P/O Karol Pniak

Polish P/O Karol "Cognac" Pniak (76707, born 26/1/10 Szczakowa) of 32 Sqn flying from Hawkinge bails out of his burning Hurricane after it is shot down by a Bf 109. The aircraft lands on Longage Hill between Lyminge and Rhodes Minnis and Pniak lands nearby with injuries to his ankle and knee.

He may have been in combat with Bf 109s from III./JG 3 escorting 20 Ju 88s from III./KG 4 on their way to attack Hornchurch.

There are many sources that state he was shot down twice in one day but the evidence I have found does not support this account.

His combat record contains the following (AIR 50/16/25):

Sector Serial No(A)
Serial No. of order detailing patrol(B)
Flight, Squadron(D)Flight: B Sqdn.: 32
No. of Enemy Aircraft(E)12
Type of Enemy Aircraft(F)Me. 109
Time Attack was delivered(G)1?001 hrs
Place attack was delivered(H)near Dover
Height of Enemy(J)20,000'
Enemy Casualties(K)1 Me 109, probable
Our Casualties Aircraft(L)1 Hurricane
Personnel(M)1 Slightly injured
Searchlights: (Did they illuminate enemy if not, were they in front or behind?)(N.1)N/A
A.A. Guns: (Did shell bursts assist Pilot intercepting enemy?)(N.2)N/A
Range at which fire was opened in in each attack delivered, together with estimated length of bursts.(P) 150 yds.
4 two second bursts.
Total No. of Rounds fired--1280
Name of Pilot (Block Letters)-P/O Pniak.
General Report(R)See Over.
SignaturePniak P/O
O.C. Flight
Squadron No.32
I was flying No 3 of Blue Section when we met 12 Me. 109's at about 2000' they were above us and attacked us. I was attacked by a Me 109 from head on and above. I circled round on this tail and closing to 150 yards gave him 2 two second bursts, he started to smoke from the engine, I followed him and gave him two more bursts, much black smoke came from the aircraft and he was diving. Just after this I felt my machine vibrating and saw smoke coming from the engine and right wing, flames also appeared from the right wing, I switched everything off and put my aircraft into a dive to land, but when I reached 5,000' the flames were so big, that I turned my plane on one side and jumped. I landed very fast because my parachute was not properly open and full of big holes, I landed 3 miles N.W. of Hawkinge, my ankle and knee were injured and I was taken to hospital.

1. On the original this is a 5 and 6 overtyped.

The casualty record for P/o Pniak (AIR 81/257) contains two telegrams - one from Hawkinge and one from 32 Sqn. at Biggin Hill:

NME 6559 Telegram en clair. To: A.M. (C.1.Accidents and P.4.Cas.), A.M. (D.M.D.) Repeated H.Q.F.C., 11 Group, 43 Group, and Biggin Hill. From: Hawkinge Received M.M.C.S. 0210 hrs. 25.8.40 Z NR16 NOT W/T AM WHI Pass to AM Depts GR68 A.256 24/8. F.B. Casualty. (A) Hurricane number unknown (B) 32 Squadron (C) Sibton Park, Lyminge 585605 24/8/40. Approx 1530 hours. (D) P/O Pniac (Polish) slight foot injury after bailing out (E) Unknown (F) N/A (G) N/A. (H) Cat. three. Time of Origin 2010 hrs. 24.8.40 Advance copies passed to:- P.4.Cas. D.R.M. M.A.P. Millbank. Crash Circulation.. + D.A.A.C. HPP B GR68?? CC R0132 DT KK
CGN 6512 Telegram en clair. To :- A.M. (C.1.Accidents, P.4.Cas) Repeated H.Q.F.C, 11 Group, 43 Group, Polish Embassy. From:- 32 Squadron. Biggin Admin Received A.M.C.S. 2310 hours. 24.8.40 Biggin Admin NR8 IMEDIATE SECRET NOT WT AM WHI Pass to (C1 Acc and P4 Cas) Polish Embassy. GR77 A.359. 24/8. FB (A) Hurricane V.6572 (B) 32 Squadron (C) Over Hswkineg Hawkinge area at approx. 1600 hours 24/8. Aircraft one mile north of Lyminge (D) P/O K.Pniak (Polish) slight foot injury after bailing out (E) Returning to Biggin Hill (F) N/A (G) Enemy action (H) Cat three. (J) N/A. Time of Origin:- 2224 hours 24.8.80 Crash Circulation. D.A.A.C. (for Polish Emb:) Advance copies passed to :- P.4.Cas. D.R.M., M.A.P. Millbank. DF B PIP IMI WA OVER (C) CC WA OVER ...HAWKINGE + R....2250....R.A....AV+....K+

Local resident Arthur Wootten said of the incident:

It was one of the neatest things I’ve ever seen.

The pilot hit the ground heavily in a corn field near Ottinge, the silk canopy settling over the prostrate figure. After a pause, the hump sprang into life and a flailing man, cursing in Polish, struggled to get into the sunlight. Being Sunday, people appeared very quickly until there were about a hundred attending the tall Pole who spoke very little English and gesticulated wildly in an endeavour to explain that he'd baled out over the district the previous day. When a car came to take him back to Hawkinge, the local people formed a passage for him to reach the car and spontaneous clapping broke out - just as if he were a batsman returning to the pavilion after a spirited innings.

Shot down twice in one day

The Battle of Britain - Then and Now records the following details:

Huricane [unknown serial no]. Shot down in combat with Bf 109s and believed crashed in Dover Harbour 3.15pm. Pilot officer K. Pniak bailed out slightly injured. Aircraft lost. Hurricane V6572. Shot down in combat with Bf 109s over Folkestone 4.20pm. Crashed at Rhodes Minnis near Lyminge. Pilot officer K. Pniak bailed out and injured ankle and knee in heavy landing. Admitted to hospital. Aircraft a write-off. Excavated in October 1979 by the Brenzett Aeronautical Museum, which recovered a propeller boss and reduction gear and other minor components.

Hawkinge 1912-1961 records a story of Pinak being shot down into Dover harbour:

Plt Off Pniak was shot up by a Bf 109 and was forced to abandon his Hurricane over the town [Dover]. His aircraft dived into the sea just outside the breakwater. He floated down to splash into the harbour, where he was found by the crew of a naval launch, calmly sitting astride a buoy. An extremely confident and determined young man, Pniak, a Polish pilot who had joined the squadron only sixteen days before, was back at Hawkinge within the hour and was flying that afternoon when the squadron scrambled. By 16.20 hrs he had been shot up again over Lyminge and fell out of his inverted Hurricane before it crashed on the outskirts of the village. But this time he was wounded and spent the remainder of the month in hospital.

Counter arguments

His combat record only has an account of one combat on 24 August in which he was shot down. However, not all combats in which pilots participated are in the archives so the lack of a second combat is not conclusive.

Karol Pinak RAF

Subsequent actions


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