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History of Polish Balloon flight serving with the R. A. F. in Great Britain in WWII

    The relationship between the United Kingdom and Poland was cordial in 1938, when Cardington was first opened on 24th September 1938, the Inspector of Air Defence of Poland and the Polish Military and Polish Air Attache visited the station.  In September 1939, when the German forces overwhelmed Poland and all organised resistance was compelled to cease, many officers, NCO's and men of the former Polish Balloon Battalions, the 1st Battalion of Torun and the 2nd Battalion of Legionowo, crossed the Rumania and Hungarian frontiers. In certain cases they made the crossing as whole units, consisting of Observer Balloon and Barrage Balloon Companies, but in many instances , many officers and men who were unable to rejoin their parent units, made their own crossings individually. From Hungary and Rumania, these officers and men, in groups or singly escaped from the concentration camps in which they were interned and eventually arrived in France .  

    Here, the Polish Balloon Units were not yet organised and therefore these men were detached for various other duties in the Polish Air Force or were transferred to other branches of the service. After the collapse of France and following an order given by the Commander in Chief of the Polish Forces, these men once again successfully made their escape, this time to Great Britain. Thirty-seven officers and about 350 N. C. O.'s and men of the former Polish Balloon Units landed in this country and were directed to an assembly point in Blackpool .

    In 1940 when the defences of Great Britain against enemy air attacks  were extended and many additional Balloon Squadrons formed, it was thought that these men, all of whom had had experience in balloons, could be engaged in this particular branch of the service, where they could play their part in the defense of Great Britain at the same time continue their fight against Germany.

     The former chief of the Balloon Department in the Headquarters of the Polish Air Force in Poland who had been appointed Polish Liaison Officer to Headquarters Balloon Command, and who was the senior Staff Officer of the Polish Balloon Units, submitted a project to the Headquarters of the Polish Air Force in London, that the British authorities be approached with a view to forming a Polish Balloon Unit that could be used in the defence of Great Britain. This proposal was favourably considered by the British authorities and in October, 1940, the first group of Polish balloon airmen was sent for special training to Cardington. There they received instruction, and gained the necessary knowledge of ballooning at it applied Great Britain, under the supervision of Wing Commander G. J. Rayner.  

    On 20th December,1940 after they had completed their training, these operators were posted to Glasgow and there as part of No. 945 Squadron, they commenced to fulfill operational duties on the balloon sites allotted to them. In the early part of 1941, these Polish airmen were fully employed on four balloon sites, and were attached to "C" flight, No. 945 Squadron, Royal Air Force, under the command of Flight Lieutenant J. Livington who was at that time "C" flight commander. No.945 Squadron was commanded by Wing Commander J. V. Garmonsway, which came under No. 18 Balloon Centre at Bishopbriggs, Glasgow, commended by Group Captain W. H Dolphin and was part of No.34 Group under the command of Air Commodore Bastid. As more and more of them completed their training at Cardington, it was possible to increase the number of sites operated by them until a complete flight was eventually formed, manned entirely by Polish personnel. This flight consisted of five officers and one hundred and forty N. C. O.s and airmen which formed "B" flight of 945 Squadron under the command of Flight Lieutenant W. Z. Zielinski. The following officers also served with the Polish Balloon flight at N0. 945 Squadron.

     Flying Officer K. Kaliaz, who was later posted to Headquarters Polish Air Force.

    Flying Officer W.  CzechK, who was later posted to Headquarters Polish Air Force.

    Flying Officer J. A. Szyf, who fulfilled the duties of R. A. F. interpreter and Administrative Officer to the Polish Balloon Flight from the time of its formation.

      It must be mentioned here that in March and April 1941, Glasgow, was the target for two heavy and many smaller enemy air raids, in which  the Polish Balloon Flight took part in the defence of the city. On 16th April 1941, Group Captain Iwaszkiewicz, Deputy Inspector of Polish Air Force, visited Cardington Station. The ORB states: "This officers visit marked the inauguration of an additional ceremony to the daily ensign hoisting, i.e. the Polish ensign was hoisted underneath that of the Royal Air Force (the ensigns are to be so hoisted as a permanent procedure). The Polish contingent was on parade at full strength and a Polish Guard was mounted in addition to the R.A.F. guard. The National Anthem of Poland and Great Britain were rendered by the Station Band at the ceremony."

