The Last ‘Battle of Britain’ Aviator Laid to Rest
By Raymond Rolak
TORONTO– Tadeusz Sawicz, a former Polish World War II Air Force Officer, was honored with full military ceremonies when his remains were flown to Warsaw, Poland from Toronto, Canada for a state burial recently.
Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak, Polish Air Force troops, and soldiers from Britain’s Royal Air Force attended the arrival. Siemoniak said with reverence, “General, welcome in Poland, we shall always remember what you have done for the Republic of Poland.”
The honor ceremonies were historical because Sawicz was the last surviving Polish aviator that flew combat in the “Battle of Britain.” Brig. Gen. Tadeusz Sawicz died October 19, at the age of 97. He had been confined to a suburban Ontario nursing home. His ashes arrived at the military airport near Warsaw and his remains were interred at the military Powazki cemetery. His widow Jadwiga and daughter Anna attended the solemn event. The memorial started with a Catholic Mass.
With the RAF Queen’s Color Squadron present, Polish military spokesperson Czeslaw Mroczek said that Sawicz gave us an example of “true patriotism.”
He got his wings at the Aviation Cadet School in Dęblin, Poland in 1935. At the start of World War II in 1939, Sawicz flew in Poland’s air protection against the invading German Nazis. He was a member of the famed “Pursuit Brigade” which defended Warsaw in September of 1939. After the formidable power of the German Luftwaffe collapsed Warsaw’s air defenses, he joined Polish pilots fighting in France. Shortly after, when Paris surrendered, he joined thousands of Polish airmen, soldiers and sailors who traveled to Britain to take up the fight once again.
In the summer of 1940, General Władysław Sikorski – the head of Poland’s Government in Exile in London – signed an agreement with the British Government to form a Polish Air Force in Britain.
Sawicz served with distinction in the Polish Air Force in Britain from the 1940 “Battle of Britain” until 1947, and was credited with shooting down three German aircraft. He had been awarded Poland’s highest military honor, the Order Wojenny Virtuti Militari in 1943 and numerous other British, U.S., and Netherland aviation medals.
During the “Battle of Britain” German bombers devastated England’s airfields, cities and ports in a bid to destroy its defenses in preparation for a planned invasion. The Nazi’s had hoped they could bomb Great Britain into submission for surrender or a favorable negotiated peace.
In preparation for the invasion, Adolph Hitler had written in his famous Directive #16, “The English air force must have been beaten down to such an extent morally and in fact that it can no longer muster any power of attack worth mentioning against the German crossing.”
During the “Battle of Britain” the highly trained and battle hardened Polish airmen had the highest kill rates of all the RAF pilots that took part in this specific window of WWII. They were credited with 203 confirmed airborne kills.
Sawicz had time with the famous 303 Polish Fighter Squadron and also the 315. The 316th Warsaw Squadron, which flew Hawker Hurricanes, was under his direction in 1941. He also served under the Polish-American ace Francis Gabreski in the 56th Air Group. Sawicz suffered injuries in a 1944 on ground airfield collision when another Spitfire ran into him. He then was Polish Wing Commander at Coltishall, England and later in France coordinating advanced bombing raids into Germany.
Gabreski had been assigned to the Polish Squadron right after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 in Hawaii. His mission was to learn the 303 Kosciusko Squadron tactics because of their high German kill rate. Aggression and Nazi hatred was the key to the Polish airmen’s success. They also had the faster Spitfire. The Spitfire was built for speed which allowed it to accomplish its mission so successfully against enemy aircraft. With its sleek elliptical wings which had a thin cross-section, it allowed for a higher top speed than other fighters of its time, including that of the Hawker Hurricane.
Gabreski, known famously as Gabby, stayed in the U.S. service and later commanded a wing of F-86 Sabres at Selfridge Air Force Base in Macomb County during the Korean conflict in 1950. The two would periodically rendezvous and last got together for a reunion and aviation art exhibit in Toronto in 2000. Gabreski passed in 2002.
Sawicz also commanded the 131 and 133 Polish Wings and was demobilized as a Major in 1947. He stayed on in England after the war because of Russian occupation of his home area. He emmigrated to Canada in 1957. He was both a gentleman farmer and had worked for a Regional Canadian Airline. In 2006 he was named an honorary Brigadier-General by Polish president Lech Kaczynski.
There is a dedicated Polish War Memorial monument in the London Borough of Hillingdon that honors the Polish Airmen that defended Britain. In 2010 the monument was refurbished for the 70th anniversary celebration honoring those that participated in the “Battle of Britain.”
The 145 Polish aviators honored in London in the official RAF Role of Honor that had flown in the ‘Battle of Britain’ are now known affectionately as the “The Few.” This is from a phrase made famous by a Winston Churchill speech. There is a special stained glass window in Westminster Abbey honoring them.