BRIEF HISTORY of No. 309 POLISH SQUADRON
Written by Wilhelm Ratuszynski
After already four bomber and five fighter squadrons were established on
British soil in 1940, the time came for the Polish Army to have its winged
arm required by the modern warfare. The Agreement of Mutual Assistance
between the United Kingdom and Poland signed in August, called for a
formation of such a unit. Accordingly, the Air Ministry soon approved
formation of another Polish Air Force unit: No. 309 Polish Army-Cooperation Squadron.
Its organization started on 8 October 1940 at RAF Abbotsnich in Scotland, and
soon (November 6th) its headquarters moved to Renfrew, where some
facilities under repairs.
All the technical and flying personnel was to be formed by
people from various pre-war Polish units, but before the unit reached
operational efficiency, it was also manned by British officers and airmen.
The squadron received used Westland Lysanders Mk III, a two-seater
designed specifically for army cooperation and tactical reconnaissance. The
aircraft was armed with four machine guns and light bomb racks.
The command of the squadron was given to S/Ldr Pistl,
experienced high-rank officer, who was advised by W/Cdr Mason.
The original badge of the squadron. Silver with golden arrows
and "309" numbers.
On the November 12th, the first Polish flying personnel arrived to
Renfrew: F/Lt. Lukasik, F/Lt Wolf, F/O Bernat, F/O Kasprzyk, F/O Narewski,
F/O Baster, P/O Berezecki, P/O Lopacki, P/O Sowalski and P/O Stefanus, and 51
other ranks. Soon more came in and with de beginning of December, full scale
training begun, was conducted according to preexisted guidelines of Polish
units: low level visual reconnaissance, picking up and delivering messages,
artillery spotting and ranging, as well as bombing. Due to various difficulties
occurring during training flights, it was decided that the pilots should follow
the course designed for an RAF operational Training Unit.
On the December 1st, 1940, the 309 Polish
Squadron transferred from 22 Group to the newly formed 71 Group. Four days
later The first operational flight took place: two-aircraft section patrolled the Clyde
River estuary. The task was to keep in readiness against marauding German
planes, the role in which Lysnaders were absolutely inadequate with the maximum
speed of just over 200 m/h. What’s more, the airfield was very unsatisfactory in many ways. Small
and with boggy surface, it bordered with Glasgow balloon barrage and shred
with Scottish Airways and A.M. Airworks.
On the beginning of 1941,
all pilots were fully trained in Lysanders flying, and theirs effort were
recognized with many
promotions. In January, at West Freugh, the crews begun training with Army
units, and soon two things became apparent: The Poles would make excellent
fighter pilots and that their rather impatient temperament has to be
Rather uneventful three months
followed, but in early March 1941 Germans bombed Renfrew airfield several
times, causing extensive station damage and number of casualties. Between
March 3rd and 8th, the Luftwaffe visited Glasgow and Renfrew daily, and the
309 kept a flight of the aircraft at Scone, where the best chance existed to
intercept German planes passing over Perth. Although scrambled several times,
the Polish Lysanders had no chance to intercept faster German bomber. The
crews commenced night flying training but with very little enthusiasm.
During three-days nights raids on
the Glasgow (12/14 March) the 309 suffered several of its personnel killed or
Raczkiewicz visited the unit in April, followed soon after by HRH the Duke of
Kent accompanied by General Sikorski.
On 15 May 1941, the squadron was
moved to Dunino, near St. Andrews (Scotland). It was an all-grass airfield
surrounded by woods, where the whole personnel were billeted in tents. From
Dunino, the squadron flew training flights and participated in maneuvers of
British and Polish Army units. These were both day and night flights.
The crews greatly increased their total flying hours, but
the ground crews struggle to keep worn out Lysanders serviceable. The effect
of their hard work was an official recognition for the 309, as the unit with
the best serviceability and greatest number of flying hours in the Army
Co-operation Command. No new aircraft were received, and eventually many had
to be grounded due to a lack of spare parts or facilities for major repairs.
Above: the unit's AR-O in flight.
Toward the end of spring 1941,
the Air Ministry recognized the tactics of Army Co-operation Command as
obsolete, its aircraft too slow and very easy target for enemy flak and
fighters. It was learned that what Army needed was effective tactical
photo reconnaissance, permitted by already developed high-speed photography,
and done by fast flying planes. Lysander couldn’t fulfill the role, and the unit was to be
reorganized and converted to another type of aircraft.
squadron dawdled through the rest of the year, waiting for its turn to
convert. Except for some theoretical classes, very little was done in that
matter. The process of adapting to the new guidelines was very slow and many
airmen were disheartened. The unit became practically not operational.
