March 30, 2012

GREAT POLISH GENERALS OF WW2: Stanislaw Franciszek Sosabowski

General Stanislaw Sosabowski
General Stanislaw Sosabowski

No other Allied General during World War II had been so villified and ostracized by British Command as General Stanislaw Franciszek Sosabowski. He was Commander of the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade which fought valiantly in Operation Market Garden, a battle which ended with disastrous casualties of allied troops including the Polish division. Sosabowski attempted to divert disaster by warning British command of their flawed strategy but it was not heeded nor tolerated and ultimately resulted in a swift and humiliating dismissal from his command. Sosabowski was a brilliant strategist with an illustrious career in the military yet British command made him a scapegoat so as to avoid admitting their own culpability in the tragic debacle.

To the rest of the world the name Stanislaw Sosabowski has since faded into virtual obscurity, that is until 2007 when a Polish documentary was produced that finally exposed the slander and libel that has tarnished the legacy of a great man and a great General. The film, Honor Generala (A General's Honor) has succeeded in restoring honour to his name, and to the men that served his unit. (video at end of post)

Stanislaw Sosabowski was born on May 8, 1892 in Stanislawow. At the time, Poland was under foreign occupation having been partitioned in 1772 by the imperial powers of Russia, Prussia and Austria. It was one of three partitions that virtually obliterated the Polish state for 123 years. Stanislowow is now part of the Ukraine which is now called Ivano-Franivsk. Before the partitions, the city of Stanislawow was a private fortress that had been built in the 17th century by the Potocki family and owned by them until they were constrained to relinquish it to the House of Habsburg. (Incidentally, the Potocki name comes from a long line of Polish aristocratic land-owners whose legacy has been indelibly intertwined with the Polish history and culture of the region.)

Sosabowski's early life was one of struggle and self-sacrifice. He was one of four children - two boys and two girls but Stanislaw Andrzej Janina and Kazimiera died at a young age. His father worked as a railway clerk. In 1910 Sosabowski was accepted by the Faculty of Economics at the University of Krakow but when his father passed away he abandoned his studies and returned to Stanislawow to assume the responsibilities of caring for his family, working as a bank clerk.

Polskie Drużyny Strzeleckie - Stanislaw Sosabowski
Polska Druzyna Strzelecka
He joined the Druzyny Strzeleckie (Polish Rifle Team), an underground Polish scouting organization and was very soon promoted to head all the Polish scouting groups in the region. Their mission was to prepare and mobilize to fight for the independence of the Polish fatherland.

By 1913 Sosabowski had been drafted into the Austro-Hungarian army and soon after having completed his training was promoted to the rank of Corporal in the 58th Infantry Division. He led his unit into battle when World War I broke out and fought with great distinction in the Battles of Rzeszow, Dukla Pass and Gorlice.

Sosabowski helped to defend the Austrian fortress city of Przemysl and was one of the only three survivors of a total company of 250 men. He was decorated with numerous medals for his bravery and service and rose to the rank of First Lieutenant. But in 1915 Sosasbowski was badly wounded in action and had to withdraw from the front. He spent many months in hospital with Maria Tokarska at his side, whom he later married.

In 1917 Sosabowski was promoted to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant but because of his war wounds he was instead appointed to Staff Officer of the Archduke Franz Josef HQ in Tyrol. His first son, Stanislaw Janusz was born in Brno.

When Poland regained it's independence on November 11, 1918 Sosabowski pledged allegiance to the re-emerged Polish State. He was made Captain of the new Polish Army and organized the disarming of Ukrainian soldiers, and former units of the Austrian army. Sosabowski and his family took up residence in Zoliborz - a very upscale district of Warsaw - then and now. From 1919-20 he worked at the Ministry of Army Affairs in Warsaw as materiel and supplies specialist and also served as member of the Polish Mission to the Inter Allied Council in Spa, Belgium. (He was fluent in French.)

Following the end of the Polish-Soviet War, Sosabowski was promoted to the rank of Major. In 1922 he attended the Wyszwsz Szkola Wojskowa in Warsaw, the Polish Army General Staff College - prestigious institutions accessible only to a privileged few. Among his classmates was Przedrzymirski Heller Ulrich who would later achieve very high military stature. During this time Sosabowski's second son, Jacek was born. The family house, located at 11 Josef Haukiego Street, was constructed in grand style consisting of basement, two floors and a large garden. (It's market value today is in the millions.)

In 1928 he was promoted to rank of Lieutenant Colonel of the 75th Regiment at Chorzow, and at Rybnik, and then made Deputy Commanding Officer of the 3rd Podhale Rifle Regiment, an elite infantry division.

From 1930 to 1936 he served as lecturer and head of the Polish General Staff College, and during that time published two books which have since become standard for military texts. After a prolonged absence he finally returned to the front line as CO of the 9th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division in Zamosc. Just at that time, tragedy struck and his younger son Jacek had died in a horrible accident.

In 1937 he was promoted to the rank of Colonel and was appointed commanding officer of the 9th Polish Legions Infantry Regiment in Zamosc. Two years later he was given command of the prestigious 21st "Children of Warsaw" Infantry Regiment. (Dzieci Warszawy)

Schleswig Holstein attacks Polish port at Gdynia Sept 11939
Schleswig Holstein fires first shots of WWII
When Germany invaded Poland on September 1st, 1939, Sosabowski's regiment was stationed at Ciechanow, in east-central Poland, where it was held as a strategic reserve of the Modlin Army. By the 3rd day his unit had already relocated near Mlawa and entered combat with the enemy. Though Sosabowski's regiment succeeded in capturing Przasnysz, his troops were surrounded by the Germans and destroyed. Sosabowski and the remnants of his regiment retreated towards Warsaw.

Sosabowski's unit, attached to the 8th Infantry Division had reached the Modlin Fortress by September 8 and after several days of defensive battles, the unit headed towards Warsaw 50 kilometers away. As soon as they arrived, Sosabowski's regiment was ordered to defend Grochow, Kamionek and Praga against the Nazi 10th Infantry Division.

During the Siege of Warsaw, Sosabowski and his men, against all odds managed to maintain their objectives. When the Germans launched a general assault on Praga, the Polish infantry succeeded in not only repelling their attacks but conducted successful counter-attacks and destroyed many enemy troops. Warsaw capitulated on September 29 but despite the overwhelming power of the German war machine Sosabowski and his men managed to keep fighting the enemy until the end of September. General Juliusz Rommel awarded Col. Sosabowski and the entire company of 21st Infantry Regiment with the highest military decoration for bravery, the Virtuti Militari.

Sosabowski was taken prisoner and interned at a German camp near Zyradow, but luckily he managed to escape and returned to Warsaw under an alias and joined the Polish resistance ready to continue fighting. But he was ordered to leave Poland immediately and head for France with important documents detailing the situation in Nazi-occupied Poland and set out on a long and perilous journey through Hungary and Romania. Once having arrived in Paris, the Polish government in exile appointed Sosabowski as commanding officer of the Polish 4th Infantry Division.

