October 19, 2010

Polish Aircraft in Active Service September 1939

PZL P.11
PZL.23 Karaś A/B
PZL.37 Łoś A/B.PZL.43
PZL.46 Sum (PZL.46/I protype) (one example)
Lublin R-XIIIGLublin R-VIIIbis (for Navy use)
LWS-3 Mewa (two examples)RWD-8
RWD-14 Czapla

PWS-35 Ogar (one example)
LWS-6 ZubrRWD-5 (one)
Bartel BM-4
Lublin R-XVI (air ambulances)

The most successful squadron of the Polish Air Force was that of the Pursuit Brigade which fought against German planes during the Defensive War.  On September 1st, the Pursuit Brigade shot down 16 German planes, but lost 10 of its own.  After six days, the total number of German planes shot down was 42, and the Poles tallied up losses of about 38 to 54 of its fighters. The Brigade was the main aerial reserve and was assigned to cover the city of Warsaw. After the sixth day however they were transferred to cover Lublin.  

The Polish Pursuit Brigade
Even before the first shots were fired at Westerplatte, an escadrille of the Pursuit Brigade spotted and intercepted a large formation of German bombers escorted by Messerschmitt Me110s over the Bugo-Narew. (Incidentally, the name Bugo-Narew refers to the Bug and Narew rivers.) Before retreating the Germans dropped bombs, but on uninhabited areas. In shooting down one enemy plane, and probably damaging another, Polish Lt. Palusinski was wounded by enemy fire. On the same day, the Polish squadrons intercepted an attempted bombing raid over Warsaw.  The commander of the Polish escadrille managed to shoot down one Messerscmitt Me109, but was then shot down and wounded.  On the 3rd of September, the escadrille intercepted a fleet of Me100 fighters over Myszkow and downed two enemy fighters (credited to Lt. Januszewicz and Corporal Karubin).   However another fleet led by Feric was dispersed and returned to base. On September 4 the commanding officer of the escadrille shot down a Junkers Ju87 (near the Zaborow airfield) near Leszno. The next day Strzembosz and Januszewicz shot down an Me110 and Ju87 respectively. On September 6 Januszewicz downed another Ju87. After a week of fighting the escadrille was evacuated to Kierz airfield near Lublin. The last confirmed victories by this squadron was a Henschel Hs 126 reconnaissance plane on September 9 (credited to Ferić) and a Heinkel He 111 on September 11 (shot down byWróblewski).  Throughout the campaign, this squadron alone shot down a total 8 enemy planes, but lost 9 of its own (PZL P.11c fighters)

The Polish Bomber Brigade
On September 4, the Polish Bomber Brigade conducted daylight attacks on German armoured columns, which hampered the advance of the German 16th Armoured Corps near Czestochowa and Radomsko. Because of a lack of fighter protection, the Polish fleet suffered heavy losses.  Of the Bomber Brigade, 10 PZL.37s were shot down by fighter planes, 5 were shot down by enemy anti-aircraft artillery, 2 were bombed on the ground, and an additional 10 planes lost in other ways.  Though a few planes were destroyed on the airfields and in the factories, these were planes whose manufacture was not yet completed,  planes used for training purposes, or reserve planes.  There were 18 PZL.37s bombed in the factory of a reserve base at Malaszewicze and at Okecie near Warsaw. 

The PZL Aircraft

By 1939, Poland had only about 600 aircraft. Most of them were outdated except for 37 PZL P-37 Los bombers, which was comparable to its German counterparts. The PZL was designed by Jerzy Dabrowski in the mid-1930s and before the war it was considered one of the world’s most modern bombers. Its pay-load capacity was somewhat greater than that of the Vickers Wellington. Compared to other bombers, the PZL was smaller in size but was faster and easier to maneuver.  Its landing gears had double wheels which made it possible to land on rough fields.  But because of the rough terrain, the planes could not take off with a full payload, and carried less than the 800 kg or 8 x 100 kg bombs). In addition, the fact that each plane was lightly armoured (only three machine guns) made it weak and vulnerable to attack by enemy planes.

