The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. P P Gallus
Pawel Gallus was born at Szczawnica, Poland on 28th April 1920. He joined the Polish Air Force in 1936 and qualified as a fighter pilot at Krosno in 1939. He was posted to No.1 Air Regiment at Warsaw and joined its Fighter Squadron 112.
He escaped through Romania after the German invasion and reached France on 30th December 1939.
Gallus joined l'Armee de l'Air and served in a defence flight operating MB152's over Chateauroux airfield and the Bloch factory. The flight was led by another Polish pilot, Zdzislaw Henneberg.
When France fell, Gallus made his way to England, arriving on 23rd June 1940. He was posted to 302 (City of Poznan) Polish Fighter Squadron.
He was sent on a short pilot's refresher programme and joined 303 Squadron at Northolt at its formation on 2nd August.
On the 12th, on possibly his first flight in a Hurricane, he landed P3890 without lowering the undercarriage, it was later repaired. He was sent to 5 OTU Aston Down for advanced training and went from there to 3 Squadron at Turnhouse on 27th September 1940.
He was posted to 316 Squadron at Pembrey on 27th March 1941, staying with it until 22nd October when he went to 87 Squadron at Colerne for night-flying training.
On the night of 26th/27th October 1941 Gallus was detailed for a night exercise formating with a Turbinlite Havoc and another Hurricane piloted by Sgt. Antoni Beda, another Polish pilot in 87 Squadron.
However once airborne and in position the bright light carried by the Havoc failed to come on, the aircraft may have taken off with the protective cover still in place. In complete darkness Gallus and Beda collided. Both men were able to bale out and came down near East Knoyle, south of Warminster.
Gallus documented the incident:
We were experimenting with new techniques with which to combat German bombers at night. The purpose of the mission was purely an exercise. Three planes were sent out altogether. One, a Hurricane, acting as a target, another Hurricane as a fighter and the third, most important plane, a Havoc, carrying a radar system and powerful reflector. The idea of the exercise was to destroy the supposed enemy target following instructions from the Havoc plane.
On this particular trip I was acting as the fighter. The weather conditions were ten-tenths clouds. It was very dark indeed and we were flying at a height of 11,000 feet. I was flying in formation with the Havoc plane and the pilot was relaying instructions to me over the R/T as to the necessary procedure. This consisted of flying some distance away from him while simultaneously gaining height. He was in constant line with the target and the aim was to direct the fighter into a position from which he could destroy [the enemy aircraft]. I was relayed instructions as to when to dive so as to be positioned between the two planes. I was required to start counting and at a prearranged time the Havoc pilot was to switch on his reflector for about 15 seconds in which time I was to destroy the target. The entire operation was .perfectly synchronised.
However, when the time came for me to see the illuminated target, I saw nothing and became concerned as to what had gone wrong and why there was no light. Thinking that through some fault of my own my position was incorrect in relation to the other two planes and that it would be necessary to repeat the exercise, I turned my head to see where the plane carrying the reflector was but could distinguish no light whatsoever. Before I had fully turned my head back, I had hit a plane in front of me, and struck the side of my nose on the instrument panel, but all this happened so quickly that I was not fully aware of what was going on or even which plane I had collided with.
As I was flying at a speed of about 300mph, the vibrations were so intense that I could not control the plane. I saw no alternative but to bale out. I pulled open the canopy and unstrapped myself but found that I could not get out because I was somehow being pushed to one side of the plane.
I eventually succeeded by getting on to the seat and giving the joystick an energetic kick. I was momentarily stunned but became conscious of the extreme quiet, whereupon I questioned myself as to whether I was alive or dead. I was still dazed and unaware of what was going on around me until I felt myself being pushed and pulled about as my parachute opened over me. The uncanny thing is that I have absolutely no recollection of logically thinking to myself that I should pull my parachute cord and feel that I must have done this subconsciously.
