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76 years ago in Poland

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September 1st, 1939 Germany invaded Poland starting the Second World War. A common view on those events is that they were just a prelude to the greater events, Polish Army was totally defeated in less than two weeks and Polish Air Forces were wiped out first days of the war. 

 

 

The facts say otherwise, Polish Army suffered many defeats in the first days of the campaign despite the local successes (like in battle of Mokra, defence of Mława or battle of Borowa Góra) but remained capable of fighting,by the 9th September, 2 days after Germans reached Warsaw and were already deep in the polish territory an opportunity appeared to launch a counter-offensive later known as Battle of Bzura.  In it, a Polish breakout attack gained initial success but eventually faltered after a concentrated German counterattack. 

 

p11_5.jpg

 

The war in the air was different, very intensive initially, almost stopped by the 17th September. Polish Air Forces before September 1939 managed to prepare 43 Escadrilles: 16 Bomber Escadrilles having 120 P-23 Karaś dive bombers and 36 P-37 Łoś bombers, 15  Fighter Escadrilles equipped with PZL-7 and PZL-11 fighters and 12 Reconnaissance Escadrilles equipped with R-XIII Lublin and RWD-14 Czapla. 

Polish Air Forces formed seven fighter squadrons (Dywizjon Mysliwski) equipped with about 20 planes each. Each Squadron consisted of two to three Eskadra (Escadrilles). In operational use at that time were practically only the PZL P.11 fighters in either the 'a' or 'c' versions. Only three Eskadrilles were armed with the older version of the PZL P.7 fighter. With the wartime mobilization order being issued on 26 September 1939, all combat units were ordered to move field airbases, which had double consequences - they avoided German attacks and so suffered almost no losses on the ground, but the field airbases had limited supplies and capabilities of repairing the damaged aircraft. 

 

The conception of using the Air Forces was adapted to Z Plan. Polish Air Forces were divided into groups - main was in Commander-in-Chief disposition and other were splitted between the Armies. Commander-in-Chief had in his disposition Pursuit Brigade under command of płk. pil. Stefan Pawlikowski and Bomber Brigade under command of lt. Władysław Heller. Overall Poland managed to field about 400 aircraft.

 

Warsaw-Pursuit-Brigade-1939-Polish-Air-F

 

Luftwaffe was organized into 4 Luftflotten equipped with over 3000 aircraft. Against Poland Luftwaffe assigned 2 Luftflottes with almost 2000 aircraft (38% of the Luftwaffe fighters, 70% of medium bombers and all available dive bombers), 1st Luftlotte under command of gen. Albert Kesselring supported Heeresgruppe Nord while 4th Luftflotte supported Heeresgruppe Süd. 2nd and 3rd Luftlotte were assigned to protect the west and north of Germany, however due to combat losses and various needs certain units from those were moved to the east and participated in campaign too. 

 

1.jpg

 

Luftwaffe began air operations against Poland few minutes after 4:30 AM, bombing the bridges in Tczewo. First two days operations were mainly directed against airfields, garrisons, railroads, factories, support of the ground forces but also against civilian population in cities (for example in Wieluń).

 

Here I bring the  description of the first air battle of the World War II :

"On 1st September 1939, at 6:30 A.M., from observation points in Mława city, there arrived at the Brigade HQ a message about incoming enemy bomber groups attacking Warsaw. Colonel Pawlikowski ordered the launch of the entire Pursuit Brigade. After take-off, the Polish fighters joined formation over Legionowo. At about 7:00, in the Bugo-Narew area, the Brigade attacked a group of about 80 He 111s of the LG 1 and KG 27 "Boelcke". This German bomber formation was given fighter protection by 20 Bf 110s from the I(Z)/LG 1. In this very intense aerial engagement, which lasted over a 40 minute period, combat took place between 154 aircraft from both sides.

 

The first Polish pilot to engage the enemy formation was from the section led by Lieutenant (Lt.) Aleksander Gabszewicz, the tactical officer of IV/1 Squadron. After machine-gun fire from both Gabszewicz and Corporal Andrzej Niewiara, one of the damaged He 111s came down in a northerly direction and soon crashed during an emergency landing, hitting one of its wing in a tree.
 