The PZL drew huge interest at air exhibitions in Paris and Belgrade in 1938.  Adaptations were made to increase marketability and the PZL.37C with Gnome-Rhone engines gave the planes a maximum speed of 445 km/hour while the PZL 37D had a maximum speed of 460 km/hour.  Orders came in from several countries for the PZL.37C:  20 were ordered by Yugoslavia, and 12 by Bulgaria.  Romania ordered 30 PZL.37D’s and its licence, and Turkey ordered the raw materials and parts for 25, and its licence, Greece ordered 12. Negotiations were underway with Denmark, Estonia, Finland and Iran. Belgium was granted permission for licence production of the aircraft.  But it all came to stop when war broke out.  None of these aircraft had yet been put into production. 

The PZL factory had also developed a variation for the Polish airforce, the PZL.49 Mis, the production of which was not completed in time before the outbreak of war.  The PZL.49 Mis was slightly larger in size.  Engineers were planning on fitting it with Bristol Hercules II engines giving it a maximum speed of 520 km/hour, and an upper turret.

Only 70 per cent of Polish aircraft were mobilized. Their bombers were more modern than their fighter planes, the latter which was considerably older than their German counterparts.  The PZL P.11 fighter designed in the early 1930s could reach only a maximum of 365 km/hour (roughly 220 miles per hour), considerably less than German bombers.  In order to compensate for the disparity, Polish pilots depended on the maneuverability and high diving speed of the aircraft.  The Polish Air Force consisted of the following aircraft:

PZL P.11   - 185 planes
PZL P.7 fighters 95
PZL.23 Karas B 175 planes
PZL.23 Karas A 35 planes
PZL 37 Los  Over 100 planes were produced but only 36 were deployed.

The PZL.37Bs were used by the 11th, 12th, 16th and 17th escadres of the Bomber Brigade. (A Group consisted of two escadres with nine aircraft each, in Polish “Dywizjon”.) The Bomber Brigade used the PZL.23 Karas and the remaining 50 PZL.37s were either allotted to the reserve group, the training units or in were in a state of  repair.  

With only a few months to train the crews and equip the bombers, none of the planes were at full capacity when war broke out.  To make matters worse, the bombers could not reach the maximum range as quoted in the specifications because they lacked the extra internal fuel tanks.

The last combat flights took place on the 16th of September, 1939.  From Romania the Polish air force and armies escaped to France and served under French Command until Hitler invaded in May 1940.  The Polish units managed to escape and re-assembled on British soil. The collaboration of the Polish pilots during the Battle of Britain is legendary.  But that is a story for another blog.

Polish Combat Aircraft

Produced 1932-1933
Quantity 149 + 2
Maximum Speed:  327 km/hr (203 mph)
Range: 600 km (373 miles)
Weapons: P.7a carried two 7.92mm Vickers "E" machine guns

The PZL P.7 in early 1933 was a modern fighter comparable to other contemporary designs. The Polish Air Force became the first air force equipped with planed constructed entirely with metal. But due to rapid technology, it became obsolete by 1939. By 1935, most were replaced by the PZL P.11 which was only a slight upgrade. 
On the 1st of September 1939, the Polish Air Force still had 30 PZL P.7a fighters which they deployed in combat units. Another 40 were in training schools, 35 in reserve or repairs.  Altogether there were 106 aircraft of this design.  They were used in three squadrons (with 10 planes each).  The 123rd Squadron was part of the Pursuit Brigade, deployed around Warsaw while  the 151st and the 162nd Squadrons were assigned to the Armies.
Despite their obsolescence they fought during the Defensive Wars. Not counting the combat units, there were at least 18 P.7a fighters at Deblin and Ulez airbases.
Although the German aircraft was waster than the P.7a, the latter had better maneuverability and could operate from fields that were short and even rough.
The greatest disadvantage to Polish aircraft was lack of sufficient weapons, and engine breakdown due to intense service.  Pilots flying the P.7a managed to only shoot down seven German aircraft (two He 111s, two Do 17s, one Hs 126, and two Bf110s) but lost 22 of their own aircraft in the mission.
Most of the P.7a fighters were destroyed in 1939, either in combat or on the ground, while quite a number of them were evacuated to Romania. Several were captured by the Germans and used for training purposes.

