On a bleak winter morning of 1939 a group of about fifty men in shabby civilian clothes were seen at one of the Paris railway stations. They were the first Polish airmen going to Britain, to form there the nucleus of a Polish Air Force within the R.A.F.
Lost in the mass of Allied troops crossing the Channel, they did not know what awaited them on the other side. It was a journey into the unknown. They wondered what reception they might get in the strange country for which they were heading.
But their uncertainty was soon over. The R.A.F. greeted their Polish comrades-in-arms already halfway across the Channel, when British aircraft circled over their ship. Then there was the first, welcome, at the R.A.F. station to which the Poles were sent. The Commanding Officer met them at the door, carrying bread and salt -- -according to the ancient Polish custom of hospitality. This gesture gave to the exiles the first inkling of the greatness of the British nation. They found it again in the words of the Minister for Air, Sir Kingsley Wood, who greeted them with the Polish salute: "Czolem Lotnicy. " These things meant much to the men who had seen September 1939 in Poland.
On February 20h, 1940, the flag of the Polish Air Force was hoisted on the mast for the first time, side by side with the flag of the Royal Air Force. The two flags flapped in the wind, amidst complete silence.
Few of the men in the first group of Polish airmen to land in Britain realized that from these modest beginnings might rise achievement and glory. All they wanted was to emulate their comrades of the R.A.F. and fight for Britain as well as for Poland.
WHY AND WHEREFORE
The defeat and Occupation of Poland in September 1939 and the collapse of France in June 1940 struck two powerful blows at the foundations of Poland's national existence. Only a fraction of the Polish armed forces could leave the country to continue the fight, but it included a large proportion of the flying per-sonnel of the Polish Air Force.
After the bitter, lonely Battle of Poland, many of them wandered all over the globe, seeking new wings. Some of the fighter pilots took part in the tragic Battle of France; but it was not until they reached Britain that they felt new strength in their bones.
The first Polish squadron to be formed in Britain was this Bomber Squadron. The 1st of July, 1940, opened a new era in the annals of the Polish Air Force probably the most glorious it has yet known. The Polish airmen shared the gigantic task shouldered by the R.A.F. during these years-notably at the time when Britain had no other allies and fought alone. At no time, however, did Poland lose faith in the British cause or cease to support it with all the forces at her disposal. The contribution of the Polish fighter pilots to the victory in the Battle of Britain is well known. The work of the bombers was less spectacular, but perhaps more costly in lives.
This Bomber Squadron has the distinction of having been the first to go into action, but it is only one of the many units of the Polish Air Force within the R.A.F. This brief account of some of its activities is only a glimpse of a greater whole.
The three years work of the Squadron are an example of the relentless struggle carried on by Poland on land, in the air and at sea ever since September 1St, 1939, the day when the German bombers appeared for the first time over Polish aerodromes. Polish bomber crews are returning in kind the loads of high explosive which had rained on Warsaw. But they also fight for Britain, for they have been aware for many years that the causes of British victory, justice and Poland's freedom are inseparable from each other . It might be said of them: "And since they fly, there is some corner of the British land that is for ever Poland."
EXTRACTS FROM THE SQUADRON LOGBOOK.
June 26th , 1940 Arrival of Polish airmen selected for the first Polish bomber squadron in Britain.
July 1st , 1940 The official formation of the Polish Bomber Squadron. Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Waclaw Makowski, seconded by Wing Commander Lewis. Squadron equipped with light bombers.
July 11th , 1940 Visit of Inspector of Polish Air Force, Major-General Kalkus.
August 3rd , 1940 Visit of Air Vice Marshal C. F. R. Portal, Chief of Bomber Command.
August 7th , 1940 Visit of the Commander--in-Chief of Polish Forces, General Sikorski. Bombing demonstration.
August 20th , 1940 Visit of His Majesty the King. March past and demonstration of dive bombing.
August 23rd , 1940 Squadron moved.
September 15th , 1940 First operational flight.
September 25th 3 1940 First aircraft to fail to return from operations.
October 18th , 1940 Light bombers replaced by Wellington heavy bombers.
November 3rd , 1940 Six bomber crews of the Squadron visit Sir Archibald Sinclair; Minister for Air, in the presence of General Sikorski.
