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Early life and career
After study at schools in Siedlce, Łomża and Warszawa in Poland, he commenced his military service at the age of 16 in the Warsaw 201 Infantry Regiment in 1920 as a volunteer during the Polish-Soviet War. After leaving the military service he joined Cadets Corp No. 1 in Lwów, where he had passed matura (high school graduation certificate). After graduation, he was accepted to the Officer's Flight School in Grudziądz, which was subsequently relocated to Dęblin.
Zdzisław graduated on 15 August 1928 as a Second Lieutenant observer and joined the 1st Flight Regiment in Warsaw. In Spring 1929 he completed his basic flight training in Dęblin. In May 1930 he completed advanced flight training in the 2nd Flight Regiment fighter wing in Kraków. His dreams were eventually fulfilled when he was assigned to Tadeusz Kościuszko 111th Fighter Squadron of the 1st Flight Regiment in Warsaw.
Zdzisław Krasnodębski continued his career in the Warsaw regiment. For a few years, as second lieutenant, he earned a reputation from both his peers and superiors as a good pilot and officer. His masterful piloting skills helped him to gain respect and admiration. His physical characteristics were those of a natural fighter pilot; not very tall, slim, and also handsome with boyish looks. He had a low, pleasant voice and was composed, intelligent, and with good sense of humor and optimism. He took his professional responsibilities seriously, and later as a unit commander always treated his subordinates fairly.
He actively participated in actions of his unit. In October 1933 he was among the ranks of pilots of the 111th visiting Bucharest. In May 1935, he was a member of delegation of the 1st Flight Regiment to Marshal Józef Piłsudski's funeral. Five months later, as Lieutenant, Krasnodębski participated in a fighter pilot competition in Grudziądz.
In November 1935 he assumed command of the 111th Fighter Squadron.
In the mid-1930s, Polish airspace was frequently violated by unauthorised foreign aircraft incursions. In 1936 Krasnodębski's squadron moved to the airfield at Sarny, where they carried out numerous interception operations in the Polesie region, where the Polish border would be often crossed by the Soviet Air Force reconnaissance aircraft. During one incident he gave the order to shoot at one such aircraft, when the pilot ignored Polish radio calls. Lt. Witold Urbanowicz and Lt. Nałęcz were pilots participating in that event.
In that period, Krasnodębski has proved his tactical and leading abilities in air and educational and organisational skills on land.
Beginnings of World War II
On 1 September 1939 Captain Krasnodębski was the commander of III/I Fighter Squadron. During the last days of August the squadron was based at an airfield in Zielonka near Warsaw. Predictions said that the squadron's mother airfield, Okęcie, would be heavily bombarded on the first day of World War II. During those first days, the squadron had an establishment of 23 PZL P.11, fully combat serviceable.
On the first day of the war, the squadron pilots flew from the early morning, intercepting bomber aircraft and engaging in combat with escorting fighters. During one such sortie, Krasnodębski's wing shot down a German Dornier Do 17, which toppled down to the ground in flames, killing the German crew.
On 3 September six PZL P-11c of Polish 112th Fighter Escadrille, headed by Krasnodebski took off against German Bf 110 fighters. In combat over Wyszkow, Krasnodebski was shot down and forced to bail out. The German pilot who shot him down then aimed to finish off Krasnodebski while he slowly glided down in his parachute. However, Lt. Arsen Cebrzynski saw this deadly pass and the Luftwaffe pilot became a victim himself. Leutnant Barents, a veteran of the Luftwaffe's "Legion Condor", bailed out and became a POW.
After treatment for burns, Krasnodębski continued to command III/I Squadron, until the Soviet invasion on Poland on 17 September 1939. He managed to lead nine serviceable planes to cross the border with Romania, together with other Polish pilots. The Warsaw Pursuit Squadron managed to destroy 34 Luftwaffe planes and damage 29 more, but at a cost of 36 of its own planes.
Many Polish aircrew managed to make their way to France, ready to continue the fight with French Forces, although by late May 1940 and the Battle of France many saw the need to evacuate to the U.K.
Battle of Britain
Between 18 and 24 June 1940, over 30,000 Polish military personnel — about 8,500 aircrew —escaped France by various routes and made their way to England.
Most of the Polish fighter pilots were assigned to the RAF's newly formed No. 303 Squadron, commanded by Sqn Ldr Ronald Kellett, who shared command responsibilities with Krasnodebski.
Lt. Witold Paszkiewicz scored the Squadron's first kill; a Bf 110 of 4./ZG 76, during a training flight on 30 August 1940. Fighter Command thus then permitted the Polish Squadron to enter front line duty. The next day, Polish fighters went on their first mission in English skies – claiming the destruction of six Bf 109s with no losses.
On 2 September the Squadron intercepted two German formations over Kent. Ten Bf-109s of 4 Staffel, Jagdgeschwader 77, attacked the Poles out of the sun. The Germans broke off and turned toward France.
On 6 September 1940 in heavy combat, 303 claimed 5 Bf 109 destroyed, but among the Polish losses this day were both Squadron leaders; Krasnodebski was badly burned, and Sqn Ldr Kellet wounded, 2 other pilots were shot down.
Leading Yellow Section, Major Zdzislaw Krasnodebski was about to engage a bomber when an unseen 109 behind him opened fire. 20 mm cannon shells hit the Pole's fuel tank, spilling burning petrol into the cockpit. Blinded by the fire, Krasnodebski managed to invert his aircraft, unfasten his safety harness, rip off his oxygen mask, open the canopy and drop clear. Careful not to pull his ripcord until he had dropped clear of the combat area to prevent a recurrence of being shot up in his chute, he waited until about 10,000 feet before trying to open his parachute, but initially could not find the ripcord.
Soon after the chute opened he heard an approaching fighter; a Hurricane flown by Witold Urbanowicz, who saw the yellow Mae West life jacket worn by RAF pilots and veered off to circle the parachute all the way down.
Krasnodebski landed outside Farnborough, where members of the local Home Guard surrounded him. Although the injured pilot spoke little English, the old men could tell he was not German and called for an ambulance that took him to the local hospital.
Krasnodebski's crippling injuries were a blow to 303 Squadron. Nicknamed "the King" by his men because of his bearing, as the ranking Polish commanding officer he moulded 303 into a cohesive and formidable Squadron. "He didn't score many victories in the air," Urbanowicz explained. "His victory was on the ground — in the training and upbringing of the young officers in his command."
Due to his severe burns he would spend years in hospital and medical staff predicted he would never fly again.
No. 303 Squadron had claimed 126 kills during the Battle of Britain – the most successful record for a RAF Squadron in this period.
- Magdalena Bożko, Zapomniany dowódca 303 Dywizjonu, „Gazeta Kujawska”, 2006-10-12
- Zdzisław Krasnodębski – www.mysliwcy.pl
- Tomasz Zając, Zapomniani bohaterowie przestworzy
This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (January 2008) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
- Olsen, Lynne; Stanley Cloud (2003). A Question of Honor: The Kosciuszko Squadron: Forgotten Heroes of World War II. New York: Knopf. ISBN 978-0-375-41197-7.