PZL P.11
Produced 1934-?   (retired in 1945)
Quantity 325
Maximum Speed: 390 km/hr (242 mph)
Range: 700 km (435 miles)
Weapons: 2 x 7.7mm machine-guns, bombs

Note:  At the outbreak of war the Polish Air Force had 109 PZL P.11c`s, 20 P.11a`s and 30 P.7a`s in combat ready mode. An additional 43 aircraft were either in stages of repair or held in reserve.  A third of the fleet were equipped, each with four machine guns, while the remainder had only two, fewer still had a radio.
The P11 was used in 12 squadrons (each consisting of 10 aircraft)

Four squadrons were part of the Pursuit Brigade which was deployed around Warsaw. The remainder were assigned to Armies. But they all took part in the defense of Poland during the invasion.  
The Polish fighter squadrons were not bombed by the Germans on the 1st of September 1939 as they were deployed to remote airfields. The P11 though at a great disadvantage in speed and numbers, fought against the German Messerschmitt Bf109 and Bf110.  There was however one main advantage to Polish planes. They had better manoeuvrability and their design permitted an unobstructed view from the cockpit, unlike that of German planes.  The P11 was solidly built and could operate well on short and even rough fields.  It could dive at a speed of 600 km/hr without risk of the wings falling apart.  The only limitation in such manoeuvres was whether the pilot could sustain the high G forces. 

Despite German air superiority, the P11’s performance is to be respected as they shot down a considerable number of German planes, and fighters. However, the Poles suffered heavy losses in the process. According to the Luftwaffe records, a total of 285 German aircraft were lost, and about 110 victories are attributable to the P11 while Poles lost about 100.  (The exact statistics are not fully verified.) However, the German aircraft that was shot down was later recovered and put back into service. In this way the Luftwaffe was able to claim smaller losses.

The first Polish aircraft to be shot down on September 1st  was a PZL P.11c flown by Capt. Mieczyslaw Medwecki. Twenty minutes later Medwecki's wingman, Wladyslaw Gny shot down two Dornier Do17s with his P.11c.   The PZL P.11c has the honour of being the first aircraft to successfully ram enemy aircraft in the Second World War.

In the first battle of the invasion on September 1st, a group of German bombers, about 70 Heinkel He 11 and Dornier Do 17 were rapidly closing in over the village of Nieporet, situated north of Warsaw, but had to abandon their mission when they were intercepted by about 20 PZL P11 and 10 P.7 fighters. 
Most the P.11’s were destroyed in 1939, but 36 were evacuated to Romania.

PZL.23 Karas (third prototype)
Light Bomber and Reconnaissance Aircraft
Produced 1936-1938 (retired in 1946)
Quantity:  250 + 3 prototypes
Maximum Speed:  320 km/hr (199 mph)
Range:  1260 km (783 miles)
Weapons:  3 x 7.7mm machine-guns, 700kg of bombs

Note:  During the invasion, over 114 planes were deployed in combat units, in 5 bomber squadrons, 7 army reconnaissance squadrons, each with ten aircraft. Other bomber squadrons were equipped with the PZL.37 Los.  In addition there were the two PZL 43A from the Bulgarian order that was incorporated into the Polish fleet.  On 2 September 1939, one PZL.23B of the 21st Squadron bombed a factory on German territory ( in Oblau)  Though their main mission was supposed to be reconnaissance, the PZL.23 bomber squadrons attacked German armoured columns instead. During the campaign, the combined force of the Polish Bomber Brigade delivered about 52-60 tons of bombs while the Army squadrons added about a dozen tons of bombs However this plane suffered high losses because of its low speed, lack of armour and fighter protection. Many were shot down by German fighters, but Polish fighters managed to shoot down a few German planes as well.  Polish pilots often made low level attacks on German columns, despite their lack of armour, to AA fire. About 20 Polish planes crashed, while 120 PZL.23s were destroyed but only 67 were the result of enemy fire.  Only a small number of Polish combat units were destroyed on the airfields. This occurred on September 14, 1939 at Hutniki when the Luftwaffe destroyed the PZL.23Bs of the Bomber Brigade.  Over 21 PZL.23s were evacuated to Romania, most of which were commandeered by the Romanian Air Force against Russia. About 50 PZL.43s and PZL.43As were used in Bulgaria for training.

