William ‘Willie’ McKnight DFC & Bar

William McKnight

22-year-old Canadian fighter pilot Flying Officer William ‘Willie’ McKnight DFC &Bar fought during the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain and served as the wingman for Douglas Bader. On 12 January 1941 he was shot down over the English Channel whilst serving with No.242 Squadron and has no known grave. (Colour from original IWM B&W image by Dan Steel)

Alan Malcher

The Polish Air Force During WW2.

Polish War memorial London (Alan Malcher)

After visiting the Polish War Memorial in London, I saw the following on a plaque near the memorial and after taking a photograph found the text was too small to read online so decided to copy the content and post it on this site along with appropriate photographs.

“On 1 September 1939 Poland was invaded by Germany and on 17 September by Soviet Russia. Polish aircraft were outclassed by the latest German designs, but the Luftwaffe still lost 285 aircraft, 126 credited to air-to-air combat.

With the defeat of Poland inevitable, most members of the Polish Air Force evacuated through Romania to France where they flew with the French Air Force and were credited with a further 60 Luftwaffe aircraft.By June 1940 some 8,000 members of the Polish Air Force re-formed in Great Britain. The initial RAF scepticism changed to admiration for the skills of pilots and ground crews alike. Polish airmen fought in Fighter Command throughout the Battle of Britain. 145 Polish pilots, some five per cent of Fighter command’s strength claimed 203 German aircraft destroyed for the loss of 30 killed. This represents 12 per cent of the total allied victories, or 1.4 enemy aircraft for every pole engaged. At the same time the two Polish Squadrons suffered losses 70 per cent less than most RAF units.”

303 Squadron (Polish)

“On 15 September, celebrated in the United Kingdom as ‘Battle of Britain Day’, one in five of the pilots in action was Polish. At the end of the 16-week campaign the top scoring Fighter Command Unit {Squadron} was 303 Polish Squadron which in only six weeks was credited with 126 enemy aircraft. Arguably the most successful individual pilot- with 17 victories- was Sergeant Josef Frantis, a Czech member of 303 squadron”.

303 Squadron (Polish) IWM

Eventually, the Polish Air Force amounted to 18,000 personnel, formed 14 squadrons plus two additional special flights attached to British units {RAF squadrons} and supported by Polish training schools, engineers and administrators. Individual Polish pilots also flew with the RAF and USAAF squadrons. “

Polish War Memorial (Alan Malcher)

“At the end of the war Poland was handed over by the allies to the control of the same Soviet Union which had invaded her in 1939. Polish Armed Forces were excluded from the 1946 Victory Parade. The Polish Government in Exile established during the war years remained in Great Britain until Poland regained sovereignty in 1990.”  (Source Polish War Memorial, Northolt, London)

At the rear of the memorial and close to the remembrance garden will be found the names of 1,936 Polish airmen killed during air combat over England and other countries.  

Flight Lieutenant Richard ‘Dickie’ Lee DSO, DFC (RAF)

Hurricane Pilot during Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain.

‘Dickie Lee’ (source unknown)

Whilst serving with 85 Squadron RAF during Dunkirk, on 21 November he destroyed a Heinkel III over Boulogne and after being shot down he evaded capture and return to his squadron. On 10 May 1940 Lee destroyed a HS 126 and shared in the destruction of a Junker 86 and during the same action was credited for damaging a Junker 88. The following day, after shooting down two enemy aircraft he was shot down over the sea by flak and was rescued after being in the sea for over an hour.

‘Dickie’ Lee after being awarded the DFC and DFO

On 18 August 1940 during the Battle of Britain, Squadron Leader Townsend and Flying Officer Arthur Newman were flying ten-miles north-east of Foulness and were short on fuel when they saw ‘Dickie’ chasing a Messerschmitt bf 109 out to sea. Townsend shouted over his radio several times “Dickie come back!” but he continued to chase the Messerschmitt across the channel. Later that day Richard ‘Dickie’ Lee was reported missing presumed dead and neither his body or the wreckage of his Hurricane has been discovered.

At the time of his death ‘Dickie’ Lee was 23-years-old and is believed to have destroyed nine enemy aircraft.

Sergeant Ellis, Battle of Britain Pilot killed in action on 1 September 1940, body found and buried with military honours in 1993

Sergeant John ‘Hugh’ Ellis with Peggy Owen (Colour by DB original source unknown)

Sergeant John Hugh Ellis (known in his squadron as Hugh or the cockney sparrow) was a 21-year-old Hurricane pilot with No. 85 Squadron during the Battle of Britain. On 29 August Ellis was engaged in aerial combat over the channel during which his Hurricane was hit by enemy fire and flames were seen coming from the engine compartment.  Ellis managed to fly his crippled aircraft over land before bailing out and his aircraft crashed on farmland in Ashburnham in Sussex with his lucky mascot, a small boomerang his aunt had sent him from Australia.

‘High Ellis (DB Colour original source unknown)

On 1 September 1940 his parents and fiancé were informed John Ellis was missing presumed dead but due to the confusion during the Battle of Britain it was thought he was shot down over the English Channel.

After lengthy research conducted by historian Andy Sanders; Martin Gibb, a Coroner’s Officer with the Metropolitan Police and Peter Mortimer the cousin of John Hugh Ellis, in 1992 they discovered the crash site and also pieced together the chain of events.

Based on eye witness accounts a group of Hurricanes were engaging enemy aircraft over Court Road, Orpington when a Hurricane suddenly started diving towards the ground at high speed with its pilot slumped over his controls before crashing in a field located in Chesterfield south of Orpington in Kent.

A few days later a foot inside a flying boot was found and was buried in a grave marked as an ‘Unknown Airman’ at Star Road Cemetery, St Mary’s Cray. Several weeks later people looking for scrap metal found small body parts which they handed to the police and were later buried in another grave marked as an “Unknown Airman”.  Consequently, for over 50-years ‘Hugh’ Ellis had two different unknown graves in the same cemetery.

During an archaeological dig in 1992 the cowling of a Hurricane was found, and larger pieces of human remains were discovered inside the aircraft which were later identified as John Hugh Ellis. Among the personal effects which survived the crash and being buried for 52-years were two photographs: his fiancé Peggy Owen and his aunt who sent him the boomerang.

Sergeant John Hugh Ellis was later buried with full military honours at Brookwood Military Cemetery.

Additional reading https://sussexhistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=16417.0

Eagle Squadrons- American citizens who joined the RAF before Pearl Harbor

Nine American citizens are listed as pilots serving with the RAF during the Battle of Britain and some pretended to by Canadians in order to be eligible to join the RAF.

Several American pilots serving with RAF Fighter Command also supported the Canadians during the ill- fated raid on Dieppe.

After the United States entered the war the Eagle Squadrons were amalgamated into the USAAF and the pilots were allowed to wear RAF wings on their American uniforms.