The soldiers of General Maczek in WO II
Oorlog -- Polen (2004) [Zbigniew Mieczkowksy]
The soldiers of General Maczek in WO II
Sixty years have elapsed from the wartime exploits of the 1st Polish Armoured Division.
Fate denied her soldiers, who brought freedom to other nations, the privilege of liberating their own country. The memorial erected in Warsaw in 1995 thus became a poignant
symbol of their return fifty years after the end of hostilities. It marked the end of their long march home from foreign lands.
Sadly, General Stanislaw Maczek and many of hls soldiers did not live to see the rebirth of a democratie Poland. Among those who did return to take part in the unveiling of
the memorial, built in their honour, are the co-authors of this book who share here their wartime experiences and ordeals.
The aim of this book is to preserve their memories, to bear witness to their fortunes in the uncertain future and to acknowledge the gratitude and friendship manifested in so
many ways by the towns and villages liberated by the Division in Western Europe.
Poland’s decision to make a stand against Nazi Germany in 1939 changed the course of the Second World War. Had she accepted Hitler’s proposals to profeet Europe against
the march of Communism, as she did alone in 1920, the initial German offensive against the West would have prejudiced the outcome of the conflict and reshaped the balance of
political forces in post-war Europe.
That decision brought to Poland unforeseen consequences. Left without help in September 1939, in spite of promises and guarantees, and deserted by Western powers at the
end of the war, she alone amongst the victors sustained complete defeat. Unmeasured destruction, annihilation of one-fifth of her population at German and Russian hands,
deportations and territorial changes altered her historical role from that of a bastion of Western civilisation to a province of the Communist East.
Throughout a thousand years of history at the time of her power as a Republic of Nobility and also on the threshold of her decline by the end of the 18,h century, Poland
exercised a leading role in Central Europe in the development of the Parliamentary system of government, safeguarding the privilege of liberty for her citizens. After the victorious war
with Russia in 1920, having driven back the invading Communist forces and regaining lands of the former Polish Kingdom inhabited by national minorities, she established religious tol-
erance and secured human rights for all her people. These human rights were forfeited during the later 50 years of Soviet imperialist rule.
In September 1939 Poland feil fighting simultaneously against the might of Germany’s mechanised divisions and the Russian armies allied with Hitler. In the last days of peace,
fulfilling her treaty agreement of mutual assistance, she equipped France and England with its most valuable weapon - the Enigma machine. This coding system, acquired by Polish
Intelligence, provided the key to Germany’s war secrets and enabled the Allies to predict all enemy action, including its bombardment schedules, throughout the whole war.
Defeated in the military campaign, the Polish natiën did not for a moment acknowledge full defeat. The Underground Army was born with the echo of the last shot fired in the
defence of Warsaw and grew to comprise half a million volunteers within the next few years.
In the West, forces a quarter of a million strong were formed in two phases. Immediately at the outbreak of war the Polish navy sailed to British ports to continue its activities. General
Sikorski’s call brought one hundred thousand men under the Colours in France. After Germany’s assault on Russia thousands of Polish soldiers who were released from prisons and
labour camps joined the 2nd Corps under General Anders. They were short, however, of officers, whose mass graves were eventually discovered in the Katyn Woods.
Polish soldiers, airmen and seamen fought the enemy on all war fronts: from Narvik to Tobruk, at Monte Cassino and Falaise. In the Battle of Britain every sixth German plane
was shot down by a Polish pilot. The Polish airforce, together with the English and Americans, eventually laid waste to Berlin, Cologne and Bremen.
The battles of the 1st Polish Armoured Division have received much acclaim in literary works by Polish writers and other authors on military matters of the Second World War.
Readers interested in this subject will find several references, not only in respect to the Division itself, but also historical books helpful in understanding Poland in between the wars,
in the enclosed index of sources. This introduction, therefore, is intended only as a guide to the events during which the Division was born and then re-created on foreign soil, an expla-
nation of its traditions and an insight into its most decisive war engagements.
From a peacetime strength of 40 infantry divisions and 10 cavalry brigades, Poland confronted Germany with one million men at the outbreak of the war. Well disciplined and
patriotic, this Polish Army inflicted on the Germans who were twice their number and superior in equipment losses similar in casualties but greater in tanks and equipment than they
sustained later when defeating the Anglo-French forces in 1940.
klik op de pijlpunt links voor het volledige Foreword
Amongst the Polish Cavalry Brigades, the 10th had already become mechanised before the war. Under the command of Colonel Stanisfaw Maczek, from its first encounters
south of Cracow up until the defence of Lwów, she delayed in battles the advance of the enemy Armoured Corps, often fighting against the 2nd German Panzer Division. A few years
later luck gave the 10th Cavalry Brigade their well deserved revenge by surprising the same Division at night in Normandy, dispersing its headquarters and spreading general confusion.
On 17th September 1939 Russian armies, allied with Germany, entered Poland and virtuaily ended large scale military operations except for various points of defence, including
Warsaw, which fought gallantly up to the beginning of October. At that time, on the orders of the Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Forces, the Brigade was withdrawn. Having expe-
rienced some losses, but nevertheless fully mobile and with Regimental Colours intact, she crossed the border into friendly Hungary. The intention to preserve these modern, well
equipped units for further engagements, with unfulfilled hopes of an offensive from the West, enabled the eventual recreation of the Brigade composed of the same men and under the
same commander in France.
