Review of English Language Historiography of the Polish Air Force. (Review Essay)
Peszke, Michael Alfred, Air Power History
In 1977 Norman Davies noted that, in regard to Polish military history "very little has been written in English on this subject which figures prominently in Polish historiography." (1) Thirty years later the situation is not significantly better, except for the Polish Air Force, which now has a considerable number of interesting and valuable publications. This review of English language history will follow a chronological sequence of that spans seventy years, including personal memoirs, official works, and a growing number of well researched publications.
The first English language books on the Polish Aviation Service, (2) were written by American participants of the Polish--Soviet War of 1919-1920. Merian Cooper, Edward Corsi, and Kenneth Murray all flew with the famed 7th Squadron. Since the American volunteers in France during the Great War, called themselves the Lafayatte Escadrille, the Americans who flew with the Poles in the relatively unknown, but strategically important war against the Soviets, decided to call themselves the Kosciuszko Squadron, in their words to repay a debt of gratitude. (3) They were all veterans of the U.S. Army Air Corps of the First World War, and were commanded by Col. Cedric E. Faunt le Roy. Three Americans were killed--Graves, McCallum, and Kelly-and were buried in the Cemetery of Defenders of Lwow.
The Americans started a tradition that continued through World War II and was again revived after 1989. A Polish fighter squadron continued to be named the Kosciuszko Squadron after the hero of Poland's and Colonial America's war of independence. (4) Until the city of Lwow fell to the Soviets in 1939, there were annual commemorations at the graves of the American heroes, attended by the United States ambassador and Polish dignitaries.
Two relatively recent publications on this little known, but for Poles very symbolic and important historical episode, must be noted. Robert F. Karolevitz and Ross S. Fenn, produced a readable and beautifully illustrated book on the American heroes. (5) Janusz Cisek conducted extensive research on available published and archival material, which documents the very important role of the fledgling Polish Air Service in the war against the Soviets that culminated in the Polish victory in August 1920. (6) For better or worse, the success of the Polish Air Service (as well as of the American volunteers) in interdicting Soviet ground troops and in providing reconnaissance for the ground forces determined the focus of the doctrine of Poland's military aviation in the interwar period. (7)
The next two English language books on the Polish Air Force were published in the United Kingdom during World War II. The first was a very effective, perhaps understandably exaggerated story of the Polish 303d Fighter Squadron, also known as the Kosciuszko Squadron. (8) The fame won by the 303d in the Battle of Britain was duly recognized by many British authors. For example, Anthony Robinson wrote that "in four and [a] half weeks in combat it [the 303d] had been credited with 126 enemy aircraft destroyed, for the loss of eight of its own pilots killed. It was an achievement unequalled by any other Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter squadron." (9)
The Polish Government in exile (based in London from 1940-1945) sought to garner the greatest amount of publicity regarding the accomplishments of its military through a series of publications called, For Your Freedom and Ours." The relevant air force brochure was short, simple, and in the spirit of the time. (10)
A more ambitious effort in this propaganda endeavor came to light on the day the war ended and the Polish cause was not just lost, but a tiresome footnote in the western public mind. This attempted to review the whole prewar history of Polish aeronautical achievements. (11) The British also published an official account of all the "exiled" air forces, that should be noted, but which added few historical facts. …