing Polish squadrons— 303, 316 and 315 — took the first three places out of all 22 air squadrons, 303 Squadron coming first by a very healthy margin (808 hits, while 316 Squadron scored 432 hits, and the best British squadron 150 hits.

Late war

After D-Day, the squadron remained with Fighter Command, briefly renamed Air Defence of Great Britain (ADGB) in 1943-44. It moved to RAF Coltishall for operations over Holland. April 1945 saw the unit equipped with Mustang IVs.

Flt Lt Jan Zumbach (303 'Polish' Sqn) with his Mk V. Cdr Stefan Witorzenc (OC 1st Polish Fighter Wing)

Jan Zumbach


Post war

No. 303 Squadron was the most effective Polish RAF squadron of any other RAF units during the Second World War. Some sources state that its pilots were invited to the London Victory Parade of 1946, one source says that it was the only representatives of the Polish Armed Forces in the West. The invitation was refused because no other Polish units were invited. However, according to other sources No. 303 Squadron was not invited and so could not have refused the invitation. After the end of the war, squadron morale decreased due to the treatment of Poland by the Allies, and the squadron was eventually disbanded in December 1946.

Whilst this is an excellent history of the Sqn, I would not take it as 100% fact simply because Wikipedia is written by contributors and not necessarily historians. I have contributed to Wikpedia long ago, my bit is true though!! However, it is now known that no Poles were invited and none marched.

http://www.wojciechowski.freeserve.co.uk/miw/303-2.htm tells us:

The final phases of the Battle of Britain were coming to a conclusion. By the end of September, it was clear that the RAF had air superiority and the German plans for invasion, "Operation Sea Lion", were cancelled. 303 Squadron had flown 35 combat missions. Mirek had joined most of then and flown 42 sorties from the end of August through to the beginning of October, more than any other pilot. The squadron was rotated out to Leconfield on the 11th October for rest and recuperation. Despite having joined the battle late, 303 ended the Battle of Britain with 126 victories, the highest of any RAF squadron.

The squadron returned to Northolt in January 1941. By now, flights were offensive rather than defensive; the Luftwaffe had effectively given up day time operations over England. On his own admission, Mirek found these low level sweeps "fun". Attacking enemy airfields and other "targets of opportunity", pilots ranged over France and the Low Countries causing havoc wherever they went. "Rhubarbs", as these sweeps were known, were complemented by joint fighter and bomber sweeps known as "Circuses".

303 Squadron re-equipped with Spitfires in January 1941. Mirek, like most pilots, loved the Spitfire. By February the sweeps over occupied France were intensifying. On 25th February, a dozen Spitfire from 303 Squadron joined the Blenheim bombers over Canterbury, to attack targets in northern France.

The squadron headed towards Calais, encountering strong anti aircraft fire on the way. Unable to find enemy aircraft willing to engage, they headed back to England, crossing the coast until further intensive AA fire. Mirek felt his Spitfire shudder and saw an Me 109 behind him. He also saw the ragged remains of his tail plane. Diving into clouds, he escaped his pursuer, eventually landing back at Northolt with "a completely smashed rudder, both mainwheel tyres shot through, five holes in the port wing and one hole in the fuselage".

 It was on another routine bomber escort over France on 23rd June 1941 that Mirek encountered an ME109F attacking two Spitfires from above and behind.  He shouted a warning over the R/T, and according to his Combat Report, the Spitfires turned away. The ME followed and Mirek turned in after it. He fired bursts from cannon and machine guns from 400 yards, closing to 100 yards before the enemy aircraft exploded. You can read more on the above link.


Intelligence Report for 15th September 1940


Sadly there are no survivors of the Squadron today, either killed in action or killed by the Soviets in Poland after the war. I feel ashamed that my country was instrumental in part for failing to uphold its treaty with Poland, the very reason we went to war, and meekly handed it over to the Soviets after WW2. Churchill & Roosevelt kissing the backside of Stalin is not something we should be happy with in our glorious history. I am not.