About Spitfire Project Sumatra P8331 "Sumatra"
WING COMMANDER PIOTR ŁAGUNA
Piotr Łaguna of the Grzymała crest was born on November 11, 1905 in the village of Kędziorowo (Wąsosz parish) in the district of Szczuczyn, province of Bialystok. His parents were, father Piotr and mother Julianna neé Chrudzińska. Piotr and Julianna Łaguna, an estate leaseholders, were both from an old Polish noble family which roots can be traced in XV century. They had three sons (Józef, Henryk Bronisław and Piotr) and 4 daughters (Maria, Stanisława, Konstancja and Aleksandra).
From an early age, their parents shaped their childrens' characters by making them industrious, conscientious, responsible and disciplined. These qualities made Piotr a Polish patriot and he became a noble and righteous person. Piotr attended the 3rd elementary school in Wąsosz, and then attended the 7th private grammar school in Łomża.
When Poland was invaded by the Bolsheviks in 1919, Junior High School student Piotr immediately volunteered to defend his homeland. Since 233 Infantry Regiment was stationed in Łomża, the volunteer unit established in this area received the number In this regiment, in the period of 15 July 1920 - 15 November 1920 he served as a volunteer even though he was still under the age of 15. For his active participation in the fight against the Bolshevik invaders he was awarded the Commemorative Medal for the War of 1918-1921.
On 30 August 1924 Piotr joined the Cadet Officer Infantry School in Warsaw before promotion on 28 November 1924 to corporal cadet officer. In the Officer Cadet School Piotr passed the matriculation examination receiving at the end of the school year (30 June 1925) the rank of corporal cadet.
On 1 July 1925 he became a cadet student of the newly established Air Force Officers School (Oficerska Szkoła Lotnicza) in Grudziądz. During his studies at O. S. L., Piotr completed training in:
- 41 Infantry Regiment in Suwałki (1 July 1925 - 3 November 1925), 24 Light bomber Squadron in the 2nd Air Regiment in Kraków (19 October 1926 - 3 January 1927) he was promoted twice in 1926 on 1 June to the rank of a platoon commander cadet and on 14 September 1926 to the rank of sergeant cadet.
In 1927 the whole school was transferred to Dęblin, where, in the same year, the first promotion of 57 school graduates (all were observers) took place, including Piotr (28th). After completing further training on 13 September 1927, he was assigned to the 31st Light Bomber Squadron in the 3rd Air Regiment in Poznań. On 31 October 1927, he officially received the title and badge of the observer, and on 21 March 1928 he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant. Piotr received praise twice in 1928:
- 18 July 1928, from the date of the 3rd Air Regiment for personal input in summer exercises, and;
- 1 October 1928 from the 14th ‘Greater Poland’ Infantry Division for full sacrifice and dedication of work during manoeuvres.
He was posted for flying training to Dęblin on 4 May 1928 to the Air Force Training Centre (Centrum Wyszkolenia Lotnictwa). He then completed an Advanced Flying Course at 2nd Air Regiment in Kraków.
On 1 January 1931 Second Lieutenant observer Piotr was promoted to Lieutenant pilot (daily order No. 278/30 and on 4 December 1930, he was posted to 131st Fighter Squadron and then consequently to 132nd Fighter Squadron. On 15 October 1939 he baled out from Spad 61C1.
Łaguna was posted to the Aerial Shooting and Bombing School in Grudziądz on 2 February 1931. Piotr, by 1931, was an experienced pilot and participated in competitions for fighter pilots organised at Grudziądz. In 1932 he was awarded the first prize for winning the Central Fighter Competition. On 19 June 1932, Polish built PWS-10 fighter aircraft were introduced and Polish fighter squadrons were equipped with them, including units of the 3rd Air Regiment. He was one of three pilots who demonstrated these aircraft to the public, the other two were Major Stefan Pawlikowski and Captain Mieczysław Mümler. He was involved in a crash landing in PWS-10 on 20 May 1933 and was seriously injured. Then on 3 October 1933, while flying a PZL P.7 fighter, he collided in the air with Lt Feliks Gazda and was again hospitalised. This prevented him from participating in an air trip to Romania and representing his regiment.
