Witold's opinion of some of the combat aircraft that he flew during World War 2

PZL P11

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 manoeuvrable and combined with the wide undercarriage, a very easy plane to land safely.

 

Hawker Hurricane

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' calibre machine guns. The thick wing was undoubtably a contibuting factor to the Hurricane not being as fast and nible as its compatriot the Spitfire, although it could out turn both the Spitfire and Messerschmitt 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.

 

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 rigours that the Polish pilots put thier 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 thier 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!

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 couldnt 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 didnt 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 wasnt easy to land, especially on softer ground when taking off from grass etc.

 

So, to summarise, Witold was not overly impressed with the Spitfire, which was often outmanoeuvred and outgunned by the German fighters and he always said that the Spit was `Ok for the Battle of Britain, but that was it!'

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 of `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 thatthe Mustang was a very good fighter plane. He was impressed with its agility in the air and its speed. The 6 x .50 calibre machine guns impressed him as did its sturdy airframe, armour and wide undercarriage making it easy to fly and land.

 

Republic P-47 Thunderbolt

Undoubtedly this was Witold's favourite 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 aircooled it didnt suffer from the vulnerability that water cooled engines like the Merlin which equipped its counterpart the Mustand 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 siezure! Witold's opinion was that if your Merlin engine was missfiring or running ruff, due to its vulnerability to siezure, 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 theatre at the time.

Zemke asked Lanny and Gladych to fully asses the Thunderbolt when they joined the 56th which they did, finding that it was outmanoeuvred by the German fighters below about 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 Mk `M' appeared the pilots were able to utilise 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, well armed and lighter than its adversaries and he believed it was undoubtedly one of the best fighters of the war.