Your stories

What do you think? We would particularly love to share with our online visitors any stories that former members of the Polish Air Force may have.

To share your stories with us and the public or if you are an online visitor who would like to comment about this exhibition, email research@rafmuseum.org. We look forward to hearing from you.

Below are some comments made by and about Polish Pilots in the Royal Air Force during World War Two.

Worth  a Thousand Words

Kajestan Ignatowski AFC DFM VM

My father was born in 1919 near Warsaw and in 1938 he joined the Polish Air Force, In Sept 1939 when the Germans attacked Poland and his flying school was bombed, he and many hundreds of his fellow students made an escape via Romania where they were interned by the Romanian Army. They then followed a roundabout journey by several trains and ships which took them to Bucharest, the Black Sea, Istanbul, Malta and Marseilles winding up at Lyon. When the Germans invaded France, attacked Lyon and bombed their airfield. He escaped again, this time via Perpignan to Oran, Casablanca and Gibraltar from where a British cruise liner took them to England arriving in Liverpool in June 1940.

He then followed a long period of schooling, learning English and being assimilated into British ways, including a brief spell at RAF Leconfield, after which he resumed training at RAF Hucknell on Tiger Moths and then at RAF Newton on Airspeed Oxfords, concluding with his Wellington conversion at RAF Bramcote and a posting to 305 (Polish Squadron) at RAF Hemswell as an aircraft captain with the rank of Sergeant. On his seventh operation he lost an engine to anti-aircraft fire over Wilhemshaven, but could not feather the propeller, so, after a long struggle to maintain altitude, he had to ditch off the East Coast where after a few hours they were picked up by a RN fast patrol boat. In November 1943 he completed his 30 operations including three visits to Hamburg where he was nearly shot down again, but escaped after evasive action. He was promoted to Flight Sergeant awarded the DFM and the Polish Virtuti Militairi.

He was then commissioned as a Pilot Officer and volunteered to return to Operations but was trained as a QFI and was transferred to 301 Polish Sqn flying Halifaxes.

After the war he settled in Blackpool and was invited to join the Royal Air Force which he did in 1949 flying 10,000 flying hours and receiving the AFC finally retiring in 1974.

Michael Ignatowski from RAF Sports Board RAF Halton - 30/11/11

Worth  a Thousand Words

Stanislaw Zdanowski

My father was an officer cadet in the pre-war Polish Air Force, after the fall of Poland he escaped via Romania to France and got to England in June 1940.

He started his basic flying training on the 23February 1942 at RAF Newton in Nottinghamshire and joined 303 Squadron in 1943 where he flew Spitfires and on the last squadron sortie on the 25 April 1945 a Mustang as part of the escort for a daylight light raid on Bertesgarten by Lancasters.

He remained in the RAF after the war as an Air Traffic Controller and died in 1963 whilst on active service in Singapore.

Paul Z Danowski from Southwell - 1940 to 1945

Worth  a Thousand Words

Sgt. Antoni Stalewski V.M

My grandfather Antoni grew up in Bielsk Podlaski. Like most young boys, he dreamt of joining the Polish Air Force, lured by the romanticism of aviation and inspired by many famous Polish pilots.

He joined the SPLdM and as soon as he had finished training Germany invaded Poland and he found himself thrown straight into combat in the September 1939 Campaign as part of the ‘Bomber Brigade’, No.1 Air Force Regiment. It resisted the Invasion of Poland as the main aerial reserve of the Commander in Chief and was used for bombing enemy units in central Poland. Created just before the War, the squadron did not have time to reach full operational readiness. The Polish Air Force claimed 134 air victories, including shooting down 7 enemy aeroplanes.

Antoni's next challenge was to make his way through war torn Europe to join Allied forces in Europe. He made his way to France to join allied forces, travelling through Zagreb, Yugoslavia and Modano.

Antoni arrived in France on the 23rd of November 1939, and reported to the Polish Air Force base in Lyon, where he joined one of the newly created Polish Air units under French command. It was not until May 18th 1940 however, that these newly formed squadrons were equipped with planes which included the completely obsolete Caudron C.714 fighters. Altogether, the Polish pilots flew 714 sorties during the Battle of France. On June 17th, the French government announced “It is with a heavy heart that I tell you today that we must stop fighting” and requested an armistice from the Germans.

