Per Kenneth K. Koskodan in the book 'No greater ally the untold story of Poland forces in World war II' chapter titled 'On the Wings of Eagles', "the most victorious fighter squadron of the Battle of Britain, 303 Kosciuszko Polish Fighter Squadron (303 dywizjon mysliwski Warsawski im Tadeusz Kosciuszko), was Polish, and Poles comprised nearly 20 percent of the RAF." The Polish historian Jacek Kutzner states that, "the verified number of kills of 303 Squadron is around 58.8, which would still place it above all other squadrons regarding verified kills." by a chart, which shows Polish confirmed kills, confirmed kills of all Allied squadrons, including Polish and real German losses on each day when No. 303 Squadron was involved in air combats.
303 Kosciuszko Polish Fighter Squadron composition
Per Lynne Olson and Stanley Cloud in the book 'A Question of Honor: The Kosciuszko Squadron: Forgotten Heroes of World War II', Squadron 303 was given operational clearance on August 31, 1940 and seventeen fighter squadrons, including the Kościuszko and Poznań squadrons, were ordered into the air to meet the first German wave of aircraft bombers. There were 21 pilots and 135 members of the ground crew initially. Almost all the members were from the Warsaw defense squadrons 111 (Kościuszko) and 112. 13 more pilots, including Witold Urbanowicz the future flight leader arrived in the next few days. The new Polish squadron was called “303” by the RAF, but the Poles preferred “Kościuszko Squadron,” after the elite unit with the internationalist traditions in which many of them had flown back home. They painted the squadron’s emblem (red cap, crossed scythes, stars and stripes) on the fuselage of their Hawker Hurricanes, just below the cockpit.
Under the Anglo-Polish air forces agreement, each senior position in a squadron was to be filled by both a Polish and British officer. The two Polish flight leaders were Witold Urbanowicz, finally reunited with his former Kościuszko Squadron comrades, and Ludwik Paszkiewicz, who had been with 112 Squadron in Poland. In total four Polish squadrons took part in the battle (Polish 300 and 301 Bomber Squadrons; Polish 302 Fighter Squadron and Polish 303 Fighter Squadron) with 89 Polish pilots. Together with more than 50 Poles fighting in British squadrons, a total of 145 Polish pilots defended the British sky.
Documented enemy craft destruction
The pilots of Squadron 303 were known for getting very close to the enemy aircraft before firing their guns.
- On its first official combat flight on August 31, 1940, intercepted a flight of 60 enemy aircraft and downed four confirmed Messerschmitt 109s and two unconfirmed enemy planes per Polish Air Force Association in its book 'Destiny Can Wait, p58-59'.
- On their next flight on September 2, 1940, downed four more German aircraft.
- There were seven confirmed kills on both September 5 and 6, 1940. Six planes of the 303rd were shot down during the two-day span, but only one pilot was injured which was the British flight leader per Zamoyski in the book 'The Forgotten Few, p82'.
- On September 7, the 303rd was scrambled to intercept a flight of 40 Dornier DO 17 bombers. That day the 303rd scored 14 confirmed and four unconfirmed kills, and lost only two planes.
Scrutiny of the British
The scores of the 303rd were so impressive that RAF Fighter Command sent up British observers with the squadron. Among the doubters was Northolt’s station commander, Stanley Vincent, who wondered if the Poles might be guilty of inflating the numbers in their post-action reports. The observers, along with the British squadron commanders, found that scores were not being over reported since the Poles were so fiercely competitive with one another and so keenly aware of the scrutiny they were under by the British that they never reported a kill unless it was confirmed by at least one other pilot.
"Still skeptical, Vincent decided he would find out for himself. On September 11, he
was following the squadron in his own Hurricane when the Poles encountered a large enemy bomber formation over Horsham heading for London. Flying above the squadron, Vincent watched as two Hurricanes peeled off and dived almost vertically at the German bombers “with near suicidal impetus.” Startled by the ferocity of the attack, the German pilots broke formation, whereupon the Poles began picking off the scattered bombers one by one. Several times during the combat, the Poles would close almost to a collision point before opening fire on a target. The results were devastating for the Germans. “Suddenly,” Vincent declared, “the air was full of burning aircraft, parachutes, and pieces of disintegrating wings. It was all so rapid that it was staggering.” An experienced fighter pilot
himself, Vincent tried to get into the fight, but every time he started to close on an enemy bomber, a “diving Pole would cut in between, and I had to pull away to avoid being hit myself.” Remaining prudently on the sidelines, Vincent was finally persuaded. When he landed at Northolt that afternoon, he told his intelligence officer, “My God, they are doing it!”
