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History of the Polish Air Force

One of mankind's greatest dreams was realized on December 3rd in 1903 when the Wright brothers conducted the first manned flight in history. The inventors feat proved that a machine that is heavier than air is able to fly, and with that a new era in innovation and development began. At that time, Poland as a country - didn't exist on the map of Europe. However, Polish engineers and aviation pioneers - people like Stefan DRZEWICKI and Czeslaw TALSKI - were well known throughout the world.

The first Polish flying units were formed during the first World War in France as part of the "Azure Army". On November 5th in 1918 flight officer Stefan BASTYR and lieutenant pilot Janusz BEAURAIN conducted their first combat flight on a plane with painted polish markings. After the War Poland regained independence and started rebuilding its armed forces -a very difficult and demanding task, for the fledgling nation was stripped from it's resources by its former occupants and exhausted by the war. Against the odds, the first Polish flying units were created by the end of 1918. On December 1st 1918, the Chief of the Polish Army General Staff issued an order that all polish military aircraft are to be painted with the red & white chessboard insignia as the symbol of the Polish Air Force. The first commander of the flying units was Lt. Col. Hipolit LOSSOWSKI.

It didn't take long for the Polish Air Force units to prove their potential on the battlefield - during the Polish-Soviet war in 1919-1920 they fought with unmatched bravery and repelled the attackers. They were aided by pilots from England, Belgium, Italy and The United States. Three of the seventeen American pilots - Capt. A. H. KELLY, pilot officer E. A. GRAVES and capt. T. V. CALLUM - lost their lived during the defense. One hundred and sixty four highest polish decorations - Virtuti Militari - as well as two hundred and forty five medals of Poland's Restoration were presented to the victorious airmen. After the war the Polish Air Force underwent a vast reorganization ? new units and organizational structures were formed. Between 1936-1937 the Polish Air Force possessed a total of forty eight squadrons, each consisting of ten aircraft.

This period of peace was a chance for the rapid development of the polish aviation industry branch. During the 1930s the Polish Air Force was equipped with polish produced airplanes. Polish pilots participated in various sport events: lieutenant Boleslaw ORLINSKI and flight mechanic Leonard KUBIAK conducted a flight from Warsaw to Tokio and back, in 1932 pilot Franciszek WIGURA and pilot Stanislaw ZWIRKO won the International Aviation Contest in Challenge, France and two years later this success was repeated by pilot Jerzy BAJAN and Gustaw POKRZYWKA. In May 1933 pilot Stanislaw SKARZYNSKI beat the world record in a single flight across the Atlantic Ocean - the journey all the way from Saint Louis, Senegal, to Maceio, Brazil took him twenty hours and thirty minutes.

The German Air Force, which had 1000 bombers and 1050 fighters in operational condition, met no effective opposition from the Polish Air Force, which consisted of less than 500 planes of all types, most of them obsolescent. Contrary to popular belief, the Polish Air Force was not destroyed on the ground the first day of fighting. In fact, the Luftwaffe was surprisingly ineffective in striking Polish air units. The record of Polish flyers who escaped and fought with the Royal Air Force was a distinguished one by any measure.

During World War II the outnumbered polish forces bravely fought against the Nazi aggressors. In the seventeen days of the offensive the polish pilots managed to down one hundred and thirty German bombers and fighters. The Polish forces lost three hundred and twenty five planes, over five hundred pilots and technicians were killed. After losing the uneven battle, over eleven thousand polish airmen fled toward the western allies through Romania and Hungary. Nearly two hundred and fifty escaped to Lithuania, over six hundred made it to Latvia and over a thousand remained in Poland along the eastern boarder - that was occupied by the Red Army. The majority of these soldiers were interned and murdered in prison camps.

On February 1940 the first Polish Air Force units were assembled in France as a completely separate branch of the armed forces. During the battle for France, the Polish pilots shot down over fifty German aircraft losing eleven six of their own. After France's surrender the Polish airmen were evacuated to Great Britain. The first units were organized between July and August 1940. Two fighter divisions - the 302nd and 303rd - and two bomber divisions - the 300th and 301st - bravely fought during the battle of Britain.

The Polish air units actively participated in almost every major operation during the second World War. A total of 764 enemy aircraft was shot down by the Polish pilots and more than 130 V-1 rockets were destroyed before they reached their target. However, 1981 Polish soldiers lost their lives - including 150 pilots.

After the War, the Polish Air Force was made up of seven regiments. In 1951 the first jet planes were introduced to the Polish Armed Forces: the Yak-23 and the MiG-15. In 1953 the IL-28 aircraft joined the bomber regiments. On October 14th 1954 the Air Forces and the Air Defence Forces were reorganized into the Polish Territory Air and Air Defence Forces. MiG-19, MiG-21, Su-7, MiG-23 and Su-22 aircraft were introduced in the 1960s and 1970s, whence the third generation fighters - the MiG-29s - came into service in the late 1980s.

To comply with NATO standards, The Polish Air and Air Defence Forces were reorganized on June 1st 2004 into the Polish Air Force.

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