Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Polish contribution to the Allied victory in World War 2 (1939-1945)
Polish contribution to the Allied victory in World War 2 (1939-1945)
Poland was the only country to fight in the European theatre of war from the first to the last day of the greatest armed conflict in the history of mankind. The war began with invading Poland: first, on September 1st, 1939, by the Nazi Germany, soon after, on September 17th, by the Soviet Union. Both invaders acted in concert, upon the Ribbentrop – Molotov Treaty (concluded on August 23rd). The allies of Poland – Great Britain and France – declared war upon Germany on September 3rd, but did not undertake any efficient military actions (the so-called “Phony War”). The Soviet Union joined the anti-Nazi alliance only in the summer of 1941, when invaded by Germany. The United States, although they gave a lot of significant material aid, joined the military actions within the frames of the coalition in December 1941 when assaulted by Japan and when Germany declared war upon them.
In the Polish contribution to the defeat of Germany in the first place we notice determination and perseverance: despite the severe defeat in 1939, the Poles formed armies five more times, including four outside of their country: in France in 1939, in the United Kingdom in the summer of 1940 (after the defeat and capitulation of France), in the USSR in 1941 (the army of Gen. Anders that fought later in the South of Europe), and then again in the Soviet Union in 1943 there emerged the one that later fought at the Red Army’s side. The fifth Polish army, created at the end of September of 1939 was the conspiratorial armed force in the occupied territory. For the entire period of the war there also existed the very important “silent front” – the intelligence. Probably up to 2 millions Poles served since September 1st, 1939 to May 8th, 1945 in all the Polish military formations – regular armies, partisan troops and underground forces. In the final stage of war the Polish troops on all the European fronts amounted to some 600 thousands soldiers (infantry, armored troops, aircraft and navy), and in the summer of 1944 while entering the open fight with the retreating Germans, the armed underground numbered more than 300 thousands sworn soldiers. It can be concluded that Poland put in the field the fourth greatest Allied army.
Józef Garliński, Poland in the Second World War, 1939-1945, London 1985
ed. Edward Pawłowski, Wojsko Polskie w II Wojnie Światowej, Warszawa 1995.
The 1939 Campaign
At the outbreak of the war, Polish army was able to put in the field almost one million soldiers, 2800 guns, 500 tanks and 400 aircraft. On the September 1st, the German forces set to war against Poland amounted to more than 1.5 million solders, 9000 guns, 2500 tanks and almost 2000 aircraft. The Red Army began the invasion sending in the first lot more than 620 000 soldiers, 4700 tanks and 3200 aircraft. Despite the overwhelming odds and the necessity of defense against the offensive in all directions, the Polish army fought for 35 days. Warsaw held until September 28th, the Polish garrison of Hel Peninsula for more than a month. The last battle against German troops took place on October 5th.
Polish losses in combat against Germans (killed and missing in action) amounted to ca. 70 000. 420 000 were taken prisoners. Losses against the Red Army added up to 6000 to 7000 of casualties and MIA, 250 000 were taken prisoners. Of these, almost all of the officers were murdered in the spring on 1940 in Katyn, Kharkiv and Tver upon Stalin’s decision. Although the Polish army – considering the inactivity of the Allies – was in an unfavorable position – it managed to inflict serious losses to the enemies: 14 000 German soldiers were killed or MIA, 674 tanks and 319 armored vehicles destroyed or badly damaged, 230 aircraft shot down; the Red Army lost (killed and MIA) about 2500 soldiers, 150 combat vehicles and 20 aircraft. For many weeks Poland contained significant German forces, no advantage of this was taken by the Allies. Besides that, the necessity to reinforce the destroyed in Poland German military forces gave France and Great Britain more time to prepare to repulse invasion.
Paweł Wieczorkiewicz, Kampania 1939 roku, Warszawa 2001;
Steven J. Zaloga, Poland 1939. The Birth of Blitzkrieg, London 2002;
Alexander B. Rossion, Hitler Strikes Poland. Blitzkrieg, Ideology, and Atrocity, Kansas 2003.
