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Remembering Bermuda’s war effort

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During the Second World War (1939-1945), Bermuda put its money and its name behind one of the most celebrated aeroplanes of all time.

The Spitfire fighter aircraft was used by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and many other Allied countries and gained particular renown for its role in the Battle of Britain during the summer and autumn of 1940.

Powered by a 1,200 horsepower Rolls-Royce 12 cylinder Merlin engine and armed with machines guns and 20mm calibre canons, the Spitfire achieved a noticeably higher victory-to-loss ratio than any of the other Allied or German aircraft involved in that pivotal aerial conflict. With its excellent speed, rate of climb and manoeuvrability, the Spitfire was particularly well suited for the dogfighting above the English Channel.

This led to the famous remark made by German ace pilot Adolf Galland when commander-in-chief of the German air force Herman Goering asked him what he needed to win the Battle of Britain. Galland's responded “A squadron of Spitfires”, a remark which supposedly left Goering spluttering with rage.

Produced in greater numbers than any other British aircraft during the war, the iconic Spitfire became the backbone of RAF Fighter Command and saw action in the European, Mediterranean, Pacific and the South-East Asian theatres of operation.

By January, 1941 a fundraising drive in Bermuda had collected £21,891 from local residents — enough to allow the RAF to purchase four new Spitfires. Three Members of Bermuda's Colonial Parliament flew to Britain early that year to present Minister for Aircraft Production Lord Beaverbook with the Spitfire funds on behalf of the Bermuda people.

The first of these aircraft to see action was given the RAF serial number Spitfire P8507 and was named Bermuda 1. Attached to the RAF's No. 306 Squadron, Bermuda 1 was flown by Polish airman Jerzy Karol Józef Slonski-Ostoja. He and his brothers had fled to Britain after their country was overrun by German forces in September, 1939 and had volunteered to serve in the RAF.

Sadly, Bermuda 1 was shot down over Hazerbrouck, France by a German Messerschmitt Me109 during fierce aerial combat on August 29, 1941 and the Polish pilot was killed. The Polish exile, who was just 31 years old when he lost his life in Bermuda 1, is buried in a cemetery outside Dunkirk in northern France.

His brothers Bogdan and Marek were also killed while flying with the RAF during the Second World War, Bogdan in October, 1941 and Marek in February, 1944.

A restored World War Two (1939-1945) Spitfire of the same design as Bermuda 1 takes to the air in 2005.
Squadron Leader Jerzy Karol Józef Slonski-Ostoja of the Free Polish Forces volunteered for service in the Royal Air Force. He was flying Bermuda 1 when it was shot down in August, 1941.
The military graveyard near Dunkirk, France where Squadron Leader Slonski-Ostoja was laid to rest.

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Published October 30, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated October 29, 2013 at 6:08 pm)

Remembering Bermuda’s war effort

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