Archiver > WORLD-OBITS > 2005-07 > 1120579085

From: "Peter_McCrae" <>
Subject: SKALSKI; Stanislaw-12/11/2004-POLISH
Date: Tue, 5 Jul 2005 16:58:05 +0100

General Stanislaw Skalski
(Filed: 16/11/2004)
The Daily Telegraph & the

General Stanislaw Skalski, who has died aged 89, was Poland's most
successful fighter pilot, credited with destroying at least 22 enemy
aircraft and damaging others; he was decorated for gallantry four times by
the British and six times by the Polish government in exile.

After escaping from Poland following the German occupation in September
1939, Skalski reached England and was commissioned in the RAF. After a
period of inactivity with a fighter squadron in the north of England, he
joined No 501 (County of Gloucester) Squadron at the height of the Battle of
Britain in August 1940.

Flying Hurricanes from Gravesend, the squadron had seen much action, and
Skalski soon claimed his first victory when he shot down a Heinkel on August
30. The next day he shot down an Me 109 fighter and destroyed two more on
September 2.

Three days later he took off to attack a large bomber force approaching
Kent, and sent a Heinkel down in flames before attacking an Me 109. After
hitting the German fighter, he watched the pilot bale out before climbing to
attack another Me 109, which he destroyed over Canterbury.

As he turned away, Skalski was himself attacked and his Hurricane set on
fire. He baled out and was admitted to Herne Bay hospital, where he remained
for six weeks receiving treatment for serious burns. Anxious to return to
combat, he discharged himself at the end of October and returned to No 501.

Stanislaw Skalski was born on October 27 1915 at the village of Kodyn, north
of the Russian city of Odessa. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, his
father sent him and his mother to Zbaraz, near Lvov.

After attending school in Dubno, Stanislaw learnt to fly gliders in 1934,
and the following year he qualified on powered aircraft. He now decided to
become a military pilot, and entered the cadet school at Deblin in 1936; he
completed his training in October 1938, graduating as an officer.

Skalski was assigned to the 4th Air Regiment at Torun, where he joined No
142 Eskadra, the "Flying Ducks", to fly PZL fighters. Following the German
invasion of Poland on September 1 1939, Skalski and his squadron were in
action immediately. He claimed his first victory on the opening day, and by
the fifth day he had destroyed four German bombers, to become the only
Polish ace of the short campaign. As Polish resistance collapsed, the
remnants of his squadron escaped to Romania. He eventually made his way to
the Mediterranean, where he boarded a boat for England, arriving in January

For his deeds during the Battle of Britain, Skalski was awarded Poland's
highest decoration for gallantry, the Virtuti Militari. In March 1941 he was
posted to No 306 (Torun) Polish squadron flying Spitfires, and during the
summer of 1941 he was to claim another five victories on sweeps over
northern France.

Following these successes, he was invested with the Polish Cross of Valour,
to which he would eventually add three bars, and in September he was awarded
the DFC. In March 1942 he joined No 316 Squadron and soon accounted for a FW
190 fighter. He was promoted to squadron leader and given command of No 317
Squadron, which he led during the combined operations at Dieppe when his
pilots destroyed seven German aircraft. For his "excellent leadership" he
was awarded a Bar to his DFC.

After two years' constant fighting, Skalski was rested in November 1942,
when he became the chief flying instructor at a Spitfire training unit.
Determined to return to a fighting unit, he became leader of the
newly-created Polish Fighting Team (PFT) of volunteers in January 1943.
Popularly known as "Skalski's Circus", the elite team numbered 15 of the
best Polish fighter pilots. They left for North Africa a month later when
they were attached to No 145 Squadron. Flying the latest Spitfire Mk IX
aircraft from Bu Grara in the Western Desert, the team claimed its first
victory on March 28 when Skalski and his wingman each shot down a Junkers 88

Over the next few days, Skalski shot down two Me 109 fighters and damaged a
third; and by May 13, when the final German forces in Tunisia surrendered,
his Polish pilots had destroyed 30 enemy aircraft. In July, Skalski took
command of No 601 Squadron at Luqa, Malta, shortly before moving to Sicily.
He was only the second Pole to be given command of a RAF squadron. Soon
after receiving a second Bar to his DFC in October, he was promoted to be
the Wing Leader of No 131 Polish Wing at Northolt. In April 1944 he moved to
command No 133 Wing, which had recently re-equipped with the Mustang
fighter. In May he was awarded the Virtuti Militari for the second time.

Skalski led his three squadrons on long-range bomber escort missions, often
escorting bombers of the USAAF to targets as far as Hamburg. Then, with
D-Day imminent, the squadrons began dive-bombing sorties against targets in
northern France. On June 24 he chased two Me 109s over Rouen, causing them
to collide without firing a shot. They were his final claims, and he ended
the war as Poland's highest-scoring fighter pilot. In September his
operational flying career was over and he was awarded the DSO. After
spending six months in the United States, he returned to become wing
commander operations at HQ No 11 Group.

At the end of the war Skalski was offered a commission in the RAF, but he
decided to return to Poland in June 1947. Initially, he served at the
headquarters of the Soviet-dominated Polish Air Force, but, following
increasing tension between the Soviet Union and the Western Powers, he was
arrested in June 1948 and charged with espionage and treason -- a fate that
befell many of his ex-RAF Polish colleagues. In 1949, after a series of
cruel interrogations, he was condemned to death and spent the next six years
awaiting execution. Eventually, his sentence was commuted to life
imprisonment, and he was finally released in 1956 after eight years in

On his release, Skalski was re-admitted to the Air Force, an offer he
accepted with some hesitation. He flew the Soviet-built MIG fighters, and in
1972 he ended a distinguished career with the rank of general. He became the
President of the Polish Aero Club before retiring to Warsaw, where he led a
lonely life.

Skalski was remembered as a great individualist and man of action. One of
his pilots described him as "an eagle in the air, he was a great commander
and a brilliant leader and we would follow him to hell if necessary".

On the ground he could be stubborn, and he held strong opinions which did
not always accord with those of his superiors; but his fighting qualities
and courage were never in doubt.

He made numerous visits to England, and attended the unveiling in June 1994
of a memorial to No 133 Wing at the site of their former airfield at Coolham
in Sussex. In September 2000, he joined fellow veterans at the National
Memorial to "The Few" at Capel le Ferne to commemorate the 60th Anniversary
of the Battle of Britain; he insisted on sitting with his surviving friends
from No 501 Squadron.

Stanislaw Skalski died in Warsaw on November 12. He was unmarried.

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2005.

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