The underground army home
In the night from September 26th to 27th, 1939, a day before Warsaw’s capitulation, General Michał Karaszewicz-Tokarzewski received from the Commander-in-Chief of the Polish army (at the time interned in Romania) an order to create a military conspiracy. Over a few weeks he summoned up a group of officers who avoided captivity and from the scratch they built the most powerful underground army in the occupied Europe. The first name of it was Służba Zwycięstwu Polski (SZP – Polish Victory Service), later Związek Walki Zbrojnej (ZWZ - Union for Armed Struggle), and from February 1942 – Armia Krajowa (AK – Home Army). This resistance is widely known under this last name. The actual creator of the Home Army was Gen. Stefan Rowecki (also known as “Grot”) who was the chief of staff first, and from June 1940 to June 1943 – the Commanding Officer. After his seizure by Gestapo, this post was taken by Gen. Tadeusz Komorowski (aka Bór). The Home Army, being a voluntary force, in the same time was both a part of Polskie Siły Zbrojne (PSZ – or PAF – Polish Armed Forces) whose high command was located in exile, and the most important element of the Polish Underground State. The main goal of the AK was preparation and conducting the national uprising in case of advancing frontlines or general collapse of the German armed forces. There were created suitable structures – staff, high commands of arms and services, territorial commands (regions, and on lower level – districts), weapons were collected, officers and soldiers trained, information about enemy gathered. However, because of the atrocious nature of the German occupation, public feelings and attitude, it was necessary to undertake daily struggle. Therefore the AK activities consisted of two strictly connected to each other parts: 1. the daily conspiratorial struggle, 2. the national uprising (during which the Home Army was supposed to recreate the full structure of armed forces).
Parallel to the official army there emerged military units of political parties, conspiracies based upon social organizations (e.g. upon the Fire Brigades emerged Skała, or “the Rock”) and youth associations (e.g. Szare Szeregi, or “the Grey Ranks”, based upon the Związek Harcerstwa Polskiego, or the “Polish Scouting Association”). They emerged thanks to the sabotage groups prepared by the General Staff before the war’s outbreak. One of the tasks of the AK Commanding Officer was uniting them into one force. This took quite a lot of time. Eventually, only a part of radical nationalists (NSZ – Narodowe Siły Zbrojne – National Armed Forces) and, emerging up from the summer 1942 – military units of communist party remained out of the AK structures. In the spring of 1944, when the process of unification was ended, the Home Army numbered more than 300 thousand sworn soldiers.
Apart from the staff and territorial structures there existed special units dealing among others with subversion and sabotage. In April 1940 the Związek Odwetu emerged (ZO - Retaliation Union), later transformed into the Kierownictwo Dywersji (Kedyw – Subversion Command) which acted on central level and in each region. In September 1941, because of the change in the Polish-Soviet relations the organization “Wachlarz” (or the “Fan”) was created. It dealt with intelligence and sabotage closely behind the German-Soviet frontlines. From January 1st 1941 to June 30th, 1944 within the frames of daily struggle the AK and subordinate units ditched among others 732 trains, set fire to 443 transports, destroyed about 4300 vehicles, burnt 130 magazines of weapons and equipments, damaged 19 000 train carriages and 6900 engines, set fire to 1200 gasoline tanks, blew up 40 railway bridges, destroyed 5 oil shafts, froze 3 blast-furnaces, conducted about 25 sabotage acts in war factories, 5700 attempts on officers of different police formations, soldiers and volksdeutschs (Polish citizens of German origin that volunteered to quisle with Germans), set free prisoners of 16 prisons. The partisan troops – active from 1943 – fought more than 170 combats, killing more than 1000 Germans. At the beginning of 1944 there were about 60 active AK partisan troops (some numbered up to a few hundred soldiers) and about 200 sabotage squads. The AK organized a few conspiratorial groups in some of the concentration camp (e.g. in Auschwitz) and among Poles sent to Germany for slave work. The runaway allied prisoners of war were also helped. A contact by radio and couriers with the Polish government in exile and the Commander-in-Chief staff was also maintained. There functioned permanent transfer bases (the most important one in Budapest) and courier routes (e.g. to Sweden). Since February 1942 began to arrive the trained in England Polish sabotage and intelligence officers (the so called “cichociemni” – literally the “silent and dark ones”). In total 316 of them were parachuted in Poland. There also was a subversion propaganda action going on, addressed to German soldiers (the so called Action “N”). The AK conducted some large publishing activities: there were about 250 newspapers edited, including the largest resistance title – “Biuletyn Informacyjny” (Information Bulletin), which was published from November 5th, 1939 up to January, 1945. Besides the “Biuletyn” there were also issued military books of rules, handbooks and manuals for the cadets of the underground military schools (some 8600 soldiers graduated from them). As it can be seen, there were many various activities going on. Their own contribution to fight against the occupation regime paid Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa (ŻOB – Jewish Fighting Organization) and the supported directly by the AK Żydowski Związek Wojskowy (ŻZW – Jewish Military Union) – mainly in the form of the heroic and desperate Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (April 19th – May 16th 1943).
