HISTORY OF No. 305 (POLISH) SQUADRON
Written by Wilhelm Ratuszynski
As the last of the Polish bomber units, No 305 (Ziemia Wielkopolska) Squadron was formed on 1 September 1940 at Bramcote. All flying personnel came from the 18 OUT located at the same airfield, many of them, members of the 3rd Air Regiment in Poland. At the beginning, the total personnel numbered 23 officers and 156 other ranks. The position of the first CO was given to W/Cdr J. Jankowski, who was assisted by his British advisor W/Cdr J. Drysdale. Operationally, the squadron was attached to No. 6 Bomber Group.
Just as other forming Polish bomber squadrons, the 305 was equipped with single-engine Fairey Battles. And as the training progressed, the unit was reequipped with Vickers Wellington. This change came toward the end of November. Many new postings arrived as the number of crewmen and personnel had to be doubled. The airfield became too small, and the 305, together with its sister squadron No. 304, was moved to RAF Syerston. The move came on 2 December 1940.
Rather intense training now took place at a large, pre-war aerodrome. The crews were billeted quite comfortably, and theirs rosters crystallized into harmonized cells. This helped them to be much better prepared for upcoming operations over the enemy's territory. These, on the other hand, came only at the end of April 1941.
Meantime, on 4 April, W/Cdr Kleczynski was given a command of the squadron.
On the night of 24/25 April 1941, the squadron took part in operations for the first time. The fuel tanks of Rotterdam were bombed by the RAF, and among scores of British bombers over the target were three 305 Wellingtons piloted by W/Cdr Klenczynski, F/O Jonikas and F/Sgt Trembaczynski. All three aircraft returned safely, and to commemorate this event, the day of April 25th, became the official Squadron Day.
On May 3rd and the second mission the unit suffered its first loss. On its way to bomb Emden, the crew of F/O Nogal was shot down over Holland. A week later, the same fate met the crew of Sgt Dorman.
In May 1941, all four Polish bomber units sent crews every time Bomber Command prepared something for Germans. The 305 crews bombed targets in Germany and France. The end of May was marked by excitement, as the news about German battleship Bismarck spread around, and the crews stood by with Wellington bombed up with armor-piercing bombs.
In June, the nights became much shorter, what resulted in part of the bombing runs flown in daylight. The good weather prolonged and German night fighters made many interceptions. Many RAF bomber crews were force to ditch, and the 305 flown multiple of the air-sea rescue missions.
The A.O.C.-in-C. Bomber Command and the A.O.C. No. 1 Bomber Group inspected No. 304 and No. 305 Squadrons on 11th June, and H.R.H. the Duke of Kent visited them two days later.
On the night of 13/14 June, the 305 crews took part in a bombing raid against German battle ships Gneisenau and Scharnhorst at Brest berths. Six 305 Wellington piloted by: W/Cdr Klenczynski, S/Ldr Kielich, F/Lt Zach, Sgt Siemienski, Sgt Lewek and Sgt Nalota, returned safely to Syerston. But the losses were inevitable. Just as all the other Bomber Command units, the 305 had its share of fatalities. The most painful for the squadron was the loss of S/Ldr Kielich, whose aircraft was damaged by flak over Boulogne and the crew bailed out over the channel. Read F/O Idzikowski's relation.
It is safe to say that, just like other Polish squadrons, the 305and loaded with exceptionally good human material, and its service with the Bomber Command was not unnoticed. Quite telling is a report of the RAF Swiderby CO's, G/Cpt Pendred (who by that time familiarized himself with Poles and their novel customs) to the HQ of No. 1 Group, and which mentioned the F/Lt Korbut No. 305 Squadron navigator:
"I forward report in respect of F/O S. Palka, who has just returned from the Specialist Navigation Course held in Canada. I understand that there were 16 officers on this course, two of them Poles. On passing out, one of the Poles was top (F/Lt C. Korbut from No. 305 Squadron) and the other, F/O Palka, was third. You will note that the latter's report is excellent and provides us with yet another proof, if one is wanted, that the Poles are not only enthusiastic fighters but also earnest learners, with brains and capabilities equal if not superior to our own."
