Poland is bordered by the Baltic Sea, Lithuania, and Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast to the north, Belarus and Ukraine to the east, Slovakia and the Czech Republic to the south, and Germany to the west.
The history of human activity on Polish soil spans almost 500,000 years. Throughout the Iron Age the area became extensively diverse, with various cultures and tribes settling on the vast Central European Plain. However, it was the Western Polans who dominated the region and gave Poland its name. The establishment of Polish statehood can be traced to AD 966, when Mieszko I, ruler of the realm coextensive with the territory of present-day Poland, converted to Christianity. The Kingdom of Poland was founded in 1025, and in 1569 it cemented its longstanding political association with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania by signing the Union of Lublin. This union formed the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, one of the largest (over 1,000,000 square kilometres – 400,000 square miles) and most populous countries of 16th and 17th century Europe, with a uniquely liberal political system which adopted Europe's first written national constitution, the Constitution of 3 May 1791.
With the passing of prominence and prosperity, the country was partitioned by neighbouring states at the end of the 18th century, and regained its independence in 1918 with the Treaty of Versailles. After a series of territorial conflicts, the new multi-ethnic Poland restored its position as a key player in European politics. In September 1939, World War II started with the invasion of Poland by Germany, followed by the Soviet Union invading Poland in accordance with the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. Around six million Polish citizens, including 90% of the country's Jews, perished in the war. In 1947, the Polish People's Republic was established as a satellite state under Soviet influence. In the aftermath of the Revolutions of 1989, most notably through the emergence of the Solidarity movement, Poland reestablished itself as a presidential democratic republic.
At the end of World War II the Polish air force consisted of 17 Regiments with a total of approximately 750 aircraft. Cutbacks after the war resulted in seven Regiments remaining in the early 50's. The first jet aircraft arrived in Poland from 1951 onwards by means of Yak-23 and locally built MiG-15 and MiG-17 fighters followed by Il-28 bombers and Mi-1 helicopters. Further modernisation took place in the sixties with the introduction of the MiG-19, MiG-21 and Su-7 among various other training and transport types. The last Soviet made fighters were delivered in the 80's when the MiG-23MF Flogger, the Su-22M-4 Fitter and MiG-29 Fulcrum entered service. The downsizing of the Polish Air Force commenced in the second half of the 80's with the disbandment of 39.PLM at Mierzęcice in 1987 flying MiG-21's and 9.PLM flying the MiG-21MF at Debrzno disbanding in 1988. This resulted in the 26 .PLM at Zegrze Pomorskie being redesignated to 9.PLM. The 3.PLM-B was redesignated to 3.LPSz-B and equipped with the TS-11 after the last Su-7's were retired on 25 June 1990. The unit was finally disbanded on 23 September 1991.
At the time of the demise of the Warsaw Pact in 1990 the Polish Air Force was built up of three Korpus Obrony Powietrznej (1, 2 and 3.KOP - Air Defence Corps) incorporating all air defence assets and one Korpus Lotniczy (4.KL - Air Corps) being responsible for all reconnaissance, bomber, transport and liaison assets. Mid 1991 these four commands incorporated the 1.PLM at Mińsk Mazowiecki flying MiG-21PFM and MiG-29's, 10.PLM at Łask with MiG-21PFM as well as the 42.ELŁT at Warszawa-Bemowo under 1.KOP, 2.PLM at Goleniow with MiG-21M/MF, 9.PLM at Zegrze Pomorskie with MiG-21bis, 28.PLM at Słupsk with MiG-23MF, 41.PLM at Malbork with MiG-21M/MF and 43.ELŁT at Bydgoszcz under 2.KOP and 11.PLM at Wrocław with MiG-21MF and 62.PLM at Pozńan-Krzesiny flying the MiG-21MF as well as the 44.ELŁT at Wrocław under 3.KOP control. 34.PLM at Gdynia operating the MiG-21bis Fishbed-L was transferred from 2.KOP to the Navy in 1991.