      Service with No. 945 Squadron continued until 20th July, 1942, when the Polish Balloon Flight moved to Donibristle House, Aberdour, Fife; there its new flight headquarters was established and they became "E" flight of No. 929 Squadron, Royal Air Force, South Queensferry, ( West Lothian ). At the time of the transfer, No.945 Squadron was commanded by Wing Commander W. V. Dumbreck, under the command of Group Captain D. O. Smallwood, C. B. E., T. D., D. L., officer commanding No.18 Balloon Centre and was part of No.34 Group under the command of Air Commodore P. L. Lincoln, D. S. O.,M. C., as Air Officer Commanding No. 34 Group.  

On the 20th October 1942 Air-Vice Marshall Vjetski, Polish A.O.c., visited Cardington station.

    The Balloon Barrage of the Polish Flight, was intended to give protection to the Forth Bridge, Rosyth Dockyard and Donibristle Fleet Air Arm Aerodrome. Whilst with No. 929 Squadron, this Polish flight experienced many small air raids in this area in the course of their duties.

    During the period that the Polish flight was with No.929 Squadron, facilities were offered by Balloon Command to enable Polish balloon operator N.C.O's to increase their knowledge of ballooning by attending an advance balloon handling course at Pucklechurch and Cardington. This was of great importance to these men who will in future become instructors to Balloon Units in Poland. Also, with thanks to, Balloon Command, many Polish balloon operators received special training on waterborne sites, and for this purpose, they were attached to "C" flight No. 929 Squadron, for a period of twelve months.

On 1st March 1943, Squadron Leader S. Mazurek, P.9888 Technical, was attached to Manchester for special duties, he returned to the Station at Cardington on 21st March 1943.  

    Polish airmen of this flight also formed a crew for a Mark XI balloon, which was to be used for parachute training and for this purpose they were sent to No.10 Balloon Centre, where they received a special course of instruction. On completion of their training, this crew was then detached to Bonnytown Camp, Strathvithie,Fife, Scotland,where they manned the balloon for training Polish and other allied paratroops. It must be mentioned also, that many of the Polish balloon operators were given the opportunity of becoming acquainted with the work which was carried out at the Admiralty Shore Servicing Stations, where Mark VI balloons were serviced and which were used for convoy work. All this training has given the Polish balloon operators great experience and a wide knowledge of every type of balloon used in Great Britain by Balloon Command of the Royal Air Force, which is very important to these men as they are considered to be the nucleus of the future balloon Units in Poland .

    Under the command of Flight Lieutenant M. H. Ptasinski, the following officers served with the Polish Balloon flight whilst at No. 929 Squadron, South Queens ferry.  

    Flying Officer S. Foltanski

    Flying Officer K. Bialowas

    Flying Officer M. Ziolczynski

    Flying Officer J. Paczosa - later posted to Headquarters Polish Air Force

    Flying Officer J.A, Szyf - who continued his duties as RAF interpreter and Administrative Officer.

   From January 1943, No.929 Squadron was commanded by Wing Commander J. M. Todd., D. F. C., T. D., and after reorganisation, the unit came under No.15 Balloon Centre commanded firstly by Group Captain R. Caley., M. C. and latterly by Group Captain, D. O. Smallwood, C. B. E., T. D., D. L., and was part of No.33 Group. commanded by Air Commodore J. G. Murray.  

On 2nd April 1943, Flying Officer J.Paczosa,P.1521 was attached to the Balloon Development Establishment from 929 Squadron, he returned to 929 Squadron on 4th April 1943. On 17th May 1943 Squadron Leader S. Mazurek, P.9888 technical, was detached to Henlow for Parachute Training, he returned on 29th May 1943. on 2nd June 1943, Squadron Leader S. Mazurek, P.9888 technical, was detached to London for Kite Balloon Duties, he returned on 4th June 1943.

On 15th June 1943 Squadron Leader S. Mazurek, P.9888 technical, was posted from Balloon Development Establishment to Polish Inspectorate General, London. On 7th February 1944, Flying Officer A. Kalisz, P.0787 was attached to Cardington from No. 11 Balloon Centre until 12 February 1944.

    On June 15th, 1944, Germany started a new type of warfare against England , when they launched a missile known as the "V1" or doodlebug, which caused a great loss of life and extensive damage to London and the southern counties. As the danger of these missiles became greater, Balloon Command gave an order that all units at their disposal, should proceed to the south of England to form a "Curtain Barrage", as one of the defences against these flying bombs and so, on July 3rd 1944, the Polish Balloon flight as a body, received orders to proceed to Cardington where all the necessary equipment was issued. The Polish flight was then attached to No. 950 Squadron from Scapa Flow and as "E" flight of this unit they deployed at Outwood, Surrey, where they flew their twenty-two balloons as part of the "Curtain Barrage". Now being part of No. 950 Squadron, the Polish flight came under the command of Wing Commander M. V. Maloney and under No.24 Balloon Centre at Hull, commanded by Group Captain A. P. Besley, forming part of 30 Group, commanded by Air Commodore A. P. Lincoln., D. S. O., M. C.  

On 4th July 1944 Flying Officer S. Foltanski, A&SD, P.0648, Flight Lieutenant M Ptaskinski Balloon P.426, Pilot Officer J.A. Szyff, A&SD, 62767 and Flying Officer K. Hialowas, Balloons P.1748 were attached to Cardington from 929 Squadron returning 10th July 1944,,14th July 1944 and 15th July 1944

      Owing to the rapid advance of the allied armies in France and the capture of Germanys launching sites there, they, the Germans, started to launch their Flying Bombs from bases in Belgium and Holland and so, on August 26th, 1944, Balloon Command, in order to prevent the missiles from penetrating in the London area, ordered No. 950 Squadron, which included the Polish flight, to occupy new positions in North Kent, consequently "E" flight headquarters were set up at Cooling Castle, Cliffe, which is in the vicinity of Rochester and Chatham on the banks of the Thames estuary. With this transfer, No.950 Squadron then came under No. 23 Balloon Centre, commanded by Group Captain R. B. Dowling. Thanks to further advances of the allied armies in Belgium and Holland, the launching of these flying bombs became only sporadic and it was therefore decided, by higher authorities, to dissolve the "Curtain Barrage", and subsequently on September 23rd 1944, the Polish flight received an order to deflate all twenty-two balloons and be prepared to move to No. 15 Balloon Centre, Newcastle on Tyne, to await further orders.

      In remembrance of the Polish Balloon Unit which served in Great Britain, the Commander -in -Chief of the Polish Forces at the request of the Air Officer, Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Air Force, approved the Honorary Polish Balloon Badge and granted that it was to be issued to all Polish Balloon Personnel.  

(I have been unable to locate an image of one of these- can you help?)

    The Air Officer Commander-in -Chief of the Polish Air Force, Air Vice-Marshall M. Izycki, at the request of Squadron Leader H. Grabowski, Polish Liaison Officer to Headquarters Balloon Command, presented many officers of the Royal Air Force with one of these badges in appreciation of their services with Polish balloon flight.

In accordance with the tradition of the Polish Balloon Units in Poland , this Polish Flight in Great Britain, observed September the 15th, as their Commemoration Day.

      In conclusion, it must be added that Balloon Command, at the request of the Polish Liaison Officer, granted to Polish Officers, opportunities for them to be employed in various offices under Balloon Command, in order that they may widen their knowledge and so in consequence, Squadron Leader S. Mazurek and Flying Officer J. Paczossa were engaged on the construction of all types of balloons at Cardington. These Polish Officers were employed in the Balloon Development at Cardington where they were engaged on the construction of all types of balloons, one of them carrying out the work on the prototype of Kite Balloon "P".

