Wartime career of Polish pilot who fought for RAF revealed

Polish army officer who fled to Britain after Nazi invasion was so desperate to fight the Germans he trained as a pilot before joining RAF’s famous 316 Polish Fighter Squadron, unseen photos reveal

  • Photo album sold for £1,200 at auction showing the wartime career of Polish fighter pilot Antoni Lipkowski
  • The aristocrat and career cavalry officer, son of wealthy landlords in Poland, joined the RAF’s 316 squadron
  • He retrained as fighter pilot when he found himself in exile in UK when the Germans invaded his homeland
  • Collection of images show fascinating glimpse of 6ft tall airman’s family life and his service during WWII 

A Polish army officer who fled to Britain when the Nazis invaded his home country retrained as a pilot and joined the RAF to fight against Germany.

Aristocrat Antoni Lipkowski signed up to the elite 316 ‘Warszawski’ squadron alongside fellow Poles that escaped to the UK in 1940 and flew Spitfire and Hurricane MkII’s during the Second World War. 

His incredible story has come to light for the first time through a collection of 155 previously unseen images charting his military career.

The album, which has just fetched £1,200 at auction in Ashford, Kent, shows how the Pole, a career officer in a cavalry regiment who stood well over 6ft tall, went from being in exile in the UK to signing up to the air force and flying alongside his countrymen in the war effort.

His attempts to join the RAF was thwarted several times because of his height which meant he struggled to squeeze into the confined cockpit of a fight plane. But military chiefs eventually signed him up because of a shortage of airmen, and he took to the skies with the 316 squadron.

The images show Lipkowski, the son of a wealthy family of landlords, fitting into his Spitfire and posing nonchalantly in front of it with a cigarette in his hand. Another photo depicts the Pole – who was said to have turned heads with his handsome appearance – towering over an RAF colleague while having a drink in a pub.

The incredible collection of 155 images chart the military career of Polish aristocrat Antoni Lipkowski and how he joined the RAF’s 316 Polish Fighter squadron during the Second World War. Flt Lt Lipkowski, pictured in his Spitfire during his service in the Second World War

Lipkowski is pictured here in front of his Spitfire. He saw service with the RAF’s Polish 316 fighter squadron. The unit was formed at Pembrey on 15 February 1941. It was engaged in defensive duties over south-west England. It flew Hurricane MkIIs and Spitfires. It was one of several Polish fighter squadrons fighting alongside the Royal Air Force during World War II

Flt Lt Antoni Lipkowski (front centre) with his squadron. The image of the 316 Squadron is one of a collection of 155 images that chart Lipkowski’s life during the Second World War. He retrained as a pilot and joined the squadron in Britain when he fled his homeland after Germany invaded in 1939

There is also a photo of Flt Lt Lipkowski on his wedding day to wife Gilberta, as well as candid snaps of his young daughter Kathleen.

But the album does not gloss over the horrors of war as other images shows the burning wreckage of an airfield in Belgium where he spent time in the latter part of the war.

Lipkowski was released from the RAF in 1946 and emigrated to Kenya the following year, before moving a few years later to Geelong in Australia where he spent the rest of his life. He died aged 53 in 1966.

An account of his career in the RAF reads: ‘Antoni Lipkowski was the son of a wealthy family of landlords. He was a very tall, slim, handsome man with straight blond hair. He was a career officer in a cavalry regiment.

‘After the collapse of Poland he found himself in England in the Polish Army in exile.

Lipkowski pictured in front of his Spitfire during his service with 316 squadron. An account of his career in the RAF reads: ‘He desperately tried to become a fighter pilot, but was several times rejected on the account of his big stature, too big according to the air command, to sit in the confined cockpit of a fighter plane’

The album includes photos of Flt Lt Lipkowski on his wedding day to his Belgian wife Gilberta, as well as images of his young daughter Kathleen. Lipkowski emigrated to a farm near Geelong in Australia after the war. He lived there until he died aged 53 in 1966

Flt Lt Antoni Lipkowski’s parents Walery and Helena. The fascinating collection of unseen photographs chart the wartime career and family life of the pilot who fled to the UK after Poland was invaded in 1939 and was adopted by the RAF as one of their own

Flt Lt Antoni Lipkowski in front of his Spitfire – he was initially thought to be to tall to fit into the jet.  The photo album of 155 images fetched £1,200 when it went under the hammer with C&T Auctions, of Ashford

‘The only possibility then to fight Germans was to join the RAF as there were Polish fighter squadrons within it.

‘He desperately tried to become a fighter pilot, but was several times rejected on the account of his big stature, too big according to the air command, to sit in the confined cockpit of a fighter plane.

‘Eventually he succeeded in being transferred from the Polish Army to Polish Air Force in 1942.

‘He became a high class pilot capable of air acrobatics and effective shooting at air and ground targets.’

The photo album fetched £1,200 when it went under the hammer with C&T Auctions, of Ashford.


