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|Polish contribution to World War II|
ORP Dragon, in Polish Navy from January 1943
Anti-aircraft mounting with three Polish Polsten cannons
The European theatre of World War II opened with the German invasion of Poland on Friday September 1, 1939 and the Soviet invasion of Poland on September 17, 1939. In the face of overwhelming forces of opponents and the betrayal of its allies, the Polish Army was defeated after more than a month of fierce fighting. Poland never officially capitulated. After Poland had been overrun, a government-in-exile (headquartered in Britain), armed forces, and an intelligence service were established outside of Poland. These organizations contributed to the Allied effort throughout the war. The Polish Army was recreated in the West, as well as in the East (after the German invasion of the Soviet Union).
The Invasion of Poland, known in Poland as the September Campaign or the 1939 Defensive War, and in Germany as the Poland Campaign (Polenfeldzug), was an invasion of Poland by Germany that marked the beginning of World War II. The German invasion began on 1 September 1939, one week after the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact between Germany and the Soviet Union. The Soviets invaded Poland on 17 September following the Molotov–Tōgō agreement that terminated the Soviet and Japanese Battles of Khalkhin Gol in the east on 16 September. The campaign ended on 6 October with Germany and the Soviet Union dividing and annexing the whole of Poland under the terms of the German–Soviet Frontier Treaty.
The Soviet invasion of Poland was a military operation by the Soviet Union without a formal declaration of war. On 17 September 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east, sixteen days after Germany invaded Poland from the west. Subsequent military operations lasted for the following 20 days and ended on 6 October 1939 with the two-way division and annexation of the entire territory of the Second Polish Republic by Germany and the Soviet Union. The Soviet invasion of Poland was secretly approved by Germany following the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact on 23 August 1939.
The concept of Western betrayal refers to the view that the United Kingdom and France failed to meet their legal, diplomatic, military and moral obligations with respect to the Czechoslovak and Polish nations during the prelude to and aftermath of World War II. It also sometimes refers to the treatment of other Central and Eastern European nations at the time.
Poles provided significant contributions to the Allied effort throughout the war, fighting on land, sea and air. Notable was the service of the Polish Air Force, not only in the Allied victory in the Battle of Britain but also the subsequent air war. Polish ground troops were present in the North Africa Campaign (siege of Tobruk); the Italian campaign (including the capture of the monastery hill at the Battle of Monte Cassino); and in battles following the invasion of France (the battle of the Falaise pocket; an airborne brigade parachute drop during Operation Market Garden and one division in the Western Allied invasion of Germany). Polish forces in the east, fighting alongside the Red army and under Soviet command, took part in the Soviet offensives across Belarus and Ukraine into Poland, across the Vistula and towards the Oder and then into Berlin. Some Polish contributions were less visible, most notably the prewar and wartime deciphering of German Enigma machine codes by cryptologists Marian Rejewski and his colleagues. The Polish intelligence network also proved to be of much value to the Allied intelligence.
The Polish Air Force is the aerial warfare military branch of the Polish Armed Forces. Until July 2004 it was officially known as Wojska Lotnicze i Obrony Powietrznej. In 2014 it consisted of roughly 16,425 military personnel and about 475 aircraft, distributed among ten bases throughout Poland.
The Battle of Britain was a military campaign of the Second World War, in which the Royal Air Force (RAF) defended the United Kingdom (UK) against large-scale attacks by Nazi Germany's air force, the Luftwaffe. It has been described as the first major military campaign fought entirely by air forces. The British officially recognise the battle's duration as being from 10 July until 31 October 1940, which overlaps the period of large-scale night attacks known as The Blitz, that lasted from 7 September 1940 to 11 May 1941. German historians do not accept this subdivision and regard the battle as a single campaign lasting from July 1940 to June 1941, including the Blitz.
