Oils on canvas 24x36ins
When Napoleon Bonaparte observed Polish Lancers in action during the early years of his conquest of Europe, he was so impressed by their fighting skills with horse and lance he immediately made them his Imperial mounted lifeguards.
The ability of these magnificent light cavalry, trained to ride fast in formations and wield the Lance though it were the longhand of a clock, with the lancer at the centre, striking a deadly thrust into an opponent’s chest from any angle from 12 O’clock in his saddle, made them a fearsome and terrible opponent to face on the Napoleonic battlefields of the 1800s.
So it was this”Lancers” spirit that embodied the Polish airmen who came to Britain to form two Squadrons within RAF Fighter Command.
Most notable of all was 303 Polish ‘Warzawa Kosciuszko’ Squadron, whose crest of crossed lances against the ” Czepka” or Lancer’s cap and’ 303′ emblazoned beneath was profoundly symbolic of their fighting prowess and heritage.
They wore this crest proudly on the sides of their Hurricane fighters as they went into battle.
And as their heroism turned them from a rag-tag band of refugee fighters into a squadron of aces, their Hurricanes were as revered to them, as were their forbears cavalry mounts.
This painting though, is as much about this particular Hurricane as the young Pole fighting from it.
Hurricane Mkl P3901 RF-E is portrayed during a combat fought on 26th September 1940. Flying Officer Witold Urbanowicz B-Flight Commander and acting Squadron Leader 303 Sqn. shot down this Heinkel HE111 over the Medway this morning during his Flight’s interception of a large enemy force heading for raids on Hampshire.
NINE Polish Aces who flew it in combat during the Battle of Britain, achieved five or more kills with her.
It is unlikely any other Hurricane in Fighter Command could boast such a tally than P3901. Originally issued to 615 Sqn, before being issued to 303 Polish at Northolt in mid-September.
Already an established ace, Fg Off Witold Urbanowicz added this Heinkel HE111 to his score, one of thirteen enemy aircraft destroyed this day by 303s pilots. Then, on the next day, 27th September 1940 he flew her again, engaging and destroying a Bf109E and a Bf110C of 15/LG1 during the morning, and that same afternoon, shot down two Junkers JU88As from 5/KG 77. On 30 September 1940 Urbanowicz scored two BF109E-1s from ll/JG 53 and 4/JG54 over Bexhill.
Passed on to Sgt Stanislaw Karubin, five days later, Karubin scored his 7th kill, a Messerschmitt Bf109 Emil of 1/JG3 to P3901s guns over Rochester. This was Sgt. Karubin’s final victory.
P3901 remained on charge with the Poles until 3rd January 1941 when she was left behind at Leconfield for service with newly-arrived 253 Sqn.
Eventually, she was passed on to 55 OTU. P3901 met an unfortunate end to her flying days on 28th April 1943, when she was flown into hill in Cumberland in a training accident and written off.
Witold Urbanowicz survived the war. He went on to join Chenault’s Flying Tigers in 1943 flying the Curtis P-40 Warhawk fighter, displaying the same formidable courage against the Japanese. He ended the war with 28 victories and the rank of Colonel as Air Attaché to Washington, and as Poland’s greatest Fighter Ace. He returned to Poland to eventually help rebuild the Polish Air Force and rose to the rank of General under Lech Walesa’s Government.
General Witold Urbanowicz died in 1996. He was 88.
Copyright Image and Text Simon W. Atack 2019.