IV
 Defending the Island - over Northwestern Europe. 13 December 1941 - 28 September 1943.

 

The winter of 1941/1942, coldest in a long time, the squadron spent resting at RAF Woodvale (9 Group) located between Liverpool and Southport. The idea was to reduce amount of flying assigning the unit to lesser in activity theater of England's defense. Under the command of the 9 Group, the 308's duty was to patrol and defend area of Liverpool-Preston and shipping passing there. At the same time pilots trained in night flying, in frame called "fighter night", cruising singly at different altitudes around city under bombardment. Due to sporadic Luftwaffe offensive actions in this area, the squadron's service was light and significant amount of flying time was assigned to training, biggest chunk of which was reserved for young pilots freshly from OTUs.
   
With the exception of few uneventful encounters with stalking Ju88s (February 11 and 12), nothing disturbed the routine of the rest. Nevertheless, pilots were fully aware of their role in protecting the vital supply shipping from USA and Dominions, and monotonous patrols were flown diligently.
    It was not the Luftwaffe but atmospheric conditions that were causing a lot of misery especially in flying. P/O Krawczynski was killed (December 21, 1941) when flying in adverse weather conditions. Great help for the squadron was F/O Moszynski, operational officer in the sector, who many times radio homed hopeless pilots back to the base.
   
Long winter evenings and frequent fogs coming from the Irish Sea, provided an opportunity for relaxation and entertainment, not only for the airmen but for a ground crew as well. Local pubs and taverns couldn't complain for the lack of clientele, and 308 "car patrols" often reached Blackpool in search of amusement. The unit's own, formed ad hoc, artistic group filled a memorable evening on which local civilian population was invited.
    Toward the end of 308 stay in Woodvale, often ZF Spitfires were seen performing acrobatic evolution above sweetheart's houses. Unfortunately, this period of rest was marked by death of the squadron's CO on January 9. S/Ldr Wesolowski was killed in a mid-air collision during night flying.

In springtime, on April 1, 1942, the unit moved south to Exeter, and under the command of W/Cdr Witorzenc of the 2nd Polish Fighter Wing became part of the 10 Group. Since the Wesolowski's accident, S/Ldr Nowierski led the squadron. The new CO skillfully governed his pilots and quickly gained their respect. The 308 became a very harmonious unit.
    Due to intensity of flying, the following period of combat remained in memory of pilots as the hardest one in the history of the squadron. Long distances to be flown from Exeter to area of operations laying anywhere from Amsterdam till Brest in a sweeping arch through Paris and Cherbourg, increased number of operational hours logged in.
    In the spring and summer of 1942, Germans had thrown into action a mass of improved FW190 and new version of Messerschmidt, Bf109G. On several aspects, these aircraft were superior to those flown by the Allies, mostly Spitfire Mk V. In was one of the last German efforts to regained air superiority lost over their territory. This moved forced by the growing offensive of the bombers of the American 8th Army. The RAF's objective was to stretch its superiority over the Low Countries. Just like in previous year, RAF offensive consisted of Circus, Rhodeo and Ramrod mission, which became more frequent and on larger scale.

In the frame of this campaign, the squadron performed four kinds of duties:
   1. Almost every other day the unit begun its day with the flight south to 11 Group's airfields (Tangmere, Ford, etc.) where its aircraft were refueled for sorties over the continent. Often two or three such missions were flown during one day. At evening hours the squadron was returning to its base with pilots and aircraft logging in 6 to 8 hours.
    2. In operations within its own group, the unit carried on duties of escorting bombers in their raids across the channel, mostly Brest and St Malo. These flights were rather unpleasant to pilots due to the channel width.
    3. From the satellite airfield at Bolthead the squadron, interchangeably with other Wing's units, carried special alarm duties. Usually, two pilots set strapped in their machines ready for immediate take-off. Bolthead's landing ground laid in the usual flying path of the Luftwaffe pilots, who taking advantage of low clouds ceiling, carried on their favorite game: terrorist attacks on hospitals, schools and beaches of Torquay and Exeter bays. Scrambles were frequent and many marauding Ju88s and FW190s were chased away.
   4.Besides the above, the squadron was also on alert during night bombings of Exeter. Combing the Fighter Night with readiness the 308 tried to defend the city. On May 4, four aircraft scrambled to intercept German raiders. Although S/Ldr Nowierski and F/O Retinger managed to get a visual contact with bombers, their efforts were unsuccessful.

During operations of first two kinds, frequent encounters with enemy's fighters were mostly indecisive, as the unit was tied up to escorted bombers; F/O Kudrewicz fend one Bf109 down to the sea over the estuary of Orm River near Caen. Germans attacked only when having an advantage or hunted for straddlers. Fortunately the squadron never had any.
   The pilots drew satisfaction from successfully escorting bombers without any losses. Worth noticing is a fact that operating from Exeter under S/Ldr Nowierski, the 308 did not suffer a loss.
   On April 22, F/O Stabrowski with P/O Madej scrambled from Bolthead and damaged one Ju88. On May 3, another Ju88 was damaged, when Stabrowski, this time with W/O Majchrzyk, pursuit the Germans all the way to Cap de La Hague, killing the gunner and leaving their victim smoking.

            Flying intensely the variety of ops, the squadron used up even its aircraft reserves. The ground crew was heavily overworked; laboring day and night it displayed the highest morale in carrying its duty. The wasn't much time left for entertainment, but the obligatory "reconnaissance" of Devon's pubs was done, mandatory bottles of gin and whisky were drained and usual rubbers were played. The growing strength of the Allies gave soldiers satisfaction and real prospective of victory, which before was a mere hope.

            The Fighter Command of the Polish Air Force came to conclusion to withdrew some of the units from intensive action and transfer them north for less demanding duties. Thus, the 2 Polish Wing was detached from the 10 Group. In result, the 308 became part of the 12 Group, moving in May 1942 to RAF Hutton-Cranswick in Yorkshire. Coincidently, S/Ldr Nowierski was left the unit and was replaced by S/Ldr Szyszka. Nowierski was well-respected leader, mostly for his fair treatment of all his personnel. As a young pilot and total "Krakowiak", Feliks Szyszka quickly proved worthy of his predecessors.
   Service at Hutton-Cranswick was similar to that at Woodvale, with exception of the 308's infrequent partaking in missions over the continent from southern airfields. It s main duty was to patrol and defend the eastern coast of England along the Hull-Whitby line.
   Operating from bases in Norway, the Luftwaffe was a constant threat to convoys, and usually two aircraft patrolled over the passing convoys from dawn till dusk. Daily at least two convoys sailed by the squadron's sector, one north and one south, often with ships moving to and fro the Soviet Union. This unfulfilling duty, pilots treated as necessary evil, and those assign to patrol duties when the unit was flying south to take part in operations over occupied Europe, were bitterly complaining.
   On one occasion, patrolling pilot R/T one of the escorting vessels calling: "Hey, down there, wake up! It's four o'clock!" To his surprise, the transmission he received was in Polish, advising the pilot to be careful not to ditch because they did not feel like rescuing him. It was a Polish Navy destroyer, and happy pilots treated their countrymen with a displayed of low acrobatics.
   Nearly always, six "ZF" Spitfires were in readiness at the airfield, and this constant waiting was becoming drudgery. On May 17 a tragic incident occurred, in which the squadron lost its CO. S/Ldr Szyszka was killed in a collision during a training flight.

            The German crews visiting the area were experienced and very careful. Once spotting patrolling fighters, they turned back immediately. On one occasion, however, F/O Zuromski and P/O Habela caught unsuspecting Ju88. Poles killed the gunner and damaged heavily the German bomber, which managed to escape into clouds.
   On the night of 30/31 May 1942, the squadron patrolled over the North Sea in waiting for the return of armada of over 1,000 bombers (104 Polish bombers among them) coming back from the raid on Kiel. On other occasions, the unit patrolled deep over the sea during the RAF raids over Ruhr, to prevent eventual intervention of German fighters located in Norway.
   During the first days of June, the 308 spent a week in Redhill, waiting to take part in a mysterious operation. The awaited call never came as Dieppe Raid progressed. During that week, two squadron's pilot collided what resulted in P/O Krawczynski's death.

            The relations with the local population were not good at Hutton-Cranswick. Exception was a contingent of WAAF, many members of which quite enjoyed the company of Poles. For the Squadron's Day its members prepared laudable extravaganza, with dances, music and games. The spare time was spent mostly on sportive activities and a growing hobby of used car collecting. A number of nearly a twenty vehicles was owned by the personnel, what greatly improved its ability to quickly relocate in a search of entertainment. A popular destination was Blackpool and historical town of York on the other side of island, where the whole regiment of A.T.S., "comrades in arms" wearing miniskirts, was an obvious attraction.
    The contacts with reserved and phlegmatic population of Yorkshire were sporadic, partially due to a remote location of the airfield. Many preferred Lancashire as place to have a girlfriend, but most of love affairs were subjected to the unit's unsettled routine of service; the one never knew where he was going to be the next day.
    The move came soon and customary for the Polish soldiers, the squadron left behind a tiny bit of Poland occupied by three graves on the nearby cemetery in Leaconfield - those of F/Lt Szyszka, Sgt Knott and Sgt Zielinski.

