RAF No 303 (Kosciusko) Squadron

Motto: None

Formed at Northolt on 2 August 1940 from Polish personnel who had managed to escape from Nazi occupied Europe, it was equipped with Hurricanes. It was soon in the thick of the fighting during the Battle of Britain and remained so until moving north to Leconfield in October.

In January 1941 the squadron returned to Northolt and re-equipped with Spitfires. It alternated between offensive operations in the South and defensive duties in the North and Midlands until November 1943 when it moved to Northern Ireland, to protect shipping in the Irish Sea ending for the Clyde.

The squadron was transferred to the 2nd Tactical Air Force in April 1944, carrying out armed reconnaissance missions and escorting bomber sorties in preparation for the forthcoming invasion. Unlike other 2 TAF units it never re-located to the continent, continuing to operate from the UK. In April 1945 its Spitfires were replaced by Mustangs, but the end of the war only permitted two operations to be carried out with these. The squadron moved to Scotland in November 1945 remaining there until disbanding on 11 December 1946.

Squadron Codes used: -
NN Allocated Apr - Sep 1939
RF Aug 1940 - Apr 1945
PD Apr 1945 - Dec 1946

Web References:

  • History of RAF Organisation: http://www.rafweb.org/Sqn300-318.htm#300
  • Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/

 

No. 303Sqn 'Kościuszko' Squadron

No. 303 ('Kościuszko') Polish Fighter Squadron (Polish: 303 Dywizjon Myśliwski 'Warszawski im. Tadeusza Kościuszki') was one of 16 Polish squadrons in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. It was the best scoring RAF squadron of the Battle of Britain.

The squadron was named after the Polish and American Revolution hero General Tadeusz Kościuszko, and the eponymous Polish 7th Air Escadrille founded by Merian C. Cooper, that served Poland in the 1919-1921 Polish-Soviet War. No. 303 was formed in Britain as part of an agreement between the Polish Government in Exile and the United Kingdom. After a distinguished combat record, the fighter squadron was disbanded in December 1946.

History

No. 303 (Polish) Squadron was formed on 2 August 1940, and became operational on 31 August of the same year, its initial cadre being 13 Officer and 8 NCO pilots and 135 Polish ground staff. Initially English-speaking serving RAF officers were appointed to serve as CO and Flight Commanders alongside their Polish compatriates, as the Polish pilots were unfamiliar with RAF Fighter Command language, procedures and training. The name chosen by the squadron was in honour of the famous Polish Kosciuszko Squadron which fought during the Polish-Soviet War in 1920. No. 303 Squadron was also linked to the original Kosciuszko Escadrille through personnel that had served in the squadron. Later, further air force units from the aforementioned unit were renamed the 7th, 121st and 111th Escadrilles of the Polish Air Force.

On 30 August 1940, the squadron scored its first victory while still officially non-operational, against a German Bf 110 (initially incorrectly recorded as a Do-17) fighter shot down by Ludwik Paszkiewicz during a training flight. The wreck was dug out in 1982. No. 303 Squadron claimed the greatest number of aircraft destroyed of the 66 Allied fighter squadrons engaged in the Battle of Britain, even though it joined the fray two months after the battle had begun. Its success in combat can be attributed to the years of extensive and rigorous pre-war training many of the long-serving Polish veterans had received in their homeland and surviving previous encounters with the Luftwaffe in inferior aircraft; far more than many of their younger and inexperienced RAF comrades being thrown into the battle. In its first seven days of combat, the squadron claimed nearly 40 enemy aircraft. Withdrawn from battle for a rest on the 11 October, the squadron had claimed 126 kills in six weeks. Relative to aircraft downed, losses were relatively small with 18 Hurricanes lost, seven pilots killed and five badly wounded.

During the Battle of Britain, even though the Hurricane fighters flown by the Polish pilots were considered inferior to the main German fighter (the Messerschmitt Bf 109), they were far superior to the outdated Polish fighter aircraft that defended the country's skies during the German invasion in September 1939. Due to the critical shortage of Allied aircraft and pilots, No. 303 Squadron frequently intercepted and engaged large formations of German bombers and fighters that outnumbered the squadron by as much as 10 to one. On one occasion, a pilot of 303, Sergeant Stanislaw Karubin, resorted to extreme tactics to bring down a German fighter. Following a prolonged air battle, Karubin was chasing a German fighter at treetop level. As he closed in on the tail of the German fighter, Karubin realized that his Hurricane had run out of ammunition. Rather than turning back to base, he closed the distance and climbed right above the German fighter. The German pilot was so shocked to see the underside of the Hurricane within arm's reach of his cockpit that he instinctively reduced his altitude to avoid a collision and crashed into the ground.