Finally, in the spring of 1942, the first group of pilots
was sent to RAF Gatwick near London, for initial training on Mustangs Mk I
with Allison engine. Those left behind were fuming with burning envy. Soon
another set of pilots left for Gatwick. Eventually, the unit’s training
pilots officially became the Flight “B” commanded by F/Lt M. Piotrowski. From
Gatwick, the first operational sortie on Mustang – reconnaissance over France
– was done on 21 May 1942. The pilot was probably F/Lt Piotrowski.
two Mustangs were delivered to Dunino on 7 June. As more Mustangs were
received, the Flight “C” was formed, which inherited the planes used previously
by the Flight “B”. Because after heavy rains Dunino airfield was unsuitable
for Mustangs, the latter one was relocated to Crail on 15 June.
the flight finished its gunnery course at Inverness. In August the 309 was
fully converted to Mustangs.
Mustang Mk.I AM214. At that time, 309 aircraft carried a single code letter. (J. B. Cynk collection).
For some time Mustang’s
operational range was greatly debated among the 309 pilots, who were the
first Polish unit to fly that aircraft. Contrary to a common knowledge that
Mustang couldn’t be flown to Norway and back, F/Lt Janusz Lewkowicz - fully
qualified aeronautical engineer himself - made some calculation and was
convinced it was not so. His calculations were duly submitted to the Group
Headquarters where they were simply ignored. To prove his point, he made an
unauthorized flight to Norway (September 28th), where he strafed
some military installations at Stavanger and returned safely. This flight
became notorious among Polish airmen and nothing short of a sensation among
Allies air forces. For his flight, Lewkowicz was reprimanded for breaking the
regulations and at the same time sincerely congratulated by Air Marshall
Barratt. After that, nearly overnight, the Group’s planners had to reevaluate
the task for the Mustang squadrons.
Read more. In fall 1942, the squadron
continued to operate disjointedly. On 26 October the Flight “A” and “C”
(still operating their outmoded Lysanders) were moved to Findo Gask (Perth),
and on 15 November, the Flight “B” found its new base of No. 35
Reconnaissance Wing at Gatwick.
On 5 December, the “B” Flight commenced its operational
duties, reconnoitering the fortification along the French coast, between Le
Havre and Boulogne.
The aircraft operated in pairs, crossing the channel few feet
above water to avoid enemy’s radar detection. The leader of the section would
fly at some 900 feet and top speed taking pictures and making a visual
reconnaissance, while his weaver would keep a lookout against enemy fighters.
The actual picture taking never lasted more than 2, 3 minutes, during which
the pilot had to operate the camera and fly at precise altitude and angles
keeping constant speed. This wasn’t an easy task, and pilot had absolutely
not to pay any attention to what was happening on the ground. Sometimes, lone
hedgehopping aircraft, made attacks on certain installation.
On 7 December the whole 35 Wing was to fly recco sorties over
France, and many pairs of Mustang took off into extremely foggy weather over
the channel. In less than 20 minutes, they were called back to base. All but
one par returned. Two Polish pilots of No. 309 Squadron continued in their
flight, crossed the channel and found their objective basking in a bright
sunshine and carried out the task. One hour after the call back, they
returned with excellent photographs of important strongholds around Fécamp.
Later in December, the weather permitted very little flying,
whole coast often being covered with fog. In view of that, the Flight “B” was
sent to Findo Gask, to join the rest of the unit. But the short soggy
airfield proved to be unsuitable for Mustangs.
On 10 January 1943, the Mustang
flight relocated to Peterhead, from where it flew convoy patrols.
On 14 February, S/Ldr W. Piotrowski replaced the
unit’s first and the longest reigning CO, S/Ldr Pistl.
In March, also the Flight “A”
received Mustangs, and starting from 8 March it trained at Kirknewton. Once the flight’s training was over, the 309
transformed itself very quickly into a full fighter-reconnaissance
unit. The Flight “C” was disbanded, its airmen sent out to various units, and
its Lysnaders subjected to a good riddance.
