First Kills - The Illustrated Biography of Wladyslaw Gnys

AUTHOR: Stefan W.C. Gnys
PUBLISHER: Casemate
PRICE: $34.95
REVIEWER: Pablo Calcaterra
NOTES: 229 pages, 7 x 9.8 inches, ISBN 978-1-61200-556-0

 

By now, anyone who is seriously interested in WWII, will know that the Polish Air Force was not wiped out on the ground on the first day of the war, nor was their cavalry armed with spears facing off against German tanks! Even though their most advanced fighter in service had already been outclassed, and was slower than the German bombers, the Polish gave as much as they could. Taking off from clandestine airfields, the Poles suffered from attrition by superior German planes, and the lack of spare parts for their own aircraft, but they still inflicted considerable losses to the German Luftwaffe.

Most of the Polish pilots were very experienced, and had many hours in the air before the action started. Władysław Gnyś was such an example having joined the Polish Armed Forces in 1931. Taking off in the early hours of the Nazi invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, he witnessed his Captain being shot down and killed by an attacking Stuka (piloted by Frank Neubert), in what turned out to be the first air-to-air victory of the war for the Germans. In the ensuing action, Gnyś shot down two Do17Es thus becoming the first victorious Allied pilot in WWII. Fifty years later, Neubert and Gnyś reconciled, and became friends.

The book written by his son Stefan, can be split into three parts: his early life in rural Poland, his war experiences (roughly half the book), and finally his settlement in Canada after the war in 1948, with two major trips to Poland (after the fall of the Iron Curtain), where he was received as a hero.

The authorís book is lavishly illustrated with nearly 50 pencil drawn images that were commissioned for this project. It also contains maps and roughly 150 photos (B&W and colour). This book is a must have for anyone interested in WWII aviation, and the exploits of the brave and tenacious Polish pilots. It is a magnificent tribute to the first victorious Allied pilot of WWII.

Highly recommended.

Pablo Calcaterra

May 2020

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