The Airmen's Stories - P/O K Pniak
Karol Pniak was born at Jaworzno, Cracow, Poland on 26th January 1910. He joined the Polish Air Force on 23rd October 1928 and after qualifying as a pilot was posted to the 2nd Air Regiment. He went to the NCOs Flying Training School at Bydgoszcz on 5th May 1930 and was attached to the 2nd Air Regiment from 1st October 1930.
After a course at the Central Gunnery and Bombing School, Pniak joined the 122nd Fighter Squadron at Cracow on 15th September 1931 and remained with it until September 1936.
He was later commissioned and joined 142 Squadron at Torun on 15th June 1939. He flew operationally after the German attack and on 2nd September destroyed a Do17 and on the 4th a Ju87.
When Poland fell, he crossed into Romania and then made his way to France, arriving by sea at Marseilles on 29th October 1939 and joining the Polish Air Force contingent there.
In January 1940 the RAF was starting to accept Polish airmen for training and Pniak took advantage of this, arriving at the Polish Depot at Blackpool in late January. After assessment and training he was posted to No. 1 School of Army Co-operation at Old Sarum on 9th July.
He was attached to 6 OTU Sutton Bridge on the 15th and after converting to Hurricanes he was posted to 32 Squadron at Biggin Hill on 3rd August.
He claimed a Me109 destroyed on the 12th, another destroyed and a Do17 probably destroyed on the 15th, two Me109's shot down on the 18th, a Do17 damaged on the 22nd and another Me109 probably destroyed on the 24th.
The next day Pniak was shot down in combat with Me109's over Folkestone, baled out, injured his ankle and knee in a heavy landing and was admitted to hospital. His Hurricane, V6572, crashed at Rhodes Minnis, near Lyminge.
On 14th September Pniak was posted to 257 Squadron at Martlesham Heath. He claimed a Fiat BR20 destroyed on 11th November and shared a second. He was posted to 306 Squadron at Tern Hill on the 23rd.
Pniak was awarded the VM(5thClass)(gazetted 1st February 1941) and the KW (gazetted 1st January 1941).
He was posted away to the AFDU at Duxford on 18th November 1941 and on 30th January 1942 he returned to 306 for duties in the Operations Room.
He was awarded the DFC (gazetted 1st June 1942).
Pniak returned to operations with 306 on 1st December 1942 as a Flight Commander. He went to West Kirby on 13th February 1943 to prepare for overseas deployment and on 13th March arrived in the Middle East in a C-47 with other Polish pilots to form the Polish Fighting Team, otherwise known as Skalski's Circus. They were attached to 145 Squadron and operated in the Western Desert from 17th March to 12th May and destroyed thirty enemy aircraft.
After returning to the UK, Pniak went to 3 Wing on ground duties, moved to 58 OTU Grangemouth on 24th September 1943 as an instructor, and was posted to the Northolt Operations Room on 23rd November.
He was awarded two Bars to the KW (gazetted 20th December 1943).
Pniak then went to 61 OTU Rednal on 12th March 1944. He was posted to 84 Group on 25th September and on 28th November returned to operations, taking command of 308 Squadron at Ghent.
Pniak led the squadron until 30th June 1945. He then went to HQ Polish Air Force Blackpool and relinquished his acting rank.
After an attachment to HQ 131 Wing from 9th November 1945, Pniak rejoined 308 as supernumerary on 16th August 1946. He had received a third Bar to the KW (gazetted 8th March 1946).
He was repatriated to Poland on 24th February 1947.
From 1948 onwards Pniak was harassed, as were all ex-RAF airmen, by the communist authorities and moved from one menial job to another.
After 1956 the situation improved and he was employed by a large construction company in Krakow, being responsible for their equipment.
In 1959 he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and was given a disability pension. His health was never good from then on, not helped by the death of his wife in 1964.
Pniak died from a stroke on 17th October 1980.
He is buried at Jaworzno, Poland.