The most welcomed change came in
June, when the unit was transferred to RAF Snailwell (Suffolk) and assigned
to different duties. The 309 flew convoy patrols, which carried mostly in
often foul weather were a nuisance to fighter pilots. The change was dictated
by the disbandment of the Army Co-operation Command, which happened in
December 1943. As a part of the 12 Group, the squadron began regular
reconnaissance sorties over the Dutch ports between Terschelling (at the
entrance to the Zuyder Zee) and the Hook of Holland, which were crucial
points in the German industry supply route with Swedish iron ore and other
raw materials. Simultaneously, the pilots went through a refreshing course in
fighter tactics. Soon after, they were given also the task of attacking
strategic points on Frisian Islands.
The squadron’s was most effective providing data on
enemy shipping (attacked afterwards by British torpedo-carrying planes) and
vital land targets. Toward the end of summer 1943, the enemy shipping between Scandinavia and the Netherlands declined
sharply, due to its mounting losses. German bolstered their air defences in
the area, and reconnaissance sorties became dangerous, particularly for
Mustangs very vulnerable in low flying. Luftwaffe started to provide regular
fighter patrols. Areas of ports Den Helder and Ijmuiden were strictly
avoided. It’s worth noticing, that Poles of 309, although nearly always
carrying in their tasks, suffered no losses in that period.
On 14 October
1943, S/Ldr M. Piotrowski took over the command, and the unit continued its
task with a little less intensity. Rumors had it that soon the unit will
convert once again. Before that happened, the inevitable change of aircraft
had to come. Read more.
Officially, No. 309 Squadron was transferred on 6th December, 1943, from Army Cooperation
Command, where it had served since 23rd November, 1940, to Fighter Command.
It joined No. 2 Wing, flying Mustang Mk IIIs, and the Polish fighter family
in Great Britain now numbered 10 operational squadrons.
In January 1944, in view of the planned invasion of
the continent, the fighter-reconnaissance squadrons were reorganized. The
decision was made to transform No. 309 Squadron into a fighter-bomber unit. Little
disappointed Poles exchanged their Mustangs for worn-out Hurricanes Mk. IVs.
Now their role was to bomb targets on the Dutch coast. The aircraft range,
however, proved to be insufficient, and in April the squadron exchanged them
for Mk. IICs, and equally fatigued lot. Meantime, S/Ldr Golko became the
unit’s new CO, who strangely enough was a bomber pilot with no experience on fighters.
On 23 April, with new old planes, the 309 was detailed off to RAF Drem in Scotland, to defend the area against German
riders flying from Norway bases.
The Hurricane was a vintage
fighter plane during the Battle of Britain, but in 1944 it was obsolete and
expelled even for most of OTUs. The squadron’s pilots were yet again deeply
disappointed. Other Polish fighter squadrons received new aircraft and were
preparing for an imminent invasion and became envy for the 309 airmen.
During the months preceding
invasion, the squadron spent endless hours in every day readiness. Yet not
once the enemy aircraft showed up, and as to “rub it in”, they had to
constantly patrol over the east coast of Scotland and the Firth of Forth,
after a solitary Ju88 dropped some bombs on Edinburgh. Strangely enough, the
general opinion was that this Ju88 lost its way, and blundered over the city.
Short lived episod: the 309 equipped with Hawker Hurricane. Pictured is Mk IIC version, LF630. (J. B. Cynk collection).
Probably Spring 1945. As a fighter unit, the
309's code letters were changed to WC.
Finally, in September 1944, the
unit was converted back to Mustangs Mk I and became purely a fighter
squadron. It also received the new CO: S/Ldr Glowacki, hero of the Battle of
Britain with status of ace achieved in one day. Toward the end of October, a
full complement of Mustang Mk IIIs was ferried in, and after familiarizing
flights pilots begun to take part in escort missions. The flying personnel
also changed, as ten most experienced in air-reconnaissance pilots were
transferred to other units. Four went to the Polish 318
Fighter-Reconnaissance Squadron operating in Italy, while other six joined
back the No. 35 Reconnaissance Wing.
On 12 December 1944, the squadron joined 133 Polish Fighter Wing
stationed at Andrews Field. Since then, till the end of war, the unit flew
almost solely escort missions to various targets in Germany. Sporadically,
but to their delight, pilots were employed in ground attacking sorties.
On 9 April 1945, during escort
mission to Hamburg, the unit’s pilots stumbled on several Me262 jet fighters
attacking bombers, and scored the last kills for the PAF during the war. F/Lt
Gorzula, F/Lt Mencel and W/O Murkowski were each credited with one Me262
destroyed, while F/O Lewandowski and P/O Mozolowski damaged another.
