This post is also available in: polski (Polish)
A new international film production devoted to the most successful squadron of the Battle of Britain has just been shown at cinemas in Poland. The UK premiere is scheduled for 7 September. Also, on 31 August, the Polish-produced movie “Dywizjon 303” based on wartime reportages by famous travel books author Arkady Fiedler is coming out. It looks like aviation history buffs, as well as modellers, will shortly be able to see two movies on the same topic. Let’s talk about the first one.
The producers of Hurricane are trying to present to an international audience a history of the foreign fighters who helped to win the last-stand battle against the German conquerors in the West. The movie starts in June 1940 in France, where Jan Zumbach (the excellent Iwan Rheon), a Polish aviator with a Swiss passport, is trying to reach England to continue the fight. His Odyssey meets such obstacles as German armoured troops and decadent French aviators joking about “another Pole that wants to die in Britain”. His arrival to the island is just the start of his journey. A bunch of unwanted Poles, with worn out clothes, are held in Brighton waiting to be transferred to Bomber Command for training. RAF officials meet with Witold “Cobra” Urbanowicz (played by Marcin Dorociński), a Polish fighter combat school teacher. They explain that Poles are unable to be integrated into the sophisticated British air defence system. Their poor English and unfamiliarity with advanced aeroplanes work against them. Urbanowicz is allowed to join 145 Squadron, but the rest are unwanted.
Meanwhile, the Battle of Britain continues. WAAFs are talking about how so many British boys have just not returned from their missions. Casualties rise, and RAF is in danger of losing the battle. Urbanowicz proves his quality when shooting down Germans with high accuracy and a minimal amount of ammunition spent. Day by day, replacements are scarce, and the Poles may be returned to the game as gap-filling cannon fodder. When 303 Squadron is finally formed, it gathers together: Polish personnel, the rebellious Czech Josef Fratišek (Kryštof Hádek), and Canadian fighter John Kent (Milo Gibson). All of them are expendables. They need time to get to know each other well and learn how the RAF fighter system works. Zumbach and Cobra, transferred in from 145 Squadron, have engaged to help Kent to understand Poles and to prepare the unit for their mission. Humiliating training drills end when Ludwik Paszkiewicz leaves formation during a training flight and shoots down a Do-17. The next day, they receive operational status.
Zumbach (Iwan Rheon) and Kent (Milo Gibson)
303 in combat
The first day of combat is a significant failure for Zumbach. His Hurricane’s machine guns jam, and he returns embarrassed. WAAF Phyllis Lambert (Stefanie Martini) comforts him. The rest of the squadron has an excellent debut; everybody returned, and they shot down six Me-109! Then the show begins. Day by day, 303 Squadron works hard to shot down as many Germans as possible. Their combat experience from Poland and France pays off. If you were able to shot down a Me-109 in a PZL P.11c, you do not need a Spitfire. The sturdy fabric covered Hurricane is enough to wreak havoc on German bomber formations. The RAF high command is delighted. They use the Polish exploits as a morale booster, and it works well. This makes for another point of confusion and misunderstanding.
The Poles are not gallant boys that play at war, as the British would like to see them. Their motivation is more profound than that of young gentlemen having adventures abroad. It is the hate of Germans. Hate with a reason. Between scenes in England, are snapshots from occupied Poland. The families of Polish fighter pilots suffer badly. They are shot or hung without mercy by German forces in Poland, even the elderly, women, and children. Except for the story of devout Gabriel, which is oversimplified, all are portrayed very well. Also, when one by one friends are lost, the combat stress accumulates. This is probably the first movie produced outside of Poland that shows Poles in exile from this perspective. It makes their hate of Germans understandable and explains their misunderstandings with the British, especially on the organised 303 Squadron celebration.
Aeroplanes in movie
Modellers always like to see good aeroplane shots in a war movie. Hurricane 303 Squadron shows both real aeroplanes on the ground and 3D models in combat. The dogfights are dynamic, and some shots are spectacular. During Paszkiewicz’s first kill his Hurricane makes her way through cloud into an aerial melee that looks like Star Wars. German aeroplanes are mostly Me-109s and Dorniers. The Poles usually shoot from close range, and the amount of aeroplane debris spread on the sky is enormous. The aerial explosions look less realistic than the shooting. Aeroplanes burn like empty eggshells.
Not being an expert on the Luftwaffe, I can not comment markings of German aeroplanes. All Hurricanes in the movie are marked with 303 RF squadron codes, with the only exception being Urbanowicz’s SD-T from 501 Squadron (in fact he served in 145. During the Battle, many Polish aces, including Skalski and Głowacki — 5 kills in one day with SD-A — served in 501 squadron. It maybe hints at deleted part of the movie. Who knows?).
Unlike in the 1969 Battle of Britain movie, the final scene is not connected with combat. It’s set during the 1946 Victory Parade in London. The speaker lists many Allied nations participating in the parade. But not the Poles. Because of an agreement with Stalin, they are not allowed to join the celebration. The eastern half of Poland is incorporated into the Soviet Union. The rest of Poland is left under Communist rule, and the returning aviators are imprisoned. The so-called “Western Betrayal” left Central European nations on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain.
The Poles are expendable again. Kent and others meet to drink to fallen friends. Zumbach is forced to leave the UK within a few days. You can read the statistics of Polish achievements in Defense of Britain. 303 alone shot down 126 Germans. Poles (two squadrons and pilots attached to British units) alone caused 20% of the Luftwaffe’s casualties in the Battle of Britain.
I would recommend this movie to all modellers and aviation enthusiasts. Although some aeroplane 3D scenes are not as good as you might like, it is a good war cinema worth seeing this summer.
Photos: Kino Świat
See more about movie on IMDB