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Encyclopedia > Polish Air Forces

Polish Air Forces (Siły Powietrzne Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej, Sily Powietrzne RP) - the Air Force of Poland. Until July 1, 2004 it was officially known as: Wojska Lotnicze i Obrony Powietrznej (literally: Air and Air Defence Forces, the name existing from 1990).


The history of the Polish Air Force

Mil Mi-2
Antonov An-2
Jakovlev Jak-11
Jakovlev Jak-12
Iliushin Il-28
Mikoyan and Gurevich MiG-15
Lim-5 (under licence of MiG-17)
Mikoyan and Gurevich MiG-21
TS-8 Bies
TS-11 Iskra
Sukhoi Su-20
Mil Mi-24
Mikoyan and Gurevich MiG-29


The history of the Polish airforce begun in the end of the World War I. In 1918, some aircraft escadres were created within the Polish units in allied countries. In Russia, one escadre was created within the Polish corps of Gen. Jzef Dowbr-Muśnicki, then disbanded along with the Corps in May 1918. In France, 5 bomber escadres were created within the Army of Gen. J. Haller. They returned to Poland with all equipment in 1919.

The military aviation in Poland started just when Poland regained independence, in November 1918. It consisted first of German and Austrian aircraft, captured from the former occupants or left by them in a damaged state. They were first used in a conflict with Ukraine around Lviv in 1918. Since 1919 Poland was involved in a war with Soviet Russia and started to buy aircraft abroad. As a result, in 1920 the Polish Air Forces consisted of a variety of the British, French, German, Austrian and Italian aircraft of the World War I era, in quantities ranging from a few to some dozen pieces. The main fighters used were (in order of quantity): SPAD XIII, Fokker D.VII, Oeffag D.III, Ansaldo Balilla, SPAD VII, Albatros D.III, Sopwith Dolphin, Fokker E.V (D.VIII). The most numerous became two-seater Bristol F2B Fighter (105 units), used a scout plane. Main bombers and reconnaissance planes were: Breguet 14, SVA-9, Salmson 2A2, DH-9, different variants of Albatros C, DFW C, LVG C.


After the Polish-Soviet war, the World War I vintage aircraft were gradually withdrawn, and the airforce was equipped mostly with the French aircraft. From 1924-26, the typical fighter became SPAD 61 (280 pieces). The standard light bombers were also French: Potez XV (245), then Breguet XIX (250) and Potez XXV (316). Potez bombers were produced in Poland. The medium bombers were Farman Goliath and later a military variant of Fokker F-VII.

Before developing fighters of its own design, 50 Czech biplane fighters Avia BH-33 were licence-produced under a designation PWS-A. The first Polish design was a high wing fighter PWS-10, used in 80 pieces from 1932. The Polish naval airforce used a number of French flying boats, mainly Schreck FBA-17, LeO H-13, H-135 and Latham 43. All these aircraft were withdrawn from the combat units by 1939.


In 1933 entered service the first of high-wing all metal fighters of Zygmunt Pulawski design, PZL P.7a, built in a series of 150. It was followed by 30 improved PZL P.11a. The final design, PZL P.11c, entered service in 1935 in a series of 175. Though it was a modern fighter in 1935, but it remained the only Polish fighter until 1939, when it was made obsolete by a quick progress in aircraft designing. Its development PZL P.24 was built for export only, and was bought by four countries. The new fighter prototype, PZL P-50 Jastrząb (Hawk), similar to Seversky P-35 layout, was designed too late to be produced. The two-engine heavy fighters PZL-38 Wilk and PZL-48 Lampart remained prototypes.

In a bomber aviation, Potez XXV and Breguet XIX were replaced by all-metal monoplane PZL.23 Karas (250 built, since 1936), but in 1939 Karas wasn't much modern. Finally, in 1938 the Polish factory PZL designed a modern twin-engine medium bomber PZL.37 Los, but too few of them entered service before the war. As an observation and close reconnaissance plane, Polish escadres used slow and easy to hit high-wing Lublin R-XIII, then RWD-14 Czapla. The Polish naval aviation used Lublin R-XIII on floats as well. Just before the war, some Italian torpedo planes CANT Z-506 were ordered, but only one was delivered, without armament. The main trainer planes were Polish-built high-wing RWD-8 (primary) and biplane PWS-26 (trainer). In 1939, Poland ordered 160 of MS-406 and 10 Hawker Hurricane fighters abroad, but they weren't delivered before the war.