To the most spectacular actions of the Home Army belong: paralyzing the railway junction in Warsaw (night from October 7th to 8th , 1942), recapturing the prisoners in Pińsk (January 18th, 1943), bomb assault in a city railway station in Berlin (February 15th, 1943), recapturing the prisoners in downtown Warsaw (the so-called Arsenal action, March 26th, 1943), assassination of Franz Kutschera, the SS and Police Commander for the District of Warsaw (February 1st, 1994).
It is estimated that until July, 1944 about 34 thousand soldiers of the Home Army and subordinate units were killed– some in combat but mostly they were executed or tortured to death in prisons – more or less 10% of the ranks. Among the “cichociemni” the losses added up to 1/3 of the ranks.
The Underground State
It was possible to build up the conspiratorial army to such a great size and manage for it to be so active only because it was closely connected with the Polskie Państwo Podziemne (PPP – the Polish Underground State) and civil resistance. The PPP was a unique phenomenon: in none of the European states there existed such a vast and differentiated structure. Besides the AK the main component of the PPP was Delegatura Rządu na Kraj (Government Delegate’s Office at Home) which created a network of underground administration of all levels. The Kierownictwo Walki Cywilnej (Civil Fighting Executive) coordinated the activities of the so-called “little sabotage”, undertook propaganda actions and activities aiming at maintaining the morale and spirit of resistance against Germany. A daily set of news was prepared for the Polish radio “Świt” (or the“Dawn”) which broadcast from England but pretended to exist in Poland. The Kierownictwo also conducted secret education (including university level), helped the families of the victims of the invader and ran a separate action aiding the Jews (“Żegota”). It had its sections in prisons, by the post offices employees blocked the denunciations sent to German authorities, prepared plans for the after-war period and projects of running the territories that were expected to be captured on Germany (Biuro Ziem Nowych – the New Lands Office).
There existed secret courts (civil and military ones), which sentenced the traitors and punished Nazi collaborators with infamy. Another part of the PPP was the existing from 1940 representation of political parties which eventually was named Rada Jedności Narodowej (RJN, the Council for National Unity) and was a substitute of the parliament. The RJN published proclamations and program declarations (e.g. about the goals of war and future political system of the country). Besides the PPP there functioned hundreds of social, political and cultural associations, there were published more than two thousand books and brochures and more than 1.8 thousand different periodicals. Within the resistance but outside of the PPP were situated only extreme organizations: the NSZ on the right side and the communists on the left. Both these formations tried to create their own substitute of quasi-state structures.
“Burza” (the “Tempest”)
The plans of national uprising, which was the main goal of the AK, were changed a few times. The first one emerged when there still existed the Soviet-German alliance, the second one when the Soviet Union joined the anti-Nazi coalition. The last one was elaborated in the autumn of 1943 after breaking off by Moscow the diplomatic relations with Poland and when it turned out for sure that the Polish territory would be first entered by the Red Army. In this plan the uprising received the codename “Burza” (the “Tempest”). It assumed that the very moment when the frontlines would advance close to Poland, all the troops and structures of the AK would be called up to arms under the names of the pre-war Polish Army units (divisions and regiments), and increase sabotage actions. But first of all, they would begin to fight openly the retreating German troops, trying to get in touch at tactical level with the Red Army. In captured cities the underground authorities would come to light (the region and district delegate offices), take over the power and welcome as hosts the entering Soviet troops. Thus the uprising was to be a successive action and not just a one-time appearance in the entire country.
“Burza” began on January 15th, 1944 with mobilization in Volhynia (the so-called “Polskie Kresy Wschodnie” – the Polish Eastern Borderlands) where local troops – transform into the 27th Volhynian Infantry Division of the AK – began actions against the Germans. However, when during the fights the AK units had to cross the frontlines, they were disarmed by NKVD (the Peoples Commissariat for Internal Affairs – Soviet secret political police). Despite the negative turnout, the AK High Command decided to continue the “Burza”. More and more mobilized units entered the combat, and the greatest concentration of troops fought together with the Red Army in the battle of Vilnius (July 6th and 7th, 1944). A few days later the NKVD troops surrounded the Poles, disarmed them and interned. A part of them were able to manoeuvre out of encirclement. Again, the AK continued the insurgent action and its troops participated in capturing the subsequent cities and town: together with the Red Army in case of the big cities (like Lviv or Vilnius), or often on their own, in case of attacking some smaller German garrisons. For instance, in the region of Lublin, the AK units captured 7 cities on their own and 11 more together with the Soviets. The “Burza” covered a large territory from the Carpathians to Vilnius and the Lower Bug River, some 120 thousand soldiers fighting. On July 30th, 1944, Stalin ordered to disarm the AK, and the representatives of the Underground State that came out of the hiding and took over the offices were arrested. At least 20 to 30 thousand people were deported to penal colonies in the interior of the Soviet Union, most of them have never returned.
