III
During 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.
           
The 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 attacks.
(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.)
    D.     "Roadsted" - sorties directed against enemy's shipping and coastal traffic. Fighters provided escort and if possible, attacked ships and flak positions.
    E.      "Rhubarb" - sweeping, 'on the deck' action against ground targets, mostly aerodromes and radio or radar stations.

On June 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 Day.
    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 extra training.
    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 destroyed.
    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 Bf109s.

    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 and Messerschmitts.

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 pilots.
    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 damaged another.

    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 Valour.

    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.

Part IV