It is also not known what Zenon did for the next couple of months as early in 1940, a British Commission came to France to recruit airmen to join the RAF. Zenon immediately volunteered and after a medical inspection he was accepted and flown to England where he arrived at RAF Manston airﬁeld on 28 February 1940. The aircraft was most probably an RAF Handley Page Harrow, a high wing twin-engined transport with fixed undercarriage and twin fins and rudders. RAF Manston was situated at the northeasterly tip of the county of Kent close to the coastal resort of Margate.
He at last made it to England and ofﬁcially enlisted in the RAF on 16 March 1940 but it would be afew years yet before he could call himself a qualiﬁed pilot.
Zenon Becomes a Qualified PAF Pilot - The Ground Training School
When Zenon became ofﬁcially part of the RAF from 16 March 1940 he was at RAF Eastchurch. This airﬁeld on the Isle of Sheppey off the southern shore at the mouth of the River Thames, dates back to 1909. Here much of the very early days of civil ﬂying in England took place and soon after this date it became a military airﬁeld. Up to September 1939 it was in constant use by the RAF, but in December that year it became the destination for the arrival of exhausted and bewildered Polish ground crew. Here the Poles recuperated while being selected for equivalent RAF trades. Many required short conversion courses while others had to be completely retrained. Zenon was categorised as an Aircraft-hand Second Class/General Duties, known, as an ACH2/GD. This was the ﬁrst and lowest rank given to those unqualiﬁed in a trade or lacked a skill when ﬁrst joining the RAF.
This was understandable in Zenon’s case as he was still a cadet in training when in Poland with no doubt very few flying hours. Probably his greatest need at that time was to be trained in the RAF ways and rules before his future could be decided. in the month he arrived it is said there were about 1300 Poles at Eastchurch.
With the German rapid advance into France the RAF decided to move this establishment to Blackpool in Lancashire on the northwest coast of England, where it was deemed to be less likely to attack by the Luftwaffe. Here as part of No 3 Wing, Zenon remained from 29 May 1940 to the 1 July that year at what was classed as at Ground Training School that was initially an assembly and clearing centre for all new Polish airmen arriving in England. It is not known whether he became proﬁcient at a given trade during this period or was mainly concerned with familarising himself with RAF discipline while awaiting what he hoped would be further pilot training. Whatever it was he was no doubt extremely disappointed not to be able to continue with this training immediately, though there is no mention that he showed this.
This airﬁeld northeast of Coventry in Warwickshire was ﬁrst opened on 4 June 1940 as part of RAF 6 Group and the day Zenon was posted there on 1 July that year the ﬁrst of 4 Polish Bomber Squadrons was formed known as No 300 (“Masovian”). On 22 July No 301(“Pomeranian”) was formed and later, No 304 (“Silesian”) and No 305 ("Ziemia Wielkopolska") came into being.
When 301 Squadron was formed ﬂying single engine Fairey Battle light bombers, Zenon became part of its ground crew. Unfortunately his duties are not given in his records although there is one indication that he may have become an acting air gunner. The Battle's crew had a pilot, bomb aimer and rear gunner so he may well have acted as a gunner during the Squadron's ﬂying training as before and at that early stage of the war many RAF ground crew acted in this dual role. However there is no evidence to suggest he acted in this capacity on active operations.
Zenon remained with 301 Squadron when it moved on 28/29 August 1940, along with 300 Squadron, to RAF Swinderby, midway between Lincoln and Newark in Lincolnshire, as part of RAF 1 Group.
Both were all Polish Squadrons and 301 was Commanded by Colonel Roman Rudkowski.
Again Zenon’s duties are not deﬁned on any of his records but he was on the airfield when both Squadrons made their ﬁrst Polish operational bomber raid from Britain against Boulogne harbour on 14 September 1940. This must have felt good to Zenon to be able to help in this attack just one year from the time he had to leave his homeland. He may also have been party to the plan to ﬁt wailing Training School when he arrived in Canada, rather than completing the EFTS course as did those who were judged suitable at the end of their grading.
At the end of EFTS all students were recommended to become either fighter or bomber pilots.
Fighter pilots would go forward to ﬂy single engined aircraft while bomber pilots ﬂew twins. Zenon was obviously recommended to ﬂy single engined aircraft.
