The Polish Air Force is a national military branch that came into being shortly before World War II. Its history dates back to 1918 when the first air unit was formed as an independent organization. However, after the war ended and Poland regained independence in 1920, the country’s aeronautics branch ceased to exist for almost 20 years. It was re-established in 1939 during the German invasion of Poland and again ceased to exist after 1945. In 1990, the Polish Air Force was once again recreated as a separate armed service branch of the military. Today it consists of several squadrons that operate with both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters from different bases throughout the country.
Poland’s military aviation history goes back to the First World War when the first Polish Air Force unit was formed as an independent organization in 1918. The first aircraft was purchased from Great Britain, France, and Italy. The Air Force unit was created to be an integral part of the army and support ground units in operations against the Central Powers. Unfortunately, after the war ended and Poland regained independence, the country’s aeronautics branch ceased to exist for almost 20 years.
Bases and aircraft the Polish Air Force uses
In the past, the biggest airbases in Poland were the ones located in Lodz, Poznan, and Wroclaw. However, after a number of restructuring and modernization projects began in the 1990s, a number of new bases were created – including in Warsaw, Powidz, Malbork, Bydgoszcz, and Babie Doly.
The base in Warsaw is used by the Polish Air Force’s fighter wing, which operates with Sukhoi Su-22, Mikoyan MiG-29, and Sukhoi Su-27 aircraft. The Wroclaw air base is home to the transport wing, whose aircraft include Antonov An-26, An-28, and Embraer ERJ-190. The Poznan Airport houses a helicopter unit whose aircraft include the Agusta Westland AW-129 and Mil Mi-2.
Famous Polish Jet Aces of World War II
1. Franciszek Kornicki
Franciszek Kornicki was a Polish fighter pilot who flew with the Royal Air Force during World War II. He was one of the highest-scoring jet aces of the war, with 14 confirmed and 3 probable kills. Kornicki was also one of the first pilots to fly the Gloster Meteor, the RAF’s first jet fighter.
Kornicki volunteered for military service in the Polish Air Force in 1938 and was trained at the Air Force Academy in Dęblin. In September 1939, during the World War II outbreak, he flew a PZL P.11c fighter with the No. 302 Fighter Squadron of the Pursuit Brigade, defending the country’s airspace against Nazi Germany’s Luftwaffe. After the German invasion of Poland and its subsequent partition between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, Kornicki continued to fight as a pilot in the exiled Polish Air Force operating from France and Great Britain. He flew with various squadrons, including No. 303 “Kościuszko” Squadron, scoring most of his kills while flying PZL P.37 Los bombers (a modified version of the PZL P.11c fighter). Unfortunately, he was wounded twice during combat missions – once on May 12, 1941, when his aircraft was shot down over Brest Litovsk, and he had to bail out; and again on September 5, 1942, when his bomber was hit by flak over Hannover.
In late 1942 Kornicki was transferred to the new 1st Polish Bomber Regiment being formed in Great Britain and given command of a squadron flying modified Wellington bombers. In early 1944 he took part in Operation Overlord (the Allied invasion of Normandy) as a member of the 1st Polish Bomb Wing supporting ground forces on the beachhead. After the liberation of France and Belgium, he continued to fly bombing missions deep into Germany until the end of World War II in May 1945. For his wartime service, Franciszek Kornicki received numerous awards, including The Cross of Valor (Poland), The Order of Virtuti Militari (Poland), The Distinguished Flying Cross (Great Britain), and The Croix de Guerre (France).
After the war ended, Kornicki remained in the Polish Air Force until 1954, when he retired as a colonel. He then worked as a civilian engineer for several years before finally retiring in 1969. Franciszek Kornicki died on October 3, 2003, at age 91.
2. Stanislaw Skalski
Stanislaw Skalski was a Polish fighter pilot who flew with the Royal Air Force during World War II. He was one of the highest-scoring jet aces of the war, with 11 confirmed and 2 probable kills. Skalski was also one of the first pilots to fly the Gloster Meteor, the RAF’s first jet fighter.
Skalski began his combat career during the September Campaign of 1939 when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. He flew his first mission on September 1, 1939, and quickly distinguished himself as an exceptional pilot. In just two weeks, he had shot down five German aircraft. For his actions during the campaign, Skalski was awarded the Silver Cross of Valor.
After the Polish Army capitulated on October 6, 1939, Skalski escaped to France, where he joined the newly created Polish Air Force unit. He flew with distinction during the Battle of France in 1940, shooting down six German aircraft and being awarded the Gold Cross of Valor. In early 1941, he was evacuated to Britain along with other Polish forces and continued to fly missions against the Germans.