The struggle for the freedom of one’s own country whilst on foreign soil is not a common objective in the history of warfare. In the case of Poland, battles for her own independ-
ence fought abroad were immortalised by the words of the National Anthem, originating from the Napoleonic era: Poland is not lost so long as we live. What foreign force has taken
from us, H/e shall recover by sword. These traditions and the awareness of the existence of the re-established legal Government in Paris spurred the immense efforts of many soldiers,
undeterred by hardship and sacrifice, who strived to re-join the Colours alongside the Allies.
The ‘Sikorski Tourists', as the Germans called these volunteers wishing to continue the fight, could be the subject of excellent scenarios and fascinating novels. Leaving
occupied Poland through Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal, by sea to Africa or Scandinavia, Crossing illegal frontiers, often via internment camps, they
arnved in France and after her fall made their way to England.
By summer 1940, two divisions of infantry and the only partially armed 10th Mechanised Cavalry Brigade took part in the defence of France. The Brigade attacked the Ger-
mans with considerable success at Montbart in Burgundy, but after the collapse of the French front and with no petrol available, on the orders of General Maczek, it destroyed its vehicles
and penetrated on foot into unoccupied regions of the country. Diminished in numbers by the loss of those who were killed or imprisoned, but undaunted in spirit, the soldiers gath-
ered together again by various ways and means in Great Britain.
The defence of the British Isles against the expected invasion comprised the main duty of the Polish Forces stationed in Scotland. There, the 1st Polish Armoured Division was
formed out of the 10th Cavalry Brigade and other veterans of the Polish, French and Norwegian campaigns. Many Scottish towns retain plaques and badges from the Polish armoured
units, infantry, artillery and engineers given in recognition of their hospitality in this country's ‘finest hour'.
The invasion of the Continent in 1944 was, for the Division, the beginning of its long awaited main task - to bring freedom to Poland. Within the Canadian Army, belonging to
the 21st Army Group, it sustained considerable losses whilst engaged in decisive action in the Battle of Normandy.
On direct orders from Field Marshall Montgomery, the Division surprised the Germans by penetrating deep behind the front lines and closing the Falaise Gap by occupying the
dominating hills of Montormel. For four days the Polish regiments fought alone against the 7th German Army whose main task was to withdraw to new positions and re-create further
defences in Central Europe. They were attacked by forces ten times their strength now trapped in the pocket and from behind by two Panzer Divisions attempting to re-open lines
of retreat. They fought alone as the Allied units could not break through to the Polish positions. Eventually the Americans reached Chambois and the Canadians got across from the
east bringing supplies and ammunition. Thousands of captured prisoners, in strength several times greater than those resisting them at Montormel, were taken away. Uncountable
numbers of killed Germans and destroyed vehicles remained on the ‘Polish Battlefield’ as it became known amongst the British Forces.
The entrance to the cemetery at Urville-Langannerie, which contains about 900 graves, is adorned with badges of all the regiments, arms and services of the Division. At the main
gate, the sign of Husaria's wings with a helmet against the background of a tank wheel points to the allegorical connection between the Polish horsemen-knights, wearing eagle
wings on their shoulders, liberating Vienna 300 years earlier and the modern armoured troops bringing freedom to the nations of Western Europe [edit.: Poland for centuries pro-
tected Europe from the Ottoman Empire and finally defeated the Turks at Vienna in 1673].
This Divisionai sign embroidered on all uniforms and marked on its vehicles repeats itself often as a main motif on various monuments and cemeteries and has also been retained
on the back cover of this book. The front cover is based on a fragment of the memorial erected in Warsaw and the coats of arms of towns linked with the Division’s history.
Amongst great towns like Abbeville, St Omer, Ypres and Ghent, Breda established particularly strong links with the soldiers of the Division and bestowed honorary citizenship
on all of them. The Dutch have erected several monuments to express their gratitude for liberation achieved without great destruction of this ancient city.
From the moment of disembarkation in France to the surrender of the German naval port of Wilhelmshaven, the Division was in action for 283 days and accomplished a dis-
tance of 1 800 kilometres. Overall losses amounted to approximately one third killed and wounded. These losses were considerably higher in the first line combat units.
Entering Germany in 1945, the Division liberated thousands of prisoners of war captured during the September 1939 campaign - soldiers of the Home Army, people deported
from Poland for forced labour purposes, survivors of concentration camps and many others.
The most memorable day was the liberation of 1 728 women soldiers taken prisoner at the Warsaw Uprising.
In Germany the Polish Forces of occupation, comprising the Division and the Parachute Brigade, were commanded by General Klemens Rudnicki, one of the heroes of the
defence of Warsaw in 1939 and the liberator of Bologna in 1945. Their main task was to give care and shelter to all those compatriots now left to an uncertain destiny in foreign
For the soldiers of the Division this period was a time for making personal decisions conceming their own future. For officers, including the editor of this book, a return to Sta-
lin's Poland would mean imprisonment or even more serious consequences. Conscious of their friendship and traditions, they formed the International Association of the 1st Polish
Armoured Division to retain the close links of ex-combatants scattered all over the world.
The unveiling of the memorial in Warsaw was one of the proudest moments in the Association’s history, marking as it did the Division’s symbolic return home. The independ-
ence of Poland, regained after 50 years of Soviet rule, also made it possible for the Association to hand over the regimental traditions it had safeguarded to various units of the
Foundation Commemoration of General Maczek First Polish Armoured Division. Warsaw/London;