November 30th , 1940 Visit of the President of Poland, Wladyslaw Raczkiewicz.
December 22nd , 1940 First operational flight of the Wellingtons.
January 6th , 1941 Inspection by C.O. of Polish Air Force, Air Vice Marshal Ujejski.
January 27th , 1941 Visit of Their Majesties the King and Queen.
March 23rd , 1941 First Polish raid on Berlin. All aircraft returned safely, though shot up by enemy A.A.
April 14th ,1'941 Visit of General Sikorski.
April 15th , 1941 Enemy aircraft attempts to bomb barracks, but misses the target.
April 17th , 1941 Second raid on Berlin. All aircraft returned safely. One navigator was wounded.
June 11th , 1941 Visit of Air Marshal Sir Richard E. C. Peirse, Chief of Bomber Command,
June 12th , 1941 Visit of H.R.H. the Duke of Kent.
July 15th , 1941 Polish Air Force Day, cele-brated by Squadron in the presence of the Presi-dent of Poland, Wladyslaw Raczkiewicz. Mass sung by Bishop Gawlina.
November 7th , 1941 Aircraft fail to return from raid on Berlin and Mannheim.
November 22nd , 1941 Air Vice Marshal Ujejski decorates members of the squadron with the "Virtuti Militari " and the Cross for Valour.
January 22nd , 1942 Successful night photo-graphs commended by Group Headquarters.
March 25th , 1942 Seven aircraft return badly shot up from raid on Essen.
September 4th , 1942 Aircraft brought back with fuselage fabric burnt off from wings to tail-planes.
November 20th , 1942 First raid on Italy.
September 4th , 1942 Aircraft brought back from Bremen thanks to co-operation of whole crew, in spite of heavy damage, including damage to instruments, elevator and fuselage (the dinghy was blown out and lost).
October 12th , 1942 Aircraft shot up by enemy artillery during mining operations and brought back in spite of serious damage of tail turret, fuselage and wing. Belly-landed owing to damage to hydraulic system and impossibility of lowering undercarriage.
February 2nd , 1943 Aircraft of the Squadron sighted one of its crews in dinghy in the North Sea.
March 3rd, 1943 Aircraft failed to return from heavy raid on Essen.
March 10th ,1943 Squadron inspected by Commander-in-Chief, General Sikorski, who expressed to the C.O. of the Polish Air Force his satisfaction.
March 13th , 1943 Aircraft failed to return from mining operations near St. Nazaire. Crew lost.
March 27th , 1943 Members of the Squadron decorated with Virtuti Militari " and Cross for Valour by C.O. Polish Air Force.
April 2nd , 1943 Raid on St. Nazaire and Lorient. A sergeant brings aircraft back in spite of serious damage by enemy shells.
April 4th .1943 Raid on Kiel. Tail gunner reports three attacks by Messerschmitt 110, which he finally shot down,
April 8th , 1943 Aircraft failed to return from Duisberg.
April 16th ,1943 Raid on Mannheim. Air-craft C attacked three times by Me. 110, fights back, but damaged. Crew of aircraft E machine gunned passenger train in Germany.
April 22nd , 1943 Aircraft failed to return from mining operations near Lorient.
May 12th , 1943 Commander of Group decorated members of the Squadron with D.F.C., D.F.M., M.C. and M.M.
May 13th , 1943 Aircraft failed to return from Duisberg.
May 21st , 1943 Mining operations near Frisian islands. Aircraft shot up, but returned to base.
May 23rd , 1943 Aircraft failed to return from Dortmund.
May 29th , 1943 First raid on Wuppertal. Aircraft caught in searchlight cone, damaged, but nevertheless bombed target from low altitude and returned to base with 25 holes.
June 21st , 1943 Aircraft failed to return from raid on Krefeld.
June 27th , 1943 Aircraft failed to return from raid on Wuppertal.
June 28th , 1943 Aircraft failed to return from raid on Cologne.
