V

 Before Invasion. 29 September 1943 - 5 June 1944.

 

In November the squadron returned to Northolt for the third time, where it was rearmed with Spitfire IXs, aircraft in many respects superior to FW190. This stirred a great enthusiasm among pilots - the aircraft had options for droppable fuel tanks, promising more interesting flights.
    During the first mission on a new plane, F/O Frackiewicz's engine stopped and the pilot force-landed in France. His was in radio contact with his colleagues to the end, showing great amount of coolness. Few days later, P/O Pietrasiak, one of the unit's forefront pilots, failed to return. He was shot down for the second time; previously, he evaded capture in occupied France and returned to the squadron. Although the unit successfully carried on it's duties protecting bombers over France, the loss of seven pilots in a short time, not compensated by any victories, was a dark moment in its history.

On the new equipment, the 308 carried on three kinds of operational flying:
1. Assisting American bombers on they way out and back from targets over the continent.
2. Escorting RAF's light bombers over so-called "Noble targets", the stretch of land in northern France where V-1 launching pads were located or being erected.
3. Occasional "Rhubarbs". During one of those Sgt Rybczynski shot down one FW190.

            During the winter period of 1943/44, many Allied bombers were returning from France badly shot-up, often having to ditch in the channel. At that time, the unit's pilots flew many sorties protecting lugging bombers or circling around those that ditched directing the rescue effort. On many instances, Poles "hung" over crews floating in the channel's icy waters till the last drop of fuel, and landing at the nearest airstrip on the Island. For their actions, the squadron received many thank-you notes.

            The beginning of 1944 was marked by the change of the CO. S/Ldr Retinger took over the command and somehow, the bad lack which marred the previous year disappeared. Noticing the vast array of war preparations, the unit's personnel sensed the beginning of something big coming.
    During previous three years of service, the 308 flew nearly 4,000 operational sorties for 5,340 hours. The upcoming months seemed to promise even more intensive flying. While doing its flights over the northern Europe, the squadron was shaping up for new kind of service: dive-bombing and cooperation with ground troops. The short stay and a bombing range in Wales gave the pilots opportunity to learn a new skill, and the exercises coded "Lambourne" and "Flint" proved that they did it well. Although initially the tasks were met with reservation and failed to stir much enthusiasm, they eventually begun to interest pilots, more so, as there was less and less of a chance to meet the Luftwaffe planes in the air.

            In second half of March the unit, together with the 302 and the 317 as a No 131 Polish Fighter Wing, became part of the 2 Tactical Air Force. This task force was organized to directly support operations of the 21 Group Army under Marshall Montgomery.

            In cold April, the squadron moved to the ALG Deanland, Sussex. The living conditions were very primitive, with everything set-up under tents. The unit's motor park grew up to over 200 vehicles. The Wing was entirely self-sufficient unit, able to quickly relocate and supply itself, capable of reliable radio contact with different command levels. Before moving to continent, this Wing's characteristic was put to practice three times when in short time it moved to Chailley, then Appledram and Ford.
   
Meantime, daily operational flights across the channel continued. Thousands of Allied planes were working on Germans morale, before the invasion was to start. On April 24th, the 308 made the first dive-bombing mission targeting some V-1 launching pads. After depositing their bombs pilots continued their sortie as an escort to Allied bombers returning to England. The squadron flew several sorties daily, mostly escorts and "Rhubarbs". The pilots felt animated by excellent springtime weather; fresh air and ease of live in the field. General Sosnkowski, Polish Arm forces C-in-C, visited the Wing, together with the commander of the Allied expeditionary Air Force Air Chief Marshall Trafford Leigh Mallory and the head of the 2 TAF Air Chief Marshall Cunningham. Frequent visitor to the unit was CO of the 84 Group Air Vice Marshall Brown.
    The 308 lost three pilots during huge Rhubarb operation on German supply lines in northern France: P/O Piotrowski, P/O Kurowski and F/O Jeka. The first two were killed, while the latter one returned to the unit two months later. On June 5th, the unit patrolled over the amassed invasion force and later that evening, pilots were briefed on the operations "Overlord" and "Neptune". Hardly anybody slept the remaining few hours before the D-Day. The day was coming when the first step back to Poland was about to be made, and many embraced the moment for which they waited for four years. In the early morning hours, their hearts were with the troops in the overflying gliders and Dakotas.

Part VI