September 2014 marks the 75th Anniversary of the outbreak of World War Two, and consequently the first air combat shots, when PZL fighters struggled bravely against the powerful Luftwaffe in an unbalanced fight. These aircraft were obsolete by September 1st, 1939, and the Hurricanes and Spitfires ordered never made it to Poland. Surprisingly, the PZL fighters did well in the September campaign, thanks to the pilots’ skill, causing heavy losses on the German side.
The first clash between Luftwaffe and Polish fighters took place on September the 1st, shortly before 7 am over the secret Polish airfield of Balice, near Cracow. A three-airplane section of 121 Eskadra [On 1 September 1939 the escadrille had 10 PZL P.11c airplanes.] was surprised during take-off by three Ju 87s and Capt. Medwecki, the Commanding Officer of the Cracow Army Fighter Wing was killed. His victor was Frank Neubert of StG2 Immelmann. 2nd Lt. Wladyslaw Gnys managed to evade the attack, and damage one of the Stukas. A few minutes later, having climbed, he attacked two Do 17s returning from a raid on Cracow, scoring several hits on each of them. After his second dive, he lost visual contact with them and returned to the airfield not knowing that he had just scored the first two victories over Luftwaffe in World War 2. The two German bombers collided after his attack and fell to the ground near the village of Zurada.
Meanwhile, a far bigger engagement was to take place over the outskirts of Warsaw. Alarmed by the well-organized network of observation posts, the Pursuit Brigade in full force (52 aircraft) intercepted a large formation of He 111 bombers from KG27 escorted by Bf 110s of I/LG1. As a result of well-executed attack, six He 111s were shot down at the expense of one P.11c, which crashed during a forced landing. What was supposed to be Der Spaziergang uber Warshau – a ‘stroll over Warsaw’ – turned into a bitter escape for the Luftwaffe bomber crews. During the fighting, 2nd Lt. Borowski of 113 Eskadra shot down a stray Bf 109, which became the first aircraft of that type destroyed in World War 2.
Heavy fighting over Warsaw resumed in the afternoon, when second large German raid, escorted by both Bf 110 and Bf 109 fighters, was intercepted by the Pursuit Brigade. This time the escorts were able to engage Polish fighters before they reached the bombers, and soon first German bombs fell on Warsaw. Before they were able to enter the fight, four P.7s of 123 Eskadra were shot down in a surprise attack by Bf 110s of I/LG1. Capt. Olszewski, the C/O was killed and the other three pilots bailed out, two of them shot at and heavily wounded by the Germans after opening their parachutes. These were the first victories for German fighter pilots in World War 2.The fighting was fierce, and Germans lost two Bf 109s, one of them shot down by Lt. Col. Leopold Pamula, deputy C/O of the Brigade, who himself had to bail out soon afterwards. Polish losses amounted to three P.11s.
In 1932 Poland established a native aeronautical industry by bringing existing aircraft factories into government ownership and by constructing a Czech Skoda engine plant on Polish soil. The fighters produced by the Polish Aircraft Works, PZL, were modern: indeed, when its production began in 1934 the P-11 was the most modern fighter in the world. Its successor, the P-24, was better armed and faster and earned Poland valuable foreign currency with its export to Rumania, Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey. Therein lay the problem caused by Poland’s poverty. On the eve of the war the P-24 was still being exported, forcing the Polish Air Force to rely on the by-now-obsolete P-7 and P-11 fighters. In real terms this meant that Polish fighters were capable of only 300 kph against the Messerschmitt 109 with 407 kph, and also the Messerschmitt could fly higher and was better armed. Added to that, the Poles only had 392 combat planes against the Luftwaffe’s 1,941 fighters. Only in bombers was the Polish Air Force comparable to the Luftwaffe. The Łos bomber was faster and carried a heavier bomb load than the Heinkel HE-111. The Polish Government had purchased 160 Morane 406 fighters from France and 100 Fairey Battle light bombers from Britain, but none arrived before the war. The role of the air force units, part of the army and navy, was to support the army groups to which they were attached. Reserve airfields were constructed to prevent the air force being bombed out of existence on the outbreak of hostilities, but supplies of spare parts and aviation fuel were not concentrated there and were vulnerable to destruction by German bombers.
PZL Aircraft (Panstwowe Zaklady Lotnicze) Polish aircraft manufacturer; founded in 1928 as the Polish National Aircraft Establishment, it was chartered to manufacture both airframes and engines. Its airframes were PZL designed, but most of its engines were license-built Bristol designs. Several PZL (Polish Skoda) engine designs were run, but it is not known that any were put into production.
The chief designer of PZL airframes, Zygmunt Pulawski, produced a series of fighters from 1929 to 1936 that were world-class in their early years, partly because they were high-wing monoplanes when much of the world’s air forces still used biplanes. Designated P. 1 through P. 24-the P. 1 being the first fighter of indigenous Polish design-they featured gull wings and all-metal construction. The P. 24 was the first with an enclosed cockpit. Pulawski continued to refine the aerodynamics of his aircraft, but these fixed-gear fighters were not competitive with the new generation of German fighters they faced in 1939.
The P. 1 first flew on 29 September 1929, the P. 6 in August 1930, the P. 7 in October 1930, the P. 11 in August 1931, and the P. 24 in May 1933. The P. 24F had a 297 mph maximum speed at 13,945 feet and was the last of the series.
The differences between them were minor except that each made use of the most powerful engine then available, the largest being the Gnome-Rhone 14N 07 of 970 shp. Armament was two small-bore machine guns throughout production until the P. 24, which added two 20mm cannons in the wings. The P. 7 was still in service with the Polish air force when the Germans invaded in 1939. Other users were the Romanian (license-built by IAR), Albanian, Bulgarian, Greek, and Turkish air forces. Total production of the fighter series comprised approximately 500, about 200 for foreign customers.
The P. 38 Wilk, a twin-engine low-wing two-place multirole fighter powered by inverted air-cooled V-8 engines of PZL manufacture, first flew in May 1938 with the Ranger SGV-770B engine and in January 1939 with the intended PZL engines. Maximum speed was 289 mph.
PZL built several advanced prototypes, including the P. 43, a single-engine low-wing all-metal three-place reconnaissance and attack fixed-gear monoplane; the P. 27, a twin-engine mid-wing all-metal three-place bomber; and the P. 44, a twin-engine low-wing all-metal 14-passenger transport with a twin-fin tail, designed to replace the DC-2 and Lockheed 10 and 14 airliners in Polish service.