Miroslaw Ignacy Wojciechowski 1917 - 1956

303 Squadron 1
303 Squadron 2
A New Home
and Finally


Links and References...

Three Top Reference Books

There are quite a few works dedicated to the role of the Poles in the Second World War. However, those that are published are not generally about the Polish Air Force. Increasingly, there are more and more researchers and there are, I am sure, sources as yet untapped.

The Polish Air Force at War (Volumes 1 and 2)

by Jerzy Cynk


Poles in Defence of Britain

by Robert Gretzyngier (with Wojtek Matusiak)

The Forgotten Few

by Adam Zamoyski


Two other books stand out on bookshelves, if you want to learn a little more about Poland, its history and the character of is people. Both are by Norman Davies and if you read no other books about Poland, read these.

God's Playground

A History of Poland

by Norman Davies

Rising '44

The Battle for Warsaw

by Norman Davies

The bibliography and web links below are not exhaustive, but they are a good introduction to the extraordinary period of the Second World War. I can recommend them to anyone interested in the period, in the air war, in Poland in general or and in the Poles and their part in the victory gained for the West, if not for them.

Historical footnote [a personal view]-

There is a strange ebb and flow to historical, political and popular commentary on Poland and its people. One moment the Poles are a brave, romantic band, fighting extraordinary odds with little or no hope of final vindication. Abandoned by their so called friends and allies on so many occasions, yet still they kept faith with their idea of home and freedom. The very next moment, they are an aggressive fascist people, a  xenophobic group of conservative ultra nationalists, whose deliberate catholicity fails to hide a nasty anti-Semitism that runs deeply through the country and culture.

Reading through entries in popular web logs, chat rooms or on line discussion groups (have a look at the groups surrounding Olson & Cloud's book "For Your Freedom and Ours") the venom demonstrated in expressions of opposing views is surprising and sometimes shocking.

Perhaps the truth is a little more prosaic. 

A Polish identity has been shared over hundreds of years by Poles, Germans, Ruthenes, Lithuanians, Jews and many other national, racial and cultural groups. The modern Polish Diaspora reflects this historical melting pot.

The great partitions of Poland during  the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries failed to extinguish this identity. By the 20th century, the death throes of the old empires [Austro-Hungary, Prussia and Russia] left Poland ravaged like no other country in the Great War. Poland lost a greater percentage of its population than any other country. The savage losses in German, French and British & Commonwealth troops between 1914 and 1918 were more than matched by the terrible military and civilian casualties in Poland. In addition, as a result of a more mobile war in the East, not bogged down in the 20 mile corridor of trench warfare, the  destruction wreaked on its cities, towns and villages was  unparalleled in the rest of Europe. But, into the gap left by an exhausted Prussia, an Austro-Hungary that had entirely disappeared and a Russia distracted by its own revolution, Poles emerged to take back their country.

The Great Powers, though victorious, were worn out by the long war and were poorly served by the lack of vision of their political leadership; behind them was a legacy of unfinished business in central Europe. It's possible that the Poles and Germans in Pomerania and East Prussia would have accommodated each other's differences, if left to their own devices. My own family seemed to be able to do just that. 

Still, there is no doubt that Byelorussian, Lithuanian and Ukrainian lands and peoples were incorporated forcefully into the new Poland. 

Between 1920 and 1939, Poland almost recovered its pre-war productive capacity. The inter war years, particularly after the Wall Street crash, posed political and social questions in all the developed countries of the northern hemisphere that were answered almost universally by state control in planning of economies. In Western and Central Europe, the combination of unfinished political business and the desire for centralised economic control led to polarisation between essentially nationalist and communist political ideals: governments more generally abandoned the free market.  From the rural electrification programmes of the New Deal in the USA, via the autobahn building schemes of the National Socialists in Germany, to the massive expansion of the heaviest industries during 5 Year Plans in the Soviet Union, economic state-ism developed more authoritarian political regimes.

In Poland, Pilsudski's classic confrontation with President Wojciechowski on a bridge over the Vistula in Warsaw, heralded change: with little of the hard line civil violence that affected France, Germany and Italy during this period, a military junta took control of the country. There were no  persecutions of minorities. Debate continued in the country estates of the wealthy and on the streets of the Praga. The increasing threats from East and West worked to unite Poland further. Poland's two largest minorities, Germans and Jews,  represented almost one third of the total population. There was little trouble in either quarter until German activists provoked unrest centred on Gdansk [Danzig] and East Prussia.

In 1939, Poland was ruthlessly crushed, but not without forcing a considerably greater cost than either Germany or the Soviet Union expected. Still, no one came to their aid. Nor was anyone going to come; nowhere in the historical records of the mobilisation and deployment of any Western European army, including the British Expeditionary Force, are there records of any plans for the liberation of Poland. Six months after the subjugation of Poland, western allies hadn't even pushed up to Germany, but sat instead inside French borders. Had the Germans been satisfied with their acquisitions of Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland, one wonders whether France and Great Britain would have made any aggressive moves to help those countries recover their autonomy.

