303 (Polish) Squadron: Battle of Britain Diary. By Richard King. ISBN: 978-1-906592-03-5
With great pleasure I read this book - Richard King achieved what in many publications issued since 1989 (when it was possible to issue books in Poland without the communist propaganda and censorship) was missing - a reliable relation based on available documentary materials and a deep analysis of contemporary conditions (political , emotional, military).
Polish authors, despite strenuous attempts, could not get rid of the emotional relationship of described staging (on the one hand and uncritical glorification and faith in the integrity of the relationship pilots, on the other hand they have in the memory of the betrayal of the Allies at Yalta and results from this indignation understandably on the criticism from foreign authors). Unfortunately, the many from foreign authors in their descriptions could not get rid of suspiciousness (perhaps envy) and simple dishonesty in relation to the achievements of Polish soldiers fighting in Western Europe.
Breakthrough in foreign publications was the release of "A Question of Honor - The Kosciuszko Squadron: Forgotten Heroes of World War II" by Lynne Olson and Stanley Cloud and the books of Norman Davis. These authors dared to analyze and understand our (Polish) history and mentality, which is the key to understanding the specificity of Poles and Polish military units fighting in WW II. Richard King joins this noble group - for his thoroughness in reviewing the successes and failures of 303rd Squadron, objective analysis, taking into account the honest appraisal of that time’s conditions and the sincerity of opinion on the environment in which Polish pilots came to fight deserves on huge appreciation.
303rd (Polish) Squadron: Battle of Britain Diary is a highly-detailed history of one squadron during the Battle of Britain. As well as hard facts, it is filled with exciting personal accounts and will therefore be valued by historians and general readers alike - a valuable and much-needed addition to the printed histories of one part of the summer of 1940.
Using the squadron logs and combat reports along with many personal diaries, King builds up a complete picture of the squadron's actions, on a daily basis, during the Battle of Britain - the account begins on 30 August 1940. To this he adds sufficient background to enable the reader to follow the wider battle. The book is liberally endowed with photographs of the pilots and their ground crews, and, most helpfully, the authors have also included a phonetic pronunciation guide to the names of the Polish pilots (this must surely be a first!). The book is completed with biographical sketches of many of the Polish pilots and a series of excellent and helpful appendices - including a pilot analysis, a list of Hurricanes flown, and a full summary of the squadron's combat claims between 30 August and 7 October.
Richard King was inspired to write this book after obtaining a copy of the 1943 book Squadron 303 by Arkady Fiedler and King includes a summary of each chapter of that book in his own work. His reasoning for this is that at the time of Fiedler's book, Poland was still under German rule and to give the true names of the squadron members might have led to reprisals amongst families still living in that country. So the names used by Fiedler were (apart from one notable exception) fictitious. King has been able to identify the pilots mentioned by Fiedler and so where individual actions are referred to in the 1943 book the true names of those individuals are at last revealed.
As a result of the German and Soviet invasions of Poland in September 1939, Polish Air Force combat and support facilities close to Romania were ordered to cross the border. Initially interned by the Romanians, a very efficient clandestine escape was implemented; and the Polish Air Force began to be reformed in France and the UK. French capitulation in June 1940 led to evacuation of all Poles in France. Polish fighter pilots who had fought in the French Campaign were congregated in two all-Polish squadrons. This influx of foreign, non-English-speaking personnel, presented the British with a major challenge, to say nothing about endemic British xenophobic distrust of central Europeans.
The situation was normalized by the Polish-British Agreement of August 1940, respecting the Polish Forces in the UK. However, it was not legalistic agreements that mitigated attitudes and prejudices but the outstanding performance of the two Polish fighter squadrons and their nearly eighty pilots, in particular the 303rd Kosciuszko Squadron.
King tells the story of their first air engagement on August 31, 1940, and the unbelievable air successes they achieved during the Battle. In six weeks, Kosciuszko Squadron was credited with 126 enemy planes destroyed for the loss of only six pilots. After the Battle was won, the RAF instituted administrative changes and formed eight Polish fighter squadrons by spring 1941 as Polish pilots transferred from RAF units to Polish squadrons.