Review: The Polish Air Force At War -The Official History, 1943 – 1945, Volume 2

Schiffer Publishing Company – Polish Air Force Association, Original Copyright, 1998, 9” x 12”, 410 b/w photographs, maps, 336 pages, $59.95

Publisher’s Summary:   After being overrun during the early Blitzkrieg in September 1939, and later in France in 1940, the Polish Air Force, flying British and American made fighters and bombers out of England in their own units, made a tremendous contribution to the Allied air victory.

The PAF’s gallant, lonely fight in September 1939, inflicted the first losses on the mighty Luftwaffe and allowed Britain a nine month grace to strengthen her air defenses. Their part in the Battle of Britain became legend, and its contribution to the early RAF bomber offensive on Germany was equally great. PAF exploits over Dieppe, North Africa, and during the invasion of Europe received special commendations from the RAF. Fittingly, its major operation ended with a participation of Polish squadrons in the destruction of Hitler’s Mountain retreat in Berchtesgaden,

Reviewed by Don DeNevi

     Hitler’s final order to invade Poland was issued on the afternoon of August 31, 1939, and, by dawn the following day, the ‘Lightening War’ had been launched. Within forty-eight hours, hundreds of thousands of brave, valiant young men and women rushed to fight for freedom. Within minutes, however, all knew they were outnumbered, out equipped, and, tragically, soon to be outperformed. In the initial fighting, the Polish army sent their horse cavalries to attack modern tanks. Overwhelmed by a well-trained mechanized German juggernaut of 1.5 million combat-ready troops, the entire Polish nation was flattened within 28 days. The world had never seen such military competence, efficiency, and terror.

Meanwhile, as the Polish army’s 40 divisions were being vanquished, the Luftwaffe’s screaming Stukas were obliterating, airfield by airfield, the ordinary planes of the Polish Air Force. Surprisingly, many pilots managed to escape and join the French Air Force. After the Fall of France, the pilots crossed the Channel and fought heroically in the Battle of Britain, most in the cockpits of their favorite “miracle” aircrafts, the newly designed and manufactured Spitfires and Hurricanes.

Where Volume One, 1932 – 1942, focuses upon the PAF’s formative years, including the government’s political position to fight or cower before Hitler and Nazism; the factors shaping the Polish refugee pilots in Britain; and the great variety of Allied aircraft they flew and fought in back home, i.e., loaned Lancasters, Mustangs, Mosquitos, Liberators, and the like. Volume Two narrows to three crammed, fully packed years, 1942 – 1945, eloquently describing the long days and nights of fighting achievements, some failures, too, but mostly victories due to the pilots’ sheer resolute defiance in their love of Poland, and for their families still under the murderous boots of the Nazis, SS, Gestapo, the shadows of the death camps always hovering nearby.

Author Jerzy Bogdan Cynk, born in Warsaw in 1925, began fighting the Germans at the age of 14 by distributing underground pamphlets, newspapers, and assorted anti-Hitler literature within days of their occupation of the capital. By 1942, he joined the clandestine Warsaw Aviation Circle (WKL). Captured, he escaped various extermination camps. Liberated in May 1945 from Auschwitz. To this very day, readers still await the biography of that incredible warrior. In 1990, Cynk was appointed the official historian of the PAF, always deferring to the great victories and achievements of World War II. Awarded numerous national medals and high – honoring Crosses for his war and postwar contributions to the Polish people. He claimed his greatest victory was the completion of the PAF Official History, begun more than 40 years before.

In short, Volume 2, is thoughtfully, indeed, scrupulously, laid out with rare operational statistics in detailed appendices, lists, charts, maps, and, between the two volumes, well over 750 black, white, and color photographs and profiles. The reader is so overawed the $60 price tag per volume is of minor consequence. This reviewer argues the price is commensurable with Author Cynk’s measurable research meticulousness.

Despite being a remarkable contribution to World War II aviation history, a dearth, a sad scarcity, remains for personal memoirs, reminiscences, diaries, letters, eye-witness accounts by Poland’s pilot-sons. Cynk is unequaled in describing what it was like for young, brave, enthusiastic Poles to fight over Dunkirk, North Africa, Britain, Normandy, and ultimately Germany, always in squadrons of their own, side by side with friends and allies.

Imagine for a moment, readers of long shunted-aside, neglected, and ignored WWII incidents, losing forever truly distinguished personalities, and subjects never research and written about because “they were, after all, ‘minor role-involved participants’, what a loss to a people’s history and heritage, the precious blood of one’s ancestors, that would never surface in the sun. If only the words of Cynk’s distinguished pilots, true evaders of evil in order to later destroy it, were still capable of describing in their own way their fears in September of 1939 of Poland’s demise, and a few months later, dreams of rebuilding in freedom; their innermost emotions for the loved ones they left behind; love for the Polish Motherland, and utter, absolute, contempt, nay, stark hated, of all the invaders represented.