Czech-Polish border, November 1938.
'The Black Devils' 10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade.
Pictured center: Colonel Kazimierz Dworzak, commanding 24th Uhlans Regiment. (copyright Łukasz Stożek)
History of the 1st Polish Armoured Division (1 Dywizja Pancerna)
Janusz Jarzembowski and David Bradley
Photographs: Armoured Hussars Archive, unless accredited
On 1 September 1939, the German Battleship Schleswig-Holstein opened fire on the Polish garrison of Westerplatte on the outskirts of Danzig, thus beginning the Polish Campaign and unleashing World War II. The German Army included over 2,500 tanks, whereas the Polish forces had some 200 tanks and several hundred tankettes deployed amongst the infantry divisions and cavalry brigades. The armoured formations were regional-based and deployed as infantry support; they acquitted themselves well during the campaign and were able to score a number of significant, although local, successes. The most notable, the 10th Cavalry Brigade, commanded by Colonel Stanisław Maczek (later commander of 1st Polish Armoured Division), fighting around Krakow, took advantage of the mountainous and hilly terrain and managed to hold off German attacks, before falling back into Hungary intact, where it was interned.
Following the collapse of Poland, the rallying call was to France with some 35,000 troops eventually arriving. Amongst those was Maczek, promoted to Brigadier General by General Sikorski, Commander-in-Chief of Polish forces in France, who was given the task of forming a Polish Division, but progress was slow and only accelerated when the Germans attacked France, Belgium and Holland on 10 May 1940. However, the division was not yet ready and saw no action during the initial phase of the campaign. On 13 May the German Panzer Divisions broke out and raced westwards and, despite resistance, the Panzers quickly reached the English Channel, splitting the Allied armies. Facing defeat, the British Expeditionary Force evacuated, largely around Dunkirk, and on 5 June the Germans resumed their attack to finish off what remained of the French Army. Maczek realised that an operational Division was now impossible to achieve, so only the 10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade was created and rushed into service with its first encounter at Champaubert on 12 June. Various engagements followed with some success. However, due to the collapse of the French Army resulting in chronic shortages of supplies, fuel and ammunition, Maczek ordered (on 17 June) the destruction of all vehicles and equipment with the troops instructed to escape to Great Britain from Allied-held ports. Over 24,000 Polish soldiers were evacuated.
The Division's first major action was as part of the Canadian Operation TOTALIZE on 8 August, launched south of Caen with the Poles attacking on the left flank, which stalled in the face of heavy German resistance. A few days later, another offensive, Operation TRACTABLE, made progress towards Falaise. The Canadians and Poles continued their attacks with the aim of linking up with US forces advancing from the south and trapping the enemy in the Falaise area.
On 19 August, Maczek ordered some Polish armour and infantry to occupy Hill 262 North, near Mount Ormel, dominating the surrounding countryside and controlling the German escape routes from the Falaise pocket. Nicknamed 'Maczuga' (likened to the shape of a Medieval Mace) by Maczek, the Poles found themselves surrounded and isolated for three days. In desperate fighting, the Poles resisted all these assaults. This was a major feat of arms by the Poles, referred to by Montgomery 'as the cork in the bottle' by blocking the German retreat. Surviving German forces fled towards the German border with the Allies in hot pursuit. The Division recommenced operations after rest on 29 August, advancing across Northern France and into Belgium covering 290 miles in 11 days.
Because of the Communist regime in Poland, many veterans decided not to return home and established new lives abroad, especially in Great Britain where the Polish Resettlement Corp was established (to aid soldiers back into civilian life) with final demobilisation and disbandment in 1949. The realisation that even then, with all their sacrifices, they were still 'Daleko od Domu' (far from home).
Order of Battle 1st Polish Armoured Division North-West Europe 1944-45
Divisional Headquarters and Divisional Support
Quartermaster, Chaplain, Provost, Field Security,
Reserve Tank Squadron, Reserve Infantry Company.
Armoured Brigade - 10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade
24th Uhlan (Lancers) Regiment
|Infantry Brigade - 3rd Rifle Brigade |
1st Podhale (Highland) Rifle Battalion
8th Rifle Battalion
9th Rifle Battalion
1st Independent Heavy Machine-Gun Squadron
1st Motorised Artillery Regiment (Self-Propelled)
2nd Motorised Artillery Regiment (Towed)
1st Anti-Tank Artillery Regiment
1st Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment
10th Field Company Engineers
11th Field Company Engineers
Field Park Company
|Divisional Signals-1st Signals Battalion|
1st, 2nd, 3rd, 10th Signals Squadrons
3rd & 10th Workshop Companies
|Divisional Medical Units|
10th Light Field Ambulance
11th Heavy Field Ambulance
1st Field Dressing Station
1st Field Hygiene Station
|Divisional Supply Units|
3rd Transport Company (Ammunition)
10th Transport Company (Petrol)
11th Transport Company (Rations)
Infantry Transport Company
Main operational route of the 1st Polish Armoured Division
click to enlarge map
50. Ter Apel
56. Stapelmoor Heide
Lecture by Capt. Zbigniew Mieczkowski. Delivered on 31 March 2012 at Edinburgh University on the 120th anniversary of the birth of his commanding officer, General Stanisław Maczek.
