The Polish Air Force in Northern Ireland

In 1943, R.A.F. 303 Squadron and R.A.F. 315 Squadron came to Northern Ireland. Ballyhalbert Airfield was briefly home to these Polish Pilots.

During the Second World War, many Pilots and aircrew who served in the Polish Air Force in 1939 made their way to the United Kingdom. Their aerial combat skill proved invaluable to the Royal Air Force particularly during the hard-fought Battle of Britain. The R.A.F. formed several Squadrons of Polish Pilots within Fighter Command and many other Poles served throughout other Squadrons. fought Battle of Britain. Two Polish squadrons, 303 and 315 briefly spent time in Northern Ireland.

During the Second World War, in particular after the Nazi occupation of Poland, many Poles fled their country to escape persecution and to fight with Allied troops in the military and air force. The Polish Pilots were excellent aerial combatants and by 1940, the Polish Air Force had become the fifth-largest Allied Air Force.

After the occupation of their home country, many Poles joined the ranks of the Royal Air Force. In 1943, 2 Squadrons of Polish Pilots found themselves at Ballyhalbert Airfield, Co. Down. Many Polish Pilots and aircrew would lose their lives between 1940 and 1945 and there are several graves and memorials across both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to remember the fallen.

The Polish Squadrons in Northern Ireland

During 1943, both R.A.F. 303 Squadron and R.A.F. 315 Squadron briefly called Ballyhalbert Airfield, Co. Down their home base. Locals in the area fondly remembered the Poles in the years following the Second World War.

Featured image for RAF 303 Squadron in Northern Ireland

RAF 303 Squadron in Northern Ireland


12th November 2018

RAF 303 Squadron was an elite unit of Polish fighter pilots, officers, and ground crew who chalked up a record number of victories in the Battle of Britain.

Featured image for RAF 315 Squadron in Northern Ireland

RAF 315 Squadron in Northern Ireland


13th November 2018

RAF 315 Squadron was a Polish fighter squadron that operated in offensive and defensive roles throughout World War Two including time in Northern Ireland.

On 14th August 1943 General Kazimierz Sosnkowski, Inspector General of the Polish Armed Forces from 1943-1944 visited the airfield at R.A.F. Ballyhalbert, Co. Down to inspect R.A.F. 315 Squadron.

The people of Co. Down later recalled the politeness and manners as well as the grit and determination the Polish Air Force showed in the battle against Hitler. After the Second World War, many Poles remained in Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom as it was a better option for them than returning to their former homes now under the rule of Communist Joseph Stalin.

General Sosnkowski at R.A.F. Ballyhalbert, Co. Down

Polish Air Squadrons Remembered Photo: General Sosnkowski in conversation with pilots of R.A.F. 315 Squadron who have just staged a flypast at R.A.F. Ballyhalbert, Co. Down. This was a highlight of the Squadron Day celebrations on 14th August 1943. Talking to him is Flight Lieutenant Zajac and Squadron Leader Jerszy Poplawski. In the background is Supermarine Spitfire PK-O BM144. Photo used with kind permission of Wilhelm Ratuszynski.

Aviation accidents in Northern Ireland

Pilots from the Polish Air Force were involved in several incidents around the airfields of Ulster. Many young Poles died on Northern Irish soil as they prepared to go to war.

Avro Anson N5372 crash in Ballycastle, Co. Antrim


18th October 2016

On 18th October 1943, Avro Anson N5372 crashed near Ballycastle, killing 3, after many factors contributed to it striking high ground at Knocklayd Mountain.

Spitfire BL852 crash at RAF Ballyhalbert, Co. Down


8th July 2018

On 8th July 1943, Supermarine Spitfire BL852 belly-landed at RAF Ballyhalbert, Co. Down. The Polish pilot was Sergeant Malczewski of RAF 315 Squadron.

Supermarine Spitfire BL922 crash at R.A.F. Ballyhalbert, Co. Down


9th September 2017

On 5th October 1943, Sergeant Henryk Andrzej Flegier's Supermarine Spitfire came down about a mile away from Ballyhalbert Airfield, Co. Down.

Supermarine Spitfire BM531 crash en route to Belfast Docks


2nd September 2018

On 2nd September 1943, Polish Flight Sergeant Jerzy Malec escaped uninjured when Spitfire BM531 sustained damage en route to Belfast Docks.

Supermarine Spitfire EP280 crash at R.A.F. Ballyhalbert, Co. Down


5th September 2018

On 5th September 1943, R.A.F. Ballyhalbert, Co. Down was the site of the crash of Spitfire EP280. The Polish pilot escaped alive but injured.

Supermarine Spitfire W3937 crash at R.A.F. Ballyhalbert, Co. Down


9th September 2017

On 9th September 1943, Supermarine Spitfire W3937 crashed at Ballyhalbert, Co. Down. It would not be the Polish Pilot's last crash in Ulster.

Westland Lysander P1731 crash at Sydenham Airfield, Belfast


30th April 2016

Polish Airman Sergeant Edward Lewandowski piloted Westland Lysander P1731 on 30th April 1942. The plane crashed after taking off from Sydenham Airfield.

Luftwaffe Junkers shot down over Tramore, Co. Waterford

Luftwaffe Junkers shot down over Tramore, Co. Waterford


23rd August 2018

On 23rd August 1942, a Luftwaffe plane came under attack from R.A.F. Spitfires from Northern Ireland and Wales before coming down in Éire.

Polish airmen tour factories in Northern Ireland

Polish airmen tour factories in Northern Ireland


14th October 2018

In October 1943, a pair of Polish airmen made a tour of factories in Northern Ireland. They told employees of their time in Poland and desire to fight.

Polish Aircrew buried in Belfast

Edward Lewandowski

Edward Lewandowski

Sergeant | P-783109

Sergeant Edward Lewandowski served in the Polish Air Force. He was a member of 6 Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Unit operating from Sydenham Airfield, Belfast.

Flight Sergeant Jozef Antoni Pudelko

Jozef Antoni Pudelko

Flight Sergeant | P/781015

Polish Flight Sergeant Jozef Antoni Pudelko served in RAF 309 (Polish) Squadron. He died on 23rd April 1942 when his Westland Lysander crashed in Belfast.

Polish Aircrew buried in Newtownards, Co. Down

Henryk Komenda

Lieutenant | P/792224

Henryk Komenda served in the Polish Air Force and was based at Newtownards Airfield, Co. Down at the time of his death in Defiant N3402 on 9th July 1942.

Polish Aircrew buried in Glenavy, Co. Antrim

Sergeant Franciszek Prętkiewicz

Franciszek Józef Prętkiewicz

Sergeant | P/784733

Sergeant Franciszek Józef Prętkiewicz of the Polish Air Force died on 30th November 1940 while serving with R.A.F. 245 Squadron in Co. Antrim.

Polish Aircrew buried in Ballycran Beg, Co. Down

Władysław Kołek

Flight Sergeant | P/783150

Flight Sergeant Władysław Kołek died on 11th September 1943 as a result of a series of R.A.F. 315 Squadron Spitfire crashes in Co. Antrim.