Lot Archive


№ 738


19 April 1995

Estimate: £2,500–£3,000

An outstanding Polish Hurricane Pilot’s Battle of Britain ace’s group of nineteen awarded to Squadron Leader Karol Pniak, D.F.C., No.’s 32, 257, 306 and 308 Squadrons, and a member of the Polish Fighting Team - “Skalski’s Circus” - in North Africa
Distinguished Flying Cross, G.V1.R., the reverse officially dated ‘1942’; Poland, Order of Polonia Restituta, dated 1944, 5th class, gilt and enamel; Virtuti Militari, 5th class; Cross of Valour, dated 1920, with three bars; Cross of Merit, 2nd class; Volunteers War Cross 1939; Cross for 1939-45; Air Force Active Service Medal, with two bars; 1939 Commemorative Medal; Victory Medal; 10 Year Long Service Medal; Great Britain, 1939-45 Star, clasp, Battle of Britain; Air Crew Europe Star, clasp, France and Germany; Africa Star, clasp, North Africa 1942-43; Defence and War Medals; France, Croix du Combattant; Medal of Liberation; Netherlands, Distinguished Flying Cross; together with Polish Pilots Wings by J.R.Gaunt, a Polish Squadron badge, bronze commemorative medal, Warsaw 1933, and cases of issue for several of the decorations, several later or replacement issues, generally good very fine and a rare group (22)

Karol Pniak was born in Jaworzno, Cracow, Poland, on 26 January, 1910. He joined the Polish Air Force in 1932 and in 1939 was serving in the 142 ‘Wild Duck’ Eskadra - being credited with two and one shared destroyed, and one and one shared damaged during the September fighting. He reached England in early summer 1940, attending 6 OTU in June and then joining 32 Squadron on 8 August. He at once made a number of claims, being credited with four Bf109’s destroyed and one probable, one Do17 probably destroyed and another damaged, all in the space of two weeks. On the 25th August he was shot down by Bf109’s, baling out of Hurricane V6572, but being injured in a heavy landing. On recovery on 16 Septenber he was posted to 257 Squadron, engaging in the first interception of Italian aircraft off the east coast on November the 11th, when he claimed one Br20 and one shared. Later that month he was posted to the new 306 (Polish) Squadron, where he received the Virtuti Militari (5th class) and the Cross of Valour. In November 1941 he was posted to the AFDU at Duxford until January when he returned to 306 Squadron. Awarded the D.F.C. on 1 June 1942, he became a flight commander in December, but then volunteered for the special Polish Fighting Team.
Popularly called “Skalski’s Circus,” the Polish Fighting Team was a fighter flight consisting of 15 Polish volunteers from various Polish squadrons attached to No. 143 Squadron in Tunisia, North Africa. Formed in February 1943 under the operational command of Sqn.Ldr. S. Skalski, D.S.O., the top scoring Polish fighter ace, the team became operational on 17 March. “Skalski’s Circus” operated only for about eight weeks, but its exploits became legendary. Never operating with more than six Spitfires at any one time the Team accounted for 25 enemy aircraft destroyed, 3 probables and 9 damaged, for the loss of one pilot who became a prisoner. Their successes were so striking that the Polish pilots were offered positions as commanders of sections, flights or squadrons, but the majority, including Pniak, preferred to return to their units.
On his return, Pniak went to 3 Polish Wing on ground duties, and then in September 1943 to 58 OTU as an instructor. A spell in the Ops Room at Northolt followed, when he received two bars to his Cross of Valour. In March 1944 he instructed again, this time at 61 OTU, until September when he went to 84 Group HQ. He returned to operations late in November as commander of 308 Squadron, leading the unit for the rest of the war. At the end of July 1945 he was posted to the Polish Air Force HQ at Blackpool, and in November was attached to HQ, 131 Wing. He returned to 308 Squadron as a supernumary Squadron Leader in August 1946, having received a third bar to his Cross of Valour during the year. He was also awarded the Dutch D.F.C. by the Netherlands Government for his services whilst in command of 308 Squadron, one of only eight such awards to Polish officers serving with the Royal Air Force.
The lot is sold with the original Virtuti Militari award document, dated 21 December 1940, two wartime Pass books and R.A.F. Flying Clothing Card, Innoculation Card, and eleven original photographs of the recipient; also a considerable amount of research from official records including several Combat Reports.