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)
Date (C) 24/8/40
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.
Signature Pniak P/O
Section
O.C. Flight
Squadron
blue
B.
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

F/O Rupert Smythe

F/O Rupert Frederick Smythe (40436, dob 11/6/16, Killiney) of 32 Sqn. is shot down and his aircraft lands near Lyminge.

The casualty record for P/O Smythe (AIR 81/2756) contains the following:

1A & 1B

6514

AM WHI

Biggin Admin NR9 IMEDIATE SECRET NOT WT

Pass to AM (C1 Acc and P4 Cas)
GR73

To:- A.M. (C.I. Accidents), and P.4. (cas), repeated H.Q.F.C, 11 Group, 43 Group.

From:- 32 Squadron.

Received A.M.C.S. 2252hrs. 24.8.40

A.358 3 24/8. F/B.

(A) Hurricane V.6568.
(B) 32 Squadron.
(C) Over Hawkinge area at approx 1600 hours 24/8. Aircraft near Lyminge exact location unknown.
(D) 40436 F/O Smythe wounded in leg.
(E) Returning to Biggin Hill
(F) N/A
(G) Enemy action.
(H) Cat three.
(J) N/A

Time of Origin:- 2222hrs 24.8.40

DF B PIP

R....2252....R.A....K+

Casualty Verification Sheet
A 32014
Name of officer SMYTHE Rupert Frederich
Rank & No. F/O 40436
Date of birth 11/6/16
Place of birth Killiney Co Dublin
Unit 32 Sqd
Type of commission SSC
Date of casualty 24/8
Date and reference of report
Name & address of wife (if any)
If to be informed of casualties
Particulars of next-of-kin (other than wife) Father Lt Col. Rupert Ceasar Smythe G.M.G. D.S.O. J.P. Late 1st Batt R.I.F
Augher Castle, Augher, Co Tyrone
Any other persons to be informed of casualties Miss S. West
Osborne House
East Cowes
I of W

2A

Ext.1930

Dept. Q.J.

26 August, 1940.

P/354156/40/P.4. Cas.

Sir,

I am directed to inform you that your son, Flying Officer Rupert Frederick Smythe, is suffering from a wound in the leg as a result of air operations on 24th August, 1940

As his condition is not serious, no further reports are expected but should any be received you will be informed as quickly as possible.

I am, Sir,
Your obedient Servant,

(Sgd.) R. HALL

for Director of Personal Services

Lt.Col. R.C. Smythe, C.M.G., D.S.O., J.P.,

Augher Castle,
Augher,
Co. Tyrone.

At Elham post office the Smiths came out to watch the air battles. Suddenly there was excited shouting: "Look! there’s one going down … Yes, I can see it, look—he’s baled out!" Arthur Wootten, standing in front of his petrol station, saw a parachute blossom behind a descending Hurricane. Jumping into his Austin Ten, he raced along the lanes until he arrived on the hillside at Shuttlesfield. There he found an officer with a small sandy moustache suffering from cannon shell splinters in his shoulder and legs. Dr Hunter-Smith soon arrived with his medicine bag and, after examining the pilot, established that his wounds were rather more painful than serious. Surgery was necessary to remove all the little slivers of metal and the doctor could do no more than apply sterile dressings.

For F/O Rupert Smythe, it was the fourth time he’d been shot down over the district, but on previous occasions he had managed to reach Hawkinge. He cheerfully accepted a little hospitality at Lower Court, where Martin Constant was famed for his generosity with whisky, However, the wounded pilot made it quite clear that wasn't going to be taken back to Hawkinge: he felt much safer in the cockpit of a fighter than on the ground at the aerodrome. His benefactors were sympathetic and by nightfall he was being made comfortable at the Royal Masonic Hospital in London.

He did not return to operational flying and was awarded the D.F.C. on 30 Aug 1940. The London Gazette records:

Flying Officer Rupert Frederick Smythe (40426)
In July, 1940, this officer, whilst leading his section, broke up a formation of six Messerchmitt 109's near Folkestone, and succeeded in destroying one. Flying Officer Smythe has displayed great courage and set an excellent example to all.

P/O Eugene Seghers

Belgian P/O Eugene George Achilles Seghers (82162, dob 7/4/10, Ledeberg) of 32 Sqn. is shot down and his aircraft lands at Tedders Lees on the valley road.

The casualty record for P/O Seghers (AIR 81/2760) contains the following telegrams:

EJB
6519

Telegram en clair.

To :- A.M. (C.1. Accidents) and P.4.(Cas), Repeated H.Q.F.C, 11 Group, 43 Group, Belgian Embassy.

From:- 32 Squadron. Biggin Admin

Received A.M.C.S. 2329 hours. 24.8.40

Biggin Admin NR10 IMEDIATE SECRET NOT WT
AM WHI=
Pass to AM (C1 Acc and P4 Cas) and Belgian Embassy.
GR76

A.357. 24/8.

