Pilots of 303rd.

Zdzislaw Henneberg - in Defence of France.

Written by Grzegorz Śliżewski and Dariusz Tyminski .

Pilots of RAF 303 (Polish) Squadron after a successful sortie during the "Battle of Britain". First on the right Flt.Lt. Henneberg, next to him Flt.Lt. Lokuciewski.

During the French campaign of 1940, Polish fighter pilots were dispersed throughout French units in fighter squadrons or in sections (flights - referred to as "stacks" ) assigned to the defence of cities and industrial production centres. An exception to this was Squadron 1/145 , a unit composed almost exclusively of polish pilots, which became the most successful allied air combat unit in French skies in the campaign. These arrangements were however not looked upon with favour by the Poles who wanted to fight the Germans as integral units. There were however exceptions .

On June 5, in the region of Bourges at mid day a formation of 18  He 111s appeared. A home defence section composed entirely of Poles was scrambled led by Flt. Ldr. Capt. Bronislaw Kosinski accompanied by Lt. Marian Wesolowski, Corp. Jan Kremski and Corp. Adolf Pietrasiak. The Poles succeeded in scattering and pursued the bombers.

Shortly after another group of 9 He 111s attacked and bombed the barracks ( one of the bombs was a direct hit on a shelter and killed 10 people). The aerial battle lasted some 50 minutes and the fight was joined by Lt. Col. Haeglan, commandant of the French test test pilot group assigned to the  aircraft production facilities in Bourges. The encounter was productive for the allies with three bombers shot down and two damaged .

In the meantime , the He 111 formation that had been intercepted headed in the direction of Chateauroux. It encountered the next Polish home protection "stack" led by Zdzislaw Henneberg with wing men Pawel Gallus and Ryszard Lewczynski. Lewczynski however had to turn back due to an oxygen system malfunction. The bombers were flying at 5,500m. Lt. Henneberg attacked an aircraft in the middle of the group and after two short bursts set its port engine on fire. The second attack resulted in the bomber diving away from the formation. At that moment a Bloch 152, from a French squadron joined the action. They jointly shot the German bomber down and it crash landed 5 km south west of Vatan, a town 35 km north of Chateauroux. Corp. Gallus' left wing gun jammed and after exhausting the ammunition from the right side returned to home base without any successful results.

As it turned out,  the Bloch 152 which had joined the action was flown by Lt. Arsen Cebrzynski from 11/6 Groupe de Chasse. The French squadron had just completed converting to new fighters and was to deploy to the front that same afternoon. Before this occurred two sections were scrambled to intercept the bombers. One of these was led by Lt.Cebrzynski with Corp. Michal Brzezowski and Corp. Eugeniusz Szapasznikow as wing men. The flight leader attacked the right side of the formation and opened fire from 150m. The bomber jettisoned its bombs immediately. The second burst set the starboard engine on fire - the crew bailed out. The Pole then attacked a lone flying bomber. After shooting it down jointly with Henneberg, he attacked another German bomber and  followed it down until it hit the ground. Cebrzynski's aircraft was riddled with bullets , his propeller was shot through and the wings and fuselage were full of holes. The other pilots were not as lucky; Corp. Brzezowski was shot down by bomber gunners and force landed. Corp. Szaposznikow on the other hand attacked the formation until he ran out of ammunition and returned to the air field. He jumped immediately into another aircraft and took off a second time but was unsuccessful in his pursuit of the enemy.

HennebergZdzislaw Henneberg was born on May 11, 1914. He graduated as member of the VIIIth Polish Air Force promotion and in the pre war era was an instructor at the advanced flight training school. After the September defeat he reached France where from May 21, 1940 he was posted as Flight Leader assigned to the defence of the city of Chateauroux ( location of the production of Bloch fighter aircraft ). In France he was credited with 1/2 kill as described in the preceding . As with many other Polish pilots he reached Great Britain where from early August ( August 2nd ) he became a member of the famous RAF303 (Polish) Squadron.

