Witold Lanowski (8th June 1915 - 16th September 1993) was a Polish fighter pilot who’s career spanned four air forces during his flying career.
Born in Lwow Poland 1915 (Lwow eventually became part of the Ukraine following Poland’s occupation by the USSR), to a Polish father and German mother. His father was a Doctor of law and held several directorships, his mother was a carpet, kilim rug designer. He was a gifted sportsman competing in swimming, water polo, cross country skiing and shooting when he represented his country against Czechoslovakia in a shooting competition. Lwow was one of the Polish cities that had a serious dislike of all things authoritative in Poland at that time, especially the government in Warsaw which was effectively a military junta and the people of Lwow openly rebelled against the government in Warsaw and what it represented. amazingly when the unrest occurred in the air force pre-war the main leaders including Witold came from Lwow or the surrounding areas.
His flying career started when he was invited to attend a gliding course in 1934 and the bug bit! He qualified as top student and decided that this was what he wanted to be, a pilot.
In 1935 he entered Deblin officer cadet school and graduated as first pilot in 1938, but whilst in the cadet school he continued with his sports including pentathlon and became overall Polish ski champion in downhill, slalom and cross country and also won the Polish shooting championships.
He graduated from Deblin in 1938 with some of the notable Polish pilots of the time including Miroslaw Feric (303 sq), Tadeusz Sawicki, Stanislaw Skalski (C.O 317 sq) and Jan Zumbach (303 sq). Witold’s first posting as a pilot was to 121 Fighter sq in Krakow and whilst there he continued his training for the world ski championships. In February 1939 he won the inter services championships.
1939 saw him posted back to Deblin flight school as an instructor where he was to teach some of the pilots who would be influential in his later career namely Zbigniew Janicki, Tadeusz Andersz and Boleslaw Gladych.
September 1939 and the start of the Second World War:
Following hostilities breaking out with the Germans, on the 13th September 1939 he received orders to lead the remaining cadets out of the school south to Romania to escape internment. On the 19th September he was captured by the Czech militia and handed over to Ukrainian soldiers but managed to escape from the convoy. Following a grueling journey through Czechoslovakia, Romania and Hungary they landed by boat at Marseilles on the 12th November 1939 where he was posted with other pilots to 145 Sq at Villa Coublay flying in the defense of Lyon and Paris.
It was here that Witold’s reputation as a rebel escalated when the Polish pilots were displeased with the Polish authorities regarding the leadership of the air force which was being commanded by army officers with absolutely no knowledge of air combat tactics or flying in general and Witold aired his and the other pilots views and was arrested by the Polish high command and imprisoned for `gross insubordination’ for court martial and possible execution. Witold and other Pilots had begun to realise earlier whilst in Deblin that all was not well in the air force command and had organised the publication of a paper that was read buy the other pilots highlighting the views of the pilots who came to be labelled `rebels' by the Polish high command. So Witold had already been on the watch list prior to his `insubordination' (Polish high command terminology not the popular opinion of the pilots).
With the capitulation of France and his escape from prison he re-boarded a boat at Marseilles docking at Liverpool on the 12th July 1940.
July 1940 - March 1944
His years with the Polish Air force Under British Command :
Between August 1940 and September 1941 he was unable to be picked by the commanding officers of the Polish fighter squadrons who were frustrated with the fact that a skilled and seasoned pilot was being blocked to them by the Polish high command due to his views and previous arrest.
Witold was posted to 55 OTU as an instructor and was finally picked as a fighter pilot by 308 squadron flying Hurricane’s and on the 30th December 1941 was transferred across the airfield to 317 squadron flying Spitfire’s with the equivalent rank of Flying officer.
October 1942 saw him decorated with his second `Cross of Valour’ on the insistence of Skalski his squadron commander. In April 1943 he attended fighter leader school where he graduated and was immediately posted to 302 Polish squadron as `A’ flight commander (at the same time Boleslaw Gladych was transferred from 303 squadron to 302 squadron as `B’ flight commander). His C.O at 302, Wacław Król, forwarded him on several occasions for the `Virtuti Militari’ but was rejected by the Polish high command yet again as was his promotion to squadron leader even though as `A’ flight commander he had often led 302 squadron into battle. By 23rd February 1944 he had completed 97 operations and 220 combat flying hours.
In March 1944 the Polish high command wanted to give Witold a desk job but he refused and with the help of the Polish chief of staff Brzezina who was a friend and fan of Witold’s got him a posting to the 354th Fighter Group of the USAAF 9th Air Force flying mustangs from Boxted air base as an intelligence officer. Witold was furious that he had been blocked from operational flying by the high command and it was here with the 354th that he got his famous nickname `Lanny’ due to the difficulty the Americans had with his surname.
Following several visits with Gladych from Northolt whilst with 302 Squadron to Halesworth in his spitfire for discussions with Francis Gabreski and `Hub’ Zemke Lanny was transferred to the 61st Fighter Squadron of the famous 56th Fighter Group, Zemke’s Wolfpack.
