Battle of Britain - 303 Squadron Diary


Battle of Britain - 303 Squadron Diary

Formed on August 2, 1940 in Northolt, No. 303 Kosciuszko Squadron was the second Polish fighter squadron to be formed on British soil. Its personnel recruited mostly from 111 and 112 Squadrons of the Pursuit Brigade, which had fought with distinction in the Polish campaign of 1939. In spite of some difficulties, mostly stemming from inadequate command of English, conversion to Hurricanes and training in the RAF tactics proceeded smoothly, and a month later the squadron entered the Battle - soon proving to be the hardest-hitting unit in the entire Fighter Command.

August 2, 1940, the personnel of the squadron arrives at Northolt Sector Station, which is to become the home base for Polish fighter squadrons for most of the war. Awaiting are the British squadron and flight commanders - S/Ldr Ronald Kellet, F/Lt Athol Forbes and F/Lt John Kent (until 1941, all command posts in Polish fighter squadrons were doubled - the Polish commander of the No. 303 squadron was Maj. Zdzislaw Krasnodebski, the flight commanders were Lt. Witold Urbanowicz and - for a short time - Capt. Tadeusz Opulski). A conversion and training programme is put into effect starting on August 3.


August 30, 1940, the training continues, with pilots practising mostly the infamous "Formation Attack" drills of the RAF. During such a flight, Lt. Ludwik Paszkiewicz notices a group of German planes being attacked by British fighters. He leaves the squadron formation and attacks a stranded Do 17, which crashes into the ground shortly after. (According to post-war research, the plane misidentified as Do 17 by Paszkiewicz was a Messerschmitt Bf 110.) After the flight, he receives a reprimand from the commanding officer, immediately followed by warm congratulations on opening the squadron's tally. On Ronald Kellet's personal request, starting on the next day, the squadron is declared fit for operational duties as part of No.11 Fighter Group. August 31, 1940, in the late afternoon, the squadron is scrambled for its first operational flight.

In a dogfight over Kent, the 'A ' Flight claims four confirmed and two probable victories over Messerschmitts Bf 109. The victors are S/Ldr Kellet, Lt. Henneberg, Lt. Feric and Sgt. Karubin. All pilots return safely to Northolt, making this opening day a very successful one for the squadron. Miroslaw Feric later remarked in the Squadron Chronicle: I calmly take the aim, judge the deflection, and fire at the Hun. It's all so strangely easy, so much different than over Poland, where one tried, and did all the hard work, and instead of getting the Hun, in the end the Hun got him. The Hurricanes, while still somewhat inferior to Messerschmitts Bf 109, are far more capable than the gull-winged PZL fighters flown by the Poles in September 1939, and the pilots finally feel their equipment is on par with their enemy's.



A page from the 303 Squadron log. One of the last entries on this page is dated August 30... Click on the image for a readable version


September 2, 1940, the squadron is scrambled three times on this day. On the last occasion, they meet a group of Luftwaffe fighters. Lt. Feric shoots down a Bf 109, while Sgt. Frantisek gets one Bf 110. First Hurricane is lost as Feric makes a forced landing in the vicinity of Dover.  September 3, 1940, another fight with German fighters over Dover. Sgt. Frantisek scores his second victory, one Hurricane force-lands (Sgt. Wojtowicz), one returns damaged (Lt. Henneberg). September 5, 1940, in the afternoon, the squadron (nine Hurricanes) intercepts a German bombing raid escorted by Bf 109s. A fierce fight develops, in which Polish pilots claim 8 victories (5 Bf 109 and 3 Ju 88).

A most unusual victory is scored by Sgt. Karubin who, having run out of ammunition, drives his opponent into the ground by flying a bare few feet above him. Four victories over Bf 109s (by S/Ldr Kellet and Sergeants Frantisek, Wunsche and Karubin) have been verified after the war. The squadron suffers its first loss - Lt. Lapkowski is shot down, and breaks his arm while getting out of his plane - he lands on parachute and is taken to hospital. September 6, 1940, once again, nine Hurricanes are scrambled in the morning. While being vectored towards a bomber formation, they are bounced by German fighters of III/JG27. S/Ldr Kellet, Maj. Krasnodebski and Sgt. Karubin, all wounded (Krasnodebski seriously) bale out, while Sgt. Rogowski makes a forced landing. Other pilots claim seven confirmed (5 Bf 109, 1 Do 17, 1 He 111) and one probable victories, all of which have been verified after the war.




A typical sight at many British airfields in the summer of 1940... This time the pilots of No. 303 Sqn are running to their planes after receiving a 'scramble' order.



