Poland's Circus Master

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  1. v2

    v2 Well-Known Member

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    When Stanislaw Skalski left Poland in 1939, he was its highest scoring fighter pilot. When he returned to his liberated country in 1947, he was its leading ace. In 1948, he was in prison as a suspected spy.

    Interview by Jon Guttman

    When the Germans launched their first blitzkrieg into Poland on September 1, 1939, they were met by a spirited but hopelessly disorganized defense that nevertheless took a sizable toll on the invaders before being overwhelmed. Afterward, thousands of Poles established an armed force in exile to fight on in France, Britain and the Soviet Union. Among them was Stanislaw Skalski, already the highest-scoring exponent of the PZL P-11c fighter, who would go on to even greater things in the Royal Air Force (RAF). In an interview with Aviation History senior editor Jon Guttman, Brig. Gen. Skalski described an aerial odyssey that took him to several fronts in the European theater--and a postwar career in the air force of a liberated Communist Poland that was anything but smooth.

    Aviation History: Could you tell us something of your background prior to World War II?

    Skalski: I was born in Kodyma, north of the Russian city of Odessa, on November 27, 1915. After the 1917 Russian Revolution broke out, my father sent my mother with me to Zbaraz, near Lwow, in 1918. He, too, eventually made his way to Poland and got an office position in Dubno in 1923. I lived there until 1933.

    AH: What led you to seek a career in aviation?

    Skalski: Since 1927, when I first saw an airplane in southern Poland, I thought I would like to learn to fly. After being a student for two years in political school, I started training on gliders in 1934, and in April 1935 I passed the course in powered aircraft. When I decided to become a military pilot, I had to try again, but I passed all the flying courses before I got into cadet school in January 1936.

    AH: What was your training like?

    Skalski: I and my class trained at Deblin from 1936 to October 15, 1938, when we graduated as officers. I began with the RWD-8 primary trainer. It was very easy to fly--a piece of cake. Then I switched to the PWS-14 and PWS-26, two-seat aerobatic biplanes that could be seen in aero clubs everywhere in Poland. Later on, we went through tests to determine our different personal characteristics--doctors would watch us to see who was more aggressive at sports such as boxing. Out of my class of 40, eight to 10 of us were selected for fighters, while the others became bomber or observation pilots.

    AH: What was your first unit assignment?

    Skalski: Before promotion, a graduating cadet could ask the authorities for an assignment. I asked my senior officer for the best fighter squadron. He said the best was the 4th Air Regiment of the III Fighter Division [the III/4 Dywyzjon, or Dyon, comprised of the 141st and 142nd eskadri, or squadrons] at Torun, which had distinguished itself for two years in competition among squadrons. So, although the 6th Regiment was closest to my family in eastern Poland, I asked for the 4th. Looking back on 50 years, I was lucky I chose it. I built up my future there. Within the regiment, I was assigned to the 142nd Eskadra, which was comprised of nine airplanes, with three in reserve.

    AH: What were the PZL P-7 and P-11c fighters like to fly?

    Skalski: I only flew the P-7 in advanced fighter training. Only one squadron at Krakow and one at Wilno still had P-7s at that time. When I joined the 142nd, we already had the P-11c. The PZL fighter was a very pleasant airplane. The P-11c had become obsolescent by 1939, but a more modern PZL fighter, the P.50 Jastrzab ("hawk") was being developed, which would have been built in 1941. After the North African campaign in 1943, I went to Cairo and met Brig. Gen. Ludomil Rajski, who later flew three missions from Italy over Warsaw in Consolidated Liberators during the Warsaw Uprising of August-September 1944. He told me that when the Germans occupied Poland, they found the Jastrzab's airframe and evaluated it. Their Focke Wulf Fw-190 was suspiciously similar to the P.50 in structure, with a bigger engine.

    AH: What was the Polish air force's state of readiness when World War II broke out?

