Revisiting the tragic day three Polish airmen crashed in Belfast hills

One of the most tragic dates for the Polish airforce based in Northern Ireland will be commemorated with a flyover in the Province this month.

Monday, 6th September 2021, 2:02 pm
The role of Polish airmen in the Province is to be commemorated
The role of Polish airmen in the Province is to be commemorated

In the coming days Maciek Bator from ‘For Your Freedom & Ours’ and Jim Bradley, manager of the Belfast Hills Partnership, will focus on the history of No 315 Squadron who were based at RAF Ballyhalbert.

It centres on September 11, 1943 when three pilots coming back from a training sortie crashed individually in three different locations around the Belfast and Lisburn areas. Two of them – Warrant Officer Stanislaw Grondowski and Flight Sergeant Władysław Kołek – lost their lives and one escaped with heavy injuries – Flight Sergeant E Zygmund.

Maciek said: “Since Poland joined the EU in 2004, many migrants have made our country their home, who have contributed so much to our way of life, our economy, and our institutions like the NHS.

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“Yet we have forgotten the incredible story of sacrifice that a generation of Polish men made for our nation during a time of wartime crisis.

“The history of the Polish contribution to the war effort is one of bravery and ingenuity. The first cipher crackers to break Germany’s enigma code were not based in Bletchley Park, but in Warsaw.

“The Polish No 303 squadron would become the most successful Fighter Command unit in the Battle of Britain, shooting down 126 Luftwaffe enemy aircraft in only 42 days. Sergeant Josef Frantisek was the top scoring ace with 17 confirmed victories in only four weeks, before he crashed in September 1940.

“At the conclusion of the war, Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding conceded that without the contribution of Polish Forces, the outcome of the Battle of Britain may not have been one of victory for the Allies.”

There were 16 Polish Squadrons located in the UK as part of the Polish Air Force by the end of World War Two.

Between 1940 and 1945, over 100 Polish airmen were based in Northern Ireland in various RAF Squadrons as well as two Polish Fighter Squadrons operating from RAF Ballyhalbert.

The 25 locations along the Polish Wings Heritage Trail, set up by ‘For Your Freedom and Ours’ tells the story of the airmen who lived and died fighting for the Allies in Northern Ireland.

A webinar led by Maciek and Jim will take place tomorrow at 7pm detailing ‘The Day The Polish Spitfires Crashed In The Belfast Hills’.

A photography evening will be held on Thursday from 5pm to 8pm at The Ulster Flying Club and on Friday and Saturday, also at The Ulster Flying Club, ‘The Polish Heritage Flight VIP Experience’ will take people on an aerial tour of key locations.

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