      Squadron Leader W. Z. Zielinski, after relinquishing the post as commander of the Polish flight on December 1st .1942, was attached for operational duties at No. 6 Balloon Centre, Wythall, Birmingham, then to No. 906 Squadron in London and later to No.911 Squadron., Chelmsford.

    Squadron Leader W. Z. Zielinski was posted for duties in the Operations room of Nos.22 and 23 Balloon Centres at the time of forming of the "Curtain Barrage". A special task was assigned to him and in particular he was given the opportunity to become acquainted with the exigencies of the cooperation between Balloon Command and Fighter Command and other units designed for the aerial defence of Great Britain . 

    Squadron Leader H. Filipowicz was given the opportunity to become acquainted with waterborne balloon sites, in Plymouth, Sheerness and lastly  with No. 929 Squadron, South Queensferry, Scotland, he gained valuable knowledge and experience in this branch of balloons.

    Flight Lieutenant K. Pictrowicz, whilst at No.1 Balloon Centre, Kidbroke, was employed in the engineering and hydrogen sections, which enabled him to extend his knowledge in this particular specialised work.

 During the period of their operation as a Polish Balloon Flight, the Commander-in -Chief of the Polish Forces at the request of the Air Officer, Commander -in-Chief of the Polish Air Force, awarded to several Polish officers and men, the Cross of Merit, as a reward for their devotion to duty and for the excellent work whilst serving in Great Britain, and in addition for their services in France and during the German-Polish campaign.  



On 2nd May 1945 Air Commodore S. Karpinski, Deputy Air Officer Commanding in Chief, Polish Air Force, and Air Commodore P.L. Lincoln, D.S.O., M.C., Air Officer Commanding Balloon Command, visited the station at Cardington to inspect the Polish Balloon Unit. On the 1st August 1945, Balloon Training Unit became Balloon Development Unit, came under Headquarters 12 Group and joined Headquarters, Fighter Command, together with the Polish Unit. on 8th August 1945, Air Vice-Marshall J.W. Baker, C.B., M.C., D.F.C., Air Officer Commanding No.12 Group visited Cardington and visited Ballon Development Unit and Polish Balloon Unit.


Research has so far not shown that any of the Polish Balloon flight suffered as casualties during the War.

The known casualties for the squadrons were:

WARD                                                       M. J.  AC 2   873302   945        RAF AUX              14/06/40   35       

FINNEN                                                     J.        AC 2   873051   945        RAF AUX              09/12/40   49       

WATSON                                                  R. L.  LAC     873026   945        RAF AUX              02/03/41   36       

CARRICK                                                  D.       LAC     873274   945        RAF AUX              18/06/41              

FOSTER                                                    J.        CPL     871657   945        RAF AUX              10/12/41   41       

THOMAS                                                   G. C.  AC 2   992454   945        RAF VR                 01/02/42              

ALEXANDER                                            J.        ACW1 439970   945        W AUX AF            09/01/43              

MURPHY                                                   J.        F/LT   140532   945        RAF VR                 06/02/44   32       

McDONALD                                              W.      LAC     972906   945        RAF VR                 25/04/47   31       



SMITH                                                      S. C.   AC 2   861137      929        RAF AUX              18/12/39   44       

FORSTER                                                A.       AC 2   861128      929        RAF AUX              01/02/40   32       

JAMES                                                     A. H.  P/OFF 88733        929        RAF VR                23/09/40              

BERNINI                                                  T.       CPL     1100542    929        RAF VR                11/05/42   25       

ROSS                                                        W.      LAC    999749      929        RAF VR                29/04/43   38       

ARMSTRONG                                          J. M.  AC 2   1022322  929        RAF VR                10/07/43

As far as I can tell none of these were Polish.       

