Insurgent Troops

Greater Poland’s Military Air Force in 1919-1921

Krzysztof Hoff

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On 27 December 1918, the Greater Poland Uprising broke out. The insurgents occupied the most important locations in Poznań relatively quickly. However, a place of crucial significance, namely the Poznań-Ławica Air Base, with approximately 200 soldiers and aviation equipment that might be used against the uprising, remained in German hands. There was also the risk that that the aeroplanes would get evacuated to Frankfurt-on-Oder. In agreement with the Staff, on 5 January 1918 Sergeant Pilot Wiktor Pniewski attempted to start negotiations with the Germans, who rejected the proposition of capitulation. On 6 January 1918, insurgent forces of nearly 400 people, commanded by Second Lieutenant Andrzej Kopa, marched towards Ławica They were composed of three companies of the 1st Battalion of the Guard and Security Service led by Second Lieutenant Bronisław Piniecki, two cannons commanded by Second Lieutenant Kazimierz Nieżychowski, a mounted riflemen platoon commanded by Sergeant Major of Cavalry Jan Kalinowski and a voluntary unit of the Polish Military Organisation of the Prussian Partition commanded by Jan Kalinowski. A special group of aviators whose task was to protect the aeroplanes from any German attempts at destroying them was commanded by Sergeant Pilot Józef Mańczak. To prevent the Germans from blowing up the warehouse in the nearby Fort VII, where aerial bombs were stored, the main electric wire was cut off, and at 06:00 am the soldiers took their positions for attack. Envoys were sent with the proposition for the Germans to surrender, but it was rejected. At 06:25 am, the attack started with a feigned strike by the mounted riflemen, the purpose of which was to draw the opponents’ attention from the main direction of the attack. The fight lasted merely 20-30 minutes, and the inaccurate shooting of the German machine guns did not cause great losses among the attacking groups. The action ended with two accurate shots fired by the Polish artillery – they hit the barracks and the airport tower, which finally forced the defendants to give up. Approximately 26 - 30 aeroplanes in good technical condition were seized. On the same day, a Zeppelin hangar, which housed over 200 airframes of different types, some without engines, was also occupied. It became clear that the Germans treated Poznań as their reserve air base, because of their achievements on the Eastern Front of the First World War, which had ended with a quick march of German forces deeper within Russia, thus postponing the risk of a Russian attack. The city was also too distant from the Western Front, which is why the local air force facility played a minor role. The situation had its advantage – it was a warehouse for equipment.

Immediately after occupying the air base, organisation of the Polish military air force started. Sergeant Wiktor Pniewski became the station’s first commander. Initially – from February to May 1919 – four squadrons (two intelligence squadrons and two with fighter squadrons) were created, and in April 1920 a fifth one, a bomb squadron, was formed. The 1st Aviation Company, which served as an aviation school, was also established. Its students were taught aviation according to German training patterns. Its first commander was Sergeant Józef Mańczak, and later, from June 1919, Second Lieutenant Pilot Ludwik Piechowiak.

The 1st Greater Poland Air Force Squadron

On 12 February 1919, General Gustaw Macewicz gave the organisational order and on the next day, the formation of the 1st Greater Poland Air Force Squadron commenced. It was led by Pilot Wiktor Pniewski, who had been promoted to the rank of second lieutenant. By way of decree, the Supreme People’s Council introduced a simplified procedure for granting officer ranks to aviators from Greater Poland and, at the same time, to former soldiers of the Prussian army, which practically lacked officers as a result of the German policy to avoid promoting Poles to this rank. This was one reason underlying the conflict between the second commander of the uprising – General Józef Dowbor-Muśnicki, and the Greater Poland residents, because in the absence of officers, he appointed his own officers from outside the region as leaders and commanders. The simplified promotion procedure was applied from 7 February to the autumn of 1919. By the summer of 1919, nearly a dozen veterans of the German air force had become second lieutenants. According to the official manning project, a squadron was to comprise 6 pilots, 4 observers, 2 riflemen, 20 non-commissioned officers and 115 privates of different specialisations. The fundamental armament was composed of 10 German, two-seater, multipurpose air planes of various types: Albatros C.V and C.VII, as well as models DFW C.V and AEG C.IV, equipped with machine guns and adapted to carrying light bombs. 

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