In 1940, more than 8,000 Polish airmen arrived on England only to be met with scepticism and often derision in respect of their flying abilities. During the Battle of Britain, Polish pilots serving in all RAF squadrons achieved a remarkable score of 203.5 enemy aircraft destroyed, 35 probably destroyed and 35 damaged.
Polish airmen continued to serve alongside the Royal Air Force until the last day of the war. At the peak in 1941 the Polish Air Force (PAF) listed 13 units – eight fighter, four bomber and one reconnaissance squadron with an additional two observation squadrons being formed in 1943 and 1944 respectively. The contribution of Polish fighter pilots and other personnel was very significant and achieved at a very high price. The Polish War Memorial at RAF Northolt commemorates the 1,903 personnel who came over to England and were killed during WW2.
The first polish fighters joined 302 and 303 Squadrons and it this part of what is a fascinating story together with recollections of just one outstanding Polish Air Force pilot, Ignacy Czajka who joined 302 Squadron well after the Battle of Britain in 1941 when based in Harrowbeer, Devon, that I will include here. Czajka would remain in England for the rest of his life, changing his name to Charles Duggan-Chapman in 1944.
A total of 145 Polish airmen fought in the Battle of Britain, the largest contingent of non-British airmen that fought in the battle, 29 of whom would lose their lives in the Battle. Commander-in-Chief Fighter Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding was initially opposed to allowing Polish pilots to fly with the Royal Air Force but he would later summarise their contribution by saying “had it not been for the magnificent work of the Polish squadrons and their unsurpassed gallantry, I hesitate to say that the outcome of the battle would have been the same”
Part of 12 Group, No. 302 (Poznan) squadron was formed on July 10, 1940, at RAF Leconfield – under W/Cdr L. G. Nixon – in York. Its official RAF name was: 302 Polish Fighter Squadron and it was the first of two squadrons (the other being 303 Squadron) to be declared operational – first entering the battle on the 15th August 1940 and claiming its first enemy interception just five days later. 303 (Krakowski) Squadron scored the first victory whilst still officially non-operational when Flying Officer Ludwik Paszkiewicz who would later lose his life in combat, shot down a German aircraft during a training flight. Not surprisingly, the Squadron was declared operational the next day!
Continuing a pre-war Polish Air Force tradition, fighter squadrons were given names of the cities they were stationed. Detail of all Polish squadron activities during the Battle of Britain can be found in Waclaw Krol’s book “Polskie Dywizjony Lotnicze w Wielkiej Brytanii’s 1940-1945”.
Having received 18 Hurricanes Mk. I aircraft armed with eight machine guns and capable of speeds over 500 km/hr, altitude of 30,00 feet and nearly two hours of full throttle flying, training of pilots and mechanics on new equipment went very smoothly, and August 15, 1940, the squadron was declared operational. 302 and 303 Squadrons would soon join the ranks of the 12 Fighter Group under the command of Air Marshall Trafford Leigh-Mallory – the prime task of 302 was to defend the part of eastern coast of England, from Grimsby to Scarborough. The unit flew scrambles to intercept in strength of section, flight or squadron. The coastal and convoy patrols were also flown.
When the Battle of Britain entered it’s deciding phase, the 302 was moved to RAF Duxford, located north of London, where the squadron operated from September 14 till 25. On September 25, the unit returned to Leconfield. During the regular service there was no enemy encounters. On November 11 the unit replaced in Northolt (west suburbs of London) famous and somewhat decimated No. 303 Squadron, which came to Lencfield to rest.
Altogether, Polish pilots claimed 27 enemy aircraft destroyed, 11 probably destroyed and 2 damaged in 1940. Six Polish pilots and one British pilot were lost.
Charles Dugan-Chapman (born Ignacy Czajka January 1918 in Lvov, Poland) – died April 2002
I could have picked many fine Polish fighters who served with the Royal Air Force during the Second World War but on this occasion, I will choose only one – Ignacy Czajka – later changed to Charles Dugan-Chapman who had, along with many other Poles who served in the Royal Air Force during WW2, escaped from his native Poland in 1940.
Dugan-Chapman would fly as both fighter and fighter bomber pilot during the second world war. He was released from service in 1945 with the rank of captain in the Polish Air Force and by then had been awarded the Polish Cross of Valour and two Bars.
After the war and initially from a garage in Fulham Road, South-West London, he built up a plastics business (Stewart Plastics) which became a public company in 1963 and was sold by Dugan-Patterson to Bunzl, a large publicly quoted paper and packaging company in 1986. A scratch golfer Dugan Patterson remained in England for the rest of his life, he and his family splitting their time between homes in Knightsbridge and Sunningdale.
Having studied medicine before needing to escape from Poland, Duggan-Chapman was Immediately accepted for training as a pilot in the RAF on his arrival in England. Awarded his RAF wings at No 8 Flying Training School in Montrose, Scotland where he qualified on both Westland Lysander and Hawker Hurricane, he was posted to 302 Squadron in late 1941. By then he was flying Spitfire Mk 5’s spending his time looking for trouble on offensive sweeps over France and the Low Countries. These missions were part of Fighter Commands challenge to the Luftwaffe after the Royal Air Force had achieved daylight air supremacy in the Battle of Britain.
Although a member of Nos 132 and 164 Squadrons at various times he was never happier than as a member of 302 Squadron with his fellow Poles and which he re-joined in 1943 on missions ranging over France in large formations, carry out convoy protection and attacking enemy shipping at mast height. He was shot in the shoulder by enemy fire travelling back over the English Channel in April 1943. Losing consciousness for a time, when he regained control, he was able to calculate a position by having the sun behind him and this told him that he was heading home before his engine was to fail near the east Kent coast. He then resorted to his old gliding skills before crash landing in a field near Deal and was to the nearest hospital by a farmer in the back of a hay-wagon.
He spent the rest of the war in various squadrons including 302 carrying out low-level strafing and bombing of enemy troops and armour, all of which was designed to help prepare for the D-Day landings. His final missions operated from air-strips in Normandy in support of the Allied drive into north-west Europe.
His change of name from Ignacy Czajka to Charles Duggan-Chapman took place in 1944 on his marrying Mary Chapman who survived him along with two daughters.
A lovely man by all accounts, he along with many other Polish born pilots who flew with the Royal Air Force during the war appalled at how Poland was so easily handed over to the Soviet Union as part of the agreed post-war reorganisation plan agreed by Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin at Yalta in February 1945.
We remember them……
CHW (London – 15th September 2020)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785