With observers in tow, the 303rd again notched up 14 confirmed kills, an RAF squadron record for a single day.
Tactics of the Polish pilots
- Polish air victories were more evenly spread throughout the squadron members, which illustrates their teamwork and superior tactics.
- Training and prior combat experience gained in inferior aircraft over both Poland and France, when they had learned valuable lessons about Luftwaffe tactics and aircraft weaknesses.
- Extraordinary skill and dedication of its Polish ground crew members. From the first days of the campaign in Poland, the mechanics of the Polish Air Force were noted for the fiercely protective care they lavished on their aircraft.
Records of the 303 Kosciuszko Polish Fighter Squadron
Scored nearly three times the number of kills as the average British fighter squadron, with one third of the casualty rate (5 percent of pilots were responsible for 12 percent of the total scores of the Battle). The 303 squadron had the best kills to losses ratio among all the units, which took part in the battle.
The astounding final count numbers after the war was the claimed 110 confirmed kills, nine probable and six damaged considering that the 303rd entered about halfway through the war which is also confirmed in the UK RAF museum website. No. 303 Squadron was one of the top fighter units in the battle and and the best Hurricane-equipped squadron although the number of Battle of Britain claims was overestimated (as with all fighter units).
Credited with 15 percent of German kills.
An RAF squadron record for a single day of 14 confirmed kills.
Czech Sergeant Josef Frantisek the only non-Pole in the Kościuszko (303) Squadron, was the RAF’s highest scoring ace in the Battle of Britain with 17 victories which made him the Fighter Command's top scoring Battle of Britain pilot during his service period of 28 days.
Witold Urbanowicz a top Polish ace who claimed 15 confirmed kills and 1 probable was a member of Squadron 303.
Numbers for other notable Battle of Britain RAF squadrons
- 603 Squadron (City of Edinburgh) shot down 57.5 enemy aircraft which is more than double the average of other squadrons operating the Spitfire and also credited with shooting down more of the Luftwaffe's top fighters than any other squadron since 47 of 603 Squadron's confirmed kills were the Messerschmitt 109. Brian Carbury who scored 15 kills (along with Eric Lock) against Bf 109s and shot down 5 aircraft in one day to become an Ace in a Day was a member of this squadron.
- 609 Squadron RAF became the first to achieve 100 confirmed enemy aircraft kills on 21 October 1940.
- 41 Squadron claimed over 100 victories from July to Dec, 1940 which included six enemy aircraft destroyed and one probable in June 1940 and 10 enemy aircraft destroyed, 4 probable and 3 damaged in July 1940. Eric Lock RAF's most successful British-born pilot in the Battle of Britain, shooting down 16 German aircraft and along with Brian Carbury credited with the highest number of Bf 109 kills during this period was a member of this squadron.
In conclusion, in only six weeks of combat, during the Battle of Britain’s most crucial period, the 303 squadron was credited with the claim of shooting down 126 enemy aircraft, more than twice as many as any other RAF squadron for that period using Hawker Harricanes per Jerzy B. Cynk in the book 'History of the Polish Air Force, 1918-68'. This number was obtained by Cynk through review of Luftwaffe records of 1947. The squadron lost only eight pilots, a kill-to-loss ratio rivaling that of the Flying Tigers of the American Volunteer Group in China. After Squadron Numbers 603 AuxAF (57.8 verified kills), 609 AuxAF (48 verified kills) and 41 (45.33 verified kills), which all flew Spitfires, 303 Kosciuszko Polish Fighter Squadron flying Hurricanes was the fourth highest scoring squadron of the battle of Britain with 44 victories positively verified per Jerzy B. Cynk. Despite its accomplishments in the war, none of 303’s pilots took part in the fly-past after the war and none marched in the parade since they were all Polish and Poles who had fought under British command were deliberately and specifically barred from the celebration by the British government, for fear of offending Joseph Stalin of Soviet Union.