Insurgent Troops

Greater Poland’s Military Air Force in 1919-1921

Krzysztof Hoff

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In early March 1919, the Ukrainian offensive started on the eastern borders of Poland. Rail communication through Lviv and Przemyśl was broken, cutting off the soldiers defending Lviv from the rest of the country. The Polish units were surrounded in the Lviv –Horodok area. The only chance for help was to receive air reinforcements. That is why on 14 March 1919, the 1st Greater Poland Air Force Squadron – composed of 5 aviators, 4 observers, 156 soldiers and 7 planes – was sent from Ławica to the Ukrainian front. The unit’s tasks included: air surveillance, including taking pictures from the air and bomb attacks on enemy ammunition warehouses and command posts, as well as strikes on the Ukrainian positions. The squadron’s action that went down in history in April 1919 was its operation code-named “Jazda” [Cavalry], the purpose of which was to occupy broader areas to carry out the offensive. The squadron fought as part of the 2nd Air Force Group equipped with 23 aeroplanes in total. The group was composed of the 9th Intelligence Squadron, the 5th Intelligence Squadron and the 1st Greater Poland Air Force Squadron. The group was commanded by Captain Pilot Camillo Perini. In terms of tactics, the group was subordinated to the command of General Wacław Iwaszkiewicz’s army. The 1st Squadron fought to the great benefit of the Greater Poland Land Forces commanded by Colonel Daniel Konarzewski. Meanwhile, it also carried out long reconnaissance for the army’s command. With the movement of the front further towards east, the base of the squadron was moved initially to Medyka, and later to Stryi. After the first series of tasks and the liberation of the eastern part of the Lesser Poland region, on 10 June 1919, the squadron returned to Poznań. The Supreme People’s Council honoured its military achievements during the Polish-Ukrainian campaign. From then on, a badge with an eagle and an inscription saying “For the Defence of the Eastern Borderlands” was placed on the squadron’s planes. Due to the growing tension along the demarcation line with Germany, the squadron returned to the front in Greater Poland. Although the day of the signing of the peace treaty in Paris was drawing closer, the Germans did not want to consent to the loss of Greater Poland, putting the allied countries under threat of attack. The 1st Squadron stayed at the airport in Wojnowice near Buk until September 1919.  Its activity was limited to air reconnaissance.

In September 1919, the 1st Squadron was once again moved to the east, to Babruysk. On 14-16 September, it started assaults on the Lithuanian and Belarusian front, supporting the efforts of the 1st Greater Poland Rifle Division and cooperating with artillery in determining targets for attack. Solidification of the front line away from Babruysk allowed for a change in the unit’s tasks, which now focused on reconnaissance operations at the rear of the Bolshevik armies. In the autumn and winter of 1919, the situation on the front forced a change in the military operations of the unit, which temporarily became more of a bombing unit than an observation squadron. The bombing raids were targeted at communication nodes and supply lines, as well as Bolshevik armoured trains. Nearly 6000kg of aviation bombs were dropped on Zhlobin and Rahachow railway stations. 

Second Lieutenant Wiktor Pniewski, the commander, returned to Poznań due to illness. On 2 January 1920, command was taken over by Lieutenant Observer Maksymilian Kowalewski, and on 3 March by Captain Pilot Władysław Jurgenson. With the appointment of a new commander, the unit’s name was changed to the 12th Air Force Squadron, and shortly afterwards to the 12th Intelligence Squadron. From then on, the squadron provided air support to the operations of the 14th Greater Poland Infantry Division, particularly in the battle of Šacilki, where it assaulted the enemy’s infantry and cooperated with the artillery. Commander Captain Władysław Jurgenson’s plane was shot down by the Soviets in an air battle. The commander was taken into captivity by the Bolsheviks and executed. Lieutenant Pilot Witold Rutkowski took over his duties as commander of the 12th Squadron.

The rapid course of attacks by Bolshevik units forced the Polish army to retreat. The squadron was withdrawn in stages, which ensured that there always was a group of planes ready for action. Together with the 14th Greater Poland Infantry Division, the unit went to the region of Białystok. Then it moved on its own to Warsaw, and was assigned to the command of the 5th Army of General Władysław Sikorski. During that time, the squadron carried out tasks to the Army’s benefit, defending the capital from the north, in the Mława – Działdowo region. It was a particularly difficult period in the history of the unit, which suffered immense losses. 

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