PZL P.11c

If you were to ask about the symbolic aircraft of the desperate defence of Polish sky during the tragic September ’39, without any doubt the answer should be one – the PZL P.11c.

Although older machines (PZL P.7a and P.11a) fought next to it, the mentioned variant was a true backbone of the defence force. Pilots liked P.11c but in all publications it is described by an adjective “obsolete”. It was the penultimate stage in the evolution of a long line of fighter planes, no longer having the disadvantages of the “infant period”, but also actually constituting a closed alley in the evolution of this type of design. The PZL P.11g modification showed that the already mature construction can only be improved to a small extent. Being an export alternative, faster, equipped with a much more powerful engine and better armed PZL P.24 were actually the end of the possibilities of high wing strut aircraft. This was understood in Poland, where design offices were no longer involved in the further development of such structures (P.11g was just an emergency attempt to obtain not the most modern, but an efficient fighter). Unfortunately, it was not possible to produce or buy a successor abroad on time. That is why Poland entered the conflict equipped with fighter planes, once belonging to the world leaders, but giving way to the latest enemy machines.

pzl zd1

It is worth remembering, however, that at the same time other countries, which were the object of German aggression too, did not have equipment equivalent to German contructions. Czechoslovakia had a comparable fighter – a slightly faster Avia B-534 biplane. Denmark – had completely outdated British Gauntlets and Nimrods (Nimroderne in the Danish version). Norway at the last moment before the invasion (and this took place six months after the attack on Poland), only got slightly better Gladiators (it is worth knowing that this biplane was equipped with an engine like the P.11g) and the American Hawks 75. Belgium did not have its own modern designs, also equipping itself with Gladiators and Fiats CR.42 Falco at the last minute. The Netherlands introduced low-wing planes eventually (and it didn’t help either). In every case (maybe except for Norway), we are talking about countries with a greater industrial potential in the field of aviation than Poland. Great powers such as France and Great Britain also did not have large amounts of equipment that had an advantage over German. The Supermarine Spitfire was born in pain and there was very little of it yet. The slightly more numerous Hurricane was only just entering the units in greater numbers. The Gladiator, which was not very promising, was still being developed, in case if more modern designs turned out to be a failure. In France, the MS.406 C1 was not an equal opponent for the Germans, but a really modern D.520 C1 and VG. 33/36/39 only timidly appeared in small numbers in 1940. Even Hitler’s allies – Italians (Fiats CR.42 were just entering service, and Fiat G.50 and Macchi MC.200 in 1939 were still in the trial phase) – did not yet have sufficiently modern machines. It was similar with the Soviets (I-16 and I-15 were slightly faster and better armed, but comparable to the P.11c). Thus, frequent complaints to Polish designers, industry and decision-makers about the failure to provide modern weapons to the Polish aviation are rather poorly motivated.


pzl zd2

Because of the surprising appearance of a new generation of the previously known Messerschmitt Bf 109, the equipment situation of the Polish aviation, considered not the best in January 1939, became alarming in April same year. It is worth remembering that when Bf 109 E was introduced to the units, it was equipped with a completely new DB 601 engine with direct fuel injection. What is worse, immediately in large numbers – due to problems with the engine, the Germans initially produced only airframes (from December 1938). Suddenly, in March and April, new machines quickly began to displace the older variants from the units. The C and partly D versions were 100 km/h faster than the P.11c (and only 50 km/h faster than the P.24), but less agile. Version E, though, had a difference of 185 km/h and a huge advantage in terms of climbing speed. Polish planes found themselves in the position of not only old, but also very obsolete machines. Just like the equipment of almost all of Europe. In fact, only the British had a machine comparable to the Bf 109 E, but not in big numbers (Spitfire Mk. I). There was simply not enough time to replace the equipment in the Polish aviation.