By mid 1940, Britain’s RAF squadrons had been stretched to almost breaking point with the Luftwaffe’s seemingly non-stop attacks on its southern airfields, personnel, aircraft and infrastructure.
The Germans knew all too well that they only had a small window of opportunity to secure air superiority over Britain if their planned invasion was to have any chance of success.
Outnumbered and losing valuable aircraft and experienced pilots day after day, the RAF were forced to fast track the training and integration into the RAF of the many Polish, French and Czechoslovakian pilots who had miraculously escaped the German onslaught of their home countries and made their perilous journeys to Britain.
In fact, by the close of hostilities in Europe, foreign pilots made up over 20% of the RAF’s operational strength with over 19,200 serving in the 16 British-based Polish Airforce squadrons and across the RAF.
Unfortunately it took a considerable effort on behalf of the exiled Polish pilots to prove their worth in the air and be accepted into those RAF ranks.
The British, much like the French before them had accepted the German propaganda about the amateurish attempts of Poland to resist the German/Soviet invasion and had serious doubts about the flying skills of the Polish pilots.
Flight Lieutenant John A Kent, who was posted to No. 303 (Polish) Fighter Squadron during the Battle of Britain, summed it up in his memoirs: ‘All I knew about the Polish Air Force was that it had only lasted about three days against the Luftwaffe, and I had no reason to suppose that they would shine any more brightly operating from England’.
In June and August of 1940, two Anglo-Polish Agreements were signed, enabling the creation of an independent Polish Air Force with the first, two Polish fighter squadrons, Nos. 302 and 303 being established.
The RAF had the Polish pilots pedaling tricycles around the airfield in flying formation...
One of the first challenges was to get the Polish pilots trained on completely new types of aircraft. Polish aircraft all had fixed landing gear as opposed to the retractable landing gear of the RAF’S Spitfires, Hurricanes, Bolton Paul Defiant and bomber fleets. In the early stages, many pilots landed with wheels up.
Instrumentation and flight controls were also very different to what the Polish pilots had been used to. In British aircraft the throttle was pushed forward rather than backwards to increase speed, with measurement being in miles instead of kilometres and fuel in gallons rather than litres.
With the majority Polish pilots not speaking a word of English, language lessons also became a priority with initial communication between British and Polish officers having to be carried out in French. The RAF were also keen on the ‘newcomers’ learning British tactics and had pilots pedalling tricycles equipped with radio, speed indicators and compasses around airfields in flying formations.
For the combat experienced and eager to fight Polish pilots, pedalling bikes around an airfield was seen as a complete waste of time with one Pilot Officer Jan Zumback writing, The British wasting so much of our time with their childish exercises, when all of us had already won their wings’.
Fortunately, it soon became clear that the Poles were extremely skilled pilots when in July 1940 Polish Flying Officer Antoni Ostowicz and Flight Lieutenant Wilhelm Pankratz were posted to No. 145 Squadron RAF on 16 July. Three days later Flying Officer Ostowicz scored the first Polish kill in the Battle of Britain by shooting down a Heinkel bomber over Brighton. Unfortunately he was also the first Polish pilot to die in the battle, shot down by Messerschmitt Bf 109s south of Swanage on 11 August.
Polish Squadron - No. 302, was the first Polish squadron to be declared operational and entered battle on 15 August 1940. Formed around a core of Polish airmen who had escaped from Poland in 1939 and then France in 1940, the squadron was equipped with Hurricanes, and spent the first part of the Battle of Britain in Yorkshire before moving south to Northolt in mid-October.
For many of those Polish pilots, finally climbing into the cockpit of a Hawker Hurricane marked the end of often long and harrowing journeys across mainland Europe as they struggled to keep one step ahead of the advancing German army and make their way to England.
One of these pilots was Sgt Wilhelm Kosarz.
Originally born in Karvina, Czechoslovakia in 1908, Kosarz moved to Poland in 1926 and prior to the outbreak of war served with the 2nd Air Regiment in Krakow and flew in the famous aerobatic team led by Jerzy Bajan.
Poland's 'Gull-Wing' fighter...
During the German invasion of Poland in September 1, 1939, Kosarz flew a PZL P11 high mounted gull wing fighter from Okecie airfield in defence of Warsaw.
While the all metal framed and covered, open cockpit P11 was regarded as one of the most advanced aircraft of its type in the late 1920s - early 1930s, rapid advances and technological development in aircraft design quickly rendered the design obsolete with a new generation of aircraft featuring enclosed cockpits, high speed cantilever wings and more streamlined fuselages with retractable landing gear such as the British Supermarine Spitfire and the deadly German Messerschmitt BF 109.
On the eve of the German invasion, the Polish airforce had little more than 109 PZL with another 43 in repairs. Less than a third of these were armed with 4 x 7.92 mm machine guns mounted in the fuselage and wings. The remainder had the two mounted in the fuselage firing through the propeller. Even fewer were equiped with a radio.
Underpowered with their ancient Gnome-Rhone 9Krse 560hp radial engines driving a two-bladed wooden propeller, the P11’s found themselves up against the significantly faster and more heavily armed turbo-charged Messerschmitt BF 109s and twin engined fighter/bomber the Bf 110.
