The “Operation Jubilee” was conceived by the Allies Combined Operations Headquarters in April 1942. Although its main objective is unclear, few other ones were obvious. Among them was a tempting idea of a major air battle with the Luftwaffe, which since the previous year, avoided major confrontation with the RAF. The Dieppe Raid was perfect occasion to entice Germans into fight, which became the biggest WW2 air battle over the European continent.
On the August 19, 1942, together with four other (302, 306, 308 and 317) the 303 Squadron took part in a huge melee over the French coast. Long before dawn, the whole unit was awake and at 4:20 was reported at readiness. The previous evening pilots were briefed about its assignments in the upcoming operation.
Operating from Redhill, as a part of the Northolt Wing, 12 Spitfires VB - at the time this version was an inferior aircraft to those which the unit encountered in combat - took off for the first patrol. Lead by S/Ldr Zumbach, Poles arrived over Dieppe at 10:11, and were met by intense flak. Down at the cost, mostly Canadian troops were already in a fierce battle. At the height of 8000 feet the unit was jumped by a number of German FW190s. In the ensuing scuffle some Poles engaged enemy fighters while others went after dive bombing Ju88s and Do 217s. After some 30 minute combat in good visibility and at 5000 feet, the squadron was withdrawn from the area. Suffering no losses, the 303 pilots claimed 3 FW190, 2 Ju88 destroyed and 4 FW190s probable:
S/Ldr Zumbach - 1 FW190 destroyed and one probable.
P/O Socha recalled: “... we stay together and in order. The dance stops for a moment when German bombers try to pass through. I look for a target. One Ju88 is below me. I turn the aircraft and his tail is in front of me. I shoot. Few seconds passed and my guns are silent. No ammo so it’s time to split. Another Spitfire approaches to my bomber. It’s our squadron leader. He’ll finish him up. But this is unnecessary as the smoking German bomber crashes into sea. I’m without ammo and Germans appear. Excited with my victory I play along. I attack the enemy, they try to attack me. I see one of them getting right at my tail. I turned so hard that for a moment I went blind; is it the end? Will I crash or the German send me a burst before gain the sight again? I see again and check behind me. Nobody there...”*
At 12:55, at full strength, the 303 took off to meet the Biggin Hill Wing to patrol over the target. Polish Northolt Wing (302, 308 and 317 Sqdns) flew top cover. The 303 reached the patrol area over the ships at 13:25 at circled at 5000 feet. The rest of the Wing was not there. Soon, about 20 FW190 attacked the ships with bombs. Poles went to attack the enemy and the clash turned into separate dog fights and ceased over the land. The 303 pilots landed at Redhill between 14:30 and 14:45. Pilots claiming victories were:
F/O Horbaczewski – 1 FW190 destroyed.
F/O Horbaczewski recalled: “…and we are over Dieppe. I yet to see such carnage. At the same time over the land, see and in the air. The port is in flames. One of our ships is burning and I burn with desire to kill Germans. And here they are, but too far and too high for us. Never mind, there’ll be others. Indeed they came! I see two FW190 trying to sneak in and leave their 500lbs souvenirs behind. No way! I see them, they don’t see me. That’s nice. Full throttle and behind them with my wingman (Stasik) tied to my side. At 200 yards I ready for my deflection shot. It should finish nicely. But no. Instantly everything went into whirl: the sky, water and Focke Wulfs. Somebody else finished my pair. So we look for others. Moments later we fund them. But this time is fifteen of them! We came behind the last two and gave them a short burst. Both started to smoke. Stasik’s continued to fly ahead, mine went straight down. I kept on his tail and gave him more lead. Pieces flew off him, hood came off and the pilot followed. Moment later a parachute appeared. Later on, my colleagues observed few more victory rolls over the airfield.”*
At 15:55, another complement of 12 aircraft scrambled for Dieppe, this time flying together with other Polish squadrons. The 303 was led by S/Ldr Zumbach and flew below 10/10 clouds at 3000 feet, together with 306 led by S/Ldr Czerwinski and 317 led by F/Lt Rutkowski. After the first turn over the convoy, two Heinkels 111 gnawing at some vessel were spotted. Both were shot down by Poles. The squadron suffered the loss: P/O Damm did not return. Claims:
S/Ldr Zumbach – 1/3 He111 destroyed.
Sgt Rutecki recalled: “...I flew right behind the section leader (P/O Glowacki). Turn left and in front of us, some 700 meters away we a German. After closing on him we recognize a Heinkel 111. My leader goes full speed and we are closing with enemy fast: 600, 500 meters. I loose patience and start to shoot. Then I had to stop because my leader is right behind the Jerry. Pieces are flying off his left engine; he’s hit. Leader makes room for me. Now I’m on the German’s tail and start to shoot. Something comes off the fuselage falling down. I think he dropped his bombs to be faster, but he is doomed. From a very close distance I shoot till I’m out of ammo. Moments later, with great satisfaction, I see him crashing into the channel. I’m ecstatic, but a sudden warning - Focke Wulfs! – brings me back to reality. One look up and I see that I’m in danger. I turn very sharp right under to approaching German fighters. They were coming much faster so won’t be able to turn that sharp. And so it is. Moments later the squadron gathers and we are on our way to base.”*
At 18:30, 19 Spitfires took off to patrol between Beachy Head and SelseyBill, about 8 miles from the cost. The flight was carried out at 4000 feet in deteriorating weather and with poor visibility. The convoy was not bothered by the enemy aircraft, and at 19:45 all planes landed safely at Redhill. No reports were made.
During the day, No. 303 Squadron became the most successful RAF unit. It suffered one pilot missing, 1 Spitfire missing and three damaged.
* (Kazimierz Węgrzecki“ Kosynierzy Warszawscy”, Veritas, Londyn 1968. Translated by WR)