ROLL OF HONOR
1. Flt. Lt. Jan Bak.
2. Sgt. Gunner Jozef Balucki.
3. Sgt. Gunner Piotr Bankowski.
4. P.O. Gunner Stefan Berdys.
5. Sgt. W.O. Czeslaw Bialy.
6. P. O. Gunner Boleslaw Boguszewski.
7. Sgt. Pilot Kazimierz Ceglinski.
8. F.O. Pilot Wladyslaw Cichowski.
9. Flt. Lt. Navigator Tadeusz Chrostowski.
10. Sgt. Gunner Zygmunt Chowanski.
11. Sgt. Pilot Franciszek Chylewski.
12. Sgt. Pilot Jozef Domanski.
13. Sgt. Pilot Czeslaw Dziekonski.
14. Sgt. W.O. Tadeusz Egierski.
15. Sgt. Gunner Jozef Erdt.
16. F .0. Navigat9r Stanislaw Firley-Bielanski.
17. Flt.Lt. Pilot Jan Gebicki.
18. Sgt. Pilot Gerald Goebel.
19. Sgt. Gunner Otto Herman.
20. Sgt. Gunner Andrzej Horak.
21. Flt.Lt. Navigator Franciszek Jakubowski.
22. F.O. Pilot Stanislaw Jasinski.
23. P.O. Pilot Wladyslaw Jakimowicz.
24. A.C. Gunner Stanislaw Janek.
25. Sgt. W.O. Feliks Jezierski.
26. Flt.Lt. Gunner Edmund Jura.
27. Sq.Leader Pilot Stefan Krynski.
28. Sgt. W.O. Pawel Krenzel.
29. F.O. Pilot Kazimierz Kula.
30. Sgt. Pilot Stanislaw Kuropatwa.
31. Sgt. W.O. Jerzy Kwiecinski.
32. Flt.Lt. Navigator Norbert Lealth-Jezierski.
33. Flt.Lt. Navigator Eugenjusz Lech.
34. Sgt. W.O. Konrad Lubojanski.
35. A/c. Gunner Marian Lagodzinski.
36. Sgt. Pilot Ludwik Michalski.
37. Sgt. W.O. Jan Mieczkowski.
38. Flt.Lt. Navigator Waclaw Mosiewicz.
39. Sgt. Navigator Edward Morawa.
40. P.O. Gunner Stefan Neulinger.
41. Sgt. Gunner Stefan Niczewski.
42. Sgt. Gunner Boguslaw Nowicki.
43. Flt.Lt. Navigator Piotr Pajer.
44. Sgt. Pilot Wladyslaw Paleniczek.
45. Sgt. Gunner Jan Rawski.
46. Sgt. W.O. Zygmunt Samulski.
47. A/c. Gunner Zygmunt Samurski.
48. A/c. Gunner Mieczyslaw Slabikowski,
49. Sgt. Pilot Mieczyslaw Szoma.
50. P.O. Navigator Tadeusz Srzednicki.
51. Sgt. Gunner Wladyslaw Strzelczyk.
52. A/c. Gunner Wladyslaw Stachurski,
53. Flt.Lt. Gunner Kazimierz Szyszkowski.
54. Sgt. Gunner Stanislaw Kaminski.
55. Sgt. W.O. Tadeusz Szmajdowicz.
56. Sgt. W.O. Wladyslaw Urbanowicz.
57. F.O. Pilot Boleslaw Uszpolewicz.
58. P.O. Pilot Wojciech Veit.
59. Sgt. W.O. Stanislaw Wardynski.
60. Sgt. Gunner Henryk Wegrzyn.
61. Sq. Leader Pilot Waclaw Wolski.
62. Sgt. Pilot Wladyslaw Zalejko.
63. F.O. Pilot Bogumil Zelazinski.
64. Sgt. Gunner Feliks Zemler.
65. Sgt. Pilot Izydor Konderak.
66. F.O. Navigator Jerzy Wierzbicki.
67. Flt. Lt. Pilot Stanislaw Waszkiewicz.
68. Sgt. W.O. Edward Zakielarz.
69. Sgt. Gunner Borys Sawczuk.
70. Sgt. Gunner Jan Horoch.
71. F.O. Navigator Lubomir Borowicz.
72. Sgt. Gunner Czeslaw Gebaczka.
73. Sgt. Pilot Jozef Furmanik.
74. Sgt. W.O. Zdzislaw Derulski.
75. Wing Commander Navigator Jan Jankowski.
76. Sgt. Gunner Jucjan Kramarz.
77. Flt.Lt. Pilot Fabian Pokorniewski.
78. F.O. Navigator Zbigniew Kretkowski.
79. Sgt. Bomb Aimer Henryk Czarkowski.
80. Sgt. W.O. Tadeusz Szczurynski.
81. Sgt. Gunner Bernard Kot.
Moreover a number of the members of the Squadron are officially reported missing, and it is probable that many of them have lost their lives. Unless they are reported prisoners they will eventually be listed killed in action."