    Skalski: When I got to the 142nd, the commanding officer (CO), Flight Captain Miroslaw Lesniewski, gave me the job of intelligence officer. I got all our intelligence regarding German units that were likely to fly against us, but I was forbidden to write anything. I gave the pilots all details from my head. On a few occasions, I shot at Dornier Do-215s that were flying clandestine photographic missions over northern Poland from March to May 1939. I flew as high as 7,000 meters trying to intercept them, but the closest I got to one of them was about 300 meters. They were as fast as our fighters--faster even. We knew the Germans had better aircraft, but we thought we could cope with it. We thought the French could help.

    AH: What did you do on the first day of the war?

    Skalski: In the afternoon of September 1, 1939, a Henschel Hs-126 [of Army Reconnaissance Group 21] crossed the border. That was reported to my division, and I took off with another pilot. Meanwhile, however, two pilots of the 141st Eskadra, 1st Lt. Marian Pisarek and Corporal Benedykt Mielczynski, had taken off on their second mission of the day to intercept a reported Do-17 formation at 3:21 p.m., when they spotted the Hs-126 and attacked it. After a few bursts, its engine stopped, and the plane came down in a field near Torun and flipped over on its back. I then found the plane and decided to see what maps or information it might have. I landed nearby and noticed plenty of blood in the Henschel's enclosed cockpit. The pilot, Friedrich Wimmer, was slightly wounded in the leg; his navigator, whose name was von Heymann, had nine bullets in his back and shoulder. I did what I could for them and stayed with them until 11 a.m., when an ambulance came.

    AH: What became of the Germans?

    Skalski: The prisoners were transferred to Warsaw. After the Soviet Union invaded Poland on September 17, they became prisoners of the Russians but were released at the end of October. When they were interrogated by the highest Luftwaffe authorities, Wimmer told them of my generosity. The Germans, who later learned that I had gone to Britain to fight on, said if I should became their prisoner I would be honored very highly. The observer, von Heymann, died in 1988. Three years later, the British air attaché and Luftwaffe archives helped me to contact Colonel Wimmer. I went to Bonn to meet him in March 1990, and the German ace Adolf Galland also came over at that time. In 1993, Polish television went with me to make a film with Wimmer. Reporters asked why I did it--why I landed and helped the people we had shot down, exposing my fighter and myself to enemy air attack. I was young, stupid and lucky. That is always my answer!

    AH: When did you return to your airfield?

    Skalski: I came back late in the afternoon, and I had to land on the road close to a forest--Torun aerodrome had been bombed already. I then gave Lt. Gen. W. Bortnowski, commander of the Pomeranian army, the maps from the Hs-126, which gave all the dispositions and attack plans of German divisions in Pomerania. He kissed me and said this was all the information his army needed.

    AH: When did you score your first official victory?

    Skalski: The next day, September 2, we went up to intercept Do-17s attacking Torun. Nine were circling--I made head-on attacks at the formation and got a Do-17 armed with cannons. Minutes later, I got a second Do-17.

    AH: So you started your scoring with a double victory. But I seem to remember that Do-17s were not armed with cannons--Messerschmitt Me-110s were, and German records indicate that the I Gruppe of Zerstörergeschwader 1 lost an Me-110C-1 at that time. That being the case, you would also be the first pilot to shoot down one of those new twin-engine fighters.

    Skalski: That is probably so, because we were completely unfamiliar with the Me-110--it had only made its combat debut the previous day. It was also on September 2 that Captain Florian Laskowski, CO of the III/4 Dyon, was killed by groundfire, after only 15 minutes in the air, following a stupid order from our regimental command to attack a panzer division with the P-11c's four 7.7mm machine guns. Captain Tadeusz Rolski took over the regiment.

    AH: Do you have any comments on the two Hs-126s you downed on September 3?