The Warsaw Uprising
Because of the experiences from the East and fears that fights in Warsaw would cause the destruction of the city and losses among the civil population, the opinions whether the “Burza” should take place varied. Eventually, it was decided that the battle of Warsaw would have not only the military significance but also political one. The emotional tension among the citizens and a hearty will to fight expressed by the AK soldiers were also taken into consideration. Finally the decision about starting the uprising in Warsaw was made (with participation of the Government Delegate Home and the head of RJN) on July 31st, when the advancing Red Army units were coming close to the lying on the eastern bank of the Vistula River city district of Praga. Some 23 000 of the AK soldiers started the uprising in the afternoon of August 1st, 1944, under the Warsaw Region Commanding Officer, colonel Antoni Chruściel (aka “Monter”). Although during the first few days of combat the insurgents captured a lot of strategic objects, and as the days went by the ranks were increasing (together there fought some 34 thousands of soldiers), the Home Army was unable to fully drive the Germans out of the downtown, nor to seize the main communication routes and bridges. The 16-thousand-strong German garrison was significantly reinforced (including the troops specializing in fighting partisans) and on August 5th, 1944, the Germans began to counter-strike, using tanks, heavy artillery and assault aircraft. In the first of recaptured districts (Wola), the German troops committed a mass slaughter of civilians. This was to happen again later a few times. The attacking German columns split Warsaw into the “insurgent islands”, the contact between which was managed by secret passages through cellars and sewers. In these areas the authority was taken over by Polish administration, newspapers were published, a radio station broadcast (“Błyskawica”, or the “Lightning”), municipal services worked.
It was expected that the battle would last a few more days, until the Red Army entered the city. Despite many pleas, including the ones from the Polish prime-minister who was paying a visit in Moscow since July 31st, sometime before August 8th, Stalin ordered to delay offensive actions nearby Warsaw. He did not even agree for the allied transport airplanes to land on Soviet airfields which practically precluded helping the uprising by airdropping the supplies, because the nearest airfields were located in England and Italy. Not till the middle of September, when the uprising was already on the verge of disaster, a mass air-drop was possible but the insurgents took over only some 47 tons of it. The battle dragged on, the death toll among the civilians increased, there lacked food, water and medicines. Capturing Praga by the Red Army and unsuccessful attempts of the Polish troops commanded by General Berling to establish a bridge-head in the left-bank Warsaw did not change the situation. On October 2nd, 1944, the insurgents capitulated. Some 150 000 civilians were killed, most of the city was utterly ruined (later on special German squads kept destroying the remaining buildings), 520 000 citizens expelled of the city. 17 000 insurgents were taken prisoners.
The Warsaw Uprising was the greatest battle fought by the Polish army in WW2: 10 000 soldiers were killed, 7 000 more were missing in action. Major losses were inflicted to Germans – 10 000 killed, 6 000 MIA, 300 tanks, guns and armored vehicles lost.
The uprising did not reach its military nor political objectives, yet for the generations of Poles to come it became a symbol of courage and determination in the struggle for independence.
Norman Davies, Rising ’44. “The Battle for Warsaw”, London 2004;
Stefan Korboński, The Polish Underground State: A Guide to the Underground 1939-1945, Boulder 1979;
Marek Ney-Krwawicz, The Polish Home Army, 1939-1945, London 2001.
Polish Armed Forces in the West
The campaign in Poland had not finished yet when Polish troops abroad started to form. The government of Poland in exile that emerged in Paris adopted as its main goal the fight at the side of the Allies and creating a Polish army in France. This was the beginning of the Polskie Siły Zbrojne (PSZ – Polish Armed Forces) in the West which fought until May 1945 in three war theatres: Western Europe (1940 and 1944-1945), North Europe (1940) and Mediterranean (North Africa in 1940-1942, Italy 1944-1945). The first Commander-in-Chief was General Władysław Sikorski, who also was the Prime Minister of the government in exile. After his death (July 1943), his post was assigned to General Kazimierz Sosnkowski, dismissed in September 1944. After him General Tadeusz Komorowski, the AK Commanding Officer was appointed who after the Warsaw Uprising defeat became a German prisoner of war.
