On the 23rd August 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed the most treacherous treaty in the 20th Century: the Molotov- Ribbentrop Treaty. Within weeks Poland had been partitioned by Germany and the Soviets and the Polish Air Force fled. Firstly they went to Rumania, and then to France. France in tis turn was quickly defeated and the Poles came to Britain. The UK was in dire straits and the Poles were greeted with open arms (unlike their reception in France) and they quickly became a crucial part of the RAF* fighting the Battle of Britain. Their part in the Battle of Britain was so impressive that the publicists for the High Command were told to tone it down, emphasising the victory as a British victory: a patriotic victory.
The Molotov- Ribbentrop Treaty was an act of evil diplomatic genius. German concentration camps, especially Dachau, were filled with German communists. But it suited both Hitler and Stalin to right the ‘wrong’ of the Treaty of Versailles, which had created Poland in 1919. The Nazi/ Soviet invasion of Poland was overwhelming. The Polish Air Force was decisively defeated. The Polish Air Force escaped to Rumania and then France. The French prevented them from showing their prowess by giving the Poles the worst planes at their disposal. France capitulated in 1940 and the Poles came to Britain.
Britain had been rearming since at least 1938 and had competitive aeroplanes. They didn’t have sufficient pilots of the highest standard. The Poles filled this quality gap and became the stars of the RAF. Their squadrons (302 and 303) achieved the greatest number of ‘kills’ in the Battle of Britain. They had 145 combat pilots, which was the largest non- British representation followed by New Zealand (135) and Canada (112)**. The multi- national element of the RAF in the Battle of Britain was down played as the British Government very much wanted the British public to feel that this was a British led battle with our men winning our battle.
Winston Churchill, in along speech to the House of Commons, helped create the myth of the British Few who fought and ultimately won the Battle of Britain. “The gratitude of every home in our Island, and indeed throughout the world… Goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
Fourteen different countries with 24% of the RAF were air brushed out of the Battle of Britain. Neither the Poznanski or the Kosciuszko Squadrons (302 and 303) the top performing squadrons in the RAF were acknowledged. Anton Glowacki who achieved ‘Ace’ status*** in a single day and top ace Witold Urbanowicz are unknown to both British school children and the general public. The Polish squadrons were in the thick of battle but had 70% fewer losses than the British squadrons because they were better pilots and more professional.
The law of unintended consequences was hard at work following the partition of Poland. It unleashed a furious patriotic response, which salvaged some Polish pride but also dealt a body blow to Nazi Germany’s ambitions to invade Britain. Polish immigration in 1940 was crucial to British survival, which might make Little Englanders think again about immigration.
*Royal Air Force
**Non- British respresentation was 574 out of a total of 2353 i.e. about 24% from 14 different countries.
*** Five certified ‘kills’.