For Your Freedom and Ours
By Lynne Olsen and Stanley Cloud
Essential reading for anyone with a fleeting interest in WWII, and a book that demands to be read in one sitting. Telling the story of the Polish fighter pilots who made up the Kościuszko Squadron that fought in the Battle of Britain this is a non-fiction work that shatters the common myths associated with Poland’s role in WWII. The book traces the lives of key members, from their early days as dashing cadets, to their transformation into a elite combat unit. Having gained early experience against the Luftwaffe in the battle for Poland, many of the pilots who went on to form the Kościuszko 303 squadron escaped via Romania, then France, before ending up in England. Having endured foul treatment from the French – seemingly uninterested in sharing the Poles desire to defeat the Nazis – the Poles arrived in Britain only to be met with the same suspicions and distrust. 'Poles cannot fight,' and 'Poles certainly can not fly' appeared to be common sentiments. Even with the German army massing their forces on the other side of the channel, the English were reluctant to let the Polish pilots into the fray.
Stiff British manner meant that before being let loose in an aircraft the Poles had to first master the British method of doing things. In one instance we are treated to the marvellous image of how the Poles were forced into riding outsized tricycles around a football pitch while an instructor barked flight formations at them. But as the battle for British skies began in earnest, high command relented and sent the 303 squadron into action. The results were immediate. Displaying a fearless sense of adventure the Poles stunned their superiors with their raffish bravery and sharp shooting. By the time Hitler cancelled his plans to invade Britain the 303 squadron boasted the highest kill rate in the RAF, with one of their fliers - Czech pilot Thomas Frantiszek - proving the most successful pilot in the entire battle with 19 kills to his credit. Of the 400 pilots who would defend the south of England at any one time, up to a quarter were Polish.