Campaign in France
Polish troops emerged of a stream of soldiers and officers that reached France through Romania, Hungary, Lithuania and Latvia. 43 000 evacuated, the rest of them ran away on their own. Also the Polish immigrants living in France applied to the army. In a few months the Polish Army reached the number of 84 000 soldiers in four infantry divisions and two brigades. There were also formed four air squadrons and units of anti-aircraft artillery that amounted to about 7 000 people. Besides, a part of withdrawing troops found their way to Syria (administrated by the French) where Samodzielna Brygada Strzelców Karpackich emerged (Independent Carpathian Riflemen Brigade).
During the German Blitzkrieg in France in May 1940 the Allied defense broke already after two weeks which was the reason for a hasty withdrawal of the British troops and capitulation of France. Polish units fought in the southern section of the front: the Polish Grenadier Division after one week of fighting was dissolved because of the French-German armistice talks; the soldiers of the Brygada Kawalerii Pancerno-Motorowej (Armoured Cavalry Brigade) after the battles of Champaubert and Montbard upon the order of their commander, General Maczek, destroyed their equipment and withdrew south; 2 Dywizja Strzelców (2nd Riflemen Division) stopped the German attack on the Clos-du-Doubs hills but when on June 19th it turned out that the fight is almost over, it crossed the Swiss border and was interned there. The Samodzielna Brygada Strzelców Podhalańskich (Indipendent Podhalan Riflemen Brigade) was included in Allied forces sent to Norway in May 1940 and participated in the battle of Narvik. Altogether, about 50 000 Polish soldiers fought defending France, 1400 were killed, more than 4500 were wounded. Polish fighter pilots achieved 50 confirmed and 5 probable kills of enemy aircraft. The defeat of France meant the defeat of the Polish troops fighting at the side of the French. Only about 20 000 men were able to withdraw to England. The great organizational effort made since the autumn 1939 was wasted.
Battle of Britain and the Polish Air Force
The Polish pilots stood out during the campaign of 1939 and highlighted during the campaign in France. But the most distinguished role they played in 1940 when the decisive for the fate of the England and the coalition Battle of Britain took place (August 8th – October 31st, 1940). The British industry produced enough aircraft but it was not possible to train enough pilots in such a short time. Therefore the role of foreign airmen, of whom the greatest group formed the 151 Polish pilots, cannot be overemphasized. They fought both in the British and Polish squadrons (302nd and 303rd fighter and 300th and 301st bomber squadrons). During the Battle of Britain the Poles shot down 203 Luftwaffe aircraft which stood for 12% of total German losses in this battle. The success of the Polish pilots inclined the British command to expand the Polish Air Force: until summer 1941 8 fighter and 4 bomber squadrons emerged. Later on new ones were created, including the Polish Fighting Team (commonly called the “Skalski’s circus”, named derived from its commander’s surname) that fought in North Africa. Polish pilots protected England, e.g. by destroying 193 German V1 and V2 missiles, and participated in many operations over the continent, escorting the bombers, bombing different targets (e.g. Ruhr, Hamburg, Brema), provided air support to the landing troops during the invasion in June 1944. In 1944 the Polish air unit operating from Italy airdropped in Poland men and equipment for the AK, and during the Warsaw Uprising the Polish crews flew 91 times with the supplies for the fighting insurgents. From 1940 to 1945 the Polish squadrons and the Polish pilots serving in British units achieved 621 confirmed kills, and together with campaigns of 1939 and France– 900 confirmed and 189 probable.
Lenne Olson, Stanley Cloud, A Question of Honour. The Kosciuszko squadron: forgotten heroes of World War II, New York, 2003;
Adam Zamoyski, The Forgotten Few: The Polish Air Force in the Second World War, New York 1996.
The Battle of Atlantic and the Polish navy
Just before war’s outbreak three Polish destroyers (Błyskawica, Burza and Grom) left for Great Britain. Later on they were joined by the submarines Orzeł and Wilk that managed to escape the Germans. The Polish Navy since 1940 was constantly expanded by the ships leased from the Royal Navy and in 1945 it amounted to 4 thousand seamen on 15 ships (1 cruiser, 6 destroyers, 3 submarines and 5 torpedo boats). During the war there served 26 ships (2 cruisers, 9 destroyers, 5 submarines and 11 torpedo boats). At the side of the British and American fleets, the Polish vessels participated in tens of operations: e.g. in May 1940 in Narvik, during the evacuation from Dunkirk, in 1944 during the landing in Normandy (operation “Overlord”), escorting convoys to Murmansk and Malta but most of all in the Battle of the Atlantic which took place from 1940 to 1944, including the famous “hunt for Bismarck”, the greatest Kriegsmarine battleship (May 1941). Totally, they participated in 665 battles and escorted 787 convoys, sunk 12 enemy ships (including 5 submarines) and 41 merchant vessels, damaged 24 more (including 8 submarines). Besides that the Allied sea transport was reinforced with 36 Polish merchant vessels which 1939 were abroad, total displacement of 117 thousand tons.