At the beginning of the Polish September Campaign, by September 1, 1939, all the Polish combat aircraft had been deployed to the field airfields, so contrary to a common opinion, they avoided destruction in bombed air bases. The German bombers managed to destroy on airfields mostly trainer planes. The fighter planes were grouped in 15 escadres. 5 of them constituted the Pursuit Brigade, deployed in Warsaw area. Despite being obsolete, Polish PZL-11 fighters shot down a number of German planes as well. The bombers, grouped in 9 escadres of the Bomber Brigade attacked armoured columns, suffering heavy losses. 7 reconnaissance and 12 observation escadres, deployed to particular Armies, were intensively used for reconnaissance. Most of the Polish airforce was destroyed in the campaign, the rest of aircraft were captured or withdrawn to Romania and taken over by this country. A great number of pilots and air crews managed to breakthrough to France through European countries.

1940 (France)

After the fall of Poland, the Polish airforce started to be reborn in France. The only complete unit, created before the German attack on France, was the GC 1/145 fighter squadron, flying on Caudron C.714 light fighters (it was the only unit operating C.714). The Polish pilots were also deployed to different French squadrons, flying on all French fighter types, mainly on MS-406.

1940-1945 (United Kingdom)

See also: Polish Air Force in Great Britain

Starting from 1940, Polish squadrons were created in the United Kingdom, as a part of the Royal Air Force, called the Polish Air Force (PAF). The first were: 300 and 301 bomber squadrons and 302 and 303 fighter squadrons. The fighter squadrons, flying on Hawker Hurricane, came into action in the third phase of the Battle of Britain in August 1940, with a very good result. The 303 squadron became the most efficient RAF fighter squadron at that time. Many Polish pilots were also flying in the RAF squadrons. In the following years, further Polish squadrons were created: 304 (bomber, then Coastal Command), 305 (bomber), 306 (fighter), 307 (night fighter), 308 (fighter), 309 (reconnaissance,then fighter), 315 (fighter), 316 (fighter), 317 (fighter), 318 (fighter-reconnaissance). The fighter squadrons were flying initially on Hurricanes, then Supermarine Spitfires, eventually on P-51 Mustangs. The bomber squadrons were flying initially on Fairey Battles and Vickers Wellingtons, then Avro Lancasters (300 Sqdn.) and de Havilland Mosquitos and B-25 Mitchells (305 Sqdn.). After the war, in a changed political situation, their equipement was returned to the British and only part of the pilots returned to Poland.


Along with the Polish People's Army (Ludowe Wojsko Polskie) in the USSR, there was created Ludowe Lotnictwo Polskie - Polish People's Airforce. In late 1943 there were created: the 1st fighter regiment "Warszawa", flying on Yak-1 and Yak-9, the 2nd night bomber regiment "Krakow" (Polikarpov Po-2 (since 1949 also produced in Poland as CSS-13), and the 3rd assault regiment (Ilyushin Il-2). In 1944-45, the next regiments were created, included into the 1st Mixed Air Corps, consisting of the Bomber Division, Assault Division, Fighter Division and a mixed Division. After the war, they returned to Poland, giving birth to the airforce of the People's Republic of Poland.

In the following years, Poland received from the USSR also bombers Petlyakov Pe-2 and Tupolev Tu-2 (since 1950) and training bombers USB-1 and USB-2. Since 1949 were used also Li-2sb - transporters adapted to bombing. In 1950 to service enters Yak-17 - fighter, Il-12 -transporter, Yak-18 - trainer and UTB-2 - bombig trainer. Starting in 1951, the Polish airforce was equipped with jet fighters Yak-23 and MiG-15 (also training version UTIMiG-15), then in 1957 with Lim-5M (MiG-17) (since 1961). MiG-15 was produced under licence as Lim-1 (since 1952), MiG-15bis (since 1953) as Lim-2 (since 1957), MiG-17 (since 1955) as Lim-5. A domestic ground attack variant of Lim-5M was developed as Lim-6bis (1964). The only jet bombers used were Ilyushin Il-28 (since 1952). Poland used only small number of MiG-19 (from 1959), because the basic supersonic fighter from 1963 became MiG-21. It was used in numerous variants from MiG-21F-13, through MiG-21PF and MF to MiG-21bis. Later, the Polish Air Force received 37 MiG-23 (1979) and 12 MiG-29 (1989). Main attack plane since 1949 was Il-10 (since 1951 also training version UIl-10) From 1964 Poland also used a substantial number of attack planes Su-7B (since 1965), replaced with 27 Sukhoi Su-20 (since 1974) and 110 Sukhoi Su-22 (1984) as the main attack planes. The only jet trainer was domestic-built TS-11 Iskra, which replaced proper engine Junak-2 (in service 1952), TS-9 Junak-3 (in service since 1954) and PZL TS-8 Bies (since 1958). Other polish jet trainer - PZL I-22 Iryda was used for some time but many problems with this type caused that all maschines returned to PZL for modification (so I-22 is not currently in service). As multirole planes were used Yak-12 (since 1951), An-2 (since 1955) and Wilga-35 P. Transporters were: Il-14 (since 1955), Il-18 (since 1961), An-12B (since 1966), An-26 (since 1972), Yak-40 (since 1973) and Tupolev Tu-154.
Helicopters used by Polish Army were: SM-1 (under licence of Mil Mi-1) - multirole (since 1956), Mil Mi-4 - multirole (since 1958), SM-2 - multirole (since 1960), Mil Mi-2 and Mil Mi-8 (later also Mil Mi-17) (since 1968) - multirole and Mil Mi-24 (since 1976) - combat helicopter. Also Mil Mi-14 as amphibios helicopter are used, and Mil Mi-6 as transporters.