In April 1934, after the departure of Capt. Stanisław Morawski, Piotr was appointed commander of 131st Fighter Squadron. He was 29 years old but already highly experienced. Between 9 and 13 September 1934 he led eight pilots during a flight to Yugoslavia advertising Polish PZL P.7 fighter planes. Piotr was promoted to Captain on 1 January 1936. After three years of commanding his unit, in November 1937, Piotr was moved to a similar post as commander of the 32 Light Bomber Squadron of the 3rd Air Regiment in Poznan, remaining in this role until 15 October 1938 when he was sent to the entrance course at the Air Force Staff College in Warsaw, to be completed on 15 June 15 1939. He was then transferred from the 3rd Air Regiment (Poznań) to the 1st Air Regiment (Warsaw).
Before the war he married Wanda, daughter of a pharmacist from Kalisz. They had two children: daughter Ewa and son Jan
In the summer of 1939, Piotr was appointed Deputy Commander of 216 (XV) Bomber Squadron. Following orders 216 Squadron commanded by Cpt Władysław Dukszto left its home base at Okecie airfield on 31 August 1939, moving to the Podlodów advanced airfield near Dęblin. This was a common practice and all the Polish operational units were withdrawn from their peacetime bases to prevent them from being destroyed. Their PZL P.37 Łoś bombers were attached to 215 Bomber Squadron of the Bomber Brigade. Łaguna was appointed Bombing and Navigation Officer of this unit. He flew operational missions with the crew of Lt Przykorski. Since 3 September his squadron operated from Stara Wieś and on 4 September they bombed German armoured divisions near Piotrków and Radomsko. During the following day they attacked German armoured units in the region of Piotrków and Rozprza and then changed their location, landing at Popielewo. On 6 and 7 September 216 Squadron’s aircraft continued attacking German ground forces near Radomsko, Bełchatów, Kamieńsk, Rozprza and Przedbórz. On 7 September they bombed German tanks in the region of Różan, Ostrołęka and Nowa Wieś also reporting destruction of one Messerschmitt. During a further encounter three Łoś bombers were shot down by German fighters. Later he commanded at hoc formed fighter flight defending Wielick. This flight consisted of officers as well as Cadets from Dęblin. This unit was formed to protect XV Bomber Squadron aircraft. With both units he participated in the Polish Campaign in 1939, including defensive missions in a PZL P.11g Kobuz fighter plane.
The majority of Polish flying and ground personnel followed their High Command’s orders to reorganise units of the Polish Military Aviation in France and continue the fight, therefore they were then evacuated through Romania and Hungary to France, where Lyon was designated as the base and Training Centre for Polish Military Aviation. Piotr Łaguna was initially allocated to Le Bourget, and then to Lyon Bron. His wife and children, were initially evacuated towards the eastern border of Poland, but when Poland was invaded by the Soviet Union, Łaguna’s family was deported to Siberia, sharing the fate of thousands of other Poles. After almost two years of living in inhumane conditions, they were released after the Sikorski–Mayski agreement was signed. They travelled to India, eventually arriving in Australia.
After the creation of the independent Polish Air Force in France, Piotr was posted to III Fighter Squadron, formed from the Polish personnel and was initially planned to be sent to Finland to support this country in their fight against Soviet Russia. The Polish squadron was initially the so-called ‘Finish Squadron’. After this conflict ended, in the middle of May 1940, with the use of the same personnel, the Polish manned 1/145 ‘Varsovie’ Squadron was formed (or according to French nomenclature GC 1/145). They were equipped with Caudron CR,714 Cyclones. He was appointed a deputy commander. Piotr’s extensive experience in military aviation acquired in Poland was now to be transferred to his younger colleagues. He demanded extensive training of pilots emphasising that victory in the fight gives confidence that a well-trained pilot acquires. He insisted that subordinates achieve excellent training and fostered discipline, which in turn gave them full confidence in their commander. The application of these rules allowed the squadron to be available for full combat readiness in a short time.
The command of the squadron was assigned as Major Józef Kępiński, former head of flying training at No. 1 Air Force Training Centre in Dęblin. The technical advisor on the French side was Cdt. Alexandre de Marmier. Airplanes were serviced by the Polish ground crew, including mechanics, radio mechanics and gunsmiths. The airmen wore Polish style uniforms sewn in France and Polish badges. The two flights consisted of 17 16 pilots. There were two flights: I, commanded by Cpt. Antoni Wczelik and II, commanded by Cpt. Juliusz Frey. The squadron initially trained on Morane MS - 406 aircraft. Initially based at the Bron airfield in Lyon performing patrols of the Lyon area. After being bombed at dawn on 10 May by the German bombers of Bron, on the same afternoon of that day the 1/145 squadron were moved to Mions, several kilometres south of Lyon. The squadron continued to patrol the area of Lyon. From 17 May the squadron started receiving the new type of aircraft and eventually was equipped with 36 Caudron Cyclone C.714 aircraft, which they trained in until 27 May.