At first the French authorities were reluctant to provide the Polish unit with equipment and armaments but eventually cooperated albeit with equipment that predated World War I. In April 1940 the Polish division had been moved to a training post at Parthenay and were supplied with weapons they had been expecting since January, but only 3,150 weapons were available to distribute among the 11,000 soldiers. Time was running out. The Germans invaded in May and France fell. The commander of the unit, General Rudolf Dreszer,ordered the troops to withdraw to the Atlantic coast. On June 19, 1940 Sosabowski and his men were among the 6,000 Polish soldiers who made their way to La Pallice to evacuate to Great Britain.

Polish soldiers evacuation by boat presumably from France to England 1940
Polish soldiers evacuation by boat presumably from France to England 1940

The Polish General Staff in London assigned Sosabowski the command of the 4th Rifles Brigade. Recruits were mainly young Polish men from Canada, and it became quickly apparent that there were not enough men with which to create a division. Sosabowski envisaged a transformation of his unit into that of a specialist parachute brigade - the first of its kind in the Polish Army. Soon recruits were flooding in from all sectors of the Polish Army and a parachute training camp was established at Largo House.

Largo House Fife Scotland - Training Camp for 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade WW2
Largo House Fife Scotland - Training Camp of Polish paratroopers

Sosabowski joined his men in the training schedules and passed the tests. At the age of 49 he made his first parachute jumps. Their objective was to assist in the national uprising in Poland and were planning to be the first wave of the troops from the Polish army-in-exile to reach the fatherland. Their motto was Najkrotsza Droga, the Shortest Way. The unit was named the 1st Independent Parachute Brigade and by October 1942 they were ready for combat.

Polish Paratroopers training- Parachute Tower- 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade - Cichociemni- WWII
Polish paratroopers training  ( Special Cichociemni forces)
But British authorities had other ideas. In September 1943, Lt. General Frederick Browning made a proposition to transform Sosabowski's unit into a British division, with the remaining posts filled by British soldiers. And in an effort to sweeten the deal, Browning offered command of the unit to Sosabowski along with a promised promotion to rank of General. Sosabowski adamantly refused to accept those terms. He was intent on maintaining the unit's independence from British Command, and insisted that only Polish troops were eligible to enlist. Nevertheless, on June 15, 1944 Sosabowski was promoted to Brigadier General.

After years of covert preparation, the Armia Krajowa (Home Army) launched the Warsaw Uprising on August 1, 1944. British authorities had been notified in advance, and the expectation was quite high among Polish troops that the British would provide military assistance and supplies to the Home Army at the appropriate time. The 1st Independent Parachute Brigade was at the ready to drop over Warsaw and fight alongside their colleagues. However British Command, loyal to their new ally, Stalin, would not allow Sosabowski's men to provide assistance to the Warsaw defenders. British authorities insisted that the mission would be jeopardized because transport aircraft could not make a round trip of such a great distance. The awful truth was that Stalin denied them access to Soviet airfields.

The bad news impacted the Polish troops quite severely and they were on the verge of a mutiny. When British Command threatened the Polish unit with disarmament, Sosabowski had to resume control of his unit. The Polish Commander-in-Chief Kazimerz Sosnkowski had no choice but to put the brigade under the authority of British Command - and the hopes and plans of the 1st Independent Parachute Brigade were crushed. Instead of fighting for their own country, they were compelled to fight at Arnhem.


The Battle of Arnhem (September 17-26, 1944) was an ambitious project proposed by Field Marshal Montgomery albeit an unsuccessful one - to bypass the Siegfried line and attack directly into the industrial heartland of Germany through the Rhine. Originally he had planned to launch Operation Comet, which would combine the forces of the 1st Airborne Division and the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade. However, on September 10th the Operation had to be scrapped because of bad weather having lasted for several days, as well as concerns by Montgomery of increasing German resistance in the area.

An allied victory was greatly anticipated as well as the expectation of shortening the war by several months. It was the largest airborne operation yet devised combining the airborne divisions of the US 101st and 82nd, the British 1st and the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade, as well as land forces including the XXX Corp. Major-General Urquhart was given command of the British and Polish divisions. The mission's tactical objectives called for the capture of several bridges across the Maas, securing the Waal and the Lower Rhine in addition to several canals and tributaries - the most important of which was the Arnhem Bridge. While the allied had initial success, it was minimal.

Though British Command was fervently optimistic, the mission was doomed to failure. Despite numerous warnings from General Sosobowski, which was supported by Major-General Urquhart and other officers, plans went ahead anyway for the invasion.

L-R: General Sosabowski and Browning_Operation Market Garden_Battle of Arnhem
L-R: General Sosabowski and Browning

Browning believed that German resistance would be minimal, but in reality Arnhem was heavily defended by German panzer divisions. Major Urquhart, Browning's intelligence officer, ordered an aerial reconnaissance which confirmed it, but General Browning chose to ignore the report and ordered Urquhart on sick leave. From the start there was considerable disagreement between General Sosabowski and Browning regarding the Operation's strategy but no amount of reasoning could persuade Browning of this folly.

Allied Landings - Operation Market Garden - Battle of Arnhem
Allied Landings - Operation Market Garden - Battle of Arnhem

A massive aerial armada commenced on September 17, 1944, transporting thousands of personnel and equipment from Britain to Holland. But instead of flying several sorties and dropping all paratroopers on one day, the second contingent was dropped only the next day. With Operation Market Garden already underway, the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade was still in England, it's departure postponed due to bad weather and heavy fog. To compound the difficulties, the Brigade's artillery had been dropped with the 101st while the howitzers were being shipped by sea - a scenario which made it virtually impossible for the Polish forces to function effectively.

Polish soldiers of the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade boarding plane- Operation Market Garden -Battle of Arnhem
Polish soldiers of the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade boarding plane

Because of a severe shortage of transport planes the Polish brigade had to be split up into separate contingents. On September 19 two of the brigades' three battalions were dropped opposite the position of the 1st Airborne Division south of the Rhine near Driel and the remainder were to arrive two days later at a distance town, Grave. It was a suicide mission. Many paratroopers dropped right into enemy territory and were cut down by a barrage of heavy gun fire.

Polish troops were called in to provide reinforcements to the besieged 1st Airborne Division, however they had no choice but to withdraw to Driel. The opposite bank of the river was heavily reinforced by Germans, and the ferry that the British thought was available had been sunk and was unsalvageable. The Polish Brigade were ordered to make the crossing using small rubber boats. After three attempts, under heavy German fire, about 200 Polish troops made it across, but with heavy casualties.

