Flying school that trained Battle of Britain aces still producing Poland’s Top Guns
Dęblin, a small nondescript town on the Vistula 60 miles south of Warsaw, is where Poland’s future Top Guns are being trained.
Out of the thousands of applicants the Polish Air Force Academy receives each year, only 500 make it through the grueling application process, which includes both physical and psychological tests as well as costly and intrusive medical exams.
‘The examinations,” says the academy’s Małgorzata Bernat, “are tough, and we only take the best.”
Once accepted, the elite cadets embark upon a five year programme of study which for military cadets include specialties such as Jet Fighter Pilot, Helicopter Pilot, and UAV Operator.
Civilian cadets who can specialize in subjects such as Avionics, Air Traffic Control and the obliquely named ‘National Security’, take three years, but the training is none the less demanding.
Those that graduate then join a long list of illustrious alumni.
Instructor Adam Ginalski said: “We have a great air history in Poland. The heroes of the Battle of Britain like General Skalski surround us every day, watching from the walls of the building.
“If we had a permanently full fuel tank, we would fly forever. We know the regulations but we as Polish pilots are famous for always pushing them to the limits.”
Established in 1925, seven years after Poland’s independence the “School of Eaglets" as it was then named became one of the most modern aviation schools in the world.
Following Hitler’s invasion on 1 September, 1939, the school became a prime target and was attacked the next day by a fleet of Luftwaffe bombers.
The invasion of the Red Army on September 17 put an end to hopes of relocating the school with a part of the teaching staff murdered in Katyń and Kharkov.
But the cadets and staff that survived looked for opportunities to carry on the fight.
In June 1940 with the fall of France, 30,000 Polish military personnel crossed the Channel, including about 8,500 pilots.
Churchill and Sikorski agreed to establish two Polish fighter wings; No. 302 ‘Poznan’ Squadron and No. 303 ‘Kosciuszko’ Squadron.
On July 10, 1940, the Battle of Britain officially began with Germans begin the first in a long series of bombing raids against Great Britain.
One of those joining the RAF in its fight against Hitler’s Luftwaffe was Stanisław Skalski, a graduate of the Air Force Academy.
Incorporated into the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, Skalski first saw action with the Polish 302 Squadron, before being assigned to the British 501st Fighter Squadron following the start of the Battle of Britain.
The 303 Squadron’s first day in combat came exactly one year after the Nazi invasion of Poland.
In 42 days, 303 Squadron shot down 126 German planes, becoming the most successful Fighter Command unit in the Battle of Britain.
In total, 14 Air Force squadrons were formed within the Polish Air Force which included eight fighter, four bomber, one fighter-reconnaissance and one air observation squadron.
At the end of the war, there were over 14,000 soldiers in service in the Polish Air Force with almost 4,000 flying personnel.
The Polish Air Force Academy said: “The successes of such pilots as Skalski, Urbanowicz, Horbaczewski, Gładych, Drobiński, Król, Rutkowski, Arciuszkiewicz and Łokuciewski confirmed the value of the Polish school of aviation.
“The sacrifice of the Polish airmen was immense but in the fight for freedom and independence sacrifice is unmeasurable. The alumni of “The School of Eaglets” gave their lives for freedom.”