The role of Polish fighter pilots in the Battle of Britain is now very well known, but the wider story of the Polish Air Force is much less familiar. Zamoyski's work should help to fill that gap in our knowledge, tracing the story of the Polish Air Force from the campaign in Poland in 1939 to its eventual dispersal in Britain after the war.
It soon becomes clear that the Polish contribution to the air war was much bigger than I had realised. A very high proportion of Air Force personnel escaped from Poland in 1939, and eventually made their way to France, where they were almost immediately disillusioned by what they found. After the fall of France most escaped to Britain and a more positive experience, being welcomed as heroes by the beleaguered population. After some frustration the Polish air crews and ground crews were soon in action, and soon proved their worth.
I was aware of the Polish contribution to Fighter Campaign, but not of the scale of their contribution to Bomber Command, where Polish crews flew 10% of the aircraft in the first 1,000 bomber raid. The Poles also paid the cost of their involvement, having the squadron that suffered the highest losses of any in Bomber Command.
The tone of the book slowly changes as the war expanded, and the Polish contribution shrank in proportion as the Soviets and Americans entered the war (the same happened to the British contribution, and a similar shift in tone can be detected in Churchill's history of the war). Understandably the British government didn't want to offend their Soviet allies while the war was still in progress (and was often afraid that the Soviets might come to a separate peace with Hitler, mirroring the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939). Sadly this manifested itself in an increasing level of hostility towards the Poles, particularly from left leaning individuals and groups who listened when Stalin denounced them as 'fascists' as he attempted to gain recognition of his own Polish government. Fortunately these were relatively isolated incidents, but combined with the sad fate of Poland they must have left a sour taste in the mouth of most Polish airmen in 1945.
The great value of this book is its coverage of the entire story, looking at the war in Poland and France, Fighter, Bomber and Coastal Commands, the Polish ground crew, the political dimensions of the Air Force and its organisation, and the immediate post-war years when it became clear that the tens of thousands of Poles in Britain could not safely return to Poland.
1 Knights Errant
2 Growing Wings
3 Black September
4 Balkan Farce
5 French Fiasco
6 Mist and Regulations
7 The Legend of 303
8 Fighting On
10 A Growing Family
11 The Home Front
12 No Victory
Author: Adam Zamoyski
Publisher: Pen & Sword Aviation
Year: 2010 edition of 1995 original