Leon Michalski was born on the 10th of April 1915, in Strzałkowo (the Greater Poland region). His parents Wincent and Stanisława (maiden name Drwęcka) were grocery store owners. Upon completion of his elementary school education in Strzałkowo, he attended the Corps of Cadets No. 3 in Rawicz. After graduating, he joined the army and on June 1, 1935, he started his training in the School of Infantry in Ostrów Mazowiecka. On the 15th of October 1937, he successfully completed his training and was promoted to the rank of second lieutenant. He was later assigned to the 17th Infantry Regiment in Rzeszów, where he took over command of one of the platoons.
In 1939, he decided to leave the Infantry Regiment and join the Air Force. On June 3, he was accepted on the Air Observer/ Navigator course at the Aviation Training Centre No.1 in Dęblin (now known as the Polish Air Force Academy). Soon after, the course was interrupted due to the upcoming war. On August 25, 1939, Leon was transferred to Krakow to serve as a Guard Platoon Commander at the Air Base No. 2 (created from the support facilities of the Second Air Force Regiment). Following the outbreak of the war, he was evacuated together with the Air Base personnel by train to the east. As opposed to most of his fellow airmen, he did not manage to reach Romania and on September 22, in unknown circumstances he was taken captive by the Red Army. Two days later, he managed to escape from the wagon transporting Polish officers east. On the 16th of October 1939, he crossed the border into Hungary. On November 4, Leon arrived in Budapest, where he received help from the Polish diplomatic outpost in obtaining the necessary personal documents. He then immediately headed to France via Yugoslavia and Italy and on November 6, he crossed the French border in Modane. On the following day, he was directed to the Polish Air Force Base in Lyon and remained there, awaiting further training, until the German invasion of Western Europe in May 1940. In June 1940, Leon was sent on the Air Observer/ Navigator course to Dinard, but when France was invaded, he was evacuated to Great Britain (presumably by sea via North Africa and Gibraltar).
Upon his arrival in England on August 3, 1940, he was directed to Blackpool. In October 1940, he was sent to Bramcote Station and in November to Hucknall. On the 8th of February 1941, Leon ended up in the Navigator School 6 AONS in Staverton. Upon completion of his course on May 5, 1941, and with his navigator's badge pinned to his chest, he returned to Blackpool. Two weeks later, he was transferred to the 54th Operational Training Unit in Church Fenton for radar operator training. On the 9th of June 1941, he was assigned to the No. 85 Night Fighter Squadron stationed in Hunsdon, north of London. In this unit, he was the radio operator of a heavy night fighter, like the twin engine Havoc I, with a three-member crew. On July 23, 1941, he was moved to the No. 1454 Flight in Colerne, Wiltshire (later in Charmy Down, Somerset), which was an RAF night fighter squadron equipped with Havocs and Bostons. In September 1942, the No. 1454 Flight was expanded and replaced by the No. 533 Squadron. In this unit Leon got to know another Polish airman - Flying Officer Jan Krzyżanowski, who was part of the same crew.
In the second half of October 1942, Michalski and Krzyżanowski were transferred to the 307"Lviv Eagle Owls" Night Fighter Squadron in Exeter, where they were equipped with the twin engine Beaufighter VI. Flying together in the same crew, they took part in night time raids and operations with the aim of intercepting enemy bombers. At the turn of 1942 to 1943, the squadron began to re-equip itself with the modern Mosquito II. From May 1943, the squadron, including Leon, carried out operational sorties over France and then from August over the Bay of Biscay. In November, the squadron was shifted to the Scottish Air Base in Drem, where the crews fought the Luftwaffe aircraft taking off from Norway.
On the 19th of January 1944, Leon and Flying Officer Ryszard Zwoliński with three other crews took off with the task of attacking a Luftwaffe base in Stavanger. On the way to their target, the crew managed to shoot down a Junkers Ju W.34 into the sea. The attack on the Bv138 seaplanes moored in the fjord also proved successful - the crew claimed one probably destroyed; another crew (F/Sgt. pilot J. Wisthal and F/Sgt. radio observer Jan Woźny) claimed one Bv138 destroyed and one probably destroyed. Michalski served in the 307 "Lviv Eagle Owls" Squadron until the end of March 1944, completing two consecutive tours of combat (without the usual operational break). He usually flew with Flying Officer Jan Krzyżanowski, Pilot Officer Jan Pacholczyk or Flying Officer Ryszard Zwoliński. He also carried out single missions with other pilots, among them S/Ldr Jerzy Orzechowski. On April 2, 1944, Leon began his studies at the Polish Air Force Staff College at RAF Weston-Super-Mare. Upon graduation, in November 28, 1944, he was assigned as Headquarters Officer in the Faculty of Studies. He later worked in the Department of Planning and also in the Department of Demobilisation at the High Command of the Polish Air Force in London. In August 1946, he signed up for emigration to Argentina. In October of that year, he was demobilised from the Polish Air Force with the Polish and British ranks of Flight Lieutenant. He was decorated with the Cross of Valour, as well as commemorative medals, for his service during the war.
On the other side of the ocean, Leon settled in Buenos Aires and started his own transport business. He was elected vice-president of the Polish Association in Argentina. After the military revolt in 1955, he lost all his possessions and emigrated to Costa Rica. There he set up his own business, opening a manufacturing company producing plastic products (household goods and toys). He visited Poland several times and finally decided to return for good. In 1978, just before his permanent return to Poland, his wife (Krystyna, a ballet dancer) died during their visit to Warsaw. He flew back to Costa Rica by himself to organise all of his affairs and prepare for his return to Poland. Unexpectedly, he died of a heart attack on the 22nd of June 1979, aged 64. Squadron Leader Leon Michalski is buried in the Powązki Military Cemetery in Warsaw.
Andrzej Michalski, Wojciech Zmyślony
photo from Abby Buxton collection
records from Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum, London
Gretzyngier R., 307 Dywizon Myśliwski Nocny Lwowskich Puchaczy, Bellona, Warszawa 2005