There is a mis-conception that the Polish Air Force was destroyed on the ground during the first two days of the outbreak of war in September 1939. In fact, following mobilisation in late August 1939, Polish squadrons were deployed to reserve airfields and fought hard until 17th. September when the Red Army invaded Poland from the East.
Finding themselves facing overwhelming odds on two fronts, an order for evacuation was given and a large proportion of both air and ground crews found themselves interned in Romania and Hungary. However, with the help of Polish Embassies and Consulates who issued false papers, the majority of these internees were able to escape to France and subsequently England, where the first Polish airmen arrived in December 1939.
The British government were, at first, reluctant to use the Poles for operational purposes, but as the situation in France deteriorated, the Air Ministry agreed to form two Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve Bomber squadrons made up of Polish airmen.
This did not satisfy the exiled Polish Government, who argued for the Air Ministry to form Polish fighter squadrons, an idea to which Sir Hugh Dowding, the Air Officer Commanding Fighter Command was strongly opposed. This reluctance stemmed from the unfounded belief that their morale must be low, having been defeated in both the Polish and French campaigns. It was also thought that the language difficulties, caused by airmen who spoke little or no English, would cause problems in an air defence organisation which relied on radio communication.
However, due to the continuing situation in France, the increasing casualty list and the lack of new pilots, the RAF was forced to accept foreign pilots into service. As a result, four bomber and two fighter squadrons were formed and served as an independent Polish Air Force under British command. Following the collapse of France, individual Polish airmen were also posted to RAF squadrons and given Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve rank.
The Poles proved to be fanatical fighters, exiled from their country which was occupied by the enemy, with daily reports of atrocities reaching them and with no knowledge of the fate of their families and loved ones, they channelled their hate into their aircraft. In consequence Polish squadrons and pilots went on to distinguish themselves in the forthcoming Battle of Britain scoring a total of 201.5 confirmed victories, 125 of these being gained by number 303 (Kosciuszko) Squadron, the highest scoring squadron within the whole of Fighter Command.
In total 144 Polish pilots took part in the battle of Britain, 29 of whom lost their lives, many more were severely wounded.
It was not only Polish men who served in this country. Polish women also did their bit as members of the Women's Auxilliary Air Force and as pilots of the Air Transport Auxilliary
The Poles so distinguished themselves during the battle that all reservations held about their suitability were forgotten, and the Polish Air Force was expanded, to such an extent that by the end of 1943 a total of 14 squadrons, 10 of them fighter, and a complete infrastructure were in existence.