March 1944 till the end of the air war 1945
This Transfer had come to fruition due to the fact that Gabby Gabreski being of Polish extraction had flown with 315 Polish squadron at Northolt in January of 1943 where he met Lanny and Gladych whilst being tutored in combat flying by Andersz. On return to the US and given command of the 61st Fighter squadron Gabby petitioned for the transfer to the 56th of seasoned, skilled Polish fighter pilots to boost the numbers as the 56th was very short of combat pilots at the time. So, several Polish pilots transferred to the 61st Fighter Squadron as operational combat pilots including Janicki (lost in combat with the 61st), Gladych, Sawicz, Rutkowski, Andersz and Lanny. This attachment effectively ended in August 1944 but at the request of `Hub’ Zemke and Dave Schilling Lanny and Gladych stayed on with the suggestion by Zemke that they apply for a US commission and was temporarily given the rank of `Captain’ during their stay with the 56th. The commission was never granted due to the Polish high command blocking His promotion yet again even after letters written by Zemke, Schilling, Gabreski and notably General Kepner who said that Lanny flew wing, element leader, flight leader and 61st squadron leader on missions but to no avail. So on the 15th May 1944 he flew the Thunderbolt for the first time with his first combat mission on the 21st May.
It was with the 56th that Lanny was able to excel at being the skilled combat pilot that he was and was accordingly decorated by the Americans with the Air medal with 2 silver clusters and 4 oak leaf clusters and also decorated with the American Distinguished flying cross by General Jesse Auton on 25th November 1944 and was granted permission to wear `Senior Pilots wings’ on his uniform. It was during this time that Lanny was able to display his iconic nose art on the cowling of his P-47 which became one of the most well know nose art decorations for a US fighter of the war. He created this nose art in 1941 but due to the stuffiness of the RAF rules and regulations was unable to display it on any of his previous fighter planes.
Both Zemke and Gabreski had the greatest respect for Lanny and often requested him to fly as their wingman on several occasions, competing with each other for Lanny `affections’ which often meant Lanny handing over his `Polish flight’ to Gladych to lead whilst he flew wingman.
Lanny was surprised at the level of training that the new pilots had received prior to a combat posting with a front line fighter group and `Polish flight’ had been set up for the Polish pilots to fly in a flight of their own but more importantly to allow Gabreski to rotate his new additions shipping in from the USA to the 61st Squadron through this flight to gain combat experience with the Polish veterans through their tutor-age and Lanny often didn’t claim kills if these rookie pilots had fired on the enemy as well, giving the kill claims to them to boost their confidence.
Gladych and Lanny were great friends having been at flight school together when Lanny was his instructor, flying together in France and then as flight leaders together in 302 squadron. They often played pranks on each other, and on one occasion Lanny hid Gladych's mascot `Pengie' (seen as nose art on his thunderbolts), much to Gladych's annoyance, so in retaliation Gladych hid Lanny's flight boots. An urgent mission was called and when Lanny tried to find his boots he asked Gladych if he had seen them. Gladych's reply was "why don't you ask Pengie, maybe she can tell you!" This caused much amusement among the other pilots so Lanny returned Pengie into Gladych's care...!
In January 1945 Lanny was given the first production P-47 mark `M’ which was designated HV-Z (bar) after silver lady was retired and transferred to the 9th AF, he retained the designation letters for his `Jug’. The first mark `M's suffered from quite a few glitches and breakdowns due to engine corrosion and Lanny's ground crew insisted that he have his engine swapped out before they would allow him to fly it! This Thunderbolt become the trade mark that Lanny is known by with the personal emblem on the cowling that has become famous as one of the most striking personal insignia's in the US fighter groups.
Living in Zakopane with the Blachut family before joining the air force
Witold represented Poland in the world ski championships at Downhill, cross country, slalom and also 'ski patrol' which became Biathlon in modern skiing competition. he continued his skiing career and shooting carrer whilst being in the air force as an officer cadet at Deblin
Seated relaxing at Deblin during training. Also seated in the picture (second from left) is Stanislaw Skalski who was one of WItold's close freinds throught training and the war years.
during the pre-war years there was often an exchange of student pilots with other nations including Hungary, Germany and in this picture, Romanian pilots. Witold is second from the right
Flying training. in this pictrure Witold is shown wearing his all leather flying gear (1st on the left). what is significant is the plane that the pilots are training in. This is the PZL P7a which was the trainer version of the P11c which was the mainstay 'fighter' of the Polish air force at the time. Regarded as 'antiquated' but proved to be lethal in the hands of the combat trained Polish fighte
Witold at Deblin 1938, also in the picture is Jan Zumbach, later to fly with 303 squadron.
Zakopane, on leave walking with Zosia Blachut
Ski traing, WItold 2nd from left
When the evacuation from Poland began in September 1939, WItold was at Deblin as an instructor and evacuated with 50 cadets, walking to Romania and getting on a boat to France. in this picture, taken on board 'the Patrice' Witold is 3rd from left, back row. also in the picture with his head bandaged is Stanislaw Brzezina who was a close friend of WItold at Deblin and throughout the war.