On April 25th, the unit made its last operational
sortie, an escort as part of the notorious “Pickwick” operation. Read more.
The squadron’s wartime effort, from 8 October 1940
till 8 May 1945 can be summarized by 1230 operational flights in 3228 flying
hours; 4 enemy aircraft shot down and 2 damaged; one pilot killed in action,
and four airmen killed in training.
The unit was disbanded on 6 January 1947 while
stationed at RAF Coltishall.
|No. 309 Squadron List of claims against e/a.
||West of Hamburg
|F/O Mozlowski / F/O Lewandowski
||Shared one Me262 damaged
|No. 309 Squadron losses
|4-Feb-41. Lysander R9134. P/O R. Suwalski.
Crash landed during training flight at Dumfries. Pilot safe with minor injuries.
|4-May-41. Lysander T1739. P/O T. Szymankiewicz.
Crash landed during training flight at Dumfries. Pilot and unidetifies observer safe.
| 18-Jun-41. Lysander V9608. Sgt Z. Kowalczyk; F/Lt A. Luksinski.
Engine failure. Crash landed and burned during training flight at Dunino. Both crew safe with minor injuries.
Moth T6764. F/O J. Sadowski. KAS
For unknown reasons lost over Finth
of Clyde near Toward Point during liaison flight. Passenger, British
officer also lost.
Lysander V9472. F/Lt P. Dunin KAS, F/O J. Homan KAS
Crashed N of Galloway during training flight. Investigation revealed
stirring system malfunction as a cause of accident.
| 8-May-43. Mustang AM213. F/Lt J. Szyszko
Crashed on landing at Peterhead, pilot safe
Hurricane LF633 WC-T. F/Lt J. Strusinski. KAS
Shot down by an allied
fighter off Peterhead during camera gun practice.
| 27-Dec-43. Mustang AP240 WC-G. F/O E. Rajewski. KAS
Crashed during unauthorized mock dog-fight with with American P-38
near Risby Village (St. Edmunds)
|18-Oct-44. Mustang AP213 WC-O. F/Lt W. Gorzenski
Force-landed and burned down at Peterhead following engine failure, pilot safe.
|19-Oct-44. Mustang AP177. F/Lt S. Sawicki
Due to pilot's errorbelly-landed at Peterhead, a/c written off. Pilot safe.
|27-Oct-44. Mustang AP170 WC-M. F/Lt W. Miniszewski
Due to engine failure force-landed near Ballincrieff. Pilot safe.
Mustang SR418 WC-D. F/O K. Zielonka.
Crashed near village of Inwoeth after being cut in half by a diving
P47of 61FS, 56FG (USAAF), engaging in a mock combat. Pilot bailed out safely,
injuring both kneecaps.
| 19-Mar-45. Mustang FX860. F/Lt S. Sawicki. KAS
Crashing at Broomfield
with engine on fire. Pilot suffered extensive burns and died in hospital.
| 16-May-45. Mustang KH540 WC-D. F/Lt M. Befinger. KAS
Killed after bailing out following a mid-air collision with another
Mustang piloted by F/Lt Kubica during a training flight.
| 16-May-45. Mustang FR383. F/Lt F. Kubica. KAS
| 2-Aug-45. Mustang FX876 WC-D. W/O A. Pietrzak. KAS
Probably due to a/c
malfunction crashed during dive-bombing training flight near Oaks
Field, Goulds Farm (Braintree).
|8-Aug-45. Mustang FZ184. F/O Z. Jaeschke.
Due to engine failure force-landed at Andrews Field.
Mustang KN516 WC-F. Sgt S. Swiecicki. KAS
When pulled out of steep dive a/c broke in half near Dengie Flats in
|30-Nov-45. Mustang FB232. Sgt J. Podolski.
Crashed in adverse weather conditions after overshooting West Raynham. Pilot safe.
|16-Jan-46. Mustang KH484 WC-H. W/O T. Wisniewski.
Due to engine failure during a night flight force-landed at Andrews Field. Pilot safe.
| 12-Feb-46. Mustang FB210 WC-P. F/O L. Krus. KAS
For unknown reasons aircraft crashed during training flight near Waldersmare
Park, Eythotn in Kent.
25-Feb-46. Mustang KH473. F/Lt J. Mozolowski.
Due to engine failure force-landed at Andrews Field, a/c written off.