The 1st Polish Corps, formally the Polish Corps, was formed in the UK on 28 September 1940. This was after the Polish Army in France, numbering some 80,000 soldiers and officers, under the command of General Władysław Sikorski, had fought in the Battle of Narvik in Norway in April 1940, and later in the Battle for France, in May and June 1940.
After the capitulation of France on 22 June 1940, the surviving Polish soldiers who had not been taken prisoner or been interned, now numbering about 18,000, made their way to the UK, as did the Polish Government-in-Exile, which had previously been located in Paris and later Angers.
Notably, the 1st Armoured Division, under the command of General Stanisław Maczek, took part in the Battle of the Falaise Pocket, and fought in Chambois in Normandy, as well as in Gadava, Antwerp, Breda and Moerdijk.
The 1st Independent Parachute Brigade took part in ‘Operation Market Garden’under the command of General Stanisław Sosabowski.
The 4th Infantry Division, having been defeated in Poland in 1939, was transferred to France, under the command of General Stanisław Sosabowski and after the defeat of France was evacuated to the UK. There it was given the task of defense of the east coast of Scotland.
The 16th Armoured Brigade was formed 1 September 1941, and was then assigned to the 1st Armoured Division on 25 February 1942 and recreated as the 16th Armoured Brigade in November 1943. This unit did not take part in fighting in Europe.
It was only after the defeat of Hitler in May 1945 that the Corps started to function as one unit.
The Polish Independent Carpathian Brigade, as part of the Polish Army in France, was created in 1940 in French Syria, from Polish soldiers and civilians who had fled from Poland after the capitulation of 6 October 1939. This brigade, under the command of General Stanisław Kopański, did not fight in France. After the capitulation of France on 22 June 1940, the brigade was transferred to Palestine, which was under British control, and fought in North Africa, where it took part in the Battle of Tobruk in Libya.
The Polish Independent Carpathian Brigade later became part of the 2nd Polish Corps in the Middle East under the command of General Władysław Anders.
1st Armoured Division
1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade
Operation Market Garden
The Polish Army in France
4th Infantry Division
Please copy and paste the above two links for more information on the Polish Army in France and 4th Infantry Division.
On Stalin’s orders, in February 1940, around 1.7 million men, women and children were arrested and deported from their homeland in the Kresy region of Poland (the eastern Borderlands). They were taken by cattle trucks and open sledges to the most inhospitable and isolated areas of the Soviet Union and were put to work as slave labourers in Gulags and kolkhozes. Conditions were appalling, with sub-zero temperatures, inadequate food and horrendous working and living conditions. Work quotas had to be fulfilled to receive even a meagre ration of food. As a result of this, many perished from starvation and disease.
Following Germany’s invasion on 22 June 1941, of its former ally, the Soviet Union, negotiations began between the Polish Government-in-Exile and the Soviet Union, to secure the release of the Polish deportees to allow them to join a new Polish Army on Russian soil. This new Army would then join the Allies, which now included the Soviet Union, in fighting against the Germans. The subsequent Polish-Russian Military Agreement was signed on 14 August 1941 granting the Polish ‘prisoners’ an ‘amnesty’ allowing them the freedom to leave.
General Michał Tukarzewski set up the first army enrolment centre on 17 August 1941 in the Soviet town of Totskoye. The men arrived at the enrolment centres in rags, suffering from malnutrition and disease. Many died after arrival. There proved to be a lack of officers among the men arriving at the centres, which was later explained by the discovery in April 1943 of the mass graves of officers at Katyn, all murdered by the Soviet NKVD in Spring 1940.
A deterioration of relations with the Soviet Union resulted in hurried evacuations of the men and their families to Pahlevi, Iran; the first wave of evacuations took place March–April 1942 and the second during August 1942. Roughly 115,000 Poles left the Soviet Union this way before Stalin closed his borders, which was not even six percent of those who had been deported.
On arrival in Iran the Polish soldiers came under British command and, after some recovery time in Pahlevi, were moved to transit camps in Tehran. The 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division, which had fought in the Siege of Tobruk and in the Middle East, joined the Corps, which together with the released Polish recruits from the Soviet Union made up the body of the 2nd Polish Corps. From 1942-1943 the Polish Army underwent extensive training to prepare for the future battles.
The formation of the 2nd Polish Corps was modeled on the British Allied Forces Act 1940, which would allow the Allied Polish units to fight with the Allies as a single entity and be incorporated into the 8th British Army. The Corps now consisted of two infantry divisions, the 3rd Carpathian and the 5th Kresowa, three tank regiments, three cavalry regiments and several regiments of artillery of various calibres, sappers and services, such as signals, sanitary units, MPs and the Polish Women’s Auxiliary Services.
Between July and August 1943, the 2nd Polish Corps, having been moved to Palestine, continued manoeuvres in mountainous areas that would prepare them for the similar terrain that they would encounter in Italy. In February 1944, the 2nd Polish Corps was moved to Egypt where it became an independent part of the 8th British Army, under General Sir Oliver Leese. From there the soldiers were transported by boat to Italy, landing at Taranto, Bari and Naples.
Once in Italy, the 2nd Polish Corps was involved in the fourth and final Battle of Monte Cassino in May 1944 and, on 18 May, they successfully captured the fortified abbey from the veteran German units and so enabled the Gustav Line to be broken. But losses were high and 860 of their soldiers were killed and 3,000 were wounded.
The Corps also took part in the Battle of Ancona where it helped break the Hitler Line and the Gothic line which enabled the capture of the strategically-situated Port of Ancona. The last battle the 2nd Polish Corps took part in was the Battle of Bologna during the final offensive in Italy in March 1945.
After the war, few Polish soldiers chose to return to a now communist-run and Soviet-backed Poland. Many did not have a home to go back to due to the deal made in the Yalta agreement whereby the borders were changed and much of the Kresy had now become part of the Soviet Union. The soldiers were transported to Britain and demobilized. Many were reunited with family members they had lost contact with during the war. Many of the soldiers remained in exile and settled in countries all over the world.
Women's Auxiliary Service PWSK
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5th Kresowa Infantry Division (5KDP)
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2nd Armoured Brigade
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Army Group Artillery
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Danuta Maczka Gradosielska
Hania Kaczanowska: The Eagle's Tear
Hania Kaczanowska: Dziadek did you have a Gun
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