Polish Armed Forces in the West

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The Polish Armed Forces in the West refers to the Polish military formations formed to fight alongside the Western Allies against Nazi Germany and its allies. (Other Polish forces were raised within Soviet territories; the Polish Armed Forces in the East).

The formations, loyal to the Polish government-in-exile, were first formed in France and its Middle East territories following the defeat and occupation of Poland by Germany and the Soviet Union in September 1939. After the fall of France, the formations were recreated in the United Kingdom. Making a large contribution to the war effort, the Polish military in the West was composed of army, air and naval forces. The Poles soon became shock troops in Allied service, most notably in the Battle of Monte Cassino where the Polish flag was raised on the ruined abbey on May 18, 1944.[1] The forces were finally disbanded in 1947, with many former soldiers choosing to remain in exile rather than to return to communist-controlled Poland.

General history[edit]

After Poland's defeat, the government in exile quickly organized in France a new fighting force originally of about 80,000 men.[2] Their units were subordinate to the French Army. In early 1940 a Polish Highland Brigade took part in the Battles of Narvik in Norway. A Polish Independent Carpathian Brigade was formed in the French Mandate of Syria, to which many Polish troops had escaped from Poland. The Polish Air Force in France comprised 86 aircraft in four squadrons, one and a half of the squadrons being fully operational while the rest were in various stages of training.[2] Two Polish divisions (First Grenadier Division, and Second Infantry Fusiliers Division) took part in the defence of France, while a Polish motorized brigade and two infantry divisions were being formed.[3]

Polish Armed Forces in the West
at the height of their power
[4]
Deserters from forced conscription in the German Wehrmacht89,300(35.8%)
Evacuees from the USSR in 194283,000(33.7%)
Evacuees from France in 194035,000(14.0%)
Liberated POWs21,750(8.7%)
Escapees from occupied Europe14,210(5.7%)
Recruits in liberated France7,000(2.8%)
Polish diaspora from Argentina, Brazil and Canada2,290(0.9%)
Polish diaspora from the United Kingdom1,780(0.7%)
Total249,000
Note: Until July 1945, when recruitment was halted, some 26,830 Polish soldiers were declared Killed in action or Missing in action or had died of wounds. After that date, an additional 21,000 former Polish POWs were inducted.

At the capitulation of France, General Władysław Sikorski (the Polish commander-in-chief and prime minister) was able to evacuate many Polish troops—probably over 20,000—to the United Kingdom.[2] After initially regrouping in southern Scotland [3] these Polish ground units (as Polish I Corps, comprising the 1st Independent Rifle Brigade, the 10th Motorised Cavalry Brigade (as infantry) and cadre brigades largely manned by surplus officers at battalion strength) took over responsibility in October 1940 for the defence of the counties of Fife and Angus; this included reinforcing coastal defences that had already been started. I Corps was under the direct command of Scottish Command of the British Army. While in this area the Corps was reorganised and expanded.[5] Meanwhile Polish fliers had an important role in the Battle of Britain.

The opportunity to form another Polish army came in 1941, following an agreement between the Polish government in exile and Joseph Stalin, the Soviets releasing Polish soldiers, civilians and citizens from imprisonment. From these a 75,000-strong army was formed in the USSR under General Władysław Anders (Anders' Army). This army, successively gathered in Bouzoulouk, Samarkand, was later ferried from Krasnovodsk across the Caspian Sea to the Middle East (Iran) where the Polish II Corps was formed.[3][6]

By March 1944, the Polish armed forces in the west fighting under British command numbered 195,000, 165,000 at the end of that year, including about 20,000 personnel in the Polish Air Force and 3,000 in the Polish Navy. At the end of World War II, they were 195,000 strong, and by July 1945 had increased to 228,000, most of the newcomers being released prisoners-of-war and ex-labor-camp inmates.

The Polish Armed Forces in the West fought in most Allied operations against the Nazi Germany in Mediterranean and Middle East Theatre and European theatres: the North African campaign, the Italian Campaign (with Battle of Monte Cassino being one of the most notable), the Western European Campaign (from Dieppe Raid and D-Day through Battle of Normandy and latter operations, especially Operation Market Garden).[4]

After the German Instrument of Surrender, 1945, Polish troops took part in occupation duties in the Western Allied Occupation Zones in Germany. A Polish town was created: it was first named Lwow, then Maczkow.

Polish troops were incorporated into the 1945 top secret contingency plan, Operation Unthinkable, the hypothetical attack on the Soviet Union that would have led to an independent Poland.

