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The History of the Kosciuszko Squadron

World War I ended on November 11, 1918. The same day saw the rebirth of an independent Poland. The resurrected state found itself in a mortal struggle with the newly ensconced Communist government of Russia. A long a bitter struggle ensued between the Poles, who sought to protect their newly re-gained independence, and the Russians, who saw the destruction of Poland as the first step in the westward march of Russian power and Communist ideology.
In the first days of independence a group of American pilots embraced the Polish cause and volunteered for service with the Polish forces. Sixteen Americans joined four Poles and a Canadian pilot to form the 7th Squadron of the Polish Air Force.

In tribute to the famous Pole Tadeusz Kosciuszko, who had served with such distinction in the American Revolution, the squadron took his name. Thus was born the famous “Kosciuszko Squadron” of
the Polish Air Force, a largely American contingent consciously repaying the great Pole for his service in the American cause by aiding Poland in its time of need. The squadron emblem, a distinctive Polish four-cornered cap and crossed scythes on a field of thirteen stars, combined powerful Polish and American symbols. The cap and scythes commemorated Kosciuszko’s famous victory over the Russians in 1794, which owed much to the local peasantry’s gallant charge, and the 13 stars represented the original American colonies.

The squadron featured Merian C. Cooper--the moving spirit of its creation. Cooper was linked to Poland by a family legend that one of his ancestors had fought alongside Kazimierz Pulaski during the American Revolution. Pulaski, Kosciuszko’s dashing fellow-Pole, died at Savannah in 1779 after playing the lead in creating the American cavalry.
The Kosciuszko squadron played a worthy role in Poland's bitter war against the Russians in 1919-21 and its American pilots consciously regarded themselves as “repaying the debt” owed Poland from the era of the American Revolution. After Poland’s victory in the war, every year Warsaw would commemorate the three Americans who died while serving in the squadron’s ranks. Between 1921 and the outbreak of World War II in 1939, one of Poland’s Air Force squadrons (the 111th) always bore the name “Kosciuszko” and participated in the ceremonies.
The Second World War: The Kosciuszko Squadron’s Finest Moment

Image of Tadeusz Kosciuszko


In 1939 the 11th played a heroic role in the vain effort to protect Warsaw from the German invasion, which opened World War II on September 1. Its now all-Polish pilots downed 7.5 German planes, and the obsolete Polish Air Force outfought the Germans over Poland, suffering only 116 loses while bringing down 129 of the enemy who had the advantage of the most modern equipment. After the evacuation of elements of the Polish military and government to England following the fall of France in 1940, the Kosciuszko Squadron was reborn as the 303 Polish Fighter Squadron serving with the RAF
.
This squadron played a very significant role in the Battle of Britain joining more than 150 fellow Polish pilots in this crucial encounter. The Kosciuszko squadron’s performance was extraordinary. It shot down 126 German planes and lost merely eight pilots in the effort, far surpassing the performance of any British squadron and earning itself permanent membership in the ranks of the most illustrious military formations in aviation history. Many of the
squadron’s men won decorations, some repeatedly, many became aces. The Battle of Britain was a turning point in the war, and the Poles played a large and disproportionate role in the victory. Merian Cooper visited the Poles of the squadron in London in 1940, joining many in saluting these heroes of Poland.

A few months later the squadron joined in the famous Dieppe raid over the continent. Forming less than 10 percent
of the air contingent, they shot down 20 percent of the German opposition and suffered only 3 percent of the losses, again far out-performing all British units. Despite their large contribution to the war and their heroic performance, the Kosciuszko Squadron shared with all Poles the bitterness of a defeat in victory in 1945. Abandoned by their erstwhile British and American allies, the brave Poles saw their homeland occupied by the Russians and refashioned as a Communist state.

Now, after a generation of subjugation, Poland is again free, and the Air Force of Poland, a NATO ally of the United States, again features a Kosciuszko Squadron. Hence, the brave Americans of 1919 live again, as does the spirit of Poland through the symbols of its dedication to national freedom and personal honor.
 
 


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