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Poland, 1939

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Sadurian Mike
700571.  Thu Apr 22, 2010 6:33 pm Reply with quote

There are several myths concerning the German (and Soviet) invasion of Poland in 1939, but I'll address one at a time.

The one that decided me to start this thread is the oft-quoted claim that the Polish airforce was destroyed on the ground within the first few days. This has been repeated in several otherwise excellent books but the myth is based on contemporary German claims that just do not hold water.

Figures vary, but the casualty and loss figures for both sides make it clear that the Polish airforce, far from being destroyed, fought on very effectively against overwhelming odds. Air combat losses for the Luftwaffe (most sources agree over 100) are hard to explain with a supposedly largely non-existent Polish air force, and a great many German tanks and other vehicles were destroyed by Polish bombers, another good trick from a destroyed airforce.

Most sources are still in Polish, but numerical squadron records are easy enough to read, and the kill rates (even allowing for the inevitable exaggeration of figures) show a remarkable degree of success for a "destroyed" airforce.

One possible source of this myth is that a good many civilian, training and other non-combat aircraft were destroyed on the ground. However, most of the combat aircraft had already been dispersed to secret airfields to await and combat the expected invasion.

 
bobwilson
700573.  Thu Apr 22, 2010 6:37 pm Reply with quote

Quote:
the oft-quoted claim that the Polish airforce was destroyed on the ground within the first few days.


Is it oft-quoted?

 
suze
700575.  Thu Apr 22, 2010 6:53 pm Reply with quote

Whether it's oft-quoted I couldn't really say, since military history isn't a subject about which I read a great deal.

But speaking as a part time Pole, it had indeed been my understanding that much of the Polish air fleet was destroyed in 1939, and that most of the airplanes that remained serviceable were spirited away to Romania. (Where they ultimately fell into Axis hands in any case, since Romania abandoned neutrality late in 1940 and joined the Axis.)

A large number of Polish pilots escaped Poland in 1939 though and regrouped in France. After France fell, they came to Britain and the Polish Air Force became some kind of semi-autonomous subsidiary of the RAF. (Much as Poland's best known air ace, Jan Zumbach, was actually more Swiss than Polish.)

 
bobwilson
700576.  Thu Apr 22, 2010 6:56 pm Reply with quote

There's a difference between

Quote:
was destroyed on the ground within the first few days.


and

Quote:
was destroyed in 1939

 
Efros
700577.  Thu Apr 22, 2010 7:02 pm Reply with quote

The Polish pilots were reputed to be absolute nutters, certainly a few of the polish ex-servicemen I've met over the years have lived up to that. The Poles from the war I met also had a permanent glint in their eye, and this is some 30 years after WWII had finished.

 
Sadurian Mike
700666.  Fri Apr 23, 2010 5:57 am Reply with quote

suze wrote:
Whether it's oft-quoted I couldn't really say, since military history isn't a subject about which I read a great deal.

Many military histories trot out the "destroyed on the ground" version. The example that brought it to mind is my latest history book on WWII, "The Storm of War" by Andrew Roberts, which calls itself "A New History of the Second World War" and was only published in 2009.

It is otherwise a very good read (and has some very interesting info) but I grimaced at the old, "Much of the Polish Air Force was destroyed on the ground" as well as references saying that the Poles were outclassed in the air and stood little chance.

In fact, the Poles acquitted themselves very well and were amongst the best trained pilots in Europe at that time. Their aircraft, although not as fast as the Me Bf109, were good enough to score plenty of air-to-air kills.

 
Sadurian Mike
700667.  Fri Apr 23, 2010 6:00 am Reply with quote

bobwilson wrote:
There's a difference between

Quote:
was destroyed on the ground within the first few days.


and

Quote:
was destroyed in 1939

That's true enough.

The Polish airforce that didn't escape was ground down by weight of numbers and a lack of opportunity to maintain their aircraft. Eventually there was even a severe lack of airfields.

 
Sadurian Mike
700676.  Fri Apr 23, 2010 6:17 am Reply with quote

I suppose this is not exactly proof of anything in particular, but I love the photo.

It's a Henschel Hs126, a German reconnaissance aircraft of the early years. I love the way it is "dead" - laying on its back with its legs on the air.

 
CB27
700683.  Fri Apr 23, 2010 6:30 am Reply with quote

It's not dead, it just wants it's tummy tickled.

 
Sadurian Mike
700687.  Fri Apr 23, 2010 6:36 am Reply with quote

dual sniggering from ths household.

 
bemahan
700690.  Fri Apr 23, 2010 6:41 am Reply with quote

Mike - is that really what you looked like in 1963?

 
Sadurian Mike
700841.  Fri Apr 23, 2010 12:51 pm Reply with quote

I was never handsome. My looks were always just plain.

 
Sadurian Mike
700855.  Fri Apr 23, 2010 1:42 pm Reply with quote

This aviation site has a very interesting report on the 1939 air battles over Poland.

http://avstop.com/history/aroundtheworld/poland/index.html

 
Sadurian Mike
700866.  Fri Apr 23, 2010 2:14 pm Reply with quote

Another one of those enduring myths about Poland 1939 is that the valiant but hopelessly antiquated Polish cavalry charged German tanks because they didn't really understand the new nature of warfare. Notable figures such as Churchill and Guderian mentioned the charge as fact in their memoirs, and as late as 2005 a Canadian major repeated the myth as fact in a military article.

The charge became symbolic; first of the mighty German army crushing the poorly equipped Poles, and then of plucky and romantic Poland fighting against the odds against the inhumane German invaders.

However, it never happened. The basis for the myth was an incident where a cavalry regiment spotted unprepared German troops. Taking advantage of the element of surprise and mobility, the horsemen swept down and attacked, winning a quick victory. German tanks and other armoured vehicles, however, suddenly appeared and fired on the cavalrymen which caused them to withdraw.

Later, an Italian journalist was taken to the scene and it was presented to him as having been a charge by the cavalry against the tanks. His report then became one of the enduring myths of the War.

Polish cavalry were undoubtedly an Úlite force, yet they were perfectly aware of the best way to attack tanks (draw them into areas where the cavalry anti-tank guns could ambush them). They were also not entirely out of date - horses give excellent mobility, especially in broken country, and require far less maintenance and fuel than vehicles. Indeed, many countries use horse-mounted units to this very day.

The vast majority of engagements fought by the Polish cavalry were dismounted and using conventional firearms - lances had been withdrawn from frontline service some years beforehand. In this role of mounted infantry, using the horse to move swiftly and independently, the cavalry caused huge problems to the advancing Germans who never knew when a cavalry unit might appear behind their lines.

A final note on Polish cavalry. They are the last cavalry to have staged a mounted charge against the enemy. This was not in 1939, but in March of 1945 whilst operating as part of the Red Army.

http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/wwii/articles/polishcavalry.aspx
http://ww2history.suite101.com/article.cfm/the_polish_wwii_cavalry_in_1939
http://ww2history.suite101.com/article.cfm/the_last_cavalry_charges

 
Zebra57
700956.  Fri Apr 23, 2010 6:02 pm Reply with quote

Although some historians claim otherwise it would appear that the last reported cavalry charge using horses by any army during war time war was by the Polish (First Warsaw Cavalry Brigade) v Germans on 1st March 1945. The last Polish cavalry unit was disbanded in 1948.

 

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