Although the number of Battle of Britain claims was overestimated (as with virtually all fighter units), No. 303 Squadron was one of top fighter units in the battle and the best Hurricane-equipped one. According to historian John Alcorn, 44 victories are positively verified, which makes 303 Squadron the fourth best fighter squadron of the battle, after Squadron Nos. 603 AuxAF (57.8 verified kills), 609 AuxAF (48 verified kills) and No. 41 Squadron RAF (45.33 verified kills), which all flew Spitfires. It was also the most efficient unit, with high kill-to-loss ratio of 2.8:1. However, J. Alcorn was not able to attribute 30 aircraft shot down to any particular unit, and according to Jerzy Cynk and some other Polish historians, the real number of victories of 303 Squadron was in fact about 55–60. According to Polish historian Jacek Kutzner the verified number of kills of 303 Squadron is around 58.8, which would still place it beyond all other squadrons if it comes to amount of verified kills. This is presented by Kutzner's chart, which shows Polish confirmed kills (left column), confirmed kills of all Allied squadrons, including Polish (central column) and real German losses on each day when 303 Squadron was involved in air combats (right column).

War over Europe

During 1941–43, No. 303 Squadron flew on Fighter Command's offensive sweeps over North West Europe, flying various marks of the Spitfire. Forming cover for the Allied raid on Dieppe (Operation Jubilee), 303 Squadron claimed the highest number of aircraft shot down of all Allied squadrons participating. On 11 April 1942, when an aerial gunnery contest was staged within No. 11 Group RAF, the three competing Polish squadrons—303, 316 and 315—took the first three places out of all 22 air squadrons, 303 Squadron coming first by a very healthy margin (808 hits, while 316 Squadron scored 432 hits, and the best British squadron 150 hits).

Late war

After D-Day, the squadron remained with ADGB ('Air Defence Great Britain'), moving to RAF Coltishall for operations over Holland. April 1945 saw the unit equipped with Mustang IVs.

Post war

No. 303 Squadron was the most effective Polish RAF squadron of any other RAF units during the Second World War. Some sources state that its pilots were invited to the London Victory Parade of 1946, one source says that it was the only representatives of the Polish Armed Forces in the West. The invitation was refused because no other Polish units were invited. However, according to other sources No. 303 Squadron was not invited and so could not have refused the invitation. After the end of the war, squadron morale decreased due to the treatment of Poland by the Allies, and the squadron was eventually disbanded in December 1946.

Squadron statistics

126 German aircraft or 'Adolfs' were claimed as shot down by 303 Squadron pilots during the Battle of Britain. This is the score of 'Adolfs' chalked onto a Hurricane.
From 19 July 1940 until 8 May 1945
1940     1941     1942     1943     1944     1945     Total
Combat sorties  1,049    2,143    1,348    2,075    2,653    632       9,900
Hours of flight time         1,086    2,743    1,967    3,693    5,259    1,118    15,866
Enemy aircraft claimed

Battle of Britain
Score
destroyed          126
probables          13
damaged           9
(4.7% of all enemy aeroplanes during the battle. In fact some 44-60 victories, this however produces a similar percentage.)

1 September 1940 to 8 May 1945
Score
destroyed          297 1/6
probables          35
damaged           25
(include 3-0-3 enemy aircraft on the ground)
Locations

303Sqn Bases

2 August 1940 - RAF Northolt
11 October 1940 - RAF Leconfield
3 January 1941 - RAF Northolt
17 July 1941 - RAF Speke
7 October 1941 - RAF Northolt
15 June 1942 - Kirton-in-Lindsey
16 August 1942 - Redhill
20 August 1942 - Kirton-in-Lindsey
1 February 1943 - RAF Northolt
5 February 1943 - RAF Heston
3 March 1943 - RAF Debden
12 March 1943 - RAF Heston
26 March 1943 - Martlesham Heath
8 April 1943 - RAF Heston
1 June 1943 - RAF Northolt
12 November 1943 - Ballyhalbert
30 April 1944 - Horne
19 June 1944 - Westhampnett
27 June 1944 - Merston
9 August 1944 - Westhampnett
25 August 1944 - RAF Coltishall
4 April 1945 - Andrews Field
16 May 1945 - RAF Coltishall
9 August 1945 - Andrews Field
28 November 1945 - Turnhouse
4 January 1946 - Wick
31 March 1946 - Charterhall
23 March 1946 - RAF Hethel