Under command of 4.KL operated four bomber units equipped with the Su-22M-4 being the 6.PLM-B at Piła, the 7.PLB-R at Powidz, 8.PLM-B at Mirosławiec and the 40.PLM-B at Świdwin. 7.PLB-R also operated the Su-20. Other units under 4.KL included the 45.PLSz-B at Babimost operating the last Lim-6 and SBLim-2 as well as the 13.PLT at Krakow-Balice flying transports. In addition there were various support and liaison units including the 3.EL at Bydgoszcz, 11.EL at Wrocław ad 17.EL at Pozńan-Lawica and in addition the helicopter Regiments at Łęczyca, Inowrocław and Pruszcz Gdański. Units placed under direct control of the HQ in Warszawa were the 32PLRT at Sochachew operating the MiG-21R, 36.SPLT at Warsaw-Okęcie operating VIP transports and 45.LED at Modlin, Training units under the AF Academy at Dęblin included three regiments equipped with the TS-11 Iskra at Dęblin (58.LPSz), Radom (60.LPSz), Biała Podlaska (61.LPSz). 66.LPSz at Tomaszow Mazowiecki was disbanded on 31 December 1989 and continued as a dislocated part of 60.LPSz until 1995 after which the base was handed over to the army. In addition the 47.SzPS was operating the Mi-2 at Nowe Miasto.
The first victims of further cutbacks, which continued during the course of the 90's was the 2. PLM at Goleniow which disbanded in 1993. The units MiG-21M's mainly being transferred to the 1.PLM replacing the units MiG-21PFM's which in turn were handed over to 10.PLM at Łask. The latter unit swapped its complement of MiG-21PFM's with the MiG-21MF's from the 62.PLM at Pozńan-Krzesiny in 1991. 1992 saw the closure of Babimost with the last MiG-15 and MiG-17 deviants being retired. On 2 September 1995 62.PLM at Pozńan-Krzesiny was redesignated to 3.PLM. Another round of reorganisations in the mid nineties saw the disbandment of 1.KOP with its regiments being assigned to the remaining corpses. Victims of this reorganisation were the 6.PLM-B at Piła, the units Su-22's being reassigned to other units and the 32.PLRT at Sochachew which transferred a dozen of its MiG-21R's as well as four MiG-21UM's to 3.PLM at Krzesiny. In 1997 7.PLB-R retired their last Su-20's. In the training regiments 60.LPSz at Radom started replacing the Iskra with the locally developed PZL-130 Turbo Orlik. 61.LPSz was disbanded in 1999/2000. Other changes that took place in 1999 included the departure of half of the MiG-21bis fleet from 9.PLM to 41.PLM at Malbork allowing this unit to retire their MiG-21M/MF's. Some of their MF's in turn departed to Krzesiny where 3.PLM retired the last MiG-21PFM's. Also disbanded in 1999 were 11.PLM at Wrocław-Strachowice which transferred some of its MiG-21M/MF's to Łask and 28.PLM and 19.LEH at Słupsk which coincided with the retirement of the MiG-23MF in Polish service. Other bases that were closed were Nowe Miasto with their helicopters moving to Biała Podlaska and Modlin with the based 45.LED moving to Deblin where it became part of the 23.LESz. Types entering service during the 90's were the PZL W-3 Sokol helicopter as well as ten MiG-29 which were taken over from the Czech Air Force allowing the 1 PLM to retire their MiG-21M's to other units.
Another major reorganisation took place at the end of the century following the entrance of Poland to NATO in 1999. Two Brygada Lotnictwa Taktycznego (BLT - Tactical Aviation Brigades) were established under control of 2 and 3.KOP and all regiments which normally consisted of two squadrons were replaced by Eskadra Lotnictwa Taktycznego (ELT - Tactical Aviation Squadrons). 2 and 3.KOP each have one support flight being the 2.eltł at Bydgoszcz and 3.eltł at Wrocław-Strachowice. In addition 58.LPSz, 60.LPSz and 47.SzPS were redesignated into 1.OSL, 2.OSL and 3.OSL respectively. These changes came into effect in the course of 2000/2001. Unit disbandings continued in 2002 with the disbanding of 9.ELT at Zegrze Pomorskie as well as 3.OSL at Biała Podlaska and 23.LESz at Dęblin.
