A Tribute to the 'few' 

Some light agricultural polish PZL planes are still flying in the Greek skies today. But going back to 1940, when Greece was invaded by Italy, the PZL fighter planes were the ‘few’ destined to defend these skies.  If for the Battle of Britain there have been some other ‘few’ to whom ‘so many owed so much’ , in the case of Greece these ‘few’ were very , very few indeed and therefore much , much more should be ought to them. This article is a humble tribute to these men and their plane, the famous PZL 24.  


Note : This is not an original article. The information displayed derives from existing data published in various books or other websites. The content can be further developed by any other information by those willing to contribute and if so please contact me. A full list of related links is to be added soon



    A short history of the PZL P24 F/G fighter

    In 1930 aviation production was at a particular crossroad. WW1 has introduced the airplane as a new, promising and potential weapon flown by some mythic personalities known as ‘aces’ . Away from the trenches mud and up there on the clarity of the skies in these primitive air machines death became a glamorous event vested with gallantry . Still in the 20s the planes used were not much different , but there was a clear message to the aircraft designers to seek for better air machines  and there was a substantial work to identify their secrets . Speed was undoubtedly the major one ; endurance , rate of climb and maneuverability were of importance as well but we may assume that speed was  given the top priority. The Polish designers did arrive indeed to a miracle in those days which can be understood only by comparing with the ideas and concepts on aircraft building of the other designers around them. France , the top air designer of WW1 was undergoing an economic dilemma and very few good ideas were given a boost. UK was in no  better position while in US, in 1920, there was no air industry, yet. At the same time Germany was out of the game and Italy was obsessed with biplanes .  The big question of the days was : a biplane or a monoplane ? The biplane was slow due to the friction of both wings and limited never to exceed some top speed values ; the monoplane was the only answer to speed. Yet , the biplane was definitely more maneuverable in slower speeds while the monoplane required stronger engines to create a comparable maneuverability.  

    The first monoplane was built near the war end by Germany and Fokker, it was the Fokker 8 , but ended up with disaster , due to lack of time for development. In France , Dewoitine was inspired by this monoplane and developed , albeit some 10 years later, its Dewoitine 371 , a real monoplane that saw some action in the Spanish Civil War. But in 1920, the ‘champion’ of a revolutionary monoplane  design was the silently working Polish Zygmut Pulawski who conceived a monoplane with an upper wing fixed to the fuselage for rigidity – having obviously in mind the reasons Fokker’s monoplane has failed. This wing was , however , even more revolutionary : it was thicker than a standard biplane wing to enclose the machine guns and the fixation point was lowered in front of the pilot to allow the pilots view ahead , which in turn won the name of the ‘Gull or Pulawski wing’ due to its shape

In 1935 , some 15 years later the Loire-46 monoplane model of Nieuport adopted fully the PZL's  gull wing design apparently in 'some' co-ordination with Poland . Almost at the same period but supposedly due to an independent initiative the Russians were using the same wing with their Polikarpov I-15 and the Americans with their Curtis Sparrowhawk carrier fighter which was still a bi-plane .  Out of these two , the Russian I-15 would see plenty of action ,in the Spanish Civil War, with remarkable success. As fate would have it , some years later in WW2 , the pro-Axis Romanian PZL fighters have done very well against the Russian I-15 in a number of confrontations ! Another point to mention is that an improved I-15 type , the I-152 did away with the Gull Wing due to a disaccord of some pilots claiming difficulties with visibility , only to be re-introduced with its next version the I-153 ,that fought in numbers against the invading Germans in Russia, in 1941. Pulawski's design was definitely proved both revolutionary and effective quite some time after its initial concept. 

