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A Question of Honor: The Kosciuszko Squadron: Forgotten Heroes of World War II Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 23, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Following up the acclaimed The Murrow Boys: Pioneers on the Frontlines of Broadcast Journalism, the authors offer a solid addition to WWII aviation history. The first all-Polish squadron in the Royal Air Force, the Kosciuszko Squadron was formed from experienced Polish Air Force pilots who had fled their fallen country by way of Romania and France to England. Its members, according to the authors, needed little instruction in combat flying but some in the English language. When they took to the air, the squadron's pilots, along with Poles serving elsewhere in Fighter Command, made a large (possibly indispensable) contribution to victory in the Battle of Britain. That battle is the dramatic high point of the book, which from 1941 on shifts its focus to the sorry fate meted out to Poland as a nation and Poles in particular, especially in the infamous Katyn Massacre and the Warsaw Uprising. The authors document how this mistreatment took place with the acquiescence of the Western Allies, grossly misjudging Stalin's ambitions in Eastern Europe. Despite the same extraordinarily fluent writing and thorough research found in The Murrow Boys, readers might still be left wanting to know more about the fate of some of the Polish aviators after the Battle of Britain. Even so, the political balance they bring to telling the political story is noteworthy.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Poland's lot at the hands of Hitler and Stalin has been exhaustively examined by historians. But Olson and Cloud's book shows that the topic merits further consideration. Their sure lure is the Battle of Britain and the crucial role played by Polish fighter pilots. Without bogging down in aviation minutiae, the authors dramatize the seemingly reckless romantic dash of five Polish pilots, which transformed them into temporary celebrities and captivating figures. After tracking the fate of the pilots for the rest of the war, Olson and Cloud then ascend to a different plane, Big Three diplomacy, from which issued a Sovietized Poland. These sections are necessarily a synthesis, but a skillfully composed one for the warplane-oriented reader whom the authors have hooked with their opening cast. Libraries may expect the average interest exhibited in new WW II titles to double for the authors' good work. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1St Edition edition (September 16, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375411976
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375411977
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (113 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #157,920 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

172 of 175 people found the following review helpful By Kenneth S. Smith on September 25, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I usually find history books dull, but this one is well written and surprisingly readable. The title implies that this book is about the Kosciuszko Squadron, but it also covers Polish history from World War I until their freedom from Soviet rule. Kosciuszko Squadron was 303 Squadron of the British Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain, which with 126 kills was the highest scoring squadron of the battle. After the fall of Poland, many of its soldiers, sailors, and airmen made it to Britain where they begged to get into the fight. At first the Polish fliers were shown little regard, but when the British were in trouble, they finally let the Poles fly. 303 Squadron (and 302) in Hurricane fighters accounted for over 150 German planes shot down. The Poles also filled out squadrons of RAF Bomber Command, and along with their fellow fighter pilots, fought with distinction and high casualties until the end of the war. Poland also fielded an airborne brigade that fought in Holland, and armored division that fought in France, and several infantry divisions that fought in Italy.
Poland fought a little known war with the Soviet Union in 1919-1920 in which they embarrassed the Soviets and in particular Stalin, who would later get his revenge. When the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, Nazi propaganda portrayed them as easy prey, using cavalry against tanks and running from battle. To some extent, this vision of the Poles still is believed to this day. This book goes a long way to dispel that misinformation. Although greatly out-gunned, the Poles put up a valiant fight with antiquated equipment, killing over 16,000 German soldiers, destroying 1/4 of their tanks, and shooting down 1/5 of their planes.
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58 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Roman A Urbanowicz on November 6, 2003
Format: Hardcover
If you have already read the book you might recognize my last name. I am the Grandson of the late Brigadier General Witold Urbanowicz: Kosciuszko Squadron pilot, RAF pilot, Chenault's Flying Tiger pilot, and USAF pilot. This book shines quite a lot of light on some of the stories I was told as a child by my Grandfather. I feel that anyone would benefit from reading this book. Without ruining the book, this book shows what these honorable men, most of whom I have met, had to deal with during WW II. Although the picture painted is not always a bright one for the Polish during WW II this book shows that the Polish are a proud people and are willing to do what it takes to preserve their culture. Lynne and Stan tell these stories in such a manner that you will not be able to put the book down. This is an inspirational book that will lift your soul and make you never tell another Polish joke for the rest of your life.
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77 of 81 people found the following review helpful By Mark Kolakowski on March 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Standard histories of World War II generally minimize, distort or simply ignore Poland's role in defeating Hitler. This book performs an invaluable service to the truth.
While the pilots of the Kosciuszko Squadron are its chief protagonists, this book has a much larger scope. More than half its pages are devoted to other aspects of Poland's fight in World War II and to that country's betrayal by its supposed allies, the British and the Americans.
The Poles fiercely resisted the German invasion, killing over 16,000 German soldiers, destroying more than 25% of their tanks and shooting down over 20% of their aircraft. Later, over 200,000 Polish soldiers, airmen and sailors made their way to Western Europe and North Africa, the 3rd largest allied force in those theaters behind the Americans and British. Back at home, over 350,000 underground fighters continued to resist the Germans. In both cases, the Poles vastly outnumbered their counterparts from all other occupied nations combined. Moreover, Poland was the only occupied nation that would not form a collaborationist, puppet regime under the Nazis.
Other vignettes in the book include the key role of Polish cryptographers in cracking Germany's Enigma codes and the Polish underground's critical contributions to spreading disinformation about allied war plans, including the invasion of Normandy.
When Britain "stood alone" against Hitler, it actually depended greatly on the Poles, who constituted over 20% of the RAF's pilots. During the Battle of Britain, they not only contributed an even greater percentage of RAF "kills," but also taught the British superior aerial combat tactics. Without the Poles, it is likely that Germany would have won air superiority over Britain and launched an invasion.
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62 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Jan Peczkis on April 1, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Olson and Cloud provide a broad overview of Polish history. As if to prove that Polish heroism is not the product of Polish self-flattery, the authors cite numerous prominent non-Polish personages to support their contentions. The progressive aspects of Polish society are attested by the democratic May 3, 1791 Constitution, the freeing of slaves by Kosciuszko but not Thomas Jefferson (p. 23), and the granting of women's suffrage in Poland before the USA (pp. 39-40).
Gordon Welchman, one of Ultra's top cryptographers, acknowledges that, without the Poles' breaking of the "invincible" German Enigma code, British efforts would never have gotten off the ground (p. 39). Numerous British military and political figures are cited who recognized the skill and effectiveness of Polish pilots. Pointedly, Ronald Kellett, Air Chief Marshall Frederick Rosier, British air minister Sir Archibald Sinclair, and Sir Hugh Dowding all state that (p. 163), without Polish help, the RAF would have lost the Battle of Britain! British parliamentarian Sir Douglas Savory is quoted as saying that Polish sabotage of German transports to the eastern front had contributed greatly to the collapse of the German offensive (p. 278). Field Marshall Viscount Alanbrooke (p. 374) asserted the indispensability of Anders' army in the Allied advance through Italy.
Several anti-Polish myths are refuted, including the tale of Polish cavalry charging German tanks and the Polish Air Force being promptly destroyed (p. 71). The long-lived caricature of Poles as an emotional and ungovernable people is shown to have originated from Poland's conquerors two centuries ago (p. 24).
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