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Stefan Gnys
ARRSE Rating
4 Mushroom Heads
The author is the son of the subject Polish Fighter Pilot Wladslaw Gnys, and has written a biography of his father after researching through the archives of the Polish Air Force, the French Air Force and finally the RAF all of which his father served in during WW 2. The biography draws heavily on family memories, logbook entries and written accounts of events. It is illustrated with contemporary photographs but specially commissioned artwork to depict specific events throughout his life. The subject of the book was amongst the first Polish pilots to react to the German air attacks on the 1st September 1939, taking off as wingman to his Commanding Officer they were attacked by Stuka Dive bombers returning from an attack on another location. His Commanding Officer was shot down Gnys managed to evade the Stukas and then came across two Dornier Do 17's and attacked them After attacking them a number of times lost sight of them and returned to base and reported them damaged. Both had actually crashed due to his attack and he was credited with the first Allied kills of WW 2. His Commanding Officer was shot down by Oberleutnant Frank Neubert, who was credited with the first aerial victory for the Germans of WW 2, which was incidentally Neubert's only air to air kill of the whole War.

The book has not been written by an author, but instead is a personal homage to the writer's father, as such the writing itself could be more polished and the narrative could have been improved. But the subject matter itself is fascinating, Gnys was born in 1910 into a family in the South East of Poland, at that point part of the Russian Empire as Poland had been completely swallowed up by the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires after 1795. His early life was caught up in the turmoil of WW 1, indeed one of earliest memories during this time was of seeing a plane shot down, and in the upheavals after the end of the war with the collapse of the Russian Empire, the emergence of an independent Poland and the Soviet-Polish war.

The book goes on to document his early life and interest in flying and his early career in the Polish Air Force, where he entered as a Private and worked his way up to both a commision and qualification as a pilot instructor. Once War broke out we follow Gnys as he escapes from Poland and eventually makes his way to France to join the Polish forces in exile there and again take up flying and face the Germans again. As the fortunes of war overtake him we follow him to Britain to again begin proving his worth to the RAF before being deployed with an operational Squadron. From there we follow his exploits both in the air and on the ground up until the end of the war, which includes being shot down over France after D Day.

From there we follow his onward journey, via the Polish Resettlement Corps to Canada and a civilian life, which is equally as interesting as his war exploits. The book goes on to recount how he eventually met Frank Neubert and their relationship and how the post-communist Polish government welcomed him home and honoured him for his wartime exploits. Whilst the writing will never win any awards it is a compelling story of an extraordinary gentleman, all the more interesting as it's clearly written by those who loved him.

Four out five mushroom heads.
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