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303 Squadron - Movie Review

2019-11-25

I had the pleasure of watching the movie "303 Squadron" as it premiered at the Ottawa (Canada) EUFF CFI Film festival Nov 25, 2019. The story of the Polish fighter pilots in the Battle of Britain (they flew Hurricanes) is well known and now better known. This film is a must see on the big screen.

Firstly, the film was introduced by the Polish Ambassador to Canada himself (his Excellency Andrzej Kurnicki), who payed tribute to the Polish airmen, their role in the Battle of Britain, and the connection to Canada this particular squadron had. It's Canadian Flight Commander "Johhny" Kent, went on to become an ace himself and survive the war as Wing Commander. Over 8,000 Polish pilots and ground crew escaped from France to England to assist the allies, but the 303 Polish Squadron is particularly famous for it's role in the Battle of Britain with it's high score (128) and skill in taking out the enemy at Britain's most crucial air battles in August and September of 1940. According to an IWM article, "A total of 145 experienced and battle-hardened Polish airmen fought in the Battle of Britain - 79 airmen in various RAF squadrons, 32 in No. 302 (Polish) Fighter Squadron and 34 in No. 303 (Polish) Fighter Squadron".

The film's CGI is extremely well done, I enjoyed the flying scenes tremendously, this is high quality stuff. On a big screen, you'll feel the shudder of the aircraft as the Hurricane manoeuvres very deftly, performing very well against the 109, 110 and Ju 88s. The Bf 109 was the superior fighter in speed (diving / climbing), but the Hurricane could turn with it's opponent, was survivable, and, had 8 guns. It could out turn a 109 in close combat, and these are the scenes shown. There are hints of the technical (the fuel injection advantage of the 109 fighter when diving vs the Hurricane's carburetor limitation) but for the most part, you the viewer are enjoying the aerial combat scenes as filmed (generated) and they are quite good. I liked the actual aircraft (replicas likely) used on the ground as pilots climbed in and out, it added to the realism. The worn look of the cockpit's dials, controls and machinery in flight from the pilot's point of view also added to that realism. Exceptional! No complaints.

The character development is as we expect. A jovial group of experienced pilots who prove themselves (initially ignored and desperate to exact revenge) to be heroes and most superb pilots, equally adept in the pubs and bars with local English ladies. Such is the stuff and legend of fighter pilots, and, after the RAFs initial delays in getting the Polish airborne in battle, the RAF executive become loud cheerleaders and ensure the Poles get their share of press and fame. Cut the writers some slack, it's also entertainment so expect the bravado to be played up and why not they were some of the best the RAF had. If you immerse yourself in the period, the decent acting, and, superb aerial scenes in this movie, you will really enjoy it. That's what you have to do and why this film is so effective for us enthusiasts, it feeds our imaginations. For those who wish to nitpick, there will always be something as with any movie based on historical events, so I'd suggest trying not to do that.

Especially when the flight scenes are good as they are in this movie. I found the action better in this film than the movie entitled "Hurricane". Sure, we mostly (almost only) see the victorious Polish fighters, I think there is one loss depicted in the squadron -- but just the same, it tells the story that needs to be told, the Polish and other foreign pilots like the Czechs, Canadians, Australians, and others made the difference for England at a crucial time. Except that the 303 Polish Squadron had the best record for enemy destroyed of all the Hurricane Squadrons (the movie reports 128 for 8 losses) in the Battle of Britain and their recognition is very well earned, thanks to movies like this and the book it was based on.

Doing a bit of research post film, I found this quote. "Had it not been for the magnificent material contributed by the Polish squadrons and their unsurpassed gallantry," wrote Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, head of RAF Fighter Command, "I hesitate to say that the outcome of the Battle (of Britain) would have been the same."

The movie also takes the trouble to bring in a few German pilot characters, one of which is a fervent Nazi, the other a more likeable former and non-political friend of a Polish pilot from peace time air races. The movie does show the respect these ace German pilots had for the Polish pilots, who, had faced battle earlier in Europe and brought their skill to England. They conformed to the RAF discipline and air tactics (reluctantly) but the movie also shows them gaining more prominence and freedom to use their own tactics, at times speaking in Polish on the radio in order to do so. "Bloody Poles" was the phrase in the early days of their engagement, but this quickly turned into praise and respect of the highest order. And that's the stuff hero movies are made of, from unsung pilot "replacements" to heroes of the skies. They wanted to get in the air to fight, and they did so fearlessly, skillfully, and with un-matched conviction.

So now we have two movies dedicated to the 303 Squadron, helping represent all the other Polish fighter squadrons. The names in this movie are important (Zumbach, Urbanowicz, ...) but it's the overall impact of the Polish airmen that is being significantly recognized. Here's to the Poles who flew for freedom! Na Zdrowie!

Kurt

PS A good background story comes from the IWM as www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-polish-pilots, and, Wikipedia has material on 303 Squadron, including ...

"No. 303 Squadron claimed the largest number of aircraft destroyed of the 66 Allied fighter squadrons engaged in the Battle of Britain, even though it joined the fray two months after the battle had begun.[13]

Its success in combat can be mainly attributed to the years of extensive and rigorous pre-war training many of the long-serving Polish veterans had received in their homeland, far more than many of their younger and inexperienced RAF comrades then being thrown into the battle. Tactics and skill also played a role. ... "

[ editor's note 2: Keep in mind we'd love to get a copy of the complete Hurricane serial number database so we could add all aircraft and pilots of both types, so this site, blog, and, database is open to all pilots (as many Hurricane pilots have been added), many converted to the Spitfire later, but the Hurricane is fully recognized and we're happy to report on new films like this, and, other newsworthy items, whether it's Spitfire, Hurricane, or other ]
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