The summer months of 1941 weren't easy for the unit. The personnel had to get use to strenuous work and... losses. In July the 305 made 48 sorties bombing targets in L'Orient, Brest, Frankfurt-on-Main, Emden and Dunkirk, and twice on Bremen, Cologne and Rotterdam. Several aircraft were lost. Fortunately, the PAF reserves at Blackpool Depot were not yet depleted at the replacements were posted promptly. So, just like in any other squadron, the training never stopped.
Meantime, on 20 July 1941, the unit moved to RAF Lindholme, the "Polish" station in York, commanded by W/Cdr Makowski, former Co of No. 300 Squadron. The unit was partially converted to Wellington Mk. II, and then to Mk. IV. The latter powered by air-cooled American Pratt and Whitney Twin Wasp engines.
W/Cdr Kleczynski gave up his command of No. 305 Squadron on August 8th. He was found not longer fitted for the task, having been wounded many times, still suffering from injuries sustained in Polish campaign in September 1939. W/Cdr Robert Beill replaced him.
On 27 September, the Wellington W5557 returning from operations over Cologne was forced to land. The aircraft fell on a farm near Hatfield Moor, killing four crewmembers and three civilians.
The end of 1941 was marked by the loss of several crews, the last one on 23 December when the returning from Cologne, Wellington piloted by F/O Golacki, crash landed in Leicester without survivors.
In 1941 the squadron totaled 284 missions flown in a time of 1480 hours, and it lost 66 airmen killed.
The 1942, was the year when the Polish Bomber Force hit the enemy very hard, but in return was stuck itself with biggest losses. This resulted from the increased of its operational effort. The 305 was very part of it.
On the anniversary of the first operational flight, and 24 April 1942, the Polish C-in-C General Sikorski visited the Syerston, and stationing there No. 304 and 305 Squadrons. The celebrations were preceded by a record number of crews taking part in a raid on Rostock. All returned safely and after releasing their entire load on target.
As usually, missions to be flown gained in strength and frequency with the coming of the spring. The first big one was a 1,000-plane raid on Cologne on the night of 30/31 May 1942. Several crews from the 305 took part in it. That month, the unit begun to fly a new type of mission: mining entries to the German ports. These were difficult and dangerous flights, but the war itself was a dangerous business.
Losses kept coming - usually one or two a month crews lost - as the year progressed. Some of them were more painful.
On 1 June lost was the Wellington piloted by S/Ldr Hirszbandt, OBE. In a citation to his decoration we read: "F/Lt Hirszbandt has completed 19 sorties over enemy territory involving over 99 flying hours. As a captain of aircraft he is outstanding. His determination to reach his objective shows a fine offensive spirit and in his complete disregard of enemy opposition he displays courage of the highest order. This offensive spirit, skilful pilotage and outstanding leadership have set the finest example to all, and have contributed in a large degree to the successes of his Squadron.
"On one occasion, when detailed to attack Hamburg, the aircraft he was piloting was caught and held by searchlight, and heavily engaged by enemy flak. He determined notwithstanding to press home his attack as he was carrying a single bomb of 4,000 lbs. and he therefore came down to 8,000 ft. to bomb the target and a direct hit was claimed.
"After the attack, by skilful pilotage, he succeeded in escaping from the searchlights and flak and set course for base. When over the sea in the region of Heligoland, his aircraft was attacked by an enemy fighter, which damaged his aircraft and wounded his rear gunner. As the result of the encounter, which was shaken off by his skilful evasive tactics, his air-speed indicator was unserviceable, one propeller was damaged, his fuel and oil gauges ceased to function and the tail unit, rear turret, fuselage and main planes were also damaged. His outstanding airmanship alone enabled the aircraft to be brought back to base, and though his aircraft was damaged in landing, he undoubtedly by his efforts saved the lives of his crew and much valuable equipment."
On 26 June the 305 Wellington with the W/Cdr Skarzynski on board, the CO of the RAF Lindholm, had to ditch in a North Sea after suffering flak damage. Except for Stanislaw Skarzynski, who became famous of his solo flight over the Atlantic in 1933, a British Navy ship rescued the whole crew.
During the second half of the 1942 the squadron continued with maximum effort; the crews and aircraft were slowly depleting and it became harder and harder to send out the same number on missions. The unavoidable losses occurred periodically, but comparing to the previous year, there were many more safe returns in the unit. To replace looses they had to scrape the bottom of the barrel at the Polish Depot in Blackpool.
At the end of this backbreaking year, No 305 Squadron totaled 587 operational flights in 3,273 flying hours, thus more than double of its previous year effort. The unit sustained about the same number of losses, both in aircraft and flying personnel.