The fact that Zenon went to 15 EFTS can in hindsight be considered rather ironic. No 15 EFTS was originally formed as a Reserve Flying School at Redhill Airﬁeld in Surrey in July 1937. At the outbreak of war it became an EFTS and was moved with its Magisters to Kingstown to a safer area for training. In December 1943, RAF Redhill became the parent airﬁeld for the administration of the Advanced Landing Ground at Home, less than 7 km away, where Zenon would be based in April and May 1944
No 28 EFTS Wolverhampton
Zenon left Kingstown on 17 January 1942 and arrived the same day at Wolverhampton in the West Midlands until the 2 March 1942. The reason why he was posted to another EFTS is not clear although one of his service records suggests that he was part of a Pupils Pilots Pool, presumably to await his next stage of his training overseas.
Aircrew Dispatch Centre
From Wolverhampton he spent a further 10 days at this Centre in nearby Heaton Park at Manchester before setting off on 13 March 1942 from presumably Liverpool Docks for his training in Canada. 315' PD Moncton New Brunswick (The PD was thought to stand for Pilot Depot .)
Zenon arrived here on 27 March and therefore took 14 days to cross the North Atlantic that suggests his ship was part of a slow moving convoy that zig-zagged its way over. Zenon never recorded what the trip was like as storms at that time of the year could be treacherous and enemy U Boats had learned how to hunt in packs by 1942 and many allied ships were sent to the bottom.
Many airmen that had been selected for aircrew were regularly taken across by the massive 85,000 ton Queen Elizabeth Cunard liner that was impressed into carrying some 24,000 service personnel on each trip from the time she was launched in 1940. She was so fast that she had no need of protection and sailed by herself rather than in convoy. Others had to make the journey in whatever space was available in any ship that was allocated. Some of course were lost through U-Boat sinkings and many aircrew lost their lives, like the Danish ship Amerika (shown right) that had sailed from Halifax in 1943 with 53 trained aircrew aboard on its way back to England. It was torpedoed and only sixteen airmen survived.
Zenon remained at Moncton for 4 days before taking the long train ride across most of Canada to the SFTS where he arrived some 5 days later on 4 April 1942.
No 39 Service Flying Training School, Swift Current, Saskatchewan Canada
This SFTS opened in December 1941 and was part of a massive training programme under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan that came into being in June 1940. This plan allowed training to be undertaken away from the UK where its airﬁelds and skilled instructors were wanted for operational duties and enemy activity could not interfere with training schedules.
The airﬁeld was set within the start of the rolling foothills of the Rockies and Zenon had obviously arrived at the right time of the year because the harsh Canadian winter was almost over as he was thought to have arrived on 13 March 1942. The main part of his training programme would therefore have run into the normally hot summer experienced there. He was obviously there when the following report appeared in the Swift Current Sun newspaper for April 7 1942:- Interesting Group of Airman Arrive
A group of nearly three score men, a veritable League of Nations, arrived here Friday for No.39 SFTS, of the RAF. (shown right) Among them were Czechs, Poles, Belgians, Norwegians, Free French and British. Some of the Free French in their natty blue and gold uniforms were at the Hospital Aid Dance in Elks hall last night. Among the men who came here are a lot who have had war experiences of interest, some wearing decorations. When they stopped at Moncton N.B., en route, a Free French ofﬁcer told the Sun, they were told: “Going to be stationed at Swift Current? Your lucky, that’s supposed to be a very friendly place.” They had an uneventful crossing in a convoy and say: “Others will be following us”.
Graduates from EFTS had learned to taxi, take off, climb, ﬂy straight and level, descend and land without difficulty. They had also been taught aerobatics, spins and recovery, as well as low-level ﬂying, instrument flying, night flying and cross-country navigation. SFTSs were created to transfer these skills to more powerful and sophisticated aircraft and Zenon with other students, ﬂew the American designed North American Harvard trainer to gain this experience.
This two-seater aircraft, although possessing one or two undesirable flying characteristics, was recognised to be a ﬁne training aircraft with features akin to the larger and faster Spitﬁre and Hurricane ﬁghters that students would later ﬂy. These features included a retractable undercarriage, ﬂaps and engine controls. It had a 600 hp Pratt and Whitney Wasp engine and had a most distinctive note on take off due to the high tip speed of the direct drive propeller, commonly known as the airscrew.