Some members Of the Squadron shot down over enemy territory are prisoners of war.
REPORT OF THE OPERATIONS OF THE MAZOVIA BOMBER SQUADRON IN THE PERIOD SEPTEMBER 14th , 1940, TO JUNE 30th , 1943.
Aircraft engaged in operations 1,645
Operational flying hours 9,500
Bombs expended 5,271,l00 lbs.
Mileage flown 1,580,000 miles
Crews lost 41
Forced landings in the sea 4
Decorations awarded to members of the Squadron:
Virtuti Militari 234
Cross for Valour (including bars) 1,017
Mention in Dispatches 1
ACTIVITIES OF THE POLISH AIR FORCE WITH THE R.A.F.
(Since arriving in Britain, up to June 30th , 1943)
FIGHTER SQUADRONS BASED IN BRITAIN:
Enemy aircraft shot down and confirmed 550
The Polish fighter pilots in Malta and Africa, who have taken part in operations since Decem-ber 30th , 1942, have shot down a number of enemy machines:
Shot down and confirmed 25
Polish fighter pilots have also taken part in many strafing expeditions, attacking with cannon and machine-guns enemy military formations, aircraft on the ground, trains and locomotives, ships (one set on fire and completely destroyed) and other objectives.
Bomb load expended over 12,749,681 lb.
Enemy aircraft shot down 11
Members of the Polish Air Force are, moreover, employed in various branches of the R.A.F., such as Meteorology, Wireless, Radiolocation, Opera-tions Control, etc., as well as in the British Aircraft Industry. The Polish R.A.F. Squadrons are staffed with Polish ground engineers and auxiliary personnel, as well as Polish aircrews.
POLISH COASTAL COMMAND SQUADRON
A number of enemy submarines have been sunk or damaged.
Operations: Bombing of coastal towns and ports, mining of enemy waters, patrol work, attacks on enemy shipping and enemy aircraft over the sea.
THIRD STRONGEST ALLIED AIR FORCE IN BRITAIN
It has been recently disclosed by Sir John Anderson, Lord President of the Council (in his address on the occasion of the Polish National Day, May 3rd) that there are at present over 12,006 Polish airmen in this country. In addition to fighter, night fighter and bomber squadrons, the Poles have their own flying schools, own instruction and maintenance units and, of course, their own ground personnel. A number of Polish instructors are attached to various Allied flying schools.
Some Polish fighter pilots attached to British squadrons took part in the defense of Malta and in the Tunisian campaign. In Tunis alone they shot down 24 enemy aircraft, with others probably destroyed or damaged. Other Polish pilots are attached to Ferry Command and fly new airplanes across the Atlantic, as well as across Africa from the western coast to Egypt. There are also Polish pilots; both men and women, in the Air Transport Auxiliary.
The Polish Air Force in Britain is the largest Allied Air Force in this country, second only to the R.A.F. and the U.S. Air Corps.
Thanks to the equipment supplied by Britain, the Polish Air Force is stronger today than it was in 1939, at the outbreak of war. It is growing, although casualties have been heavy and some squadrons - including this Bomber Squadron - have lost far more than their normal complement of aircrews.
Possibilities of recruitment are, of course, restricted. Only few men can manage to slip across enemy lines and leave occupied Poland, although there is no young Pole who does not dream of joining the Air Force. Nevertheless new volunteers are still coming in. Some of them came to this country when some Polish prisoners were released by Soviet Russia in 1941 and 1942.
The names of squadrons, like "Mazovia Squadron," do not imply that their personnel is necessarily composed of natives of the town or province concerned. " Mazovia " is the name of the central province of Poland, in which Warsaw is situated. Not all the members of the squadron are Mazovians. They represent among them almost all the parts of Poland, but they have selected the ancient province of Mazovia as the home of their squadron, to which it hopes to return after victory.
GOD, HONOUR AND COUNTRY
These are the words on the standard of the Poliish Air Force in Britain, as on all the regimental banners of the Polish army.