Caudrons arrived straight from the factory and, without tests, were given to the Poles, causing a lot of problems from the beginning. Piotr Łaguna usually flew Caudron No. 8554/22 (I-212) with two white horizontal stripes on its fin, which symbolised deputy commander’s role. This aircraft was allocated to him on 22 May and stayed with 1/145 Squadron until the evacuation from France, being later captured by the Germans at Rochefort aerodrome. On 19 May 1940 the whole squadron was moved to Villacoublay and went under command of 23 Fighter Group Formation. Later, they were transferred to Dreux, 30 kilometres from Paris, arriving there on 2 June 1940. From 6 June 1/145 was assigned to Sous Groupement de Chasse 42, being ordered to defend Paris and the region from Vernon to Meulan. The Poles made their first claim on 3 June after damaging He 111, next one on 8 June, probably after destroying He 111, followed by four others plus one damaged the next day. Piotr Łagune also flew during this mission. Three Polish pilots were killed, one was wounded and another made an emergency landing.
In the morning of the 10 of June eleven aircraft from 1/145 Squadron, led by Major Kępiński, while south of Dreux, encountered a group of 15 Dornier Do17 bombers, protected by 12 Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters. Capt. Łaguna fired at one of them and later reported:
"I saw an enemy, that started emitting a smoke, I followed him. The distance between us was getting longer as I couldn’t use a full boost as my aircraft was shaking. I lost contact with the enemy aircraft in the region of Henonville at 100m."
Although he did not see any further results of his action, the pilot of Bf 109 from II/JG3 reached his airfield, yet his aircraft was damaged beyond repair. Łaguna was credited with one Bf 109 destroyed. Two German bombers were also shot down, probably while two British Fairey Battles from 103 Squadron RAF were also shot down by mistake. Piotr Łaguna wrote:
"One of our patrols noticed an aircraft over the air terrain and dived to identify it. That aircraft started shooting and then ours too. This aircraft went into dive and by then we recognised that this was a British aircraft."
Major Kępiński was seriously wounded, Lt Łukaszewicz emergency landed. The command of the 1/145 "Varsovie" Squadron was given to Piotr Łaguna.
On 11 June, the squadron moved to Sermaises, located 15km southwest of Etámpes. Piotr Łaguna reported:
"There are 11 aircraft left but none of these is suitable for operational flying. We were therefore performing antiaircraft missions. We did not have a radio and we managed to fly two antiaircraft sorties, 6 hours in total."
The day after Łaguna’s pilots started conversion and training flights on Bloch MB 152s. On 13 June the squadron flew to Châteauroux, from where they flew 7 operational sorties. Some of Łaguna’s pilots were posted to other French squadrons. Four days later they were moved to Rochefort. Despite the fact that the French command left the airfield, Poles continued their duty to the last moment. Łaguna ordered his squadron to organise defence of the airfield in case of being attacked by the German paratroopers.
As France collapsed, Piotr Łaguna and the rest of 1/145 Squadron left Rochefort at 9am on 19 June. They left their remaining 11 Caudrons and 2 Blochs and travelled to La Rochelle port. The whole crew boarded a French ship, but very soon they were order by the French captain to leave. At 6pm they embarked a British ship ‘Alerpool’ and in the morning of 20 June they sailed to England. In total, 1/145 Squadron performed 64 operational and combat flights in France. Its pilot claimed 8 enemy aircraft, destroyed with the loss of three pilots killed in action, one in a flying accident and two wounded.
The formation of the 302 ‘City of Poznań’ Polish squadron (the irst Polish fighter squadron in the United Kingdom) took place on 13 July 1940 at RAF Leconfield within 12 Group. Initially, another Polish Squadron, No. 303, was planned to be form there too. Before No. 302 Squadron was named after Poznań, where 3rd Air Regiment was located before the war, its name was named after the ‘First Polish Combat Units in France’. Cpt. Łaguna arrived there on 26 July 1940. He was assigned as flight commander of A Flight. The unit inherited pre-war raven’s motif as well as elements of the 1/145 Squadron emblem. Many of 302 Squadron pilots fought previously in France, having many kills already confirmed.