The pilots of 317 squadron taken between May - October 1942
Witold sat on spitfire AA758 JH-V nicknamed 'Bazyli Kwiek' this spitfire was one of a couple that Witold flew regularly. He flew 52 combat missions in this spitfire.
Spitfire W3970, JH-Y, the other spitfire Witold flew regularly. He flew 31 combat flights in thuis spitfire.
Seated in the cockpit of Spitfire JH-V
Excerpt from 317 squadron diaries :
4 a/c flown by four of our pilots left Northolt at 14:30. F/O Łanowski and F/Sgt Lowczynski crossed just south of Hardelot and attacked a factory near Dunnes and left it with fire and smoke issuing from it also attacked ME 109'son the ground some were damaged. F/O Łanowski's aircraft was hit, his rudder being nearly destroyed all aircraft landed at Northolt at 16
Witold with 'Pygmy' one of the Northolt mascots. they were best pals, with Pygmy often waiting for Witold to return from missions.
Witold seated in the officers mess, Northolt
Picture taken during 1944 with Stefan Birtus, one of dads close friends from 317 squadron, who visited him at Langham, next to Boxted airfield during Witold's time with the 56th Fighter Group.
Very rare picture from Witold's personal photo album of the 317 pilots, signed and dated
Witold being decorated with a 'bar' to his Polish Krzyz Walecznych, 'Cross of Valour'
Photo taken at Woodvale of the pilots and ground crew of 317 squadron. A rare photo to show all of the personnel of the squadron
listing of the personnel in the photo above
Photo taken next to Spitfire MA843, WX-F, Mk IX. this was Witold's personal spitfire.
Witold flew a total of 38 combat missions in this spitfire
April 1942, WItold attended 'Fighter Leader School' and was then transferred to 302 squadron 17th May 1943 as commander 'A' flight. alongside him is his best friend during the war, Boleslaw Gladych, who also transferred to 302 on the same day as commander 'B' flight.
they were to fly together again in the 56th Fighter Group of the U.S.A.A.F.
Post mission picture. WItold 4th from the right, on the extreme left, Boleslaw Gladych
Picture from Witold's personal photo album. taken at 'A' flight dispersal
Picture taken over Northolt 12th February 1944 as part of aircraft recognition for ground troops prior to D-Day to ensure they do not fire on allied aircraft.
Very rare picture from Witold's personal photo album of the 302 pilots, signed.
on the left of the propeller spinner is the pilots of 'A' flight, on the right, 'B' flight
Squadron group shot from WItold's personal photo album
Boleslaw Gladych, commander 'B' flight sated in a 302 squadron spitfire wearing his famous white flying helmet
Interesting photo taken possibly post mission showing Witold on the left and Boleslaw Gladych on the right.
Witold with the 354th. interestingly showing him wearing his RAF battledress.
It was whilst he was posted with the U.S.A.A.F that he received the nickname 'Lanny' which was to follow him to the 56th FG
Promotional shot at the wing of a P51C. also in the picture (in the middle) is Anton Glowaki another Polish pilot who was posted with the 354th at the same time
Picture from Witold personal photo album which shows fellow pilots, Gus Allen on the right and Clayton Kelly Gross on the left. Witold took Clayton to Northolt on a couple of occasions to meet his fellow Polish pilots
The well known group shot of the Polish pilots who joined the 61st Fighter Squadron, 56th Fighter Group. from the left Boleslaw Gladych, Tadeusz Sawicz, Francis 'Gabby' Gabreski (commander 61st squadron), Kazimierz Rutkowski, Tadeusz Anderz, Witold 'Lanny' Lanowski.
Photo taken 4th July 1944
61st Fighter squadron group shot taken 4th July 1944, the P47 Thunderbolt in the background is 'Silver Lady'. this thunderbolt became Witold's personal aircraft from august 1944 until October 1944.
Great picture of Witold, signed.
*note* this was taken early in his time with the 56th FG as he is wearing his RAF battledress.
Photo from Witold's personal photo album, pictured with 'Mother Dear and Jack Dear' who were the couple that took WItold in when he moved off base
Seated in P47D HV-M, Boleslaw Gladych's personal thunderbolt. Witold flew this thunderbolt on several missions.
Personal P47M that Witold received January 1945. On arrival there were engine problems with corrosion due to the engines not being packed correctly
close up image of the personal emblem
Photo which clearly shows the huge size of the nose art on the engine cowling.
The promotional shot taken by John Zasadzinski, the 56th FG photographer.
Witold is seated on Gladych's P47D HV-M which was designated 'Pengie IV'
Gladych and Witold, together again at the 56th FG.
Photo from Witold personal photo album. from left to ritght, Witold 'Lanny Lanowski, Kolepeda (Gladych's ground crew), Boleslaw Gladych, Moffat (Gladych's ground crew), Eugene Barnum (KIA December 1944)
Seated in a `freshly' painted P47M.
note how the canopy was 'closed' during the painting of the fuselage and was not removed.