If the creation of the Polish state in 1920 marked the first remarkable chapter in its 20th century history, the next years became the second. Between 1939 and 1945, the Poles suffered horribly. It's impossible to list every disaster that befell the country. Between September 1939 and August 1940, the Soviet Union persecuted the population in Eastern Poland and removed almost all heavy and light industry back to Russia as 'war reparations'. At the same time, the Germans were systematically exploiting and looting areas under their control. After the invasion of the Soviet Union, the General Government (as Poland had been renamed) became the killing zone of the Third Reich. Camps that had initially been set up to exploit the labour of the untermenschen were turned into extermination camps. By war's end, 20% of Poland's population had perished, including almost every Jew. The risings in 1943 in the Warsaw Ghetto and and later rising in 1944 as the Soviet Red Army sat on the other side of the river and watched resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Poles.

The bravery of Varsovians and the inability or unwillingness of the Allies to offer any serious assistance during the Rising of 1944 must rank as one of the most poignant and tragic events of the whole war. At the same time as Le Clerc and De Gaulle wandered unchallenged into the open city of Paris to claim their place in history as liberators, Warsaw was being dismantled brick by brick, its population herded off to the West into captivity and death. 

Indeed, there is an awful symmetry in the wartime histories of France and Poland. Each was overrun by a rampant Wermacht, but the Polish campaign lasted longer and cost the Germans far more in men and material. The Polish resistance was active at all times during the war and its effectiveness, particularly during the Warsaw campaigns, compares more than favourably with the divided and largely ineffective French resistance. But in European history, it is the story of the French that remains.

Indeed, it is said that at a party attended by Diana Cooper to celebrate VE day in London, a senior British diplomat surveyed the joyous crowds and said "This is what we went to war for"; Cooper responded "I rather thought we'd gone to war for Poland". 

By war's end, Poland was in ruins and occupied by yet another dictatorship. Once again, victorious allies felt unable to do anything to help the Poles. The Soviets expelled all ethnic Germans from Poland; most from East Prussia had already fled, but those in German lands to the west of Poland's pre-war borders were also ruthlessly pushed westwards. The Soviets and the Polish communist government (those democratic members of the Polish Government in Exile that had flown to Poland at the invitation of Stalin had all been imprisoned and murdered) ceded Eastern lands to the Ukraine and appropriated Western lands from Germany.

The war didn't end in Poland until well into 1948, when the final remnants of units made up of resistance fighters, Anders Soviet prisoner Army and others were mopped up in mountain retreats and marshy fastnesses.

Moved bodily westwards, Poland began the second half of the 20th century with only one significant advantage. A cruel series of ironies had left it almost 99.99% culturally and ethnically Polish and catholic. Jewish Poles had been all but exterminated by the Germans and German Poles had been almost entirely excluded by the Soviets.

By the time the Soviet Union collapsed, Poland would be one of only a few central European countries that could move into the post cold war era truly united. The Ukraine, the smaller Soviet satellite states of the Baltic, the Asiatic states of the Soviet Union and the complex of ethnic minorities that made up the former Yugoslavia, all these countries faced tremendous problems of division and difficulty.

But the latest changes are not without problems. A resurgent church places strains on a previously secular (if only nominally secular) state. It now appears that senior churchmen were involved in spying for the Communist regime; fiercely fundamentalist catholic organisations and radio stations talk insistently in nationalist and illiberal terms.

It remains to be seen whether Poland will settle to become a stable and tolerant western democracy. Despite excesses shown at a number of key points in its recent history, it's as well to remember that Poland did not spawn any Moseleys, it did suffer grievously under German and Soviet regimes, it did fight back in ways no other invaded country (Great Britain excepted) did and it remains a free and united democratic country.

A final personal story.

In 1986, I went to Poland with my mother and sister, to visit my father's last close relative, his sister Marisia. She was an elderly lady; unlike her  brother and sisters, she spoke only Polish. She had last seen her brother on 1st September 1939. My young friend translated her first words to me - "You don't look like him". The disappointment was in her voice. I could only imagine how she had built up her hopes, her expectations; her Mirek was coming home. But he couldn't, could he? 

Later, at a dinner given in our honour, with portions of food saved for months before our arrival and after many rounds of "Stollat" [May you live a hundred years] and vodka, my aunt asked me if I felt English or Polish.

It was something I had not considered before. After all, you are what you are. But I understood the importance of the question. My English mother, who had brought me up single handedly, looked at me slightly quizzically. My Polish aunt and uncle waited expectantly.

