No. 317 (Polish) Squadron History
written by Wilhelm Ratuszynski

      When on February 15, 1941, The Polish Air Force received an official blessing from the Air Ministry to form another fighter squadron, jolt of enthusiasm could have been felt running through the Polish Depot in Blackpool. There were many pilots waiting impatiently for chance at the operational fighter unit, who were omitted in selection for other two freshly made squadrons: No. 315 and No. 316. Although, few references in the Polish Depot ORB. described assigning pilots to the new unit as a segregation of  “undesirable personnel”, those who first formed it were in no measure lesser pilots than those from any other Polish squadron.

      RAF Acklington was chosen as place of birth for the No. 317 (Wilno) Polish Fighter Squadron, what was its official name, and which started its existence on February 20. S/Ldr Brzezina was assigned as the OC with S/Ldr Wood as his British advisor. Poles were no strangers there since No. 315 Squadron was formed there in a previous month.

      On Feb 22 the first ten Hurricanes Mk. I. were ferried in, and these were the first signs of the new Polish Squadron. The next day, one more aircraft arrived and two British ground crews reported for duties. However, there was nobody to report to, as the S/Ldr Brzezina arrived by train only on Feb 26. The day before arrived P/O Malarowski and sergeants Biel, Maciejowski and Brzeski, who flew in one more aircraft. Then more personnel trickled in, among them well known officers: Wczelik, Szczesny, Niemiec and Kumiega. As in many other instances of a group of Poles getting together, some personal animosities played a role. In the not yet operational the 317, Sgt Brzeski (finished his career as W/Cdr) refused to serve in the Flight commanded by F/Lt Wczelik. These acrimonies however, were not let to interfere with the high standard of service. F/O Ostaszewski, the Battle of Britain veteran, also assigned to the squadron had asked to be allowed to continue his service with his British unit. Eventually, the HQ of the I Fighter Group overruled the decision of The Polish Depot assigning him to No. 317 Sqn. The both ground and flying personnel were arriving to Acklington till the end of March, what hindered the forming process of the squadron. The insufficient number of aircraft mechanics was particularly hurting.

      No. 317 squadron flying perosnel as of March 31: CO S/Ldr Brzezina; Flight "A": F/Lt Wczelik, F/O Wisniewski, F/O Trzebinski, P/O Solak, P/O Kumiega, P/O Martel, P/O Kratke, P/O Bochniak, P/O Juszczak, P/O Sikorski, P/O Wojci, Sgt Biel, Sgt Maciejowski; Flight "B": F/Lt Szczesny, F/O Niemiec, P/O Koc, P/O Malarowski, P/O Stabrowski, P/O Drecki, P/O Szumowski, P/O Czarnecki, P/O Lukaszewicz, Sgt Brzeski, Sgt Malinowski, Sgt Koscik; Operation Room: F/Lt Kowalczyk, F/O Ostaszewski.

      Before being declared operational in late April, the squadron recorded many operational flights; mostly two-aircraft sections took off for scramble base and various patrols. In his regular reports, S/Ldr Brzezina expressed his concerns over lack of personnel and insufficient skills and experience of most of the pilots. However slow and difficult, the process of forming eventually ended, and No. 317 joined the ranks of the First Fighter Group’s fighting force.

      With the change of the squadron’s status came the move to the new airfield. On 25 April No. 317 parted for RAF Ouston, and the squadron begun a boring work of patrolling over convoys off England’s eastern coast. Now, apart from complaining about lack of promotions, pilots started to grumble about shortage of German planes in their patrols area. The last complain was legitimate as the first encounter with the enemy took place on June 2nd. The section of F/O Niemiec and Sgt Baranowski caught a marauding Ju-88 and shot it down. Read more.

      A routine relocation came on June 27, as flying monotonous sorties over the sea and the same piece of land dulled fighter pilots skills. The new home for No. 317 Squadron became RAF Colerne, again the base that had its Polish contingent before. Two weeks later the unit moved again, this time to Fairwood Common near Swansea. Its duty was to primarily patrol over the Bristol Channel. Occasionally, the squadron took part in offensive sorties over Cherbourg and Brest. During one of those - the bomber escort – the pilots finally mixed it up with German fighters. S/Ldr Brzezina shot down one Me109, while F/Lt Szczesny and Sgt Brzeski shared another. Sgt J. Malinowski was credited with two Me109s damaged.

