October 19, 2010

Media and Propaganda: The Polish Air Force in September 1939

One of the most pervasive myths about Poland is that the entire Polish Air Force was completely destroyed on the ground by German bombers on September 1st, 1939.  Many people still believe this is true despite historical evidence to the contrary.  How these myths got started is not the subject of this blog.  My attention is focused on the media as the main culprit for the spread of these lies, rather propaganda, about Poland.  The mass marketing of misinformation, irresponsible reporting, failure to verify facts and sources and the dissemination of half-truths are the trademarks propagandists. That and a huge dose of anti-Polonism has been at work sullying the minds of many people.

I have researched the internet for articles about the Polish Air Force and came across the History Channel among many other sources.  I was quite curious to know what such a prestigious network had written on the subject. I expected their articles to be top notch and a source of factual information, but instead they are mired with generalizations, lies, and conjecture.  For example, History Channel wrote that the German Luftwaffe”...quickly established air supremacy by attacking and destroying the Polish air force in the air and on the ground.”  Without question, the Luftwaffe was superior, however, the Polish Air Force was not wiped out as the writers of History Channel would have you believe.

Incidentally, the same article alleges that “Polish commanders even sent horsed cavalry into battle against the heavy German armor.” (This is another lie propagated by the Germans which I wrote about  in one of my blogs entitled “The Myth About Polish Cavalry in World War II”).  Another article from History Channel claims that the German air force “quickly established air supremacy by attacking and destroying the Polish air force in the air and on the ground.”   http://www.thehistorychannel.co.uk/explore-history/ww2/poland.html   What makes propaganda so credible to many people is that the lies are heavily padded with truthful statements. It is true that the German air force established air supremacy immediately, but it is not true that the entire Polish Air Force was destroyed on the ground.

PBS is also guilty of passing the buck. While I did not find anything about the Polish Air Force, one of their articles made an incorrect assumption. While I cannot accuse them of "blasphemy" it is nonetheless careless journalistic reporting, which I regard with the same contempt as propaganda.  In one of their articles entitled “Fighting with the Allies –Remembering Polish Fighters”  they wrote, “With only minimal help from Poland’s allies, France and Great Britain, and with most of his forces fighting the Germans, Poland’s commander-in-chief Marshal Edward Smigly-Rydz ordered his soldiers in eastern Poland to withdraw south into Romania.... “. Minimal help? As a matter of fact Poland had no help whatsoever from England and France but only empty promises.

A brief foray into the website of the BBC was also disappointing and did not restore my trust in the media. Without a doubt the BBC has had an excellent reputation for news reporting but they have not been vigilant in reviewing articles posted on their website.  In their series called World Wars In-Depth: Countdown to World WWII, an article written by Mark Fielder (dated  September 8, 2010) stated the following about the Invasion of Poland on September 1st, 1939:  “However, nothing happened until about 9.00 am when the capital [Warsaw] was attacked with both incendiary and high explosive bombs. Fighters from the Polish Air Force intercepted the German raiders and there were several dog-fights over the city.”  Finally, a statement that clearly acknowledges that Polish pilots were indeed engaged in combat with the Luftwaffe and that the Polish Air Force was not wiped out.

But surprisingly on the very same website the BBC provides a link to another article, written by Bradley Lightbody, also dated September 8, 2010,  that is almost similar to that of Fielder but with one conspicuous difference. The paragraph reads as follows:  “At 6 am on 1 September Warsaw was struck by the first of a succession of bombing raids, while two major German army groups invaded Poland from Prussia in the north and Slovakia in the south. Air supremacy was achieved on the first day, after most of Poland's air force was caught on the ground....”
I am baffled how the BBC managed to overlook this glaring contradiction.  But what I find most disturbing is that Bradley Lightbody is the Head of the History Department in a college in the UK. (Dewsbury College, West Yorkshire).  People like Lightbody wield enormous influence over others and are capable doling out their personal biases under the guise of education.

First and foremost on his suggested reading list is his own book, entitled  The Second World War: Ambitions to Nemesis (Routledge, 2004) He also recommends The Second World War: The Gathering Storm by Winston Churchill (Cassell, 1950). This is a six volume treatise which Churchill already planned to write before the war was even over. (I managed to get my hands on one of the volumes when I was doing research for my website Polish Greatness.) I scoured the index for any mention about Poland.  Barely a snippet was found.  I read that after the war, Churchill had declared that, “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”  No greater truth had ever been told.