More reorganisations are due to take place during the nineties. By 2008 all fighter assets will be divided under three Tactical Brigades, one new one is to be formed at Bydgoszcz. 1.BLT at Świdwin will control all Fitter operations. 48 Su-22's are to be retained until 2010/2012 in three squadrons with 39.ELT to disband and 6.ELT to convert to the F-16 at Krzesiny. 2.BLT at Pozńan will control three F-16 squadrons being 3.ELT and 6.ELT at Krzesiny and 10.ELT at Łask. 3.BLT at Bydgoszcz will be responsible for MiG-29 operations at 1.ELT at Mińsk Mazowiecki and 41.ELT at Malbork. Aircraft to enter service in the years to come are the C-295, F-16, PZL SW-4 as well as a number of M-28 Bryza's. In addition to these also 23 former Luftwaffe MiG-29's will enter service. The 47 MiG-29's on the inventory are expected to remain in use until 2010/2012 when 36 new fighters will be needed as replacements for the MiG-29's and the Su-22's.
Part of the reorganisations was also renaming the air force from "Wojska Lotnicze i Obrony Powietrznej" (WliOP) to "Siły Powietrzne" (SP) on 01 July 2004.
The LMW was established in 1947 in Puck where it was equipped with captured German aircraft. The first fighter unit of the Polish naval air force was the 30.Pułk Lotniczy MW (30.PLMW - Naval Aviation Regiment), which was established at Słupsk in 1949. In 1951 this unit was placed under control of the 33.Dywizja Lotnictwa MW (33.DLMW - Naval Air Division) which was responsible for air support and air defence of the Polish fleet. On 1 February 1952 34.Pułk Lotnictwa Myśliwskiego (PLM - Fighter Air Regiment) was established out of the 30.PLMW apart from two other independent units. In 1956 33.DLMW was equipped with several fighter types being the MiG-15, Lim-1 and Lim-2, Il-28, Il-10 and Polikarpov Po-2. The first helicopters arrived in 1958 by means of a number of locally assembled SM-1's. After control of 34.PLM was passed to the Polish Air Force in 1963 the sole remaining fighter type were 38 Lim-6bis which soldiered on until 1988 when the type was retired with the 7.PLM-B at Siemerowice. In 1991 34.PLM became part again of the LMW. By this time the unit was equipped with the MiG-21bis Fishbed-L since 1980 when the unit received 36 factory fresh aircraft to replace the MiG-21MF's with the unit. 34.PLM has a rich Fishbed history receiving the first Fishbeds in 1967.
The Lotnictwo Marynarki Wojennej in its current form was a result from reorganisations, which took place in 1994 and 1995 with the establishment of the 'Gdynska' Brygada LMW ('city of Gdynia' Aviation Brigade') on 27 July 1994 with the 1.Dywizjon Lotnictwa Marinarki Wojennej (DLMW - Naval Air Wing) at Gdynia-Babie Doły, the 2.DLMW at Darłowo and the 3.DLMW at Cewice-Siemerowice as its flying units. 1.DLMW was created on 1 January 1995 from the merger of the 34.PLM and the 18.Eskadra Lotnictwa Łącznikowego MW (18.ELŁ-MW - SAR and Liaison Air Squadron) both based at Babie Doły with Eskadra 1 and 2 from the 34.PLM becoming Eskadra A and B respectively and the 18.ELL-MW becoming Eskadra C of the 1.DLMW. 2.DLMW was established on 1 July 1995 from the 40 Eskadra Zwalczania Okretow Podwodnych i Ratownictwa (40.EZOPiR - ASW & SAR helicopter squadron), The unit is equipped with thirteen Mi-14 Haze helicopters which were received in the early 80's when sixteen were delivered including twelve in the ASW version (Mi-14PŁ) and four in the SAR version (Mi-14PS). One additional Mi-14PS was delivered in 1990 as an attrition replacement. The Mi-14 fleet is currently undergoing a comprehensive modernisation program. Beside the Haze the unit is also equipped with a small number of SAR configured Mi-2RM's. The majority of the latter will be retired during 2002 and will probably be replaced with a number of W-3RM's. The last unit is the 3.DLMW which was created on 31 December1995 from the 7.Pułk Lotnictwa Specjalnego (7.PLS) which was in turn created in 1967 from the 30.Pułk Lotniczy MW (30.PL-MW). In the 80's this unit also absorbed the 15 Samodzielna Eskadra Lotnictwa Rozpoznawczego MW (15.SELR-MW - Independent Air Reconnaissance Squadron) operating six TS-11 Iskra's in the reconnaissance role. 7.PLS (then 7.PLM-B) replaced the Lim-6bis in 1988 for additional TS-11 Iskra's. The last SBLim-2's were retired in 1991. Plans to replace the Iskra's with the I-22 Iryda or former Luftwaffe Alpha Jets never materialized. The unit is currently receiving a number of M28 Bryza-1R patrol aircraft which replaced the An-2M(R) in the late 90's. A new type that entered service in 2002 was the Kaman SH-2G Sea Sprite.
