We are very pleased to announce that Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, formerly Chief of the Air Staff, has accepted the position of Patron of the Polish Air Force Memorial Committee.
Memorial plaque to Wing Commander Ronald Kellett DSO DFC VM and 303 Polish Kościuszko Squadron
A memorial plaque to Wing Commander Ronald Kellett DSO DFC VM AE* and the 303 Polish Kościuszko Squadron that he formed and commanded during the Battle of Britain, was unveiled at a service held at St George’s Church, Benenden, Cranbrook, Kent TN17 4DL, at 12 noon on Saturday 30th August 2014.
The plaque has been designed and carved by Geoffrey Aldred who is a member of the charity Memorials by Artists. The shape of the Nabresina stone tablet reflects the wing of a Hurricane aircraft, which 303 Sqn flew during the Battle of Britain, and the carving at the top of the plaque depicts a Hurricane flying past the Fairlight Cliffs, East Sussex.
On 19th July 1940 the 30 year old Sqn/Ldr Kellett was posted from 249 Squadron to RAF Northolt where he was to jointly form and command the legendary 303 Sqn with his Polish counterpart Sqn/Ldr Zdzisław Krasnodębski. The Poles had started arriving in England in December 1939 after the defeat of France and placed in camps where they were taught English; following this they were sent on to Operational Training Units. However, they were not permitted to go into combat, which they found extremely frustrating, as they were already experienced in aerial combat and they were determined to fight for the freedom of Poland. Britain was their “Last Hope Island”.
Kellett had his work cut out, on the one hand there was the language problem, the English that the Poles had picked up was colloquial and was not useful for flying. Kellett, however, was fluent in French and he could, therefore, communicate with some of the officers. On the other hand because the Poles were desperate to fight the Germans they wanted to go into combat immediately despite the fact that certain aspects of the Hurricane were different to those of the aircraft they had flown in Poland and France. For instance they weren’t used to retractable undercarriages, the throttle operation was different and their radios had been more primitive.
Kellett and Krasnodębski, worked together in training and disciplining the unit. Ingenuity and creative thinking were used to get the results required. Kellett and Krasnodębski were also supported by two English speaking Flight Commanders, F/Lt John Kent (Canadian) and F/Lt Athol Forbes.
On 30th August 1940 Kellett was leading 303 Sqn’s ‘B’ Flight on a routine practice interception of a formation of Bristol Blenheims north of London when F/O Ludwik Paszkiewicz spotted a Luftwaffe bomber formation flying eastward and covered by a fighter escort. Paszkiewicz broke ranks and intercepted a Messerschmitt Bf 110, which he shot down. Despite Paszkiewicz disobeying orders, it proved to Kellett that the Squadron was combat ready and he pressed Northolt Station Commander Group Captain Stanley Vincent and Fighter Command Head Quarters for full operational status. Permission was granted and 303 Sqn became fully operational on 31st August 1940.
The Squadron, serving in 11 Group, went on to become the most successful fighter unit during the 16 weeks of the Battle of Britain. In only six weeks of combat 303 Sqn claimed 126 victories for the loss of eight of its pilots.
"Had it not been for the magnificent material contributed by the Polish squadrons and their unsurpassed gallantry, I hesitate to say that the outcome of the battle would have been the same." - Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding, Commander of RAF Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain.
Kellett was born in Eldon, County Durham on 13th September 1909. He moved with his family to Benenden in August 1948. Some members of his family live in Benenden to this day.
Those attending the service were members of the Kellett family, Cllr David Elliott, Deputy Mayor of Tunbridge Wells, Air Vice Marshall Sir Frederick Sowrey, Consul Ms Ines Czajczyńska-da Costa (Embassy of the Republic of Poland), Colonel Ryszard Tomczak, Polish Defence Attaché, 303 Sqn relatives, Group Captain P Tootal OBE DEL RAF (Ret'd), the Hon Secretary of the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust, Richard Kornicki CBE, Chairman of the Polish Air Force Memorial Committee and Battle of Britain Historians.
The Service was led by Rev Rosemary Kobus van Wengen and by RAF Northolt Station Chaplin, Revd (Sqn/Ldr) Philip Corrigan.