Polskie Siły Powietrzne w II wojnie światowej
Feliks Gazda

Feliks Gazda

Feliks Gazda was born in Zakrzów (near Lublin) on May 6, 1903. His parents, Jan Gazda and Aniela Morek, were farmers. Feliks graduated from Teachers' College (Seminarium Nauczycielskie) in the nearby town of Solec nad Wisła and taught primary school at Hrubieszow, about a hundred kilometres southeast of Lublin, near the current border with Ukraine. He enlisted in the Armed Forces on August 30, 1924 and served as a student in the Warsaw Cadet Officers' School. Upon graduation on July 1, 1925 with rank of Officer Cadet/LAC (plutonowy podchorąży), he was assigned as an instructor to the 34th Infantry Regiment at Biała Podlaska. Shortly afterwards, however, he enlisted in the Air Force and on November 2, 1926 joined the Air Force Officers' School in Dęblin. Towards the end of 1926, he was sent on a two and a half month training course with the 11th Combat Flight of the 1st Air Force Regiment in Warsaw. During this time, he flew on Breguet XIX's (a light bomber). After his return to the Air Force Officers' School in Dęblin, he completed his aviation training specializing as an observer. As a graduate with the rank of Officer Cadet/Sergeant (sierżant podchorąży), he was assigned to the 35th Combat Flight of the 3rd Air Force Regiment in Poznań on September 16, 1927. There, he flew Potez XXVII aircraft. On May 21, 1929, he was promoted to the rank of Pilot Officer (podporucznik).

Gazda then applied to undertake pilot training, in connection with which he was ordered to the Officers' Air Force Training Centre in Dęblin on May 3, 1929. There he completed the elementary course on September 21, 1929. Upon his return to Poznań, on October 5th of that year, he served as pilot in the 132nd Fighter Flight which at that time was operating Spad 61 C1 aircraft. To elevate his level of pilot training, he received a secondment to the 2nd Air Force Regiment in Kraków for a three week fighter course on September 10th 1930, and upon its completion, returned to the 132nd Flight. Between October 10, 1932 and March 25, 1933, he was the acting commanding officer of this unit. In September of that year, he was transferred to the 133rd Fighter Flight equipped with PWS-10 planes. He was given the duty of technical officer. Later, from the 2nd of September 1934 with a few breaks, he attained the appointment of commander and, from March 20, 1935 was the formal commander of this flight.

On October 1st 1938, Gazda was transferred to the Non-Commissioned Officers' Air Force School for Youth in Bydgoszcz. While there, at first, he served as the Commander of the Platoon of the 3rd Special Flight and then later, as commander of one of the School Flights. As an experienced fighter pilot, on 22 July 1939, he was appointed commanding officer of the Pilots Squadron of the Non-Commissioned Officers' Air Force School for Youth. He retained this rank until the onset of the war. During the early defence of Poland during the war, as their commander, he led his students out to the South East of Poland. After the Soviet agression on Poland on September 17, 1939, he crossed the border to Romania. Together with his group of students and first year pilots from the Air Force Cadet Officers' School, he was interned in Slatina where he became the Polish commander of the camp. On October 1st, he escaped and made his way to the Black Sea coast and then to France. He arrived in France on November 12, 1939 (most likely on the deck of the "Patris" sailing from the fishing port of Balchik to Malta and from there on to Marseille on a French vessel).

On November 26, 1939, Gazda was appointed to the Air Force Training Centre in Lyon. From March 15 to June 17, 1940, he was the Deputy Chief of Pilotage at the Air Force Training Centre. There, he took part in the re-training of Polish pilots in the use of French equipment for the attacks on German forces in Western Europe in May 1940, and for military flights against German bombers, piloting MS-406 fighters from the Air Force Training Centre Fighter Flight. On June 17 - already after the French had proposed capitulating - Feliks Gazda, together with F/Lt (kapitan) Mieczysław Wiorkiewicz commander of the aforementioned squadron and F/O (porucznik) Stanisław Zielinski, flew the squadron planes to Perpignan. There they joined up with a group under F/Lt (kapitan) Tadeusz Rolski. This group was planning a second air crossing over to North Africa. A few days later, on June 23rd, Gazda flew from Perpignan to Oran on a passenger transport Caudron Goeland piloted by W/O (chorąży) Stansław Płonczyński. Then, he travelled by rail to Casablanca via Rabat. From Casablanca he got on a ship on July 2nd,which took two weeks to reach Liverpool, England via Gibraltar.

