of the Polish Air Force
THE POLISH AIR FORCE IN GREAT BRITAIN
Although histories of the allied air offensive list details of Polish units which were based in Great Britain they do not often record how they were organized, or how they arrived in this country.
The Polish Air Force was founded as Poland regained its freedom at the end of the Great War, and in the 1920s/1930s was supported by a substantial national aviation industry.
The Polish Air Force was initally part of the Army, being entitled Lotnictwo Wojskowe ("military aviation"). The major unit was the Pułk Lotniczy (air regiment), formed of a number of Dywizjony (divisions, or wings) which were made up of the basic unit the Eskadra (squadron), and operating a range of aircraft.
In February 1940 the CinC Polish armed forces, General Wladyslaw Sikorski, announced that the Polish Air Force was to be a separate part of the Polish armed forces, entitled Polskie Siły Powietrzne (PSP) - literally "Polish Air Force".
Following the invasion of Poland by Germany and the Soviet Union in September 1939 the Polish government and forces evacuated to Romania in accordance with a pre-arranged plan, and on into France to reform.
Despite many publications repeating the myth that it was destroyed on the ground in the first days the Polish Air Force acquitted itself well, inflicting heavy losses on the Luftwaffe.
During October British, French, and Polish delegates met in Paris to decide on the deployment of the Polish Air Force. The Polish suggestion for the reestablishment of the Polish Air Force in Britain was not thought appropriate, the British government preferring to assimilate Polish personnel into the RAF.
A French proposal for dividing personnel between France and Britain was finally agreed upon, with a total of 2,450 personnel planned to go on to Britain.
The agreement of October 1939 had planned for two medium bomber Squadrons and two reserve bomber Squadrons, equipped with Fairey Battles and incorporated as part of the RAF. Fighter Squadrons had not been considered appropriate in view of the length of time needed to integrate into the complex control system of the RAF.
In June it was agreed that Polish units would be organized with the RAF, all personnel joining the RAFVR and wearing RAF uniform with PSP cap badge and Poland flash on the shoulders. Initially two Polish bomber Squadrons would be formed, together with a bomber training unit.
The fall of France meant the arrival of almost four times the original number of PSP personnel than had been expected, and an Anglo-Polish agreement signed on 5 August 1940 covered the organization of Polish armed forces under British command (as the Allied High Command).
The agreement provided for an autonomous Polish Air Force in Britain, organized to operate with the RAF. One army cooperation, two fighter and four bomber Squadrons were to be formed, and all trained personnel not immediately required for the forming were to be utilized within RAF units.
PSP Squadrons serving with the RAF were designated by the PSP as Divisions, the pre-war strength of an Eskadra being equivalent to an RAF Flight and that of a Dywizjon similar to that of an RAF Squadron. The first PSP Squadron to be formed was 300 Squadron at Bramcote on 1 July 1940.
During the Battle of Britain in 1940 one in eight of allied pilots was Polish, and the highest scoring allied fighter pilot flew with 303 Squadron, Polish Air Force. It is said that the Battle of Britain was won by a narrow margin, and the contribution of the already combat experienced Polish pilots was decisive.
Confusion exists in some published records over the status of the PSP and its personnel. The Royal Air Force uniform was adopted as the uniform of the Polish Air Force, with the appropriate PSP rank and other badges.
This, together with the early plan for personnel to join the RAFVR, has lead to much misapprehension. The point that the Polish Air Force was an autonomous part of the sovereign forces of the Republic of Poland serving with the RAF, but not part of it, is often missed.
The badges of the Polish Air Force ranks were worn on the collars of the uniform jacket (the system following the prewar pattern of displaying ranks) and further misunderstandings have arisen from the arrangement whereby PSP personnel displayed RAF rank badges corresponding to the post held under RAF establishment; in effect holding relative RAF rank.
Inevitably this created many anomalies. For example, as the OC of an RAF bomber Squadron was of Wing Commander rank, so the OC of a Polish bomber Squadron wore the RAF rank braid of three rings. In practice this officer usually held the rank of Major in the PSP (and wore appropriate rank badges), although this was the equivalent of the RAF rank of Squadron Leader. Entries in the RAF Operations Record Books (ORB) for the PSP Squadrons note ranks on the RAF establishment method.
Another area surrounds the Badges of the Polish Air Force Squadrons. The PSP authorized Badges for each, many having a direct link with pre-war units. With the independent status of the PSP these Badges were not approved by the RAF; there was of course no need. Most histories record "no Badge authorized", when they really mean no RAF Badge authorized.
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this page last updated 1 June 2011
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