In the area of Wyszków, Second Lieutenant (Sec.Lt.) Jerzy Palusiński attacked a formation of twelve  Luftwaffe bombers. After shooting down one of the bombers Palusiński was wounded in the hand, his wrist-watch saved him from more serious injuries. Palusiński was forced to make an emergency landing near the village of Kobyłka. There were also other Polish fighter pilots that achieved their first kills. Some of those that scored aerial victories were Captains Adam Kowalczyk, commander of IV/1 F.Sq, and Juliusz Frey, the Escadrille leader. Second Lieutenant Hieronim Dudwal also gained his first victory, which would amount to four in the September campaign.
In this first aerial combat there were only three P.7 fighters from the 123rd Eskadrille that took part. The reason for so few P.7 fighters to be committed to this first combat was because the commander of IV/1 FS decided to check the ability this old fighter in air combat against the Luftwaffe. Pilots from the Kraków Regiment attacked a group of seven He 111 bombers. Second Lieutenant Jerzy Czerniak, together with Corporal Stanisław Widlarz shared one of the He 111 bombers.
 
The Polish side did not avoid losses. Bolesław Olewiński bailed out from his flamming P.11 fighter, both with injuries and burns. Second Lieutenant Stanisław Szmejl was forced to make an emergency landing with a damaged fuel tank. A number of the Polish planes received combat damage from machine-gun and cannon fire and needed service and repair. On the German side in these combats, Major Walter Grabmann, member of the famous "Legion Condor" from Spain and the commander of I(Z)/LG 1, was wounded.
At about 12:00 P.M., another group of German bombers flew in the direction of Warsaw. Two sections of P.11 fighters from the 112nd Escadrille took off to intercept the German intruders. The two groups clashed over Wilanów. A formation of nine Do 17 bombers were intercepted by the Polish fighters and a running fight ensued. The German planes attempted to escape in the direction of East Prussia. After the attack of Lt. Stefan Okrzeja, one of bombers exploded in the air. Evidence of Okrzeja's victory was established when small pieces of the exploded bomber were found between the cylinders of his victorious P.11's engine.
 
The second big air combat that first day of the war started in the Modlin area about 16:30. This time Polish aviators battled against 30 He 111 and Do 17 bombers and nine Ju 87 Stukas, which were escorted by 20 Bf 109 and Bf 110 fighters. Second Lieutenant Jan Borowski was patroling over teh Las Kabacki (Kabacki Forest) area. Borowski intercepted a single Bf 109 piloted by Oberst  Henschke, another veteran of the "Legion Condor". Another Bf 109 was shot down by Cadet Jerzy Radomski, who after landing reported that he shot down an "avionette" (a sporting light plane!). Not so luckily were Cadet Janusz Maciński, who emergency landed near Sulejówek, and Lt. Gabszewicz, who was forced to bail out. Hanging from his parachute, Gabszewicz was attacked by an aggressive Bf 110 fighter. The attacking German fighter left a lot of holes in his parchute. Flying nearby was Sec.Lt. Tadeusz Sawicz, who arrived with help and at the last moments saved Gabszewicz's life. The German pilot was forced to retire from the scene. Bofore reaching ground surface defenseless Gabszewicz was covered by another pilot, Władysław Kiedrzyński.
Because these morning missions were so successful, the pilots of the 123rd Escarlille, flying P.7 fighters, decided that the next time they started on aerial combat missions, they would not fly with just sections, but all their planes. On this unit's next combat mission they were bounced by Bf 110s. During the initial attack, Cpt. Mieczyslaw Olszewski, the Escadrille commander was killed. Olszewski's P.7 crashed near Legionow. Other pilots that survived this combat by parachute were: Sec.Lt. Stanisław Czternastek, Sec.Lt. Feliks Szyszka  and Cadet Antoni Danek. Stanisław Czternastek, the first pilot just mentioned above landed safely in the Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki area. The other two pilots were attacked by the Luftwaffe pilots. Szyszka, while hanging in his parachute, was hit sixteen times and landed on the bank of the Wisła river. After receiving help from civilians Szyszka was transported to the hospital. Another two P.7 pilots, Sec.Lt. Erwin Kawnik and Corp. Henryk Flamme were forced to emergency land near Zakroczym in heavily damaged planes. The Luftwaffe's adversaries, Bf 110s of I.(Z)/LG 1, claimed 5 PZL-fighters shot down - 3 by Hauptmann Fritz Schleif, one each by Unteroffizier Sturm and Unteroffizier Lauffs.
 
