ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

'Bloody Foreigners' the Squadron That Saved Britain

Updated on October 16, 2018
lawrence01 profile image

I love history. It has such a great story to tell, this is part of that story, if you'll look 'below the surface'

the 'Bloody Foreigners'

When Britain needed them, they came, and not one could speak English!
When Britain needed them, they came, and not one could speak English! | Source

Just a little note

I have to admit, the title for this hub was inspired by a documentary I watched recently, it was inspiring, and a much-needed reminder with what's going on at the moment of just whom we owe our freedom to.

Seventy-eight years ago the world was facing one of the worst crises in history, Europe, the very bastion of civilisation at the time, the place that everyone wanted to 'be like' had been overrun by terror. The horror of Nazism had been unleashed on the world and much of what was free and democratic had fallen beneath the Nazi Jackboot.

Even the nations that had stood up against the Nazis had mostly crumbled under the onslaught. Czechoslovakia was the first, followed soon Austria (the 'Anschluss' in 1938) Poland (1939) Holland, Belgium, France, Denmark and Norway, Soviet Russia had joined with the Nazis at the start (they were to pay a heavy price later) and of the European nations, only the small, stubborn Island just off the coast of mainland Europe stood, but even that was in a perilous state.

Standing alone

France had fallen and with it 90% of the materials Britain would need to defend herself, her Army had one rifle for every six soldiers, almost no tanks, and the ones they had were no match for the German machines amassing on the other side of the Channel.

Her Airforce was in ruins with the majority of her planes lying destroyed or captured in France (the RAF lost over 400 planes in the Battle for France). At most, she had five or six hundred planes, some two hundred Spitfires and four hundred older, almost obsolete Hawker Hurricanes. but even then, there weren't enough pilots to man the planes, things were desperate.

Britain had declared war in September 1939, her colonies had done the same within days of Britain declaring war, Australia, New Zealand and Canada had all sent planes and men, but there was nowhere near enough, they faced a foe who could field over two thousand planes, all with experienced crews, and they could operate from bases only a few miles from the English channel, their manufacturing facilities far from the fighting.

Yet there had been those who escaped Europe, pilots who'd seen first hand what the Germans had done to their homelands, and all they wanted was a chance to fight back.

The true hero of the Battle

An overlooked hero, the Hawker Hurricane was the true hero of the Battle of Britain
An overlooked hero, the Hawker Hurricane was the true hero of the Battle of Britain | Source

Squadrons formed

The RAF had a major problem, their fighting force was in pieces, they were barely able to put up enough pilots to face the might of the German Luftwaffe, yet many of the pilots that had arrived and were eager to fight couldn't even speak a word of English!

One of the most important aspects of the defence of Britain was communication, Fighter command had to be able to talk to the pilots in the air so as to guide them onto their targets and give them advice for the best possible advantage.

Squadrons were often being scrambled to meet forces that outnumbered them by four or five to one, there just weren't enough planes or pilots to send up 'one on one' forces

Massively outnumbered, they had to be able to talk to the fighters they 'sent up' to make sure they weren't shooting at each other, but the Poles were 'itching' to fight the Germans, so were the other nationalities!

The British having seen the ease in which the Germans had crushed the Polish Airforce regarded the Poles as 'second-rate' pilots not realizing that the Poles had fought the Germans using world war one biplanes, not exactly a 'fair fight' at the best of times.

By August 1940 the Air Ministry decided that there were enough Pilots from Poland to form a complete Squadron of them, they would be used for 'second line' defence just North of London, they were to be given the job of defending the airfields that other Squadrons to the south of London were flying from.

The Squadron was made up almost entirely of Polish personnel, that included both Pilots and groundcrew, eventually, there would be a total of 16 Polish Squadrons, but 303 Squadron was the first, and the fiercest!

An Unlikely bunch

Poland September 1939

With imminent defeat looming, and her Airforce crushed the Polish government gave what might have seemed like a crazy order at the time, that was to evacuate all her pilots from the fight and send them to Romania, to transit there on to France and continue the fight from there.

The Polish government itself was going into exile, it was moving to Britain, hopefully, to continue the fight from there, and it needed as many pilots as it could muster.

Believe it or not, over 200,000 Poles made the trek, and they would serve faithfully not just in the Army, but in the Air as well, they would become a valuable part of the 'Bloody foreigners' who saved Britain, but they weren't the only ones, there were Danes, Dutch, Belgians, French, Czechs, Norwegians and even Germans working alongside the British to see the Nazis defeated.

