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  • Faithful to my Homeland, the Republic of Poland

     

  • THE AIR BATTLE OVER GHENT

  • The Air Battle over Ghent

    On January 1, 1945, the Germans began to conduct operation codenamed "Bodenplatte". Its goal was a mass bombardment of airfields in Belgium and the Netherlands.  The purpose of this operation was the crippling of Allied air forces.  For this task, the Germans relied on the fighter single-engine planes most used on the western front - the Focke-Wulf FW 190 and the Messerschmitt Bf 109. One of the airfields to be attacked was that of St. Denijs Westrem in Belgium near the town of Ghent. Three Polish squadrons have already been stationing there since October,1944. Those were 302 Ponań Squadron, 308 Kraków Squadron and 317 Vilnius Squadron, respectively. 
      

     Ghent airfield after Germans attack 


    The attack on the airfield in St. Denijs Westrem was carried out by Luftwaffe units I./JG1 and II./JG2 led by Commanders Georg Hackbarth and Hermann Staiger. In sum, approximately 40 Focke-Wulf 190 fighter planes headed towards Ghent.  That day the three Polish Spitfire squadrons were tasked with bombarding communication paths to and across the Meuse River.  At 08.27, twelve 302 Squadrons Spitfires (under the command of Capt. Ignacy Olszewski) took off for their mission, as did eleven fighters from 317 Squadron (Capt. Marian Chelmecki), and eight from 302 Squadron (Lt. Edward Jaworski). The Poles hit their assigned targets dropping a total of three tons bombs.

    In the meantime, German fighters attacked the airfield in St. Denijs Westrem.  Having dropped their bomb loads, the fighters carried on by relying on  making guns targeting planes, trucks, buildings and all other crucial infrastructure points.  By all means this was a surprise attack for which airfield defences were poorly prepared.  Even more so was the case given that much of the a
    nti-aircraft artillery was by then moved to the new airfield in Grimbergen.  Three Polish ground personnel were killed in the attack - two drivers, Jerzy Koczwara-Bielka and Antoni Komorowski and one mechanic, Jozef Sikora, and eighteen were wounded.  Shortly after the German fighters appeared over the skies of St. Denijs Westrem, central command immediately called on the airborne Polish pilots for assistance. 

     

     Polish fighters of 308 Squadron

    Upon receiving the news, Capts. Olszewski and Chelmecki immediately increased speed only to find St. Denijs Westrem engulfed in smoke.  Polish Spitfires succeeded in surprising the German fighters as those were focused on their attack.  The Poles dispersed and so began a chaotic chase in open skies.  The Polishpilots shot down many Focke-Wulf planes, while chasing the rest away. Because of a lack of fuel, quite a number of Spitfires were forced to quit the battle and land.  Two Polish pilots were killed in the battle - Lt. Waclaw Chojnacki of the 308 Krakow Squadron and Lt. Tadeusz Powierza of the 317 Vilnius Squadron.  They were buried in St. Denijs, along with the three ground personnel (later to be exhumed to Lommel).

    The entry of Polish fighter planes into the battle succeeded in halting the German attack on the airfield.  The moment the Poles came in from above, the on the ground personnel quickly proceeded in clearing out the ground to allow Polish Spitfires a safe landing

    The battle over Ghent claimed twenty-one German fighter planes. Seventeen pilots were killed, four were shot down and captured. 

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