Recently the LMW was dramatically reduced in size after all the remaining fast jet aircraft were retired in the beginning of 2003. As a direct result all the Dywizjon Lotnictwa were disbanded and replaced by three Eskadra MW's.
The history of Polish Army Aviation goes back to the early 1960's. During the most part of the Cold War substantial numbers of locally assembled Mi-1's Hare and Mi-2 Hoplite helicopters as well as Soviet built Mi-4's Hound, Mi-6 Hooks and Mi-8 Hips operated from three bases being Leznica-Wielka, Pruszcz-Gdanski and Inowrocław-Latkow. The first of sixteen Mi-24D Hind attack helicopters entered service in 1978 at Wielka relocating to Pruszcz-Gdanski about a year later equipping the 49.Pułk Lotniczy Wojsk Ladowych (49.PLWL - Army Aviation Regiment) which was shortly afterwards redesignated to its current designation of 49.PSB. 49.PSB is a unit with an interesting history being involved in the invasion of Czechoslovakia when it deployed it helicopters to Hradec Kralové between 21 August and 24 October 1968. Other more modern Hinds, the Mi-24V, went to the 56.PSB at Inowrocław, which received its first of their complement of sixteen Hind-E's in 1986. Both units also operate together about forty Mi-2's in various versions including the Mi-2URN, URP and URP-G attack variant of which 22 were still in use at the end of 2000. Other Mi-2 variants are the Mi-2PL which is used for mine laying, the Mi-2R reconnaissance version, the Mi-2RL SAR version, the Mi-2Ch chemical warfare detection variant, the Mi-2PPD airborne command post and finally the Mi-2T for transport and liaison duties. The 37.Pułk Śmigłowców Transportowych (37.PST - Transport Helicopter Regiment) at Leznica-Wielka was the sole user of the Mi-8 Hip at the end of the Cold War of which three versions are in use including the Mi-8T transport version, the Mi-8TB attack version as well as the Mi-8S for VIP transport. The three Mi-6 Hooks which were also assigned to the 37PST had been grounded by 1990.
As the WLiOP and the LMW also the LWL went through a major reorganisation but contrary to their air force and navy colleagues the LWL only became stronger during the 90's. At Leznica-Wielka the based 37.PST was redesignated into the 1.Pułk "Szwolezerow Ziemi Leczyckiej im marszalka Josefa Pilsudskiego" (1.PSZL - "Josef Pilsudskiego Regiment of the Łęczyca region") in 1994 following the establishment of the 25.Dywizja Kawalerii Powietrznej (25.DKP - Air Cavalry Division) In 1995 the former home of the TS-11 equipped 66.LPSz at Tomaszow-Mazowiecki was handed over to the LWL were the latter established the 7.Pulk "Ulanow Lubelskich 'im Generala Kazimierza Sosnkowskiego" (7.PUL - "General Kazimier Sosnkowski's Lublin Ulan" Regiment) which had taken delivery of 36 PZL W-3 Sokol helicopters by in 2001. These included the W-3W and W-3WA armed versions. Also entering service in the second half of the 90's were sixteen former East German NVA Mi-24D's which were refurbished by WZL-1 at Łódz before being delivered to the 49.PSB.
Following the redesignation of 25.DKP from a division into a brigade on 5 February 1999, 7.PUL was again changed into the 66.Dywizjon Lotnicze (66DL - Air Wing) on 30 March 2000. 1.PSZL at Leznica was redesignated into the 37.DL. Both Hind units retained their old designations during the process of reorganisations. Both 37.DL and 66.DL are part of the NATO Rapid Reaction Forces. The future of the LWL will see the upgrade of a part of the Mi-24 fleet as well as the possible introduction of the W-3PPD which is under evaluation. The Mi-2 and Mi-8 fleet is set to continue service in the foreseeable future.