RAF 315 Squadron in Northern Ireland

RAF 315 Squadron was a Polish fighter squadron that operated in offensive and defensive roles throughout World War Two including time in Northern Ireland.

RAF 315 (Polish) Squadron was one of 16 Polish squadrons in the Royal Air Force during World War Two. In Polish, they were Dywizjon Myśliwski "Dębliński". This nickname was in honour of the city of Deblin, where the Polish Air Force Academy was before the war.

On 21st January 1941, the Royal Air Force activated RAF 315 Squadron at RAF Acklington, Northumberland. The formation of this fighter squadron came through an agreement between the exiled Polish government and the United Kingdom. They first operated from RAF Speke, Liverpool under the command of Squadron leader HD Cooke.

The fighting Poles would remain active throughout the Second World War until 14th January 1947. Among the planes flown by RAF 303 Squadron were Hawker Hurricanes, Supermarine Spitfires, and North American Mustangs.

Spitfires of RAF 315 Squadron over RAF Ballyhalbert, CO. Down

Polish Air Squadrons Remembered Photo: Supermarine Spitfires of RAF 315 Squadron at RAF Ballyhalbert, Co. Down escort the plane of General Sosnkowski in August 1943. In the foreground is BM537 PK-T flown by Flying Officer Edward Jaworski with BL993 PK-X in the background. Photo used with kind permission of Wilhelm Ratuszynski.

Polish Airmen at War

In July 1941, RAF 315 Squadron began flying Supermarine Spitfires from RAF Northolt, near London, claiming their first enemy planes over occupied France.

All I know is that fighting beside the Royal Air Force all through the war has been a gallant band of Polish airmen – the Polish Air Force. The crucible of war has fused those two forces – the Royal Air Force and the Polish Air Force – together. We have been comrades in arms and we shall remain comrades in peace.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Sholto Douglas. October 1945 visit to Warsaw.

Polish airmen at Ballyhalbert

An accommodation block at RAF Ballyhalbert, near Newtownards, Co. Down during the time when Polish airmen were based on the site with RAF 303 and RAF 315 Squadrons. Photo from Forgotten Airfields. Copyright unknown.

RAF 315 Squadron at Ballyhalbert

On 6th July 1943, RAF 315 Squadron arrived at RAF Ballyhalbert, Co. Down under the command of Squadron Leader Jerzy Popławski. While there, they carried out operational training and flew convoy patrols.

On 14th August 1942, Polish Commander in Chief General Kazimierz Sosnkowski visited Ballyhalbert, Co. Down. On this Squadron Day, he presented medals to some of the airmen and Mass was said in one of the hangars. He met Polish pilots, watched a flying display, and presented the Cross of Virtuti Militari to Squadron Leader Sawicz, Flying Officer Blok, Squadron Leader Popawski, and Flying Officer Malczewski.

On 11th September 1943, three Supermarine Spitfires took off from the Ballyhalbert airfield in the hands of men from RAF 315 Squadron. The Polish airmen were Flight Sergeant Kolek, Flight Sergeant Zygmund, and Warrant Officer Grondowski. The three planes were on a practise formation flight.

They lost sight of each other in bad weather over Co. Antrim and all three Spitfires came down. Grondowski came down near Plantation House, Lisburn, Co. Antrim, Kolek crashed near Ballyutoag, Templepatrick, Co. Antrim, and Zygmund survived his crash at Glengormley, Co. Antrim. Warrant Officer Grondowski and Sergeant Kolek’s graves are in Ballycran Beg Churchyard, near Ballyhalbert, Co. Down.

General Sosnkowski at R.A.F. Ballyhalbert, Co. Down

Polish Air Squadrons Remembered Photo: General Sosnkowski in conversation with pilots of R.A.F. 315 Squadron who have just staged a flypast at R.A.F. Ballyhalbert, Co. Down. This was a highlight of the Squadron Day celebrations on 14th August 1943. Talking to him is Flight Lieutenant Zajac and Squadron Leader Jerszy Poplawski. In the background is Supermarine Spitfire PK-O BM144. Photo used with kind permission of Wilhelm Ratuszynski.

The War's End

After leaving Northern Ireland on 13th November 1943, the Polish airmen would see action on D-Day, as well as across Europe until the war’s end. Despite their heroic achievements, RAF 315 Squadron was not part of the London Victory Parade in 1946. Morale decreased in all the Polish Squadrons due to the treatment of Poland by other Allied nations.

Today, the people of Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom show much more appreciation to the Polish fighter pilots. The men of RAF 315 Squadron were not the only Poles based in Northern Ireland. Throughout the war, 15 Polish men died in Ulster and their graves lie scattered across the province. In June 2018, Ards and North Down Borough Council put forward a proposal for a memorial to the Polish airmen based in Northern Ireland. Unveiled on 18th November 2018, it stands in the War Memorial Garden at Court Square, Newtownards, Co. Down.

Thank you to Wilhelm Ratuszynski for permission to use these photos. Please visit Polish Squadrons Remembered for more from the visit of General Sosnkowski to Ballyhalbert.