 (The Bf 109 awarded as a 'probable' to Feric crashed while attempting to land in France). Witold Urbanowicz's victim is Joachim Schlichting, the commander of III/JG27, a veteran of Legion Condor with 8 victories to his credit (he was captured). Because both the British and the Polish commander are wounded in this fight, Air Vice Marshal Park - the commander of No.11 Fighter Group - appoints Witold Urbanowicz as the new squadron commander. September 7, 1940, on the day when the German air offensive switches to London, 303 Squadron is one of the few which are successfully vectored towards an enemy formation.

Polish pilots attack an escorted Do 17 formation from height advantage, German escorts are late in their effort to prevent the attack. As a result, the squadron claims twelve victories over Do 17s and two over Bf 109s. Lt. Zumbach, Lt. Feric, Sgt. Szaposznikow and Sgt. Wojtowicz all score double victories. Lt. Daszewski is shot down and seriously wounded, Lt. Pisarek saves himself by baling out of his burning plane and landing on parachute - losing one of his shoes in the process. Sadly, his Hurricane crashes in a residential area, killing a family seeking shelter from the raid in their home's basement.

Three pilots of No. 303 Sqn: Lt Henneberg, F/Lt Kent (a Canadian) and Lt. Feric


September 9, 1940, twelve Hurricanes are scrambled in the late afternoon, led by F/Lt. Kent. Victories over Bf 109s are claimed by Zumbach and Frantisek, while a Bf 110 is shot down by Kent. Sgt. Frantisek also claimed a kill over a He 111, but it was awarded as a 'probable' (the Heinkel actually made it back to base, with two crew members killed and one wounded). Sgt. Wunsche is shot down and bales out, and Sgt. Frantisek crash-lands, uninjured - but his Hurricane is totally destroyed.

September 11, 1940, a day of glory for 303 Squadron, but also the day when first casualties are sustained. Fifteen minutes after being scrambled (at around 16:00 hours), the squadron in full formation intercepts a German raid. Thanks to a determined attack, the pilots scatter the German formation. However, in the initial attack on the bombers, Lt. Cebrzynski is badly wounded by their defensive fire - he dies in hospital on September 19. A few minutes later, Sgt. Wojtowicz finds himself alone over Westerham, against six Messerschmitts Bf 110. In two successive attacks, he shoots down two of them, but is finally shot down and killed himself. A description of the fight is sent to to 303 Squadron a few days later by the residents of Westerham, who witness the encounter. Overall, the pilots claim 14 victories, of which ten (2 Bf 110, 1 Bf 109, 3 Do 17 and 4 He 111) are confirmed. The Bf 109, shot down in a dogfight over Southern England by Sgt. Frantisek, was piloted by Hans Wiggers of JG 51, an ace with 13 victories to his credit.

September 15, 1940, on this day - which is traditionally considered the turning point of the Battle - the squadron is scrambled twice. Shortly after 11:00 hours, nine Hurricanes led by F/Lt. Kent take off to intercept a German raid. After a few minutes, Kent starts chasing a group of Bf 109s at full throttle - as the result the squadron enters the fight separated into sections. In a big melee, the pilots claim nine victories (6 Bf 109, 1 Bf 110, 2 Do 17). Lt. Lokuciewski is wounded, many Hurricanes are badly shot up. Again, only nine aircraft are available for the afternoon flight, and in the course of the mission the two flights separate.

Flight 'A', led by S/Ldr Kellet encounters a group of enemy planes, and claims four victories. Meanwhile, Flight 'B' led by Witold Urbanowicz, reduced to only five aircraft, in a determined attack scatters and turns back an escorted German raid of several dozen bombers. Lt. Urbanowicz brings down two Do 17s, but two Polish pilots are shot down - Sgt. Brzezowski is killed, while Sgt. Andruszkow bales out safely. Please see the pilot accounts for Witold Urbanowicz's recollection of this encounter. Overall, the pilots of 303 Squadron claim 15 victories, at the cost of one pilot killed and two wounded, and two Hurricanes destroyed. Several aircraft are badly damaged. September 17, 1940, one Bf 109 is shot down over the Thames Estuary by Sgt. Wojciechowski.



Lt. Urbanowicz scored 13 victories while flying with 303 Squadron

September 18, 1940, in the morning, the squadron is visited by Gen. Wladyslaw Sikorski, the Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Armed Forces. Many pilots receive high Polish decorations. Later in the day, the squadron is scrambled three times. In the last flight, Lt. Feric shoots down a Do 17 over London, while Sgt. Frantisek claims a Bf 109. September 20, 1940, it's the second day of a period of bad weather, there's little enemy activity. The squadron has already gained a great deal of popularity with the British public, as exemplified by the following telegram, received on this day: Broadcasting House, London S.W.I, 20-th September, 1940. The B.B.C. sends warm greetings to the famous 303 Polish Squadron with lively congratulations upon its magnificent record and all best wishes for its future. You use the Air for your gallant exploits and we for telling the world of them. Long live Poland! F.W. Ogilvie, Director General September 24, 1940, the period of bad weather ends, and the squadron is back into action. On this and the next day the squadron is scrambled five times, but no contact with enemy is made.

