Polish Air Force 

19181922

The history of the Polish airforce began at the end of the World War I. In 1918, some aircraft escadres were created within the Polish units in allied countries. In Russia, one escadre was created within the Polish corps of General Jzef Dowbr-Muśnicki, then disbanded along with the Corps in May 1918. In France, 5 bomber escadres were created within the Army of General Jzef Haller. They returned to Poland, equipment intact in 1919.

Military aviation in Poland started just when Poland regained its independence, in November 1918. It consisted initially of German and Austrian aircraft, captured from the former occupants or left by them in a damaged state. They were first used in the conflict with Ukraine around Lww in 1918, other actions being the bombing of an airfield in Frankfurt (Oder) on 9 January 1919 by airmen of the Great Polish Army. After 1919 Poland was then involved in the war with Soviet Russia and started to buy aircraft abroad. As a result, in 1920 the Polish Air Force consisted of a variety of the British, French, German, Austrian and Italian aircraft of the World War I era, in quantities ranging from a few to some dozen pieces. The main fighters used were (in order of quantity): SPAD XIII, Fokker D.VII, Oeffag D.III, Ansaldo Balilla, SPAD VII, Albatros D.III, Sopwith Dolphin, Fokker E.V (D.VIII). The most numerous became two-seater Bristol F2B Fighter (105 units), used a scout plane. Main bombers and reconnaissance planes were: Breguet 14, SVA-9, Salmson 2A2, DH-9, different variants of Albatros C, DFW C, LVG C.

19231932

After the Polish-Soviet war, the World War I vintage aircraft were gradually withdrawn, and the air force was equipped mostly with the French aircraft. From 192426, the typical fighter became SPAD 61 (280 pieces). The standard light bombers were also French: Potez XV (245), then Breguet XIX (250) and Potez XXV (316). Potez bombers were produced in Poland. The medium bombers were Farman Goliath and later a military variant of Fokker F-VII.

Before developing fighters of its own design, 50 Czech biplane fighters Avia BH-33 were licence-produced under a designation PWS-A. The first Polish design was a high wing fighter PWS-10, used in 80 pieces from 1932. The Polish naval air force used a number of French flying boats, mainly Schreck FBA-17, LeO H-13, H-135 and Latham 43. All these aircraft were withdrawn from the combat units by 1939.

19331938

In 1933 entered service the first of high-wing all metal fighters of Zygmunt Pulawski design, PZL P.7a, built in a series of 150. It was followed by 30 improved PZL P.11a. The final design, PZL P.11c, entered service in 1935 in a series of 175. A modern fighter in 1935, it remained the only Polish fighter until 1939, when it was made obsolete by the quick progress in aircraft designing. Its development PZL P.24 was built for export only, and was bought by four countries. The new fighter prototype, PZL P-50 Jastrząb (Hawk), similar to Seversky P-35 layout, was designed too late to be produced. The two-engine heavy fighters PZL-38 Wilk and PZL-48 Lampart remained prototypes.

In a bomber aviation, Potez XXV and Breguet XIX were replaced by all-metal monoplane PZL.23 Karas (250 built, since 1936), but by 1939, the Karas was outdated. In 1938 the Polish factory PZL designed a modern twin-engine medium bomber PZL.37 Los,arguably the best bomber in the world when it entered service that year. The PZL.37 Los (Elk) had a bomb payload of 2580 kg and a top speed of 439 km/h. Unfortunately too few of them entered service before the war (approximately 30 Los A bombers (single-fin tail) and 70 Los B (twin-fin tail) bombers were delivered before the war started). As an observation and close reconnaissance plane, Polish escadres used slow and easy to hit high-wing Lublin R-XIII, then RWD-14 Czapla. The Polish naval aviation used Lublin R-XIII on floats as well. Just before the war, some Italian torpedo planes CANT Z-506 were ordered, but only one was delivered, without armament. The main trainer planes were Polish-built high-wing RWD-8 (primary) and biplane PWS-26 (trainer). In 1939, Poland ordered 160 of MS-406 and 10 Hawker Hurricane fighters abroad, but they weren't delivered before the war.

1939

Type

Model

Total Incl. in combat formations

Number of planes on September 1st, 1939

Fighters

PZL P.11 175 140
PZL P.7 105 30

Line planes
light bombers
/tactical bombers

PZL.23A 35 0
PZL.23B 170 120

Bomber planes
medium bombers

PZL.37 Łoś 61 36
PZL.30 Żubr 15 0

Associate planes
Surveillance aircraft
and Army cooperation plane

Lublin R-XIII 150 55
RWD-14 Czapla 60 40

Total

  771 421

At the beginning of the Polish September Campaign, by September 1, 1939, all the Polish combat aircraft had been deployed to the field airfields; contrary to a common belief based on German propaganda, they avoided destruction in bombed air bases. The German bombers managed to destroy on airfields mostly trainer planes. The fighter planes were grouped in 15 escadres. 5 of them constituted the Pursuit Brigade, deployed in Warsaw area. Despite being obsolete, Polish PZL-11 fighters shot down over 170 German planes as well.

The bombers, grouped in 9 escadres of the Bomber Brigade attacked armoured columns, suffering heavy losses. 7 reconnaissance and 12 observation escadres, deployed to particular Armies, were intensively used for reconnaissance. Most of the Polish air force was destroyed in the campaign, the rest of the aircraft were captured or withdrawn to Romania. Subsequently, the Romanians employed the remaining aircraft for their own use. A great number of pilots and air crews managed to escape to France where they intended to continue the fight.

1940 (France)

After the fall of Poland, the Polish air force started to be reborn in France. The only complete unit created before the German attack on France was the GC 1/145 fighter squadron, flying on Caudron C.714 light fighters (it was the only unit operating C.714). The Polish pilots were also deployed to different French squadrons, flying on all French fighter types, mainly on MS-406.

19401945 (United Kingdom)

Following France's surrender in 1940, Polish units were formed in the United Kingdom, as a part of the Royal Air Force, and known as the Polish Air Force (PAF). The first squadrons were: 300 and 301 bomber squadrons and 302 and 303 fighter squadrons. The fighter squadrons, flying the Hawker Hurricane, first saw action in the third phase of the Battle of Britain in August 1940, with a very good results.

Polish flying skills were well-developed from the September campaign and the pilots were regarded as fearless bordering on reckless. Nevertheless success rates were very high in comparison to UK and Empire pilots. 303 squadron became the most efficient RAF fighter unit at that time. Many Polish pilots also flew in other RAF squadrons. In the following years, further Polish squadrons were created: 304 (bomber, then Coastal Command), 305 (bomber), 306 (fighter), 307 (night fighter), 308 (fighter), 309 (reconnaissance, then fighter), 315 (fighter), 316 (fighter), 317 (fighter), 318 (fighter-reconnaissance).

The fighter squadrons initially flew Hurricanes, then Supermarine Spitfires, eventually on P-51 Mustangs. The bomber squadrons were initially equipped with Fairey Battles and Vickers Wellingtons, then Avro Lancasters (300 Sqdn.), Handley Page Halifax's and Consolidated B-24 Liberators (301 sqn) and de Havilland Mosquitos and B-25 Mitchells (305 Sqdn.). After the war, with the changed international situation, their equipment was returned to the British but only some of the pilots and crews returned to Poland.