Unlike the Nazis, the Poles put God and honour before everything else, even the country for which they are willing to die.
The history of this square of silk is strange indeed. It was woven and embroidered by Polish women in Wilno, in northeastern Poland, under enemy occupation. They had to work in secrecy, risking death if they were discovered. They put on 6ne side the picture of the Holy Virgin of Ostra Brama, the miraculous shrine of Wilno. On the other side are the words: "Wilno 1940" and " Love calls for sacrifice "-with the cross and the wings of a Polish pilot.
The women of Wilno made this banner for Polish airmen in Britain,- at the time when they were fighting alone with the R.A.F., without other allies. They did not doubt for a moment the outcome of the Battle of Britain. They wanted to give to their sons and husbands beyond the sea a tangible proof of their faith, a visible message of hope. So they made a banner and then smuggled it out of occupied Wilno, across many frontiers. It was carried by Polish women, who risked their lives to pass on the message to their brothers that were risking theirs in the same battle.
The banner reached England. The full story of its secret journey will not be known until after the war. It was then presented to the Polish Air Force by General Sikorski, the Commander in Chief, in the presence of Air Chief, Marshal Sir Charles Portal.
The message of the women of Wilno has warmed the hearts of Polish airmen and inspired them with determination to set free their mothers, sisters and wives who made the banner with their own hands, heedless of the cruel terror of the enemy.
Airmen are not made by accident. The presence in - Britain of several thousand qualified Polish flying personnel is not the result of a fortunate coincidence, and their achievements are due to something more than luck and personal courage.
For many years before the war Poland had been training flying personnel on a large scale -in preparation for the awaited expansion of the Polish Air Force. The funds at the disposal of the Polish Government were not sufficient to carry such an expansion into effect before 1939. There were not enough airplanes, but there were well-trained men. It takes longer to train personnel than to make aircraft-and a trained man can, with luck, serve much longer than any machine. So perhaps there was some ground for the policy of training airmen for a larger Air Force than Poland could expect to have at the time.
Today, after nearly four years of war, not very many of the old peace-time trained pilots and observers are still flying on operations. Most of them have given their lives or were promoted to higher rank. But the remaining ones still form the backbone of the Polish Air Force and make it what it is. They carry on the tradition of the red and white checkers, they train younger men joining the Air Force in war-time and they share with them their rich fund of experience.
In the picture below we see the light airplanes aligned on the Mokotow aerodrome of Warsaw, at the start of the International Touring Competition of 1934. In the foreground are Polish RWD light training and touring machines and next to them some PZL Polish all-metal light
airplanes - both designed and made in Poland, with engines of Polish design and manufacture. The International Competition was won by Polish pilots flying Polish aircraft, in a hard battle against German, Italian, French and British teams. In 1934 Polish airplanes could beat the Messerschmitts in a peace-time contest. In 1939 the rules were different. But these com-petitions proved that Polish pilots, designers and craftsmen were equal to their German rivals. The industrial and financial resources of the two countries were not.
POLISH BOMBERS AND FIGHTERS IN 1939
The bomber in the foreground is a "Los - the standard medium bomber of the Polish Air Force before the war. It was an all-metal twin-engined midwing monoplane com-parable to the contemporary Blenheim. It carried 24 tons of bombs and had a creditable performance, using Bristol Mercury engines manufactured in Poland on licence. The "Los" itself was entirely designed and made in Poland like all the other airplanes of the Polish Air Force. There was also a light bomber, the single-engined "Karas "Corresponding to the Fairey "Battle." The quality of these airplanes was good, though they were inferior in speed and armament to the German Heinkels and Dorniers used in September 1939 against Poland. The main disparity, however, was in numbers. There were about ten German aircraft to every Polish one. Nevertheless the small Polish bomber force carried out a number of attacks on enemy armoured columns, inflicting serious casualties.
The fighters in the background are PZL 11's - metal crank shoulder-high wing monoplanes of Polish design and manufacture. There was a time when the PZL fighter was about the best in the world in its class and many were sold to foreign air forces. It was considered quite advanced, for its gull-wing gave excellent visibility to the pilot. The R.A.F. was equipped at the time with metal biplanes like the Fury, Gauntlet or Hart. Then came the British eight-gun fighters, many years ahead of their time both in performance and in armament. By 1939 the PZL was obsolete. It simply could not overtake the German bombers with retractable undercarriages, and its two machine-guns firing through the air screw were piteously inadequate. There were prototypes of Polish low-wing monoplanes fighters with retractable undercarriages, but they were due to go into production in 1940.
