fighter offensive over the Northern France. 24 June 1941 - 13 December 1941.
The year of 1941 was a difficult one for the RAF and particularly for the
Fighter Command. The first phase of reaching air superiority over the enemy
territory needed for future offensive operations, was an exhausting day-to-day
struggle. For the RAF's Fighter Command, the objective was to eliminate
Luftwaffe's fighters still presenting significant force and real threat for
England. It was a bold move, reversing the situation from the year before, when
it was the Luftwaffe who had fight over enemy's territory trying to bring it
to its knees. This action did not allowed Germans to recuperate its original
Jagschwader forces depleted during the Battle of Britain, and helped to gain air
superiority during the following year, and build it up in 1943.
theater of this struggle became an air space over Belgium and northern France,
contained within the arch stretching from Ostends, through Lille, Lens, Amiens,
Rouen and till Le Havre. That was the arch denoting range of British fighters.
Numerous units of Luftwaffe fighters, located mainly near St. Omer and Amiens
were engaged almost daily with Allies fighters over their own territory. They
cooperated extremely well with German AA artillery, which in 1941 became very
potent being great in numbers and very accurate at all ceilings. The "deck"
was littered with machine guns.
The fighters combat actions performed by the 308 included:
A. "Sweep" - search and destroy mission,
strictly for fighters and operationally called "Rodeo".
B. "Circus" - escort to bombers, which usually
were small in numbers with very strong fighters presence and directed in the
regions most saturated with enemy's fighters to goad them into fighting. Waves
of fighters acted according to their position in regard to the bombers they
escorted. They were divided into 'close cover', 'escort cover', 'high
cover' and 'top cover', one flying slightly behind and above the other.
Often, numerous squadrons flew so-called 'forward or rear support', which
operated freely but still being part of the operation. The 308 flew 49 such
sorties in 1941.
C. "Ramrod" - escorting bombers raiding
enemy's vital targets. Fighters' role was firstly to fight off enemy's
(These three operations were often mounted all at the same time in order to
engage as many enemy fighters as possible having maximum tactical advantage.
Germans tried their own tactics, often successfully, causing confusion among RAF
forces and their higher losses. Many Ramrods ended up as Circus and vice versa.)
"Roadsted" - sorties directed against enemy's shipping and
coastal traffic. Fighters provided escort and if possible, attacked ships and
"Rhubarb" - sweeping, 'on the deck' action against
ground targets, mostly aerodromes and radio or radar stations.
23, 1941, the squadron's former Flight "A" Commander, S/Ldr Pisarek became
new CO. He was a respected officer, a veteran of the Polish campaign and Battle
of Britain with several victories to his credit. The next day the squadron moved
to Northolt integrating into No. 1 Polish Fighter Wing, under W/Cdr Piotr
Laguna, which shot down a month later, was replaced by W/Cdr Tadeusz Rolski.
Finally, the unit became part of the 11 Group, which carried the bulk of
offensive operations across the channel.
The same day in the afternoon, the squadron was called to
Martlesham Heat to be part of in its first offensive sortie over France. Due to
technical problems (lack of appropriate radio crystals and engine start-up
cartridges) only four aircraft took off to join the cover in a raid to Lille. To
commemorate this first mission, the 24th of June was introduced as the Squadron
During the first two days in Northolt 308 pilots met enemy on
one occasion but without results. On the 27th however, "Krakowski" drew a
first blood, recording its first aerial victory, when during the skirmish with
few Bf109s, multiple pilots shot down one German fighter confirmed and one
probable. This kill was credited to the whole squadron.
At this time, Messerschmitt 109E was a standard German fighter, armed with two
20mm cannons in the wings' leading edges and two 7.92mm machine guns mounted
in the upper forward fuselage. This aircraft was superior to British Spitfire
MkV in speed and climb rate, but inferior in maneuverability. Its fire
concentration was considered better than its British counterpart.
