November 3, 2010


Polish battalion in France - 1939 - Polski batalion we Francji (0:40s)

Before the September Campaign had come to an end the Polish Army had already evacuated and escaped to Romania, and from there to France.  Under the Command of General Wladyslaw Sikorski, about 85,000 Polish troops regrouped into several infantry and air support divisions to defend France from the Nazi invasion.  However due to the inadequacies of French planning and logistics none of the Polish units were provided with the necessary equipment and supplies until May 1940. By then the Polish contingent had at the ready only two infantry divisions, two independent brigades, one air squadron with another two infantry divisions still in the process of formation.  Polish Command had plans to create two full corps as well as an armoured division and over fifteen squadrons. In addition, a Polish academy and cartographic institute were being formed.  Polish Command issued a document which would prove invaluable to the French government entitled "Most important conclusions and experiences from the September Campaign" ("Najważniejsze wnioski i doświadczenia z kampanii wrześniowej"). It was an in-depth analysis of the strategy of the German Blitzkrieg and included suggested countermeasures.  Unfortunately, the French government ignored it.

(11/12) Battlefield I: The Fall of France Episode 1 (GDH) (10:00min)

(12/12) Battlefield I: The Battle of France Episode 1 (GDH) (05:18min)

When the Nazis invaded France, the Polish armoured units were immediately deployed, but as soon as the Germans broke through the French front, the Poles were ordered to the front line.  None of the Polish units were completely equipped, in particular the 3rd and 4th Polish divisions which were still in the midst of organization.  Polish units fought in the southern perimeter of the front and continued to do battle despite Petain's call for an armistice on June 16, 1940.  Three days later,  General Sikorski broadcast a radio bulletin pledging that Poland would continue to fight as Ally of Great Britain and with his army of about 20,000 soldiers made their escape forthwith.

General Wladyslaw Sikorski

Over 16,000 Polish soldiers of the First Grenadier Division under the Command of Boleslaw Bronislaw Duch were based in Lorraine on June 9th, and stationed along the Maginot Line as part of the French 4th Army.  From June 14th the Division fought against the Nazi advance and were able to withstand assaults for two days but had to fall back near Lagarde. The Poles covered the retreat of the French 52nd Division which was taking heavy casualties.   Within a week, the French defences were at the point of collapse, and General Duch ordered the unit to disband.  Many including the General evacuated to the UK.
Memorial badge of the First Grenadier Division, featuring  Cross of Lorraine

Over 15,800 Polish soldiers of the Second Infantry Fusiliers Division under the command of Brigadier-General Bronislaw Prugar-Ketling were stationed at Parthenay in eastern France from December 1939 to May 1940. Their mission was to defend Belfort and Alsace. From June 17 to 19 the Polish units were engaged in heavy battle near the Doubs and Saone Rivers, and succeeded in stopping a German attack on the Clos-du-Doubs hills, but because a nearby French unit retreated, the Polish forces were quickly surrounded by the Germans. Nevertheless, the Polish units were able to break through to Switzerland on the 20th or 21st of June, 1940, but were interned upon arrival.

Over 1,000 Polish soldiers of the 10th Brigade of Armored Cavalry were under the command of General Stanislaw Maczek.  The brigade fought in the Champagne and Bourgogne regions, provided protection to the flank of the 4th and 6th French Armies near Champaubert, and on June 16 routed Germans near Montbard.  By then, the French units were either routed or in retreat leaving the Poles to fight alone. Two days later the Polish unit was out of fuel and ammunition and surrounded by the Germans.  Before withdrawing, they destroyed their equipment.  The unit would later regroup in Great Britain and be renamed the elite 1st Armoured Division.  General Maczek would earn the honour of being one of the best Polish commanders of the war.

1st Armoured Division
General Stanislaw Maczek

Over 5,000 soldiers of the Polish Independent Highland Brigade under the command of General Zygmunt Bohusz-Szyszko fought in the Battle of Narvik, in Norway from May 28 to June 4, 1940.  They returned to France to take part in the defence of Brittany.  When they disbanded, the General and some of the units evacuated to the UK and Egypt, while the remainder joined the French Resistance.

Four thousand soldiers of the Polish Independent Carpathian Brigade under the command of General Stanislaw Kopanski evacuated France refusing to support the Vichy regime, and joined British troops in Palestine.

The squadron GC 1/145 "Warsaw" of the Polish Air Force fought in the Battle of France, detached to French squadrons and carried out numerous flights of industry defence.  Over 130 Polish pilots participated in battles achieving 50 to 55 victories, and loss of 25 men.

Only about 55,000 of the 85,000 Polish troops fought in Battle of France. One thousand four hundred Polish soldiers died fighting to defend France, 4,000 were wounded, 16,000 taken prisoner, 13,000 interned in Switzerland.


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