The french Loire- 46 monoplane of the Nieuport company was extremely close to the PZL design. It did not see , however , any action nor any further development

The russian Polikarpov I-15 adopted the Pulawski's wing for the reasons of the upper wing's rigid fixation to the fuselage which  worked well even for a biplane. 
The Gull Wing as applied to the Polish PZLs 

    The PZL P 1 prototype that flew in 1929 , was developed to the P 7 and the Polish government decided to adopt it. The 1930 was however different from the 20s in that the possibility of a new war was evident and especially in air arms the race has begun. The air industry was fighting through thick and thin to survive through the economic crisis and therefore new marketing policies , combined with politics , were necessary.  The French plane motor producer Gnôme-Rhône offered its new engine , a radial 14-cylinder one with 760 hp , as the motor to boost the PZL design , which then would develop as a joint venture to cover the market of Poland , France and many ‘neutral’ countries. The new version of this PZL design was the PZL 11c that became the standard Polish fighter ; France , however , did not support this initiative to the end due to internal rivalry between other air companies who wanted to establish their own fighter designs for the  French AF ( Nieuport , Morane, Dewoitine ) and the P11c was not to become a French fighter.

The PZL P11c has fought valiantly against the German invasion and would have scored even better  had it been developed as much as his P24 'brother'

    The rest of the market was however waiting ! PZL decided to improve the P11c so as to make it more competitive for the market of the 1933 and that meant more armament as well. The initial 2 machine gun design was increased to 4 machine guns , 2 in the fuselage and 2 in the wings and later all 4 in the wings. An option for 2 machine guns and 2 x 20 mm guns was envisaged. Add to it the new Mistral Major Gnôme-Rhône engine with a 3 blade Letov propeller and the version PZL P 24 was born. The ‘neutral’ market around was impressed on the Paris Air Show in 1933 and orders arrived to PZL from Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Estonia, Yugoslavia and Greece. The Greek AF experts were aiming initially for a British fighter , the Gloster Gladiator or the Hurricane probably and even the American Grumman F4 Wildcat has been proposed ( Note : it was indeed delivered but late , after the fall of Greece , in Egypt , and was then integrated to the RAF , while Greek pilots were given Hurricanes to fly instead ) . It is also said that Poland accepted a part of the payment from Greece in the form of tobacco loads while some extra modifications for the P24 model concerning range and armament. were agreed. Thus 2 versions of the P24 , the F and the G arrived in Greece. In more detail : 30 P24F : 2 x 20 mm Oerlikon FF cannons and 2 x 7.9 mm Colt-Browning MG40 machine guns, 4 x 12.5 kg or 2 x 50 kg bombs under wings, 700 kW Gnôme-Rhône 14N-07 engine and 6 P24G : with 4 x 7.9 mm, Colt-Browning MG40 machine guns. Almost all of them were equipped with four machine guns (cannons were dismantled later due to difficulties with ammunition supplies)

Specifications :  

power plant: one 700 kW Gnôme-Rhône 14N-07 engine

crew: 1

wing span: 10.68 m

length: 7.81 m

height: 2.69 m

weight: empty 1329 kg, max loaded 1915 kg

max speed: 430 km/h at 4250 m

service ceiling: 10500 m

range: 700 km

armament: four 7.9 mm Colt browning MG40 machine guns and four 12.5 kg bombs


A typical PZL P24G type with 4 machine guns belonging to the Fighter Squadron 22 , No D120 , based in Thessaloniki that fought later over Ioannina



By the time the Greek-Italian conflict began the Greek fighter force consisted of four fighter Squadrons, the 21, 22, 23 & 24. The 21 F.S. was stationed in Vasilikee , between Trikala and Kalambaka, equipped with 10 PZL-24 F & G. Fighting personnel consisted of 9 officers and 5 non-coms. Commanding Officer was Captain Johannes (John) Kellas  . 22 F.S. stationed at Thessalonica was equipped with 9 PZL-24s. C.O. was Captain Andreas Antoniou in charge of 6 officers and 6 non-coms. 23 F.S. at Ambelonas , was charged with covering the major cities of Volos and Larissa in central Greece. Equipment consisted of 11 planes, C.O. was Captain Gregorios Theodoropoulos, having under his command 7 officers and 9 non-coms. Finally, 24 F.S. was stationed in Eleusina, protecting the area of the nearby port and the capital of Athens. It was equipped with 8 Bloch MB 151 flown by 10 officers and non-coms. C.O. was Captain Michael Savellas. 

