On September 1st 1939 the German army invaded Poland. The successful Blitzkrieg (lightning war) tactic of swift invasion supported by armoured artillery, rapidly moving infantry and massive air support got them to Warsaw with remarkable speed and the city fell, effectively signalling the collapse of Poland itself on September 17th.
Unable to continue the defence of their homeland, many Polish pilots and air crew fled to France where they joined the French air force and returned to the fray as the Germans continued their advance there. Once again however they were defeated. Undeterred, the surviving Polish pilots and air crew made their way to Britain and the Royal Air Force.
302 Squadron was formed on July 13th 1940 with 303 Squadron close on its heels coming into existence on August 2nd. Both squadrons fought in the Battle of Britain, the gallant action that drove back the Luftwaffe, prevented Germany from establishing air superiority across the channel from France and thus forced Hitler to abandon Operation Sea Lion (AKA the invasion of Britain). These two squadrons, although late to the Battle of Britain were responsible for one fifth of all German planes shot down over Britain. Without the aid of these 139 Polish airmen (303 squadron shot down more German planes than any other RAF Hurricane squadron) it is doubtful that the German invasion would have been halted. Britain may well have been occupied. That in turn could easily have resulted in a quick victory for Germany and for Nazism throughout Europe with no effective opposition to launch a counter-attack.
Without Britain’s continued resistance to the German war machine there would have been little or no commonwealth involvement and the Americans would have ignored Europe completely, concentrating all their forces upon the Pacific war with Japan instead. To put it another way, without the Polish airmen of 302 and 303 squadrons Germany would almost certainly have won the Second World War. And it wasn’t just the Polish pilots we need to be grateful for. In total around 17,000 Polish nationals fought for Britain. They represented their country (and ours) over air, land and sea and bled just as deeply as any Brit in the defence of freedom from Nazi totalitarianism.
When you buy your poppy this year, wear it with pride in honour of the Polish flyers who fought and died in defence of Britain. It’s their poppy too.
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