During the Second World War, many Pilots and aircrew who served in the Polish Air Force in 1939 made their way to the United Kingdom. Their aerial combat skill proved invaluable to the Royal Air Force particularly during the hard-fought Battle of Britain. The R.A.F. formed several Squadrons of Polish Pilots within Fighter Command and many other Poles served throughout other Squadrons. fought Battle of Britain. Two Polish squadrons, 303 and 315 briefly spent time in Northern Ireland.
During the Second World War, in particular after the Nazi occupation of Poland, many Poles fled their country to escape persecution and to fight with Allied troops in the military and air force. The Polish Pilots were excellent aerial combatants and by 1940, the Polish Air Force had become the fifth-largest Allied Air Force.
After the occupation of their home country, many Poles joined the ranks of the Royal Air Force. In 1943, 2 Squadrons of Polish Pilots found themselves at Ballyhalbert Airfield, Co. Down. Many Polish Pilots and aircrew would lose their lives between 1940 and 1945 and there are several graves and memorials across both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to remember the fallen.
The Polish Squadrons in Northern Ireland
During 1943, both R.A.F. 303 Squadron and R.A.F. 315 Squadron briefly called Ballyhalbert Airfield, Co. Down their home base. Locals in the area fondly remembered the Poles in the years following the Second World War.
On 14th August 1943 General Kazimierz Sosnkowski, Inspector General of the Polish Armed Forces from 1943-1944 visited the airfield at R.A.F. Ballyhalbert, Co. Down to inspect R.A.F. 315 Squadron.
The people of Co. Down later recalled the politeness and manners as well as the grit and determination the Polish Air Force showed in the battle against Hitler. After the Second World War, many Poles remained in Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom as it was a better option for them than returning to their former homes now under the rule of Communist Joseph Stalin.
Aviation accidents in Northern Ireland
Pilots from the Polish Air Force were involved in several incidents around the airfields of Ulster. Many young Poles died on Northern Irish soil as they prepared to go to war.