September 26, 1940, in the afternoon, Northolt is visited by King George VI, who talks with the pilots of No. 1 (Canadian) and No. 303 Squadrons. As the visit is drawing to a close, 303 Squadron is scrambled in full strength, and directed towards a large enemy raid. In the resulting fight, Polish pilots claim thirteen victories (7 He 111, 2 Do 17, 4 Bf 109). Three Hurricanes are damaged, Lt. Januszewicz makes a forced landing, uninjured. On King's request, the results of the fight are relayed to the Buckingham Palace.

September 27, 1940, another day of intense fighting. In the morning, eleven Hurricanes scramble to intercept a raid of about 30 bombers with a heavy fighter escort, two other squadrons following. The Poles are engaged by the escorts, and a fierce fight develops, in which the squadron claims no fewer than 15 victories (6 Bf 109, 2 Bf 110, 4 He 111, 3 Ju 88). However, two pilots are killed - Lt. Paszkiewicz (who scored the first victory for the squadron) and Sgt. Andruszkow. Lt. Zak is wounded, four Hurricanes are lost and several other damaged. Only six aircraft are available for the afternoon flight, in which they engage a small German raid of about 15 Ju 88s. German escort of about 60 Bf 109s makes the mistake of ignoring the small formation of Hurricanes, and two bombers are brought down before they intervene, another Bf 109 is claimed in the resulting dogfight. Lt. Witold Urbanowicz is the 'hero of the day' - he claims four German aircraft (a Bf 109, a Bf 110 and 2 Ju 88s).



King George VI during his visit to 303 Squadron

September 30, 1940, the squadron is called into action three times, twice engaging the enemy. Lt. Urbanowicz once again claims four victories (3 Bf 109 and Do 17), another Do 17 is brought down by Lt. Radomski, who has to bale out moments after scoring his kill. A Bf 109 is shot down by Sgt. Karubin. October 1, 1940, dDuring a patrol F/Lt Kent shoots down a Bf 109 and damages another. October 5, 1940, the squadron is scrambled at around 11:00 hours, and intercepts a formation of about a dozen Bf 110s and 50 Bf 109s over Kent. After a determined attack on Bf 110s, the Bf 109s intervene and a fierce dogfight develops. Polish pilots claim nine victories (5 Bf 110 and 4 Bf 109), of which six (4 Bf 110, 2 Bf 109) have been verified after the war. One of the Bf 109 pilots, shot down by Sgt. Marian Belc, is Viktor Moelders - the younger brother of the outstanding German ace, Werner 'Vati' Moelders. The squadron sustains one casualty - Lt. Januszewicz is killed in the dogfight. October 6, 1940, bad weather prevents any flying. A single Ju 88 drops two 500kG bombs on Northolt from above the cloud cover. Sgt. Antoni Siudak - who claimed two victories on the previous day - is killed, three Hurricanes are damaged.

October 7, 1940, in a fight over the Thames Estuary the squadron claims three Bf 109s (all verified after the war).  October 8, 1940, on return from an uneventful patrol, Sgt. Frantisek, the outstanding Czech ace (he scored 17 victories while flying with the squadron) leaves the formation and dives towards London, never to be seen again.

His aircraft crashes in one of the London suburbs, the pilot is killed. October 11, 1940, after forty days of intensive action, the squadron is transferred to Leconfield in No. 12 Fighter Group, effectively ending its participation in the fighting. The official record for this period makes No. 303 the the top-scoring RAF squadron in the Battle of Britain: 125 confirmed and 14 probable victories, 6 enemy aircraft damaged. Overall, 38 pilots flew with the squadron, of which 34 were Polish. Nine of these pilots became aces with five or more victories. The three British officers flying with the squadron claimed 15 confirmed victories, the Czech ace - Josef Frantisek- 17. Nine pilots were killed, nine other hospitalized for an extended period of time. About twenty Hurricanes were lost, many more or less seriously damaged.



Lt. Jan Zumbach (8 victories) was one of the squadron's top-scoring pilots.

The following words were written in the Squadron Chronicle by its British commander, S/Ldr Ronald Kellet when he was leaving the unit:

We fought together through the great offensive of 1940 and I then knew that the pilots of No. 303 Squadron were not only the best but would also see me through any troubles. In the month of September, 303 Squadron was on top - no squadron from the Empire could equal the courage and skill of our pilots, no bombing could daunt our airmen.

This page has been created in the hope that the contribution these brave men made will not be forgotten
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