General Sosabowski at Driel with Polish troops - Operation Market Garden - Battle of Arnhem
General Sosabowski at Driel with Polish troops

Casualties suffered by the Polish Brigade were as high as 40%, the result of General Browning's decision to drop the troops 7 kilometers distance from the bridge. Landings were made too far from the Arnhem bridge and the poor logistical coordination by the RAF resulted in supplies being dropped 15 km (9.3 miles) distance from the opposite side of the Rhine. General Sosobowski had tried to warn Browning several times of the dire consequences in conducting this ill-fated strategy but to no avail.

At a staff meeting on September 24, Sosabowski made a suggestion that the battle could still be won by uniting the troops of XXX Corps and the Polish Brigade for an all-out assault on enemy positions in an effort to break through the Rhine. British Command rejected the plan and ordered him to lead his troops southward and provide cover for the retreating remnants of the 1st Airborne Division. An evacuation was undertaken on September 25th.

Montgomery sent a letter to General Sosabowski on October 5, 1944 commending the Polish soldiers for their valor in battle and offering to award ten of his soldiers. But a week later Montgomery wrote another letter, to British Command, in which he blamed General Sosabowski for the failure of Market Garden, and accused him of being argumentative, "difficult to work with" and "unable to adapt himself to the level of a parachute brigade commander" and so on. He issued a report claiming that the Polish troops had "fought very badly and the men showed no keenness to fight".

These were scathing words that ultimately put enormous pressure on Polish Command to respond, and resulted in Sosabowski's dismissal. He was utterly humiliated and reassigned as commander of guard troops. Apparently Sosabowski was replaced with a younger man who was easy to manipulate. Despite Sosabowskis' efforts to warn British Command of their flawed strategy, the failure of the Operation was placed squarely on his shoulders, and he was made the scapegoat.

At the end of the war the Soviet-controlled communist government in Poland stripped Sosabowski of his Polish citizenship. Luckily he was able to get his wife and son out of Poland in time. It was only at the end of the war that General Sosabowski was informed that his son, Stanislaw "Stasinek" had lost his sight during the fighting in the Warsaw Uprising. He was a medic and member of the Kedyw. Sosabowski spent the remaining years of his life in exile, living in London, where he worked as a factory worker for the CAV Electric plant in Acton. He passed away on September 25, 1967. His friends and colleagues had not known of his military achievements until they were read out loud at his funeral. General Sosabowskis' remains are interred in the Powazki Military Cemetery in Warsaw.

Queen Beatrix-The Netherlands- Awards for Polish Parachute Brigade and General Sosobowski
Her Majesty Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands
The British, it has been said, are loathe to acknowledge their own failures and defeats. Much easier for them to use others as scapegoats. Irregardless of British sentiment, General Sosabowski and the men of the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade have been duly honored by the people of The Netherlands.

On May 31, 2006 Queen Beatrix conferred the Military Williams Order (fourth class) to the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade, and the prestigious Bronze Lion, posthumously to General Stanislaw Sosabowski, the highest Dutch decorations awarded for bravery.

Recognition of the Polish forces had been proposed in 2005 by then Minister of Defense, Henk Kamp. It was followed by a thorough investigation and assessment that lasted eight months. Finally, the Chamber's decision to present the awards was unanimous.

Apparently British diplomacy did not approve.


Knight's Cross of the Virtuti Militari

Commander's Cross with Star of the Order of Polonia Restituta

Cross of Independence

Polish Cross of Valor

Gold Cross of Merit with Swords

Bronze Lion (Netherlands)

Bronze Lion awarded posthumously to General Sosobowski

Military Williams Order (fourth class) to the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade
Military Williams Order (fourth class)
 to the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade

Banner of the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade - Sosabowski
Banner of the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade


March 29, 2012

GREAT POLISH GENERALS OF WW2: Stanislaw Wladyslaw Maczek

General Stanislaw Maczek "Baca"

"Baca" (Shepherd)

Each year the people of Breda in The Netherlands celebrate Liberation Day. It is a solemn event to commemorate the fallen soldiers who sacrificed their lives to liberate them from Nazi occupation in World War II. Among the heroes were also Polish soldiers who served under General Stanislaw Wladyslaw Maczek in the 1st Polish Armoured Division. At the center of the city stands a monument and a museum dedicated to the memory of General Maczek and his men.

General Maczek was one of the most successful Polish commanders of World War II, and greatly respected by Allied Command, as well as by enemy rank and file. Maczek was referred to by his men as "Baca", a Galician name, which translated means "Shepherd". For Maczek the only thing that surpassed his determination to win the war was his great concern for his troops. The feeling was mutual. There was no greater tribute to a General than this.

Stanislaw Maczek was born in Lwow (Lviv) on March 31, 1892. The famous Polish city is now part of the Ukraine, but was then in Austro-Hungarian Galicia. Maczek's roots stem from Croatian extraction, though distant. His cousin was a Croatian politician by the name of Vladko Macek.

Stanislaw Maczek had been attending Lwow University, majoring in Polish Philology but had to interrupt his studies when World War I broke out. He intended to enlist in the Polish Legions and serve under the command of Marshal Jozef Pilsudski, but he was instead drafted into the Austro-Hungarian army. After undergoing a brief period of officer training, he was sent to the Italian Front as NCO of the Tyrolean Regiment of the K.u.K. (kaiserlich und koniglich, which means "Imperial and Royal"). He was promoted twice, first to Second Lieutenant, and by the end of the war, to Lieutenant. Maczek was the only Polish battalion commander in the Austro-Hungarian alpine division - a testament of the degree of his caliber and distinction.

November 11, 1918 marked the end of the World War I, and the re-emergence of Poland as a nation after 123 years of oblivion. Maczek immediately traveled to Krosno (near the southern tip of Poland) where he joined the new Polish army. He was appointed commander of a battalion and launched an offensive against troops of the West Ukrainian People's Republic for control over the city of Lwow. The battle lasted from November 1st, 1918 until May 22, 1919 and escalated into the Polish-Ukrainian War. It end with a Polish victory.

Polish Supreme Command defending Lwow 1918

In spring of 1919 Maczek was given a new commission as commander of the 4th Infantry Division of Lotna Kompania, a unit which he created and organized, modeled after the elite German Sturmbataillone of World War I. Maczek's division was almost completely motorized and armed with heavy machine guns and composed of battle-hardened troops from the Krosno battalion - men whose combat experience exceeded that of other Polish soldiers at the time. They functioned in the capacity of "firefighters" by reinforcing weak spots in the defensive lines, but earned their distinction from winning fierce battles for the cities of Drohobycz, Stanislawow, Buczacz and the capital city, Stryj (now in the Ukraine).

When fighting ended, Maczek had been promoted to rank of major with seniority and assigned to the post of staff officer in the Polish 2nd Army under General Iwazkiewicz' command however the position was ill-suited to his temperament and exceptional abilities. After numerous requests to his superiors, he was finally given a command of a front-line unit. The timing was ill-fated. The Polish-Soviet War had already begun resulting in the defeat of the 2nd Polish Army by Semyon Budyonny's Soviet 1st Cavalry army.

On the heels of this defeat, Maczek immediately formed another battalion composed of new recruits, and despite the lack of sufficient training, led his troops to the front as "firefighters" wherever they were needed. They served as rearguard for the Polish troops at Mosty Wielkie, then joined the 1st Cavalry Division under the command of Polish General Juliusz Rommel, participated in attacks on the city of Warez, conducted a counter-assault on the rear of advancing Cossacks, and ultimately won the Battle of Komarow. (The latter was one of the biggest cavalry battles of the Polish-Soviet war since 1813.) With the signing of the Treaty of Riga, hostilities came to an end. Though Maczek's battalion was disbanded shortly thereafter, it had been officially named after him.

Emblem 10th Motorized Cavalry Br.
During the interwar period Maczek opted out of university studies and chose to pursue his career in the military. Between 1921 and 1938, he had served as commander over several different divisions, studied at the Higher Military School in Warsaw, and was rapidly promoted thereafter to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, and then to Colonel.

Just a year before World War II broke out, Maczek was given the command of Poland's first fully-motorized army, the 10th Motorized Cavalry Brigade, nicknamed the "Black Brigade". In September 1939 his Brigade was attached to the Krakow Army and fought in defense of the voivodeships of Lesser Poland and Silesia. From the very first day of war, his troops went into battle equipped with only light tanks, tankettes and only one artillery battery of only eight heavy cannon.

Polish Officers with General Maczek - "Black Brigade" 1939

Maczek's Polish 10th Motorized Brigade - TKS Tankettes 1939

The Battle of Jordanow took place on the second day when Maczek's troops faced the entire German XVII Corps of General Eugen Beyer and succeeded in shielding the southern flank of Polish armed forces along the Beskides (mountain ranges). Maczek's brigade, supported by just a few battalions of Border Guards and troops of National Defence managed to face down three German Panzer Divisions: the 4th Light Division under the command of General Alfred Ritter Von Hubicki, the 2nd Panzer Division under the command of General Rudolf Veiel; and the 3rd Mountain Division under the command of General Eduard Dietl.

Despite the overwhelming power of the Nazi Blitzkrieg, Maczek's Brigade fought against them for five days and succeeded in slowing down the German advance until it came to a virtual crawl. The Germans could not even manage to exceed ten kilometers distance per day, even with their superior numbers and war materiel.
Marian Machocki-Vickers Mark E Type B light tank

The terrain gave a significant advantage to Maczek and his brigade, who were very experienced and skilled in mountain warfare. Not only did they manage to halt German attacks but they launched some counter-attacks as well. However, German forces eventually succeeded in breaking through the front of the Krakow Army, which was positioned just north of the Brigade's position. Maczek and his troops then had to be pulled out of the front line.

The Brigade defended the bridges and fords in Lesser Poland, and eventually reached Lwow where they rendez-voused with the city's defence forces. They merged to form a mobile reserve which fought in the Battle for Lwow, thus allowing other Polish troops to withdraw towards the Romanian Bridgehead. However, their plans were shattered by the unexpected invasion of Poland on September 17, 1939 by Soviet forces from the east.

After only two days of fighting, Edward Rydz-Smigly, Marshal of Poland, ordered the Maczek and his brigade to cross the border into Hungary but they were immediately interned by the Hungarian government and the Brigade was reduced by half. Nevertheless, the Brigade had the great distinction of having been the only Polish unit not to have lost a single battle in 1939.

Amid many other Polish forces, Maczek and his troops made their way to France where they re-assembled the Polish armies. He was promoted to Brigadier-General and given the command of the Polish military camp at Coetquidan. During this time, Maczek presented the French with a report detailing German Blitkrieg tactics, and containing his recommendations for possible evasive maneuvers. However, the French chose to completely disregard the report.

Maczek sought to preserve the integrity of his Brigade by regrouping them into two separate camps, at Paimpont and at Campeneac in order to prevent the possible conscription of them to other infantry divisions. The soldiers of the Polish 10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade were highly-trained, skilled, and ready to fight, yet they received little by the way of equipment and no more than disdain from French Command.

Polish 10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade-organized in France

It wasn't until March of 1940 that the French supplied Maczeks' troops with equipment, albeit obsolete in quality and insufficient in quantity. By May Hitlers' armies invaded France merely by crossing over the Maginot Line. Only then was French Command willing to give Maczek all the equipment that he had asked for, provided that his Brigade enter battle immediately. It was an unreasonable request because the equipment was new and there was no time to train the Polish soldiers to use them properly. Under the circumstances General Maczek chose the best option; he assembled a small force composed of his best soldiers to lead the way, anticipating that the remainder of the troops would follow suit.

On June 6, 1940, Maczek's Brigade was equipped with only one tank battalion, two motorized cavalry squadrons, one anti-tank battery, and one anti-aircraft battery, the sum of which was grossly insufficient to fight against German armoured divisions. The Polish brigade was attached to the French 4th Army positioned near Reims and was given the mission to protect its left flank. The Poles attacked German forces in Champaubert-Montgivroux, but managed to cover only one French infantry division. The Brigade had no choice but to retreat and join the rest of the French troops.

Polish attack Montbard
On the night of June 16th, the Poles launched a surprise attack on the town of Montbard over the Burgundy Canal. The Germans were caught completely unprepared, and many were taken prisoner. However, victory was short-lived. The Polish brigade by that time was fighting alone with no French reinforcements whatsoever (French troops had either been routed or were in retreat). The Polish unit was utterly decimated, completely surrounded and without fuel.

Two days later, Maczek destroyed all the machinery that was unusable, and withdrew with his troops on foot. In order to pass through enemy lines, Maczek split his brigade into smaller groups, and traveled a winding path way all the way through Vichy France, North Africa, and Portugal to Great Britain.

Once on British soil, Maczek reassembled the Polish army to be put into active service. But oddly British Command had different ideas. They were intent on sending Polish troops to defend the Scottish coastline between Aberdeen and Edinburgh and between Montrose and Dundee. The notion was impractical and once Maczek and Sikorski intervened, the British abandoned the plan, finally being convinced of the feasibility of a Polish armoured unit.

After years of training and preparation the 1st Polish Armoured Division was formed in February 1942. They were a strong and viable force to contend with, and equipped with state-of-the-art Churchill and M4 Sherman tanks.

1st Polish Division
By the end of July 1944, they were called to fight in one of the greatest battles of World War II - the Battle of Normandy. On August 8 the Polish Division, attached to 1st Canadian Army, launched Operation Totalize. The mission was to break through German defenses south of Caen, and precipitate the complete collapse of the entire German front. This battle was called the Falaise Gap.

