Polish Fighter Pilots in Sussex
The Advanced Landing Grounds had a second, but no less vital purpose as emergency landing grounds for damaged aircraft. Deanland received its first emergency visitor as the workmen were still laying the runway: A Spitfire came down in August 1943 as its wounded pilot felt he was about to pass out from loss of blood. The following month, by which time the runway was completed, a B17 Flying Fortress of the US 8th Air Force came in, the first of 19 that would land or crashland on the airfield.
Chailey went operational as an ALG on 24 April with No. 18 (Polish) Fighter Wing in residence. The wing had satellite bases at Coolham and Selsey, the latter in Dorset. The wing consisted of six Polish squadrons, one Belgian squadron and two British squadrons, but was always commanded by a Pole, in 1944 the commanding officer was Group Captain Alexsander Gabszewicz. Although the Poles were equipped by the RAF and integrated into the RAF structure, they retained their individual character and the aircraft all carried a distinctive red and white checked square to identify them.
The Poles first action from Sussex was to escort American bombers to a target near Amiens on 27 April, a mission that passed off without incident. A similar mission to Dunkirk on 1 May saw Flying Officer Pentz return with his tailplane heavily damaged by flak, but he was unhurt. Thereafter the Poles were flying every day, either escorting bombers to France or flying Air-Sea rescue patrols over the Channel to try to locate downed airmen. The Spitfires were able to carry bombs and after 8 May the Poles concentrated on their own bombing attacks on railway junctions, airfields and bridges.
The Poles’ first casualty since arriving in Sussex came on 18 May when the Spitfire engine of Flying Officer Adamek suddenly cut out over the Channel, probably due to a hit from German flack that had been encountered over the target at Fecamp. Adamek bailed out, but his parachute got tangled around the tail of his Spitfire and he was dragged down to his death.
from "Heroes of RAF Fighter Command in Sussex" by Rupert Matthews
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