    Skalski: One, which Lieutenant Karol Pniak, 2nd Lt. Pavel Zenker, Corporal Zygmunt Klein and I attacked in the morning, crashed in a forest near the Vistula River. The other I got in a head-on attack during an afternoon flight. We shot at each other. When I turned again, the observer bailed out. The plane crashed near Koronowo. Our infantry was there as the observer ran toward the forest, and I flew in front of him--not to shoot him, but to try to get him to stop. Finally he stopped and put his hands up as I circled him.

    AH: Did you have encounters with single-engine fighters?

    Skalski: On September 4, I shot down a Junkers Ju-87B near Inowroclow and then survived a fantastic fight with three Messerschmitt Me-109s. They also attacked Flying Officer Stach Zielinski, who went down in a spin from 200 meters--he pulled up close to the ground. After September 7, we were transferred to defend Warsaw and the Lublin area. Captain Lesniewski, Lieutenant Pniak and I damaged a Do-17 on September 9, but I don't think we got him, and we had to get out because of enemy fighters.

    (part 1)
     
  2. v2

    v2 Well-Known Member

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    AH: What did you do when Poland was overrun?

    Skalski: From Lublin, the squadron moved to Brest-Litovsk. We got contradictory orders to go to different areas. While on patrol on September 13, I encountered a Do-215 but couldn't get him--he flew west. At that time, I was 38 kilometers from Dubno, so I took time to say goodbye to my family. Later on, we went to Brzezany, which had a fantastic airfield on top of a 500-meter-high hill. On September 16, we got orders to go to Romania to pick up Hawker Hurricanes and Morane-Saulnier MS.406s being shipped in from Britain and France. Some pilots went to Romania by air with the rest of the airplanes. My commander ordered all the ground crews to go in trucks on the evening of the 16th, driving all night to the frontier town of Smiatyn. I lost my way in the dark and ended up at Horodenka before somebody told me. I went around and got back at about 8 on the morning of September 17. As our convoy resumed its trek, I saw three tanks to our left, coming toward us. They stopped, and I saw they were Russians. Since I spoke Russian, my commander asked me to ask their CO, a captain, if they were with us or against us. I said "Good morning," and had the impression that I spoke better Russian than he did--he must have been Ukrainian. When I asked his intentions, he said, "We are going to fight the Germans." We shook hands, I gave him a box of cigarettes, and after paralleling our route a bit longer, the Russian tanks turned back for the forest. When we got to the frontier, soldiers and civilians were trying to get out. The frontier was closed, so we waited until 3 p.m. Some Me-109s flew over us but didn't shoot. Romanians took our weapons and later ordered us to go to refugee camps. Six of us went to Bucharest and stayed in a hotel. The next day we went to Costanza, on the Black Sea.

    AH: A number of exiled Polish airmen fought in the French air arm. Why didn't you?

    Skalski: Some 700 of us went by boat to Beirut, Lebanon. From there, we left for Marseilles. Our party was billeted at Salon, north of Marseilles. Then I found myself in a party that was to be sent to Britain and trained to fly bombers. The RAF was organizing four Polish bomber squadrons, and the British were taking only young chaps. I didn't want to go, but a friend told me, "Stanley, better go where they tell you." So I left Cherbourg on January 27, 1940. As the British became concerned with German attacks in May 1940, their thoughts changed. By June, a lot of pilots, including myself, had been trained in Hurricanes and had been transferred into RAF squadrons. Two all-Polish squadrons, 302 and 303, had just been organized.

    AH: How much extra training did you need in order to become a qualified RAF fighter pilot?

    Skalski: We started at Eastchurch on the Thames Estuary. We used to go to school like boys to learn English. From Eastchurch we went to Blackpool, then to different schools. I went to No. 6 OTU [operational training unit] at Sutton Bridge for just two weeks or so of Hurricane training. After training, we were posted to different RAF squadrons. I tried to get into an RAF squadron with my friend Karol Pniak, but he was sent to No. 32 Squadron while I was sent to No. 302, a Polish unit that was still being organized. They were going to make me an instructor, but I told the CO, "Thanks, but I want to be in the south with No. 11 Group, where there is fighting." For a week I waited in Blackpool, then I was sent to No. 501 (County of Gloucester) Squadron on August 27. All squadrons were short of pilots, and I was immediately flying sector reconnaissance.