His career started at:
Glider School 20 May 1934-1 July 1934
Cadet Pilot school 1 May 1935-1 July 1935
Déblin officer school 1 September 1935-1 September 1938
121 Fighter squadron 1 September 1938-1 July 1939
Déblin flying instructor 1 July 1939-15 September 1939
PAF France 28 October 1939-1 March 1940
1/145 fighter squadron 1 March 1940-28 June 1940
PAF Blackpool 1 September 1940-10 April 1941
No.1 SAC 14 April 1941-29 April 1941
No.9 OS 30 April 1941-6 September 1941
9 April 1941 - Dec 9 1941 55 OTU
15 Dec 1941 - 1 Jan 1942 308 squadron
1 Jan 1942 - May 17 1943 317 squadron
May 43 - Feb 26 1944 302 squadron
Mar 1944 - April 1944 354th FG
May 1944 - Aug 1945 56th FG
Totalling up Lanny’s 'Operational record' starting from December 1941 through to August 1945 it reads:
Flight records PAF 308, 317, 302 squadrons
Total hours: 488hrs 30mins
Combat hours: 199hrs 20 mins
Total period 29 months
Flight records USAAF 355th FS, 354th FG & 61st FS, 56th FG
Total hours: 435hrs 30mins
Combat hours: 325hrs 35mins
Total period 15 months
Total operational flights 618
Total combat flights 216
Total operational hours 1192hrs 10mins
Total combat hours 524hrs 55mins
Total operational period 44 months
Amazingly it shows for a shorter period of time with the USAAF he flew approx. 62% more combat hours as the flights over Germany were a lot longer than the range of the Spitfire with the Polish squadrons which could only operate over France
French Air Force:
Lanny’s unit in France: GC1/145 escadrille 1 section 5, Caudron no. 14
His time with the FAF was marred by his arrest by the Polish high command following his involvement in the rebellion at Déblin. Replaced by Kpr Joda following arrest 29th May 1940
Receives French wings 1 May 40
Arrested 26 May 40.
Released 27 May 40
Re-arrested 27 May by commander Lusinski
15 June 40 gen Sikorski orders release. Not released by the high command
7/18 June. Escapes from regimental camp at Aix En Provence
Polish Air Force under British command:
Following a period of time as an instructor with 55 Operational Training Unit (OUT) he was posted to 308 fighter squadron for a period of less than 3 weeks before transferring to 317 squadron on the 1st May 1942 until 1stApril 1943. 'B' flight, transferred to 'A' flight March 1943 as section leader.
His Commanding officers being:
Bzezinski, Ozyra, Skalski, Czaykowski, Kornicki
317 were based at the following stations during his time with them:
1 May 1942 Northolt ► 1 Sep 1942 Woodvale ► 3 Jan 1943 Northolt ► 1 Feb 1943 Kirton in Lindsey ► 5 Apr 1943 Martlesham on Heath (Suffolk) ► 2 May 1943 Heston ►
Combat missions flown with 317 squadron:
Jan 42. 1
Feb 42. 2
Mar 42. 0
April 42. 13
May 42. 9
June 42. 7
July 42. 3
Aug 42. 4
Sep 42. 1
Oct 42. 1
Nov 42. 0
Dec 42. 0
Jan 43. 1
Feb 43. 1
Mar 43. 0
April 43. 0
May 43. 18
Total 61 combat missions for a total of 68 hrs 40 mins (total hours including all flights 293 hrs 50 mins)
The notable spitfires that he flew whilst with 317 squadron were:
JH-Y (W3970) spit Vb flights 1942 & 1943
Jan 7, 24
total 31 flights
JH-V (AA758) Spit Vb flights 1942 & 1943
total 52 flights
On the 24th July 1942 according to the 317 Sq. official diaries, he was credited with damaging an unknown number of Me 109's during a rhubarb mission to Le Touquet flying Spitfire AA758 JH-V, but Witold did not claim ground kills (see below in 56th FG section for further official ground kills).
He was also asked by S/Ldr Baranski to evaluate a Mk IX spitfire before they were issued to the Polish squadrons:
Aug 18 1942. High climbing 40,000 ft. for 1hr 05 mins
Aug 26 1942. Cross country testing to Hutton Cranswick for 50mins
On the 17 May 1943 he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant and transferred to 302 squadron as ‘A’ flight commander when there was a change of flight commanders:
A flight - Zulikowski to Łanowski
B flight - Chelmeki to Gładych
Lapka, Baranski, Krol
302 were based at the following stations during his time with them:
15 Feb 1943 Hutton Cranswick ►15 June 1943 Perranporth ►19 Sep 1943 Northolt ►1 Apr 1944 Deanland
Combat missions flown with 302 squadron:
May 43. 2
June 43. 4
July 43. 6
Aug 43. 6
Sep 43. 15
Oct 43. 9
Nov 43. 9
Dec 43. 4
Jan 44. 9
Feb 44. 10
Total 74 combat missions for a total of 131 hrs 45 mins (total hours including all flights 208 hrs 40mins)
The notable Spitfires he flew whilst with 302 squadron were:
WX-F (AA730) Mk. Vb
27 combat flights for a total of 47hrs 35mins (total of 34 flights for 65hrs 45mins)
WX-F (MA843) Mk. IX (personal flight commander's aircraft)
38 combat flights for a total of 69hrs 50mins (total of 65 flights for 91hrs 20mins)
Total combat missions with polish squadrons = 135 for a total of 199hrs 20mins (total hours including all flights 498hrs 30mins)
United States Army Air Force:
Lanny transferred to the USAAF on 1st March 1944 when his tour of duty with the PAF expired. He was initially given the position of Intelligence officer with the 355th fighter squadron of the 354th fighter group, 9th Air Force (who were then first USAAF group to operate the P51 mustang in the ETO) 1st March 1944 until 1st May 1944 at Boxted. But, due to the fact this was not a combat posting he secured a posting with the famous 56th fighter group (61st fighter squadron commanded by Francis ‘Gabby’ Gabreski) who flew the P47 Thunderbolt in the ETO.