Gazda's first move in England was to Blackpool where he awaited assignment. On October 14, 1940, he was assigned to the 1 School of Army Cooperation, where he underwent training in the use of British equipment (simultaneously on one and two engine planes). Next, he underwent training both theoretical and practical at the RAF White Waltham, RAF Old Sarum and RAF Kemble. In April 1941, he was selected to go to Africa as part of the strategy to strengthen the Polish Aircraft Delivery Unit. On May 9th, he sailed from England and on May 31st made his way to Takoradi in the Gold Coast (now Ghana). The mission, under the leadership of G/Cpt (pułkownik) Mateusz Iżycki, was to fly aircraft (shipped by sea in crates and then assembled on site) from West Africa to Egypt (the pilots returned to Takoradi on transport flights using Lockheed and Dakota aircraft). Shortly after his arrival, on the 4th of June, Gazda flew across Africa for the first time in the cockpit of a Hurricane. He flew 6 times across Africa before the year was finished, transporting Hurricanes and Blenheims.

Towards the end of 1941, Gazda, together with a small group of Polish pilots, asked to be assigned to fly fighter planes on the African Front. As an experienced fighter pilot, he was selected to be commander and instructor of a group of ten pilots. On December 2nd 1941, he was assigned to 71 Operational Training Unit in Khartoum where he refreshed his fighter pilot skills on Hurricanes and Tomahawks.On February 9, 1942, he was assigned to the 112 "Shark" Squadron stationed in Gambut air base. After a speedy orientation to the Kittyhawks being used by this unit, he began fighter flights over the Libyan Front. He carried out six of these missions, including patrol, fighter sweep, and the interception of enemy planes). On May 5, 1942, he left the "Shark" Squadron and joined for a brief period of time the 108 Maintenance Unit (he carried out several flights in Blenheims), after which on June 16, 1942, he returned to Takoradi and from August again flew repeatedly to Egypt at the helm of Kittyhawks, Blenheims and Baltimores. Altogether during the years 1941-1943, he flew across Africa 23 times. During this time, he contracted malaria 11 times (he was treated in hospital for it, among other places, in Cairo).

In the fall of 1943, with the disbanding of the Polish Aircraft Delivery Unit, he became part of the 216 Transport Group. From this point on, the scope of his duties changed, and he ferried planes throughout North Africa and the Mediterranean Sea (Sicily, Italy, and Gibraltar), adding Spitfires, Mustangs, Beaufighters, Ansons, Dakotas and Wellingtons to the types of aircraft he was flying. In November of 1944, he left the 216 Group and returned to Great Britain. At first he was assigned to the headquarters of Transport Command and from March 7, 1945, he was the Polish liaison officer for the 44 Transport Group (the composition of this unit included Polish pilots transporting planes across the Mediterranean Sea and to India). On November 22, 1945, he was transferred to a Polish Depot in Dunholme Lodge. Then, from February 6th 1946, he served as an administrative officer in the headquarters of the 84 Fighter Group (within this unit was, among others, the 131 Fighter Wing stationed in Germany). Towards the end of 1946, he was stationed at the RAF Hethel. He was formally discharged from the Polish Air Forces at this time.

Feliks Gazda completed his service in the Polish Air Force with the Polish rank of Squadron Leader (major) and British rank of Squadron Leader (previously he had served temporarily as Acting Wing Commander). He was decorated with the Cross of Valour, the Silver Cross of Merit with Swords, as well as commemorative medals. In 1947, he joined the Polish Resettlement Corps. He decided on emigration to Argentina, and moved there with his wife and son, in 1948. He settled in Quilmes, near Buenos Aires. He worked for a short time as a pilot and then did construction work. Thanks to the financial support of pilots in Argentina and Canada, he emigrated to Montreal in October 1953. Immediately on arrival, he found a job with the firm Aviation Electric where he was employed testing aviation instruments. Due to the seriousness of the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, which manifested themselves in 1964, he took early retirement and moved to Rosemere, a suburb of Montreal.

In December of 1953, shortly after arriving in Montreal, he and several Polish pilots became co-founders of 310 "Wilno" Wing (under the umbrella of the RCAF), connecting Polish veterans of the Second World War. Squadron Leader (major) Feliks Gazda died at the age of 67 on May 9, 1970 in St Jerome in the province of Quebec and is buried in the veterans' cemetery Field of Honour in Pointe Claire, Canada. He was married to Ludomira Gazda (née Leja) and had two children, Ryszard Feliks, born in England, and Diana Maria, born in Buenos Aires.

Wojciech Zmyślony
(translation by Diana Dale)