The Squadron insignia

303 Squadron were to write history as one of the highest scoring squadrons of the Battle of Britain. And the one with the best 'kill to losses' ratio
303 Squadron were to write history as one of the highest scoring squadrons of the Battle of Britain. And the one with the best 'kill to losses' ratio | Source

August 1940

The Battle of Britain was already raging, and the RAF was losing, but so far Germany hadn't attacked targets in Britain, they'd concentrated on coastal shipping in the English Channel, their plan was simply to draw the RAF out into the channel where they could engage them.

Germany had six to one odds in favour with just their fighters, if they used Bombers as well, then the odds went up to seven to one against the RAF.

The RAF was 'picking its fights' carefully, but still losing the Battle if the RAF lost control of the channel then the Royal Navy would be at the Germans mercy and the way was open for invasion.

Phase one for Germany was to establish control of the Air over the channel, they couldn't do that with the RAF still functional, but Germany had a plan.

Phase 2 'Destroy them on the ground'

The next part of the plan was to destroy the RAF's ability to send any fighters into the air, that meant destroying their bases. Most of the bases the RAF were using were not far from the Channel, so sending the Bombers there meant that they would have a fighter escort all the way, and this improved the chances of success, the Bombers would get the planes on the ground, and the Fighters could take care of any that got into the air.

The Germans were confident, and they had good reason to be, they'd destroyed every other force they came up against within days, why would the RAF be any different?


The RAF

They knew just how desperate things were, yes they had fighter planes, but no pilots for them, not just that but the manufacturing bases were mostly in the South of England, well within the range of the Luftwaffe.

They did have pilots, but they didn't speak English! How were they supposed to co-ordinate their defences when they couldn't talk to the pilots?

But the situation was getting desperate. In August 1940 the Polish government in exile agreed with the RAF to form a Squadron to act as a 'training unit' for the pilots, it would be equipped with the Mk1 Hurricane a plane that the British regarded as being nearly 'obsolete' in that it was much slower than the more modern and more expensive Spitfire, but there were a few things both the British and Germans were about to find out about the Hurricane.

Enjoy the doco

Built for COMBAT the Hurricane

Many people look at the planes of the era, see the wonderful sleek lines of the Spitfire and think she was the best, and she was good in many ways. The Spitfire was derived from the 'Supermarine S6B' the first plane to breach the 400 mph barrier.

The Spitfire had a top speed of 370 mph and was as agile as any racer should be. The Hurricane, however, was built for one thing, COMBAT! She wasn't as fast as the Spitfire, but she was built to take down other planes, she was more agile.

An interesting thing about them in a dogfight was that in a tight turn the Spitfire pilots said that when the turn was tight enough to cause a stall the plane's wings would start to vibrate, all they had to do was 'ease off' with the turn.

The Hurricane could pull the turn without fear of stalling, they could out-turn anything in the sky and they used it to full advantage.

The Poles were given Hurricanes

Joining the fight

Early September 1940

Britain is literally hanging on 'by the fingernails' the airfields have taken a pounding, so much so that the RAF desperate for a respite took a huge gamble, a desperate raid to Bomb a radio station in Berlin where Hitler is about to have a speech broadcast, they get through and Bomb the place.

Hitler is so incensed he orders that for every one Bomb that fell on Berlin a thousand must fall on London!

The Luftwaffe are stunned, they were within days of totally destroying the RAF ability to fight! Now Hitler had fallen for their gamble, he'd given the RAF their respite, but he brought them within reach of 303 Squadron!

September 1940. The average pilot's life expectancy in the Battle of Britain was less than one week. But there was a band of experienced pilots, it's just that the Brits didn't value those pilots, they were about to get a really nice surprise!

Sept 2nd 1940. A training flight over the South of England, they were on the edge of the area where the Battle was being fought when one of the pilots (it was a flight of six Hurricanes) spots and gives the warning.

"Bandits, forty plus at four o'clock" the rest of the flight hear him and peel off to engage, all that is except the flight leader who was Canadian, the call was given in Polish so he wouldn't be able to call them back until it was too late.

A flight of five Hurricanes engaged forty plus German Bombers with their fighter escorts, they shot down at least six of the enemy with no loss to their side (They took down 7.5% of the German force)

Aftermath

Let's just say that the bollocking given by the base commander is reputed to have been legendary, but it ended with the words "This Squadron is now fully operational" which needed no translation

We respected the Spitfire, it was a great plane, but it was the Hurricane we feared

— German Bomber pilot

"In the hands of experts"

The Hurricane wasn't the fastest plane in the Battle, but in the hands of experts, she was a deadly foe.