Zenon flew this type of aircraft throughout his time at this School over a period of 5 months according to the demand for ﬁghter pilots at that time and the weather. He would have probably amassed a total of over 100 hours ﬂying by the time he graduated and received his wings. Much of the ﬂying at the SFTS would be solo and he would have been sent on long cross-country trips to test his ability to navigate on his own.
The countryside for hundreds of miles around Swift Current was comparatively featureless with very few roads, tracks or railway lines for guidance. The few main features of this vast open farmland included tall wooden grain elevators (shown left) and most had the name of their location painted on them in large letters. Many a lone flier relying on his own navigation found he was way out from where he should have been when he arrived overhead and read the name.
Zenon's service record shows that he ofﬁcially became a pilot in the RAF/PAF on 14 August 1942, presumably the day he was presented with his wings at Swift Current, at the age of 21 years. By the 18 August 1942 he had returned to 315‘ PD at Moncton in readiness to return to the UK
The Polish Depot Blackpool
He arrived at No 3 Personnel Reception Centre in the UK by 11 September 1942 and again no information exists to describe what the return Atlantic journey was like or what vessel he sailed in. By the 30”‘ of that month he took up residence at the PAF depot where he remained for some 4 months.
He most probably undertook various courses that might have involved ﬂying, but this would not have been at Blackpool as there was no airﬁeld there. If he was not occupied in this manner then it seems that an awful long time was wasted before he could complete the full course that would prepare him to join an operational squadron.
On 31 December 1942 he was promoted to a Sergeant Pilot.
No 5 (Polish) Advanced Flying Unit
This Unit was stationed at RAF Ternhill, 5 km southwest of Market Drayton in Shropshire. Hawker Hurricanes and Miles Masters were used by the Unit with a large preponderance of the latter. 4 nearby satellite airfields were also used because of the large number of training aircraft stationed there. The Hurricane provided experience on what was still a front line type of ﬁghter. However the Master was considered to be inferior to the Harvard as a trainer but as there were so many of this
British designed aircraft still serviceable they had to be used. Despite this both aircraft were used to teach advanced ﬂying techniques.
Zenon was stationed at this unit for only about 5 weeks from 9 February 1943.
Above, Grangemouth, ScotlandNo 58 Operational Training Unit
The airﬁeld on which the OTU was situated was a km south of Grangemouth in Falkirk, Scotland, near the south bank of the Firth of Forth. Zenon arrived there on 16 March 1943 to ﬂy Spitﬁre I and ll's. Most Polish fighter pilots trained at this unit before being posted to operational Squadrons. lt intentionally exposed pilots to the type of ﬂying expected of them in front line Squadrons. It included much formation and combat exercises as well as gunnery practice.
Part of Zenon's flying training here might have taken place at Balado Bridge a satellite of Grangemouth, about 15 km northeast. This was thought to experience better weather conditions than those on the banks of the Firth of Forth.
By June 1943, Zenon was at last considered to be a fully qualiﬁed RAF pilot ready to join a Polish operational Squadron and therefore a pilot of of the PAF.
So at the age of just over 21‘/2 years, Zenon had achieved his purpose for ﬂeeing his beloved Poland and more importantly he had become a member of his country's Air Force, albeit stationed in another country, to ﬁght those who had invaded his land.
303 (Kosciuszko) Squadron - RAF Northolt
On the 1 June 1943, Zenon passed through the main gate at RAF Northolt only 9 km from the centre of London to become a pilot of that famous Squadron. It was formed on this airﬁeld on 2 August 1940 at the start of the Battle of Britain and became the 2”“ Polish ﬁghter Squadron of the PAF and the ﬁrst to see action. Within a period of 3 months it proved itself by becoming the highest scoring Squadron in the RAF during the battle. Zenon must have been extremely proud to be posted to this renowned Squadron. Captain Witomar Bienkowski was then the CO.
After completing all the normal joining routine and familiarisation ﬂights as a new boy to make sure that he could recognise the area in which Northolt was situated, his records show that he undertook his ﬁrst serious ﬂight on 13 June 1943 to take part in a rescue mission off Dungeness on the south coast. It lasted 1 hour 20 minutes and presumably entailed searching for a pilot downed in the English Channel. During that month, Zenon took part in 5 more similar missions in the same area off the south coast.
