The ladies loved them, Allied pilots respected them and Nazi German pilots feared them.
The members of Poland’s air force in exile during WWII were absolute rock stars in England, serving to distinction with the Royal Air Force in one of 16 all-Polish fighter and bomber squadrons.
During the Blitzkrieg in 1939, the Polish military found itself quickly overtaken by the Wehrmacht – the unified branches of the Nazi German military.
But a number of pilots were able to escape to France and the United Kingdom, though with mediocre, obsolete and thoroughly under-gunned aircraft for war horses. These airmen were not content with merely escaping the oppression of Nazi Germany, however.
Many, if not all, were eager to get back into the fray, though this time with better weapons that could match what the Luftwaffe threw at them.
Through the Polish government in exile, a deal was brokered with the British government that would allow the RAF to stand up a number of all-Polish combat squadrons, including fighter and bomber units. The language barrier proved to be an initial difficulty, though it was quickly overcome thanks to the unrivaled passion for battle that each Polish pilot came with.
According to historian Kenneth Koskodan in his book “No Greater Ally,” Polish fighter pilots quickly built up a reputation for “daredevil and suicidal behavior” in aerial combat. These Spitfire and Hurricane jockeys were so consumed by their mission and their incredible hatred of their Axis foe, that they would often deliberately put themselves near the edge of death just to inflict damage.
Instead of breaking away from the fight once their magazines ran dry or their guns jammed, Polish pilots would continue attacking, using their aircraft as battering rams and their propellers as buzzsaws. Lest they let their enemies escape, these pilots literally flew their fighters into German bombers repeatedly until their prey fell out of the sky.
If that didn’t work, they would also fly close to the wings or tails of enemy aircraft in order to use their propellers as impromptu saws, chewing off control surfaces until the aircraft crashed. And if push came to shove (also literally), Polish pilots were also known to maneuver their fighters above German planes, making contact and forcing them downwards either into the ground or the waters of the English Channel.
At this point, they could only really be described as either certifiably insane or downright courageous, or some combination of the two. RAF commanders were appalled at the antics of these volunteer pilots, but quickly understood their zealousness for the fight when it was discovered that German military personnel were issued a “kill-on-sight” order for all Polish pilots captured during the WWII.
British pilots were often awed, resentful and shocked by the actions of Polish pilots, whom they felt were, at times, an endangerment to other friendly units in the sky. According to Koskodan, British women soon developed an affinity for members of the Polish squadrons, and many aircrews were spotted in town between sorties in the most popular restaurants and clubs with admiring fans clustering around, ready to provide drinks and food on their own dime for their heroes.
By the war’s end, the various Polish fighter squadrons of the RAF had flown thousands upon thousands of sorties, amassing highly enviable kill numbers on Luftwaffe aircraft which were often considerably ahead of other all-British RAF squadrons. Of particular note was No. 303 “Kosciuszko” Squadron, which finished the war with over 400 kills to its name.
Sadly, the Polish military in exile, upon its return home, found that its country had traded German dictatorship for another — iron Soviet rule. Many Polish fighter pilots opted, instead, to stay in England or move across the Atlantic Ocean to North America, where they would put down roots.
Today, the Polish War Memorial near London, in addition to a number of other memorial sites, stands as a commemoration of the Polish contribution to the Allied war effort – especially the service of thousands of Polish military aviators in the RAF, who fought bitterly but valiantly against their German foe.