In another aerial combat Lt.Col. Leopold Pamuła, second commander of the Pursuit Brigade, also took part. Pamuła arrived directly from HQ and immediately ordered one of pilots to leave the cockpit of his fighter. Lieutenant Colonel Leopold Pamuła directly entered the battle. In a duel with two Bf 109s he was shot down and bailed out. Also wounded during this aerial combat was also pilot Zdzisław Horn, who entered into a comma just after returning, upon landing Horn could not exit his cockpit. Over Praga Cpt. Gustaw Sidorowicz, commander of the 111 F.Esc., clashed with pair of Bf 109 fighters. The result of this combat was 1:1 -- one of the Germans was probably shot down, but the injured Sidorowicz was forced to make an emergency landing.
During most of the day of 1 September 1939, majority of the German bombers were not able to reach their targets of the Polish capital city. The German bombers were forced to drop their bombs on fields near Warsaw and then made their return to East Prussia. In Warsaw itself, very few bombs fell on the city. During the entire day's combats, the Pursuit Brigade lost one pilot killed, and another eight were hospitalized. Ten aircraft were lost, while another 24 were heavily damaged. At 20:00, the Brigade had only 20 fighters ready for take off. Aviators of the Brigade downed twelve Luftwaffe planes and four were shared with the 152nd Escadrille pilots, which took part in the afternoon battle. Another five kills were claimed as probable and ten enemy planes were damaged.
 
The pilots of the 152nd Fighter Escadrille awaited for their take off signals since the early morning. The first message about enemy aerial activity arrived at about 16:00, with a large formation of Luftwaffe aircraft coming toward the direction of the Modlin area. To defend the city immediately, nine P.11 fighters took off. When the Polish pilots spotted the enemy group they forgot about their main task, the defence of the city. Sections led by Lt. Marian Imiela and Sec.Lt. Anatol Piotrowski entered in pursuit. The Polish fighters caught the German planes far of Warsaw, in the Jabłonna and Legionow area. First to attack was Sec.Lt. Piotrowski who bounced a He 111 with a good targeted series of shots. The German plane went down, however the defensive gunner's fire hit the Polish fighter. The P.11 came down in an attempted forced landing. Unfortunately for Piotrowski, Bf 109s then come out from clouds, and at a very low altitude, they flammed the defenseless P.11. The Polish pilot had no chance so survive. Another aviator of the 152nd Escadrille was Sec.Lt. Jan Bury-Burzymski. In a vertical attack in the Buchnika area, Bury-Burzymski was able to down a He 111. This Escadrille, together with the Pursuit Brigade, scored four additional kills. After this battle, which lasted over one hour, the Polish pilots returned to their airfield."3
 
By the 6th September Brigade managed to shot down about 20 enemy aircraft, damaged heavily further 2 and cause a light damage to 12 enemy aircraft. For this Brigade lost in the air, due to crashes and in other events 38 fighters. On 6th September Brigade was relocated and reinforced with Squadrons from Armies "Pomorze", "Modlin" and "Łódź" which brought it to full numbers and allowed to continue operations. 
 
The Armies Squadrons were splitted and not capable of supporting each other, often found themselves in a huge disadvantage. Fighter Squadron attached to "Łódź" Army by the 4th September lost almost all its machines, having only 10 fighters combat worthy that day. "Kraków" Army fighter Squadron was more lucky, in the first days of the war shot down 9 enemy aircraft loosing only 4 themselves. However due to pressing situation it had to be moved far to the east and until 17th September southern forces had no air cover at all.
 
Until 10th September most of the fighter Squadrons were relocated to the eastern parts of Poland and even though Luftwaffe was occupied this days by supporting German forces in Battle of Bzura it still had enough machines to carry on operations in other regions of Poland sustaining smaller resistance from polish fighters day after day.
 
After 17th September almost all air operations by Polish Air Forces were discontinued, most of the machines air worthy was evacuated to Romania, only small forces engaged the Germans even though some units carried duties until the last days of campaign - by the 4th October reconnaissance unit commanded by lieutenant Edmund Piorunkiewicz provided information about Wehrmacht movements for  Independent Operational Group "Polesie".
 
The overall results of campaign in Poland are still largely disputed by both German and Polish historians, lack of documents in the archives often lack of objective approach to the topic makes it hard to provide exact data. Overall Polish losses were severe, with 325 aircraft lost. 61 pilots died, 63 were wounded and 110 were missing in action. The ground crews lost over 300 man. Polish fighter pilots claimed 147 aircraft shot down and heavily damaged, which is an inflated number and newer publications verify it to about 40-50 aircraft shot down.
Luftwaffe lost between 275 to 300 aircraft, further 250 were heavily damaged. The losses in pilots and crews did not exceed 800. German fighter pilots are officially credited with 90 machines shot down in the air combat. 
 