During this month of June the Squadron exchanged its Spitfire VB for the mark IXC. This new mark was an improved version of the VB with a Merlin 61 engine and a four-bladed propeller, the aircraft was developed specifically to combat the Luftwaffe’s' successful Focke Wulf 190 ﬁghter that outclassed the VB.
On the 2 July 1943, Zenon found himself taking part in his first operational sortie, the type of which he would become very familiar with in the coming months, known as a Ramrod. As previously explained, this was the operational code word for a discrete bombing raid to destroy a specific target with fighter escort, with 303 Squadron this time providing the escort. The target was Pavilly, north of Rouen in northern France, his ﬂying time was 1 hour 35 minutes, but no details of the actual target or how the operation went were given in his records. The following day Captain Jan Falkowski became the CO of the Squadron. (shown left)
By the end of July, Zenon had participated in 10 Ramrods and 7 rescues totalling almost 17 hours ﬂying time and by then he most probably no longer considered himself to be a new boy. He was again on some 7 similar missions during August but did not take part in the support for the unsuccessful landings at Dieppe on 19 August when some 62 other ﬁghter Squadrons participated.
However he did undertake his ﬁrst ﬁghter sweep, code named a Rodeo, on 28 August in the Le Touquet area. This was where many of the front line German ﬁghters were once stationed, commonly called the "Abberville Kids", but by this period of 1943 as mentioned earlier, most had been withdrawn nearer to the Fatherland for protection from frequent raids by large formations of USAAF daylight bombers. Such ﬁghter sweeps could consist of up to 36 Spitﬁres ﬂying together sometimes all in line abreast, either to entice German ﬁghters aloft to ﬁght, or to attack their airﬁelds as well as targets of opportunity. Unfortunately again there are no records as to what happened on
Zenon's ﬁrst sweep.
This might not of course have been his first sweep as sometimes when the escorted bombers were returning home and there was no intelligence that German ﬁghters were in the area, then the Wing or Squadron Leader would be granted permission to leave the bombers and carry out a low-level sweep. On other raids 303 Squadron acted as an advanced sweep to ensure that no enemy fighters would be in the vicinity when the bombers arrived within the target area. One such sweep preceded 36 Marauders on Ramrod 187 on 4 August 1943. Zenon in Spitﬁre BS451 was one of 11 aircraft of 303 Squadron along with 316 Squadron. They arrived over Etretat at 19.17 hrs at 26,000 ft and made a dive to the south and then over the Seine estuary. Having been warned of enemy aircraft over Bernay they could not find any so turned NE and were again warned of aircraft over South Rouen but again could not ﬁnd them, so came home.
Spitﬁre XIC aircraft flown by Zenon during this period included:-
BS513 on 2 August.
BS451 on 4 August
BS451 on 8 August
BS506 on 27 August
BS180 on 31 August
The 23 August 1943 was a memorable day for Zenon because General Sonskowski the C in C of the Polish Armed Forces in succession to the late General Sikorski (killed in Liberator crash off Gibraltar 4/5 July 1943) visited the Polish Wing at Northolt September 1943 for Zenon mainly consisted of about 10 further Ramrods and so did October, so by 7 November Zenon had amassed almost 57 hours flying time with 303 Squadron. By this month, the Squadron had been operating in front line duties for over 3 years with very few periods of rest in between, so the authorities decided to move it for a spell on the 12”‘ of the month to RAF Ballyhalbert in Northern Ireland.
Ballyhalbert was located half way along a narrow isthmus-like neck of land that jutted out into the Irish Sea about 20 km south of Belfast. 303 Squadron moved without its aircraft as it took over the LF Mark VB Spitfires left by 315 Squadron when it vacated Ballyhalbert. This mark of Spitﬁre was a low- level version of the VB 303 Squadron formerly had when at Northolt prior to June 1943. It was similar to this aircraft but had clipped wings to enhance performance at low-level.
A few days after the Squadron arrived, Captain Tadeusz Koc DFC (shown right) became the CO on the 20 November. It was claimed that he was the last Polish pilot to have shot down a German aircraft before hostilities in Poland ended in October 1939.
Obviously Zenon took part in some of the convoy patrols the Squadron mounted while at this airfieldby the ﬂying hours listed in his service records. Some were to the northeast of Belfast and others were over the North Channel between Ireland and the mainland escorting ferrying flights from the USA. On one or two occasions USAAF Fortresses were lost through lack of understanding of signals made to American pilots to follow 303 Squadron aircraft.