His total ‘familiarisation’ flights with the 354th were a total of 5 flights for 6hrs 20 mins
Lanny joined the 61st fighter squadron on 10th May 1944
His Commanding officers being:
Gabreski, Carter, Baker, Zemke (group commander), Schilling (group commander)
The 56th were based at the following stations during his time with them:
10th May 1942 Boxted
Combat missions flown with 61st fighter squadron, 56th fighter group:
May 1944. Total 8. (1 x Fw 190, 1 train)
June 1944. Total 22. (1 x Me 109, Lorries, bridges, aerodromes, barges)
July 1944. Total 13. (1 x Me 109, 4 trains)
Aug 1944. Total 11. (5/8/1944 4 x Me110 [gnd unclaimed], 16/8/1944 0.6 Ju88 [gnd unclaimed], 28/8/1944 0.66 He111 [unclaimed], 5 trains, 4 cars, train station)
Oct 1944. Total 8. 2 trains
Nov 1944. Total 7. (1 x Fw 190, 2 lorries, 3 damaged, 1 train, 1 barge)
Dec 1944. Total 3
Jan 1945. Total 4
Feb 1945. Total 1
Mar 1945. Total 2
April 1945. 2
May 1945. 0
June 1945. 0
July 1945. 0
Aug 1945. 0
Total 81 combat missions for a total of 325 hrs 35 mins (total hours including all flights 435 hrs 30 mins)
Lanny’s kills with the 56th
22 May 44, Fw190. Sweep Osnabruck
27 June 44, Me109, Me109 (unclaimed, given to Patterson). Dive bomb Reims /Amiens
5 July 44, Me109. Ramrod Chartreux
5 Aug 44, 4 x Me110 (in combat reports gnd unclaimed) Ramrod mission to Bremen / Osnabruck (source USAF records via Peter Randall)
16 Aug 44, 0.6 Ju88 (in combat reports gnd unclaimed) Ramrod mission to Hannover (source USAF records via Peter Randall)
28 Aug. He111 (in combat reports unclaimed). Ramrod Brussels/Kaiserslautern
18 Nov. Fw190. rodeo Frankfurt / Hanau
* note * Lanny did not claim ground kills
The combat missions flown on and around D-Day included:
3rd June 1944
P47D HV-L(bar) ramrod
Abbeville, Montdidier, Paris 3hrs 40mins
4th June 1944.
P47D HV-N. Ramrod Cambrai, Lille, Orleans 2hrs 40mins
P47D HV-G Ramrod Paris Cambrai 3hrs 40mins
5th June 1944
P47D HV-G Ramrod Dieppe, Amiens 2hrs 35mins
6th June 1944
P47D HV-G. Patrol channel 4hrs 35mins
P47D HV-O(bar) (Pengie II) Ramrod Dreux, Chatres. 3hrs 20mins
8th June 1944
P47D HV-L(bar) Ramrod & Dive bomb Orleans, Paris. 3hrs 55mins
P47D HV-Q. Dive bomb nr Paris 3hrs 30mins
10th June 1944
P47D HV-L(bar) ramrod 2hrs 50mins
Total combat missions 317, 302, 56th. 216 for a total of 524 hrs 55 mins(total hours including all flights 1192 hrs 10 mins)
Lanny’s WW2 DECORATIONS include:
Krzyz Walecznych + BAR [Cross of Valour] (Poland)
1939 - 45 War Commemorative medal (France)
Distinguished Flying Cross (USA)
Air Medal + 2 Silver Oak Leaf Clusters [received 11 times in total] (USA)
General service medal (British)
War medal 1939 – 45 (British)
Air crew Europe star (British)
1939 – 45 star (British)
The Total number of flying hours spanning from 1934 until he stopped flying in 1963, including Poland pre-war, France, PAF, USAAF, post -war RAF transport command and Katanga are an impressive 2590 hours 40 minutes of which 637 hours 5 minutes are combat flown hours.
The PZL always gave Witold an immense sense of freedom when flying this particular plane. With its open, if not very draughty cockpit, it gave excellent all round visibility especially during takeoff and landing. It wasn't particularly fast but the gull wing design made it extremely maneuverable and combined with the wide undercarriage, a very easy plane to land safely.