      Before the squadron changed place for the third time – August 6 to Exeter - in just over a month, its aircrafts were upgraded to Mark II version. The move was dictated by a plan to form The Second Polish Fighter Wing. No. 302 and 316, which were also, a part of this new unit stationed in a nearby Church Stanton. S/Ldr Brzezina was appointed as the commander of the new Wing, and was replaced by F/Lt Szczesny, CO of the Flight A. Under his bidding the squadron defended Exeter by day (by night No. 307 Polish Squadron carried out the duty) and participated in the new Wing’s duties: defending the South-Eastern England and the adjacent part of La Manche. The Second Polish Fighter Wing was also engaged in offensive flights over the France and Belgium. During these sorties, pilots had to mid-land on coastal airfields to refuel. The summer of 1941 proved very busy for the 317 and consolidated the new Polish squadron.

      Later in 1941, No. 317 Fighter Squadron did good work providing air cover to shipping. In one period of a little over a month it made 558 sorties for the protection of convoys. Altogether this squadron amassed 2,000 sorties for a total of 2,617 hrs 15 of shipping patrols. During this time, S/Ldr Brzezinski took over the squadron’s command. In December, the 317 was reequipped with long awaited Spitfire Mk V, much more suitable aircraft for the sorties over the continent.

      With the beginning of the new year, the unit went back to a tedious work of convoy patrolling. Pilots flew sorties from dawn till dusk, often in a very bad weather. In March the weather improved and the 317th Spitfires started to show up over the enemy’s territory. These offensive sorties (usually in a strength of a Wing) increased in numbers, as the spring advanced. The new kind of a duty was scramble against German planes sneaking in low over the channel’s waters. Designated Flight would stay in readiness and advanced airfield at Bold Head, located right near the cliffs.

      And this location was a scene of a tragic event on March 17. Returning from the ops over France, the 317 pilots encountered heavy fog over the England’s coast, while running on last drops of fuel. Meteorologists were unable to predict sudden change of weather, which were frequent, and which made business of flying already dangerous even more so. S/Ldr Brzezinski attempted to land at Bold Head and died when his aircraft crashed against shore rock. Two next pilots somehow landed safely, but their Spitfires collided while taxing in a thick fog. Those who have a bit more fuel left, landed at other airfields. Six of less lucky ones, force-landed in a nearby terrain suffering various injuries and destroying their aircraft. One pilot baled out and was safe. What German fighters could not do, the capricious channel weather did with ease: one pilot killed, six with serious injuries, eight Spitfires destroyed and two seriously damaged. The next day F/Lt Ozyra took place of his killed colleague commanding the squadron.

      Once regaining a full strength, the Wilno squadron moved to Northolt (April 1) and joined 1 Polish Wing stationed there. The Wing was heavily involved in operations over France and the 317 replaced another Polish squadron being rested in Liverpool area. Often a time, the squadron flew two or even three operations a day, being a thick of fighting. This inevitably brought new losses to the unit. Worth mentioning is Circus 145 on April 29 when the Wing suffered painful losses: both the Wing and the squadron COs were killed in an attack of FW-190s from the JG26. Thus No. 317 Squadron saw yet another change of a commanding officer, whom this time was S/Ldr Skalski, already at that time, one of the best pilots in the Polish Air Force.

      After being rested for a month at RAF Croydon, the 317 returned to Northolt and to frontline duties in July. Under Skalski’s command pilots gained in confidence, what quickly showed during Dieppe raid operations on August 19th. That day, the squadron flew four full-strength sorties across the channel scoring seven confirmed victories without losses. This was partially to an unofficial working agreement of Skalski and S/Ldr Zumbach commanding famous No. 303 Squadron. Under it, the 317 took the role of a decoy, flying in undisciplined formation and behaving like a bunch of novices, thus presenting themselves as easy pickings for Luftwaffe pilots. When the latter swoop down on suddenly very orderly flying Poles, became a prey for the Zumbach’s unit lurking high in the sun.

      On September 1, the unit was rested in RAF Woodavle (Lancashire) where together with No. 303 and 316 formed the 2 Polish Fighter Wing. Several young pilots, fresh from OUTs were tried and trained there, as was routine practice in the RAF units. A month later S/Ldr Skalski was rested and replace by S/Ldr Czaykowski, also popular and recognized officer. In Woodvale the squadron remained till the end of the year, flying patrols and training. As in case of all other Polish squadrons rested there, 317 recorded accidents, among which, was exasperating death of F/O Pucek caused by pilot’s complacency. His low flying accident cast the dark shadow over the New Year’s celebrations.