Michael A. Peszke, Poland’s Navy 1918-1945, New York 1999;
Jerzy Pertek, Mała flota wielka duchem, Poznań 1989.
Land battles 1941-1945
After the defeat of France, the Carpathian Riflemen Brigade left Syria and joined the British forces in Egypt. It was an excellent unit of 5 000 men, mainly experienced soldiers, the 1939 veterans and volunteers. In August 1941 it moved to Libya where it won fame in the heavy fights during the defense of the besieged Tobruk, and in the spring of 1942 in the Libyan Desert.
About 20 00 men managed to withdraw from France to Great Britain. They formed 1st Polish Corps that was supposed to defend the eastern coast of Scotland, and 1st Independent Parachute Brigade that was supposed to be airdropped in Poland once the national uprising began. In 1941 1st Armored Division was created within the frames of the 1st Corps. However, this army could not develop because the Polish immigration on the British Islands was not very numerous. No Poles were arriving from the conquered by Germany and Italy Europe, and the voluntary recruitment in the United States, Canada and Latin America brought only a few thousand men. Situation changed when after the 3rd Reich’s assault on the Soviet Union. The Polish government signed a treaty with the Soviets guaranteeing (among others) releasing the Polish citizens from prisons and camps and creating Polish Army. It was formed under the command of General Władysław Anders. In the spring of 1942 it amounted to more than 70 000 men but it suffered from the lack of officers. The pre-war Polish officers were looked for in vain because it was not known that they were executed two years earlier by NKVD. The Soviet authorities caused more and more trouble in expanding the army, for example by drastically limiting food rations to 40 000 portions a day. In the same time the situation of the Allies in the Middle East was very difficult, the United States had just begun mobilization, and the Great Britain ran out of reserves. In such conditions it was agreed to evacuate the Polish units to Persia, yet with the army some civilians left as well (mainly children and families of soldiers) – altogether some 114 tousand people.
From the forces moved to the Middle East (first to Persia, then to Iraq and Palestine) the 2nd Polish Corps emerged. In December 1943 and January 1944 it was transported to the Italian front. About 50 000 soldiers fought for almost year and a half, distinguishing themselves with glory, especially during the bloody struggle to break the Gustav Line. The key position there was the hill and monastery of Monte Cassino, captured by the Poles on May 18th, 1944. In July the Corps captured the city and port of Ancona, and in August participated in breaking the Gothic Line at the Adriatic Sea. In 1945 it took part in the spring offensive in the North of Italy, in battles of Faenza and Bolonia, which was first entered by the Polish soldiers. During the campaign in Italy some 2600 of them were killed.
The Polish forces stationed on the British Islands, reinforced by the soldiers who came from the Soviet Union, prepared to participate in the invasion of the continent. In June 1944, in the operation “Overlord” in Normandy, the Polish Air Force and the navy took part. Then the 1st Armored Division (under the command of Gen. Maczek), total of 16 000 men, 380 tanks and 470 guns was moved to France. It formed a part of the Canadian Corps and won fame in the battles of Falaise and Chambois (August 18th to 22nd, 1944) where it closed the “cauldron”, cutting off the retreating German divisions. Later on it liberated the cities of Abeville, St. Omar and Cassel in France, Ypres and Gent in Belgium and Breda (October 28th to 30th, 1944) in the Netherlands, finally capturing the German seaport of Wilhelmshaven. Its combat route amounted to 1800 km, the division destroyed 260 enemy tanks and self-propelled guns, loosing 4600 soldiers, including more than a 1000 of casualties. In September 1944 the 1st Parachute Brigade was airdropped near Arnhem in the Netherlands as a part of the unfortunate “Market-Garden”, suffering great losses.
When the war in Europe was coming to an end, the Polish troops fighting at the side of the Western Allies numbered more than 210 thousand soldiers, 1335 tanks, about 4000 of armored vehicles, 2050 guns and mortars, 32 thousand different mechanical vessels.
Witold Biegański, Polskie Siły Zbrojne na Zachodzie, 1939-1945, Warszawa 1990;
Margaret Brodniewicz-Stawicki, For your freedom and ours: the Polish Armed Forces in the Second World War, St. Catharines, Ont, 1999.
