A lively tale of Poland’s famed WWII fighter wing, which contributed materially to the RAF’s victory in the Battle of Britain.
Founded after WWI by American adventurers who had “come to Poland to volunteer in a nasty little war that the newly independent Poles were having with newly created Soviet Russia,” the Kosciuszko Squadron transferred the Polish military’s renowned cavalry skills into the arena of the air. Prized by allies and feared by enemies, many members of the wing managed to escape Poland following the Nazi conquest and, a year afterward, found themselves in England at the service of a government in exile. Among the 17,000 Poles who fought alongside the British, the young men of the squadron were of an impulsive bent, fond of pulling out of formation to attack Nazi aircraft on their own; though British flightmasters despaired of bringing their allies into line, they came to value the Poles for their bravery and flying ability alike. The British nation took a similar view after the Battle of Britain, during which “the Kosciuszko Squadron compiled a brilliant overall record”; as Polish pilots marched in the streets, “cheered by passersby and bathed in shouts of ‘Long Live Poland!’ ”, and as later they flew bravely in support of the Warsaw Uprising, they had every reason to think that their service would be remembered after the war. Alas, write Olson and Cloud (The Murrow Boys, 1996), it would not be so; though the sworn mission of the squadron was to fight in defense of a free Poland, the British and American governments were busily conspiring with the Soviet Union to turn Poland into a satellite state; whereas Franklin Roosevelt professed that he took “a distant view of the Polish question,” Winston Churchill, by the authors’ account, seems to have been bent on giving Stalin whatever he wanted. Though some may take issue with Olson and Cloud’s political assessments, the fact stands that the squadron became stateless as Poland was conquered anew; only two of them ever returned home.
A fine portrait, and a well-placed condemnation of a shameful episode in history: the betrayal of Poland.