The Siege of Tobruk lasted for 241 days in 1941, after Axis forces advanced through Cyrenaica from El Agheila in Operation Sonnenblume against Allied forces in Libya, during the Western Desert Campaign (1940–1943) of the Second World War. In late 1940, the Allies had defeated the Italian 10th Army during Operation Compass (9 December 1940 – 9 February 1941) and trapped the remnants at Beda Fomm. During early 1941, much of the Western Desert Force (WDF) was sent to the Greek and Syrian campaigns. As German troops and Italian reinforcements reached Libya, only a skeleton Allied force remained, short of equipment and supplies.
Unlike in France, the Nazis did not set up a collaborationist government. Instead, Poland was governed directly by a purely German administration; much of its territory was annexed to Nazi Germany and the rest was administered as a separate territory known as the Generalgouvernement. This administration was in turn opposed by the Polish Underground State, which not only fielded one of the three largest partisan forces in existence, [b] but was a rare example of an underground government, a phenomenon not witnessed in many other occupied countries.
The General Government, also referred to as the General Governorate, was a German zone of occupation established after the joint invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939 at the onset of World War II. The newly occupied Second Polish Republic was split into three zones: the General Government in its centre, Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany in the west, and Polish areas annexed by the Soviet Union in the east. The territory was expanded substantially in 1941 to include the new District of Galicia.
The Polish Underground State is a collective term for the underground resistance organizations in Poland during World War II, both military and civilian, that were loyal to the Government of the Republic of Poland in exile in London. The first elements of the Underground State were established in the final days of the German and Soviet invasion of Poland, in late September 1939. The Underground State was perceived by supporters as a legal continuation of the pre-war Republic of Poland that waged an armed struggle against the country's occupying powers: Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. The Underground State encompassed not only military resistance, one of the largest in the world, but also civilian structures, such as education, culture and social services.
The Polish forces as a whole are considered to have been the 4th largest Allied army in Europe, after the Soviet Union, United States and Britain. [a]
The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a socialist state in Eurasia that existed from 30 December 1922 to 26 December 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centres were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk. It spanned over 10,000 kilometres east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometres north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.
The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.
The United Kingdom, officially the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland but more commonly known as the UK or Britain, is a sovereign country lying off the north-western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state—the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea lies between Great Britain and Ireland. With an area of 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi), the United Kingdom is the 78th-largest sovereign state in the world. It is also the 22nd-most populous country, with an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.
The invasion of Poland by the military forces of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and a small German-allied Slovak contingent marked the beginning of World War II in Europe.
Nazi Germany is the common English name for Germany between 1933 and 1945, when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party (NSDAP) controlled the country through a dictatorship. Under Hitler's rule, Germany was transformed into a totalitarian state that controlled nearly all aspects of life via the Gleichschaltung legal process. The official name of the state was Deutsches Reich until 1943 and Großdeutsches Reich from 1943 to 1945. Nazi Germany is also known as the Third Reich, meaning "Third Realm" or "Third Empire", the first two being the Holy Roman Empire (800–1806) and the German Empire (1871–1918). The Nazi regime ended after the Allies defeated Germany in May 1945, ending World War II in Europe.
The Slovak invasion of Poland occurred during Germany's invasion of Poland in September 1939. The recently created Slovak Republic joined the attack, and the Slovak Field Army Bernolák contributed over 50,000 soldiers in three divisions. As the main body of the Polish forces were engaged with the German armies farther north of the southern border, the Slovak invasion met only weak resistance and suffered minimal losses.
In keeping with the terms of the Secret Additional Protocol of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact Germany informed the Soviet Union that its forces were nearing the Soviet interest zone in Poland and so urged the Soviet Union to move into its zone. The Soviets had been taken by surprise by the speed of the German advance as they had expected to have several weeks to prepare for an invasion rather than merely a few days. They did promise to move as quickly as possible.On September 17 the Soviets invaded eastern Poland, forcing the Polish government and military to abandon their plans for a long-term defense in the Romanian bridgehead area. The last remaining Polish Army units capitulated in early October.
