Polish contribution to World War II

From Academic Kids

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"Poland: First to Fight" (poster, 1939).

The European theater of World War II opened with the invasion of Poland by German armed forces in the 1939 Polish September Campaign. After Poland had been overrun, she managed to establish a government-in-exile, armed forces and an intelligence service outside Poland, contributing substantially to the Allied effort throughout the war. Poland never made a general surrender and was the only German-occupied country which did not produce a puppet government that collaborated with the Nazis.



After the country's defeat in the 1939 campaign, the Polish government in exile immediately organized in France a new army of about 80,000 men. In 1940 a Polish Highland Brigade took part in the Battle of Narvik (Norway), and two Polish divisions (First Grenadier Division, and Second Infantry Fusiliers Division) took part in the defense of France, while a Polish motorized brigade and two infantry divisions were in process of forming. A Polish Independent Carpathian Brigade was formed in French-mandated Syria, to which many Polish troops had escaped from Romania. The Polish Air Force in France comprised eighty-six aircraft in four squadrons, one and a half of the squadrons being fully operational while the rest were in various stages of training.

Polish Armed Forces in the West
at the height of their power
Deserters from the German Wehrmacht 89,300 (35.8%)
Evacuees from the USSR in 1941 83,000 (33.7%)
Evacuees from France in 1940 35,000 (14,0%)
Liberated POWs 21,750 (8,7%)
Escapees from occupied Europe 14,210 (5,7%)
Recruits in liberated France 7,000 (2,8%)
Polonia from Argentina, Brazil and Canada 2,290 (0,9%)
Polonia from United Kingdom 1,780 (0,7%)
Total 249,000
Note: Until July 1945, when recruitment was halted, some 26,830 Polish soldiers were declared KIA or MIA or had died of wounds. After that date, an additional 21,000 former Polish POWs were inducted.

Source: Reference #4 (http://www.angelfire.com/ok2/polisharmy/)

After the fall of France, many Polish personnel had died in the fighting or been interned in Switzerland. Nevertheless, General Władysław Sikorski, Polish commander-in-chief and prime minister, was able to evacuate many Polish troops to Britain. In 1941, pursuant to an agreement between the Polish government in exile and Joseph Stalin, the Soviets released many Polish citizens, from whom a 75,000-strong army was formed in the Middle East under General Władysław Anders ("Anders' Army").

The Polish armed forces in the west numbered 195,000 in March 1944 and 165,000 at the end of that year, including about 20,000 personnel in the Polish Air Force and 3,000 in the Polish Navy. At the end of WWII, the Polish Armed Forces in the west numbered 195,000 and by July 1945 had increased to 228,000, most of the newcomers being released prisoners of war and ex-labor-camp inmates. The communist government organized its own army, the Polish People's Army (Wojsko Ludowe), which in 1944 numbered 78,000 and at the end of the war was close to 500,000 strong. In addition, the Armia Krajowa ("Home Army"; abbreviated "AK"), the Polish resistance forces in Poland itself, at their peak numbered some 200,000 regular soldiers and many more underground members and sympathizers.

Polish army units on the Eastern Front included the 1st Polish Army and the 2nd Polish Army, with 10 infantry divisions and 5 armored brigades.

Air Force

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"Thank You, Poles": liberation of Breda, 1944.

The Polish Air Force fought in the Battle of France (133 pilots, who achieved 55 victories at a loss of 15 men).

Later, Polish pilots fought in the Battle of Britain, where the Polish 303 Fighter Squadron achieved the highest number of kills of any Allied squadron. From the very beginning of the war, the Royal Air Force (RAF) had welcomed foreign pilots to supplement the dwindling pool of British pilots. On 11 June 1940, the Polish Government in Exile signed an agreement with the British Government to form a Polish Army and Polish Air Force in Britain. The first two (of an eventual ten) Polish fighter squadrons went into action in August 1940. Four Polish squadrons eventually took part in the Battle of Britain (300 and 301 Bomber Squadrons; 302 and 303 Fighter Squadrons), with 89 Polish pilots. Together with more than 50 Poles fighting in British squadrons, a total of 145 Polish pilots defended British skies. Polish pilots were among the most experienced in the battle, most of them having already fought in the 1939 September Campaign in Poland and the 1940 Battle of France. Additionally, prewar Poland had set a very high standard of pilot training. The 303 Squadron, named after the Polish-American hero, General Tadeusz Kosciuszko, achieved the highest number of kills (273) of all fighter squadrons engaged in the Battle of Britain, even though it only joined the combat on August 30, 1940: these 5% of pilots were responsible for a phenomenal 12% of total victories in the Battle.

The Polish Air Force also fought in Tunisia ("Skalski's Circus") and in raids on Germany.

By war's end, there were 14,000 Polish airmen in 15 RAF squadrons and in the United States Army Air Force (USAAF).

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Polish squadrons in Britain:


Just on the eve of war, most of the major Polish Navy ships had been sent for safety to the British Isles. There they fought alongside the Royal Navy. At various stages of the war, the Polish Navy comprised 2 cruisers and a large number of smaller ships, including 3 destroyers and 2 submarines that had left the Baltic Sea in late August 1939.

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The above list does not include a number of minor ships, transports, merchant-marine auxiliary vessels, and patrol boats.

The Polish Navy fought with great distinction alongside the other Allied navies in many important and successful operations, including those conducted against the German battleship, Bismarck.


During a period of over six and a half years, from late December 1932 to the outbreak of World War II, three mathematician-cryptologists (Marian Rejewski, Henryk Zygalski and Jerzy Rozycki) at the Polish General Staff's Cipher Bureau (Biuro Szyfrow) in Warsaw had developed a number of techniques and devices--including Rozycki's "clock," Zygalski's "perforated sheets," and Rejewski's "cryptological bomb" (precursor to the later British "Bombe," so named after its Polish predecessor)--to facilitate decryption of messages produced on the German "Enigma" cipher machine. A month before the outbreak of World War II, on July 25, 1939, at Pyry in the Kabaty Woods just south of Warsaw, Poland disclosed her achievements to France and Britain, which had failed in all their own efforts to crack the Enigma cipher. Absent the subsequent Allied reading of Germany's Enigma ciphers, Britain would--in Winston Churchill's estimation--not have held out against Germany, and the U.S. would not have had Britain as a springboard to the European and North African theaters of operations. The outcome of the war in Europe would have been left to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union to contest between them.

As early as 1940, Polish agents (see Witold Pilecki) penetrated German concentration camps, including Auschwitz, and informed the world about Nazi atrocities.

Home Army (Polish: Armia Krajowa) intelligence was vital in locating and destroying (18 August 1943) the German rocket facility at Peenemunde and in gathering information about Germany's V-1 buzzbomb and V-2 rocket. The Home Army delivered to Britain key V-2 parts, after a V-2 rocket, fired 30 May 1944, crashed near a German test facility at Sarnaki on the Bug River and was recovered by the Home Army. On the night of 25-26 July, 1944, the crucial parts were flown from occupied Poland to Britain in an RAF plane, along with detailed drawings of parts too large to fit in the plane (see Operation III Most). Analysis of the German rocket became vital to improving Allied anti-V-2 defenses.

Polish intelligence cooperated with the other Allies in every European country and operated one of the largest intelligence networks in Nazi Germany. Many Poles also served in other Allied intelligence services, including the celebrated Krystyna Skarbek ("Christine Granville") in Britain's Special Operations Executive.


Template:Polish Secret State small

See also: History of Poland (1939-1945), 27th Home Army Infantry Division


Major battles and campaigns in which Polish regular forces took part:

Technical inventions


See also

External links


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