The enthusiasm and fighting
spirit reached its high, when on June 28, P/O Wielgus shot down one Bf109 and
Sgt Majchrzyk scored another probable. Taking advantage of his pilots newly
found ardor after first successful combat, S/Ldr Pisarek put the unit trough
It paid off well, when on July 2 during escort mission, the
308 as a lone unit fought off hordes of attacking Messerschmitts. Flying
immediate cover to Blenheims, the famous "Eagle Squadron" of American
volunteers was swept out of its position and was immediately replace by the
Poles. It was a long and hard fought battle during which, S/Ldr Pisarek, P/O
Kudrewicz, F/O Bozek, Sgt Widlarz, Sgt Zielinski and Sgt Krzyzagorski downed
five Bf109s, scored two probables and damaged another. In heat of a battle F/O
Kawnik (the Flight "B" commander) and Sgt Kowala were lost when their
aircraft collided. Kawnik perished in the crash, while Kowala bailed out and
became a POW. This loss of two experienced pilots and trusted colleagues soured
the taste of victory. The live of the squadron continued, and the joy of victory
or sorrow of loss became a routine part of it.
During the unit's next major
engagement on July 7, P/O Retinger, P/O Kremski and Sgt Hegenbarth scored one
Bf109 destroyed each, while P/O Szyszka was credited with one Bf109 probably
The next day, during "Sweep" over St. Omer, the 308 was
involved in a short skirmish with German fighters but not one pilot managed to
get into a firing position. Right after that, P/O Wielgus decided to hunt alone
and fend for himself with a lone Bf109. Encouraged in his tactic, three days
later he tried his again and was caught by several Messerschmitts. Wounded but
fighting fiercely, he withdrew over the channel where he was shot down. Few days
later, his badly mutilated body was washed ashore. Although buried at Northwood
near Northolt, his fellow pilots considered him to be killed really across the
channel. The same day, inseparable duo, P/O Szyszka and Sgt Zielinski downed two
In a short time since joining
the action, the squadron achieved several victories, but the real success was
its fantastic fighting spirit and absolute devotion to CO. The ground personnel
worked ceaselessly seeing real effects of its labor. Crews emotionally involved
in all losses and successes spare no effort to keep aircraft in top condition.
The 308 gained the reputation of well flying and well fighting unit. Around that
time, the unit's code letters "ZF" on fuselages and its radio code
"Mary" became mentioned often. But nigh was an hour, when in heavy fighting,
the ZF pilots were to cement themselves into even more effective fighting unit.
On 17 July 1941, late
afternoon, while majority of pilots was off-duty having a cold beer in a mess,
and few youngest ones were in readiness, an unexpected offensive sortie was
announced. Without hesitation, S/Ldr Pisarek put newcomers on the battle order.
The unit was to make a wide sweep over Boulogne at high altitude. First the
flight appeared to be uneventful, but near St. Omer the lone Polish squadron
encountered the force of about eighty German fighters. S/Ldr Pisarek immediately
realized that his unit would not last long and to avoid being wiped out, they
had to fend off attackers. Poles formed a defensive circle and were retreating
slowly versus the drink. Despite numerous attacks from above and German constant
nibbling around the edges, Poles kept their formation beautifully; once
dispersed, they would suffer a total defeat. Eventually, one German pilot
managed to shot down P/O Maciejewski but in return, P/O Retinger damaged him.
Staying in formation, all Polish pilots had occasion to give
an odd burst or two, but never in a good position. When after the second Polish
Spitfire went down - piloted by P/O Szyszka - the unit became even more
determined and German attacks became chaotic and much less dangerous. Over the
channel, third ZF machine went down and the circle broke for a moment, during
which S/Ldr Pisarek together with his wingman P/O Schiele, destroyed one
Messerschmitt. He ordered his pilot to form a circle anew and right after that
Germans broke up the fight.
During this action, telephones at Group's control rooms
rung constantly, as help for Poles were organized as well as questions asked why
they were alone and not warned about being in vicinity of a big enemy's force.
Nine ZF aircraft returned to Northolt flying in meticulous
formation but badly shot up. The whole squadron was proud of its action where
great amount of pilots' skill and comradeship was displayed. Later, it became
evident, that this fight was against biggest odds any RAF single squadron ever
fought during the whole WW2.