Denouement[edit]

By 1945, there was growing anti-Polish sentiment in Britain, particularly among the trade unions which feared competition for jobs from Polish immigrants; and from Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin.[7] At the same time, there was British and American concern about a police state being built in Poland.[8]

In March 1945, Time reported on Polish "Surplus Heroes", stating that Bevin

promised Anders that those of his soldiers who did not want to return to the new Poland could find asylum in the British Empire. Argentina and Brazil were also reported ready to offer them homes. But Britain thought the best solution would be for them to return to Poland, and Britain was circulating an appeal through the Polish Army containing the Polish Government's pledge to treat the soldier exiles fairly. Anders argued that he could not advise the soldiers to return to Poland unless the Polish Government promised elections this spring. Bevin, too, wanted immediate Polish elections, but both men knew that the chances were becoming slimmer. In Poland the split between the Communist-Socialist groups and shrewd Stanislaw Mikolajczyk's Polish Peasant Party was deepening. Security Police raids on Peasant Party headquarters were reported last week. If efforts to smash the Mikolajczyk forces failed, then the Communist-Socialist groups would fight for a late fall election, when the popularity of the Polish Peasant Party, sure winner of an election now, might have waned. Nevertheless, Bevin argued that, elections or no, the Poles in Anders' army should go home.[9]

In January 1946 Bevin protested against killings by the Polish provisional government, who defended their actions saying they were fighting terrorists loyal to Anders and funded by the British.[8] In February 1946, Time reported "Britain's Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin told a tense House of Commons last week that terror had become an instrument of national policy in the new Poland. Many members of Vice Premier Stanislaw Mikolajczyk's Polish Peasant Party who opposed the Communist-dominated Warsaw Government had been murdered. "Circumstances in many cases appear to point to the complicity of the Polish Security Police. ... I regard it as imperative that the Polish Provisional Government should put an immediate stop to these crimes in order that free and unfettered elections may be held as soon as possible, in accordance with the Crimea decision. ... I am looking forward to the end of these police states ...", while the Polish government blamed Anders and his British backers for the bloodshed there.[10]

It is often said that the Polish Armed Forces in the West were not invited to the London Victory Parade of 1946.[1][11][12] At first the British Government invited representatives of the newly recognised regime in Warsaw to march in the parade but the delegation from Poland never arrived – the reason was never adequately explained, pressure from Moscow being the most likely explanation. Bowing to press and public pressure, the British eventually invited Polish veterans of the RAF now representatives of the Polish Air Force under British Command, to attend in their place. They in turn refused to attend in protest at similar invitations not being extended to the Polish Army and Navy. The only Polish representative at the parade was Colonel Józef Kuropieska – the military attaché of the Communist regime in Warsaw who attended as a diplomatic courtesy.[4]

The formation was finally disbanded in 1947, many of its soldiers choosing to remain in exile rather than to return to communist-controlled Poland, where they were often seen by the Polish communists as 'enemies of the state', influenced by the Western ideas, loyal to the Polish government in exile, and thus meeting with persecution and imprisonment (in extreme cases, death). Failure of allied Western governments to keep their promise to Poland, which now fell under the Soviet sphere of influence, became known as the 'Western betrayal.' [11][12] The number of Polish ex-soldiers unwilling to return to communist Poland was so high that a special organization was formed by the British government to assist settling them in the United Kingdom: the Polish Resettlement Corps (Polski Korpus Przysposobienia i Rozmieszczenia);[4][13] 114,000 Polish soldiers went through that organization. Since many Poles had been stationed in United Kingdom and served alongside British units in the war, the Polish Resettlement Act 1947 allowed all of them settle in United Kingdom after the war, multiplying the size of the Polish minority in United Kingdom.[5] Many also joined the Polish Canadian and Polish Australian communities.

History by formation[edit]

Army[edit]

Universal Carrier of the Polish Armed Forces in the West (reenacting)
Polish military grave (the text reads "unknown soldiers") in the cemetery at Grainville-Langannerie, France

The Polish Army in France, which began to be organized soon after fall of Poland in 1939, was composed of about 85,000 men.[2]

Four Polish divisions (First Grenadier Division, Second Infantry Fusiliers Division, 3rd and 4th Infantry Division), a Polish motorized brigade (10th Brigade of Armored Cavalry, 10éme Brigade de cavalerie blindée) and infantry brigade (Polish Independent Highland Brigade) were organized in mainland France.[2] Polish Independent Highland Brigade took part in the Battles of Narvik in early 1940; after the German invasion of France, all Polish units were pressed into formation although, due to inefficient French logistics and policies, all Polish units were missing much equipment and supplies—particularly the 3rd and 4th divisions, which were still in the middle of organization. A Polish Independent Carpathian Brigade was formed in French-mandated Syria, to which many Polish troops had escaped from Romania and would later fight in the Middle East.[3]

After the fall of France (during which about 6,000 Polish soldiers died fighting), about 13,000 of Polish personnel had been interned in Switzerland.[2] Nevertheless, Polish Commander-in-Chief and Prime Minister General Władysław Sikorski was able to evacuate many Polish troops to the United Kingdom (estimates range from 20,000[2] to 35,000[4]). The Polish I Corps was formed from these soldiers. It comprised the Polish 1st Armoured Division (which later became attached to the First Canadian Army) and the Polish Independent Parachute Brigade,[3] and other formations, such as the 4th Infantry Division, and the 16th Independent Armoured Brigade. It was commanded by Gen. Stanisław Maczek and Marian Kukiel. Despite its name, it never reached corps strength and was not used as a tactical unit until after the war, when it took part in the occupation of Germany as part of the Allied forces stationed around the port of Wilhelmshaven. Prior to that date its two main units fought separately and were grouped together mostly for logistical reasons.

In 1941, following an agreement between the Polish government in exile and Joseph Stalin, the Soviets released Polish citizens, from whom a 75,000-strong army was formed in the Soviet Union under General Władysław Anders (Anders' Army). This army, successively gathered in Bouzoulouk, Samarkand, was later ferried from Krasnovodsk to the Middle East (Iran) through the Caspian Sea (in March and August 1942). The Polish units later formed the Polish II Corps. It was composed of Polish 3rd Carpathian Infantry Division, Polish 5th Kresowa Infantry Division, Polish 2nd Armoured Brigade and other units.[3]

Air Force[edit]

The Polish Air Force fought in the Battle of France as one fighter squadron GC 1/145, several small units detached to French squadrons, and numerous flights of industry defence (approximately 130 pilots, who achieved 55 victories at a loss of 15 men).[2]

From the very beginning of the war, the Royal Air Force (RAF) had welcomed foreign pilots to supplement the dwindling pool of British pilots. On 11 June 1940, the Polish Government in Exile signed an agreement with the British Government to form a Polish Army and Polish Air Force in the United Kingdom. The first two (of an eventual ten) Polish fighter squadrons went into action in August 1940. Four Polish squadrons eventually took part in the Battle of Britain (300 and 301 Bomber Squadrons; 302 and 303 Fighter Squadrons), with 89 Polish pilots. Together with more than 50 Poles fighting in British squadrons, about 145 Polish pilots defended British skies.[4] Polish pilots were among the most experienced in the battle, most of them having already fought in the 1939 September Campaign in Poland and the 1940 Battle of France. Additionally, prewar Poland had set a very high standard of pilot training. No. 303 Squadron, named after the Polish-American hero, General Tadeusz Kościuszko, achieved the highest number of kills (126) of all fighter squadrons engaged in the Battle of Britain, even though it only joined the combat on August 30, 1940. These Polish pilots, representing about 5% of total Allied pilots in that battle, were responsible for 12% of total victories (203) in the Battle and achieved the highest number of kills of any Allied squadron.[3][4][14][15]

126 German airplanes shot down by the 303 Squadron during the Battle of Britain. Painted on a Hurricane.

The Polish Air Force also fought in 1943 in Tunisia (Polish Fighting Team, so called "Skalski's Circus") and in raids on Germany (1940–45).[4][14] In the second half of 1941 and early 1942, Polish bomber squadrons were the sixth part of forces available to RAF Bomber Command (later they suffered heavy losses, with little replenishment possibilities). Polish aircrew losses serving with Bomber Command 1940-45 were 929 killed; total Polish aircrew losses were 1,803 killed.[4] Ultimately 8 Polish fighter squadrons were formed within the RAF and had claimed 621 Axis aircraft destroyed by May 1945.[15] By the end of the war, around 19,400 Poles were serving in the RAF.[16]

Polish squadrons in the United Kingdom:

Navy[edit]

Just on the eve of war, three destroyers—representing most of the major Polish Navy ships—had been sent for safety to the British Isles (Operation Peking). There they fought alongside the Royal Navy. At various stages of the war, the Polish Navy comprised two cruisers and a large number of smaller ships; most were RN ships loaned to take advantage of the Polish crews. The Polish Navy fought with great distinction alongside the other Allied navies in many important and successful operations, including those conducted against the German battleship, Bismarck.[17] With their 26 ships (2 cruisers, 9 destroyers, 5 submarines and 11 torpedo boats), the Polish Navy sailed a total of 1.2 million nautical miles during the war, escorted 787 convoys, conducted 1162 patrols and combat operations, sank 12 enemy ships (including 5 submarines) and 41 merchant vessels, damaged 24 more (including 8 submarines) and shot down 20 aircraft. The number of seamen who lost their lives in action was 450 out of over 4,000.[18][19]

As well as the above, there were a number of minor ships, transports, merchant-marine auxiliary vessels, and patrol boats.