The PZLs aligned ready for action. The first one seems to be the P24F , D125 

The MB151 Bloch fighter (Note : Bloch was actually Dassault who during the war changed his Jewish name) although faster than the PZL P24 was a design full of problems and hard maintenance. It therefore did not contribute enough to the overall defense. The bulk of the air fighting was to fall on these 24 PZLs who were facing on the other side some 180 Italian fighters !! Most of them were based in Albania and Italian Adriatic coast , the types were mainly the Fiat CR42 biplane fighter and the new monoplanes Fiat GR50bis and Macchi 200. But the Greek PZLs in 1940  were no longer a  revolutionary design. The CR42s were faster and more rigid as fighters , the GR50bis monoplanes  although not faster enough were the designs of a new generation while the Macchi 200 was the top on this front at that time. On the other hand the Italian bombers , the Cant 1007Z and especially the very famous SM-79 were reliable and difficult to shoot down with machine-gun fire alone. 

Fiat CR-42 ('Falcon')

Fiat G50bis 

Macchi 200

SM-79 ('The Bat')


    However , it seemed that pilots could make the difference , although the numbers would always stay beyond comparison for the Greeks. Additionally , many Italian pilots had recent experience in Spain’s civil war (1936-39). But it was mostly the surprise of the Italians that were promised a no-resistance and an easy victory by their leaders that reduced the Italian pilots 'euphoria' effect , becoming an advantage for the PZL pilots. 




The first aerial engagement was on the very day the war was declared by the Italians , the 28th October 1940. , with a squadron of SM-79 escorted by CR-42 attacking Thessalonica. The few PZLs that got up were found outnumbered as part of the squadron was moved to the western Albanian front. Yet, they did dash against the agressors and were able to disperes them effectively so that no harm was done to the city or the harbor. One PZL came down in flames but the CR-42 were rather ineffective despite their superiority. Then on the 2nd of November 1940, over the VII (Greek) division’s front in Epirus,  3 PZL-24s of 21 Fighter Sq,mixed F & G types, attacked a hostile formation of fighter-bombers , possibly Cant Z-1007 bis (Alcyon). During the action F/Lt Sakellariou & Sgt Papadopoulos were shot down and killed in action. The third PZL managed to escape.

The same day also saw the first Greek aerial success when a formation of Cant Z-1007 bis bombers tried to bomb again Thessalonica. Six PZLs of 22 Sq. , supported by A/A fire, engaged the enemy. F/Lt Marinos Mitralexes, after unsuccessfully expending all his ammunition against an Italian bomber, he rammed it sawing off its rudder with his propeller’s blades. The bomber crashed to the ground out of control, while Mitralexes successfully crash-landed his own aircraft. During the same action Sgt Epameinondas Dagoulas claimed one more bomber.  Mitralexes was decorated with the Golden Order for Valour and later on with the Flying Cross, War Cross, Golden Cross of St. George’s Order with Swords and the Phoenix Order with Swords .


Marinos Metralexes and below the Cant Z1007bis bomber he shot down on November 2 , 1940 near Naussa. Metralexes will fight all the war period in N.Africa and back to Greece during the liberation arriving to the grade of Squadron Leader. He will be killed during an accident against adverse weather west of Rhodos flying an Avro Anson plane. 

The italian bomber belonged to the 210 squadron of the 50th wing and carried the number 3, piloted by the F/O Omero Matteuzzi. 

A model of the Cant Z1007bis

  (the assembler has removed the typical fascist insignia of WW2 and did not support the expedition camouflage of earth color with many dark earth and green spots all over) 

    During the evening hours of the same day another formation of 15 enemy bombers, escorted by 7 fighters, raided the city of Thessalonica once again. Aircraft of 22 Sq. took off under the leadership of the unit’s commander, Cpt Andreas Antoniou, who shot down one enemy fighter for the loss of one PZL-24, whose pilot, Sgt Konstantinos Lambropoulos, bailed out safely.

Next day, 3 November, 5 fighters of the same unit tried to chase off a formation of 9 Italian bombers and fighters heading for a third time against Thessalonika. F/Lt Konstantinos Giannikostas claimed one enemy fighter.  

14 November 1940. Nine PZLs of 23 Sq. shot down two CR-42s and damaged a third, which was later destroyed during crash-landing. Unfortunately the Greek pilots who claimed these victories are not known.

