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With Great Sacrifice and Bravery

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"With Great Sacrifice and Bravery": The Career of Polish Ace Waclaw Lapkowski, 1939-41, Illustrated with Official RAF Combat Reports
  • by Glenn Knoblock
    • Merriam Press World War 2 Biography Series
      • Fourth Edition 2012
      • 142 6x9-inch pages
      • 5 illustrations
      • 30 photos
      • 18 combat reports
This work is presented to the reader with several ideas in mind. First, it is the author's hope that, in some small way, it will help preserve the memory of a little known pilot who fought, not only for his own country, but also for France and England during the early, dark days of World War II. While Waclaw Lapkowski was an experienced pilot who became one of Poland's aces during the war, his early demise, like that of so many others, has relegated his achievements to the back pages of history, making them nearly forgotten. However, in referring to pilots such as Lapkowski, the great British ace Robert Stanford-Tuck cites the many men "who were credited with six, seven, or eight victories", pilots that "formed the bulk and guts of our fighter force."

     The second reason for producing this work is the unique use of official combat and operations reports from the Royal Air Force (RAF). Many of those who are interested in World War II aviation and fighter aces have read the biographies, and first-hand accounts of air combat contained within, of such men as Douglas Bader, Witold Urbanowicz, Adolph Galland, and Gregory "Pappy" Boyington, to name just a few. But what of those "aces" that did not survive to tell their story? How are they to be remembered? In the case of those who served with the RAF, the answer is, in part, through the use of official combat reports and related documents. While these official RAF and Polish Air Force (PAF) records do not sound particularly exciting, a glance at the surviving records quickly proves otherwise. Indeed, the title of this book consists of a borrowed phrase from one such report, and is a small example of the many dramatic events recorded within, often in the pilot's own words. While these reports have been an important source for many works on the RAF and PAF and its achievements during the war, never before, to the author's knowledge, have official combat reports been presented to the reading public in their original form. Though not originally intended for public view, they nonetheless make for exciting and informative reading and will be of interest not only to those with a passing interest in World War II aviation, but to the serious student as well. While the author was unable to obtain combat reports for all of Lapkowski's flights, those that were procured for September 1940 and June 1941 are of particular interest as they highlight all of the "kills" that he made while serving in the RAF.

     The final reason for choosing to write about Waclaw Lapkowski is due to the availability of wartime artifacts connected with his service in the RAF. About a year ago the author came in contact with a man who owned a portion of Lapkowski's Hurricane fighter, which was legally excavated in 1979. The author subsequently obtained a small piece of the wreckage for his personal collection, while the collector retained the remains of its Merlin engine, the prop boss, its Browning machine guns, and other items formerly on display at an aviation museum. Once this artifact was in the author's possession, he became interested in finding out about Lapkowski, his career, and his subsequent fate.

     While this work gives much information about 303 Squadron, it is not, however, a squadron history. While a book entitled Squadron 303 was published in London in 1942, written by Arkady Fiedler, it was not intended as an exacting history of the unit. Instead, it was a nice work of wartime public relations to help explain the Polish contribution in general terms during the Battle of Britain. Despite its shortcomings, Fiedler's book deserves its own place in the annals of aviation history. Copies by the thousands were smuggled into Nazi-held Poland and served not only to show that those who had left Poland were still fighting for their country, but served as an inspiration to those left behind to continue their resistance. No definitive squadron history has yet been translated into English.

     What the author found out, from the official combat reports, and various published sources, uniquely combined with available archaeological artifacts, was fascinating. What emerged from the records is a story worth telling. Waclaw Lapkowski, though not famous like such other Polish aces as Stanislaw Skalski, Jan Zumbach, or Urbanowicz, had an interesting and distinguished career. He was in the thick of battle at the outset of the war, when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, and saw subsequent service during the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain in 1940. He achieved air victories in two out of three of these campaigns, and is one of only a handful of men, less than 150 in number, who served in all three campaigns. To borrow a phrase from the British, Waclaw Lapkowski truly was one of "The Few", men whose skill and bravery helped stem the tide of German aggression and made Allied victory possible, at the cost of their own lives.


  • Acknowledgments

  • Introduction

  • The Source—Combat Report Form F

  • The German Invasion of Poland, September 1939

  • The Battle of France, May-June 1940

  • The Battle of Britain, August-September 1940

  • Shot Down over London, September 1940

  • Cross-Channel Operations, January-May 1941

  • Achieving Ace Status, June 1941

  • Final Flight, July 1941

  • Battle of Britain Revisited

  • Awards for Distinguished Action by Polish Pilots

  • Appendices

    • Biographies of Polish Pilots

    • Waclaw Lapkowski's Combat Claims
  • Bibliography
  • Pilot's flight log

  • This book is different from most other ones on the Battle of Britain in several respects. To begin with, it views the Battle through the experiences of one man (Lapkowski), devoting two chapters to this battle. It does not stop there. It continues describing Allied missions into German-held Europe into mid-1941, overlapping the start of the Germans' attack on their erstwhile Soviet ally.
         This book is quite atypical in that it includes a helpful glossary of aviation jargon, several reproduced combat report sheets, biographies of several different Polish pilots, etc. It also discusses postwar archeological dig-ups of fallen airplanes decades after the events. One of these was Lapkowski's Hurricane, out of which he had managed to bale out of, during the Battle of Britain. (p. 51).
         It was in mid-1941 that Lapkowski was killed in combat. Up to that time, he had destroyed seven (shared-destroy another two) German planes, and damaged three more of them. (p. 139). Three of the total was in the 1939 war, one was in France, two were in the Battle of Britain, and six were in 1941 over German-occupied continental Europe. Lapkowski was repeatedly decorated for his achievements.
         Contrary to the myth of the Polish Air Force (PAF) being largely destroyed on the ground during the first day of the 1939 War, the PAF (among them Lapkowski) flew 105 sorties that first day. (p. 30). As late as Sept. 8-9, Lapkowski's unit alone shot down three German planes over Lublin. (p. 32). Approximately 80% of PAF personnel managed to flee Poland before the German-Soviet conquest became completed. (p. 34).
         This work provides insights into the 1940 German-French war. France, though much more powerful than Poland, [and, not mentioned, facing only one enemy] lasted only three more days than did 1939 Poland. The French did not even use much of their forces, and only a fraction of the available Polish pilots ever got to see action (p. 41). After being evacuated to Great Britain, the Polish airmen remained there for the remainder of the war, and quite a few of them, unwilling to return to Soviet-ruled Poland, settled there permanently. —Jan Peczkis

The Author

Glenn Knoblock is an Ohio native with a BA Degree in History from Bowling Green State University. He moved to New Hampshire in 1984 and now resides in Dover with Terry, his wife of 22 years, and their children, John and Anna. Glenn has had a life-long interest in World War II and United States history.
     His previous books include A History of First Parish Burial Ground in Rollinsford, New Hampshire from 1730 to the Present (1996), Historic Burial Grounds of the New Hampshire Seacoast (1999), New Hampshire Covered Bridges (2002), and Strong and Brave Fellows: New Hampshire's Black Soldiers and Sailors of the American Revolution 1775-1784 (2003).
     He has just completed a book about African-American submariners of World War II.
     When not at work, Glenn enjoys spending time with his family, watching his son play baseball, reading, and lecturing on a variety of historical topics throughout the Seacoast area.

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