The air war over the Poland thus hardly can be called uneventful, even though the actual combat in the air occurred only for about two weeks. Also in this new war German pilots for the first time attacked civilian population, they often did not hesitate to bomb the targets they were not sure about, strafe the refugees on the roads. Some bomber crews used their defensive weapons to shoot people on the ground, an example could be here an Lieutenant Pohl who was a Luftwaffe pilot. His statements were recorded by the British; "On the second day of the Polish war I had to drop bombs on a station at Posen. Eight of the 16 bombs fell on the town, among the houses, I did not like that. On the third day I did not care a hoot, and on the fourth day I was enjoying it. It was our before-breakfast amusement to chase single soldiers over the fields with M.G.  fire and to leave them lying there with a few bullets in the back. (...) People (civilians) too. We attacked the columns in the streets. I was in the “Kette” (flight of 3 aircraft). The leader bombed the street, the two supporting machines the ditches, because there are always ditches there. The machines rock, one behind the other, and now we swerved to the left with all machine guns firing like mad. You should have seen the horses stampede! (...) I was sorry for the horses, but not at all for the people. But I was sorry for the horses up to the last day.
I was so annoyed when we were shot down; just before the second engine got hot, I suddenly had a Polish town beneath me. I dropped the bombs on to it. I wanted to drop all the 32 bombs on the town. It was no longer possible; but 4 bombs dropped in the town. Down there everything was shot to pieces. On that occasion I was in such a rage … one must imagine what it means to drop 32 bombs into an open town. On that occasion I would not have cared a damn. With 32 bombs I would certainly have had 100 human lives on my conscience. (...) I wanted to drop a batch, because the whole place was full of people. I wouldn’t have cared. I wanted to drop them at intervals of 20 metres. I wanted to cover 600 metres. It would have been great fun if it had come off." 4
 
400px-Polish_victim_of_German_Luftwaffe_
 
Atrocities of the Luftwaffe in Poland were the symbol of brutality of German war machine. As effective and capable of defeating enemies, it also presented itself as merciless. 
 

 

Sources :

1. Luftwaffe nad Polska 1939. Czesc I. Jagdflieger by Marius Emmerling

2. Kampania Polska 1939 Roku by Czesław Grzelak and Henryk Stańczyk

3. http://www.acestory.elknet.pl/1sept/1sept.htm

4. Soldiers: German POWs on Fighting, Killing, and Dying by Sonke Neitzel 

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Thanks for posting. I'd forgotten the significance of the date.

Your quote from Lt Pohl prompted me to do a search and led me to Operation Eavesdrop and the project of listening in to the private conversations captured Germans. Pretty gruesome stuff... :(

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"Soldiers: German POWs on Fighting, Killing, and Dying" in this case, if you are interested, I highly recommend this position as it is not only a fascinating research from historical point of view but also contains some notes given from the psychological. Very complex read. 

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Thank you Hiromachi. We should never forget what the Nazis did to this world and especially to the Polish people.

 

Thumbs up.

Edited by Ioshic

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Thank you Hiromachi. We should never forget what the Nazis did to this world and especially to the Polish people.

 

Thumbs up.

And not only the nazis....*cough! cough!*

Edited by blackram

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I'd happily see a "BoP" in the future.

Plucky Poland facing off against Soviet and German aircraft from all sides...

 

Poland more than any other country has my respect for its role in World War II. Consistently screwed over by allies and enemies, it just kept fighting. The Armia Krajowa has to be its finest (doomed) hour.

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Hiromachi today is perfect day to write some more... That 76 years ago 17 September 1939 Red Army in agreement with Germany attacked Poland from east.

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Thank you for all those kind words. Its really nice to hear that :)

 

 

Hiromachi today is perfect day to write some more... That 76 years ago 17 September 1939 Red Army in agreement with Germany attacked Poland from east.

Yes, I thought of it but since a few days I'm short on time and writing anything longer is not that much possible.

So this is a short note :

In 1932 Poland and Soviet Union had signed Non-Aggression Pact for 5 years which was later prolonged until 1945, in which both sides declared that they do not consider war as proper way of solving the problems in mutual relations, both sides agreed not to participate in any aggression against each other, either alone or in alliance. In case of situation when a 3rd country would attack one of the sides of the agreement than the other would not support the aggressor. Even though political relations between countries were uneasy, they could be described as stable through 1930s.

This obligations from the Non-Aggression Pact were confirmed by both governments on November 26th 1938 in open relations, however since some time Soviet Union had hidden intentions in regard to polish soil.