18 November. On the 18th PZL-24s of 22 & 23 Sqs engaged in combat with Italian fighters over Morova. Valkanas, of 23 Sq, desperate to claim his first victory, rammed on purpose an enemy fighter. Italians on the other end, claimed half of  Royal Hellenic Air Force’s aircraft as destroyed, on paper at least ! During the same fight Sgt Demetrakopoulos was shot down but took to his parachute.

20 November. A section of 4 PZLs of 21 Sq were engaged with 3 CR 42s and a Capproni bomber over the Small Prespa Lake. The bomber was shot down by the Squadron’s C.O. Cpt Ioannis (John) Kellas. Only hours later 21 Sq. had all its PZL-24s replaced by British biplanes Gloster Gladiator. Although maneuverable they were prone to frequent mechanical problems due to overuse during their previous service in Britain’s fights against Italian and German aircraft. Yet one of the British pilots Lt 'Pat' Pattle was able to shoot down at least 21 Italian planes with a Gladiator becoming the first RAF scorer at the time

Pattle's Gladiator II , YK-W , N5832. He scored at least 11 victories in this very plane fighting from the same bases the few PZLs were hosted, usually the Paramythia grass field well hidden between mountains near Ioannina. The fuselage  letters were initially (1939) painted in the order Individual Identity (W) + Squadron Identity (YK) but from pictures on the Paramythia  airfield (1940) the order seems definitely reversed , as was the case with all later versions. The tail national insignia were painted over the entire vertical stabilizer and this was repeated with the Hurricanes flown in Greece. 

The last engagement for the year came on 3 December 1940 over the region of Moschopolis, when 6 PZLs of 23 Sq. fought against 18 CR-42s, during which P/Officer Konstantinos Tsetsas fell victim of the enemy’s numerical superiority.

During 1941 Royal Hellenic Air Force was significantly supported by the arrival of RAF units in Greece. Greek serviceable aircraft at that time were down to 19 PZL-24s, 2 Bloch MB 151 and 7 Gladiators. From January 1941 onward RHAF (Royal Hellenic Air Force) changed its tactics according to those of its British ally, the RAF, trying to gain control over an area by flying numerous standing patrols over the battlefield.

At 09.30 of 8 January 1941, over Ostrovo, 9 PZLs of 22 Sq. and 6 Gladiators from 21 Sq. attacked a formation of Cant Z1007bis, Cptn Gregorios Fanourgakes of 22 Sq. claiming one as probably shot down. The same Greek formation was later engaged in combat against 9 CR-42s and one Romeo 378bis over Celoure, where Captains Antoniou and Nikolaos Scroubelos claimed one each as confirmed destroyed.

Bad weather during the rest of January prevented further action until the 25th of that month, when the enemy appeared again over Thessalonika. Concentrated actions from 21 & 22 Sqs resulted in one more Cant Z1007 confirmed destroyed by Antoniou.

During the evening hours of that eventful date 7 PZLs and 7 Gladiators from the very same two squadrons attacked against 8 BR-20 bombers over Cleisoura, where Antoniou scored his first “double” of the war –a rare feat in those days. One more was claimed by Staff Sgt Panagiotes Argyropoulos of 22 Sq. A third one was destroyed by the guns of Cptn Kellas of 21 Sq. Two more BR-20 were also destroyed fell to the guns of one more PZL and one Gladiator, although the names of the two victorious pilots remain unknown to this day, raising the score of the day to 6 confirmed destroyed without loss to the Greek side.

January 1941 came to an end with one more Greek success on the 28th, when PZLs from 22 Sq. attacked an enemy bomber formation heading to Thessalonika. Cptn Savellos, former commander of 24 Sq, later transferred to the 22nd,  shot down one Cant Z1007. Greek success on the 28th, when PZLs from 22 Sq. attacked an enemy bomber formation heading to Thessalonika. Cptn Savellos, former commander of 24 Sq, later transferred to the 22nd,  shot down one Cant Z1007.

A curious incident took place on 8th of February, showing to the extreme the varying capabilities and fighting skills of Greek fighter pilots: during a reconnaissance over Cleisoura, 7 Gladiators of 21 Sq. and 8 PZLs of 22 & 23rd, all attacked against a lone two-engine Italian bomber, which, thanks to the skills of its pilot and the inexperience of the Greek pilots, managed to escape safe and sound!