On the first operational sortie for 303 Squadron , August31, 1940, he shot down a Messerschmitt in a lone attack on 4 Bf 109s( the squadron achieved 6 kills without a single loss! ). This is the way he described the action "... after a few minutes of pursuit I caught up with 4 Me 109s flying in the direction of the English Channel. They loosened their formation and one of them moved well to the side. I followed him observing the others. I had to hurry as the other three Krauts were already behind and above me on the left hand side. I opened fire from 300 yards. After the first burst he started giving off smoke. I gave him another two bursts after which he started down trailing a large plume of smoke. It was time to high tail it out of the area as to the other 3 Me 109s behind me . I saw a dark stain on the water seven miles south of Newhaven...".

On the 2nd of September 1940, Henneberg in a dogfight over Dover at 20,000 feet , was credited with one damaged foe aircraft. In his pursuit of the enemy he reached French shores. Five days later in a battle over Essex at approximately 17:00, Henneberg achieved two victories, one certain and one probable Me 109. On the 11th of September 1940, in the afternoon south of London, 303 Squadron shot down 7 Bf 110s, 6 He 111s, 3 Do 215s and 1 Bf 109 probable, at the loss of two aircraft and pilots: Flt. Lt. Arsen Cebrzinski and Fl, Serg. Wojtowicz ( Wojtowicz's lone fight with 6 Me109s became a legend but that is another story...). Henneberg achieved two confirmed in this encounter: He 111  H-2  (from 6/KG1 "V4+RW" W.Nr.5364, crashed in Comber near Rye) and a Bf109 E.

The 15th of September turned out to be a banner day for 303 Squadron, with the unit achieving 15 victories in two sorties. In the morning sortie at approximately 11:30 Flt. Lt. Henneberg, after shooting down a Do 17 was attacked by a number of Bf 109s. He defended himself skilfully destroying one of the enemy fighters.

Sqn. Ldr. Lt. Urbanowicz left the squadron on the 21st. of September 1940 and command was temporarily assigned to Zdzislaw Henneberg. Six days later (Sept., 27) during a morning sortie he was credited with his next victory, a Bf 109 and on the 5th of October he shot down a Bf 110 from the 210th ErprobunsGruppe. In a ceremony on the 15th of December he
was decorated by the then Fighter Command Chief, Marshall Sholto Douglas and awarded a DFC for bravery and 8 victories in the Battle of Britain.

On the 20th of January 1941, he assumes command of 303 Squadron . In this period the unit was converting from Hurricanes to Spitfires Mk's I and II .

In the afternoonof April 12, 1941, six Polish Spitfires led by Sqn. Ldr. Henneberg took off for a "Mosquito" operation in the area of Le Touquet-Abbeville. During strafing of ground targets his aircraft was hit by FLAK. Henneberg, in spite of the damage, risks return across the Channel. Unfortunately he is forced to ditch. Rescue action is initiated immediately. Fog makes it impossible to find the downed 303 Squadron Leader.

Zdzislaw Henneberg was decorated with the Virituti Military Cross-Silver class (Poland's highest decoration), the British Distinguished Flying Cross, the Polish Cross of Valour- Triple Bar and the French Croix de Guerre. During his short fighter pilot flying career he was credited with 8 1/2 confirmed kills, 1 probable and 1 damaged .

Special thanks to Tomasz Fudakowski for English translation!

Bloch MB-152 C1, serial number 57, from the Chateauroux Flight section commanded by Flt. Lt. Henneberg. This aircraft was written off by Flt. Lt. Radwanski at the Bloch factory airfield. The aircraft was camouflaged as typical of the series produced prior to #400.

MB-152 C1.

Profile: BSP, T. Kowalski "Godło i barwa w lotnictwie polskim 1939-1945."


2001.03.01, © WW II Ace Stories.