After the collapse of France, a large section of the Polish Air Force contingent was withdrawn and evacuated to the United Kingdom. On the 6th August 1940, Antoni volunteered for aircrew service and began training as a wireless operator and air gunner. He completed his gunnery course at the No.4 Bombing and Gunnery School, and his operational training in the No.18 Operational Training Unit in Bramcote. In May 1941, Antoni was posted to the 301 Bomber Squadron "Land of Pomerania" (301 Dywizjon Bombowy "Ziemi Pomorskiej").

Following 21 dangerous but successful missions, on 21st October 1941 whilst flying on an operational mission to Bremen in Wellington Bomber Z1217 from Gainsborough, Antoni’s plane was shot down over Nienberg Germany. Along with his comrades (Sgt L.Cieslak, Sgt M.Borodej, F/O J.Riedl, Sgt A.Mlodzik and Sgt A.Klee-Bergoni) he was captured and interned as a prisoner of war. Antoni was interned until 1945 in Stalag VIII-B, Stalag Luft III & Stalag Luft VI and Stalag XXA. Antoni assisted with preparations for many escape attempts, by fashioning buttons to mimic the buttons on the German guards’ coats and building radios inside the camps.

Antoni returned to the Blackpool base in May 1945. Upon his return, he was honoured for his sacrifice and successful air missions. 301 Squadron commander Major Witold Jacek Piotrowski, had requested he be awarded the Order of Military Virtue for giving 'full-sacrifice in battle'. He was decorated with the Srebrny Krzyz Orderu Virtuti Militari No.9234 (V class), Krzyz Walecznych and two Bars, Medal Lotniczy, 1939-45 Star, Aircrew Europe Star and War Medal. In total, he had successfully completed 21 operational missions in 300 hours.

Following the war Antoni was was employed in the electrical industry, where he became a member of the Institute of Electrical Engineers and a Fellow of the Royal Society. He passed away in October 1986 without knowing that the British government would finally acknowledge the Polish Allies for their sacrifices, after they were denied participation in the 1945 Victory Parade.

Andrew Simpson from London

30th August 2011

Worth  a Thousand Words

Bail Out

The story actually began before 1940; in fact it began with the German invasion of Poland in 1939, when the surviving pilots of the Polish Air Force decided that they wanted to continue the fight against the invaders by escaping the onrushing Wehrmacht and making their way to England.

Despite the language difficulties, these courageous men were readily accepted into the Royal Air Force, which was coming under increasing pressure to train sufficient numbers of pilots for the forthcoming Battle of Britain.

One such pilot was Czeslaw Tarkowski who found himself assigned, initially, to No.85 Squadron at Church Fenton there to be introduced to the Hawker Hurricane Mk.1. After a short spell with that Squadron, he quickly moved on to No.605 Squadron, based at the famous Biggin Hill sector station. By November 1940, Tarkowski was regularly involved in patrols over the Kent countryside, often ordered to take up a vulnerable position at the rear of the formation, with the job of keeping alert and preventing an attack from astern.

When the “scramble” call came on the morning of the 8th November 1940, Tarkowski made his way over to his Hurricane, N2649, call sign UP-O and was assisted into the cockpit by a member of the squadron ground crew.

It was still quite foggy when the flight got airbourne at around 9 o’clock, but once they reached 10,000 feet, there was clear blue sky all around. The flight had been ordered by ground controllers to meet an incoming raid and patrol the Maidstone and Tonbridge area.

Approaching the designated area, they were ordered to climb to 27,000 feet with the warning that “bandits are in front of you”. By now Tarkowski could just make out pairs of enemy aircraft in the distance, glistening in the morning sunlight.

With a closing speed in excess of 600 mph, the sky was suddenly filled with aircraft, twisting and turning as pilots fought to establish an advantage over their chosen victim. Briefly, a Messerschmitt Bf109 appeared in Tarkowski’s gun sight and instinctively he fired off a burst of gunfire from his eight Browning machine guns, but without result.

He was searching for another opportunity, when a loud bang in the nose of his Hurricane announced that he had taken a hit. As the cockpit quickly filled with smoke, his immediate thoughts were to avoid a pilot’s worst nightmare, that of fire.

Training had taught him to open the cockpit hood, invert the aircraft and simply fall out, but the choking smoke caused him to lose consciousness. Was this to be how it would end?