Witold was impressed with this fighter as it was a ruggedly constructed plane with thick wings and very stable. The 8 x .303 `pop guns' (as Witold liked to call them) were placed close together in the wings which gave good concentrated firepower from the inadequately powered `rifle' caliber machine guns. The thick wing was undoubtedly a contributing factor to the Hurricane not being as fast and nimble as its compatriot the Spitfire, although it could out turn both the Spitfire and Messerschmidt 109 during the Battle of Britain.
The rugged wing and fuselage structure made the Hurricane a great stable firing platform and also with the wide undercarriage, very easy to land especially in areas that the Spitfire would have found difficult to operate out of. with the additional fact that the Hurricane was made from a wood frame with the canvas skin stretched over the top, it was, in a some cases, able to be more readily field fixed after combat damage.
Supermarine Spitfire Mk's I, II, IVb & IXc
Witold was always outspoken about the `Spit'. He viewed this fighter as a beautiful plane to look at but all round not a practical fighter aircraft.
He was always unhappy with the cramped cockpit conditions, including the fact that it was unheated. This meant that on return from some missions his ground crew had to spray the pilots hands with oxygen so they could at least open their fingers!
The compass was very badly positioned at low level beneath the main panel and between the pilots feet which caused no end of problems especially during times of bad visibility or instrument flying when he had to constantly look down to ensure he was on course `taking your eyes off the sky'.
With the rigors that the Polish pilots put their Spitfire's through, there were incidents of the fuselage twisting during high speed / `G' manoeuvres. there were also records of fatal incidences of the wings `marching off' (using Witold's wording!) and Witold lost several friends during combat when this happened whilst the Polish pilots chased the Germans for the kill!
Witold was highly critical in the lack of fire power of the Spitfire. Combined with the wide spacing of the `pop guns' it meant that the convergence needed to be accurately set to ensure all the bullets landed on the target at the same time in the same place. Although, the Polish pilots, Witold included, set the convergence at between 75 - 100 yds to ensure maximum damage and the Poles often flew `up the arse' of the German to ensure they killed him not just downed the plane! This is where the Poles got their reputation as `ferocious' pilots with the aggressive tactics to kill the German pilot not just destroy the enemy plane. There are documented cases of Spitfire pilots hitting German aircraft with the .303 guns, inflicting damage but due to the lack of `punch' of .303's, the enemy pilot was able to return to base and be repaired for battle another day! notably stated in the book 'JG26' by Donald Caldwell.
An interesting fact was that the Hurricanes and pre mk V Spitfires only had approx. 15 seconds of ammunition. The Messerschmitt had 55 seconds of available Mg and 20mm cannon ammunition! A substantial advantage over the RAF fighters. During the battle of Britain and the early 1941 operations their restriction was the fact that due to fuel limitations they only had 10 minutes over England before having to run for home, otherwise they swam back...!
The film `The Battle of Britain' was one of Witold's `comedy' films, it used to greatly amuse him to watch the pilots shaking in their cockpits when they fired the 303's in the Spits, he would say that not only could you not hear them firing but you certainly couldn’t feel them firing, you often had to look way out on the wings to ensure your guns were going off! The only time you could feel your guns was when the cannons fired admittedly for only a short time due to the lack of ammo and because the back up 303's were so far out on the wings you didn’t know if you had totally run out of ammo without looking...! There were a lot of other elements of the film that mounted up to give Witold his `comedy' film.
It wasn't until the later marks that had the 20mm cannon fitted that the Spitfire was able to give out some acceptable firepower but due to the thin design of the wings it lacked the capacity to carry sufficient ammunition for the cannons to make it worthwhile. Witold said that when he flew the Mk IX in 302 squadron at least they had a few extra rounds available with the more rugged design of the wings.
Witold was never impressed with the narrow configuration of the undercarriage which helped to damage a lot of Spitfires as it wasn’t easy to land, especially on softer ground when taking off from grass etc.
So, to summarize, Witold was not overly impressed with the Spitfire, which was often outmaneuvered and outgunned by the German fighters and he always said that the Spit was `Ok for the Battle of Britain, but that was it! until the Mk IX came on the scene.
This opinion upset a lot of history buffs and various people over the years and caused many a heated argument, but as a trained veteran combat pilot he knew what he was talking about when he described what he expected from a combat fighter aircraft.
North American P-51 Mustang
In his capacity as `Intelligence officer' with the 355th Lanny was unable to fly combat missions in the Mustang. The cross-country and conversion flights he was able to do convinced him that the Mustang was a very good fighter plane. He was impressed with its agility in the air and its speed. The 6 x .50 caliber machine guns impressed him as did its sturdy air frame, armor and wide undercarriage making it easy to fly and land.