On 7 August 1940 Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Armed Forces and Prime Minister, General Władysław Sikorski visited 302 Squadron. F/Lt Piotr Łaguna was welcomed as a distinguished guest and was among those decorated with the Cross of Valor for bravery during the French campaign. As a big chunk of the Operations Record Book is missing, it is difficult to confirm all flights performed by Piotr Łaguna. However, it is known that during the period between 8 August and 31 October 1940, better known as The Battle of Britain), Piotr performed 17 operational and combat flights. As a big part of 302’s operational data is missing, we can only trace his first operational sortie on 7 September 1940.
On 1 October 1940, while performing training flight, he had to emergency land in Miles Magister south Shipston-on-Stour. It was caused by problems with a fuel pump. The aircraft was damaged. On 11 October 1940, together with 302 Squadron, he was moved to RAF Northolt.
On 7 December 1940 Piotr was appointed the new commander of the 302 Squadron after Squadron Leader Mieczysław Mümler left. At the end of the year (31 December) all the British officers left the command of the 302 Squadron, hence the squadron became completely Polish. There was a nice, agreeable atmosphere. It was a considerable personal achievement for Piotr for which he enjoyed great trust and respect among its subordinates. He was their authority. He talked to his subordinates about their joint concerns, from the discussions he always made the right conclusions for himself and for others. He was full of humour.
Although he liked to joke, he never allowed any loose discipline and misconduct. He liked military discipline and demanded it from his subordinates. Piotr was hard during training flights for his pilots. The flight under his command resembled that of the infantry team on the military range. He was one of the best pilots of 302 Squadron. As a Pole, he was an example of patriotism and great courage. This was manifested in the fight as well as in the words that he preached in solemn moments as a commander to his subordinates.
One of his pilots described him:
"Łaguna was straightforward. He called all the pilots by their first names and requested the same treatment. It doesn’t mean that he supported lack of military disciple at all. Quite the opposite, he was martinet if needed, he was just and disliked when somebody tried to mislead him. Then he punished everyone regardless of their rank; private or NCO, Pilot Officer or a Captain, who was equal to him. But he also had one important characteristic: he was able to forgive in a very short period of time, not holding resentment in his heart. It was him that often initiated reconciliation and kept long relationship with those whom he initially had problems with. He was liked in our squadron because of that. There was no one in our squadron who had any issue with him."
On 20 March 1941, Capt Łaguna was promoted to the rank of Major.
On 8 May 1941 Piotr was shot down in a Hurricane II Z3098 WX-A whilst on a sortie over the south coast of England. He bailed out successfully. On 1 June 1941 Piotr was appointed to Commanding Officer of the 1 Polish Fighter Wing at RAF Northolt, receiving rank of Acting Wing Commander. Piotr was initially in charge of two Polish fighter squadrons: 303 ‘Tadeusz Kościuszko City of Warsaw’ and 308 ‘City of Kraków’. Three days before his death another squadron joined. it was 306 ‘City of Toruń’. No. 303 flew Spitfire IIAs and IIBs, No. 308 Spitfire IIAs and No. 306 Hurricane IIAs and IIBs.
Piotr’s final flight was on June 27, 1941. Pilots from 1 Polish Fighter Wing were ordered to fly over France in the morning as part of Circus 25 (Z.181). Their target supposed to be a steel factory in Lillie and the Poles were ordered to fly at 13 – 16,000 feet as top cover for 24 Blenheims. As the weather worsened, instead Poles were ordered to sweep the area of Le Touquet and Gravelines. The Polish formation was led by Wing Commander John Kent and Wing Commander Piotr Łaguna, both using aircraft from 303 Squadron: P8567 RF-D and P8331 RF-M respectively.
303 Squadron was led by Squadron Leader Wacław Łapkowski and 308 by Squadron Leader Marian Pisarek. Around midday they took off from Northolt and via Dungeness flew over the English Channel. Flying at an altitude of 15,000 feet they swept Gravelines descending to 4,000 feet. German Messerschmitts Bf 109s were seen, but they were reluctant to take a fight. Luftwaffe airfield near Coquelles was attacked and Poles destroyed 3 German fighters on the ground, whilst two others were damaged. German flak began targeting attackers, and very soon Łaguna’s Spitfire received a direct hit by the gun shell. This aircraft was seen catching fire and diving sharply towards the ground south west of Calais and crashing.
Wing Commander Łaguna was killed. He was buried in Pihen-le-Guines Cemetery in France, grave no. 9, row A, military plot. He was decorated with Cross of Valour and posthumously with the Silver Cross of Virtuti Militari no. 9093. He also has a symbolic grave in his native Wąsosz, being commemorated on the Polish Air Force Memorials at Warsaw-Mokotów and Northolt.