    AH: How did the Hurricane compare with the old PZL P-11c?

    Skalski: It was a big difference. The Hurricane was one or two generations ahead of the P-11c. Besides speed, they were in different technical classes--the Hurricane's armament of eight .30-caliber guns was fantastic. In my first combat with Heinkel He-111s north of Herne Bay on August 30, I remember seeing my guns just cut off the right wing from the fuselage.

    AH: On August 31 you downed your first Me-109 over Hornchurch. How would you compare the Hurricane Mk.I with the Me-109E?

    Skalski: We'd been told what was different between the two types and what to do in a dogfight. The Hurricane was more maneuverable and better between 5,000 and 10,000 feet. The Me-109E was better at higher altitudes, up to 20,000 feet. Whenever I got into a dogfight I tried to get as low as I could. There, I had my advantage, which shows the difference between the two airplanes. The Me-109 was faster, but on August 31 I outmaneuvered one of them and shot it down.

    AH: What was your impression of your CO, Squadron Leader Henry A.V. Hogan?

    Skalski: Harry Hogan was a very good leader. I flew a lot as his No. 2. I used to switch off the radio, since I could not understand English and it just made me sick. I just flew close to Hogan's wings. He had to keep a close formation as he'd lead us against the 109s--we'd have to shoot our way through them and get to the bombers. It was really a piece of cake to shoot the bombers.

    AH: What about tactics against German fighters?

    Skalski: The British had no idea of tactics at first. Their squadrons used 12-plane formations, broken up into three-plane elements in line astern and in close formation--about 100 feet distance--stepped in height. You couldn't see anything. I began flying farther away, and Hogan remarked, "Are you scared of flying close?" I replied, "I want to see what's going on." I reminded him of the case of one British squadron in which the Germans shot down six planes and the leader didn't know what was happening. Hogan agreed: "Stanley is right--don't fly so close." Later, the British copied the Germans, with formations of four aircraft at different heights. The Germans' squadron leaders flew in line astern at the same level, with 200 meters distance on each side, depending on the sun. That way, they could watch and defend each other. Their double-paired "finger four" formation was more flexible.

    (past 2 )
     
  3. v2

    v2 Well-Known Member

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    AH: After downing two Me-109Es on September 2, you were shot down yourself on September 5. What do you recall of that combat?

    Skalski: I don't remember my September 2 victories very well, except that they were in two different fights on the same mission. On September 5, I was flying in Hogan's Hurricane V6644, squadron code SD-B. I got one He-111 and two Me-109s and still had ammunition, so I went off to do some hunting by myself. I didn't know who shot me down until he made a slow roll in front of me--by then I was already on fire. He had come up from below and behind me. He hit my reserve tank, located behind the engine, but I would have been even less fortunate if he had hit my main tank. I preferred to use the main tanks first; if I used up the fuel in the reserve tank, there would be fumes left in it, and if a bullet hit it, it could have exploded and I would have been killed. As it was, I was on fire, including my tunic and other clothing. I used to fly without goggles--I put my hands over my eyes and opened the cockpit, but the pressure kept me in my seat. I used my right hand to try to get out while the plane dove from 28,000 feet at 600 mph. Once my head was out of the cockpit, the wind pulled me out. I probably collided with the right fuselage or tail. My hand is still injured--I can't play tennis--and my knee also hurts. I was probably unconscious after hitting the airplane, but a sixth sense told me not to open my parachute until the fire was out. Three years ago, I found out in a medical journal that when you are between life and death, something in your head tells you what you have to do. When I opened my eyes, I was floating 200 feet above the ground. I landed in a field, and a police car came from the bushes. The policemen asked me, "German?" "No," I said, "I'm from Poland." They took me down to a hospital with a Canadian unit. A few weeks later, I was visited by a squadron mate, Sergeant James H. "Ginger" Lacey, who would become a 28-victory ace. I asked him to fill out a report on my claims that day for the intelligence officer, which he promised to do, but for some reason the three victories I scored that day were not officially confirmed.