Polish Army on the Eastern Front
After bringing into light the Katyn massacre and breaking off the diplomatic relations with Poland (April 1943), Stalin decided to organize Polish armed forces fighting at side of the Red Army. These troops emerged without the approval of the legal authorities of Poland, most of the commanding personnel were Soviet officers, the political officers recruited from the Polish communists but ordinary soldiers were Poles deported in the years 1939-1941 to the interior of the Soviet Union, and from the spring 1944, also the inhabitants of the Polish Kresy Wschodnie (Eastern Borderlands). Though its origin was not legal, and it played a significant role in imposing the communist system in Poland later on, the Polish Army fighting on the Eastern Front contributed a lot to the Polish military effort. From a single division (1st Tadeusz Kościuszko Infantry Division, commanded by colonel Zygmunt Berling) eleven-thousand-people strong, which began to form in May 1943, it expanded to one-hundred-thousand-people-strong army in July 1994, and at the end of the war it amounted to more than 330 thousand soldiers formed in two armies with all land forces arms (infantry, artillery, engineers, tanks and different supporting troops).
This army’s baptism of fire took place at the battle of Lenino (Belarus) in October 1943. In July and August 1944 the Polish troops fought at the bridgeheads on the Western Bank of the Vistula River, and in the battle of Studzianki the Polish armored brigade fought its first battle against the Germans. In September 1944 the Polish Army attempted at helping the insurgents in Warsaw – unsuccessfully and with great losses. From January 1945 it participated in the great Soviet offensive: in February and March it fought a dramatic battle to break the Wał Pomorski (Pomeranian Position – the highly fortified German defense line) and capturing Kołobrzeg (Kolberg), a Baltic seaport transformed into a fortress; the Polish troops fought at Gdańsk and Gdynia, and also by Zalew Szczeciński (Bay of Szczecin). The crowning of the combat route was participation in capturing Berlin. In the entire operation took part 180 000 soldiers from the 1st and 2nd Polish Army, and in the assault in the downtown of Berlin an important role played the 1st Tadeusz Kościuszko Division. It was the only military unit besides the Red Army that stuck its national flag over the ruins of the German capital. Polish troops reached the Elba River and got in touch with American units. In April 1945, the 2nd Army forced the Nysa River, then fought in the region of Dresden and Bautzen, suffering great losses. Its combat route it ended in May in Czechoslovakia. In battles against the Germans on the Eastern Front participated also some Polish air units (however, they consisted mainly of Soviet pilots).
From the battle of Lenino till the combat over Elba and in Saxony 17 500 soldiers were killed, almost 10 000 were considered to be MIA. The most casualties cost the fighting in Pomorze (Pomerania – 5400 killed and 2800 MIA) and in the Berlin operation (7200 killed and 3800 MIA). Because of the combined nature of the Soviet and Polish actions it is difficult to estimate how much damage the Poles inflicted to the enemy. Some partial data is available only for a few battles: at Lenino 1800 Germans were killed, wounded or taken prisoner, in the tank battle at Studzianki the Germans lost 20 tanks and self-propelled guns and 1500 soldiers, at Wał Pomorski 2300 killed. In Berlin the soldiers of the Kościuszko Division captured four subway stations and took prisoner 2500 German soldiers.
The Polish Army fighting in the East was the greatest regular military force fighting at the side of the Red Army. Its almost two years long combat route added up to 1000 kilometers. It participated in different and important activities: forcing rivers, capturing cities, attacking fortifications, pursuing enemy troops. Its share in victory was paid dearly.
Czesław Grzelak, Henryk Stańczyk, Stefan Zwoliński, Armia Berlinga i Żymierskiego. Wojsko polskie na froncie wschodnim 1943-1945, Warszawa 2002.
The „Enigma” and Intelligence
On July 25th 1939, before the war began, the Polish intelligence (Section 2 of the General Staff) provided Great Britain and France with one copy each (with necessary documents) of the German coding machine “Enigma” that allowed to read the secret German messages. A team of Polish cryptologists was evacuated to France, later on to England, where a special center for monitoring and decoding was organized in Bletchley Park. The Polish “Enigma” played a significant role, especially during the Battle of Britain, Battle of the Atlantic and the invasion of the continent in 1944. Other evacuated to England Polish scientists and technicians have to be mentioned as well. The electronics specialists helped with creating the submarine detection system (HFDF – High Frequency Direction Finding). The Polish engineers constructed the reversible tank periscope and an anti-aircraft cannon, with tens of thousands of which the British troops were equipped.