Those of the men of this Squadron who had flown Polish aircraft remember their quality, but they also know that Poland could not afford to make airplanes in sufficient numbers or to change the models as often as was necessary.
All the Air Forces in the world are com-posed of volunteers. So is the Polish Air Force in Britain and this Squadron. But there is a difference. The Polish airmen now serving in this Squadron could not just take a stroll to the nearest recruiting office. Most of them had to undertake long and hazardous journeys before they could even hope to join up.
In the autumn of 1939 thousands of Polish airmen crossed the frontiers of Romania and Hungary, eager to go to France-then a land of promise-and continue the fight. They were interned, but invariably managed to slip out, and they pushed westwards until they reached France. They did not get there many more airplanes than they had had in Poland and they were scarcely better machines. After the collapse of France they went on to Britain, and there at last they were given first-class equipment and an opportunity of proving their worth.
Such was the route of the bulk of Polish airmen. But many of them had to travel through dozens of countries before joining the R.A.F. There are many who left Poland after 1941. Their journey was far more difficult than in 1939, when Italy was still non-belligerent and France independent. But they had developed an uncanny skill in crossing frontiers without passports, with little money, tracked by the Gestapo and the police forces of half the countries of Europe.
Still others had to escape from German prison camps and then to wander through Europe, chased like wild beasts. Their adventures would fill many volumes. Not all the young Poles who set out from their own country or from Siberia to join the Polish Air Force in Britain have reached their destination. The bullets of the prison guards have stopped some of them, but that did not discourage the others.
There are in the Polish Air Force in this country also men who left the peace and comfort of the United States or of South America in order to fight for Poland and for Britain.
Before travelling to Berlin by air, they had to travel a much longer way on land or sea -- without uniform or glory, like pilgrims.
When the Polish airmen came to Britain in 1940 hardly any of them could speak English. This was a serious handicap. There were even cases when Polish airmen who had to bale out over England were momentarily taken by the population for enemy parachutists, owing to their foreign accent.
Courses of English were set up at all the stations and depots, s6 that after some time the language question became less acute. Probably far more good was done in that direction by English girls than by the official teachers. Many Polish airmen have married British wives, and
it is well known that there is no better way of learning a language although it is admitted that nothing assists married bliss more than complete ignorance of each other's language.
At present 70% of the personnel of the Squadron speak English more or less fluently, even if they are single. Before long the figure will be 100% and there is no doubt that the Poles who spent several years in this country will never forget the hospitality which they enjoyed there and the friendships they made in Britain.
The study of languages is not one-sided. Many members of the R.A.F. attached to Polish units have learnt Polish, which is no more difficult for an Englishman to learn than is English for a Pole.
RETURN FROM ESSEN
It was a fine night, clear and moonlit. The Wellington, relieved of its load, flew easily and smoothly. We were returning from Essen. We all enjoyed the beautiful night and we talked cheerfully over the intercommunication. The pilot was the first to notice another airplane, flying along the same course but a little lower, with lights on. We observed it for about fifteen minutes and we thought it to be a British Hampden, which is not unlike a Messerschmitt 110.
As it happened, it was not a Hampden. The Me. 110 suddenly banked and attacked us from behind. Our rear gunner was severely wounded by the first burst. We were defenseless. The German pilot returned three times to attack. We tried to dodge him by diving, but the exception-ally clear night made it very difficult to hide and we did not get any cloud cover until we were down to 5,000 feet. Incendiary bullets had com-pletely stripped off the fabric covering of the fuselage, from the astro hatch to the tailplane. The carrying structure itself was damaged in many places. We could not get to the wounded rear gunner. The wireless operator got eleven bullets himself. The starboard tank was full of holes. The hydraulic system was com-pletely out of action. The armor bulkhead itself was damaged. One of the engines caught fire.