In two consecutive incidences, the Polish unit came under friendly fire by Allied aircraft, but still managed to achieve a brilliant victory against the Nazi's - in the battles for Mont Ormel, Hill 262 and the town of Chambois. The 1st Armoured Polish Division, along with the US 385th infantry battalion, and British and Canadian troops, destroyed approximately 570 enemy tanks and other vehicles, 100 guns, and captured 5,500 Germans. Polish Casualties were about 450 KIA and 100 tanks lost.

Field Marshall Montgomery described the battle. In his words,

"Under Falaise we locked the Germans
like they were in a bottle,
and the Polish Armoured Division
was the cork in this bottle."

General Maczek and General Montgomery

General Maczek with General Eisenhower
General Maczek with General Eisenhower

Trapped in the Chambois pocket were 14 German Wehrmacht and SS divisions.  Maczek and his men were given the vital mission of closing the Chambois pocket to prevent the Germans from using it as an escape route, and successfully destroyed enemy positions.

Following this decisive victory, Maczek's Division spearheaded attacks across the battlefields of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and at last, Germany.  The Polish troops liberated Ypres, Ghent and Passchendale in Belgium.

Maczek led a brilliant outflanking manoeuvre, and after a tough fight, succeeded in freeing the city of Breda. What made it so remarkable is that there were no civilian casualties. (In gratitude, the people of Breda granted General Maczek Dutch citizenship after the war.)

Polish troops liberated town of Breda Oct 1944- General Maczek
Polish troops liberated town of Breda Oct 1944

Maczek's moment of glory came when his troops captured the German port of Wilhelmshaven and accepted the surrender of the entire German garrison, including 200 vessels of Hitler's navy, the Kriegsmarine.

Wilhelmshaven German Base

Maczek led the 1st Armoured Division to the very end of the war, and was promoted to Major-General in recognition of his outstanding service and leadership. After Germany had capitulated, Maczek took command of the Polish I Corps, followed by a command of all the Polish forces in the UK until 1947, when they were officially demobilized.

After the war, Maczek opted to remain in Britain like many other Polish officers and soldiers. The communist regime in Poland had stripped him of Polish citizenship and declared him to be persona non grata. But more astounding was the fact that the British government treated Maczek with considerable disdain, claiming that he was not considered an "Allied" soldier, and therefore not eligible for combattant rights and a military pension. Consequently, he had no choice but to work as a bartender until the 1960s at an Edinburg hotel.

In 1989 an official public apology was issued by the Prime Minister Mieczyslaw Rakowski, of the Communist Polish government. Maczek was decorated with Poland's highest medal, the Order of the White Eagle.

Lieutenant General Stanislaw Maczek passed away on December 11, 1994 at the age of 102. In accordance with his wishes, he was laid to rest among the graves of his soldiers at the Polish military cemetery at Breda.



Order of the White Eagle (1994)

Gold Cross of the Order of Virtuti Miltari

Silver Cross of the Order of Virtuti Militari

Knight's Cross of the Order of Virtuti Militari

Commander's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta

Grand Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta

Cross of Valour

Gold Cross of Merit with Swords


Commander of the Order of Orange-Nassau


Grand Officer of the Order of the Crown with Palms

Croix de Guerre avec palmes (Belgium)


Medaille commemorative de la guerre 1939-1944

Commandeur de la Legion d'Honneur

Croix de Guerre avec palmes


Commander of the Order of the Bath

Companion of the Order of the Bath (military)

Distinguished Service Order

Dutch Poster Thanking Polish Armies


March 28, 2012


Polish Prometheus - painting by Horace Vernet

Poland had ceased to exist as a nation in 1795 when its territory was invaded and partitioned for the third time among the empires of Austria, Prussia and Russia.  A total of 215,000 square kilometers (83,000 square miles) was split among them, the lions share kept by Russia. The King of Poland Stanislaw August Poniatowski abdicated in November 1795 and spent the remainder of his life in Grodno, Russia.

Poland would not emerge again as a nation for another 123 years.

Painting depicting Polish Legions
fighting with Napoleons army 1799

Though Poland was invaded and occupied she was never conquered. The Polish Legion was formed
(1790-1810) - an army-in-exile allied with the French to fight against their common mortal enemies. (Among the Polish commanders was Jan Henryk Dąbrowski, the Polish hero after whom the Polish national anthem was written.) The Poles fought with Napoleons armies, believing that in so doing, France would come to Poland's aid. In 1807 Napoleon Bonaparte set up the Duchy of Warsaw on land that had been ceded by the Kingdom of Prussia.

The Duchy, covering an area of 155,000 square kilometers (59,846 sq.miles) was held in personal union by King Frederick Augustus I of Saxony, one of Napoleon's allies.

But when Napoleon failed in his plan to conquer Russia, the Duchy fell again under Russian control and was replaced in 1815 by the Congress of Poland (officially known as the Kingdom of Poland). However it was nothing more than a puppet state under the iron control of Russian powers.

Waves of Polish gentry, artists, poets, intelligentsia, and politicians emigrated from the former Polish state, from 1831 to 1870, seeking not only freedom and liberty, but the chance to plan and instigate revolutionary uprisings against the empires. The Polish Uprisings of 1831 and 1863 were brutally crushed by imperialist forces, and the Soviets inflicted draconian measures upon the Polish people, including that of Russification. Polish property was confiscated, people deported, forced into military service, Polish universities and schools were closed, resulting in a dramatic decrease in literacy. The Austrian sector fared only slightly better, but the Poles were instead subjected to Germanization.

General Wladyslaw Anders

From this crucible arose future generations of great Polish leaders who would fight for Polish freedom and independence. One of them was Wladyslaw Anders. He was born on August 11, 1892 in Krosniewice-Blonie (near Kutno) about a hundred miles west of Warsaw, in what was then part of the Russian Empire.

Anders had been brought up in the Protestant-Evangelical Church, but many years later would convert to Roman Catholicism. He was an undergraduate at Riga Technical University, and joined the Polish fraternity, Arkonia. Wladyslaw's father, Albert, was of Germanic origin, and worked as an agronomist and administrator of estates. His mother was Elizabeth Tauchert. Wladyslaw was one of four brothers, Charles, George Edward and Tadeusz, all of whom were officers in the Polish army at the start of WWII.

Badge of Krechowiecki Lancers Regiment

During WWI, Wladyslaw Anders served in the Tsar's Imperial Army and led the 1st squadron of the 1st Krechowiecki Lancer's Regiment. By the mid-1930s he had been promoted through the ranks to become General.  After WWI he joined the newly formed Polish Army and was appointed commander of the 15th Poznan Lancers Regiment and led them in battle against the Red Army in the Polish-soviet war of 1919.

In September 1939 when the Germans invaded Poland, Wladyslaw Anders assumed command of the Nowogrodek Calvary Brigade, which fought at Lidzbark. He was shot twice during battle, but despite his wounds, he led his men to safety. After the Soviets invaded, Anders was captured by the Red Army and deported to the infamous Lubyanka prison in Moscow where he was interrogated and tortured. He was imprisoned for two years and vowed that if he were to survive the horrors he would convert to Catholicism. He kept his promise. He might have been doomed to a tragic end, had it not been for an unexpected event - on June 22, 1941 the Nazi's invaded Russia.