PZL.37 Los
Produced 1938-1939 (retired 1944 Romanian Air Force)
Quantity: over 120
Maximum Speed:  445 km/hr (277 mph)
Range: with max payload 1,500 km (932 miles)
Weapons:  3 x 7.7mm machine-guns, 2580kg of bombs

Note:  About twenty-six or twenty-seven PZL.37s were flown to Romania in 1939, 17 of them from the Bomber Brigade and ten training planes. Upon landing, the Polish pilots were arrested and their airplanes confiscated. The Romanians incorporated 23 of the planes in the 4th Romanian Group, upgrading some of them with additional machine guns, but still using the Polish PWU guns).Approximately one third of the Polish fleet was destroyed in crashes due to inexperienced Romanian pilots who were unable to handle its high wing loading. 
The Romanians manned 15 PZL in battle against the Russians from June 22, 1941, first in Bessarabia, then bombing Kiev and Odessa. A number of planes were shot down by Soviet artillery. The Romanians withdrew the PZL from service because of a lack of spare parts. The planes were returned to combat only temporarily in April 1944 before being withdrawn once again. After Romania joined the Allies on September 1st, 1944, the Luftwaffe destroyed five PZL37s on the ground.
Very few PZLs fell into German hands. Before the German authorities realized what was happening, the Polish air crew had already dismantled all the remaining planes. (October 1939, at Okencie and Mielec).

PZL.43 Karas
Twelve were built for the Bulgarian air force and delivered in 1937.
This model contained a 694W Gnome-Rhone radial engine, improved crew accomodation.

Weapons included a second forward-firing machine gun. Performance was rated very good to excellent.
Note:   When the Germans invaded, there were nine planes crated ready for delivery to Bulgaria. Five others were moved to the airfield at Bielany and taken over by the Polish Air Force 41st Reconnaissance Squadron. But by September 10, 1939, there were only two aircraft remaining. One was shot down by a Bf110 at Michalowek killing the crew.  The second was damaged by two Bf109s.  Two days later it made a crash landing at Bresc.  Another three were left at Okecie but was damaged on September 4 during an air raid by the Germans.  Some planes were captured by the Germans.  Five planes were repaired and delivered to Bulgaria.

Light Bomber and Reconnaissance Aircraft
Produced:  1939
Quantity: 2 prototypes
Maximum Speed: 425 km/hr (264 mph)
Range: 1300 km (808 miles)
Weapons: 6 x 7.7mm machine-guns, 600kg of bombs
Note: During the invasion the first prototype was stationed in Warsaw, while the second was evacuated to Lwow.  Eventually it was captured by the Romanians and later by confiscated, and tested by the Russians.

Lublin R-XIIIG
6 were produced from 1934.

The Polish Navy purchased several hybrids of this seaplane. The G model was delivered in 1935 and differed from the other designs. It had a metal propeller and the plane could easily be converted to wheeled landing gear.
These planes fought during the invasion and one of them bombed Danzig on September 7, 1939 while searching for the Schleswig-Holstein. By September 8, they were all destroyed while stationed near the Hel Peninsula.

Lublin R-VIII
Bomber and Reconnaissance Aircraft
Produced: 1928-1930 (retired 1939)
Quantity: 6
Maximum Speed:  225 km/hr (138 mph)
Range: 600-1720 km (370-1061 miles)

Weapons: one fixed 7.7 mm Vickers machine gun and interrupter gear, the observer had twin 7.7 mm Lewis machine guns. Bomb load: in bomber, varied up to 1000 kg. Bomb load in seaplane varied up to 300 kg.  The planes were fitted with a camera.  They were scheduled for withdrawal from service in 1938.  They survived the invasion in September 1939.

LWS -3 Mewa (prototype)
Reconnaissance aircraft
Produced:  1938-1939 (retired 1939)
Quantity:  30 (almost in completion)
Maximum Speed: 360 km/hr (224 mph)
Range: 700km (436 miles)

Weapons:  2 fixed, forward-firing 7.92mm PWU wz.36 machine guns, 1 rearward-firing 7.92mm PWU karabin maszynowy obserwatora wz.37 (its a flexible gun based on Browning wz.1928)
Note: None of the aircraft entered service before the outbreak of WW2 due to problems with the propellers. Two of them were destroyed by German bombs, the fate of another is uncertain. The remainder was camouflaged  in Lublin park and in a nearby forest.

