Polish Air Force in the West
he Polish Air Force in the West was formed with airmen who, after the September 1939 defeat, by various routes through Romania, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Greece and Syria, got through to France. Once there, a significant number – about 9,000 – of the Polish Air Force airmen was organized under the command of the Commander in Chief, gen. Władysław Sikorski. When in May 1940 the Germans attacked France, due to various organizational difficulties, only 174 pilots out of about a thousand Polish pilots flew operationally. Nevertheless, they achieved 52 air-to-air victories and probably another 10. After the fall of France, about 6,200 PAF airmen were evacuated to the UK. Earlier yet, at the end of 1939 and beginning of 1940, about 2,300 flying and ground personnel were transferred to the four established Polish bomber squadrons. At the end of 1940, the PAF in the Great Britain exceeded 8,000 personnel.
Combat losses during the war were replenished by volunteers who came after Stalin released them from Soviet gulags, those displaced and deported to Siberia and volunteers of Polish origin in the United States, Canada, South America and other countries. By the end of the war the size of the Polish Air Force in the West came to 17,000 people. This number does not include Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (PLSK – Pomocnicza Lotnicza Służba Kobiet), in which 1,436 Polish women served. The Polish Air Force included 14 operational squadrons, the Fighter Team in North Africa called “Skalski’s Circus”, Air Observation Post Squadron attached to 2nd Polish Corps in Italy, Flight of Barrage Balloons, as well personnel in Air Transport Auxiliary who delivered different types of aircraft from factories to military units throughout the British Isles, Africa, Canada and India. In addition the PAF had schools for pilots, mechanics, and two technical schools (in England and Egypt).
During the Battle of Britain, at the end of August 1940, when the Fighter Command’s combat losses reached approximately one-quarter of the pilots (killed or wounded) and it ran out of the newly trained pilots, 144 experienced Polish fighter pilots turned out to be a decisive factor in a critical situation. In this battle, the Polish fighter pilots quantitatively accounted for the largest group of Allied airmen. Victories in aerial combat by Polish squadrons 302 and 303 have gained worldwide fame. At that time the 303 Squadron achieved the highest number of victories throughout Fighter Command. The Battle of Britain ended in defeat for the Luftwaffe, and most importantly, Germans did not obtain air superiority over Britain. The result was the indefinite postponement of Hitler’s plans for an invasion of the United Kingdom. This battle was one of the breakthrough battles during the Second World War.
Polish airmen participated in all the battles of Allied air forces in Europe during whole war. During the Warsaw Uprising, flying from a distant Brindisi in southern Italy, the Polish, British and South African special duties units delivered weapons and supplies to the fighting city. Due to the great losses which were increased by the prohibition on landing on Soviet airfields, for a period all flights were halted, with the exception of those done by Polish crews. Polish 301 Special Duties Squadron, which flew the missions to Warsaw, was given the name “Defenders of Warsaw”.
All the combat achievements of the airmen would not be possible without the great contributions and professional work of the entire staff of Polish ground services, especially maintenance. For these men and women working in many specializations, the aircrew entrusted their lives to the results of their work. Since August 1940 to the end of the war, Polish fighter squadrons performed more than 73,500 sorties, destroying 762 enemy aircraft, and damaging between 175 and 237. Bomber Squadrons flew about 11,700 sorties, dropping nearly 15,000 tons of bombs and mines. In addition, the Poles delivered about 12,000 aircraft and Polish crews completed about 18,800 ferry flights and transported approximately 24,400 people and more than 1,300 tons of cargo. In addition they performed 1,300 special duty operational flights. 1,900 airmen were killed and over 300 were taken prisoner. The greatest losses were suffered by the bomber squadrons.
Shortly after the war in Europe ended, Sir Archibald Sinclair, the British Air Minister, in his letter to Polish airmen wrote: