Tuesday, March 10, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: How Polish airmen succeeded

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 30, 2010
By Arkady FiedlerTranslated by Jarek GarlinskiAquila Polnica, $27.95, 217 pages, illustrated

This is a story not previously available in English about Polish airmen in England at the time of the Battle of Britain. It’s a story well known by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and those in England at the time who were literally saved from German invasion by them, but now mainly lost in the more popular histories of World War II. In August and September of 1940, as the Germans were pounding southeast England by air in preparation for landings and conquest, a small band of Polish pilots and their mechanics joined with the RAF to break the Nazi onslaught. Their success caused Hitler’s armies to disembark from their assault craft loaded on the shores of France thus saving England from invasion.

The Polish fighters did not break the German onslaught by themselves. They were just one element of the RAF and other Allied air forces that did that; but pilot for pilot, aircraft for aircraft, they were by far the most successful. This book tells how and why.

Poland actually had a quite respectable air force in 1939, although when compared with what the Germans and the Soviets had, their equipment was antiquated. So when Hitler invaded Poland from the west on Sept. 1, 1939, and Stalin did the same from the east on Sept. 17, not only the Polish air force but all Polish forces were overwhelmed. Refusing to surrender, a large number of Polish airmen made their way to then-neutral Romania and on to France where they flew for a short time with the French air force. Upon the fall of France, they moved to England and that’s what this story is all about.

The principal subject is, of course, the 303 Squadron, the pilots, mechanics and their British-provided Hurricane aircraft. Several Polish squadrons flying various types of aircraft, and individual Poles too, flew with the RAF, but 303 Squadron was by far the most successful. In the most crucial phase of the Battle of Britain, 303 Squadron downed three times as many enemy aircraft than the average of other RAF squadrons, yet its own losses were only one third those of the others.
In describing how that came about the author’s detailed descriptions of aerial combat, dogfights and other actions are superb. The reader can easily feel as though he’s in the cockpit. That’s probably because, as the author writes, “303 Squadron is written ‘live,’ under the direct influence of the events of 1940.” That’s about as close to oral history as one can get. The action scenes themselves are worth the read and the smooth flowing prose makes it easy to do so.

Read more: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/nov/30/how-polish-airmen-succeeded/#ixzz3Tx2Oov4s
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