RWD – 8
Trainer Aircraft and Reconnaissance
Produced 1934-1939 (retired in 1948 Israel)
Quantity:  Over 550
Maximum Speed: 175 km/hr (109mph)
Range: 500 km (312 miles)

Note: many of these aircraft were bombed by the Germans or burned by the Poles before withdrawing. About 57 of the planes were evacuated to Romania, 40 to Latvia and 2 to Hungary. The Germans could only captured about a dozen planes in airworthy condition.

Reconnaissance and Liaison Aircraft
Produced:  1938-39
Quantity:  65
Maximum Speed:  247 km/hr (153 mph)
Range:  675 km (421 miles)
Weapons:  1 × fixed forward-firing 7.92 mm wz.33 machine gun. 1 flexible, rearward-firing 7.7 mm Vickers K machine gun for observer.
Note: Most were destroyed by the German but 10 managed to evacuate to Romania.

Polish Support Aircraft

Trainer Aircraft
Produced: 1936-1939 (retired 1953)
Quantity: 320
Maximum Speed:  201 km/hr
Range:  460 km
Weapons: 1 x 7.92mm machinegun, 2 x 12 kg bombs (optional)

Note:  Some PWS-26s were shot down by the Germans but a large number were either destroyed on the ground by the Germans, or burned by the Poles before withdrawing.   A dozen were evacuated to Romania and at least 33 planes to Latvia.

Passenger Aircraft
Produced 1933-1935
Quantity: 11
Maximum Speed:  225 km/hr
Range:  700 km
Note:  Some of these planes were converted to aerial photography at the outbreak of war.

PWS-35 Ogar
Liaison Aircraft (two prototypes) one which was destroyed by Luftwaffe.
The fate of the other is unclear.
Production: plans began in July 1939 for production but war broke out.
Maximum Speed: 200 km/hr
Range: 550 km

LWS.6 Zubr
Medium Bomber
Produced: 1938 (retired 1940s)
Quantity:  17
Maximum Speed: 341 km/hr (212 mph)
Range:  740-1250 km (466-766 miles)

Weapons:  2 × 7.7 mm Vickers F machine guns in nose turret; 2 x 7.7mm Vickers F machine guns in upper rear turret, 1 x 7.7 mm Vickers F machine gun in underbelly, and 660 kg (1,450 lb) of bombs.

Note: from the beginning the Poles considered this plane obsolete and assigned them only to training units.
It`s counterpart the PZL 37 Los was far superior.  The LWS 6 Zubr was not used in combat.
The Germans destroyed these planes on the ground, taking a few to use for training purposes in the Luftwaffe.

Trainer and sport planes
Produced 1931-1937 (retired 1939)
Quantity: 20
Maximum Speed: 202 km/hr (126 mph)
Range: 1080 km (670miles)

Note:  Stanislaw Skarzynski flew this plane from Warsaw to Rio de Janeiro from April 27 to June 24, 1933 (11,178 miles). It took 20 hours and 30 minutes. It was the smallest plane to have ever flown across the Atlantic. (without a radio nor safety equipment) It returned to Europe by ship.

Liaison Aircraft
Produced: 1935-1939
Quantity: 100
Maximum Speed: 210 km/hr (130 mph)
Range: 900 km (600 miles)
Note: some aircraft evacuated during the invasion of 1939 while others were destroyed or seized by the Germans.

Trainer Aircraft
Produced: 1938-1939
Quantity: 30
Maximum Speed: 195 km/hr (121 mph)
Range: 680 km (422 miles)

Note: During the invasion most evacuated to Romania and Latvia. 
One was used as a liaison plane but crashed on September 12, 1939

Bartel BM-4
Trainer Aircraft
Produced 1928-1932
Quantity: 75
Maximum Speed:  138 km/hr (86 mph)
Range: 275 km (170 miles)

Note:  These planes were used by the Polish Air Force for training pilots at the air force academies at Bydgoszcz and Deblin.

Lublin R-XVI
Airplane Ambulance
Produced: 1935
Quantity: 7
Maximum Speed: 187 km/hr (116 mph)
Range: 480 km (298 miles)
Note: At least one was captured by the Germans. None survived the war.

This is not a complete list all the planes in the Polish Air Force. It refers only to those in active service during September 1939.  For those of you who are interested in Polish aeronautics, there is a website that you may find interesting, called the Aircraft Directory: Poland  http://www.aviastar.org/air/poland/  It gives a brief summary of the history of the airplane as well as its specifications.  You can also check Wikipedia for specifications on each aircraft.

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