Intelligence and resistance[edit]

The Polish intelligence structure remained mostly intact following the fall of Poland in 1939 and continued to report to the Polish Government in Exile. Known as the 'Second Department', it cooperated with the other Allies in every European country and operated one of the largest intelligence networks in Nazi Germany. Many Poles also served in other Allied intelligence services, including the celebrated Krystyna Skarbek ("Christine Granville") in the United Kingdom's Special Operations Executive. 43 percent of all the reports received by the British secret services from continental Europe in 1939-45 came from Polish sources.[1]

The majority of Polish resistance (particularly the dominant Armia Krajowa organization) were also loyal to the government in exile with the Government Delegate's Office at Home being the highest authority of the Polish Secret State. Although military actions of the Polish resistance operating in Poland and its Armed Forces operating in the West are not commonly grouped together, several important links existed between them, in addition to the common chain of command. Resistance gathered and passed vital intelligence to the West (for example on German concentration camps[20] and about the V-1 flying bomb and the V-2 rocket[21]); while in the West supplies were gathered for the resistance, and elite commandos, the Cichociemni, were trained. The Polish Government also wanted to use the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade in Poland, particularly during Operation Tempest, but the request was denied by the Allies.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

This article incorporates information from the revision as of 29 March 2007 of the equivalent article on the Polish Wikipedia.
  1. ^ a b c Kwan Yuk Pan, Polish veterans to take pride of place in victory parade, Financial Times, July 5, 2005. Last accessed on 31 March 2006.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h (Polish) Wojsko Polskie we Francji. Świat Polonii. Please note that various sources give estimates that can differ by few percent.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g James Dunnigan, Albert Nofi; Dirty Little Secrets of World War Ii: Military Information No One Told You By, HarperCollins, 1996, ISBN 0-688-12288-4, Google Print, p.139
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Mark Ostrowski. To Return To Poland Or Not To Return" - The Dilemma Facing The Polish Armed Forces At The End Of The Second World War. Chapter 1 Retrieved on 31 July 2007.
  5. ^ a b Diana M. Henderson, The Lion and the Eagle: Polish Second World War Veterans in Scotland, Cualann Press, 2001, ISBN 0-9535036-4-X
  6. ^ General Władysław Anders Mémoires 1939–1946, Paris 1948, ed. La Jeune Parque
  7. ^ Peter D. Stachura (27 February 2004). The Poles in Britain, 1940-2000: From Betrayal to Assimilation. Psychology Press. p. 61. ISBN 978-0-7146-5562-8. Retrieved 30 May 2012. 
  8. ^ a b http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1499&dat=19460201&id=te4ZAAAAIBAJ&sjid=LSMEAAAAIBAJ&pg=4205,13885
  9. ^ "POLANb: Surplus Heroes". Time. 25 March 1946. 
  10. ^ "POLAND: Behind the Curtain". Time. 4 February 1946. 
  11. ^ a b Rudolf Falkowski, THE VICTORY PARADE. Last accessed on 31 March 2007.
  12. ^ a b Lynne Olson, Stanley Cloud, A Question of Honor: The Kosciuszko Squadron: Forgotten Heroes of World War II , Knopf, 2003, ISBN 0-375-41197-6, Excerpt (prologue).
  13. ^ Polish Resettlement Corps 1946 - 1948
  14. ^ a b The Poles in the Battle of Britain
  15. ^ a b Polish contribution to the Allied victory in World War 2 (1939-1945), PDF at the site of Polish Embassy (Canada)
  16. ^ http://www.pbs.org/behindcloseddoors/in-depth/fighting-allies.html
  17. ^ Peszke, Michael Alfred (February 1999). Poland's Navy, 1918–1945. Hippocrene Books. p. 37. ISBN 0-7818-0672-0. 
  18. ^ 86 years of the Polish Navy. Retrieved on 31 July 2007.
  19. ^ The Battle of the Atlantic and the Polish Navy. Retrieved on 31 July 2007.
  20. ^ (Polish) Detailed biography of Witold Pilecki on Whatfor. Last accessed on 21 November 2006.
  21. ^ Eastern Europe in World War II: October 1939-May 1945. Lecture notes of prof Anna M. Cienciala. Last accessed on 21 December 2006.

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]