Lubyanka Prison, Moscow (recent photo)
Stalin might have been aware of the impending German invasion but was ill-prepared to counter the German blitzkrieg. Russian losses were initially very heavy, and though the Soviets had substantial war materiel they were hopelessly obsolete. It was a key turning point for Britain in the war. Though Churchill vehemently detested the communist regime, he wasted no time in establishing a military alliance with Stalin. Churchill stated emphatically, that "If Hitler invaded Hell, I would at least make a favorable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons." Henceforth under the Lend-Lease program, Britain, as well as the United States and Canada began shipping massive quantities of supplies and war materiel to Russia. (By 1945 a total of 1,400 ships had made the perilous trans-Atlantic crossings.)

Shortly after Germany's attack on the Soviet Union, Stalin ordered the release of Wladyslaw Anders from prison, with the intention of forming a Polish army on Soviet soil. By August 4, 1941 General Sikorski named Wladyslaw Anders as commander of the new Polish army and on the 17th of August, the Sikorski-Maisky agreement was signed. The agreement called for the release of tens of thousands of Polish POWs from Russian gulags who would form the new Polish Army. Generals Sikorski and Anders had met with Stalin to discuss the details of Polish armament, which was conditional upon the release of all Polish POWs from Soviet camps. The new recruits came to be known as "Ander's Army" - officially the 2nd Polish Corps.

Polish POWs ex-gulag prisoners lined up at recruitment centre to enlist in Anders Army - 1941

Polish ex-PoWs in Anders Army
Poles who had been arrested by the Red Army during the invasion in 1939, and who were interned in gulags throughout Siberia, were being released - but only a small fraction of them. Despite pressure from Sikorski and Anders, Stalin was unwilling to release all Polish POWs. They were being used as slave labor for Soviet production quotas, and later, forced to enlist in the Soviet armies.

Recruitment for the new Polish army initially took place in the NKVD camps, beginning in the Buzuluk area. By the end of 1941 over 25,000 soldiers had been recruited and several infantry divisions had been formed. (Among these recruits was Menachem Begin, future Prime Minister of Israel.)

Thousands of Polish refugees who tried to make the perilous journey never reached the checkpoints, having died along the way from starvation, illness and extreme cold. Others had travelled thousands of miles from the remote camps in Siberia to Tashkent, Kermine, Samarkand (in Uzbekistan), and Ashkhabad (in Turkmenistan) to enlist in the new Polish army. The notorious NKVD agents raised numerous obstacles in an effort to prevent the refugees from reaching their destinations. In one of the incidences, they were ordered to disembark from a train and were left stranded in the wasteland of the Russian Steppes as the train sped off without them.

The ranks of Polish recruits were steadily expanding.  Attempting to take advantage of the Polish-Soviet agreement, Stalin wanted to send the new recruits to the front immediately - without reinforcements, but General Anders refused to permit it. The gulag had rendered the men were too weak and ill for military duty. In retaliation, Stalin reduced the food supply from 70,000 to 26,000 soldiers. It was not enough food to sustain them all, considering that the total number of Polish refugees was 115,000 (military and civilian). To meet the urgency, General Anders ordered his soldiers to share whatever food was available with the civilians. 

Starving Polish Children rescued by Iran

Sikorski, Anders and Churchill had met to discuss the formation of the Polish army under British command, and plans for an evacuation of Polish military and civilians from the USSR.  After several
postponements, Stalin finally relented, and on March 18, 1942, he agreed to the evacuation of the Polish army to Iran. A mass exodus of biblical proportions began in March until the end of August of that year.  Masses of Polish soldiers and civilians traveled by ship and overland to reach Palestine, through Iran and Iraq.  When news leaked out among the Soviet camps that an evacuation was taking place there erupted a violent surge of refugees trying to reach Soviet borders. Not all made it out in time. The remainder were trapped in Russia, not having received official permission to leave. Despite vigorous efforts by General Sikorski and General Anders to negotiate for their release, Stalin adamantly refused to concede.

Transport carrying Polish refugees from USSR arrive at Persian port 1941

Out of the one and a half million Poles who were deported to Russia, over half of them perished from starvation, cold, and disease.  Approximately 41,000 soldiers and 74,000 civilians - women, children, and the elderly, all Polish nationals, left Russia and made their way through Iran eventually reaching British Command bases in the Middle East.

When General Anders reviewed his new recruits for the first time, they were severely emaciated, ill, and dressed in rags. It was a startling sight to behold, made all the more astounding when these same men lined up, stood at attention and saluted Anders. Polish boys voluntarily joined the cadets, and about 1,500 Polish women joined the Auxiliary services. By 1943, the men of the 2nd Polish Corps were fit, healthy, well-trained and ready for battle. (Incidentally, there were many other Polish Divisions stationed in Palestine, including the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division, Carpathian Lancers, 12th Podbole Lancers, etc.)

General Wladyslaw Anders reviewing troops of 2nd Polish Corps

Upon reaching Palestine, 4,000 Jewish soldiers from Ander's Army had deserted, although a few of them like Menachem Begin requested permission to do so. The news of such desertion came as a terrible blow to an army that was on the verge of going into battle. Despite British pressure to charge them with desertion, General Anders was not willing to pursue a court martial, but chose instead to grant them all amnesty. Despite this betrayal, there were many other Polish-Jews who chose to remain with the Corps and fought together with them in the battles at Monte Cassino. (Many of them also died in battle and their graves, marked with the Star of David, rest alongside those of other Polish heroes at the Polish War Cemetery at Monte Cassino.)

General Anders had been anticipating the arrival of some 15,000 Polish officers, none of whom ever showed up, and whose whereabouts could not be determined.  After an extensive search turned up nothing, Anders approached Stalin on several occasions asking for an explanation but his inquiries were always met with evasion and lies. (It wasn't until 1943 that the shocking truth was discovered. The Nazis discovered the mass graves of the missing Polish Officers, at Katyn, near Smolensk Russia. Each Officer had been executed by the Soviet NKVD by a single bullet to the back of the head and their corpses piled layer upon layer into huge mass graves.) 

Polish Officers massacred at Katyn Forest (Smolensk Russia) April 1940

Polish Soldiers Charging Up Phantom Hill
The 2nd Polish Corps became known as one of the best trained military units of WW2, and the Polish soldiers were praised for their fierce fighting ability and bravery. Their greatest victory was the capture of Monte Cassino on May 17-18, 1944. Polish troops were able to succeed when
other allied troops failed at every attempt. But it was a victory that was hard-won and cost the lives of many thousands of Polish soldiers.

The 2nd Polish Corps waged other battles along the Adriatic Coast, liberating the cities of Bologna and Ancona.