Republic P-47 Thunderbolt
Undoubtedly this was Witold's favorite fighter aircraft of the war. When the Poles first encountered the Thunderbolt in mock combat fights with the yanks Witold was of the similar opinion of the other Polish pilots that the Thunderbolt was a `Flying Pig'! The Polish pilots flew rings around this huge monstrosity of a fighter plane but he was later to admit that it wasn't just the fact that the Thunderbolt was heavy and slow to manoeuvre below 15,000 feet but it was also the lack of good training and combat experience of the American pilots that let them down. This was one crucial thing that Zemke asked Witold to help rectify when he joined the 56th FG in 1944.
His first impression on flying the Thunderbolt was how roomy, warm & well laid out the cockpit was with good visibility. when the Mk `D' bubbletop came into use this gave the pilot excellent all round visibility only matched by fighters like the P-51 `D' Mustangs.
Witold was impressed with the fact that conversion only took about half an hour as it was easy to fly, stable and solid especially when taking off and landing. Its engine was superb and reliable, being air-cooled it didn’t suffer from the vulnerability that water cooled engines like the Merlin which equipped its counterpart the Mustang and RAF Hurricanes and Spitfires. It was well known and documented of single rounds disabling a Merlin engine with a hit in the coolant system which ultimately led to a seizure! Witold's opinion was that if your Merlin engine was misfiring or running ruff, due to its vulnerability to seizure, the safest thing to do was return to base. The downside of this of course was that it meant dependent on how far into your mission you were, it may mean one or two other fighters having to escort you home, greatly weakening the remaining squadron.
But, the main thing that greatly impressed Witold was the incredible firepower and ordnance capacity of the `Jug'. With 8 x.50 calibre guns in the wings, closely grouped this gave the `Jug' incredible devastating destructive power over any enemy unlucky enough to get into a Thunderbolt drivers sites! Lanny was to experience just this fact with his first kill with the 56th when he chased a German, opened fire and the plane in front of him disintegrated before his eyes.
With the capability of carrying 250 or 500lb bombs as well as rocket tubes this gave the Thunderbolt fantastic all round fighter and ground attack capabilities unmatched by any other US fighter in theater at the time.
Zemke asked Lanny and Gladych to fully assess the Thunderbolt when they joined the 56th which they did, finding that it was outmaneuvered by the German fighters below 15,000 ft but totally unmatched in climb and dive rate. The FW was a deadly adversary to any allied pilot and the `Jug' could only turn with them for about 2/3 - 3/4 of the circle with water injection on for a few seconds before having to break away as the FW could out-turn them.
As previously stated above, the Germans used the `Split S' manoeuvre to escape from combat, namely flipping onto their back and diving hard away towards the ground. God help any German pilot who tried that when a `Jug' was on his tail. The dive rate was such that the Thunderbolt would often overtake the fleeing German during the dive. When the D-30 and Mk `M' appeared, the pilots were able to utilize the dive breaks to slow their dive rate.
Focke-wulf FW 190 (The enemy!)
Witold's opinion of the FW 190 was that as a fighter it was beautifully designed, extremely well-armed and lighter than its adversaries and believed it was undoubtedly one of the best fighters of the war. It could turn very tightly and Witold advised many pilots ‘do not get into a turning fight with a 190, he WILL get you’. He advised to only complete ¾ of a circle before breaking off and either diving or climbing away to break contact. in the hands of a competent pilot he had the greatest respect for the Fw190
As previously mentioned in the 'Pilot opinion' section, Witold was not impressed with the armament of the RAF fighters until they were fitted with 20mm cannon but still suffered from a major lack of rounds to use...! he was greatly impressed with the firepower of the Mustang and Thunderbolts 0.5" calibre machine guns fitted as standard to these fighters, their sheer `punch' and devastation power was just incredible to him after the Spitfire and Hurricane he had been previously flying. Witold was also impressed with the fire power of the Messerschmitt and Focke Wulf fighters with their mixed machine gun and cannon armament, firing through the spinner and also synchronized through the propeller blades which the Polish pilots were used to with the PZL P11c having the machine guns fuselage mounted firing synchronized through the propeller. Most non-German aircraft engineers had always maintained that firing through the propeller was impossible to synchronize accurately enough. Well, the Poles and Germans certainly disproved that theory...!!
One of his other `gripes' was the formations used by the RAF which was not only his personal opinion but also an opinion shared with the other Polish fighter pilots. The RAF used outdated formations at the start of WW2 including the classic `VIC' formation of three fighters in close proximity to each other flying in a `^' formation. This was the standard formation taught to all fighter pilots but required the pilots to spend more time watching each other’s aircraft to avoid collisions than actually watching the skies for enemy fighters. The RAF also used line astern and line abreast formations and tended to fly in quite close proximity to the adjacent aircraft. This was similar to the `VIC' formation in terms of time and concentration required to maintain a coherent formation which the Poles regarded as dangerous in a combat environment. the biggest disadvantage with these formations used by the RAF was a lack of maneuverability whilst trying to maintain formations, especially in larger turns.