On July 22, big "Rhubarb"
over Luftwaffe's fighters "hornet nest" at St. Omer took place. In a
deadly ack-ack fire, No. 308 strafed one of the airfields and fought its way out
in a series of dogfights. F/O Janus, P/O Kremski and P/O Surma shot down four
German fighters, while S/Ldr Pisarek scored one probable. The unit suffered
losses: P/O Bozek withdrew from the battle wounded by flak and R/T being
attacked by a Messerschmitt. German fighter finished him over the channel. Not
far from there, while turning with another Bf109, P/O Orzechowski perished when
its' Spitfire wingtip caught the water and crashed. That day, corrugated
waters of the La Manche proved to be equally dangerous opponent to German flak
Sad victory was achieved two days
later, P/O Chciuk, bravely and single-handedly, attacked and set on fire a
leader of a formation of Bf109s, only to be shot down by his wingman. He bailed
out few seconds later. The squadron lost one of its leading and most aggressive
As it turned out later on, Chciuk suffered multiple burns.
His victim - one of the well-known German aces - had visited him in a prison
hospital. This was a second known instance when a German ace paid courtesy visit
to his victor. Previously, Oberstleutenant Molders, come by to expresses his
regards to a Polish pilot he had shot down.
By the end of July and beginning
of August, the fighting became less intense as Germans begun to develop new
tactics and strengthen their fighter force in France. They attacked RAF's
formation with larger groups of fighters, with few small patrols (two to four
a/c) hanging over in the sun and waiting for separated Spitfires lugging behind
to swoop down in nearly vertical attack.
Two pilots where lost that way on August: P/O Stapel and Sgt
Brozda. It was for a first time, the squadron lost men without scoring a
victory. Two days later came another loss, when P/O Bloch was killed during
landing after an operational sortie.
RAF started to send over the channel bigger formation of
aircraft. Both its fighters and bombers became more numerous as the offensive
effort increased. Instead of few Hampdens (sometimes even a single Sterling
formed a bomber raid), up to 24 Blenheims usually served as bait for German
fighters. Despite more frequent aerial encounters, wild mêlées were rare as
both sides tried to catch each other in disadvantageous position. The fights in
such cases became sudden and fierce.
On 14 August 1941, such an
encounter took place east of Calais, when nearly a hundred Bf109s attacked a
"Circus" (numbered 72)*. The 308
picked a fight with a group of Messerschmitts en masse, which quickly turned
into many individual duels. S/Ldr Pisarek, F/O Wesolowski, P/O Szyszka and P/O
Kremski scored four Bf109s destroyed and two damaged. One of those damaged is
credited to P/O Retinger. Unfortunately, lost was P/O Kremski, one of the best
fighter pilots of our Air Force. Later on, a message was received that Kremski
was buried with military honors at cemetery near Boulogne.
Similar fight erupted when another "Circus" crossed the
French coast near Dunkirk on August 18. Sgt Watolski's aircraft was set on
fire during the first German pass on the unit. He bailed out over the sea, to be
picked up by the Air-sea rescue boat only few miles from the enemy's coast.
When during collision with P/O Jakubowski, S/Ldr Pisarek lost
nearly 1m of a tip of his Spitfire wing, the rest of the squadron consciously
formed a protective ring, determined to escort their commander back to base.
While Pisarek was fighting to keep his aircraft under control, his pilots were
fighting off numerous German attacks, which seemed to be directed at the damaged
plane. Slowly, and on low altitude, Poles withdrew over the channel and returned
to Northolt.The whole station welcomed the unit in cheers, being previously
aware of the situation through radio transmissions.
On August 29, during the "Circus" over Hazerbruck,
Germans engaged its top cover and the squadron escorted returning Blenheims.
During several engagements, 308 pilots shot down three Bf109s and damaged
another. P/O Betcher did not return from this sortie.
September and October of 1941,
were more fortunate months for the squadron. The weather was very good what
permitted to fly daily operations. While loosing four pilots, two KIA and two
POWs, the unit chalked up twenty-five aerial victories. On of those victories
was scored by P/O Poplawski, who shot down a German fighter which few moments
before sent down in flames Spitfire piloted by Sgt. Kowalski. In the same sortie
Sgt Piatkowski damaged one Bf109.
Around that time, a fictional character of dreadful German
ace "Hans von Stunke" was created, and stories about his merciless shooting
down young pilots were fed to newly arrive to the unit. "Von Stunke"
supposedly flew with a monocle under goggles in Messerschmitt painted all red,
and always appeared out of nowhere behind the pilot, which broke the formation
or was lugging behind. (obviously, it would be naïve
to assume that those fresh pilots believed that)
On September 16, flying a sweep high over Gravelines, the 308
trounced a German formation bagging three Bf109s destroyed by P/O Surma, P/O
Krawczynski and P/O Poplawski. The next day, the unit achieved a pyrrhic
victory. During very calmly proceeding sortie over Bethume, lone Messerschmitt
swooped down over the squadron taking a pass on P/O Budzalek's aircraft. The
latter seeing tracers around cockpit pulled up suddenly and collided with the
German. Budzalek died in burning plane while the attacker managed to open his
parachute after being literally catapulted from his Messerschmitt .
