Air Power: Polish Style
As you may well know, the second World War was simply a continuation of the 200 year struggle of the Polish people to preserve their national identity and regain their full independence. The Uprisings of 1779, 1830, 1840 and 1863 all ended in failure but continued to keep alive the idea of Poland’s national and cultural uniqueness.
The “Great War” as World War I has, at times, been labeled was different in that Poland was initially aided by the Polish Air Force.
Beginning in 1920 during the Polish-Soviet War, Polish air power showed its successful usage. Originally, trench warfare was the rule with the ground fighting by a fledgling Polish Army the norm. With air power winning battles from Kiev to Warsaw, the Polish Air Force became responsible for winning the 1920 Great War. It also achieved what must be considered as an esoteric glamour that gave advantage to its user.
As a matter of fact, during the Polish-Soviet War of 1920 Poland’s air supremacy was so overwhelming that the results were striking in two respects. Over the Polish-Soviet borderland, the airplane became a vital means of reconnaissance and communication. It was also used successfully for ground support. The Army commanders were very impressed by the extent of the role of the Air Force, and front-line air support became the predominant attribute of military doctrine in the Polish Staff.
The post of Air Force Commander was created during the 1920 War and he was responsible for the purchasing and developing of Air Force equipment and the implementation of Air Force doctrine of front-line support.
During the first 10 years of Poland’s independence, Air Force equipment was primarily French. During the late 1920’s, the first Polish single-engine fighter planes began to enter service.
The 1930’s were a creative period in the Polish Air Force development. Events in other countries significantly affect Poland. The autonomy of the British, Italian, French, and German Air Forces tended to legitimize the aspirations of the Polish Air Force. The “success” of the German Condor Legion in Spain seemed to be overwhelming proof of the importance of air power. Furthermore, the imagination of the average Polish citizen was captured by Poland’s successes in international aerial competitions, particularly in the winning of the Grand Challenge in 1932 and 1934. Polish aircraft were being exhibited internationally, were exported, and were winning acclaim.
By 1936 it was clear that the danger of aggression from Nazi Germany was imminent. So, in 1937 an Air Force War College was organized to prepare Air Force officers for wing command and staff duties.
The Polish Commander-in-Chief (Smigly-Rydz) predicted the invasion of Poland to the day and ordered a complete mobilization. As early as August it had been dispersed to wartime, and in most instances, secret bases.
The Polish Staff also formed a strategic, centralized Air Force. The war came. The centralized Fighter Brigade defending Warsaw could only operate within a 25-mile radius of its bases, but during the first 6 days it achieved 43 victories and during the last 10 days, only 7. The fighter wing of the Poznan Army, moving continually with its retreating units, operated effectively until September 18th and although it lost all its planes, it achieved 31 victories.
During the period of September 3rd to 7th, the Bomber Brigade flew 106 combat missions in the Czestochowa-Piotrkow areas, attempting to stem the German blitzkrieg. During this four-day all-out effort, 70 tons of bombs were dropped on the German forces. There is no question that the planes were not adequate to meet the tasks involved. The fighter planes were outdated by at least one generation.
The official report of the German staff stated that 285 German planes were destroyed and 279 aircraft were so heavily damaged as to be beyond repair.
Its demise came when, with the entrance of the Soviets into eastern Poland on September 17th, 10 days before the capture of Warsaw by the Germans, a policy decision was made to evacuate as many troops as possible through Rumania to France. It was through that route that the majority of Polish Air Force personnel made their way to the West.
. . . SEE YOU SOON, GOD BE WILLING . . .