    AH: After six weeks in the hospital, you returned to action. Did you have any trouble after what had happened to you?

    Skalski: Hogan wasn't sure if I was fit when I rejoined No. 501 Squadron on November 8. I told him, "I can fly, I'm all right," so my flight leader gave me a plane and told me to do some aerobatics. After 10 minutes, I became terrified of being on fire--I was still suffering from the shock of being shot down. Soon after I landed, however, there was a scramble and my flight leader had me fly behind him as his No. 2. Soon after we took off, we ran into 27 Me-109s coming from north to south. I radioed, "Follow me," then attacked, and in quick succession I shot down two of the Messerschmitts, which were jointly credited to me and two other pilots. I had overcome my fear and everybody bought me a beer afterward. [The Me-109Es were apparently from II Gruppe, Jagdgeschwader 26, which was conducting an offensive sweep and claimed four Supermarine Spitfires that day; in fact, they shot down two Hurricanes and forced two others to land. The only recorded loss for II/JG.26 occurred when Feldwebel Ortwin Petersen's plane was hit, though he nursed it across the Channel before crash-landing on the beach in France.]

    AH: At the end of February 1941, you transferred to the all-Polish No. 306 (City of Torun) Squadron. How did that differ from No. 501 Squadron?

    Skalski: My old CO of the 142nd Eskadra, Rolski, arranged to get me into his RAF squadron. He got three Skalskis at various times--Marian was killed while test-flying a captured German Me-262 and Henryk was shot down and killed over France while serving in a British squadron. Number 306 Squadron was equipped with the Supermarine Spitfire Mark IIb, armed with two 20mm cannons and four machine guns. It was a more intelligent airplane than the Hurricane, more maneuverable at higher speeds. Which of the two was best depended on the job you had to do--for defense, the Hurricane was fantastic. For offensive operations, the Spitfire was better--it could fly higher and had better armament. During the Battle of Britain, we had plenty of Spitfires on patrol and they'd get some of the Germans over the French coast before they even got to the target.

    AH: How did the Spitfire Mk.IIb compare with the new model Me-109F that was then appearing over the Channel?

    Skalski: We had no trouble with 109Fs. The important thing was to see the enemy at the right time. The next Me-109 I got, southwest of Gravelines on July 24, 1941, didn't see me when I jumped him. I downed an Me-109F on August 19 and another two days later.

    AH: On September 17 you flew one of the new Spitfire Mark Vbs. How did that compare with the Mark IIb?

    Skalski: The fuselage was the same, but the engine was more powerful. We lost Sergeant Stanislaw Wieprzkowicz, who was killed, and pilot officer Czeslaw Dazuta, taken prisoner on September 16, but I got a couple of Me-109Fs [again from JG.26] southeast of Dunkirk the next day.

    AH: After a rest period, you began your second RAF tour with No. 317 "City of Wilno" Squadron in March 1942, and you started to encounter the Focke Wulf Fw-190A. How did you think the Spitfire Mk.Vb performed against the Fw-190A?

    Skalski: The first time we met, of course, it was a surprise--the Fw-190 was a very good airplane, better than the Spitfire V. We met more than 20 of them. There was a big dogfight with Me-109s and Fw-190s. I didn't do much. I got an Fw-190 on April 10, which was later rerated as a "probable," after which I damaged an Me-109F on April 25 and scored another probable over an Fw-190 on May 3.

    AH: In November 1942, you were made chief flying instructor of 58 OTU at Ballado Bridge. Did you find that training new pilots was satisfying?