            S/Ldr Zak (Battle of Britain veteran) took over the command on May 17. He was a pilot characterized by unusual coolness, sang-froid in most dire situations. His poise was remarkable even by British standards. He led the unit for the next several months.
   On July 30th, 1942, the 308 was transferred to the 11 Group, and moved to RAF Heston, not far from Northolt and London. Upon its arrival, the unit became a part of the 1 Polish Fighter Wing, which for a while, consisted of four squadrons. From Heston, the 308 flew mostly escort missions to RAF's light bombers and sometimes to American B-17s.
    With their range well over France, Belgium and even Holland, British fighters enjoyed total air superiority. The Germans, though avoiding fighting on a grand scale, organized from to time well planed and executed attacks in masse on Allies' bigger raids. However opposed, the RAF always seemed to achieve its objectives, constantly increasing its advantage. One of the signs of it was a fact, that German fighter pilots disengaged from a fight the very instant it moved toward the sea.
    During the memorable Dieppe Raid on August 19, it became clear, that RAF could provide a total air cover over the chosen area, exposing Luftwaffe's weakness and inability to resist a massive attack. That day, the 308 flew four full-strength patrols not encountering any opposition. The pilots were totally frustrated because, every time they left Dieppe for home, the Luftwaffe planes showed up few minutes later. Some even resorted to harsh words exchanged with sector controllers. The other Polish squadrons scored many victories that day.
   Due to expected increase in German nigh raids over London, the squadron was relocated to Northolt on November 1. The prospective of night flying at the defense of London was welcomed with an obscene display of frustration. The mood quickly improved when it was learned that "Krakowski" would still fly day missions over the continent.
   The squadron's way of life was derailed the moment the night flying begun. Only minimal activity was present during the day, but that still required round the clock duties. Both airmen and ground crews worked on 12 hrs shifts. The CO had especially demanding work since often his duties required of him to be at work both night and day. Thanks to increased discipline and pilots' diligence there was no major accidents.
    Winter and Christmas Day were approaching - the third one for the Poles away from home and families. At Christmas Eve dinner all feelings and emotions were revived, and it was hard for men to go back to work and forget about sentiments. Poland's President, Wladyslaw Raczkiewicz unexpectedly visited the unit.

By the last day of the 1942, the 308 totaled 1361 operational sorties in 1700 hrs and 15 min of flying time.

The year 1943 begun without great excitement, but with days passing as they did in the end of the old one. Only a February 3rd, brought a noticeable event, when during the Circus over France, "Krakowski" fought hard with a group of FW190s. The encounter was brief and fierce, during which the 308 lost four pilots with many aircraft shot up. All escorted bombers returned safely home, with one force landing at Manston. One of the bombers carried a sign "heaven can wait", what during the German attacks looked rather ironically. This however proved to be a good omen as it was learnt that only one 308 pilot (F/O Wiejski) was killed. Germans captured two others (F/O Zbierzchowski and Sgt Okroj) and one (F/Lt Koc) evaded it and in few days was back in London. He called the officer's mess in Northolt and talked to F/O Mach, who was promptly accused of drunkenness on duty. F/Lt Koc's was a real adventure and in record time.
    Four days later, February 7, the squadron patrolled over the train, which carried Winston Churchill coming back from his trip in Africa.
   On March 11 during Rhubarb, the squadron lost F/O Stabrowski. His Spitfire was heavily damaged by flak and pilot ditched in the channel. Before any rescue could reach him he already drown.

            With the oncoming spring, the Allies air offensive gained momentum. Germans continued to suffer heavy losses. On February 12, S/Ldr Zak was rested and temporarily, S/Ldr Niemiec took over the command. He relinquished it to S/Ldr Zulikowski on May 19.

            With the squadron's general disapprobation, the 308 was rested on April 29. It moved back to Yorkshire, RAF Church-Fenton in the 12 Group. The station had comfortable facilities what was a small consolation for the personnel. A month later, even this was lost as the squadron was moved back to Hutton-Cranswick, where it served the same duties as in previous year: rare flights south on detachment, night flying training and convoy patrols.
   For the unit the year 1943 started to be unfortunate one as it progressed. Flying accidents happened, and in later months the 308 suffered heavy combat losses. F/O Habela and Sgt Osoba were killed in a mid-air collision on May 14. The sorties with a chance to meet the enemy were sporadic at that time, and only on August 16, the squadron combated. While escorting USAAF Marauders, the unit came under fierce attack of a group of FW190s and lost three pilots: F/O Illinski died in a burning Spitfire, F/O Mejer became a POW, and P/O Czerwinski was missing.

At the end of the summer, the 308 moved to Heston. Soon after two more pilots were lost: F/O Jurewicz and Sgt Lipiec, both killed over France. Meantime, via Gibralatar, Czerwinski came back to squadron and resumed flying; during the late stages of the war he was shot down again and killed flying with Mustang squadron. (Czerwinski Andrzej, killed on 7 Dec 1944 at No. 315 Squadron).

Part V