The beginning of the 1943 saw a lot of new faces in the unit. Several crews from the reorganized No. 301 Polish Squadron were transferred to Hemswell. On January 18, the unit had a new CO, W/Cdr Tadeusz Czolowski.
Soon the so called the "Battle for the Ruhr" commenced, and the RAF's Bommber Command stepped up its effort to cripple German heavy industry. With that came improved equipment and techniques of its use. In April, the 305 was converted to Wellingtons Mk. X, equipped with two Bristol Hercules 1,675 hp engines. These were much better aircraft to fly and the pilots welcomed the change very much.
In this new offensive, the squadron participated till the end of July, when it was decided to move the unit to the newly created 2nd Tactical Air Force. This was followed by a conversion to light bombers, and reduction of the crews. Meantime, on 22 June the squadron relocated to RAF Ingham only few miles away from Hemswell. The conditions were quite different at the new place, where the crews were billeted in Nissen huts and the whole personnel was scattered all over the local spots. The airfield itself was a rather pitiful picture, but had one big advantage: long, flat and easy approaches. On 28 July, W/Cdr Kazimierz Konopasek assumed command of the unit.
When the 305 left the Bomber Command its record wasn't outstanding, but it show business terms it should be described as a "very solid performance". From its first operational sortie on 25th April 1941, to the last one on 3rd August 1943, the squadron flew 1,117 sorties and accounted for 1,555 tons of bombs dropped and mines laid. It lost 136 killed, 10 missing and 33 taken prisoner - a total of 179 casualties, equivalent to more than a full operational crew each month during two and a half years. During that time the unit lost 46 planes.
Without aircraft, the unit moved to Swanton Morley (Norfolk), where it soon received North American B-25 "Mitchell". After a month of conversion to the new aircraft, the unit returned to operational flying. This time its targets were flying-bomb launching-sites, enemy headquarters and fortifications in the Cape Gris Nez region. The one biggest change for the squadrons was a fact that the missions were now flown in daytime and with fighter cover. But very few Polish crews flown more the 10 missions on Mitchells, as the word was spread that the unit soon will reequip once again to De Havilland's wonder: "Mosquito". During the brief period of flying the American bomber, the 305 suffered only one loss, when on 14 November the aircraft piloted by F/Sgt Anglik crashed during a training flight.
On 19 November the squadron moved to a better airfield at Lasham in Hampshire. Soon after that the first Mosquitoes were flown in. The change from Wellingtons to Mosquitoes brought inevitable personnel shifting. Needed were pilots of more aggressive, fighter style of flying, and those who did not have enough skills and were considered "truck drivers" had to leave. But those who stayed were much gratified. The Mosquito was the very best what the RAF could employ. Because there wasn't enough of Polish pilots and navigators ready for conversion, the squadron received eleven British complete crews, which formed separate Flight commanded by a British officer. Poles formed nineteen complete two-person crews.
Until the D-Day (6 June 1944) the unit carried out its main duty: Ranger and Intruder operations. By day they chiefly attacked V-1 sites, and by night enemy's night fighter airfields in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany in support of Bomber Command operations. Although, the squadron never sent many aircraft for one mission, it was rather busily engaged in those operations.
With the start of the Invasion, the 305 stepped up its operations significantly. Just as almost all RAF unit engaged, the squadron had to deliver a maximum effort that day. Several crews made more than one sortie. In support of the operation, Polish Mosquitoes targeted railway stations, tracks, bridges and trains, reserve groupings and forces on their way to the front. Between D-minus-one Day and the end of August 1944, the 305 made over 500 sorties on special missions and in support of the invasion.
As the Allies progressed on the continent, the 305 operations slowly shifted back to the role of harassing Germans elsewhere. On 16 June, lost were S/Ldr Herrcik, British Flight "B" commander with the navigator F/O Turski. A German fighter shot down their plane during a Ranger operation in Denmark.
On 11 July the squadron lost two planes in operations, both to the enemy's flak in France. Only S/Ldr Lagowski, a navigator, managed to survive and evaded capture. After few weeks he returned to the unit. On a last day of the month, the W/Cdr Konopasek was rested and W/Cdr Boleslaw Orlinski DFC took over the CO post. He was an almost legendary figure in Polish aviation and one of the unit's many pilots of advanced age. Orlinski became famous for his record-breaking flight from Warsaw to Tokyo in 1926. Most of the others were well over thirty and with thousands of flying hours. No wonder that the nickname "Flying Blimps" stuck with airmen of the 305. It probably originated from the prewar cartoon character: Colonel Blimp.