The Poles were similar to the Germans in the use of the `finger four' formation which had been original semi created in the first world war and then further developed by the Luftwaffe `Condor' legion in Spain during the civil war pre-world war 2. The finger four formation consisted of a flight of four mutually supporting aircraft formed from two elements of two aircraft, a leader and a wingman. The German standard formation through all their Jagdgeshwader was the `Schwarm' (flight) and `Rotte' (element) of four and two aircraft in `finger four' formation. This formation allowed all parts of the sky to be within easy view with the added ability of the fighters within the formation to fly at slightly differing heights to alleviate any blind spots caused by adjacent aircraft. It was also an easier formation to use to change direction whilst maintaining a good formation.
The poles refused to use the dated RAF formations which they deemed dangerous and when they became operational other RAF squadron commanders soon saw the advantage of this formation and gradually adopted it, but it took a few years to implement fully.
Witold felt that training was probably the most important part of being a fighter pilot. He knew that the Polish pilots were already highly trained and ensured that they kept up their in-flight training to hone their already `sharp' skills. But he observed that the RAF pilots were drastically under trained when joining front line combat squadrons, lacking both flying, formation and gunnery skills. This became more prevalent when air to air gunnery competitions were held by the RAF and the top 3 places were always held by Polish squadrons (refer to the publication `Destiny can wait'). So, when he was assigned to be a flight instructor with 55 OTU he was able to instill his vast flying knowledge to British and commonwealth Pilot’s training to join front line squadrons.
Other Interesting facts about Witold Lanowski
Witold was unlike a lot of other world war two pilots being non superstitious. Even his greatest flying friend Boleslaw `Mike' Gladych was superstitious, having a ceramic penguin `Pengie' as a mascot. Note, his 56th FG Thunderbolts displayed his personal emblem of `Pengie' 1,2,3 etc.
Witold's personal Emblem displayed on his flying jacket and later his personal mark `M' Thunderbolt was a Polish red and white checkerboard with a Polish medieval knights gauntlet holding and crushing a German Messerschmitt ME 109. This emblem originated in 1941 but due to the fact that Polish pilots were under the command of the RAF were unable to display personal emblems on their aircraft although some individuals got away with it, namely Jan Zumbach of 303 (Polish) squadron.
The Emblem represented the defeat of the German Teutonic order in 1410 by the combined Polish and Lithuanian forces at the battle of Grunwald (Tannenberg to the Germans) which spelt the end of the Teutonic order's reign in Prussia which was northern Poland. Witold's personal opinion was that the Germans need not have invaded Poland to get to Russia or defend their eastern borders, they could have formulated a pact with Poland as the Polish forces were quite large and well trained, especially the air force (which gave the Luftwaffe quite a mauling in the September campaign). His opinion is that they invaded Poland as revenge for Grunwald (Tannenberg) as there are photographs of Hitler specifically visiting the memorial after the invasion. He was warned by both Zemke and Gabreski of the 56th FG that `if the Germans see that emblem Lanny, they will shoot you, no question'. Witold being the rebel he was not put off by this obvious fact!
Myths and legends of the Polish fighter pilots
The Polish fighter pilots were branded as `ferocious' trigger men (misunderstood by those that judged them). The RAF high command specifically requested that the Poles be asked to not `ram the enemy when they run out of ammunition’...! What historians fail to realize is that the Poles had good reason to have the attitude towards the German enemy that they had. It was an ancient hatred of the Germans following their occupation and persecution by the Teutonic order combined with the atrocities that they had seen in their homeland one of the most prevalent being the shooting of downed pilots whilst on their parachutes by the German fighter pilots. This proved to be the German's undoing from a `chivalrous' war point of view to the hatred that every Polish fighter pilot now felt towards them. It was indeed true that the Polish fighter pilot had the opposite view of their RAF counterparts, namely that they viewed the death of the enemy pilot and crew to be paramount, not just shooting down the enemy plane. The RAF pilots were often recorded saying that their view was they never really thought of it as a human being in the plane, but the Poles definitely did! as previously stated above, the Poles would rather ram the enemy fighter than let him get away. Witold and the other Polish pilots altered the convergence range of their `pop' guns down to 75 - 100 yds which was against RAF doctrine of the time to ensure the kill, especially with the weak firepower of the Hurricane and Spitfire so they closed the range to maximize the impact of the .303's. Many Polish pilots, Witold and Gladych included did not count the kill unless the pilot was dead...!!
This may seem harsh to many who read this or have heard of this in the past but you need to put yourself in their shoes, they were fighting for their freedom, the destruction of the occupier of their homeland and also they were fighting for the freedom of the country that had taken them in, namely England. No Polish serviceman would have tolerated for one second, any German landing on English soil.
The USAAF pilots of the 56th FG that flew alongside Witold and Gladych had never experienced the ferociousness of attitude towards the German foe they were fighting against, but soon came to accept and realize why these two combat veterans flew with the determination they did. The only pilot of the 56th FG who experienced anything like this was Francis `Gabby' Gabreski when he flew with 315 (Polish) squadron for a short period prior to the USAAF coming to England en-mass with their bomber and fighter squadrons and his return to the U.S to take command of the 61st fighter squadron of the 56th fighter group. He experienced first hand flying with the Poles and how they felt about the `Niemcy' they flew against.