In early October 1938, in a private discussion with French ambassador in Moscow, Robert Coulondre, the Soviet vice-minister Wladimir Potjomkin openly stated : "I see no other option for us, than 4th Partition of Poland". Even though Moscow pretended that relations with Poland are improving it secretly made efforts to find an agreement with Berlin as soon as possible.

 

Such event occurred in late summer 1939, when  Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact was signed settling not only relations between the Soviet Union and 3rd Reich but also sanctioning the Soviet participation in German invasion on Poland.

 

Soviet Union was initially reluctant to fulfill the obligations, Joachim von Ribbentrop through the first two weeks of September tried to ask his Soviet equivalent when the Soviets will strike. Molotov reply was short, on the 5th September he said : "We share a common vie, that in a proper moment unconditionally we will have to being certain actions. However we consider, that this moment did not come yet."

This reluctance was not only based Soviet intentions to avoid any blame for aggression but also because Red Army was not prepared for an action so fast. Soviet commanders expected that conflict between Poland and 3rd Reich will last at least few weeks if not months, yet blitzkrieg surprised them. At this point Soviet commanders claimed that they need about 2 or 3 weeks to complete mobilization.   

 

Eventually, on September 17 the unprovoked aggression happened when shortly after 1 AM Red Army crossed the borders and engaged weak polish forces protecting the borders. Red Army managed to prepare 620 000 soldiers, 5000 guns, 4736 tanks, 760 armored cars and 3300 aircraft. By September 14 commanders of the Ukrainian and Belorussian Fronts were given orders on general attack directions. 

Shortly before the aggression Polish ambassador in Moscow, Wacław Grzybowski was called to Soviet Foreign Ministry and told by Wladimir Potjomkin that :

"Warsaw, as the capital of Poland, no longer exists. The Polish Government has disintegrated, and no longer shows any sign of life. This means that the Polish State and its Government have, in point of fact, ceased to exist. In the same way, the Agreements concluded between the U.S.S.R. and Poland have ceased to operate. Left to her own devices and bereft of leadership, Poland has become a suitable field for all manner of hazards and surprises, which may constitute a threat to the U.S.S.R. For these reasons the Soviet Government, who has hitherto been neutral, cannot any longer preserve a neutral attitude towards these facts... In these circumstances, the Soviet Government have directed the High Command of the Red Army to order troops to cross the frontier and to take under their protection the life and property of the population of Western Ukraine and Western White Russia. — People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the U.S.S.R. V. Molotov, September 17, 1939" 

Polish ambassador tried to oppose that, pointing that it was not true and could not be justified by any means, Polish President and Government were present in Poland and contact with them was kept even in this special situation during the war. Further the sovereignty of Poland exists as long as soldiers fight for it, all minorities prove on the battlefield their commitment to Polish cause and solidarity. Despite that aggression became a political and what is more military fact. 

 

It may be worth noting in this place that both France and Great Britain were aware of the aggression for a few days before and by September 16 both tried to take an appropriate position, French ambassador in London, Andre-Charles Corbin sent a message to French Prime Minister Daladier that day : "Just as you Sir, I think that limited action from the Soviet side against Poland should not bring immediate diplomatic reaction from us." 

Technically so, even before Polish embassies informed allies about the Soviet aggression, both decided not to take any decisive actions. Not even a month passed and Poland was abandoned by its allies.

 

In regard to air combat little can be posted, on September 17, pilot Stanisław Zatorski from 113th Escadrille was engaged by Soviet aircraft, heavily wounded he was forced to land near Pińsk after damaging two Polikarpov I-153 fighters, the wounds were so severe that he died on road to a hospital. In other occasions polish machines strafed Soviet infantry columns or provided reconnaissance for Polish units but that was not for long.

Basing on orders given by Commander-in-Chief  all forces should try to evacuate to Romania, Latvia or any other neutral country if possible. And so majority of aircraft that could be evacuated was flown to Romania.

For example before his departure, pilot Tadeusz Koc from 161st Fighter Escadrille engaged and shot down Soviet recce Polikarpov R-5. 

 

Soviet operations were often unopposed, suffered only minor losses during campaign. It is estimated that 15 Soviet aircraft were either shot down by Polish fighters or anti-aircraft guns. 

 

 

As I said, I have limited abilities this days to write something longer and more detailed and can only apologize for that.

For further details I can only advise to visit wiki :

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_invasion_of_Poland

 

Hope you will find something interesting in this part as well. 

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