Squadron equipment

8 August 1940 - Hurricane I
22 January 1941 - Spitfire I
3 March 1941 - Spitfire IIA
20 May 1941 - Spitfire IIB
From 25 August 1941 until 6 October 1941 - Spitfire I
7 October 1941 - Spitfire VB
1 June 1943 - Spitfire F IXC.
12 November 1943 - Spitfire VB, Spitfire VC and Spitfire LF VB, Spitfire LF VC
18 July 1944 - Spitfire F IX, Spitfire LF IX and Spitfire HF IX
4 April 1945 - Mustang IV and Mustang IVA.

Commanding officers

2 August 1940 - Sqn Ldr (mjr) Zdzisław Krasnodębski
7 September 1940 - F/O (por.) Witold Urbanowicz
22 October 1940 - F/O (por.) Zdzisław Henneberg
7 November 1940 - Sqn Ldr (kpt.) Adam Kowalczyk
20 February 1941 - Sqn Ldr (por.) Zdzisław Henneberg
13 April 1941 - F/Lt (por.) Tadeusz Arentowicz
5 May 1941 - Sqn Ldr (kpt.) Wacław Łapkowski
3 July 1941 - Sqn Ldr (kpt.) Tadeusz Arentowicz
9 July 1941 - Sqn Ldr (kpt.) Jerzy Jankiewicz
21 November 1941 - Sqn Ldr (por.) Wojciech Kołaczkowski
7 May 1942 - Sqn Ldr (kpt.) Walerian Żak
19 May 1942 - Sqn Ldr (por.) Jan Zumbach
1 December 1942 - Sqn Ldr(por.) Zygmunt Witymir Bieńkowski
4 July 1943 - Sqn Ldr (kpt.) Jan Falkowski
21 November 1943 - Sqn Ldr (kpt.) Tadeusz Koc
25 September 1944 - Sqn Ldr (kpt.) Bolesław Drobiński
1 February 1946 - Sqn Ldr (mjr) Witold Łokuciewski

Photo:1-MkVb-RAF-303Sqn-RF-D-Jan Zumbach-EN951-Kirton-in-Lindsey-1942-01

Spitfire Mk.Vb EN951 RF D Pilot: S/Ldr Jan Zumbach

Main Aces of 303

Sqn Ldr R G Kellett DSO DFC Original CO of 303 Sqn during the Battle of Britain, (five claims)
Flt Lt John A. Kent, Canadian Flight commander during the Battle, (11 claims)
Sgt Josef František, Czech Sgt. pilot flying with 303 Polish Squadron, was the one of the top fighter pilots of the Battle of Britain, with 17 confirmed kills.
Fg Off Witold Urbanowicz, Polish commander of 303 Squadron from 5 September 1940, scored 15 kills during the Battle of Britain (17 total)
Plt Off Jan Zumbach, commander of 303 Squadron from 19 May 1942, scored eight kills during the Battle of Britain (13 total)

Photo:5-Pilots-303Sqn-01

Photo 303 squadron pilots:
L-R: F/O Ferić, F/Lt Lt Kent, F/O Grzeszczak, P/O Radomski, P/O Zumbach, P/O Łukciewski, F/O Henneberg, Sgt Rogowski, Sgt Szaposznikow (in 1940).
(under British command until 1 January 1941.

Photos:5-Pilots-303Sqn-02

F/O Bronisław Kłosin holding the aerial gunnery contest award, on the left side of him, Flt Lt Bieńkowski, on the right side Flt Lt Zumbach.

Photo:5-Pilots-303Sqn-03

303 squadron pilots. L-R: Sgt. Stasik, P/O Socha, P/O Kolecki, F/O Lipiński, F/O Horbaczewski, F/O Schmidt, F/Sgt Giermar (on the wing), Flt Lt Zumbach, Sqn Ldr Kołaczewski, Flt Lt Żak, F/Sgt Popek, F/O Bieńkowski, F/O Kłosin, F/O Kolubiński, F/Sgt Karczmarz, F/Sgt Sochacki, F/Sgt Wojciechowski and on the propeller F/O Głowacki (May 1942, Northolt).

Abbreviations: mjr: major, kpt.: captain, por.: lieutenant)

 

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This webpage was updated 25th January 2019