On Wings of War: Jan Zumbach’s Supermarine Spitfire

We are delighted to offer a unique, fully electrified model of a Spitfire in our shop.

Complete with lights, working propeller, retracting wheels and machine gun effects, the model was built by Robert Andel in 1951 and features Polish fighter ace Jan Zumbach’s signature ‘Donald Duck’ motif.

We trawled the history books to find out more about an extraordinary man that piloted one of Britain’s most famous machines.
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Jan Eugeniusz Ludwig Zumbach was born in 1915 in Ursynów, Poland, to a wealthy Swiss-Polish family. He dreamed of flying planes from a young age but, having been discouraged from doing so by his mother, enlisted in the Polish Army instead.

By 1938 he had transferred to the Air Force, ready to defend the Polish skies as Hitler prepared to invade, but a broken leg sustained in a flying accident left him trapped and frustrated on the sidelines. His unit evacuated to France, flying Morane 406's and the Curtis Hawk before being downed again during June 1940. This time he escaped unscathed and travelled by boat to Blackpool, England, pushed ever further from his homeland by the Blitzkrieg tactics of the Nazis.

Safely ensconced in Blackpool, Zumbach and other exiled Polish pilots were keen to fight on for the Allies. However, the RAF were sceptical of taking on these new recruits; alongside the language barrier, concerns were raised about the Poles' morale following their chastening defeats on the continent. Fortunately, Zumbach’s luck began to turn in July 1940 with the Battle of Britain wearing on and a lack of trained pilots becoming ever more apparent. It was announced that a new ‘303’ Polish Fighter Squadron was to be formed at RAF Northolt, Zumbach being selected as a founding member. The Squadron’s first victory was recorded while still officially non-operational; on 30th August 1940, a Messerschmitt Bf 11 was shot down by F/O Ludwik Paszkiewicz during a routine training flight.

“With their superior grasp of tactics and courage in the face of the enemy, 303 Squadron became the most successful Fighter Command unit in the Battle of Britain.”

Initially flying Hurricanes, rather than the more glamorous Spitfires, the Poles valiantly defended Britain from the Axis powers and were often considered positively reckless by their RAF counterparts. Despite the initial fears concerning morale, their Polish and French Campaigns had given 303 Squadron more combat experience than their British comrades and with their superior grasp of tactics and courage in the face of the enemy, they became the most successful Fighter Command unit in the Battle of Britain. In just seven weeks, the Squadron shot down 126 German machines over the skies of Kent and the Channel with Zumbach contributing eight kills and one probable. He was shot down over Dover on 9th May, 1941, but was again able to bail out unharmed.

 By May 1942 Zumbach had been appointed Squadron Leader, a post he held until the end of November 1943. By now he had piloted three Supermarine Spitfire VBs with serial numbers BM144, EP594 and EN951, each carrying the cartoon of Donald Duck on the port side of the fuselage that can be seen on our electrified model. He was also the first Allied pilot to come up against a Focke-Wulf Fw 190. Zumbach’s war ended rather ignominiously, spending a month as a prisoner having accidentally landed behind enemy lines due to a navigational error. Thanks to twelve confirmed kills (and two shared), five probables and one damaged during the Allied operations of WWII, his status as a fighter ace was already assured. He was soon awarded the Virtuti Militari, Poland's highest military decoration for heroism created in 1792 by Polish King Stanislaus II Augustus. The Virtuti Militari is the oldest military decoration in the world still in use.

After the conflict, Zumbach made a living around Africa and the Middle East as a second-hand aircraft dealer, smuggler and mercenary. In the 1960s he commanded the air force of breakaway states Katanga (part of D.R Congo today), taking up the position in 1962 and remaining there until the end of their conflict with D.R. Congo a year later.

He  returned to Africa soon after, piloting one of Biafra’s two B-26 Invaders in their conflict with Nigeria. Acquired under shady circumstances and known as ‘The Shark’ due to its distinctive nose decoration, he used improvised bombs and Czech Army Issue machine guns to launch daring raids on airfields, oil refineries and ships in harbours across the Nigerian state. Despite these daring sorties, Zumbach soon began to realise the magnitude of Biafra’s plight and returned to Europe at the end of 1967.

In 1975, he published his autobiography under the title “On Wings of War: My Life as a Pilot Adventurer” (a copy of which is included with our model). He died in France on 3rd January 1986, under mysterious circumstances, and was buried at Powązki Cemetery in Warsaw, Poland. The fortunes of 303 Squadron are told in the 2018 film Hurricane, with Zumbach played by actor Iwan Rheon alongside Mel Gibson's son Milo.

When reviewing his autobiography, Zumbach was described by the British paper The Sunday Times as “Fighter pilot, smuggler, mercenary – a truly amazing story of a life dedicated to high-risk living on the brink of dying.” He was a man of true character and mystique.

This amazing model is priced at £25,000. To find out more information, please contact