Having already undergone years of extensive use before the war, the PZL P11 were barely able to reach their theoretical 375 km/h - far below the speed of the Bf 109s 610 km/h or the Bf 110s 560 km/h. In fact, even the Luftwaffe's lumbering Heinkel He 111 was faster.
Remarkably, despite the Luftwaffe’s air superiority, the Polish airforce were able to shoot down over 285 German aircraft but lost almost 100 of their own.
Barely six days later the Poles were forced to surrender but determined to continue their fight against the Germans, Kosarz managed to escape by the skin of his teeth when, along with his fellow surviving pilots, the last remaining 36 P11’s were flown to Romania and taken over by the Romanian Airforce.
While Romania had been nominally ‘neutral’ leading up to the invasion of Poland, the exiled Polish pilots had no illusion that it would remain so and fearing it would align itself with Nazi Germany (something Romania was to do in early June 1940), they fled Romania making their way to France and Great Britain.
On the 6th August 1940 Kosarz was accepted into the RAF ranks and joined No 3 (Polish) Wing at 3 School of Technical Training in Blackpool before being posted to the new Polish 302 Squadron at Leconfield on 20th August 1940.
Having spent the latter half of the Battle of Britain defending London from the German bomber attacks, 302 Sqn were then moved to RAF Northolt where they patrolled the Sussex coastline as an interceptor group.
Barrage balloon collision...
By August the German raids had lessened considerably with the Luftwaffe realising that they had lost their chance to gain air superiority over Britain and instead of targeting RAF airfields and infrastructure, turned their attention to the industrial cities of Great Britain.
Sgt Wilhelm Kosarz flew a number of interceptor patrols along the South Coast and was to prove his superior flying skills when his Hurricane hit a barrage balloon cable in bad visibility on the 15th October which sheared off over 14 inches of his starboard wingtip. Regaining control of the spinning aircraft, he was able to land the stricken aircraft at Heston airdrome and return to his squadron unscathed.
P3538 was already a battle hardened veteran having shot down a Dornier 17 earlier in September when piloted by Polish Squadron Leader M. Mumler.
On the afternoon of the 8th of November 1940, Kosarz taxied out onto the runaway of RAF Notholt in Hurricane P3538, JW-X when 302 Squadron were scrambled to intercept a large wave of German bombers and fighter escorts approaching the South coast.
Ambushed by Messerschmitt Bf 109s...
Climbing to 20,000, Korsarz and his squadron joined up with 602 Sqn and began their patrol above Croydon but were jumped by a wave of Bf 109s which had been cruising another 5,000 ft higher.
Aircraft scattered across the sky diving and weaving in the mayhem of attack and evasion as each tried to fill their gunsights with the other. Unable to shake a Bf 109 off his tail, Kosarz’s Hurricane was raked by the pursuing Messerschmitt's 20mm nose cannon and its cockpit burst into flame.
Badly burnt and almost blinded by the thick smoke and heat, Kosarz somehow managed to pull the Hurricane’s canopy back and bail out but his parachute was already on fire and he plummeted to his death near Pennybridge Farm in Mayfield Sussex only metres from the wreckage of his aircraft.
Posthumously awarded the Polish KW and interned at Northwood Cemetery Middlesex 32 yr old, Sgt. Wilhelm Kosarz never got to see his beloved Poland again having paid the ultimate sacrifice in his fight for freedom proving once and for all the incredible fighting prowess of the Polish pilots who fought with the RAF. In fact, Polish pilots serving in all RAF squadrons achieving a remarkable score of some 203 German aircraft destroyed, with 35 probables and 36 damaged during the Battle of Britain making them a significant part of Churchill’s immortalised ‘Few’.
Recovery of Hawker Hurricane WX-J P3538…
Hawker Hurricane P3538 WX-J lay buried for over 40 years before an archaeological dig was organised to document the crash site. Little was left of the wooden framed and canvas covered aircraft apart from its Rolls-Royce Merlin II engine debris and fragments of metal cowling and machine guns.
Recovered from the wreckage, this Merlin II Engine Cam Shaft section was cut from the fragmented engine block.
Mounted on a 100yr old mango wood stand with engraved plaque, this original Merlin II Propeller Roller Race Bearing from a Battle of Britain Hurricane comes complete with a large, highly detailed, 1/48 scale hand crafted model of Sgt Koszar's Hawker Hurricane WX-J P3538 atop a magnetic arm plus a detailed printed and laminated Fact Sheet.
This original, one-of-a-kind Hawker Hurricane, Battle of Britain Recovery Curios Aviation Collectable would make an amazing gift for any aviation enthusiast keen on owning an authentic piece of one of the most decisive air struggles of WWII and wanting to remember and celebrate the life, times and ultimate sacrifice of the brave Polish pilot - Sgt. Wilhelm Kosarz.
This Hawker Hurricane Collectable comes complete with a highly detailed 1/48 Scale Model, Mango Wood Stand & Plaque plus Printed Fact Sheet featuring photo of Collectable in aircraft.
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