The Poles knew one thing about fighting, if you dive into a formation from above, all you do is take one or two planes out, come at them from 'head on' in a 'chicken run' and you disperse the whole formation, then they're at your mercy, break the formation and it's a 'turkey shoot'

That's exactly what the Poles did. They also made another slight change, they shortened the convergence range from 400 yards to 200, at that range they couldn't miss, and it would rip any plane apart.

303 Squadron was to become one of the highest scoring RAF fighter squadrons in the Battle of Britain, and they did it while taking fewer losses than any other Squadron in the Royal Air Force.

Eventually, there would be sixteen squadrons of pilots from Poland alone fighting for Britain, that means if the average Squadron had ten planes each then over 160 pilots and planes (plus their maintenance crews) fought for Britain, that doesn't include an entire division of the Army that fought bravely at battles like El Alamein and Monte Cassino.

I'd like to say that things ended well for the Poles, but the truth was it didn't, they came to Britain fighting not just for Britain, but for a free Poland, at the end of the second world war the world was weary of war, Poland was gifted to the people who'd helped Germany carve up the nation, it was given to the Soviets, the Poles were betrayed by those they came to fight for.

Their tally for the Battle was 250 enemy aircraft destroyed in just over a month, and all for the loss of just twenty aircraft of which fifteen of the pilots flew a few days later.

Double what the nearest British Squadron achieved.


A wrong finally put right

Poland stayed under the communist rule until 1990 when it finally gained freedom, and a debt finally paid.

This is a strange kind of hub, it's one that I've wanted to write for a very long time, since I heard about Brexit and the driving forces.

I agree with Brexit, Europe is always stronger when Britain is involved in Europe but staying slightly separate from it, to me, that's what Brexit was about, the ability of the British to choose their own path. I just hope that in doing so, we don't forget the men and women from the European nations who stood alongside us.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      2 weeks ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Peg

      This was a story that wasn't ever told in the movies. I knew there was a Polish squadron during the Battle of Britain, but not that they were the highest scoring Squadron for the RAF!

      I'm glad you enjoyed the article.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      2 weeks ago from Dallas, Texas

      Thanks for this fascinating insight into some of the history that brought the world to where it is today. Most of this generation did not grow up watching the WWII movies to even get a glimpse of what happened nor do they understand the true threat of communism. I also love history now, much more than I ever did as a student.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      5 weeks ago from SW England

      I totally agree, Lawrence.

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      5 weeks ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Ann

      I think at the time, it really did hurt both Australia and New Zealand, but now both countries think it was one of the best things that happened to them, they got to stand on their own two feet, and learned a lot from it.

      The beauty is they recognise the value that each culture brings, and for Britain, that's a tremendous opportunity!

      The one thing I've struggled with regarding the EU is that they wanted to make us 'all one' identity.

      Our real strength comes when we value our differences and cherish those who might see things differently but stand with us anyway.

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      5 weeks ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Eric

      You're right, they were men with integrity, they saw a common goal and while they were willing to work towards that goal, they weren't willing to compromise.

      They did things very differently to us Brits, but they gave us valuable lessons.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      5 weeks ago from SW England

      Unfortunately, we abandoned Australia and New Zealand when we dumped them after joining the EU. Maybe we'll try to make amends when we can do what we want once more.

      I think a lot of the common traits with Scandinavia come from our ancestry and the weather!

      Yes, I certainly appreciated your point about the Poles doing things differently. Good job they did!

      Ann

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      5 weeks ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      John

      Thank you, I wrote it in response to some things I've heard are going on in Britain at the moment.

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      5 weeks ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Ann

      I agree Brits are 'not on the same wavelength' as the rest of Europe and that's what makes Britain's present position so important.

      Europe wants to make everything the same, but the value comes when we recognise and value the differences.

      This hub is about the value the Polish pilots brought because they did things differently.

      I'm not sure even the Scandinavian countries would fully understand the British. Australia and New Zealand would be a better model.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      5 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Well this brought me to tears. What honorable men and women of the time. Very well done. Thank you friend.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      5 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

      A wonderfully well-written hub, Lawrence. Very educational and interesting. I learnt a lot that I wasn't aware of.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      5 weeks ago from SW England

      Good explanation of the involvement of the Poles. They had that particular expertise which was invaluable. We certainly appreciated all the help from all sorts of directions.

      I agree that Britain is a huge contributing force for Europe but the Europeans have never been on the same wave-length, in my opinion. We are of a different psyche and have always been stronger when we can take our own decisions, I think. To me, a better alliance would be with Scandinavia as we are far more akin to them and seem to understand each other better. However, it's the way Brexit is being done that gives me the most concern!

      Anyway, enough of politics!

      Great hub.

      Ann

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)