'Bloody Foreigners' the Squadron That Saved Britain
the 'Bloody Foreigners'
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.
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
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
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?
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)
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.