VII

In the pursuit of the enemy - over Holland. 6 September 1944 - 14 January 1945.

From the B.10 airstrip, the 308 made several long range Armed Recces, reaching as far as Belgium. Every day the distance from the airstrip to the front grew, and Poles had to land at Manston on the Island to refuel, before going back to B.10.
    In first days of September, the Wing sent a motorized advanced party to reconnaissance the next place for the base. On the 5th, the main party left Normandy and moved to B.31 Londonieres, some 10 miles south of Dieppe le Treport followed by the Wing's aircraft the next day. The remaining ground personnel at Plumetot joined the unit in next couple of days. The ruined Normandy was left behind.
    Well rehearsed in England system of relocating the whole Wing came very handy and was to be repeated many times in the future. Section by section, (kitchens, storage, photo, repair shops etc.) the airfield structure was loaded on trucks and moved. Everything was under tents, which had to be packed in and set up in a new place in efficient way. During all this, normal operational sorties were carried out and everybody had to pitch in with an extra effort. Morale was high, as soldiers saw the effects of their toils in joyous, liberated French population, which welcomed them enthusiastically. Everybody believed that their hard work was bringing them closer to such moments in Poland.
The B.31 was just an evened up meadow. There was little activity in the air and heavy rains immobilized aircraft in mud. During rainy days, the pilots visited nearby Dieppe and Le Tropot, well known to them from the air operations. Some sorties against German resistance points at Le Havre, Boulogne and Dunkirk were flown.
On September 6th, flying army close support mission south of Boulogne, the 308 was given task to destroy a battery of German field artillery, defended by a light flak. The German guns were strafed but many planes returned damaged by the AA fire. P/O Kotlarz barely made it with badly shot propeller. Via 84 Group, the 3 Canadian Division sent a following signal to the squadron:
    "From 3 Div. T.O.O. 062045B. R.C.1.
    Own forward troops and G Staff very pleased with today's air effort. Great moral effect on Bosch. We all thank you."

            On 10 September 1944, came the next order to relocate to a new airstrip, near Lille-Vendeville. B.51 had concrete runways and some rearmament buildings left standing. The 308 started a new chapter in its history flying following type of ops:
   1. Dive bombing German strong points at Dunkirk.
   2. Reconnaissance and attacking the movements of the German troops in Holland.
   3. Reconnaissance and attacking V-1s and V-2s launching pads and supplies in Holland.
   4. Direct army support at Velcheren (liberation of Breda) and its winter offense at Mosel.

The autumnal short days and limited weather cut down the number and intensity of flights. The long evening gave the Poles a chance to visit Lille and its local Polish population. This was marred by an incident when a local communist cell murdered Polish mechanic for the Wing.
    Long flights over Holland, reaching far beyond Amsterdam, were difficult, mostly because of numerous locations of very strong German AA batteries. Those defended sites of V-1 and -2 weapons which constantly harassed London and cities in Belgium. On 26 and 27 the unit escorted big formations of Allies medium bombers targeting Germany. At the same time above them, groups of thousands of Lancasters and B-17s with ubiquitous escorts majestically proceeded with the same purpose. In one hour over four thousands aircraft attacked Germany. On 28 September the squadron flew a fighter sweep over Arnhem where the Polish Airborne Brigade was bleeding out.
   
At the end of September the unit totaled 339 sorties, dropping 39,000 lbs of bombs. Two 308 pilots were shot down: P/O Kotlarz became POW and F/O Mazurkiewicz evaded capture and after few weeks returned to the unit.

            The advancing front line brought inevitable move: transfer to B.70, Deurne-Antwerp. This was done on October 3rd. This airfield was taken over the Group's HQ, and on 11th, the unit relocated once again to B.61 Ghent. Many of the Wing's personnel were dissatisfied with this move hoping to spent winter in hospitable Antwerp. However, when this city became a frequent target of V-1 attacks, no more complains was heard. Ghent, liberated by the 1 Polish Armour Division, proved even more hospitable than Antwerp.
   
The airfield itself was inadequate with omnipresent mud. The ground crews had more work with lesser number of sorties. Often, a foul weather put everything to a stop. Few ops art flown mostly over Holland and in heavy clouds. On 13 October, the weather improved and the squadron made 52 sorties over its area of operations. Another 52-sorties day was 29 October. That day, twice in a full strength, the unit dive-bombed German artillery positions near Flushing; three sections flew Armed Recce near Rosendall; eight planes attacked headquarters of a big German unit at Knocke.
   
In October the 308 dropped 187,250 lbs of bombs, and had to say goodbye to its OC, S/Ldr Retinger rested against his pleads. The period of his command was a lucky one, filled with intense flying, unmatched previously and afterwards. At all levels, there was complete concord among the whole squadron personnel.

            The new OC, S/Ldr Karol Pniak, was well-known, before-war flyer, the leading acrobat pilot of the "Krakowski" squadron. He already had a successful carrier going and was credited with many kills, dating back to the Battle of Britain. Around that time, several pilots celebrated theirs 100th or even 200th anniversaries of operational flights. Among the latter ones was W/O Majchrzyk, involved with the unit for ten years.
   
Somewhat somber mood prevailed over the Christmas celebrating, as it was already a 5th Holidays spent abroad. The future did not look brighter. The approaching New Year ushered a need to change the base once again.

            On the frosty New Year 1945, few minutes past 8 a.m., the unit was in the air, Spitfires heavy with bombs. When after the mission the 308 was returning home, pilots saw an exciting sight: some 40 FW190s milling around the airfield, strafing dispersed aircraft and buildings. Luftwaffe paid a visit with New Year wishes (Operation Bodenplatte. WR). Impromptu receiving followed. Turning with two FW190s in a classical dogfight, F/O Mach scored two kills right over the field. Others joined the mle. This fracas was punctuated by a German plane crashes, marked with a blast and pillar of smoke. Sgt Breyner scored two more kills, when his mortally wounded victim turned into its wingman bringing both down. More enemy aircraft were destroyed by S/Ldr Olszewski, F/O Dromlewicz, F/O Szlenkier and W/O Bednarczyk. In few minutes it was all over, and the Poles perused retreating Germans on last drops of fuel. In result, the squadron was credited with 10 enemy aircraft destroyed and several probables. Another Polish unit, which took part in this fight, scored 6 kills and some probables.


Polish 308 Spitfire against a FW190 at the morning of Janury 1, 1945. Artwork by W. Sankowski.

Click on a thumbnail to see bigger picture.
1.Bodenplatte_1.jpg (94603 bytes)
2.Bodenplatte_2.jpg (78123 bytes) 3.Bodenplatte_3.jpg (59702 bytes)
4.Bodenplatte_4.jpg (54645 bytes) 5.Bodenplatte5.jpg 6.
7.Bodenplatte_5Szlenkier.jpg (139278 bytes)
Pictures: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, were taken soon after the attack. No.7: F/O Szlenkier at the crash site of his kill. 

    This was the last combat for the 308. F/O Powierza and F/O Chojnacki were lost in it. Polish Spitfires landed with dried tanks and some force landed in a vicinity of the airfield. In became apparent, that although not in the combat for many months, pilots stayed in a top fighter shape. The New Year 1945 was a prominent milestone along the squadron's course.

Part VIII