On the February 9th it was the turn of 24 Fighter Sq. to show up, when the unit’s Bloch MB 151 attacked Italian bombers over Thessalonika . One Cant fell to the guns of Staff Sgt Eleftherios Smyrniotopoulos. Meanwhile a large dogfight took place over Cleisoura between 8 PZLs of 22 & 23 Sq. plus 4 Gladiators of 21 Sq. against 30 Italian bombers escorted by 12 fighters. F/Lt Mitralexes claimed one CR 42 trailing black smoke as probable. Cptn Kellas shot down two fighters and one more was claimed by Stf. Sgt Demetrakopoulos of 21 Sq. Two other pilots belonging to the same unit claimed one probable fighter each. Dagoulas of 22 Sq. on the other hand, described by the archives as …“…a wise and dangerous to the opponent fighter pilot, always on the forefront of the fighting”, added one confirmed destroyed to his tally. There were losses to the Greek side also: two badly damaged fighters were crashed while trying force-landings on their bases.

On 10 February, a mixed patrol of 21, 22 & 23 Squadrons, consisting of 11 fighters in all, attacked three Italian bombers over the area Boubesi-Cleisoura-Premeti, resulting in the probable downing of one bomber by Cptn Fanourgakes.

11 February. Two Gladiators of 21 Sq. on a patrol searching for enemy aircraft reported in their sector, were surprised and shot down by Italian fighters. The pilots, Cptn Anastasios Bardivilias and Stf Sgt Kostorizos, were killed after having damaged two Italian fighters.  

The above Gloster Gladiator I profile corresponds probably to the one flown by Cpt Anastasios Bardivilias when killed. There is no certainty however over the exact number (187) of this plane. The camouflage indicates the battle conditions of those days: the planes came from Egypt and were painted with sand and earth color on top . The Greek technicians extremely busy to maintain the PZLs left the earth color and added some green at the sand color place. The rudder national colors was rather a surprise : it was usually avoided for confusion since Italians had a white cross painted there over a blue/azur background . Another remark : the national roundels are missing from the fuselage - they were probably missing from all or most of the Greek Gladiators. 

This profile was created most probably by Michael Solanakis

15 February. Cptn Fanourgakes claimed one bomber, out of a formation of three,  as probable over the Tepeleni area.

On 20 February a fierce scrap took place over the Sendeli area, when a massed force of 19 Greek fighters from all available squadrons –in other words the whole of Royal Hellenic Air Force- escorted friendly bombers. 10 Romeos 37 and 15 G-50s attacked out of the blue and in the ensuing melee the 7 PZLs of 22nd Sq lost contact with the rest of the formation due to a radio malfunction, and were forced to bear the brunt of the fighting on their own. 4 Italian fighters were shot down by Antoniou, Fanourgakes, F/Lt Michaletsianos and Dagoulas. The PZL of the unit’s commanding officer, Antoniou, was badly shot up but the pilot crash landed safely at Premeti.

On February 23rd a mighty formation of Greek fighters consisting of 3 Gladiators of 21 Sq, 5 PZL of 22 Sq and 9 PZL of 23 Sq, engaged 7 Italian fighters but this time, instead of their numerical superiority the battle ended as a Greek defeat, with the death of F/Lt Scroubelos and Staff Sgt Chrissopoulos, whose Gladiator was destroyed while crash landing.

On April the 2nd , 1941, over Florina, took place the last major aerial battle between Greek and Italian aircraft, when 8 Gladiators of 21 pursued 10 Cant Z-1007 bombers. Reportedly two bombers were shot down with no further details. Four days later the German invasion of Greece drew the final curtain to the fighting days of the Royal Hellenic Air Force. Until that moment the Greek fighters fought to the bitter end with whatever they had, along with the experienced RAF which during the two-month period of November-December 1940-41, shot down a total of  42 Italian aircraft for the loss of 16 British aircraft. Without the British support the Greek fight would never have had stood a chance.