The images show Lipkowski, the son of a wealthy family of landlords, fitting into his Spitfire and posing nonchalantly in front of it with a cigarette in his hand. Another photo depicts the Pole – who was said to have turned heads with his handsome appearance – towering over an RAF colleague while having a drink in a pub

The album does not gloss over the horrors of war as other images shows the burning wreckage of an airfield in Belgium where he spent time in the latter part of the war. Pictured: Aftermath of a German raid on St Denijs Westren airfield near Ghent in Belgium

Flt Lt Antoni Lipkowski with a tiny WAAF – he was initially thought to be to tall to fit into the Spitfire but proved his doubters wrong. He turned heads with his ‘handsome’ appearance. He was adopted by the RAF as one of their own during the Second World War after he retrained as a fighter pilot, because he was desperate to fight the Nazis

Members of the 316 Squadron relax in a captured German position during the Second World War. By the end of the conflict around 19,400 Poles were serving in the Polish Air Force in Great Britain and in the RAF

Flt Lt Antoni Lipkowski in front of his damaged Spitfire after a raid during the Second World War. Matthew Tredwen, specialist at C&T Auctions said of the collection: ‘It is very rare to find photograph albums to Polish Fighter pilots. This is an outstanding album’

In another image in the fascinating collection of images charting the life of Lipkowski, shows an abandoned V1 ‘Doodle bug’ in Belgium. Several images show the 316 squadron, which flew sorties over northern Europe, relaxing in Belgium, and capture the aftermath of bombing raids

Matthew Tredwen, specialist at C&T Auctions, said: ‘The album starts with images probably taken in Poland before the outbreak of World War Two with many images of officers in Polish air force uniform.

‘It soon moves to the UK and has images of Lipkowski in RAF uniform, with many group images of both RAF air crew and Polish air crew.

‘Lipkowski can be sitting in his Spitfire with clear squadron badge of 316 Polish Fighter Squadron.

‘It is very rare to find photograph albums to Polish Fighter pilots. This is an outstanding album.’

Flt Lt Antoni Lipkowski receiving a medal on an unknown airfield in Europe. Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, head of Fighter Command, later paid tribute to the ‘magnificent’ Polish squadrons. He said: ‘Had it not been for the magnificent material contributed by the Polish squadrons and their unsurpassed gallantry, I hesitate to say that the outcome of the Battle (of Britain) would have been the same’

316 Squadron, including Flt Lt Lipkowski, (kneeling centre) relax with a Spitfire in winter snow in Belgium. A total of 145 Polish fighter pilots served in the RAF during the Battle of Britain, making up the largest non-British contribution

316 Squadron relaxing in the Belgium countryside.  By the end of the war, around 19,400 Poles were serving in the Polish Air Force in Great Britain and in the RAF

A total of 145 Polish fighter pilots served in the RAF during the Battle of Britain, making up the largest non-British contribution.

By the end of the war, around 19,400 Poles were serving in the Polish Air Force in Great Britain and in the RAF.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, head of Fighter Command, later paid tribute to the ‘magnificent’ Polish squadrons.

He said: ‘Had it not been for the magnificent material contributed by the Polish squadrons and their unsurpassed gallantry, I hesitate to say that the outcome of the Battle (of Britain) would have been the same.’ 

Lipkowski was released from the RAF in 1946 and emigrated to Kenya the following year, before moving a few years later to Geelong in Australia where he spent the rest of his life. He died aged 53 in 1966. Pictured is his life on the farm

The album, which has just fetched £1,200 at auction in Ashford, Kent, shows how the Pole, a career officer in a cavalry regiment who stood well over 6ft tall, was in exile in the UK before signing up to the air force

How Polish pilots flew for the RAF during the Second World War

Poland was invaded by the German Army on September 1 1939. After their defeat, tens of thousands of Polish servicemen made their way to France.

The Polish Air Force was recreated and established on French soil. But after the German invasion of France, the first Polish pilots reached Britain on December 8 1940.

By the end of July 1940 the total of Polish airmen on British soil was at 8,384 men.

The British were at first doubtful about the flying skills of the Polish pilots. Flight Lieutenant John A Kent, who was later posted to 303 (Polish) Fighter Squadron during the Battle of Britain wrote at the time: ‘All I knew about the Polish Air Force was that it had only lasted about three days against the Luftwaffe, and I had no reason to suppose that they would shine any more brightly operating from England’.

But British casualties mounted over the summer, and military chiefs turned to the Poles who had told of how keen they were to fight against the Nazis.

In July and August, two of the first Polish fighter squadrons, Nos. 302 and 303, were established. 

Polish pilots in RAF squadrons played a substantial part in all operations against the Luftwaffe. Sergeant Antoni Glowacki of No. 501 Squadron RAF, who on 24 August claimed five enemy bombers, which were shot down in three combat sorties over one day.

During the Battle of Britain, a total of 145 Polish airman fought in the conflict. 

Afterwards, Polish fighter pilots became instant celebrities with all classes of British society. Waiters refused to take payments for their meals in restaurants, bar owners paid for their drinks and bus conductors allowed them free journeys. 

After the Battle of Britain the Polish Air Force continued to serve alongside the RAF until the last day of the war. By early 1941 the PAF listed 13 units – eight fighter, four bomber and one reconnaissance squadron. In 1943 and 1944 a further two observation squadrons were formed.  

The No.316 ‘Warszawski’ Squadron, which Lipkowski belonged to, spent most of the war flying offensive sweeps, before moving to escort duties in 1944. 

The squadron was formed on 15 February 1941 as a Hurricane-equipped fighter squadron, and was used to provide defensive cover for the south-west. 

Source: Imperial War Museum 

Source: Read Full Article