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Waclaw (Winston) SOBANSKI

Lt. Winslow M. Sobanski,

336th Fighter Squadron

He was an American Pole, very courageous, blessed with great looks reminiscent of Hollywood actors and had a real zeal to fight the Germans. Remembering Winslow Michael Sobański, a USAAF fighter pilot killed on D-Day.


His fellow fighter pilots called him simply “The Pole” or “Mike”. He was born in New York but raised and educated in Warsaw. He has been through a lot and come a long way when he finally “earned his wings” in Scotland in the fall of 1941, training as a fighter pilot. As he had witnessed what was done to Poles and Warsaw in September 1939 his heart was full of rage and hatred towards Germans. A hell-bent for fighting Pole with great skills eventually became a really good asset of the USAAF 334th Fighter Squadron of the 4th Fighter Group becoming the leader of the squadron’s flight “A” and later squadron commanding officer.


Winslow (Wacław in Polish) was only 20 years old when WW2 broke out. The war cut short his studies, but the will to fight the enemy pushed him to volunteer for the army. He was sent to the front as an infantryman, but he didn’t participate in the fighting. As he was travelling to the front by train he had suffered injuries caused by a dive-bombing German Stuka. With the help of a Red Cross nurse and a local medic, he was placed on another train which eventually reached a field hospital.


There was no time for Sobański to fully recover from broken ribs as Germans were closing in and the hospital had to be evacuated. He was transported to Kovel and then he headed in the direction of Brest-Litovsk (after the Polish-Soviet War, both cities belonged to Poland). Along the way his train was stopped by the Germans and Winslow became a POW, but only for a really short time as he was able to escape captivity.


He had a daring plan to reach Romania by foot in civilian clothing but eventually, he cut short the distance to 200 miles and chose Warsaw as his final destination. It was 27 September 1939 when he entered the bombed-out Polish capital. On the following day, the city surrendered to the Germans.


Sobański found his father and they lived together for a couple of months in the occupied city. As he had American citizenship he was allowed to leave German occupied Poland. The permission was granted in April 1940 but the trip to the United States via Italy took him more than a year. He finally reached New York in the summer of 1941.


Winslow wanted to fight the Germans as a fighter pilot. Fortunately for him, his relatives knew someone in the recruitment department of the RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force). The recruiting process was shorter in RCAF compared to USAAF and Sobański didn’t want to waste his time, so he volunteered. Even though at that time his English was rather poor, he managed to complete his initial training and was posted to Scotland when the real thing awaited him, training to become an elite soldier, a fighter pilot.

For a thrill seeker like Sobański, his first combat assignments were rather dull. He flew with the RCAF 416 Squadron mainly participating in convoy patrols during which there were almost no opportunities to clash with the enemy. He saw more action in the air flying a Spitfire during “Operation Jubilee” providing air cover for the ill-fated Dieppe landings, but it was nothing compared to the amount of combat flying when he finally got a transfer to USAAF. His military career took off after he joined the 4th Fighter Group in October 1942 flying with the 336th and later 334th Squadron.

Soon Sobański proved himself to be an excellent fighter pilot admired not only by his fellow brothers in arms. “In addition to Mike's zeal for destruction of the Nazis he found time to keep a diary, written in Polish, and a log book with very comprehensive records and notes, and was able to maintain a fair amount of social life. Both Polish and English women found him to be attractive and desirable,” we can read in Sobański’s short bio published on

In January 1943 the 4th Fighter Group received P-47 Thunderbolts, a capable fighter bomber which proved to be effective as an escort for the B-17s and Liberators compared to Spitfire, due to its longer range. Sobański got his first confirmed kill in November 1943. In March 1944 his squadron received new machines, P-51 Mustangs considered one of the best fighters of WW2. Their range could provide a nonstop fighter cover for American bombers flying as far as Berlin and back. “The Pole” and his squadron provided such cover for the 8th Air Force's first trip to Berlin.

Sobański became the commander of the 334th Squadron in April 1944 and on 1 June 1944 he was promoted to Major. On 28 May 1944, he scored his last confirmed victory.

“I fired a few short 1/2-second bursts closing in, and was just going to position myself better on him, as I saw no strikes. Much to my surprise, he jettisoned his canopy and bailed out. I watched his a/c half-roll and crash, and then took a picture of him in the parachute. I claim this ME-109 as destroyed, and a scared Hun.” - Mike Sobański, from his combat report of 28 May 1944.

Then came 6 June 1944 - D-Day, the most awaited day for every Allied soldier serving in Great Britain, from simple John Doe in the infantry to the top brass commanders like Dwight D. Eisenhower. On that day “The Pole” was leading a section of four Mustangs strafing a truck convoy near Rouen when suddenly a large number of Bf-109s and Fw-190s attacked American fighters. All of them were shot down.

James Goodson, a friend of Sobański managed to contact German POWs who witnessed the crash of Mike’s Mustang. Here is how one of the Germans remembered that moment.

“We couldn't believe how fiercely the American pilots were attacking. They completely ignored anti-aircraft artillery fire, and repeated attack after attack almost scrubbing their bellies on the ground.[...] I saw two Mustangs that completely destroyed two trains. The leading one must have been crazy. He tore through antiaircraft artillery fire and small arms fire, and paid no attention to electrical wires. I saw that he was hit several times, but he kept coming back. During the last attempt, he was still attacked by our fighters. This time he just slammed into the train and that's how it ended. Tell me why the American did this? He must have been crazy!" Goodson answered the German: "It just had to be a Pole!" Indeed, it was “The Pole”.

Winslow Michael (Waclaw Michal) Sobański is buried in the Ardennes American Cemetery in Neupre, Belgium.


Source: Institute of National Remembrance on Facebook

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