That meant jumping. "Put on parachutes! said the pilot. The second pilot was the first to bale out, just as he went over the fire seemed to abate and the engine picked up again. We decidedto stay on. The intercommunication system had been destroyed and we had to write letters to each other. The navigating instru-ments and the radio were smashed too. It meant that we would come back as an enemy machine, unable to announce our arrival and identification. We might well be greeted like an enemy. At any rate we made ready for the splash, in case we had to come down before reaching the coast. We threw out everything to reduce the load. If we went down into the sea without wirelessing our position, our hope of being rescued would be very slender.
There was cloud only halfway across the Channel and then we hit clear weather. We could see the British searchlights Falmost beyond the horizon. We trudged wearily along, firing rockets from time to time to summon help and let them know we were no Huns. They understood. The searchlights waved us on, pointing the way. We were grateful for that. It was hard to keep on the right course, for the tailplane had been so badly shot up that the navigator had to lean with all his weight on the rudder bar to help the pilot to keep her straight. The wounded wireless operator and the gunner were pumping oil. We had to switch over to the gondola tanks, not knowing whether there was any juice left in them. It was hard to keep altitude because we had lost such a lot of wing surface. The port wing covering had been burnt off over a large area, leaving only the bare spars. We were kept up only by the good, faithful engines, spluttering from time to time, but pulling along like steady old horses.
The undercarriage, of course, would not go down. . We had expected it, but we did not like it particularly. The pilot cut the throttle and glided down. The searchlights followed us and tried to show the way. We saw that land was very near and there was a tense moment of waiting for what was bound to happen. Could he do it?
He did. It was a neat belly landing and no one was hurt. We jumped out and ran to the rear gunner. The turret was turned. He had obviously meant to jump, but he had lost con-sciousness and stayed there. The shock of the landing woke him up. An ambulance drove up and took him to hospital. He had 21 bullets ip his body. The wireless operator had only eleven. As to the Wellington, we did not even try to count them. Everybody thought it rather odd that we made it at all.
It was my thirtieth raid and I had no intention of staying there and making it my last.
A number of members of this Squadron are prisoners in Germany. Some of them are men who had already been in German hands and then found their way to Britain to fly with the R. A. F., at the risk of being captured again. To anyone who has lived under German rule the possibility of returning to it again is charged with rich meaning; but they did not hesitate.
Some members of the Mazovia Squadron who had to bale our over enemy-occupied territory or to make forced landings were not captured by the Germans at all, but went into hiding and eventually returned to their home station. One officer baled out and broke a leg on landing. After three months he reported for duty in Britain as though nothing had happened.
There is no greater joy for bomber crews in captivity than to hear at night the roar of the engines of their friends and the explosions of their bombs even though there were cases of Allied prisoners being killed during R.A.F. raids on Germany.
WE WANT TO RETURN HOME
The war aims of the men of this Squadron are simple: they want to return to their homes and families. They want to be able to give them the protection which they did not have in 1939. They want to rebuild the Polish Air Force in the mother country and make use of all the knowledge and experience acquired during service with the Royal Air Force.
The airmen of the Squadron know that not all of them may return to their homes and that many of them may not have the good fortune of serving in a Polish Air Force based in Poland. But that does not deter them from fighting to set their country free and to enable some of their com-rades at least to see again the homes which they had to leave nearly four years ago and had not seen since.
Airmen, like soldiers and sailors, feel that their supreme duty is to make the homes of all their countrymen secure. Polish airmen have known the bitterness of failing in that task, through no fault of their own. They have seen Polish towns and villages bombed by enemy aircraft and then in-vaded. Now they return to the enemy the destruc-tion of September 1939 and a time will come when the total damage inflicted by Polish bombers on Germany may be greater than the damage done by the Luftwaffe in Poland. But revenge alone can never be the only objective.
The ultimate aim is return to a Poland safe from any aggression, free and independent. Polish air-men want to return to the homes from which they were driven in 1939 and never to leave them again, but give security and peace to their children.
Although the Squadron bears the name of Mazovia, the central province of Poland, which has Warsaw for its chief town, its members are drawn from all parts of the country from Gdynia on the Baltic coast, from Lodz with its textile mills, Wilno with its famous shrine of Ostra Brama and Lwow of forty Churches. All the provinces of Poland have their sons serving in the Masovia Squadron, which is truly representative of the whole of the country for which it is fighting.
The Polish pilots wings on the map represent the home towns of members of the squadron.