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Library Reference Number: 172

Squadron Leader Leslaw Miedzybrodzki, AFC, RAF

Dr. Diana M. Henderson

When both Russia and Germany invaded Poland in 1939, many battle-experienced Polish pilots escaped firstly to France then to Britain to continue their fight for freedom. Among airmen of six occupied European nations who fought their war from British soil, the Polish Air Force played a most prominent role probably due to experience gained in fighting with distinction in Poland, although heavily out-numbered by the Luftwaffe. The first Polish Squadrons formed were Nos. 300 and 301 bomber squadrons and 302 and 303 fighter squadrons, but the number of Polish Squadrons increased dramatically with the arrival of more experienced aircrew.

Although No.303, the Kosciuszko Squadron, is famous for claiming the highest number of enemy kills among all fighter squadrons during the Battle of Britain, Polish airmen also fought in every other area including Bomber and Coastal Command. In complete contrast, the following account describes the progress of one young Polish graduate who arrived in Britain with no flying experience or pilot.s qualification, but remained to become part of the permanent RAF Establishment.

In 1939, Leslaw Miedzybrodzki was twenty-seven year old and living in Krakow where he had just finished Technical University. While waiting to be called for National Service he took a temporary job with an Air Force Maintenance Unit. On the night of 31st August 1939, the workers were sent home as a light was showing from their hangar. Soon afterwards, the sound of approaching aircraft was heard, but they were not Polish planes; the hangar where they had been working was destroyed by German aircraft, and the Maintenance Unit planned to move to Kwow. Reaching Kwow, they were forced to move further east for safety, but on reaching the Romanian border they were told the Russians had invaded Poland.

Crossing the Romanian border, the group feared the risk of internment, but Leslaw Miedzybrodzki had other ideas after meeting up with a University friend. “We decided to go on our own to Bucharest. I had been paid three months salary before we left Poland, and because I had been able to change the money on the way, I had plenty of it. We got to Bucharest and we went to the Polish Legation where we said that we wanted to volunteer for the Polish Air Force. After obtaining passports and visas we then went by train to Belgrade and visited the Polish Air Attache. He stamped "Aviation" on our passports and sent us on our way to France.

The journey through Italy was pleasant where they discovered anti-German feeling led to those they came in contact with at the border shouting “Aviatori Polenaise.” They eventually reached France, and making their way to Paris reported to the Polish Air Attache, and from there to Polish Air Force Headquarters. There was some delay in joining the Air Force to begin flying training, by which time France had fallen to the Germans, and the two friends made their way with the Army to St.Jean de Luz where they got away on the Polish liner Sobieski.

Arriving at Plymouth, they were put on a train with the journey ending at Aintree Race Course where they were housed in tents. Later, they were sent to RAF Kirby and Blackpool where they discovered others who were keen to commence flying training as Polish Squadrons 302 & 303 were being formed. Leslaw was posted to No.302 and the Squadron was posted to RAF Leconfield, where during the Battle of Britain a detachment was sent to Duxford. Leslaw Miedzybrodzki was a member of ground staff at this period, where 302 had many successes.

Finally in 1941, Leslaw was posted to Flying School, and eventually gained his pilot's wings flying Oxfords at RAF Newton. He was posted to Coastal Command, where after completing a General Reconnaissance course he proceeded to an Operational Training Unit (OTU) and where he flew with a crew as second pilot. After only six flights he was posted to No.304 Squadron as captain of his own crew. He flew Wellington XIV out of Davidstow Moor, Predannack in Cornwall, Chivenor in Devon and Benbecula. Ten or eleven hour flights were the norm, flying fifty feet above the sea at night looking for enemy submarines. Leslaw Miedzybrodzki describes his experience of sighting U-Boats presumably on surface charging batteries on 5th May 1944 while he was on patrol:

I saw three and attacked two. This was in the Bay of Biscay. Two U-Boats were on the surface at night charging their batteries. The moonlight was very bright and I saw them clearly. I gave the order to switch on the Leigh Light and we went in to the attack. As soon as the U-Boats saw the Leigh Light they started firing at us. The idea was that you flew over the U-Boat at an angle and dropped a depth charge on either side of the submarine. The problem was that we flew over the first submarine and dropped our depth charges and we then had to fly over the second submarine. In the process, our wing was badly hit by the enemy fire of the second submarine and I lost control of the aircraft for a brief time. When daylight came, we could see the size of the hole in our aircraft, but we had sunk one submarine and we got home.”

In the “History of No.304 (Polish) Squadron” by Wilhelm Ratuszynski, it is confirmed that the Wellington had been very badly damaged and had survived being on fire. The entry is very brief in that publication and merely states “On May 5, N-304 of F/Lt Miedzybrodzki detected two surfaced U-boats and was greeted with fierce fire. The Poles managed to attack and damage one of them, although aircraft was badly shot-up and had an onboard fire. In May, the squadron crews flew 64 ops.” Shortly afterwards, a detachment was sent to Benbecula.

On 5th March 1945, the squadron moved to 19 Group at RAF St Eval in Cornwall. They were paid a particular compliment at this time, when Air Commander Pritchett wrote a comment in the squadron diary; “They fly when seagulls won't!” On May 11th 1945, one of the squadron's Wellingtons captured a German U–Boat and they flew their last operational sortie on May 30th 1945. On 14th June 1945, they transferred to Transport Command out of RAF North Weald in Essex. On pos-twar plans Leslaw Miedzybrodzki wrote:

“I always had an ambition to combine engineering with test flying and a chance meeting in the Mess resulted in my being posted to The Armament and Aircraft Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down where I spent many years having an interesting and pleasant time doing just that. There were about ten other members of the Polish Air Force at Boscombe Down at the time."

"My last posting was to Famborough and in 1947/48 when the war was over, I was offered a permanent commission in the Royal Air Force where I stayed until 1961 testing all sorts of aircraft, including modem British and American jets. During the war I was awarded the Polish Virtuti Militari and after the war, the Air Force Cross."

"I had to retire from the Royal Air Force at the age of forty-nine and by chance, I met a man at Famborough Air Show who asked me to join Ferranti to do more flying and testing. There were about forty or fifty other Poles who also worked at Ferranti. I finally retired from Ferranti in 1983."

After the war, I managed to get my mother to the United Kingdom. My brother was a shipbuilding engineer. On the outbreak of war he was working on the Baltic and went with the Polish Navy to a place called Hel, in the Gulf of Danzig, which was the last place in Poland to capitulate to the Germans. Contrary to the terms of surrender, when he should have been sent to an Oflag or Stalag as a Prisoner of War or sent home as a civilian, he spent the war in Stutrov and Sachsenhausen Concentration Camps. After the war he came to the west through Sweden and he settled in Canada.”

Dr. Diana M. Henderson PhD, LLB, TD writes:-
“Squadron Leader Miedzybrodzki died on Thursday 18th January 2001. I shall remember him a charmingly modest man with a wry sense of humour whose flying log books of the early Cold War period made remarkable reading. He had flown and tested virtually every operational aircraft of the period, many of them secret. His exploit in the Bay of Biscay is more fully recorded in "Destiny Can Wait - The History of the Polish Air Force Association in Great Britain" by M. Lisiewicz, et al”

Note: The above account is based on “Squadron Leader Leslaw Miedzybrodzki, AFC, RAF” which appears in the book “The Lion And The Eagle - Polish Second World War Veterans in Scotland” Editor Dr. Diana M. Henderson. Published by Cualann Press (2001).

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