"Had it not been for the magnificent material contributed by the Polish squadrons and their unsurpassed gallantry, I hesitate to say that the outcome of battle wouldn’t have been the same"

British Air Marshal
Sir Hugh Dowding (1941)


The Polish fighter pilot of the legendary Squadron 303 that participated in the Battle of Britain.

To invade Great Britain in 1940 it was essential for Germans to gain complete superiority over the British air space. They started preparations to their landing in British Islands by massive air attacks and this was met by not necessarily well prepared British Royal Air Force (RAF). One important weakness that British faced at that time was a lack of pilots. This problem was in part solved by using a large pool of experienced Polish pilots, who after Hitler’s invasion of Poland in September 1939 managed to escape through southern Europe and arrived first in France and later in England. Captain Herbst was among them. 


On his "Spitfire" Captain Herbst escorted bombing raids of the Allied Airforces over Germany and occupied Europe.


By mid-1943 there were nine Polish fighter squadrons, one night fighter squadron, four bomber and one army cooperation squadron, all with their Polish ground personnel, own flying schools and support unit. In the end of 1942 the total number of Polish airmen was at the level of 14,000 people including Polish pilots and personnel serving in British units. There were many squadrons with pilots from Poland, France, Czechoslovakia, Norway, Belgium and Holland. Polish was by far the largest contingent, outnumbering all the others combined.

First Polish manned fighter squadrons formed in UK were Squadrons 302 and 303. They, with other Polish squadrons have played a significant role in defense of England and in escorting Allied Forces’ air attacks on Europe occupied by Germans. For example, in the first thousand bomber raid on Cologne almost one hundred aircraft were Polish manned. Capt.. Herbst took part in many of such raids.

During the Battle of Britain (August – early October 1940) Polish squadrons have shot down approximately 200 German aircraft of which Squadron 303 has contributed with 126. The next highest scorer was the British squadron that shot down about 50 enemy’s aircraft. Germans lost the Battle of Britain with over 1600 German aircraft downed with most of their crews. The price of the victory was also high: RAF’s losses were about 900 aircraft although 1/3 of their pilots were saved.

During the II WW Polish fighter pilots operating from Britain only shot down 750 German aircraft, plus 250 aircraft probably. Polish personnel losses were over 2,000 fighter pilots and bomber air crews and 700 lost in accidents and training. About 75% of the Polish airmen that lost their lives were bomber crews (British bomber had a crew of six to seven).

Capt. Witold. Alexander Herbst graduated from the Polish Air Force Academy in Deblin. He flew in Polish squadrons 308 and 303 in the RAF (1942-1944). 

Coat of Arms used by the 303 (Polish) Fighter Squadron in Great Britain 1940 - 1944.  It was inherited from the Kosciuszko Squadron established in 1919 and operated primarily by American fighter pilots serving as volunteers in the Polish Air Force.  That Squadron contributed significantly to the final victory of Poland against Bolsheviks during Polish - Soviet War (1919 - 1920).

During his service in Great Britain Capt. Herbst made 141 missions on "Spitfires"  both in patrols and when protecting British and American bomber raids over Germany. He took part in air raids during the Invasion of Normandy by Allied Forces. For his heroism and achievements Capt. Herbst received Polish Cross of Valor (three times) and a number of British decorations. After the war ended he immigrated to the United States. He is the author of an excellent autobiographic book "Under British Sky" published in 1997 (in Polish). 

Capt. Herbst has been living with his wife Doreen in Edmonds, State of Washington, U.S.A.  and has been a long time member of the Polish Home Association in Seattle. 

Prepared by:

Prof. Vlad M. Kaczynski,

University of Washington, 3/18/2000