Witnessing the loss of a Squadron Pilot
On 1 February 1944 Zenon wrote a report about the loss of F/O. Podobinski ﬂying Spitﬁre EN586 because he was the last person to see him alive on 14 December 1943. The two of them had to return from an airﬁeld at Toome on the northwestern shore of Lough Neagh, some 70 km northwest of Ballyhalbert. Zenon had to collect an aircraft for his Sq/Ldr. as his was unserviceable. At this point in Zenon’s report it is unclear how he travelled to Toome and the same remark applies to F/O Podobinski. Perhaps they flew together in say, a twin engined communication aircraft. Although this airﬁeld was primarily used by the USAAF, Zenon says that both 303 Squadron pilots’ Spitﬁres had not been repaired that day 13 December, so they had to stay the night. This suggests that Toome had a major maintenance section that was not available at Ballyhalbert, hence the reason for their visit though this cannot be conﬁrmed as Ballyhalbert was a normal 3-runway standard RAF wartime airﬁeld.
The weather next morning was bad and they were not cleared for take-off before midday. Before doing so they agreed to ﬂy together under the cloud base with the F/O leading but subsequently Zenon found he had changed his mind when airborne and had climbed above cloud to some 4000 ft.
Above: Insert: F/O. Stanislaw Podobinski P-1691 PAF Age 25 and crash area.
Podobinski called up ground control and while it could hear and answer him, he could not hear control despite repeated attempts to do so. Control then asked Zenon if he could make contact with the F/O, but his gestures indicated that he could not. Zenon estimated that they were some 15 minutes ﬂying time to Ballyhalbert and on contacting control he was informed they were some 5 miles east of the airﬁeld. Zenon then tried to direct Podobinski to follow him by ﬂying in front and across his nose, but he would have nothing to do with it. Perhaps as Zenon said “he didn’t wish to obey a subaltem”. Eventually he agreed to descend but after two attempts at having to rapidly climb to miss high ground as they came out of cloud, Zenon lost sight of the F/O’s aircraft and sought the help of ground control who vectored him to a point where he could descend safely and land.
The official statement made by Zenon on the loss of Podobinski:
"About 14:30 hrs during return flight from Toome to base has been lost F/O. Podobinski. Most probably he crashed on the rocks or sunk in sea. Here is the report of Sgt. Bartkowiak who flew with F/O. Podobinski as No. 2:
“On 14.12.43 at approx. 14:10 hrs I took off as No. 2 with F/O. Podobinski from RAF Toome. The cloud ceiling was at 800 – 1000 ft. visibility about 1 mile. After rising above the clouds I heard F/O. Podobinski asking Operations as “Picco 20” if they received him. Operations answered they received him with a strength 3 but with disturbances. Next F/O. Podobinski asked me using his own name if I received him. I received on strength 5 and I noticed that there was something wrong with my transmitter because when I tried to answer him I didn’t hear my own voice. After checking up the transmitter connection on the Oxygen Mask I noticed that it was not correct position. After adjusting it to the correct position I answered “Picco 20 I am receiving you with strength 5, Picco 37 speaking – out” Then I heard Ops. asking me if I received them, I answered “Yes”. I didn’t speak to Operations for 10 mins., because they told me “Roger Out”.
After about 12 mins. I asked Ops:, keeping all the time a course of 120 degrees “What is our position” Operations answered that we were 5 miles East of base. After a short while they told me to move forward and try to make F/O. Podobinski agree to give the Leadership of the formation to me. Consequently I mowed forward and tried to attract his attention by lateral movements of my a/c, then with gesture by hand I tried to make him understand that my wireless was alright and that I wanted to lead. F/O. Podobinski answered with refusal gesture and turned his a/c slightly to port making me understand that I should return to No. 2 position.
F/O. Podobinski tried tree times to get down through clouds but climbed again. At the moment when Operations told me once again to try to make leader understand that I should take over the leadership, F/O. Podobinski started again to go down through the clouds.
When we were in clouds I heard Operations saying something but I could not understand as I was concentrating so that I should not lose my leaders. When at the height of approx. 600 feet in a deep turn to the left and about 20 yards from my leader I locked down to see where we were and I noticed hilly ground. A few seconds later I noticed that we were flying straight into a fairly high mountain. I opened the throttle and climbed fast but during this operation I lost my leader. I asked Operations to give me the course and they directed me on a course of 300 degrees and I flew on this course about 10 mins. Next they gave me the order to lover through the clouds and when I was at approx. 1000 feet I asked once again for the “fix” and I received a course 280 degrees. After 2 minutes I arrived over base and landed.