FB
(A) Hurricane 6567
(B) 32 Squadron
(C) Over Hawkinge area at approx. 1600 hours 24/8. Aircraft on Elham and Lyminge road
(D) P/O E G A Seghers (Belgian) Broken Arm
(E) Name of hospital unknown
(F) N/A
(G) Enemy action
(H) Cat three.
(J) N/A.

Time of Origin:- 2220 hours 24.8.80

Crash Circulation. D.A.A.C. (for Belgian Embassy)
Advance copies passed to :- P.4.Cas. D.R.M. (M.A.P. Millbank.)

DF B PIP
AM -.8,KK. - .8WWHI H+
R2310 . CORF . VA .

6702

Telegram en clair.

ADDRESSED TO A.M. (C.1. Accidents) and P.4.(Cas) = RPTD = H.Q.F.C = 11 Group = Belgian Embassy.

FROM 32 Squadron.

STN Z NR42 ''IMEDIATE SECRET NOT WT''
AM WHI
GP36

A261 25/8.

REF THIS UNITS SIGNAL A457 24/8 P/O AEGG SEGHERS NOW REPORTED UNINJURED AND RETURNING BIGGIN HILL
==1425

Crash Circulation. D.A.A.C. (for Belgian Embassy)
Advance copies passed to :- P.4.Cas. D.R.M. (M.A.P. Millbank.)

WD B1 R 1608 H.W.N. K.K.

P35H160

The next mention of Seghers in the 32 Sqn. Form 541 (AIR 27/360/24) is on 31/08/1940 where he is recorded as taking part in a fighting patrol of the Farne Islands.

P/O Keith Gillman

Pilot Officer Keith Reginald Gillman (no. 42053.) is shot down off Dover.

Taken in July this photo of Keith Gillman posthumously becomes the iconic image of a Battle of Britain pilot.

Cover of the Picture Post featuring Keith Gillman

His casualty file (AIR/81/2775) contains the following documents:

GILLMAN
KEITH REGINALD

DoB: 16.12.1920
Rank & Number: P/O 42053
Unit: 32 Sq
Place of Birth: Dover
Date of Casulaty: 25.8
Type of comission: S.S.C.
Name and address of wife: None
Particulars of next of kin: (Father)
R.G. GILLMAN "KURNA"
South Road, River, Dover
any other persons: None.

Telegram

Biggin Admin
AM WH1

NR3 Immediate Secret Not WT

A.M. (C.I.Accs) and P.4.
Cas repeated H.Q.F.C. 11 Group 43 Group

From. 32 Squadron

Received A.M.C.S. 2255 Hrs

A.362 25/8. F.B

(A) Hurricane P.2755
(B) 32 Squadron
(C) Last seen three miles south of Dover 1850 hours 25.8.40.
(D) 42053 P/O Gillman K.R. missing
(E) N/A
(F) N/A
(G) enemy action
(H) Cat three
(J) N/A

Time of Origin: 2200 Hours 25.8.40.

CRASH CIRCULATION
Advance copy sent to:
P.S.Parlay U.S. of S.
P.4. (Cas)
D.R.M. (Millbank)

ELH BBB

R...2240....R.A.....K+

P.354178/40/P.4.Casualties.

26 August, 1940.

Sir,

I am commanded by the Air Council to confirm the telegram in which you were notified that your son, Pilot Officer Kieth Reginald Gillman, Royal Air Force, is missing as the result of air operations on 25th August, 1940. As soon as any definite news is received, you will be immediately informed.
In the event of any information regarding your son being received by you from any source it would be appreciated if you would kindly communicate it immediately to the Air Ministry.
The Air Council desire me to express their sincere sympathy with you in your present anxiety.

I am, Sir,
Your obedient Servant,

Sd. Charles Every[?]

R.G. Gillman, Esq.,
Kurna,
South Road,
River,
DOVER.

(Dept.Q.J.)

25 October, 1940.
P.354178/40/P.4.Cas.

Sir,

I am directed to refer to a letter from this Department dated 26th August 1940, and to inform you that it is regretted that no further news has been recieved of your son, Pilot Officer Keith Reginald Gillman, since he was reported missing on the 25th August 1940.
The aircraft was engaged on an operational flight, and was last seen three miles south of Dover, at approximately 7 p.m. on the 28th August. Nothing further has been heard of your son or his aircraft, and it is feared that it may have been forced down into the sea.
I am to add an expression of the Department's sincere sympathy with you in your great anxiety and to assure you that should any further news be received it will be immediately communicated to you.

I am, Sir,
Your obedient Servant,

C.G CATLEY

for Director of Personal Services.

Gillman, Esq.
Kurna,
South Road River,
Dover

32S/313/37/P.1.

No. 32 Squadron.
ROYAL AIR FORCE,
Acklington,
Northumberland.
9th. November, 1940.


