The Polish Air Force can trace its origins to the months following the end of World War I in 1918. During the invasion of Poland Nazi Germany in 1939, 70% of planes and aircraft were destroyed, but most pilots, after the Soviet invasion of Poland on September 17 escaped to Hungary and Romania and continued fighting throughout World War II in air squadrons first in France then in Britain and later also the Soviet Union. Squadron Leader Eugeniusz Horbaczewski, “Dziubek” Commander of 315 Squadron , with his North American Mustang Mk. III. Squadron Leader Horbaczewski was credited with destroying 16.5 enemy aircraft before being killed in action on 18th August 1944, age 26.
During the Second World War, the Royal Air Force welcomed into its ranks thousands of exiles from German-occupied Poland. Polish personnel served in all RAF commands and in all theatres, and earned a reputation for exceptional courage and devotion to duty. Tragically, though the Poles fought so hard to liberate Europe from tyranny, it would be many years before their own country would again be free.
This exhibition tells the proud story of the Polish Air Force in the Second World War and uses images of artefacts from the collections of the Royal Air Force Museum.
With the outbreak of war, on 1st September 1939, the Polish Air Force’s 300 obsolete aircraft were opposed by the German Luftwaffe equipped with over 1,300 modern fighters and bombers. Despite this, the highly-trained Polish pilots fought well, and in the brief campaign shot down 126 enemy aircraft. Following the Soviet invasion and German victory, most of the Polish airmen escaped to France to continue the war.
During the Battle of France, Poles serving in the French Air Force destroyed 56 German aircraft but, in June 1940, France too, was defeated. Some 8,400 Polish airmen were evacuated to the United Kingdom, which they now called Wyspa Ostatniej Nadziei or “The Island of Last Hope.” In November 1948, a memorial dedicated to the 2,408 Polish airmen killed during the war was unveiled at RAF Northolt.