The weather was misty, clouds 7/10, at 1000 – 1500 feet."
The weather for the next 3 days was extremely bad and prevented any meaningful rescue ﬂights. On the 4”‘ day a crash site was located on the Isle of Man that proved to be the F/O’s aircraft. While this seems a meaningless loss, the question must be asked, “why did he continue to ﬂy on his course for so long? As said above, Toome to Ballyhalbert is about 70 km apart, and Ballyhalbert to the Isle of Man is about a further 50 km, all 3 locations being in an almost straight line. He would have known within a few minutes how long it would have taken to reach Ballyhalbert so why not have made a slow descent on the same course when he thought he was over it until he was either below cloud or over the sea? If he had then flown on a reciprocal course he should have been over land where he might have been able to ﬁnd the airfield or belly land. One other explanation might have been that something more catastrophic had taken place in the cockpit, be it medical or technical.
The Squadron is Recognised
Squadron Leader Koc represented 303 Squadron at a luncheon held at the Grand Central Hotel, Belfast on Wednesday 26 January 1944 at the request of the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. The occasion was at his wish to meet representatives of the Allied Forces in Northern Ireland.
Training to Deck Land
Zenon must have ﬂown more hours than were ofﬁcially listed. For example he has written at some length about the naval pilots who instructed him and other 303 pilots to land on a marked out aircraft carrier. He maintained this was to provide experience for landing in a confined space at night.
However the question must be asked if they were intentionally being trained to use an aircraft carrier while in transit to another wartime front? They used markings on a runway laid out to represent the size and length of an actual carrier. One of the naval pilots stood on the left-hand side of the markings when on the approach and with a bat in each hand signalled to the pilot whether he was too high, too low, to one side, or one wing low, etc. At first sight Zenon and his co-pilots thought it quite impossible to land within this restricted area and told his naval instructors so. To prove that it could be done, the two naval pilots flew one of 303's Spitﬁres and on every landing made it look so simple. By the end of 10 days practice Zenon and other pilots of 303 Squadron were able to achieve this feat on almost every occasion. They then trained to do this at night with the aid of coloured approach lights. By the end of these training exercises they had become very competent and as Zenon put it, '’I really enjoyed the accomplishment".
Although the Squadron had been posted at Ballyhalbert for an intended rest period it did not seem like that to its pilots as month after month went by. Stationed there during the cold and wet winter of 1943/44, most were more than keen to be back on operations in the south of England. It was most obvious that the invasion of France would take place in the coming months and they all wanted to be part of it. Zenon forcibly expressed his thoughts on this topic well after the war in various letters.
303 Squadron July 1943 at NortholtReturn to Action
During the first 4 months of 1944, Zenon had only 3 ofﬁcial ﬂights listed in his records, though of course there were no doubt several training ﬂights that were not recorded, or perhaps very bad weather had curtailed ﬂying to a large extent in that location. Morale towards the end of April was likely to have been somewhat low when orders to move back to the mainland were at last received.
Not only that, the Squadron was to be based south of London where the action would take place perhaps both before and after D-Day. No one appeared to be concerned that they were going to an Advanced Landing Ground that implied living under canvas, they just wanted to be away from Northern Ireland, back to operational activity and the recreational high spots of London.
So by Sunday 30 April 1944 all was packed and 303 Squadron was on its way south back to the mainland and action. Zenon was one of the pilots who ﬂew an aircraft southwards.
Advanced Landing Ground at RAF Home
It was a bright spring-like morning when the Squadron landed at familiar RAF Northolt to refuel and have a bite to eat before proceeding on a 20 minute ﬂight to the southeast of RAF Redhill. Soon the Squadron was in formation over what looked like a giant X that marked out the two metalled grass runways of ALG Home set in farmland in southeast Surrey. Six young Air Training Corps cadets and the pilot of a De Havilland Dominie on a local flight unintentionally witnessed this scene from above as the Spitﬁres peeled off and made a stream landing one after the other, one of which Zenon must have been ﬂying. One of those young ATC cadets still remembers that scene very clearly.