Due to the impossibility of forming regular troops in the occupied Poland, a very important role in the Polish contribution to the anti-Nazi alliance played the intelligence which had a lot of experience in the territory of Germany from before war. During the conflict the Polish intelligence based on two centers: Section 2 of the Commander-in-Chief Staff, operating mainly in Western Europe and North Africa, and Section 2 of the AK Commanding Officer that worked mainly home and in Germany. Section 2 in London was the coordinator of all and had close contacts with correspondent British services, including Special Operations Executive (SOE) that dealt with intelligence and sabotage in occupied Europe. In August 1941 there was an agreement signed with the intelligence of the United States (OCI, later OSS). For some time in 1942 the AK intelligence had direct radio connection with the Red Army. Before that and later on, a lot of information from the Polish intelligence reached Moscow with the help of the British. The relations with the Allies were very important, because the Polish army could not use all the information gathered because of the limited own potential.
The intelligence commanded directly from London created – starting in September 1940 – a lot of posts, a network of which covered practically entire Western and Southern Europe and North Africa. The greatest and the most important was the network in France (Agency “F”, later “F2”), that amounted to more than 2500 agents and only in the years 1940-1942 provided the center in London with more than 5200 reports. In 1944 the working in Paris network “Interallie” focused on the issues related to the invasion. There also existed the networks in Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Palestine, Italy, in the Balkans and the Baltic states. Information sent by the network of the Agency “AFR” played an important role in planning the allied attack on the North Africa (Operation “Torch”, December 1942). In France the intelligence network was closely related to a wider Polish conspiracy activity that had also subversion and propaganda tasks (Polska Organizacja Walki o Niepodległość – Polish Organization of Fight for Independence, aka “Monika”).
The first intelligence structures in the occupied Polish territories emerged in the autumn of 1939, parallel in the framework of the ZWZ staff and upon individual initiatives. Of the latter ones the most important one is the organization “Muszkieterzy” (the Musketeers). The proper development of the intelligence activity began after the fall of France when it was realized that the war was going to last longer than expected. Section 2 was an extended structure with all the departments and services existing in military intelligence, both in the center in Warsaw, and in the AK regions and districts. It is estimated that within their framework some 15 000 people worked, and an important role was played by the employees of the post offices and railways. One of the most important elements were the posts working in Germany (general codename “Stragan” or the “Stall”), located (among other places) in Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, Wienna, Konigsberg, Wroclaw (Breslau), and Szczecin (Stettin). The offensive intelligence of the “Stragan” (codename “Lombard”, or the “Pawnshop”) undertook also the sabotage actions, like bomb attempts. After the outbreak of the Soviet-German war, the intelligence in the East expanded (codename “Pralnia” or “Laundry”) by organizing posts in Smolensk, Kharkiv, Riga and Daugavpils. In the spring of 1941 the Polish intelligence sent to Moscow via London some comprehensive reports on the German invasion plans.
The most spectacular achievement of the AK intelligence was a thorough study of the research center and factory in Pennemunde, where V1 and V2 missiles were produced. The first information was obtained in the autumn 1942 and in March 1943 a detailed report was sent to London. This allowed the British to conduct a massive bomb attack (night from August 17th to 18th, 1943) which for many months stopped the Wunderwaffe (Wonderful Weapon) construction plans. In 1944 the AK intelligence captured a missile that had not exploded during the drill and sent its parts to London. Quite a role played the data on localization of gasoline factories (operation “Synteza”, or the “Syntesis”) and the military facilities in Germany and Poland. The information on concentration and death camps was also sent. The materials sent by the Poles were very much appreciated by the partners. In the Intelligence Service evaluations it can be read that “the Polish intelligence provided a lot of very valuable information” (first half-year 1942), the estimations delivered by the AK “belong to the most precious ones that we get” (June 1944).
In total, from the second half of 1940 to the end of 1943 (the data for the later period is missing) from the network of the Polish intelligence more than 26 000 reports and a few thousand decoded German messages were delivered to the Allies.
Władysław Kozaczuk, Jerzy Straszak, Enigma: how the Poles broke the Nazi code, New York 2004;
Piotr Matusak, Wywiad Związku Walki Zbrojnej – Armii Krajowej 1939-1945, Warszawa 2002;
Andrzej Pepłoński, Wywiad Polskich Sił Zbrojnych na Zachodzie, 1939-1945, Warszawa 1995.
A thought for the anniversary
Polish soldiers were not invited to participate in the victory defilades which took place in 1945 in London and Moscow. This meant that the Great Powers treated Poland more like an object of mutual relations than like a partner. However, the Western Allies many times emphasized the heroism and determination of the Polish soldiers and the fact that Poland was a very valuable ally, therefore belonging to the winners of the war. Many Poles thought, and still think, that it was a “bitter victory” because the Polish state that emerged after the war was harmed by subordinating it to the Soviet Union. Despite this no one seems to doubt that it was necessary to fight and the homage to those who fought, is paid by everyone.