In 1954, the Air Force was merged with Air Defence Force, creating Air and Country Air Defence Forces (Wojska Lotnicze i Obrony Przeciwlotniczej Obszaru Kraju - WLiOPL OK). It consisted from aviation and anti-aircraft units. In 1962 WLiOPL OK were separated again into: the Air Force (Wojska Lotnicze) and the Country Air Defence Force (Wojska Obrony Powietrznej Kraju). On July 1, 1990 they were merged again in the Air and Air Defence Force (Wojska Lotnicze i Obrony Powietrznej - WLiOP or WLOP).

From 1990

After a political change in 1989 and an arms reduction in Europe, the Polish airforce was reduced. In 1990 it consisted of MiG-21s, MiG-23s, MiG-29s, Su-20s and Su-22s. The rest of Lim-6bis were withdrawn in the early 1990's, followed soon by Su-20. MiG-23s were withdrawn by 1999 due to their small number. Since 1990, Poland haven't bought any new combat planes, only managed to acquire further MiG-29s from Czech Republic (1995) and Germany (2004). MiG-21s were finally withdrawn in 2003. In 2004 the only combat aircraft used are MiG-29 and Su-22. The fleet of Su-22 needs modernization to retain a combat value, but its future is unclear. In 2003, F-16C Block 52 was chosen as a new multirole fighter, the deliveries are scheduled on some 2006.

Types of machines in service

  • MiG-29 (45 - Air Force)
  • Su-22 (88 - Air Force)
  • An-2 (25 - Air Force, 6 - Navy)
  • An-26 (10 -Air Force)
  • An-28 (4 - Air Force; 8 - Navy incl. 6 M-28 Bryza)
  • CASA C-295 (5 - Air Force, 3 in plans till 2005)
  • Tu-154M (2 - Air Force)
  • Yak-40 (9 - Air Force)
  • PZL TS-11 Iskra (97 - Air Force; 18 - Navy)
  • PZL-130 Orlik (37 - Air Force)
  • Mil Mi-2 (65 - Air Force, 5 - Navy, 66 - Land Forces)
  • Mil Mi-8 (12 - Air Force, 29 - Land Forces)
  • Mil Mi-14 (13 - Navy)
  • Mil Mi-17 (2 - Navy, 6 - Land Forces)
  • Mil Mi-24 (43 - Land Forces)
  • PZL W-3 Sokł (18 - Air Force; 9 -Navy incl. 7 W-3RM Anakonda, 35 - Land Forces)
  • PZL W-4 (1)
  • SH-2G Super Seasprite (4 - Navy)
  • Bell 412HP (1 - Air Force)

Machines that will enter to service in near future:

  • C-130 Hercules K/J (6 in 2005)
  • F-16C/D (48 in 2006)

External links

  • Oficial website of Polish Air Force (http://www.wlop.mil.pl/)
  • Polish Air Force history (http://www.scramble.nl/pl.htm)

  Results from FactBites:
uboat.net - Fighting the U-boats - Aircraft - Polish Air Forces (1320 words)
The squadron was a squadron of the Polish Air Force rather than a RAF squadron which it operated with.
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Polish Armed Forces - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (753 words)
Polish Armed Forces consist of the Army (Wojsko Lądowe), Navy (Marynarka Wojenna) and Air Force (Siły Powietrzne) branches and are under the command of the Ministry of Defense (Ministerstwo Obrony Narodowej).
Polish Armed Forces took part in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, deploying 2,500 soldiers in the south of that country and commanding the 17-nation Multinational force in Iraq.
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