FLYING BATTLE CASUALTY - HURRICANE P.2755
Pilot: Pilot Officer Gillman.

Sir,

I have the honour to refer to your letter 40/P.4. Cas. dated 7th November, 1940 and this Unit's signal A.362 dated 25th. August 1940. Pilot Officer Gillman failed to return from a battle over Dover at 1850 hours on 25th. August, 1940. He was last seen three miles South of Dover. It is thought that he was following an enemy aircraft out to sea.

I have the honour to be,
Sir,
Your obedient servant.
???? P/O
For Squadron Leader,
Commanding,
No. 32 Squadron.


The Under Secretary of State,
Dept. Q.J. Air Ministry,
Kingsway, LONDON.W.C.2.

To: P4 Cas
With - Enclosures
Received AM
13NOV1940
File No. P354178/40
To: You On: 26.8

415072

(Dept.Q.J)

9 January 1941

P.354178/40/P.4.Cas.

Sir,

With reference to the letter from this department dated 25th October, 1940, I am directed to inform you with deep regret that all efforts to trace your son, Pilot Officer K.R. Gillman, have proved unavailing.

Although formal action to presume death for official purposes will not be taken until a further period has elapsed, it is feared that all hope of finding him alive must be abandoned.

I am, Sir,
Your obedient Servant,
W.Shepherd
for Director of Personal Services.

R.G. Gillman, Esq.,
Kurna,
South Road,
River,
Dover.

(Dept.Q.J)

21 February 1941

P.354178/40/P.4.Cas.

Sir,

With reference to the letter from this department dated the 9th January, 1941, I am directed to inform you that in view of the lapse of time and the absence of any news concerning your son Pilot Office K.R. Gillman, since he was reported missing, it is now proposed to take action to presume his death for official purposes.

I am accordingly to ask that you will be good enough to formally confirm that you have received no further evidence or news regarding him.

I am, Sir,
Your obedient Servant,
R ? Bradbury[?]
for Director of Personal Services.

R.G. Gillman, Esq.,
Kurna,
South Road,
River,
Dover.

No. 32 Squadron,
Royal Air Force,
Ibsley,
Nr. Ringwood, Hants.

32S/313/37/P.1.

24th February, 1941.

P/O. K.R. GILLMAN.

Sir,

I have the honour to refer to your letter P.354178/40/P.4.Cas. dated 18th February, 1941. No further news or evidence regarding the above-named Officer has been received by this Unit.

I have the honour to be,
Sir,
Your obedient servant.
???? F/O
For Squadron Leader,
Commanding,
No. 32 Squadron.

The Under Secretary of State,
Air Ministry,
London. W.C.2.

To: P4 Cas
With - Enclosures
Received PM
13NOV1940
File No. P354178/40
To: On:

"Kurna",
South Road
River
Dover
28.9.47.

Dear Sir,

I have to-day read in the Press of the unidentified man who is suffering from loss of memory at Sainté Foy La Guarde Hospital near Bordeaux, and who has been given the name of of Joachim Charles by the French authorities.

I realise that this case must have already occupied much of your time, and that since the illusion which has been made to it in the Press to-day you will probably have more correspondence on the subject, but I feel that I must make a few enquiries and hope you will understand that under the circumstances I should have no peace of mind if I did not do so. My son - Pilot Officer Keith Reginald Gillman (no. 42053.) became missing from operational duties on 25.8.40 when serving with number 32 Squadron at Biggin Hill. There has never been any evidence of his death, although this was of course presumed by the air Ministry in due course. He was last seen flying a few miles off Dover on his way to France, and it was supposed that he was shot down into the sea, but there has never been any evidence to support this theory.

I have not seen a photo of the man who is at Sainté Foy La Guarde Hospital, nor do I have his description or approximate age, but if there is even the shadow of a hope that this could be my son, I should be very grateful if you would give me further particulars. My son was 19 years of age at the time he became messing and would therefore now be twenty six years old - he was about five feet eleven inches tall, and had light brown hair and very blue eyes. If it is apparent to you from these particulars that this man could not be my son, I hope you will forgive me for wasting your time, and that you will understand the feeling that prompts me to write to you.

Yours faithfully,
R G Gillman

Sloane 3467
xxxxxxxxxxx

xxxxxxxxxxxxx
2, Seville Street
Knightsbridge,
London, S.W.1

P.354178/S14 Cas.B2
21[?] October, 1947.

Sir,

I am directed to refer to your letter dated 28th September, 1947, and to say that it has now been definitely established that the man referred to in recent Press reports as suffering from loss of memory in a French Hospital, was at no time a member of the Royal Air Force.

I am to take this opportunity of reaffirming the Department's sympathy with you in the loss of your son, and the added distress which the absence of news must cause.

I am, Sir,
Your obedient Servant,
A.W.LIVINGSTONE

R.G.Gillman, Esq.,
"Kurna",
South Road,
River,
Dover.