Two unit's successful engagement occurred on September 20
and 21. While escorting Blenheims near Rouen three Bf109s were shot down by S/Ldr
Pisarek and P/O Illinski. F/O Surma added another probable. The next day - the
Circus over Amiens - a textbook-flown fight near Le Touquet brought five
victories for the 308 pilots. Scored: S/Ldr Pisarek, F/Lt Janus, F/Lt
Jesionowski, F/O Poplawski and F/O Wandzilak who sent down one of the first
FW190 in the war. In the same sortie Sgt Zielinski scored one Bf109 probable and
On September 27 in a fight over
Amiens, Sgt Watolski had to bail out for the second time, but not before he
blasted out of the sky a Bf109. Also scored: F/O Poplawski with one Bf109
destroyed, Sgt Krzyzagorski with one destroyed and one damaged and F/O Surma
with one Bf109 probable.
On October 12, again over Le Touquet, F/O Surma and Sgt
Piatkowski surprised two Messerschmitt pilots and sent them down in flames.
The next day during
"Circus" operation, when crossing the French coast near Amiens, the squadron
noticed a group of Messerschmitts position itself to attack Blenheims. The
"ZF" Spitfires broke off and from 25,000 ft attacked Germans, who tried to
dive away. The fight finished at treetops with burning wrecks of three Bf109s,
victims of good shooting by S/Ldr Pisarek, F/O Retinger and F/O Poplawski. That
evening, in the casino of Polish HQ at Rubens Hotel in London, the unit
celebrated its fiftieth victory scored by F/O Poplawski. The hotel staff
claimed, that however justified, they had never seen such boozing before.
On October 24, the 308 won one of the last battles that year.
During fighter sweep over France, a violent engagement occurred during which
F/Lt Janus shot down two Bf109s, while P/O Jakubowski and P/O Schiele destroyed
two more. The latter one also scored one probable. This fight occurred near
Cap-Gris-Nez, right over the coast.
Four days later, General
Sikorski visited the squadron and decorated several pilots with the Cross of
November 1, the day of All
Saints, was spent in a somber mood as fallen comrades were remembered. So many
of them could not be memorialized with even a candle as laid down at bottom of
the channel or in graves in France.
The unit's last fight of 1941 was fought on a misty day
over shores of France on November 8. In an inconclusive engagement F/O Poplawski
and P/O Stabrowski claimed two Bf109s damaged, but F/O Surma was lost in unknown
circumstances. For the 308 it was a painful loss, for Surma was an excellent
pilot and was a great prospect for a future leader. Another noticeable sortie
was flown on November 15, when regretfully, pilots strafed and destroyed spirits
distillery at Rue in France.
On December 12, the squadron was on its way for a
well-deserved rest in northern England, and with this day, the second period of
its service at British soil was closed. The unit received many congratulatory
notes and recommendations. During the farewell ceremony, Air Marshall Leigh
Mallory personally decorated S/Ldr Pisarek with a Distinguish Flying Cross, and
congratulated the 308 pilots achieving the best results of all Fighter Command
units in 1941. Coinciding Pisarek's transfer from the unit left many feeling
bitter. He was greatly esteemed by the 308 personnel, not only as a pilot but as
man as well. Few months later he was killed over the channel leading the 1st
Polish Fighter Wing.
Year 1941, the squadron closed
up totaling 52 Luftwaffe's aircraft destroyed, 9 probable and 13 damaged,
making over 1,200 operational flights. "Krakowski" lost 13 pilots killed and
6 POW, of which one later returned to the unit. In its books, 22 Spitfires were
lost (cat. E), and 6 were damaged.
During these six months - from June 24 till December
12 - No. 308 Squadron achieved the biggest number of victories in Fighter
Command for year 1941, and as the CO, S/Ldr Pisarek, set a standard of
excellence in the Polish Air Force, which was hardly matched ever after.