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Nations at war
Cynk, Jerzy B. The Polish Air Force at War: The Official History, 1939-1943. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 1998
Foreword; Editorial Note; British Tribute; Preface; Acknowledgments; Abbreviations; Glossary of Terms; Introduction; photos; maps; tables; charts
Cynk, Jerzy B. The Polish Air Force at War: The Official History, 1943-1945. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 1998
Photos; maps; tables; charts; Epilogue; Addendum: PAF Operational Squadrons and Wings, Basic Data, July 1940-December 1946; color plates; Bibliography; Index
Appendices: 28 appendices of OBs, documents, pilot and victory lists, operational summaries, losses, personnel decorated, etc
This might be the most impressive project undertaken by Schiffer.
In 1949 the Polish Air Force Association published a "preliminary" account of its operations during World War II as Destiny Can Wait. Now, almost fifty years later, we have the Association's two-volume "official history". Written by Jerzy Cynk (who has written numerous other books and articles on the Polish Air Force, including Putnam's Polish Aircraft 1893-1939 and Osprey's History of the Polish Air Force, 1918-1939), this must be the ultimate book on the subject.
Cynk's opus tells everything anyone could want to know about the Polish Air Force. In addition, it is beautifully presented in a clean, crisp design with a generous but not overwhelming selection of photos. All in all, both volumes are a joy to hold and read.
The history begins with an Introduction describing "The Origins of Polish Aviation" and "The Birth of the Lotnictwo Wojskowe (Military Aviation)". The Introduction continues through the Russo-Polish War and peacetime expansion and concludes with a section on "Plans and Realities of Polish Aviation Rearmament (1936-1939)". This can be summed up as "too little, too late".
The first chapter of the first volume spends thirty pages on the defeat of Poland in 1939. A few pages describe the overall political and military background and parts of these dwell on the failure of France and the United Kingdom to come to the aid of Poland. The opposing plans, strengths, and OBs are explained in considerable detail, with several pages devoted to the Luftwaffe's rearmament. Cynk describes combat missions and their results, noting that of the 180 Polish aircraft destroyed on the ground in the opening hours of the campaign, only 24 were actually operational machines "the rest being trainers and obsolete and civilian types." Cynk also reports Polish air sorties and their results and tallies victories and losses on each side. Despite their gallant effort, the airmen of the Polish Air Force were outnumbered and outgunned and the Luftwaffe "cannot be said to have been seriously challenged." Cynk continues to record the dwindling number of Polish sorties, successes, and tonnages of bombs dropped, but the Lotnictwo Wojskowe melted away. When the Soviet army crossed the border into Poland and the Soviet air force began raiding Polish targets, little remained to counter it. A few instances of Polish vs. Soviet air-to-air combat are recorded, but most of Poland's surviving aircraft and airmen followed orders and flew to Rumania or Latvia.
Thus, although Poland was defeated, almost 80 percent of the mobilized strength of its air force personnel survived to continue the fight.
Under an agreement with the Allied governments, Polish airmen (and ground soldiers) began trickling into France via unlikely routes such as Yugoslavia, Greece, Italy, and Syria. In France they began training with French aircraft and forming new units. Some served in all-Polish units. Others served in Polish flights within French squadrons. A few others flew individually within the French air force. At the time of the German invasion of France, Polish air personnel numbered almost 7000 men of whom almost 1600 were pilots. However, fewer than 50 were serving at the front. More and more of these Poles were thrown into the battle as French losses mounted, and Cynk recounts the sorties of each unit. Given the ad hoc nature of much of the Polish air structure at this time, the hectic days of combat, and the eventual withdrawal, Cynk has unearthed amazing amounts of detail on these missions. Of the total number of French fighter sorties conducted following the German invasion, Cynk estimates approximately 20 percent were flown by Polish pilots. But the result was the same: defeat and evacuation.
In the United Kingdom the Poles finally found a strong base from which they could rebuild and play their role in the Allied cause. The Polish airmen quickly proved themselves in the eyes of their new hosts in the Battle of Britain and went on to play an important part in fighter and bomber operations against the Luftwaffe. Cynk charts the establishment and activities of every Polish squadron and even the small team dispatched to the Western Desert. Operations with Bomber Command, at Dieppe, with Coastal Command, supporting 2nd Polish Corps in Italy, and in the campaign in France and Germany are thoroughly surveyed.
One chapter explores the Polish Air Force in support of the Polish Home Army and in particular the Warsaw uprising. Another devotes almost twenty pages to the formation and operations of the Soviet-sponsored Lotnictwo Wojska Polskiego on the Russian Front. Other chapters include Poles in aircraft ferry and air transport operations (including a few Polish pilots in India), training units, the Polish Barrage Balloon Unit, and the Polish Women's Auxiliary Air Force. Two chapters covering the immediate post-war period describe the disbanding of the Polish squadrons and the formation of the Polish Air Force Association.
Where Destiny Can Wait dealt with the Polish flyers on a very personal level, The Polish Air Force at War is more detached and focuses on the larger organizational and operational issues and proves to be much more of a thorough academic study. The Addendum in particular provides an immense resource of details for every Polish squadron and wing from July 1940 through January 1947formation date and location, code letters, operations, commanders, airfields, aircraft types and serial numbers, and photos of markings. A further eight pages of color plates and photos illustrate additional details of color schemes, camouflage patterns, markings, and so on. The appendices also provide a wealth of OB data (such as the precise OB for the Polish Air Force and Luftwaffe on 1 September 1939), technical specifications for Polish-built aircraft, pilot roles, victory lists, etc.
A spectacular job all the way around.
Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from Schiffer.
Thanks to Schiffer for providing this review copy.
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Reviewed 23 August 1998
Copyright © 1998 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone