Tribute to forgotten warriors of the sky

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HAVING defended their own country and fled through occupied France, the Polish airmen of the Second World War cemented their reputation for fearlessness and daring by becoming pilots in the RAF.

However, when the conflict ended, they were denied an official place in the victory celebrations for fear of upsetting Britain's Soviet allies.

But today, the forgotten Polish heroes will be remembered as a Spitfire, a Hurricane and a Lancaster bomber fly over Grangemouth, where hundreds of Polish pilots were trained.

It will be the first time a Spitfire has flown over the disused air base since the end of the war, and will be one of the few occasions when the contribution of Polish fighter pilots has been recognised.

The flypast will commemorate a time in Scottish history when Polish pilots trained alongside Scots, Czechs, Belgians and Austrians in a desperate effort to beat the Luftwaffe.

Tom McMorrow, commanding officer of the Grangemouth Air Training Corps, said he felt the time was right to recognise the bravery of the many Polish pilots who flew from Scotland.

"With Grangemouth now hosting a growing Polish community, I felt now was the right time to do something to commemorate all these brave Polish boys who learnt to fly using Battle of Britain MkI Spitfires."

Veterans, senior officers from the RAF and military attachs from Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, and Belgium will watch as a Polish flag is raised over the disused airfield, which is to become an official memorial to those based there who were killed in the war.

The centrepiece of a planned memorial garden will be a replica Spitfire painted with the markings of the Polish 303 Squadron.

It will be an exact copy of the aircraft flown by Sergeant Eugeniusz Tadensy Lukomski, who died on 24 November, 1941 when his Spitfire came down in Avondale estate, Polmont. Sgt Lukomski fled Poland in September 1939 after fighting to defend his homeland. Like many Polish soldiers, he escaped to France, which was the home of the Polish government in exile.

He was evacuated after the Allies withdrew from France and ended up being stationed at Grangemouth, where he volunteered to train as a pilot. He was on his last training flight before joining active service when his plane went into a spin and came down. He was 23.

Mr McMorrow said the idea of honouring the Polish airmen arose after the Grangemouth Air Training Corps went on an educational trip to Poland in 2007.

"Most of the Polish pilots who joined the RAF trained at Grangemouth and it was very dangerous," he said. "They came here from a foreign land and most of those who died were between the ages of 19 and 26.

"All the great Polish fighter pilots who fought with the RAF passed through RAF Grangemouth. The famous aces came back as instructors."

Dr Andrzej Suchcitz, keeper of the archives at the Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum, said Polish pilots played a crucial role in the RAF during the Second World War and earned a reputation for great courage and skill.

"In the summer of 1940, they were among the most experienced pilots in the war. They had fought in the French campaign and the Polish campaign."

A total of 2,191 Polish pilots fought with the RAF; more than one in six of them died.

Although 303 Squadron was invited to join victory parades immediately after the war, they refused because their compatriots had not been invited.

"The Polish forces were not invited because the British government did not wish to offend the communist regime which had been recognised in Warsaw.

"I think this is a very fitting tribute which will cement Polish and Scottish relations."

Bravery of the Polish pilots was fearsome

ALTHOUGH the Polish 303 Squadron joined the Battle of Britain two months after it began, the unit claimed the most kills by the time the battle was over.

Founded in 1940 as part of an agreement between the Polish government in exile and the UK, the Squadron was known as "Kosciuszko" in honour of the Polish hero, General Tadeusz Koscieuszko.

In their first week fighting the Luftwaffe, the Polish pilots earned a fearsome reputation for bravery after downing 40 enemy aircraft.

Altogether the 147 Polish pilots claimed to have shot down 201 aircraft. Witold Urbanowicz claimed to have shot down 15 enemy aircraft, while Tony Glowacki held the highest record for the numbers of planes shot down in one day – he brought down five planes on 24 August, 1940.

Tales abounded of the exceptional bravery of the pilots. Sergeant Stanislaw Karubin was chasing a German fighter over treetops when he realised he had run out of ammunition. Rather than turn and leave the battle, he closed in on the Messerschmitt and flew just inches above it, forcing the German pilot to make an emergency crash landing.

Aviation historian Athol Forbes said: "When they go tearing into enemy bombers and fighters, they get so close you would think they were going to collide."

The 303 Squadron members were the only Polish servicemen to be invited to join the official victory parades to mark the end of the war, but they refused as their compatriots were not invited.