    Skalski: Orders were orders, but I was unhappy. I asked the CO of the fighter school, "Sir, can you help me? I hate this job. I'd take a loss in rank to join a British squadron in the south." They needed chaps who wanted to fight. In the meantime, Air Chief Marshal William Sholto Douglas, who took over RAF Fighter Command in November 1941, was posted to the Middle East Air Force [MEAF]. When he got to Cairo, Egypt, at the end of 1942, he sent a message to the Air Ministry saying, "I have no Poles here." In March 1943, I was placed in command of 15 pilots--10 officers and five NCOs--who were sent to North Africa without ground crews. The Polish Fighting Team, or PFT, was attached to No. 145 Squadron, commanded by an American, Squadron Leader Lance C. Wade. That squadron provided us with food and administration, and Wade arranged mechanics for us. I became very friendly with "Wildcat" Wade. We also used to fly missions with American units at that time.

    (part 3 )
     
  4. v2

    v2 Well-Known Member

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    AH: The PFT, also called "Skalski's Circus," was equipped with the Spitfire Mk.IX. What was your impression of that model?

    Skalski: That was a super modern plane, very maneuverable and fast--it surpassed the Fw-190A.

    AH: What were some of your combats over the desert?

    Skalski: On March 28, Flight Lt. Eugeniusz Horbaczewski and I flew from the sea, made a deep penetration of enemy territory in Tunisia and got two Junkers Ju-88s over Sfax. They didn't expect us--it wasn't fighting, it was just exercise. We also saw an enemy column, so we went down and shot up the vehicles and plenty of Germans. I downed an Me-109 over El Hamma on April 2, and another two days later. On May 6, there was a big German resupply flight. We flew top cover for a squadron of American Curtiss P-40 Warhawks--there was a massacre and the Bay of Tunis seemed to be on fire. Later in the war, I met one German POW who had been there and who was a good swimmer--he made it to shore, but a hell of a lot of his comrades were killed. He was later sent to Silesia, and then to a panzer division in France before being captured.

    AH: After Axis forces in Tunisia surrendered on May 13, the PFT was dissolved, but you became the first Pole to command a British squadron. How did you come to get that singular honor?

    Skalski: The commander of the Western Desert Air Force, Air Vice-Marshal Harry Broadhurst, called in the COs for a drink. He took me aside and said: "Stanley, I would like to talk to you about the future of the PFT. I have a lot of New Zealanders, Canadians and Englishmen who need to rest after one year of being in the desert. I need flight and squadron commanders, and I know you can do it." After a few days' leave in Cairo, I was posted to Malta, but by then the war had moved on and Malta was no longer in danger. A short time later Squadron Leader John S. Taylor was killed over Sicily, and I was posted to take over No. 601 Squadron. Another of my PFT pilots, Wladyslaw "Maciek" Drecki, went to No. 152 Squadron and Horbaczewski went to No. 43 Squadron, both as flight commanders. On September 13, during the Battle of Salerno, Drecki was taking off with 90-gallon tanks on his Spitfire when a tire burst. He turned over and was killed. He was buried at Catania.

    AH: In December 1943, you were put in charge of No. 131 Polish Wing at Northolt and subsequently led No. 133 Wing. What were those commands like?

    Skalski: I was only with No. 131 Wing until March 1944. Number 133 Wing was re-equipping with North American Mustang Mk.IIIs. We cooperated with the U.S. Eighth Air Force, escorting Boeing B-17s and Consolidated B-24s over Germany.

    AH: What was your impression of the Mustang, which was powered by the same engine as the Spitfire?

    Skalski: The Mustangs were fast, long-range fighters--up to 11 hours, by God!--and capable of performing different jobs, including dive-bombing. During the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944, we used to carry two 250-pound bombs under the wings. Once, four of us flew with 500-pound bombs, but I nearly killed myself getting off the runway. We also escorted paratroopers and gliders. D-Day was unbelievable. We flew 90 kilometers between our airfield and the Normandy beachhead. All the ships were coming to one point--you couldn't touch between the ships--it was fantastic.