Greek Squadrons had flown a total of 1531 hours –mainly: 21 Sq 513h, 23 Sq 455h, 22 Sq 455h, 24 Sq only 158h due to problems with its Bloch MB 151. All those resulted in the confirmed destruction of 64 victories with another 24 probable. Greek losses were 19 aircraft.

Although the number of Greek losses is more than verified, serious doubt was raised during post-war research as to the verification of the victories, since according to the pilots combat reports, the sum of total enemy aircraft shot down was down to a mere 22 confirmed plus 12 probable! Even the sum of confirmed plus probable victories would only give us 34 victories. So the only way the total of 64 can be brought up is by adding the 31 victories reported by the Greek A/A defenses. It still remains unknown if that “mistake” was done in purpose or it was just the result of confusion between confirmed, probable and shared victories -a problem quite complicated even in much more experienced Air Forces of the Allied world, such as the RAF and the USAAF, even as late as 1944-45. On the other hand the Italians have reported not only larger numbers of victories but very often of wrong types ; some 20 Spitfires were mentioned as shot down while no such types were flown in these air battles.

Even against the mighty Luftwaffe of 300 Me-109s & 110s the Greek pilots, while almost considered defeated, at least in the air, managed to score some last victories to the German aerial armada. On 6 April, the very day of the invasion, a German reconnaissance aircraft Hs 126, was shot down, shared between Cptn Antoniou and F/Lt Antonio Katsimbouris. A second aircraft of the same type was shot down, this time shared among three pilots, Cptn Doukas, F/Lt Kontogeorgios and Katsimbouris. During the same day a Dornier 17 bomber was shot down by F/Lt Oikonomopoulos. On April the 15th one more Hs 126 was destroyed by Staff Sgt Pericles Koutroubas of 23 Sq, killed in action later in the day. The remnants of RHAF from all four fighter squadrons were all scrambled in a dogfight over Bascilikee, trying to fight off a large formation of German bombers escorted by fighters. One Gladiator, one PZL and one Bloch were shot down and Staff Sgt Georgios Mokkas was killed. Whatever was left of the Greek fighter force was destroyed on the ground by the subsequent German raids against the airfields.


Sgt Spiros Depountis in front of his P24G 


Some rare pictures of damaged PZL P24s taken by the Germans upon entering the Argos airfield , the last base the remaining Greek planes were to retreat before flying to Crete. The D102 and D112 are depicted here. The D102 probably was flown by Lt Demetracopoulos. The D112 is one of the few with white code letters on the fuselage ordered to change very late from their initial black color, for reasons of easier identification in the distance. 


The above pictures , provided the few details we know about the Greek PZL P24 markings and insignia. As shown on the above profile : There was no national markings on the rudder. For this plane there is a red scorpion painted as a squadron badge below the cockpit. It is not clear whether the Greek roundels appearing on the fuselage were also painted above and/or below the wings. It seems the upper wings did not carry, at a later stage, any roundels to avoid detection on the ground. The camouflage patterns were random.

No restored PZL 24F,G planes are known to exist in the world ! Those captured were used by Germans and Italians as iaison or exercise planes for a while until scrapped. A major reason for it , wass that the production country  Poland , was not in position , very early in WW2 , to ensure their maintenance due to its occupation. Luckily , there is just one PZL 11c that did survive in one museum in Warsaw to symbolize the genious of the Polish air design back to the 20s. 



22 FS

         5 ½


21 FS

I. KELLAS                


         3 1/3


22 FS








         1 ½


22 FS





22 FS






The following names  belong to these 'few' pilots , as collected from private sites 





AIR WAR FOR YUGOSLAVIA GREECE AND CRETE , 1940-41 : Christofer Shores , Brial Cull and Nicola Malizia. Grub Str , London 1999

Details on the Greek PZLs http://www.brushfirewars.org/aircraft/pzl_p24_greek/pzl_p24_greek.htm

Air War in Greece 1940-41 http://home.freeuk.net/johndillon/air_war.htm


The PZL P24 fighter  http://www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/Hangar/7252/p24.htm

The Greek (Hellenic) Air Force

Assorted information on the greek and greek origin pilots of WW2 of all camps : http://math.fce.vutbr.cz/safarik/ACES/aces1/greece2.html


The greek Aces list : http://jpgleize.club.fr/aces/ww2gre.htm