Fate smiled on Czeslaw Tarkowski that day, as he came to, dropping like a stone through the empty sky. Again his training kicked in and he successfully deployed his parachute and took in the view below as he drifted silently earthwards. Of his Hurricane, there was no sign whatsoever.

As he approached the ground an oak tree came up to meet him and it enveloped him in its branches. That was not the only thing that came to meet him. A group of farmworkers from Sissinghurst Castle Farm were coming towards him in a menacing fashion armed with pitchforks, sticks and an ancient double barrelled shotgun.

Assuming him to be a German, he was instructed to surrender. It took a while to establish his true identity and soon helping hands were assisting him and took him to a nearby house, where a doctor had been summoned.

His wounds comprised burns and a leg injury, which the doctor treated as best he could. The family living at the house were obviously taken by this courageous young flyer and insisted that he joined them for lunch. His post lunch slumber was broken by the arrival of an RAF sergeant and staff car that had arrived to take him back to Biggin Hill.

Bidding farewell to the family, Tarkowski was driven off, but encountered more hostility when the car stopped at traffic lights en route to Biggin Hill. After the sergeant had informed the crowd that he was, in fact, a Polish airman serving with the RAF, a lady stepped forward, opened her purse and offered Tarkowski five shillings !

What of Tarkowski’s Hurricane, N2649 and who was the unseen enemy who shot him down? The answer first of all lay in a hop garden at Harts Heath between Colliers Green and Staplehurst where the Hurricane had embedded itself deep into the ground.

Interestingly, some thirty odd years later, the site was investigated by local aviation historian, Ted Sergison, and a number of components were recovered. Ted informed me that one of the smaller fragments was cleaned and inscribed with details of the incident and he had the pleasure of meeting Tarkowski and presenting him with this unusual gift.

His assailant was thought to have been Major Gerhard Schopfel, flying a Bf109E attached to Jagdgeschwader 26 based at Caffiers in Northern France. Schopfel was, at the time, the Gruppenkommandeur of the Third Gruppe of JG26 and had been the recipient, in September of the Knight Cross of the Iron Cross, having accounted for 20 enemy aircraft.

By the end of the war his score has reached a staggering 45 victories. Czeslaw Tarkowski ended the war with the rank of Squadron Leader. He only ever scored a single aerial victory, claiming a Junkers Ju188 on the night of the 3rd March 1945 whilst at the controls of a De Havilland Mosquito of No.307 Squadron.

After the war, Tarkowski settled in England and had a successful career in aviation. Upon retirement, he moved to Hythe, thus restoring a Kentish connection so unexpectedly forged in November 1940.

Original article written by Graham Holmes - taken from the personal memoirs of Czeslaw Tarkowski .

Submitted by Matthew McCarthy - Grandson of Captain Tarkowski (1919-2001)

Matthew McCarthy from London

1940

Worth  a Thousand Words

My Father

My father, Vadim Komkov, passed away in 2008 so I am relating his story, but he was a member of the Polish RAF during WWII (he was Russian but raised in Poland after his parents died in the Bolshevik Revolution).

He left behind, for his children, a hand written autobiography of his life, especially of the war years, and we have a few photographs of his war experiences.

He spoke of being at Hucknall Air Force base, and mentioned a few names of comrades (Count Pininski and a man named Timurowicz).

He spoke of an instructor named Karol Sumara and another named Adamski. There are many other names he mentioned.

He was sent to Wrexham to practice flying Lancasters, and also flew a training version of the Spitfire XIV (my favourite plane!). Later he became a Mechanical Engineer in London and married my mother. I was born after the war and then we all emigrated to Africa where he worked for a the Rhokana Mining Company.

Valerie Komkov Hill from Lubbock

1940 to present

Worth  a Thousand Words

Stanislaw and Adolf Tyszewski

Dear Sirs,

My Grandfather, Stanislaw Tyszewski was an RAF pilot during the world war II. His brother Adolf Tyszewski was fighting in Battle of England. I have many photos from their stay in England, if you are interested I can send you few scans.

I know also, that my grandfather was writing a diary, since 1939 to 1955. I am trying to find this diary at my family members till few years, but without any success.

Please let me know if you are interested in those pictures.

My best regards

Michal Szewczykowski

Michal from Warsaw

22-01-1941