"In my head I am English", I said, "but in my heart I am Polish".

If I didn't really understand it then, I do now.


Other Books and Sources Comments
History of the Second World War - Basil Liddell Hart One of three definitive histories. Liddell Hart's work benefits from his being centre stage at many of the great moments
History of the Second World War - John Keegan The second of the great histories. Keegan is accurate, precise and always interesting
Blood, Tears and Folly - Len Deighton A different narrative for the Second World War. Do not be misled by Deighton's well crafted words - this is also well researched
Fighter - Len Deighton Another Deighton highlight - a great technical read as well as containing well drawn studies of key Battle of Britain people
Goodbye Mickey Mouse - Len Deighton If you want to know how it might feel to drive a high performance single seat fighter, read this...
The War 1939 - 1945 - Flower and Reeves Out of print, I think, but a wonderful collection of recollections from all fronts (Home and War, British and German, American and Japanese)...
303 Squadron - Arkady Fiedler The original 'propaganda' piece, but pretty accurate nonetheless and so redolent of the period, you can smell the Polish sausage and kerosene
The Hardest Day - Alfred Price A detailed tactical and technical look at the 18th August 1940
Spitfire - Alfred Price A great semi technical manual
Battle of Britain Day - Alfred Price A detailed tactical and technical look at the 15th September 1940
Men of the Battle of Britain - Kenneth Wynn Probably the standard reference work on the men who flew in the Battle of Britain
On Wings of War - Jan Zumbach This man lived to fly... almost the mad Pole of the movies
Monte Cassino  - Mathew Parker The "hardest fought battle" of the second world war (on the Western Front, certainly) and a superb account of the Poles in action
Cassino - Portrait of a Battle - Fred Majdalany An infantry officer's brilliant account of this bitter battle
Public Record Office AIR4/145 The Pilot's Flying Log Book of Sgt Miroslaw Wojciechowski. Over 3,000 flying hours on many types from 25th July 1940 to 10th October 1956 (5 volumes)
Public Record Office AIR27 Operations Record Book for RAF Squadrons
Public Record Office AIR50 Squadron Combat Reports for RAF Squadrons
The Struggles for Poland - Neal Ascherson A short and essentially modern history of Poland
The Origins of the Second World War - A.J.P. Taylor The prelude to war told by one of our great social and political historians
The Second World War - A.J.P. Taylor The third great history of the period
The Last Enemy - Richard Hillary One man and his machine... a quintessentially English fighter pilot


Web Links Comments
Battle of Britain Press Good all round site - profiles of pilots and extracts from Combat Reports - the chronology of the Battle
Battle of Britain Historical Society On line version of "Scramble" the Battle of Britain Historical Society's publication. Excellent and informative
British Forces This site has some great detail - Squadron postings, aircraft, histories
Battle of Britain Another site with good historical Squadron information and some pilot profiles
Polish Aviation History Excellent site - good links and good histories
Public Record Office Britain's national archive - on line catalogue which is excellent
AvStop Magazine 303 Squadron History  An elegant history of 303 Squadron during their days at Northolt from August to November 1940
Jan Safarik Aces Web Site  An Air Aces web site created by Jan Safarik
Spifire Mk XIX PM627  Supermarine Spitfire S31 PR Mark XIX no PM627, flown by Mirek out of Berlin in 1951, now restored and located in the Swedish Air Force Museum
Info Poland  A Polish-American web resource with excellent links
Polish Air Aces  A superb listing of Polish air Aces
Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. Home page of the RAF BOB Memorial Flight - also home of Spitfire PR Mark XIX no PS915 flown by Mirek out of Berlin. This aircraft has been restored to full airworthy condition and can be seen at Coningsby.
Polish Facts and Figures in World War II. An interesting, if a little nationalistic, resource to understand Poland up to and including WW II
303 Losses An extraordinary list of 303 Squadron losses compiled by Les Olszewski and Wilhelm Ratuszynski
The Nazi Occupation of Poland  A short summary of the Occupation of Poland with some moving eye witness accounts.
Polish Air Force in World War II An interesting site, made more so by its chronicle of the September 1939 campaign
Polish Contribution to Victory in The Second World War A site from the Federation of Poles in Great Britain
Witold Urbanowicz I  One of two sites covering the career of Witold Urbanowitz, early commander of 303 Squadron
Witold Urbanowicz II  The other site!
Josef Frantisek  A site dedicated to Josef Frantisek, a Czech pilot flying with 303 Squadron
Poles in Scotland  A great site from Craig Statham giving some insights into the Poles in Scotland
WW II Air Aces  WW II Air Aces site - profiles of great fighter pilots - including Josef Frantisek
303 Squadron 1
303 Squadron 2
A New Home
and Finally