In late 1942, Skalski was transferred to the United States to help train American pilots for combat operations. He eventually returned to Europe in 1944 and rejoined his squadron in Italy. During the war’s final months, he flew numerous bombing missions against targets in Austria and Germany. For his actions during the conflict, Skalski was awarded four Virtuti Militari medals (Poland’s highest military decoration) and numerous other medals from Britain and other Allied nations.
After the war ended, Skalski remained in the Polish Air Force until his retirement in 1966. He then moved to the United States, where he lived until he died in 1992. During his long career as a fighter pilot, Skalski shot down 18 German aircraft—making him one of the most successful Allied aviators of World War II.
3. Zdzislaw Henneberg
Zdzislaw Henneberg was a Polish fighter pilot who flew with the Royal Air Force during World War II. With 10 confirmed and 2 probable kills, he was considered one of the top pilots then. Henneberg was also one of the first pilots to fly the Gloster Meteor, the RAF’s first jet fighter.
He joined the Polish Air Force in 1938 and trained as a fighter pilot. When the war broke out, he was assigned to the 1st Fighter Squadron and flew his first combat mission in September 1939. Over the next two years, Henneberg flew more than 100 missions and was credited with shooting down 6 German aircraft. In early 1941, he was transferred to the 2nd Fighter Squadron and continued to fly combat missions until the war ended in 1945. He was awarded the Cross of Valor and the War Merit Cross with Swords for his bravery and heroism in combat.
4. Eugeniusz Horbaczewski
Eugeniusz Horbaczewski was a Polish fighter pilot who flew with the Royal Air Force during World War II. He has a record of 9 confirmed kills and 1 probable kill. Horbaczewski was also one of the first pilots to fly the Gloster Meteor, the RAF’s first jet fighter.
He joined the Polish Air Force at its inception in 1918 and served as a fighter pilot during World War I. He flew with distinction and was awarded the Cross of Valor (Krzyz Walecznych) and the Silver Cross of Merit (Srebrny Krzyz Zaslugi). In 1919, he was appointed commander of a squadron of fighter aircraft.
After the war ended, Horbaczewski remained in the Polish Air Force and participated in operations against the Bolsheviks during the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-1920. For his bravery and heroism in combat, he was awarded the Gold Cross of Merit (Zlota Odznaka Zaslugi). In 1927, he was promoted to the rank of colonel and became deputy commander of the Polish Air Force.
During World War II, Horbaczewski once again saw combat action, this time against Nazi Germany. He flew with great courage and skill and was decorated with numerous medals, including the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes). Eugeniusz Horbaczewski died in action on October 8, 1941. However, he is considered one of Poland’s most distinguished fighter pilots and is remembered with great respect by his fellow countrymen.
5. Jan Zumbach
Jan Zumbach was a Polish fighter pilot who flew with the Royal Air Force during World War II. He was one of the highest-scoring jet aces of the war, with 8 confirmed and 2 probable kills.
When World War II began, Zumbach flew reconnaissance missions for the Polish Army. In September 1939, he escaped to Romania and France, where he joined the French Air Force. After the fall of France in 1940, he fled to England and joined the Royal Air Force (RAF).
Zumbach flew with RAF Bomber Command during the Battle of Britain and then with No. 303 Polish Fighter Squadron. He scored his first aerial victory over a German fighter plane on September 2, 1941. Over the next two years, he shot down eight more enemy planes and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and the Virtuti Militari, Poland’s highest military decoration.
In early 1944, Zumbach transferred back to the Polish Air Force and was given command of a squadron of P-47 Thunderbolt fighter planes. He flew with this squadron during the Allied invasion of Europe and later participated in the air campaign against Germany. In May 1945, he was shot down over Czechoslovakia and taken prisoner by the Soviets. After being released in 1947, he returned to Poland and resumed his career in the Polish Air Force.
Jan Zumbach flew with distinction in some of the most important air battles of World War II. He was an accomplished pilot and a brave warrior who never hesitated to take on the enemy.
Poland’s helicopter forces
The Polish Air Force’s helicopter section is one of the newest additions to the aviation branch. It was created in 2004 and currently operates with Mil Mi-2, PZL W-3 Sokol, and Agusta Westland AW-109 machines. The helicopters mainly transport under challenging search and rescue missions and military operations. The helicopter section is also responsible for training all future pilots and mechanics.
The Future of the Polish Air Force
As the Polish Air Force continues to modernize its equipment, it will closely examine the possibility of introducing fifth-generation fighter jets. Several different aircraft manufacturers have been invited to present their products. However, given the current political situation, the most likely choice will be an aircraft from the United States, namely the F-35 Lightning II. The country’s Air Force will also introduce several new helicopter models.
The Polish Air Force has been around for almost a century, and its history is truly fascinating. It is currently one of the strongest aviation branches in Europe and will likely remain so for many years to come.