The ofﬁcial Ministry plan for the airﬁeld indicated where the tented sites should be located but these were never adhered to, probably because the aircrew of the 3 Squadrons who arrived that day, had their say. Instead of placing them well away from the 2 runways as planned the aircrew erected them close by so the distance from each pilots’ tent to his parked aircraft was extremely short. Each Squadrons’ pilots and ground crew grouped themselves close together but separate from the other two.
Taken at ALG Horne on 1st May 1944
Conditions on the ALG were purposely basic to expose both air and ground crews to what it might be like if and when they had to operate on mainland Europe. Several pilots found sleeping like this very unpleasant especially when the temperature fell below freezing. So another use for daily newspapers was quickly found to separate ones body from the earth. Besides living under canvas, ablutions consisted of washing in canvas sinks and baths using cold water. Breaking the ice in order to shave was another unwelcome exercise.
The 3 Squadrons that formed 142 Wing at Home were placed under the Air Defence of Great Britain instead of the 2”‘’ Tactical Air Force that was responsible for air operations before, during and after the invasion of Europe.
After just one day to settle in, the Wing was on its 15‘ Ramrod early on Tuesday 2 May 1944 even though it was part of the ADGB rather than the 2”” TAF. It was a mark of their ﬂying skill and efﬁciency that the 3 different Squadrons could ﬂy on an operation for the first time within two days of coming together. However, Zenon did not take part on this occasion but he was on one of the patrols next day. The Wing regularly mounted dawn and dusk patrols over 2 areas. One was around the North Foreland near the southeast mouth of the River Thames and the other over the Solent, to the northwest of the Isle of Wight, two important areas to prevent enemy raids during the build up to D-Day. However as one pilot said "We were never trained to ﬁght at those hours of the day and the Spitfire was not the right aircraft to do so in any case!". This pilot was right as the Spitfire possessed no form of radar and had to rely on a ground controller to vector him to the vicinity of an unidentiﬁed aircraft. By this time of the war it had been proved that the most difﬁcult part of a nightime interception was closing in from the last 500 km and this was virtually impossible without electronic aids.
Patrols and Ramrods with sweeps became the main activity of the 3 Squadrons throughout May. Up to 21 of that month Zenon had participated in 7 operations without any known incidents. However other members in 303 Squadron were not so lucky. Several either brought back damaged aircraft or they lost their tailwheels on landing due to the start of the runway steel mesh curling up. F/O Zbigniew Marszalek (shown left) on a local familiarisation ﬂight soon after he arrived, crashed into the ground at Nutley in Sussex, for no apparent reason and was killed.
The 21 May was a black day for the Wing, 3 Spitfires were shot down and their pilots taken prisoner while 4 other Spitﬁres were badly damaged, all it is believed as the result of a low-level sweep after the Ramrod. One taken prisoner was Fl/Lt. Stanislaw Brzeski (shown right) one of the original Polish pilots in the Battle of Britain who had been credited with shooting down 8 enemy aircraft. This equalled the record of Fl/Lt. Eugeniusz Szaposznikow whowas also in the Battle and still with 303 Squadron.
The work was hard, tiring and dangerous particularly having to take off and land in darkness for the dawn and dusk patrols. Zenon believed that without the carrier training at Ballyhalbert, he for one could never have undertaken these patrols with the conﬁdence he then had and often he felt a certain buzz having completed such a flight. However, the living conditions on the airﬁeld did little to compensate at the end of the day's flying in contrast to most of his previous postings. The only thing that made up for this was the closeness of Home to London where various cinemas, theatres, clubs and bars could be visited one after another. Full use of 24 and 48 hour passes were made in this way, especially by Zenon. In one of his later letters he indicated he had just returned from a weekend in London on Monday 22 May and found he was not on operations that day.
Later he heard that another 303 pilot who was, had not returned from his weekend and when Ramrod 909 had been ordered late that day, Zenon was listed to take his place. Not only that, Zenon had to use his aircraft, EN836 instead of his own. And so Zenon's fate was sealed that day though of course he had no idea what it would lead to.
Introduction - Overview
Chapter 1 - Early years and escape from Poland
Chapter 2 - Zenon joins the RAF
Chapter 3 - A life changing flight
Chapter 4 - In hiding
Chapter 5 - Return to England and his squadron
Chapter 6 - Discharge and marriage
Chapter 7 - Life in France
A life changing flight