Many educators, journalists, historians and researchers refer to these volumes under the mistaken notion that they are comprehensive sources for information about World War II.  Rather than go into a tangent suffice it to say that the “Churchillian” method of writing is very biased and stems from his idealized or romanticized notion of Great Britain. Admittedly Churchill was a great statesman and patriot, but not a historian.

I haven’t read the other books on Lightbody’s list, but I suppose I should just to rule out any of my suspicions.  If you have read any of them and have comments to make either supporting or refuting my assertions, please do not hesitate to make your opinions known. I welcome them all.

The other books are:

How the War Came: The Immediate Origins of the Second World War 1938-1939
by Donald Cameron Watt (Heinemann, 1989)

The Road to War
by Richard Overy with Richard Wheatcroft (MacMillan, 1989

The Second World War
by Martin Gilbert (Phoenix, 1989)

Blitzkrieg: From the Rise of Hitler to the Fall of Dunkirk
by Len Deighton (Jonathan Cape, 1979)

Even the CBC website did not provide the information I was looking for.  Their online archives consist only of radio broadcasts which reported on major developments during the war.  Another website, Love, Hate and Propaganda (a CBC documentary) printed nothing online about World War II propaganda. However their online video, promoting the 6 part series on the subject, may or may not contain the information I am looking for. I would probably have to purchase the boxed gift set in order to find out.

I had to dig very deep to find something about the Polish Air Force on the website of CNN.  They deemed Poland worthy of only eight words, that the Germans were "decimating the Polish air force on the ground."  http://www.worldwar-2.net/timelines/war-in-europe/eastern-europe/eastern-europe-index-1939.htm  (This is a segment of "Education with the news" made available by CNN to students.)

There is no doubt that the Polish Air Force was vastly outnumbered and outclassed by the German Luftwaffe, but it must be emphasized that the Polish fleet was not decimated as the Nazis claimed.  Incidentally, I have also watched a fair number of You Tube videos. One in particular is a German propaganda film which the British media used in their documentary about the invasion of Poland and thought fit to upload on You Tube. The narrator made the usual, though incorrect assumption, that the Polish Air Force was decimated on the first day of attack. Meanwhile, the video shows German bombers destroying Polish planes on the airfield. Most people would believe the lies because they have seen "proof".  What they have seen is only propaganda film. There is more to the story than what can be seen.

These revelations prompt me to scrutinize more carefully any reports I read or hear about coming from "respected"  news peddlers. Although the media often congratulate themselves for being staunch defenders of the truth, one cannot assume that they are right all of the time.  Whether through neglect or sheer ignorance and stupidity, the media has become a carrier for propaganda.

I hold fast to one simple premise: propaganda can no more stand the truth, than the darkness the light of day.  The only way to destroy propaganda is to dismantle it piece by piece with historical facts. And with this in mind, I have gathered some information about the Polish Air Force that will shed more than a little light.

In the months preceding the September invasion, entire fleets of Polish squadrons were deployed throughout the countryside in a mass mobilization from March to August 1939.  Each of the squadrons was assigned to act as support to the Air Force Command of various Polish armies.

Because of the volume of this blog I have had to split it into more manageable proportions. This blog continues, as follows:

The Polish Air Force 1939 The Order of Battle

Polish Aircraft in Active Service September 1939

Polish Greatness.com


  1. Interesting. We know the Nazi onslaught followed by the Soviet overwhelmed the Polish brave defense. Geographically it was impossible to provide effective aid by GB and France. Still they went to war to defend Poland. I think insteadof nitpicking you should focus on the contribution the Poles made in the retaking of Europe and the Warsaw uprising. Just a thought. :)

  2. Thank you troutbirder for your comments. Indeed there was a Mutual Assistance Treaty signed between Great Britain and Poland in August 1939 whereby GB promised to intervene in the event of an invasion of Poland by a "European Power". However, neither GB nor France came to Poland's aid. I have already written about the Polish contributions during WW2,and I invite you to log onto my website to read articles such as the Warsaw Uprising, the Battle of Monte Cassino, the Kosciuszko Squadron which fought in the Battle of Britain, and more. Please log onto http://polishgreatness.com/