When World War I ended in 1918, the independent Polish state was re-emerging following 123 years of partitions. This development was accompanied by the formation of national armed forces and military aviation. The defeat of the Austrian and German empires on the fronts of the Great War weakened their control over the Polish territory. This enabled the Poles to take over a number of major enemy airfields, where they captured a certain number of aircraft. Moreover, the emerging air force included airmen who had received pilot and observer training in the Austrian and German air forces.
Since its very beginning, the Polish air force joined in the fight to keep the newly regained independence. It is assumed that the first combat flight was already carried out on 5 November 1918 by a crew of pilot F/O Stefan Bastyr and air observer F/O Janusz de Beaurain, who conducted a successful bombing of Ukrainian troops during the Lvov fighting. After the first flight, more flights followed.
In these pioneering days, many Polish airmen passed into history. One of them was F/O Stefan Stec, who is regarded as the designer of the whiteand-red chequerboard sign. On 1 December 1918, it was approved as the national marking of all Polish military aircraft by order no. 38 of the chief of the General Staff of the Polish Army.
The Polish air force defended the freshly regained independence devotedly and effectively during the Polish-Ukrainian war (1918−1919) and the Polish-Bolshevik war (1919−1921). In the interwar period, it made admirable efforts to develop military aviation. Nevertheless, in September 1939 it had to yield to the air superiority of the German Luftwaffe. Despite their defeat, the Polish airmen had written some glorious chapters in the history of World War II. They had fought over France and Great Britain, in the Battle of the Atlantic, over Africa and in the bombing of Germany, until the end of the war in May 1945. After the war, the Polish air force fighting in the West was disbanded in 1946, while that operating in the East on the Soviet side became the source of the Air Force of the Polish People’s Republic forming part of the air forces of the member states of the Warsaw Pact (1955−1991). After the fall of the communist regime and the democratic transformations in the years 1989−1991, the air force of the Republic of Poland, a NATO member since 1999, is now in the process of modernisation. It is being equipped with state-of-the-art aircraft.
On 12 December 2019, Narodowy Bank Polski is putting into circulation a silver coin “100th Anniversary of Polish Military Aviation”, with a face value of 10 złoty. The reverse of the coin refers to the origins of Polish military aviation. It features the silhouette of the fighter plane Fokker E.V (D.VIII) that Polish pilots flew in the fighting against the Ukrainians for Lvov and on the Southern Front in 1918. On its wings the plane bears large white-and-red chequerboards – the national marking of the Polish military aviation adopted in 1918. Above it there is a military pilot’s badge (called“gapa”), designed by Prof. Władysław Gruberski and introduced in 1919, representing an eagle in flight carrying a laurel wreath in its beak. The whole image is placed against the background of a grid of fields, characteristic of Polish landscape, as seen from above. The obverse of the coin, referring to the contemporary Polish military aviation, features the silhouettes of two F-16 planes in flight.
Wojciech Krajewski, Substantive Advisor, Polish Army Museum