Thursday, 30 July 2015

303 (Polish) Squadron Battle of Britain diary


Ma rating: 9/10

“303 (Polish) Squadron Battle of Britain Diary” is an amazing book written by an Englishman Richard King. There are many fragments quoted from real diaries. Most of them come from a diary kept by a Polish ace – Miroslaw Ferić, who invited other aces to contribute to his diary. Those fragments are translated to English and by every one of them there is a note informing who wrote it.

There are also numerous fragments from a separate diary kept by John Kent – a Canadian flight commander of the 303 Squadron. Moreover there are quotes from official English military documents. The author also analyzes some data recovered after the war from official German documents. Amazing.

The main part of the book is not quoted, but written by the author. The narration is quite interesting and gripping for a book like this. The author tried to be as objective as he could be and as precise as he could be. I believe this book is the most accurate history of the 303 Squadron. To make it even better there are numerous photos taken during the Battle of Britain.

It’s VERY hard to review this book, because it’s like no other book in the world. I decided to simply show you photos of some pages from this book.
 
(Click the below pictures to enlarge. They should be large enough to be easily readable. Otherwise right-click and pick “save target as” to see them outside the Internet browser.)





(Sunday, 10 June 2012)

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

On Wings of War: My Life as a Pilot Adventurer (by Jean/Jan Zumbach)

The book was originally released in French (in 1973) and later it was translated to English (in 1977) and to Polish (in 2000). Each one had a different title. The original book (French) was titled „Mister Brown Adventures in the Sky” (Mister Brown was Zumbach's pseudonym in Africa). The English translation was titled „On Wings of War: My Life as a Pilot Adventurer”. The Polish translation was titled „The Last Fight” (at the bottom of the cover there is written „Leader of the 303 Squadron”). Both the French and the English versions were released under French name Jean Zumbach, but the Polish version uses Polish name Jan Zumbach.



My rating: 10/10

The book is an autobiography written by Jan Zumbach in 1972. During the Battle of Britain (in September and October 1940) Zumbach was one of the best pilots of the famous 303 (Polish) Fighter Squadron. He was not the leader of the Squadron then, but was promoted later in the war.

The book is very long. In the Polish version there are 364 written pages (plus 17 additional pages of photos showing Zumbach at different moments of his life) with small font and small page margins. It means that every single page is filled with lots of text. These 364 pages would be like 500 in some other books.

The book is very long not because Zumbach took part in the Battle of Britain, but because ALL his life was filled with adventure. The Battle of Britain makes for only 6 % of the book – 22 pages, including those about his intimate adventures with British women.

Zumbach's life was a unique one and so is his autobiography. It's as honest as it gets, which makes it at some moments far from political correctness.

Reading the book I have learnt many interesting things, especially about post-war Europe and about Africa. For example I have never heard about Biafra or Katanga before.

To give you a better idea about the book I have translated titles of the main chapters and added some comments and trivia.

I. Saviour of Biafra
This chapter is a kind of introduction about events from 1967, explaining what made Zumbach write his autobiography.

Trivia from the sub-chapter titled “How I hijacked a plane”:
Before Zumbach joined Biafra's “Air Forces” he was hired only to transport an old B-26 bomber to Biafra (a part of Nigeria that wanted independence). Biafra was not recognised as a state and couldn't officially buy bombers in Europe, so the plane was flown under false papers that claimed it was Gabon's property. Zumbach had never flown a B-26 bomber before, but during the war he had tried to fly as many different kinds of planes (including some other bombers) as possible, just for fun. Before flying to Biafra Zumbach bought and read the book “How to be a pilot of B-26”. Of course he didn't even mention any of it to the second pilot of that flight.

II. Many souls in chest
This chapter covers the years 1915-1946 – from Zumbach's birth to his release from RAF after the end of World War II.

Trivia from the sub-chapter titled “Birth of a warrior”:
Even though Zumbach was born in Poland and his mother was a Pole he himself was officially a Swiss citizen (like his father) – Zumbach's birth was registered in a Swiss consulate. When Zumbach volunteered for the Polish Army (to become a pilot), he simply “forgot” to mention that officially he was not a Polish citizen. He also had to forge his mother's writing and her signature because he was too young to enter the army without her permission.

III. Diamonds for Antwerp
This chapter covers the years 1947-1954 and describes Zumbach's involvement in lots of illegal activities connected with transportation of goods and people between different countries. It seems that right after the war such illegal activities were to some extent ignored, mostly for economic reasons.

Trivia from the sub-chapter “People for Israel, gold for Palestine”:
When Zumbach was flying some people to Israel he was asked by a man from Tel Aviv to get some gold. The next time Zumbach smuggled 500 golden coins, but the next day the man told him that most of them were worth nothing. Zumbach was VERY surprised. The coins were truly gold, but they had a picture of the Queen Victoria and Arabs didn't want to buy them. They wanted gold for their pilgrimage to Mecca, but women were not allowed to enter the holy places of Islam, so Arabs didn't want coins with a picture of a woman.

IV. Disasters
This chapter covers the years 1955-1961 and is a very good example that illegal activities sooner or later come to a very unpleasant end.

V. Flying monster
This chapter covers the years 1962-1963 and it describes how Zumbach became a mercenary pilot and the leader of Air Forces of Katanga (a part of Congo that proclaimed independence). There are some interesting things about flying an aircraft above the African jungle, but the best part of the chapter is about the weapon market. Guns and other military items bought in Europe were sold to the final receiver in Africa for prices several times higher than the original ones. Sometimes the profit margins were even higher. It seemed insane, but Zumbach claimed that in case of Katanga it was used by its leader (Tshombe) to increase his private wealth. Zumbach was very careful not to attack UN forces involved in the conflict and UN jet-fighters spared him in the air (after they entered action in later stages of the conflict), but they destroyed most of Katanga's planes on the ground.

VI. The last adventure
This chapter covers the years 1967-1970 and is quite similar to the previous chapter. It's Africa again, Zumbach as a mercenary pilot again, flying over jungle again and the weapon market again. The main difference lies in Zumbach's view of the Biafra's leader (Ojukwu). Zumbach was privately much more respectful of him than of the leader of Katanga. In case of Biafra it was its representatives in Europe who concentrated on increasing their private wealth. Zumbach informed Ojukwu all about it, but it turned out that Ojukwu had to tolerate it for political reasons (some tribes were very important to Ojukwu because of food they produced).

On Wings of War: My Life as a Pilot Adventurer is an awesome book, mostly because it's so honest and so far from political correctness. Zumbach wrote about events the way he saw them. Perfect!
(10/10)

(Sunday, 26 October 2014)

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

On wings of history


On wings of history
They turned from home

To live eternally
Skybound they roam


(at 3:48 in the below video)


(Saturday, 9 June 2012)

Monday, 27 July 2015

Always remember a fallen soldier


Always remember a fallen soldier
Always remember fathers and sons at war

Always remember a fallen soldier
Always remember buried in history


(at 3:05 in the below video)


(Saturday, 9 June 2012)

Sunday, 26 July 2015

German death camps

Most people have no idea how insulting the expressions “Polish concentration camp” and “Polish death camp” are to Poles. During World War II Poland never surrendered to Germany and there was no puppet government in the occupied Poland. Everything that happened there and then was the result of decisions made and executed purely by Germans. All those camps were German concentration camps or German death camps.

(Click the below photos to enlarge.)

 
 



PS. To be clear: I believe that young generations should not be blamed for what their ancestors did, but those who distort history ARE to be blamed.

(Friday, 25 October 2013)

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Wojtek – a real soldier bear


Life always brings the best stories.



There is a book about Wojtek written by Aileen Orr. Originally it was titled "Wojtek The Bear: Polish War Hero", but there is also an edition titled "Wojtek The Bear: Hero of World War Two". I have not read it yet, but the reviews are very good. There are many more reviews on www.amazon.co.uk than on www.amazon.com.


(Monday, 11 February 2013)

Friday, 24 July 2015

Trail of Hope (by Norman Davies)

(Originally posted on Friday, 30 December 2016)


My rating: 10/10

So far I have never reviewed a book that I had not finished reading yet. This time I make an exception, but there is nothing wrong with Trail of Hope by Norman Davies. On the contrary this is the ultimate praise for the book – I can't simply wait to review it! It is AWESOME!

Even though I had read about the Anders Army before I still learned LOTS of interesting things from the book. Most importantly, however, the book is not only about the army, but about tales of soldiers and civilians who got trapped in the Soviet Union and who were able to escape their imprisonment thanks to the creation and the movements of the army. Well, not all of them succeeded in escaping – many Poles died from exhaustion before they crossed the border.

The book is a true “road book”. This particular road's length was extreme – over 12,000 kilometres. Obviously not every person travelled to its end – many civilians settled on the way or went to different, even more exotic destinations like India, Australia, New Zealand, southern Africa or South America. Among such refugees were lots of young children who lost their parents in the Soviet Union.

The book is HUGE! Literally. Please take a look:


When you hold this book in your hands you can feel your money's worth. There are lots of photos and the paper is of fine quality throughout the book.

Some people call it a “photo album” rather than a book, but I totally disagree. Yes, there are lots of photos, but the text is still superior to the photos, both in quantity and considering the “fun factor”.

There are almost 600 pages, so it's hard to describe the “plot”. For this very reason I decided to simply show you some pages of the book. Enjoy! And buy the book!




















Thursday, 23 July 2015

Badass of the week

I have known the “badass” page about Urbanowicz and Winged Hussars for some time now, but today I found also a page about Wojtek the soldier bear. I decided that I have to share those pages. There is a little swearing and some things are exaggerated or simplified, but overall they are very fun and true.

http://www.badassoftheweek.com/urbanowicz.html 
(Urbanowicz was the best pilot of the famous 303 Polish Squadron during the Battle of Britain.)

http://www.badassoftheweek.com/voytek.html 
(About Wojtek the soldier Bear.)

http://www.badassoftheweek.com/pulaski.html 
(Casimir Pulaski was a double Polish-American hero.)

http://www.badassoftheweek.com/hussars.html 
(Winged Hussars were an elite cavalry army that lead a crucial charge in the Battle of Vienna.)

(Monday, 29 July 2013)

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

A man who saved the life of George Washington

A question:
Who is connected with all the following people and things: George Washington, American cavalry, Polish-Soviet war (1919-1921), King Kong, Battle of Britain, Cold War and honorary citizenship of the United States?

Hints:
HE saved the life of George Washington during the Battle of Brandywine. HE is called “the father of American Cavalry”. HE was mortally wounded during an assault in the siege of Savannah. HIS friend was Col. John Cooper. Apparently HE literally died in Cooper’s arms. HE was a Polish nobleman. HIS story was kept alive in the Cooper family. Col. John Cooper was the great, great, grandfather of Merian C. Cooper, who in 1933 directed and produced King Kong. Before that however Merian C. Cooper wanted to repay America’s debt to Polish heroes of the American War of Independence, especially because of HIS life sacrifice. So, after the end of World War I Merian C. Cooper went to Poland to work for the American Food Mission. After the Polish-Soviet war broke out in February 1919 Cooper wrote a letter to Poland’s Chief of State Józef Piłsudski, offering his services to the Polish Army. Cooper did not even insist on being a pilot and just wanted a duty “with fighting forces at the front”. Piłsudski reluctantly agreed, so Merian Cooper went to France and came back to Poland with 7 other American pilots, including Major Cedric Fauntleroy, who became the commander of the Kościuszko Squadron. Captain Merian C. Cooper became Fauntleroy’s second. Below is a picture of Cooper in Polish Air Force uniform.

The squadron was named after another double Polish-American hero Tadeusz Kościuszko. During the American War of Independence Kościuszko was the main military engineer, who designed very important defensive fortifications at Bemis Heights near Saratoga and at West Point. Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and Kosciuszko's close friend, called Kościuszko “the purest son of liberty that I have ever known, the kind of liberty which extends to all, not only to the rich”.

At the start the Kosciuszko squadron had only 8 American pilots, but in the following weeks more and more arrived. In all 21 Americans served in Polish Air Force during Polish-Soviet 1919-1921 war. There were also several Poles in the Kościuszko squadron and the whole ground crew was Polish. Below is a picture from September 1919 of the first 8 American Pilots who volunteered for the Polish Air Force. Front row from the left: Shrewsbury, Noble, Crawford and Kelly. Second row from the left: Clark, Fauntleroy, Cooper and Corsi.

The insignia of the Kościuszko Squadron were designed by Elliot Chess – one of the American pilots, who was a graphic designer by trade. He brought American and Polish elements together. The thirteen blue stars and white and red stripes represent the original American states. The crossed scythes re-forged as lances and a four-cornered hat with a feather represents Poland’s insurrection against Russia in the late 18th century which was led by Kościuszko.
On 7 May 1794 Kościuszko issued an act, in which he partially abolished serfdom in Poland, granted civil liberty to all peasants
and provided them with state help against the abuses by the nobility. It attracted many peasants to the ranks of the revolutionists hence
the re-forged scythes.

In 1920 the Kościuszko Squadron made over 400 combat flights. Polish land commanders highly valued the contribution of the Kościuszko Squadron. General Puchucki of the 13th Infantry Division wrote in a report: “The American pilots, though exhausted, fight tenaciously. During the last offensive, their commander attacked enemy formations from the rear, raining machine-gun bullets down on their heads. Without the American pilots’ help, we would long ago have been done for.”

By the end of the Polish-Soviet war 9 American Pilots and 3 Polish pilots serving with the Kościuszko Squadron were awarded with Poland's highest military decoration – Order of Virtuti Militari. Below is a picture of Józef Piłsudski decorating American Pilots. From the left are Cooper, Fauntleroy, Crawford, Corsi and Chess.

In 1925, four years after the end of the Polish-Soviet war, the Kościuszko Squadron was eventually renamed as 111th Fighter Squadron. When the World War II broke out 14 years later new pilots from this squadron fought, among other pilots, against the Germans over Poland and some of them later moved to Great Britain and became a part of the famous 303 Polish Squadron which played a very important role during the Battle of Britain in 1940. The 303 squadron’s full name was: No. 303 ("Kościuszko") Polish Fighter Squadron. It was named in honour of the Kosciuszko Squadron from the Polish-Soviet war, so in fact in honour of the American pilots. It even used the same insignia, but with the number 303 at the bottom.


During World War II Merian C. Cooper visited the 303 ("Kościuszko") Polish Squadron.

Let’s get back to HIM, who started it all. Two US Navy ships were named after HIM. One in 1858 and the other in 1964, during the Cold War. The second one was a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine. HE is also one of only seven people to be awarded honorary United States citizenship (in 2009).

Answer:
HE is Casimir Pulaski (Kazimierz Pułaski).

After his arrival to America, he wrote to George Washington:
“I came here, where freedom is being defended, to serve it, and to live or die for it.” He died for it.
http://www.badassoftheweek.com/pulaski.html

PS. Below there is a high-resolution picture of the letter sent by Merian C. Cooper to Józef Piłsudski. Click to enlarge!


(Tuesday, 30 July 2013)

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Bitter Glory Poland and its Fate 1918-1939 (by Richard M. Watt)

(The placard says: “TO ARMS” as in “a call to arms”.)

Bitter Glory Poland and its Fate 1918-1939 is a unique history book that is written so well it reads like a normal novel. It’s quite objective and in a perfect way shows why Poles were such a fierce fighters during World War II.

The book starts with a short, but good description of Polish history before 1918 and then it shows in detail how Poland regained independence in the aftermath of World War I. It was a great achievement – after 123 years of partition between three empires (Russia, Germany and Austria) Poland re-emerged as the sixth largest country in Europe with 27 millions of inhabitants.

The Treaty of Versailles – the main peace treaty at the end of World War I – was signed in 1919, but Poland’s final borders were officially accepted in 1923 after series of border wars, including a successful war against Soviet Russia in 1919-1921.

The middle part of the book shows how difficult it was to create
a modern country from territories that were previously under three different systems of law. It also shows all the economic problems of an independent country with a totally new administration, magnified by the Great Depression in 1930s.

The last part of the book shows Poland’s diplomacy dealing with the growth of power of both its biggest neighbours – Nazi Germany in the west and Soviet Union in the east. It couldn’t have ended well, but Poland stood firm and was ready to defend its hardly fought independence at all costs.

The book ends with a description of the start of World War II when Poland was invaded by Germany and 17 days later by Soviet Union. The book describes an often-overlooked reason why Polish army lost so quickly – Great Britain and France hoped till the very end that the war could be prevented and they were afraid that a general mobilization of Poland’s army would worsen the situation. They
put a pressure on Polish government and such a mobilization was officially started just 1 day before the outbreak of the war. Many Polish soldiers were only on their way to their army units when Germany attacked.

Peace is a precious and desirable thing. Our generation, bloodied in wars, certainly deserves peace. But peace, like almost all things of this world, has its price, high, but measurable. We in Poland
do not know the concept of peace at any price. There is only one thing in the life of people, nations and countries which is priceless. That thing is honour.


(Józef Beck - from the speech at the Polish Parliament on the 5th May 1939)

(Saturday, 8 June 2013)

Monday, 20 July 2015

Gniezno – the first capital of Poland

Poland was officially recognised as a state and Poles as a nation
in the 10th century – over one thousand (1000) years ago. In 966 Mieszko I – the then ruler of Poland – chose to be baptized in the Western Latin Rite (chose to belong to Latin/Roman Catholic Church). Mieszko's conversion to Christianity (the so-called baptism of Poland) is considered to be the founding event of the Polish state. It’s not clear where the capital of Poland was in 966, but from a document “Dagome iudex” it is assumed that in 991 the capital of Poland was Gniezno. I have just visited this city and took some pictures there (click to enlarge).

1. Bolesław I Chrobry
The first official Polish king was Bolesław I Chrobry - the oldest son of Mieszko I. Chrobry in Old-Polish language means the Valiant or the Brave. He was officially crowned in 1025.


2. Gniezno Cathedral
The above-pictured statue is placed next to Gniezno Cathedral which was the place of the coronation of Bolesław I Chrobry in 1025.
The origins of Gniezno Cathedral date back to the 10th century. Mieszko I built a church which was then re-built by Bolesław I Chrobry and gained the status of a cathedral in 1000. Later it suffered from fires or devastation by Poland’s enemies, but
every time it was re-built and renovated.


3. Gniezno Doors
Gniezno Doors were made around 1175 and are part of the Gniezno Cathedral. They are decorated with eighteen scenes in bas-relief from the life of Św. Wojciech (St. Adalbert).


4. Św. Wojciech (St. Adalbert)
St. Adalbert was a Czech Roman Catholic saint, a Bishop of Prague and a missionary who was martyred in 997 in his efforts to convert the Baltic Prussians. His body was bought back for its weight in gold by Bolesław I Chrobry (meaning that Chrobry paid as much gold as the body weighted). He was made the Patron Saint of Poland and the Patron Saint of Gniezno. In December 999, Otto III – Holy Roman Emperor – left Italy to make a pilgrimage from Rome to Gniezno to pray at the grave of Św. Wojciech. The journey took him almost four months. Between 7 and 15 March 1000, Otto III invested Bolesław I Chrobry with the titles frater et cooperator Imperii ("Brother and Partner of the Empire") and populi Romani amicus et socius ("Friend and ally of Rome"). Otto III gave Bolesław a replica of his Holy Lance (part of the Imperial Regalia) and Bolesław presented the Emperor with a relic, an arm of Saint Adalbert in exchange.


5. Silver reliquary of Św. Wojciech
Unfortunately the original silver reliquary of Św. Wojciech was stolen and destroyed. It was re-made and re-placed in Gniezno Cathedral. The first picture below shows the back of the reliquary from a close distance and the second picture was taken from afar.



On a side note: There was a Polish flag in Gniezno Cathedral because the picture was taken one day before Poland’s National Independence Day celebrated every year on 11 November. Actually it was a Polish flag combined with the coat of arms of Poland. Separately they look like this:


Click to enalrage the below picture!


6. The Biskupin stronghold
Only 35 km from Gniezno there is the Biskupin stronghold – a part replica of a stronghold from 8th – 7th century BC (part replica meaning only two rows of houses and short line of rampart). This real-size part replica was built on the site where actual remains of the stronghold were found during archaeological excavations.




(Tuesday, 12 November 2013)