Some Key Facts

  • In 1932 the Polish designed and built Państwowe Zakłady Lotnicze (PZL) P.7 became the first all metal monoplane fighter in operational service in the world.

 

  • In1932/33 three Polish cryptographers Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Różycki and Henryk Zygalski became the pioneers in the automatisation of cryptoanalysis. They broke the German military Enigma code and reverse-engineered their own copy of the military Enigma machine. They responded to encryption developments right up to the war and in July 1939 delivered all the fruits of their work, including working replicas of the Enigma machine, to (astonished) British and French intelligence.

 

  • In the September 1939 campaign the Luftwaffe used 1,941 aircraft, 2/3rds of its power, against 392 Polish aircraft, including 158 out-dated single seat fighters, 114 light bombers, 36 bombers and 83 reconnaissance aircraft. Nonetheless Polish pilots were officially credited with 126 German aircraft destroyed in 1939 compared to 333 Polish losses.

 

  • German propaganda claimed that the air arm of the Polish Army, Lotnictwo Wojskowe (Military Aviation), was destroyed on the ground, but the truth was quite the opposite: all effective operational aircraft had been moved to dispersed camouflaged temporary airfields before the German attack.

 

  • On 17 September 1939 Russia invaded from the East and by early October further Polish military resistance was impossible.

 

  • Poland was the only occupied country that never surrendered: its Government moved first to France then to England; the underground Home Army was the largest resistance force of any occupied country; all civil institutions, including trades unions, universities, seminaries and political parties continued underground with regular contact with the Government in Exile.

 

  • Polish airmen evacuated through Rumania, Hungary and the Baltic States and around 8,500 personnel of all ranks and trades reached France mainly via the Black Sea and Marseilles.

 

  • In France the Prime Minister of the Polish Government in Exile and Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Armed Forces General Władysław Sikorski, made the historic decision to make the air arm of the Polish Army, Lotnictwo Wojskowe (Military Aviation), a completely independent service of the Polish Armed Forces. This became the Polskie Siły Powietrzne (PSP), known as the Polish Air Force (PAF) in Britain.

  • The French capitulated after five weeks, including terms to prevent allied combatants from leaving the country. Nonetheless some 6,000 Polish airmen made it to England.

 

  • The Polish Air Force in Britain was an independent sovereign allied air force, answerable to the Polish Government in Exile, while under the operational control of the Royal Air Force.

 

  • There were 147 Polish Air Force fighter pilots engaged in the Battle of Britain, including one Czech and one Slovak. Of these 70 were in the two PAF squadrons 302 and 303. The remaining 77 were dispersed among RAF Squadrons and some served in both PAF and RAF squadrons. Together they constituted 5% of the total pilots in the Battle of Britain. The 79 PAF pilots who made claims recorded 202 enemy aircraft destroyed, or 7.5% of the total, 35 probably destroyed and a further 36 damaged. The 145 Polish pilots were the largest number of any non-British nation. The Polish 303 squadron, flying Hurricanes from RAF Northolt, was the top-scoring squadron in the Battle with 126 confirmed victories, achieved in just six weeks of the 16 week Battle period for the loss of eight pilots, six from aerial combat. In all the PAF lost 31 fighter pilots killed in action during the Battle of Britain.

 

  • Believed at the time to be the highest scoring pilot in the Battle of Britain with 17 victories, was Sgt Josef Frantiŝek, a Czechoslovakian member of the Polish Air Force in 303 (Polish) Kościuszko Squadron.

 

  • On the 15 September 1940, Battle of Britain Day, 20% of the fighter pilots flying were Polish.

 

  • Air Officer Commanding RAF Fighter Command Hugh Dowding said: “Had it not been for the magnificent material contributed by the Polish Squadrons and their unsurpassed gallantry, I hesitate to say the outcome of the Battle would have been the same”.

 

  • Secretary of State for Air Sir Archibald Sinclair said: “Our shortage of trained pilots would have made it impossible to man the squadrons which were required to defeat the German air force and so win the Battle of Britain if the gallant airmen of Poland had not leaped into the breach”.

 

  • The two Polish Air Force bomber squadrons 300 and 301 took part in several operations during the Battle of Britain period of September and October 1940, bombing the German invasion barges waiting in coastal ports across the Channel. During this period 62 airmen from 300 Squadron and the same number, 62 from 301 Squadron, both flying Fairey Battles, took part in these operations. Both squadrons lost an aircraft during this period and six airmen were killed. They were the squadrons’ first operational losses of the war. 

 

  • When Russia was itself attacked in 1941 and released Poles it had deported to Siberia, a further number found their way to England, bringing the total of the Polish Air Force up to around 17,150, plus 1,325 WAAFs. They constituted 14 front line squadrons (fighter, bomber and reconnaissance) as well as a comprehensive training system, with their own ground training establishments, elementary and advanced flying training schools, operational training units and a staff college.

 

  • On D-Day (6 June 1944) Polish squadrons constituted about 10% of the fighter-bomber force of the 2nd Tactical Air Force (the Commonwealth and exiled units under RAF operational control allocated for direct support of the invading ground troops). No. 18 (Polish) Sector, which included five Polish, two British, one New Zealand and one Belgian squadrons under an all-Polish headquarters, led by G/Cpt Aleksander Gabszewicz, was the top-scoring sector of the 2nd TAF in June 1944, while its No. 133 (Polish) Wing (two Polish and one RAF squadrons) was the top-scoring 2nd TAF wing.

  • The cost:

       Polish Air Force        -            2,400 killed

 

       Warsaw                      -           700,000 killed   

       (i.e. more than combined UK and US killed)

       Poland                        -           6,000,000

       (i.e. 1 in 5 of the population, a higher proportion than any other combatant nation)

       The number of poppies equal to that of Poland’s war dead would fill the Moat of the Tower of London seven times over.​

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