    AH: On June 24, 1944, you were credited with your last victories--two Me-109Gs over Tilliers. What are your memories of that fight?

    Skalski: We'd bombed a target and later on we were turning when I glanced to my left and saw a bunch of Germans flying very low. They didn't see us as they headed for the beaches. We attacked them, and at first they apparently thought we were another bunch of Germans. After closing to 200 feet, I was about to press the trigger button when two of the Germans saw me, turned to escape and collided in a big mass of fire. I didn't fire a single shot. I didn't claim the victory in my combat report, but Fighter Command gave it to me. We lost one pilot that day--another bunch of Germans got him.

    AH: What were your last wartime assignments?

    Skalski: In September 1944, I was sent to attend a course at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. After I graduated on January 5, 1945, I got a message from the Pentagon to proceed to Third Air Force headquarters at Tampa, Fla. The program concerned the development of fighter tactics during the war, and I expected that this lecture would be for youngsters. Instead, I met about 50 officers and compared my experiences with theirs on different fronts. This conference lasted from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Brigadier General Edmund D. Lynch, the deputy commander of the Third Air Force, then invited me to dinner in the Tampa Hotel. During our conversation he said that his chief of staff was being posted to New Guinea and asked if I could take his post. I was surprised and said, "General, I am trying to go to Okinawa, in the Far East." Besides, as far as I knew, the U.S. Constitution decreed that even an officer in the merchant marine had to be American. Lynch said, "Say yes and you will be an American tomorrow. I need you." The Polish air attaché, however, told me that I had to come back to the United Kingdom. I was supposed to go with an RAF wing to the Far East. I got back aboard the ocean liner Queen Mary in February 1945--there were 12,000 men on the ship--and was made Wing Commander Operations for No. 11 Group at Uxbridge.

    AH: What did you do after the war ended?

    Skalski: I went to Germany in February 1946, as operations officer in the Army of Occupation and stayed until the Polish army was disbanded in December 13, 1946. In 1947, I decided to go back to Poland. We knew about what was going on in Poland then. I was asked to stay in the RAF. I could have made it a good career. But I decided to come home. For now, I'd prefer it if the reason was still my secret.

    AH: Although you rejoined the Polish air force in June 1947, you were jailed from June 1948 to April 1956, and even spent a year living under a death sentence as an accused Anglo-American spy. Were you ever able to gain acceptance and trust from the Communist government?

    Skalski: They had thought me a spy because of all my previous contacts with the Western Allies. When I was finally released on April 20, 1956, I went looking for a civilian job. A friend of mine came by with a newspaper, which showed me that I had rejoined the air force. I went to General Marian Spechalski, who would later be a marshal. Nobody was in charge of the army, and he was in civilian clothes--he had no uniform yet. I showed him the article and said, "General, I've already organized myself for civilian life. I don't want to join the air force." He told me, very nicely: "You know what is going on. We ask you to help us--we have to change everything now. Please help me--and help us. Later, if you want to go, ring me up any time." Maybe it was the way he asked, but I answered, "Okay, sir."

    AH: Do you now feel vindicated as a result of rejoining the Polish air force?

    Skalski: Well, I was the youngest major in the Polish armed forces in 1947--before I was arrested. They promoted me to lieutenant colonel in 1958 and to colonel in 1965.

    AH: Have you had occasion to meet with any of your old British or American colleagues?

    Skalski: I have been to reunions in Canada and the United States. I was in San Francisco in 1988 when the Polish attaché told me that I was being promoted to general and I had to come back to Poland by October 5. I remarked--joking, of course--that I thought they were just doing it to get me back, so they could put me in prison again.

    AH: Have you any additional comments on any aspects of your aviation career?

    Skalski: No. These days, I'm interested more in tomorrow than in 60 years ago--to see Poland rise up from her present horrible economic and social state.

    ( Part 4 )

    (Aviation History)
     
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