General Wladyslaw Anders chatting with General Alexander

The Battle of Monte Cassino was a major victory for the Allies and a stepping stone to the next great victory in the greatest battle of all time - the Battle of Normandy. Yet despite these victories, Poland had been betrayed and abandoned by her allies. The men of the 2nd Polish Corps had fought and died for the freedom of Italy, and of Europe, not knowing that they had already lost their beloved homeland - Poland.

Though the West has always proclaimed to be the victors of World War II, the reality was quite different.  It was not democracy that won, but rather totalitarianism. General Anders cautioned Western Allies to be wary of the Soviets, knowing full well the Russian reputation for deceit.  But his forewarning fell on deaf ears.  Anders stated, 

“It is impossible to imagine
that humanity has suddenly become blind
 and has really lost the consciousness of a mortal danger."

By the end of WW2, the Soviets had installed a communist puppet regime in Poland and began hunting  Polish soldiers and officers who were deemed "enemies of the state".  Many Poles never returned to Poland after the war. Those who did were imprisoned, tortured, and executed. For these reasons, Wladyslaw Anders and many others chose to remain in exile.  For the interim Anders maintained a prominent role in the Polish government-in-exile, and as inspector-general of the Polish forces-in-exile.
General Wladyslaw Anders passed away in London on May 12, 1970.  He never applied for British citizenship.  According to his last wishes, he was buried at the Polish War Cemetery at Monte Cassino, Italy - among the fallen heroes of the 2nd Polish Corps.   

Insignia of 2nd Polish Corps

Polish War Cemetary, Monte Cassino, Italy

(click on name)

March 27, 2012


General Wladyslaw Sikorski

"When the sun is higher, Sikorski is nearer."

Wladyslaw Sikorski was the personification of the hopes
of the Polish people for a free and independent Poland.
The struggle for Poland's liberation had been a very long and arduous one. At the end of WWI Poland finally
regained its independence after having been virtually erased from the map for 123 years. 

Sikorski had been at the forefront of the struggle. With an educational background in engineering and military tactics he became actively involved in a number of Polish underground organizations; in 1907 Sikorski joined the underground Polish Socialist Party; in 1908 he organized the secret Zwiazek Walki Czynnej ( Combat Association) and two years later, the Zwiazek Strzelecki (Rifleman's Association). The objective was to instigate an uprising against the Russian empire, one of the partitioners.  The creation of the latter association while approved by a statute of the Austrian authorities, were Polish paramilitary troops, formed illegally.  At the outbreak of WWI, there were over 8,000 "members" dispersed among 200 groups. Many of them joined the Polish Legions. During WWI Sikorski was the chief head of the military section of the Supreme National Committee and then as commissioner he was responsible for recruitment to the Polish Legions in Krakow, the latter organization created by Jozef Pilsudski.

Związek StrzeleckiRifleman's Association

No sooner had WWI come to an end that the Polish-Soviet war (1919-21) broke out over the tenuous question of Poland's newly established borders. By that time Sikorski had become a high-ranking officer of the Polish army, and had led successful battles capturing the ancient city of Lwow, and Przyemsyl.  The Soviet forces were confident of achieving an easy victory but were very surprised by the
unexpected.  In what has been termed "Miracle at the Vistula", Polish forces under Sikorski's command succeeded in utterly defeating the Bolshevik advance towards Warsaw, giving Pilsudski the time needed to organize a counter-offensive.

Polish Soldiers displaying captured Soviet banners
Aftermath of Battle of Warsaw - Soviet-Polish War

Sikorskis' forces successfully penetrated deep into Latvia and Belarus, heaping further humiliation upon the defeated Russians. General Sikorski was hailed as the beloved hero of Poland and was decorated with Poland's highest honour, the Virtuti Militari Medal.

During the inter-war period Sikorski had succeeded Pilsudski as the Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Armed Forces (April 1921), and also became Chief of the Polish General Staff. For the next several years he rose to very high government ranks. From December 1922 to May 26, 1923 he served as Poland's Prime Minister as well as Minister of Internal Affairs.

Charles de Gaulle WW I
During this period Sikorski garnered immense respect from and support of the Polish people. He established various reforms, and built a viable foreign policy that received international approval through the League of Nations. Moreover, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States all recognized the legitimacy of Poland's new frontiers, won during the Russian-Polish war.

Sikorski had made significant strides in strengthening Polish-French cooperation. It was instrumental in laying the foundations that led to Poland's victory during the Polish Soviet War.  The French Military Mission to Poland provided the military organization and logistical assistance vital to the nascent Polish armies. Among the French officers involved in the mission was the future General Charles de Gaulle. 

Polish Badge KOP
From 1923-24 Sikorski held the position of Chief Inspector of Infantry. And the following year, under Prime Minister Wladyslaw Grabski, Sikorski served as Minister of Military Affairs, guiding the modernization of the Polish military.   He created the Border Protection Corps (Korpus Ochrony Pogranicza) a military formation to defend Polands' eastern borders from attacks of Soviet armies. From 1925-1928 Sikorski became Commander of the Military Corp District VI in Lwow, a city of great historical importance imbued with a rich Polish and Jewish cultural heritage.

Polish soldiers KOP
Despite these contributions, Sikorski was dismissed from public service in 1928 by Pilsudski and was
transferred to the Reserves; (Sikorski had joined the anti-Pilsudski movement and opposed the semi-dictatorial regime of the Sanacja.) For the next few years Sikorski had withdrawn from politics altogether and spent his time in Paris working with officials of the Ecole Superieure de Guerre and writing numerous books and articles about the scale of future warfare. Sikorski was a visionary and a pioneer of the theory of the "blitzkrieg". His publications were carefully scrutinized by several countries, in particular by Soviet Russia.

Nazi Blitzkrieg Sept 1, 1939
Soviet infantry invading Poland Sept 17, 1939
The rapid militarization by the Nazi Wehrmacht were to bring these theories to fruition. On 1st September 1939 Germany invaded Poland in a "lightning war" overrunning her armies with overwhelming numbers and fire power.  Seventeen days later Soviet armies invaded Poland from the east -  the culmination of a secret pact by Hitler and Stalin to partition Poland and destroy the very foundations of her existence. To the world it appeared that Poland had collapsed.  But Poland was not yet lost. 

Wladylsaw Sikorski had returned to Poland in 1938 ready to be of service however he was refused a military command by then Commander-in-Chief, Marshal Edward Rydz-Smigly (successor to Pilsudski). Thousands of Polish armed forces had escaped the German onslaught. By the end of the month, Sikorski too had evacuated Poland escaping through a perilous route from Romania to Paris.  Sikorski was at once officially installed as the Prime Minister-in-exile and Commander-in-Chief of the Polish forces, joining President-in-exile Wladyslaw Raczkiewicz, and Stanislaw Mikolajczyk.