Occasionally, the atmosphere of excitement swept the unit, as some special missions were introduced. On 2 August 1944 at dusk, nine Polish Mosquitoes led by S/Ldr Rayski, successfully attacked German Sabotage School at Château Maulny. In another "special commission" sortie, six planes led by W/Cdr Orlinski, destroyed big German fuel depot at Nomexey in France. Although both targets were heavily defended, the squadron suffered no losses.
Worth mentioning is many sorties flown in support of Allied ground troops trying to root out Germans from the island of Walcheren and Zeeland. These German positions prevented the use of the port of already liberated Antwerp. During September, October and early November, the 305 bombed these German positions by night, lighting them with special flares first.
Unfortunately, around that time, the unit lost several crews, both in operations as well as in training. On 24 September, two Mosquitoes collided in mid air. One of the crews was British; in another, Chaplain Samulski flew as a navigator. There were no survivors. In November five planes was lost and four crews, two Polish and two British. F/Sgt Haas and P/O Wilczewski managed to reach Allies lines on a badly damaged plane and safely bailed out.
On 19 November, the unit was moved to the continent, and to occupy part of the A-75 airfield at Epinoy, near Cambrai. There, just as all the other RAF units, the squadron operated in very demanding conditions. After fighting mud for over a month, the personnel had to clear the heavy falls of snow in December, nearly daily during the German offensive in Ardennes. All hands on deck were called when on Christmas Eve the squadron took off twice to hamper advancing Von Rundstedt's army.
The squadron welcomed New Year in a somber mood. On 1 January 1945, the Luftwaffe in a last desperate attack, tried to deliver a blow to Allies air forces stationed on the continent raiding theirs airfields on the early morning hours. List of targets in the operation "Bodenplatte" included Epinoy. The airfield received several bombs, but the squadron suffered no losses, both in equipment and personnel.
In January five Polish crews completed their operational tours and left the unit. This caused a curiosal situation when in the Polish squadron majority of the crews was British. Among the non-Polish crews the one would find a rather surprising number of other nationalities. There was an Estonian, a Norwegian, a Hindu (who got the Polish Cross of Valour), two Canadian crews, Welshmen, Scots and Englishmen. There were also few guys from the West Indies.
At the end of February the 305 took part in the biggest aerial operation ("Clarion") of the war, when 7,000 allied aircraft attacked defending Germany. The unit sent out sixteen Mosquitoes, which for half an hour strafed targets of opportunity in the area of Bremen-Hamburg-Cologne. The squadron created havoc on the ground but 10 of its planes returned damaged, three on one engine. One British crew was shot down. See copy of the battle order.
From F/Lt Referowski's DFC, after-mission report we learn that it really was an eventful mission. On reaching the target area, together with his No. 2 he patrolled the sector allotted to him, looking for movements, of which none were observed. He then made a very successful bombing attack on a factory three miles NNW of Basbeck, scoring a direct hit on a large factory building. Continuing his patrol he strafed a wireless station three miles east of Basbeck, attacking it three times in spite of intense and accurate machine-gun opposition, and scoring numerous hits on buildings. He then followed with successful attack on two barges and a vessel on the river Oste, and strafed an engine with five coaches on the railway line between Basbeck and Stal, receiving intense and accurate light flak, which damaged his fuel tank what resulted in fuel leakage. On his return journey, in the Zuider Zee area, he saw a Mosquito aircraft flying on one engine, and, in spite of fuel shortage, (which eventually forced him to land short of his base) he turned back to its assistance.
On 1 March the squadron consisted of 25 crews, eleven of them Polish. That month the unit recorded 212 operational flights without losses.
In April 1945 the 305 saw less flying, but lost two British crews during Intruder operations. The last operational sorties were flown on the night of 25/26, when six planes operated in the area of Westerland and Flensburg.
During its service with the 2nd TAF, No. 305 Polish Squadron totaled 2310 nighttime and 158 daytime operational flights; dropped 1213 tons of bombs and spent 360 100 cannon shells. It lost 25 Polish and 19 British airmen. It also lost 35 planes.
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