      On January 3, No. 317 returned to Northolt to rejoin the Wing. On February 1, came another move, and the squadron continued to relocate almost once a month throughout the year.

      Soon after S/Ldr Kornicki took over the command, the squadron found itself in a thick of Allies efforts to establish and strengthen their air supremacy over the Luftwaffe. Operations “Sweep” and “Circus” (the 1941/42 system of a small bomber formation accompanied by a very large fighter escort and high-guard) were now gradually superseded by “Ramrod”. The difference was an additional objective apart from simply goad out the enemy fighter to the air and destroying them: to obliterate important ground targets by large bomber formation. On those offensive sorties, No. 317 pilots met German fighters many times, scoring and losing some. The ratio was positive.  Especially July and September 1943 were month where the squadron’s ORB recorded multiple entries of encounters with Focke-Wulf 190s.

      On September 11, the 317 mixed it up with the formation of FW190s over France, near Rouen. F/Lt Martini, F/Lt Janicki, P/O Wal and F/O Kurowicki downed four German fighters, damaging farther three. Unfortunately, the latter pilot was a loss, killed in action.

      Later in September 1943, the 317 received new, more potent type of Spitfire: Mk IX. The transition was effortless, since it was basically the same aircraft to fly as surpassed Mk V. Once converted, the unit joined newly formed 131 (Polish) Airfield, within 2 Tactical Air Force, created with the upcoming continent invasion in 1944. Its CO was W/Cdr Krasnodebski, the popular officer and the Battle of Britain veteran. With the 317, the unit comprised No. 302 and 308 Squadrons. Significant difference was that from now on, the squadron consisted solely of pilots and few extra officers. The ground personnel were formed into support units, very mobile and not attached to any fighter squadron. Gone were days when non-flying squadron members felt like a part of a family, bound by a common name, badge, and customs.

      As of January 1, the 317 had a new commander, S/Ldr Miksa. Preparing for the new role, in March, the squadron was detailed off to Llanbedr in Wales, where pilots trained in the craft of dive-bombing, a type of air combat dislike by some and eagerly perused by others. Other type of training included strafing and attacking various targets on ground and sea. Although still proudly calling themselves fighter pilots, many expressed gladness having opportunity to kill more Germans. The Polish Air Force, once again proved a very valuable Allie, quickly and efficiently reorganizing itself and adopting new duties.

      On April 1, the 131 Airfield moved toward the south coast to Advanced Landing Ground Deanland. Although seriously called ALG, Deanland was nothing more than a suitable field with a wire mesh airstrip. The 317 was issued tents and other camping items, and started its life of a vagabond. The conditions were less than enjoyable, since spring months were cold. Pilots slept in two-person tents and made themselves as comfortable as possible. Meantime, the units constantly received new in­structions and training directives, which had to be executed. On April 26, the Airfields moved to ALG Chainley, where stayed till the invasion of the continent was well advanced. This wasn’t however the idle time when it came to flying. Although less frequently in April, the 317 continued in offensive sorties over France and Belgium, not only escorting bombers but also attacking ground targets. Among these targets were V1 launching-sites, which were well defended and very difficult to hit. As the invasion approached, those flights were more numerous.

      On the D-Day, the squadron made four full-strength patrols, over the beachheads. No enemy aircraft were met in the air. The following days were much less demanding, and the unit flew mostly escort missions. On several occasions it bombed railways and V1 sites. The exciting day proved to be June 20, when F/Sgt Wojciechowski and F/Sgt Winski shot down FW190 each, while F/Lt Knapik’s was downgraded as probable. The Germans were much more difficult to met in the air, as the Luftwaffe was being slowly ground down by Allies air forces. On 28th, the unit moved to ALG Appledram, from where little more than a month later, relocated to France.