Despite the fall of Poland, Sikorski was recognized by the West as the legitimate head of the Polish government-in-exile. Through his strong leadership he was instrumental in maintaining the cohesion of the Polish government and Armed Forces, and distinguished himself as Poland's most ardent and outspoken advocate.

But Poland was not without its armies. Though thousands of Polish armed forces had evacuated Poland, they remobilized on French soil. The Polish Highland Brigade was created and immediately deployed to defend French borders. Meanwhile the Polish Air Force was being equipped with 86 aircraft among four squadrons (amid highly questionable logistics controlled by the French authorities); and the Polish Independent Carpathian Brigade was formed in French-mandated Syria. In all there were roughly 80,000 Polish troops in France ready to fight. At the time Poland was the third largest ally.

But with the Fall of France, Polish forces evacuated once again - this time to England. On June 19, 1940 Prime Minister Sikorski met with Winston Churchill, and pledged to provide Polish forces to fight alongside those of Britain. By August, Sikorski and Churchill signed the Polish-British Military Agreement calling for the creation, and training of the Polish Armed Forces.  Most renowned were the Polish pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain the summer of 1940, and whose pilots scored the highest ratio of kills. Most famous was the 303 squadron (the Kosciuszko squadron).  At this juncture, Poland became the second largest ally, with troops stationed in Great Britain and the Middle East.

General Sikorski and Churchill inspecting Polish Troops in Scotland

When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941 in Operation Barbarossa, the dynamics of the war changed significantly. Churchill had been hoping for just such an outcome to curry favor with the Soviets, an ally upon whom the British relied to win the war against the Nazi scourge. It also presented ominous changes to Poland's relationship with Britain, and especially that with Russia. It came as no surprise to Sikorski. He was a pragmatic strategist and knew what the outcome meant. Seeing no other alternative he succumbed to pressure from the British Foreign Office and opened negotiations with the Russians.

In July 1941 General Sikorski and Ivan Maisky agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations between Poland and Russia and by mid-August, the Sikorsky-Maisky Pact was officially signed.  The Soviets abrogated the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August of 1939 as null and void, and agreed to the release of tens of thousands of Polish prisoners of war on the basis of an "amnesty" , a condition which was an absurdity considering that Soviets were the aggressors. (The evacuation was fraught with numerous obstacles and took place under the most arduous conditions. Thousands of Poles perished. Those who survived and made it to the Middle East were eventually formed into the 2nd Polish Corps under the command of General Wladyslaw Anders.)

Signing of Sikorski-Maisky Agreement July 1941

Amid the huge numbers of incoming Polish refugees, there was a conspicuous void.  Many thousands of Polish officers never showed up, and their absence could not yet be explained.  Sikorski was relentless in his attempt to resolve the mystery, but no avail. Stalin provided only flimsy excuses. He assured Sikorski and Anders that all the Polish soldiers had been released but that the Soviets may have "lost track" of some of them in Manchuria.

L-R General Anders, General Sikorski, Stalin, Kujbyszewie

The horrifying truth was discovered in April 1943 when Nazi German forces found the mass graves in Katyn Forest, twelve miles west of Smolensk, Russia.  Thousands upon thousands of bodies had been exhumed and examined. They were the remains of the Polish Officers who had disappeared and who had been executed by the Soviet NKVD in 1940, upon Stalin's order.

Russian-Polish relations had always been fragile, but now had reached the breaking point. On April 16, General Sikorski fervently demanded an investigation by the International Red Cross. Ten days later Stalin broke off diplomatic ties with Poland, and in a futile attempt to create a smoke screen, accused the Polish government-in-exile of cooperating with Nazi Germany. (Russian governments have since refused to admit Stalin's culpability for the massacre, that is, until the 1990s).

Exhumed bodies of Polish Officers massacred at Katyn Forest, Russia

Another very contentious issue between Russia and Poland dealt with the subject of Polands eastern border. Stalin had long intended that the border be draw along the Curzon Line, which would sever one third of Poland's vast territory.  Sikorski fiercely argued in defense of maintaining Poland's pre-war borders and refused to yield to any pressures. But in the end Poland was betrayed by its closest allies - Great Britain and the United States,  both of whom gave Stalin whatever he wanted in exchange for his alliance. (Read about Yalta Conference)
Crash of Sikorski's Liberator July 4, 1943

On July 4, 1943 the Liberator plane carrying Sikorski and several other passengers plunged into the sea sixteen
seconds after takeoff from Gibraltar. All the passengers except for the pilot were killed. The cause of the crash was attributed to "engine trouble".  However, a Soviet conspiracy has never been ruled out. 

In fact, there were several incidences prior to the fatal crash, in which Sikorski's plane had been tampered with  Sikorski was very outspoken and a threat to the new Anglo-American-Soviet alliance, all the more reason for Stalin to want Sikorski out of the way.  His death marked a turning point not only for Polish-Anglo relations, but the future of the Polish nation and its people.  Sikorski's successor, Stanislaw Mikolajcyzak was considered "persona non grata" and possessed none of the influence nor diplomacy that Sikorski wielded so successfully.  To Churchill and Roosevelt, handing Poland over to Stalin became as easy as childs play.

Sikorski's death came as a terrible blow to a nation which hoped and prayed for freedom and independence. Poland's national newspaper, Biuletyn Informacyjny published the news to a grief-stricken country and set July 15, 1943 as a national day of mourning.

The memory of Sikorski is still very much alive in the soul of the Polish people. Since Sikorski's tragic death, statues and monuments of him have been erected throughout the world to preserve his memory.  Among the many centres and institutes there is also:  the Sikorski Institute, in London, England; a memorial plaque at Gibraltar dedicated to Sikorski; a statue of Sikorski on Portland Place in London, a stone monument on the grounds of Place Polonaise, in Toronto, Canada, and a seated sculpture of Sikorski (as a young man) at Inowroclaw, Poland. Even a film was produced in 1948, entitled, "The Enemy" and in 2003 the Polish Sejm declared the 60th anniversary of Sikorski's death as "Year of General Sikorski".

That Sikorski's name continues to be omitted from Western history is cause for concern.  It is of vital importance for historical accuracy to include the details about Poland, in particular the story of a great man and a great general who had much to teach by example. May the world come to recognize the name Sikorski and understand the true meaning of honour and greatness.

Statue of General Sikorski
Portland Place, London

General Sikorskis' Medals

Order of the White Eagle (awarded posthumously, 1943)
Commander's Cross of the Order of the Virtuti Militari
Grand Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta
Order of the Cross of Grunwald, 1 Class (awarded posthumously 1946)
Cross of Valour (4x)
Gold Cross of Merit
Grand Officer of the Order of Leopold (Belgium)
Grand Cross of the Order of the White Lion (Czechoslovakia)
Cross of Libery, Class I and II, (Estonia)
Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour (France)
War Cross (Norway - awarded posthumously August 1943)

(click on name)