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During the interwar period, the Polish High Command had placed considerable emphasis upon the role of armed aerial reconnaissance aircraft. To meet this interest, during 1931, PZL decided to embark on the development of a new combat aircraft to meet this role. An earlier proposal for a fast single-engine passenger airliner, designated the PZL.13, was adopted as the basis of the new design. The new aircraft, which was designated as the PZL.23, a relatively modern design, which integrated features such as an all-metal body and unconventional wing construction. As the British Bristol Pegasus radial engine was licensed for use in Poland only, export aircraft were instead equipped with the Gnome-Rhône 14K engine. Powered as such and along with some airframe changes, the PZL.23 became the PZL.43 Karaś.
It was the primary Polish reconnaissance bomber in use during the invasion of Poland. On 2 September 1939, a single PZL.23B of the 21st Escadrille was responsible for the bombing of a factory in Ohlau, inside Germany; the attack represented the first bombing raid to be conducted against a target in territory within the Third Reich. During the following days, the PZL.23 bomber escadrilles were deployed to attack several advancing German armoured columns; they often conducted these attacks at low altitudes, which made them vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire. By the end of 1939, around 120 PZL.23s (86 per cent of the Polish Air Force's inventory of the type) were destroyed; however, of these, only 67 had been lost as a direct result of enemy actions.