At 10:00 hours on 27 March 1941 the two sections of “B” flight took off from Speke to take part in formation practice flying and simulated attacks at 25,000 feet. The exercise that was meant to last around an hour and fifteen minutes went disastrously wrong. After just 15 minutes Sergeant Piotr Zaniewski returned to Speke due to high oil temperature, landing at 10:15 hours. He was to be the lucky one.
First altitude was at 15,000 feet over Preston, but due to heavy clouds the operations room changed this to 20,000 feet. Whilst the squadron was engaged in simulated attacks, the operations room changed the status of their flight from practice, instructing them to an operational patrol. A new course of 270 degrees at 27,000 feet was set to intercept a formation of enemy aircraft. The flight became separated in cloud and Pilot Officer Tadeusz Hojden along with Flying Officer Kazimierz Wolinski gave chase without engaging the enemy.
On the way back to base they were vectored erroneously by the operations room and Pilot Officer Hojden, descending due to lack of fuel, crashed into the sea. Flying Officer Wolinski, flying on a similar course to that given by the operations room, also ran out of fuel and ditched in the sea off Blackpool. Fortunately he was picked up by a Fleetwood trawler and reported safe at 21:00 hours. He reported that Pilot Officer Hojden had passed him very fast in clouds and had presumably dived into the sea. No trace of Pilot Officer Hojden or his aircraft was ever found.
Pilot Officer Eugeniusz Fiedorczuk had also started to experience problems when his engine stopped and was unable to switch fuel tanks due to a frozen valve. Only when he descended to 10,000 feet was he able to succeed and made his way to RAF Squires Gate in Blackpool [Google map] where he landed safely at 11:45 hours.
Further south, Sergeant Edward Paterek’s aircraft (Hurricane V7187 PK*W) was seen to enter the sea with Flight Lieutenant Szulkowski’s aircraft (Hurricane V7188 PK*X) by British ships in the vicinity of the Mersey Bar lightship ‘Alarm’ that stood at the entrance to the Queen’s Channel shipping lane into Liverpool.
After landing Pilot Officer Fiedorczuk stated that he saw Sergeant Paterek collide with Flight Lieutenant Szulkowski’s aircraft at 25,000 feet. He saw Sergeant Paterek’s propeller cut into Flight Lieutenant Szulkowski’s tail and completely sever it.
An officer at RAF Squires Gate asked for the Blackpool lifeboat Sarah Ann Austin to be launched. The order was approved by the Coast Guard at Hoylake on the Wirral and so the lifeboat was launched at 11:50 hours and reached the crash site some 40 minutes later. Wreckage was picked up that confirmed the crashed aircraft to be Hurricanes V7187 and V7188 and the lifeboat returned at 15:30 hours.
The Douglas, Isle of Man, lifeboat was also launched to search for survivors. Shipping was requested to keep a look out for aircraft in the sea at 270 degrees, 32 nautical miles from Blackpool. One Anson and one Botha of No 3 School of General Reconnaissance at RAF Squires Gate were sent out to search and drop inner tubes on the sea. There was no trace of Sergeant Paterek’s or Flight Lieutenant Szulkowski’s bodies.
This apparently routine formation practice flying exercise had seen four aircraft and three pilots lost. Two of the pilots, Sergeant Paterek and Flight Lieutenant Szulkowski, were Battle of Britain veterans.
Three and a half weeks later, on 20 May 1941, the body of Flight Lieutenant Szulkowski was washed up on the shore at Freshfield, just north of Formby, 12 miles north of Liverpool [Google map]. It was taken to the mortuary at Formby to be formally identified by the Polish Medical Officer. An examination of the body gave no reason for the cause of the accident. No parachute was found and it appeared certain that he entered the sea whilst still in the aircraft. His wristwatch had stopped on impact at 11:25 hours.
On 24 May 1941 Flight Lieutenant Wladyslaw Szulkowski was laid to rest in West Derby Cemetery, Liverpool by the Reverend Henry Moffat. As befitted a decorated officer who had fought to defend his own country in the Polish Campaign, fought to defend Great Britain in the Battle of Britain and died protecting Liverpool from the threat of German bombers, he was buried with full military honours.
Led by his brother Corporal Szulkowski who was chief mourner, all officers from No 315 (Polish) Squadron ‘B’ flight attended together with a sergeant and 40 Polish airmen acting as an escort party for his coffin. Wreaths were sent by the Station Commander, the British Officers, No 315 (Polish) Squadron ‘A’ and ‘B’ Flights and his previous unit, No 65 Squadron, then based at Kirton Lindsey. He was buried in the Roman Catholic section of the cemetery, row 11 grave No 392.
That his funeral was such a grand affair indicates the esteem in which he was held, not just by his fellow Polish pilots but by comrades from his former squadron too. The Merseyside Few offers our grateful thanks to him.
Wladyslaw Szulkowski’s grave is right next to the joint resting place of Czechoslovakian Battle of Britain pilots Otto Hanzlíček and Jindrich Bartos. All three of them were trained pilots in European forces who fought Nazi invasion on the Continent and then, following the fall of France, came to Britain to make a further stand. All three gave their lives in defence of the north west of England and in particular Liverpool.
Wladyslaw Szulkowski was one of 145 Polish pilots who flew in the Battle of Britain destroying 130 enemy aircraft. It was a Polish squadron, No. 303 (Kościuszko) Polish Fighter Squadron, who claimed the highest number of kills of any Allied squadron during the battle.
Without the overall contribution of Polish soldiers and airmen in all theatres of World War II the outcome of the war may have been very different.