A Polish Mystery

In his excellent book, "No Flight of Fancy", a book worth reading, Bob Cubin relates the arrival of the Polish flight and comments that they were obviously well versed in barrage balloon deployment, their command of English was good and they had an excellent interpreter. Cubin had to work with F/O Szyf and F/Sgt Lukasiewicz. His stories of his time with the Polish airmen and the pranks played on each other are very amusing, at the other end of the spectrum, he also sadly records the death of two polish airmen, one in possibly August 1941, who left a suicide note and ended his life by using his rifle on himself. In his book he indicates that, rather strangely for the R.A.F., no record of who this person was, seems to have been kept by officialdom. The second death was on 4th November 1942 when 783949 Franciszek Siennica, a Polish balloon operator committed suicide. Briefly it seems that this man had been at No. 1 Balloon Training Unit at Cardington from 15th October 1940 and was posted to 945 Squadron and subsequently to 929 Squadron on 1st August 1942. It appears that while on duty at site 929/50 (Ferryhills), he used his rifle to inflicted a chest wound and died at 21.30 hours. He was buried at Dunfermline on 7th November 1942. Neither of these men are recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

I have been kindly sent a picture of the polish airmen by Tim Witham, his father (Ben Witham) was a barrage balloon operator in Glasgow and later an "equipment assistant" in India during the war.  In 1941 he was in "C Flight", with an address at Hughenden Rd. Glasgow W2 .

The picture has all of their signatures, including Franciszek Siennica, who took his own life, on the back:

Group at Athole Gardens (Copyright Tim Witham)

(Copyright Tim Witham)


Group at Athole Gardens (Copyright Tim Witham)

Tim Witham has kindly sent a considerable number of pictures from his fathers collection in WWII.

Adam, Wullie and Dubke (Copyright Tim Witham)


Athole Gardens, Glasgow (Copyright Tim Witham)



Athole Gardens, Glasgow (Copyright Tim Witham)

Athole Gardens, Glasgow (Copyright Tim Witham)

Athole Gardens, Glasgow (Copyright Tim Witham)

Ben Witham with unknown airman  (Copyright Tim Witham)

Ben Witham wearing Polish hat  (Copyright Tim Witham)

Flight Commander, note tarpaulin and sandbags (Copyright Tim Witham)

Kowalenia and Wulle, note sandbags  (Copyright Tim Witham)

Peter, note famous squadron bike for delivering everything!  (Copyright Tim Witham)

Peter at Athole Gardens, Glasgow (Copyright Tim Witham)

Bem Witham and Peter at Athole Gardens, Glasgow, note sandbags behind  (Copyright Tim Witham)


Saltoun Street with car (Copyright Tim Witham)

Sergeant Blair (Copyright Tim Witham)

Untitled  (Copyright Tim Witham)

Wullie and Peter at Athole Gardens (Copyright Tim Witham)

Wulle Weir note tin hat and gasmask (Copyright Tim Witham). This is a fantastic set of pictures that cover some of the men

who served with Ben Witham in WW2. We are greatly indebted to Tim Witham and family. 

If anyone can add any more to the names on these we would be grateful!

Here is a link to the SCRAN website that shows the Athole Gardens site,  with a balloon flying (look on the lower half of the left hand side of the picture) and on the ground you can just make out the balloon bed to the right of the balloon. You may have to log in and or register to see the picture in detail.



An interesting site to look at is the site that details the Polish men who died and were buried in Scotland.

Register of Polish War Graves in Scotland
Click on:


 This shows that 783949 Franciszek Siennica is accounted for but strangely does not account for the other airman.

It is a mystery, and one has to question the reason why, Bob Cubin has given a very clear and lucid account of his time with the Polish flight and obviously did not dream this had happened. Why would authorities cover up such an event? Legal process would have to be followed. Was this possibly another "Man Who Never Was" event?

I am very intrigued and I gather Bob Cubin did a great deal of research on this unknown airman and came up against a blank wall every time.

Officially from civilian and military records It appears that the event never happened, so one has to ask the question as to why would a death not be recorded by the authorities, civil and military, and what happened to the body?

Any views or ideas gratefully received.