Monday, May 11, 2015

The Greek PZL P.24s - 1940/1941




P.24s of Elleniki Vassiliki Aeroporia (Royal Greek Air Force) were an essential part of Greek air defence in 1940. There were 36 in total, but only 24 were airworthy at the time of Italian invasion. Almost all of them were equipped with four machine guns (cannons were dismantled due to difficulties with ammunition supplies). The Greek P.24 were grouped in three Mira Dioxes (fighter squadrons): 21.Mira in Kalambaka (9 P.24s), 22.Mira in Salonica (12 aircrafts) and 23.Mira in Larissa (12 aircrafts). There were also three P.24s of 21.Mira on Janina airfield. The first contact between Greek P.24s and Regia Aeronautica took place on 1 November 1940 over Salonica. Greek pilots scored several victories over Italian aircrafts throughout the campaign, however, they could not stand a chance against Luftwaffe after the German invasion at the beginning of April 1941. The last P.24 of Elleniki Vassiliki Aeroporia flew from Crete to Egypt on 23 April along with six Westland Lysanders of 208 Sqn RAF. One P24 was captured by Italians and was tested in Centro Sperimentale de Volo near Rome.

A total of 40 Italian and German (4) aircraft were shot down by P.24s. 35 P.24s were lost in the battle.

Royal Hellenic Air Force [Elleniki Vassiliki Aeroporia] oder of battle on 28 October 1940

MIRE DIOXES [Fighter Squadrons] (Lt.Col. Emanuel Kelaides)
21 Mira with 12 PZL P.24 (Capt. J. Kellas) at Kalambaka
22 Mira with 12 PZL P.24 (Capt. A. Andoniou) at Salonika/Sedes
23 Mira with 12 PZL P.24 (Maj. G. Theodoropoulos) at Larissa

of these 36 only 24 were serviceable 

The PZL P.24F/G in Greek service

The Greek government bought 36 P.24 fighters from PZL as a result of that company's aforementioned sales campaign in the Balkans and eastern Europe. During the period between the world wars the PZL company's product line filled a similar slot as those of Dassult or Saab fill on the modern military aircraft market. The PZL production plant was a place to get a top of the line fighter, attack aircraft or bomber without the purchase having geopolitical consequences. This was and is an important consideration for countries who want to be well armed but are still worried about loosing their balance on the razors edge of diplomatic relations with the worlds major powers who can easily interpret a purchase of military hardware from an opposing power as a sign of hostility. Whether this was the main motivation for the Greeks purchase may be debated but given the already tense atmosphere between Greece and Italy which by default meant trouble with Germany the Greeks must have at least briefly considered the geo-political consequenses of their arms pruchases when deciding who to do business with.

But putting aside the deeper political motivations for buying from Poland, the Greeks took delivery of their 36 P.24 fighters in 1937. It is usually accepted that of these aircraft 6 were machine-gun armed P.24G and the remaining 30 were cannon armed P.24F fighters. However recent research has shown that this was probably not the case. It would appear that the initial Greek order consisted of 30 cannon armed P.24A fighters and six machine-gun armed P.24B fighters. For some unknown reason the Greeks changed their mind and asked for changes to be made to their aircraft. This included a different engine, which required a new engine cowling, increased fuel capacity which required redesign of the engine fuel and oil systems and finally a spinner was added to the aircraft where the standard P.24A/B had been devoid of such finery. It is not clear whether the Greeks requested the addition of the spinner or whether the PZL engineers added it on their own accord. But the changes seem to have been great enough for PZL to redesignate these modified aircraft as P.24F and P.24G respectively. Unfortunately some five aircraft were in advanced stages of assembly when the changes to the requirement were made and these five aircraft were probably delivered as P.24A´s. They do however not seem to have been completely standard P.24A's since there are no surviving photos of Greek P.24 fighter aircraft bearing serials in the Δ 101-105 range, who have no spinner and display the distinctive fairing under the nose that characterized the P.24A. It is therefore reasonable to assume that the five P.24A aircraft delivered were externally indistinguishable from the P.24F but lacked the internal modifications that distinguished the P.24F from the P.24A. 

The remaining aircraft delivered to Greece were P.24F and P24G aircraft. An internal Greek Air force document mentions that only 12 cannon armed aircraft were received. This leads one to conclude that the remainder of the 24 aircraft delivered to Greece were P.24G fighters armed with four machine guns only. So to sum up the picture that presents it self in light of this new information:
  • 5 x P.24A aircraft but with the cowling, spinner and possibly engine of the P.24F/G. These aircraft were fitted with 2 x 7.92mm machine guns and 2 x 20 mm Oerlikon cannon.
  • 7 x P.24F aircraft fitted with 2 x 7.92mm machine guns and 2 x 20 mm Oerlikon cannon.
  • 24 x P.24G aircraft fitted with 4 x 7.92mm machine guns.
  • The aircraft could carry upto 2 x 50kg bombs, one under each wing.
The aircraft were used to form three "Mira Dioxe" (En, Fighter Squadron) assigned numbers 21, 22, and 23. Each Squadron seems to have consisted of an average of eight or nine serviceable aircraft whatever its paper strength was theoretically. This strength of nine aircraft per squadron was maintained rather consistently until the Italian invasion, with the remainder of the fleet being in maintenance facilities undergoing repair. This is a remarkable achievement since the supply of spares would have dried up after the German Invasion of Poland in 1939 and other sources of spares such as the arch enemy Turkey and Axis follower Romania were hostile to Greece. Many other less technically competent air forces would have been hard pressed to reach even 50-60% serviceability under these conditions. Fortunately the Greek air force's mechanics and maintenance personnel were highly skilled for such a relatively small air force. They managed to repair or remanufacture components that would have rendered damaged aircraft useless in other air forces. Another factor that contributed to the high serviceability rate was perhaps the availability of Gnome Rhône K.14 spares from France until the fall of that country in 1940. Still the achievement of the EVA (Elleniki Vassiliki Aeroporia, En, Royal Greek Airforce) maintenance personnel was quite impressive and they were destined to work even harder when the Axis invasion began.

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