      When on August 3, the 131 Polish Airfield moved to ALG Plumetot (B-10) in France, No. 317 Squadron consisted of the following pilots:
      Flight “A” – F/Lt Krzeminski, F/Lt Jaworski, F/Lt Kanpik, F/Lt Kobierzycki, F/Lt Budzik, P/O Kolczynski, W/O Matus, F/Sgt Fraczek, F/Sgt Malinowski, F/Sgt Lakomy, F/Sgt Fajks and F/Sgt Wdowczynski;
      Flight “B” – F/Lt Martini, F/Lt Owczarek, F/Lt Baran, F/O Kirchner, F/O Kowalski, F/O Popiel, F/O Hrynaszkiewicz, W/O Lewczynski, F/Sgt Pawlowski, F/Sgt Zych, F/Sgt Maciejewski and F/Sgt Winski.

      Some of these pilots flew over the channel from Ford, where their planes were stored, while others were airlifted to a new location from Appledram. The technical supporting unit crossed by sea to France few days before.

      The condition at B-10 were much worse than in Appledram, since the ever present dust often turned into a sinking mud, and vice versa. Additionally, the battery of Allies heavy guns continued day and night shelling German positions. Germans guns had Plumetot in their range as well, and the pilots and ground crew have very little rest. Despite this and very intensive flying, the squadron suffered almost no losses at that time. On August 8, F/Sgt Malinowski was shot down but safe, and on 11th F/Sgt Pawlowski was KIA.

      Very busy day was August 17, when the 317 took off four times in full strength. Pilots strafed many German vehicles piled up near Falaise, which was falling into Allies hands. German air force tried to defend and showed in numbers. In separate encounters, No. 317 Squadron pilots damaged five FW190s.

      On August 27, the unit lost its commander S/Ldr Gnys, shot down by flak while Poles attacked withdrawing Germans over the Seine River. Gnys was captured by Germans, but later released by Maquis and returned safely. S/Ldr Chelmecki replaced him at the 317’s helm.

      As the year and Allies offensive progressed, the unit relocated several times. Buy then, the personnel got used to life in tents and operating from airstrips, often hardly qualified for this. October and November were not less busy, and pilots flew many missions. In October the squadron recorded 375 sorties in 17 days, and using a good break in weather on 29th took off four times. Between November 25 and December 11 No. 317 Squadron was rested in Fairwood Common (Wales) flying only short training flights.

      Following the German offensive in Ardennes the 317 were often in the air in full strength, attacking targets in the Munster-Hamm-Dusseldorf-Neuss area. Since weather permitted operations, the Christmas 1944 was barely celebrated, as Polish squadrons were called for action many times. Before breaking up for a little party celebrating coming of the New Year, the 317 bombed twice targets near River Maas.

      On January 1, the Polish Wing took off for a morning mission to bomb various targets. Nearly an hour later, over 50 German fighters attacked their airfield St. Denijs. This was a part of the Operation “Bodenplatte”, the last major effort made by fading Luftwaffe. Low flying Fw190s and Me109s strafed many aircraft amassed at the airfield, including Polish, American and British. They in returned where caught red-handed by Polish 308 and 317 squadrons returning from their respective operations. In the fierce fight that broke out over and around the airfield the 317 squadron’s pilots shot down six confirmed, one probable and damaged four. The unit suffered one loss, F/Lt Powierza, shot down and killed. On the ground, Poles lost 18 Spitfires, and several soldiers killed by German bullets. These scores were the last the squadron recorded, as afterwards the German planes were seen only sporadically.

      The unit relocated few more times before the war ended, following the front. The last months the 317 filled with less frequent but more diverse missions. During one of the last operational flights during the war, the 317 pilots were directed against three German ships off shore. Poles unsuccessfully bombed then strafed the ships. In a result of a major explosion on one of them, the Spitfire piloted by F/Lt Szczerbinski was damaged and crashed at sea. This was the last loss suffered by the squadron, including the post war service in the Allied Occupational Force in Germany.

      The 317 squadron’s war effort: 10251 sorties in 14352 flying hours; 48 1/3 enemy’s aircraft shot down, 10 probable, and 26 damaged; 3 a/c destroyed and 3 damaged on the ground; one 500 tons ship sunk; 595 motor vehicles, 13 locomotives, 111 railway cars, 17 self propelled guns, 30 barges and tugs, 17 military buildings destroyed. On the losses side: 25 pilots lost, 2 missing and 5 POW; 59 aircraft lost and 25 damaged as a result of the wartime activities.

The squadron was disbanded on January 3, 1947 at RAF Portreath in Cornwall.

 

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