Polskie Linie Lotnicze "Lot" (1945-1949 - Another beginning)
Note: Poland's territorial extent and shape of its borders before 1939 and after 1944/1945 was drastically different. Country lost it's eastern lands to Soviet Union (now these areas constitute parts of Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania) but gained in return territories in the west, at the expense of Germany. Polish Government in Exile in London claimed validity of pre-war borders, while the communist-controlled Polski Komitet Wyzwolenia Narodowego and Krajowa Rada Narodowa (PKWN - Polish Commitee of National Liberation, KRN - State National Council) accepted new, Soviet-imposed eastern borders. For the purpose of clarity, any remarks below related to Poland's territorial extent, especially in the context of liberation, refer to the post-war borders.
Losses suffered by Poland in the course of World War II were enormous in their extent, as well as highest in proportion to population of all countries participating in the conflict. Poland lost between 5 and 6 milion of it's citizens (about half of them ethnic Poles and other half Jewish, for whom Poland was home for centuries, after they fled the opression elsewhere in Europe), which is around 1/7th - 1/6th of total pre-war population, including 57% of lawyers, 45% of doctors, 40% of university professors, 30% of technicians etc. 590 thousand were permamently handicapped, 2,5 milion were sent to forced labour in Germany and another 2,5 milion forcibly relocated. 38% of national wealth was lost, 43% of cultural heritage treasures (66% of library content), 55% of health service substance, over 60% of industry, 50% of transport infrastructure, extensive losses to natural resources. Warsaw was destroyed in 85%, many other cities in excess of 90% while some villages were literally razed to the ground. Total losses are estimated to be equivalent of 700 billion US dollars in 2004 terms, including losses of Warsaw alone being eqivalent of 45 billion USD.
Extremely difficult post-war conditions made a recreation of the airlines an uneasy task. Initially it was done by the military aviation (Lotnictwo Wojska Polskiego
): in august 1944 in the liberated areas of Poland (mostly between Wisla and Bug rivers) basic air communication was extablished between Lublin (then a seat of PKWN
and therefore a temporary capital, since Warsaw was still under German occupation) and Rzeszów, Przemyśl and Białystok with the use of Samodzielna Eskadra Transportowa, 4 Eskadra Lotnictwa Łącznikowego
and 5 Eskadra Lotnictwa Łącznikowego
(SET, 4 ELŁ, 5 ELŁ - Autonomous Transport Squadron, 4th
and 5th Liason Aviation Squadron
In march 1945 Dowództwo Lotnictwa Wojska Polskiego
(Command of the Aviation of the Polish Army
) created, as it's subordinate agency, Oddział Lotnictwa Cywilnego
(OLC, Civil Aviation Unit
- despite the name it was fully military formation). Units subordinated to OLC
were initially: 18
and 19 Samodzielny Pułk Lotnictwa Transportowego
(18 SPLT, 19 SPLT - Autonomous Transport Aviation Regiment
) and month later also 8 Samodzielna Eskadra Lotnictwa Transportowego KBW
and 7 Samodzielna Eskadra Lotnictwa Transportowego
(8 SELT KBW, 7 SELT - Autonomous Transport Aviation Squadron, KBW
stands for Korpus Bezpieczeństwa Wewnętrznego - Internal Security Corps
and was formation created to fight with armed anti-communist resistance). OLC
established regular communication between Warsaw and most important cities (domestic airline connections in the post-war era included Warsaw and alphabetically: Bydgoszcz, Gdańsk, Katowice, Koszalin, Kraków, Poznań, Rzeszów, Szczecin, Wrocław and Zielona Góra, but exact chronology is uncertain) and throughout the 1945 it transported a total of 26 thousand passengers on the lines of total length 2527 kilometers.
On 10 of march 1945 Government Decree re-established Polskie Linie Lotnicze "Lot"
, but the organizational and training activities took the whole rest of the year, and airline begun operations with the beginning of 1946, in place of the OLC
that was disbanded in december 1945 (together with transfer of some of the aircraft to the airline). Already in 1946 first international lines were established - with Berlin, Paris, Stockholm and Prague, with total length of 6100 kilometers. Initial equipment of the airline was composed of Soviet-manufactured airplanes, but in 1947 new planes were acquired from US war surplus and from France. In the same year new international lines were opened: to Budapest, Bucuresti, Belgrade and Copenhague. In the 1948 LOT
also begun supplying services with aerial topdressing for agriculture.
First aircraft used by LOT
after the war were small but reliable (and ubiquitous in the Soviet-bloc) Polikarpov Po-2 (U-2) biplanes. They constituted the majority of the equipment of the OLC
, namely the SET, 4 ELŁ, 5 ELŁ, 18 SPLT, 19 SPLT and 8 SELT KBW
- total of around 100 aircraft. To the LOT
itself, however, only 5 were transferred in 1946. Unfortunately there are no reliable sources regarding their appearance. Only known fact is that they wore registration marks SP-ABN, -ABZ, -ACC, -ACE and ADB and that they were transferred to aero-clubs after only several weeks.
Instead, I decided to show below some Po-2's that were used in SET (including Poland's first post-war "Air Force One"
) and in civilian aviation post-war.
Poland, Polikarpov Po-2/U-2
Picture updated, October 2016
Lisunov Li-2 airplanes - Soviet license-built Dakotas - were the mainstay of the LOT
's fleet from the 1945 up to mid 1960s with total of 40 used in that period. First ten of these were used by 7 SELT
and were later transferred to LOT
(as SP-LBA, -LBB, -LBC, -LBD, -LBE, -LBF, -LBG, -LBH, -LBJ, -LBK - this one was actually never used). At the same time 20 factory-new Li-2's were obtained in the Soviet Union (SP-LAA "Alina", SP-LAB "Baśka", SP-LAC "Celina", SP-LAD "Duśka", SP-LAE "Elka", SP-LAF "Fela", SP-LAG "Gabrysia", SP-LAH "Hela", SP-LAJ "Jasiek", SP-LAK "Krysia", SP-LAL "Lucynka", SP-LAM "Maciek", SP-LAN "Nelli", SP-LAO "Oleńka", SP-LAP "Piotruś", SP-LAR "Rena", SP-LAS "Stasiek", SP-LAT "Tomek", SP-LAU "Urszulka", SP-LAW "Wojciech"). Nine more Li-2's were bought in 1951-1953 (SP-LKA, -LKB, -LKC, -LKD, -LKE, -LKF, -LKG, -LKH, -LKI) and one (SP-LDA) was temporarily loaned from the Air Force in 1965. In 1948 SP-LBA, -LBB, -LBD, -LBE, -LBG and -LBJ a device for aerial topdressing was installed, and used for that purpose in may-june each year until 1952 (for the rest of the time they served as regular airliners). In 1951-1952 similar installations were placed on SP-LAA, -LAD, -LAM, -LBB, -LBD, -LBG and -LBJ, allowing them to serve part-time in that purpose until 1954-1955 (later these duties were transferred to aero-clubs). SP-LKH, -LKF and -LKI were rebuilt as aerial survey planes. Of these SP-LBC crashed in 1948, SP-LBD in 1952, SP-LAH and SP-LKA in 1954 and SP-LAL in 1955. In 1950 SP-LBA was scrapped (due to damage), in 1951 SP-LBE, in 1952 SP-LAO, in 1955 SP-LAM, -LAU and -LAW, in 1961 SP-LAF, -LAG, -LAJ, -LAK, -LAN, -LAP, -LAR, -LAS and -LAT. In 1963 to the retirement was sent SP-LBG, year later, SP-LBH, -LBP, -LAA, -LAB, -LAC, -LAD, -LAE and -LKC. SP-LKD in 1966, SP-LKG in 1967, SP-LKH and -LKI in 1968 and finally SP-LKB and -LKF in 1969. Already before, in 1957 SP-LBB and -LBJ were transferred to the Air Force and in 1967 SP-LKE to Zarząd Ruchu Lotniczego i Lotnisk Komunikacyjnych
(ZRLiLK, Administration of Air Traffic and Communications Airfields
Many thanks to Caddaric79 for his Douglas C-47 Dakota from which I derived this drawing.
Poland, Lisunov Li-2
Picture updated, October 2016
In the 1946-1947 nine Douglas C-47 Dakota airplanes were bought from US war surplus (SP-LCA, -LCB, -LCC, -LCD, -LCE, -LCF, -LCG, -LCH, -LCI). Although the needs of LOT
could be numerically fulfilled by the large fleet of Li-2's, these Soviet produced planes lacked communications and navigation devices compatible with western standards, therby making their use on connections with western countries problematic. Therefore Dakotas were used on international routes while Li-2's were kept for domestic lines and foreign lines to other Soviet-bloc countries. In 1948 SP-LCB has crashed, in 1950 SP-LCC damaged and scrapped, SP-LCG crashed in 1951 and SP-LCH in 1953. In 1957 SP-LCI was retired while one more plane (SP-LCA) was transferred from the Air Force. In 1958-1959 all remaining C-47's (including two more transferred for that purposed from the Air Force and registered as SP-LCG and SP-LCH) were sold to Iran.
Many thanks to Caddaric79 for his Douglas C-47 Dakota.
Poland, Douglas DC-3/C-47 Dakota
Picture updated, October 2016
C-47's weren't the only planes obtained from the US war surplus. 21 Cessna UC-78 Bobcat's were bought (14 for use, 7 for spares: SP-LEA, -LEB, -LEC, -LED, -LEE, -LEF, -LEG, -LEH, -LEI, -LEK, -LEL, -LEM, -LEN, -LEO) for taxi and service flights and as multi-engine trainers, as well as passenger planes on some short lines (like Szczecin-Koszalin). SP-LEA was damaged and scrapped in 1947 while remaining were retired in 1950, except for one that was transferred to Instytut Lotnictwa
(IL, Institute of Aviation
- state aerospace R&D facility) and now can be seen in the museum in Kraków.
Poland, Cessna UC-78 Bobcat
Third type of planes obtained from US war surplus were Piper L-4 Grasshopper, 130 of which were obtained (plus one Taylorcraft L-2). Majority of them were used by aero-clubs, but one (SP-AGW) was used between 1947 and 1949 by LOT
for service flights. More L-4's were used by LOT
after 1951, when 14 were transferred from aero-clubs for aerial topdressing duties (SP-AGC, -AGM, -AGZ, -AHB, -AHI, -AHN, -AIE, -AIH, -AIT, -AKR, -AMB, -ANZ, -ANY, -AOF). In 1952 SP-AHI crashed while SP-AIH and SP-AIE were scrapped. Year later SP-AGM also crashed and SP-ANZ was scrapped. Later in the same year Pipers were again transferred to aero-clubs.
Poland, Piper L-4 Grasshopper/J-3 Cub
In 1947 LOT
obtained in France 6 SNCAC NC-701 airplanes (French version of German Siebel Si-204D) for aerial survey duties. They were registered as SP-LFA, -LFB, -LFC, -LFD, -LFE and -LFF. Their use in the airline was very short, as already in 1948 they were transferred to Air Force, where they served in the same role until the mid 1950s (when they were retired due to being worn-out and due to problems with spare parts).
Poland, SNCAC NC-701 (Siebel Si-204D)
Ellegant and modern SNCASE SE-161 Languedoc airliners were to be pride of the LOT
but happened to be it's shame and a personal disaster for some of its officials. Five of them were bought in 1947 (delivered in 1947: SP-LDA, -LDB and -LDC and 1948: SP-LDD, while -LDE remained undelivered), with option for five more, despite opposition from Kazimierz Dzwonkowski (deputy head of technical department of LOT
already since before the war) who pointed out that it's Gnome-Rhône 14N54/55 engines had extremely low serviceability, landing gear was very fragile, and extensive and sophisticated electrical installation (operating almost every possible thing in the plane) unreliable as well as unknown to LOT
's technicians used to pneumatic, hydraulic or mechanical installations (btw. Air France
quickly replaced engines with Pratt & Whitney R-1830). It is alleged by serious sources that the transaction was pushed forward by state authorities because it allowed to piggyback to it a covert transfer of funds to French Communist Party. In service SE-161 were used on lines to Paris and Belgrade (via Budapest and Bucuresti), and indeed caused lots of trouble, including several emergency landings. Since Poland was just entereing a phase of hard-line stalinism (that actually begun already in 1944, but initally was hidden behind a facade of pretended democracy), there had to be some scapegoats for such failure. For that role authorities chose LOT
's CEO Wojciech Zieliński, Technical Manager Eugeniusz Roland, head of the LOT
's aircraft purchases department Wacław Litwinowicz and beforementioned Kazimierz Dzwonkowski (Zieliński and Roland were communist party apparatchiks, Litwinowicz and Dzownkowski were long-time LOT
workers since before the war), who all were arrested already in late 1947. First three were tried in a stalinist showtrial. Sentences: Zieliński - triple death penalty, Roland - double death penalty, Litwinowicz - death penalty. Litwinowicz's sentence was, among others, for "keeping illegal ties with suspected foreign agent, certain Blaise Pascal
"... (during one of interrogations he mentioned the name while trying to explain some physical law, but instead was beaten until he confessed that Pascal is foreign agent, alive and personally known to Litwinowicz - when he dared to say about this during trial, the session was quickly suspended and on the next day Litwinowicz had to be carried into the courtoom as for the punishment he was so badly beaten that he couldn't stand or walk). Dzwonkowski was tried separately and got three years for "failing to inform authorities of criminal activities undertook by others". All death penalties were later commuted to life imprisonement and in wake of de-stalinization in 1956 all sentences were declared null and void and all four were fully exonerated and rehabilitated. Flights on Languedoc's were suspended in late 1948 and in 1950 all planes were retired, even though the manufacturer offered replacing the engines or even re-buying the aircraft. Almost new planes (SP-LDB flew total of 174 hours, SP-LDD only 3 hours) were left in disrepair for years at the outskirts of Okęcie airfield.
Poland, SNCASE SE-161 Languedoc