I was being pulled around and was still dazed but suddenly it became very quiet and I was conscious of a light above me in that complete darkness. I looked up and realised that this one light in the vast and total darkness which surrounded me came from my open parachute canopy, whereupon I grasped at the straps with such joy as if I was clinging to life itself. I quickly came to my senses and realised that I needed to apply my knowledge about steering a parachute but that I could not do this as I couldn't see anything so I positioned myself for landing and just waited to touch the ground. Fortunately I landed on the flat. The wind was pulling at my parachute but I managed to gather it together and for a while just sat on top of it relieved that the tension was over and that I was at last safe and unharmed. I lifted my head and noticed that I was sitting under high tension cables. I leapt up and ran like mad until my parachute pulled me back.
I packed the parachute, put it under my arm and went to a house on the other side of the road. I knocked on the door and after some time the lady of the house opened it. I told her what I was doing there and she seemed to be convinced and called her husband. I expected him to come from inside the house but instead he came from outside and was carrying a shotgun. I asked why he carried this shotgun and his wife replied that she also had a pistol which they kept as protection against Germans who had been shot down. I laughed and at that time experienced the realisation that I was safely back among human beings. The wife pointed out the swelling on my nose of which I had been unaware until she drew attention to it.
Now I realise that this had been caused not by my cord, nor by getting out of the plane but that I had struck the side of my nose on the instrument panel before I had fully turned my head round and that this probably stunned me.
On returning to my squadron I was told that the reflector operator had switched on the reflector but had never removed the covering which acted as an immediate blackout of light from the reflector and prevented the plane being made a target for the enemy. What strikes me as incredible was that I had been flying this plane for a month but had never noticed a lucky charm belonging to my former squadron leader which he had left there.
Earlier that evening when I took the plane out for a night flying test I noticed this charm which I thought belonged to the pilot who had flown the plane before me. I took it off, intending to give it back to him when I rejoined my original squadron. It seems strange to me that this should have happened on the very night I took this charm off. I took the charm back to its owner but he said that as it had saved my life and brought me luck I should keep it and I still have it.
However, after thirty years, the image that remains most strongly and clearly impressed on my mind is the light from my parachute in that dark night. As it is said, where there is light there is life - my light was my Irving parachute and right until this day I can still see that light.
I am now working as an engineer at the Northampton Machinery Company, where I have been for the past 21 years, but I often dream of the pleasure of flying again.
Gallus was attached to 317 Squadron at Exeter on 15th March 1942, moving on 5th April to 316 Squadron at Heston. He was awarded the KW (gazetted 3rd September 1942).
Now flying Spitfires, Gallus claimed a Fw190 probably destroyed on 21st January 1943. On 25th March 1943 he led a section of aircraft in an operational sortie against St. Omer. During this sortie he acted as decoy to two Fw190s which enabled another section to destroy the two attackers. On another occasion he attacked enemy transport near Falaise.
Gallus received a Bar to the KW (gazetted 25th June 1943) and claimed a Me109 destroyed on 6th July.
On 26th August Gallus was rested from operations, suffering from frostbite, and became an air traffic controller in the Operations Room at 306 Squadron.
He joined 302 Squadron at Deanland on 14th April 1944, going from there to his last posting with 309 Squadron on 23rd August 1945.
Gallus completed two tours of operations on Spitfires with 302 and 316 Squadrons and by 1947 had completed 1618 flying hours, mainly on fighter aircraft including the Mustang, Spitfire, Hurricane, Tiger Moth, Harvard, Henley, Fairey Battle, Auster, Magister, Martinet and Master.
Gallus was awarded the DFC (gazetted 26th May 1945), the VM (5th Class)(gazetted 1st June 1945) and also the Virituti Militari cross of valour and bar (No. 10765) Krzyz Walecznych and two bars, the Lotniczy Air Force Medal and three bars.
Apart from the DFC his British decorations were the 1939-45 Star, the Aircrew Europe Star and Clasp, the Defence medal and War medal plus a Caterpillar Club badge for an emergency bale out.
He was released as a Warrant Officer in 1948 (above) and worked as an engineer until his retirement in 1983. He married Maria Gazda in 1951 (below) and they had two children. He lived in Northampton until his death on 19th April 2011.
Photographs and additional research courtesy of Helen Anderson (daughter).