List of the killed and otherwise deceased soldiers of the 1st Polish Armoured Division (northwest Europe 1944-47) on the "Fallen Soldiers" page at http://felsztyn.tripod.com/id20.html
ARCHIVAL LISTS - 1st Polish Armoured div. https://www.polishexilesofww2.org/lists-polish-1st-armoured-division
Kelso, Scotland, 13 April 1944 - Divisional inspection
from the left, Major Stanislaw Koszutski, CO 2nd Armoured Regiment, General Stanislaw Maczek, CO 1st Polish Armoured Division, General Bernard Montgomery, CO 21st Army Group.
The Division was mobilized on 19 March 1944 and, following various exercises, moved south for passage to France. On arrival in Normandy in late July, the Poles moved to Bayeux where they came under the command of II Canadian Corps, 1st Canadian Army, part of General Montgomery's 21st Army Group.
However, following the German surrender on 5 May, the Division was given the honour of accepting the German surrender of Wilhelmshaven, carried out on 6 May, both efficiently and without incident. The Division then went on to form part of the British occupation forces in Germany (British Army of the Rhine, BAOR, previously the 21st Army Group) until being disbanded in 1947.
For a second time in a year, work on establishing a Polish Army-in-Exile began. In Britain, on 5 August 1940, General Sikorski, now Polish Prime Minister and Commander in Chief, signed an agreement with the British Government which enabled all Polish military forces to keep their national identity and military customs, such as marches and salutes, under Polish Command in conjunction with the British War Office. British uniforms (with certain modifications to badges and insignia to reflect national traditions) were worn and the Division adopted British Army staff methods, procedures and organisations.
Scotland, early 1941
Infantry Tank Mk III, Valentine II, 66th Tank Battalion, 16th Armoured Brigade, Ist Polish Corps .
Note: crew still wearing their French – issue uniforms and helmets.
Alphen, Holland, 5 October 1944.
A Sherman Mk V tank is in the foreground with a Sherman 'Firefly' at rear, mounting a heavier gun to improve performance against heavier armoured German tanks.
Later, in preparation for the forthcoming invasion of Europe, a new British armoured organisation was adopted, a single tank brigade and one infantry brigade plus supporting units. General Maczek and the Poles were very unhappy with this change and only adopted this new organisation with great reluctance. The two armoured brigades were combined and renamed the 10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade. In honour of the pre-war 10th Cavalry Brigade, nicknamed the 'Black Devils' after their black attire, the left shoulder strap on the British issue Battledress was to be black (not approved for all units until early 1945).
The dawn of tank warfare was witnessed by the Polish Army in France (Haller's Army) during the closing stages of the WW I. The Poles had been fighting alongside the Allies against Germany on the Western Front since 1917 for an Independent Poland. Shortly after the war, the 1st Polish Tank Regiment was formed in early 1919 and was almost immediately transferred to the newly-established Poland to resist the threat of Soviet invasion. During the Polish-Soviet War (1919-1921) the fledgling units, although small in number, were often decisive in small local engagements. The inter-war years saw the development of the Armoured Forces with armour becoming a separate branch of the Polish Army.
Wilhemshaven, Germany, 6 May 1945
Colonel Antoni Grudzinski, commander 10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade, holding map, confers with Kapitan Walter Mulsow, garrison commander with center, Major Michal Gutowski, commander 2nd Armoured Regiment.
Kirkcudbright range, Scotland, Spring 1944.
The Stuart Mk V tank used in the reconnaissance role.
Leaning out of turret is Sergeant Jan Pirog.
In September 1940, the Ist Polish Corps was formed with strength of 15,000 and was established in Scotland, where it defended the Fife and Angus coastlines from the perceived threat from German-occupied Norway.
Following discussions between General Sikorski and the War Office, it was agreed to form a Polish Armoured Division. On 25 February 1942, the 1st Polish Armoured Division, 1 Dywizja Pancerna was established, commandeered by General Maczek on the British concept of two armoured brigades plus supporting elements including infantry.
Cupar, Fife, Scotland, 23 October 1940.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill & Mrs Churchill & General Wladyslaw Sikorski inspect Polish troops.
Herzlake, Germany, 8 August 1946
2nd Armoured Regiment. Salute taken by General Klemans Rudnicki, who succeeded General Maczek in late May 1945.
Standard carried by Warrant Officer (WO1) Aleksander-Leon Jarzembowski.
Dutch-German border, April 1945
Soldiers from the 2nd Armoured Regiment pose before a warning sign,
from left, unknown, Lt-Doctor Wladyslaw Kulesza and
Lt. Janusz Barbarski.
A combination of stiffing German resistance, bad weather and difficult terrain hampered the Polish advance into Holland. Progress was slow, but on 29 October Breda was liberated.
The approach of winter brought all major Allied operations to a halt, resulting in the Division being tasked to defend the southern bank of the Maas into the New Year. Following a rest period, on 14 April 1945, the Division stood on the Dutch-German border for its final offensive of the war.
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