The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, officially known as the Treaty of Non-aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was a neutrality pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed in Moscow on 23 August 1939 by foreign ministers Joachim von Ribbentrop and Vyacheslav Molotov, respectively.
Capitulation is an agreement in time of war for the surrender to a hostile armed force of a particular body of troops, a town or a territory.
In accordance with their treaty obligations, the United Kingdom and France declared war on Germany on September 3. Hitler had gambled, incorrectly, that France and Britain would allow him to annex parts of Poland without military reaction. The campaign began on September 1, 1939, one week after the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact containing a secret protocol for the division of Northern and Central Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence. It ended on October 6, 1939, with Germany and the Soviet Union occupying the entirety of Poland.
German and Soviet units went on a military parade in Brest-Litovsk followed by the joint victory parade in the streets of Lwow. Further cooperation between German and Soviets took the form of an exchange of Polish prisoners of war. Following order by Lavrentiy Beria given to the NKVD on October 3, 1939, 46,000 Polish prisoners detained in Soviet camps were traded against 44,000 POWs released by the Germans.
German losses included approximately 16,000 killed in action, 28,000 wounded, 3,500 missing, over 200 aircraft, and 30% of their armored vehicles. The Polish casualties were around 66,000 dead and 694,000 captured.
There was a substantial group of Poles who risked their lives during the German occupation to save Jews. German-occupied Poland was the only European territory where the Germans punished any kind of help to Jews with death for the helper and his entire family. Even so, Poland was also the only German-occupied country to establish an organization specifically to aid Jews.
Known by the cryptonym Żegota , it provided food, shelter, medical care, money, and false documents to Jews. Most of Żegota's funds came directly from the Polish Government-in-Exile in Great Britain. Individual Poles, both clericaland secular, also offered various forms of aid to the Jewish people. For example, the children's section of Żegota led by Irena Sendler saved 2,500 Jewish children with cooperation of Polish families and the Warsaw orphanage of the Sisters of the Family of Mary, Roman Catholic convents such as the Little Sister Servants of the Blessed Virgin Mary Conceived Immaculate.
Most Jews who survived the German occupation of Poland were saved by Poles unconnected with Żegota. Estimates of Jewish survivors in Poland range from 40,000-50,000 to 100,000-120,000. Scholars estimate that it took the work of ten Poles to save the life of one Jew.Of the individuals awarded medals of Righteous among the Nations (given by the State of Israel to non-Jews who saved Jews from extermination during the Holocaust) those who were Polish citizens number the greatest. There are 6,339 Polish men and women recognized as "Righteous" to this day, amounting to over 25 percent of the total number of 22,765 honorary titles awarded already.
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The main resistance force in German-occupied Poland was the Armia Krajowa ("Home Army"; abbreviated "AK"), which numbered some 400,000 fighters at its peak as well as many more sympathizers.Throughout most of the war, AK was one of the three largest resistance movements in the war. [b] The AK coordinated its operations with the exiled Polish Government in London and its activity concentrated on sabotage, diversion and intelligence gathering. Its combat activity was low until 1943 as the army was avoiding suicidal warfare and preserved its very limited resources for later conflicts that sharply increased when the Nazi war machine started to crumble in the wake of the successes of the Red Army in the Eastern Front. Then the AK started a nationwide uprising (Operation Tempest) against Nazi forces. Before that, AK units carried out thousands of raids, intelligence operations, bombed hundreds of railway shipments, participated in many clashes and battles with the German police and Wehrmacht units and conducted tens of thousands of acts of sabotage against German industry The AK also conducted "punitive" operations to assassinate Gestapo officials responsible for Nazi terror. Following the 1941 German attack on the USSR, the AK assisted the Soviet Union's war effort by sabotaging the German advance into Soviet territory and provided intelligence on the deployment and movement of German forces After 1943, its direct combat activity increased sharply. German losses to the Polish partisans averaged 850–1,700 per month in early 1944 compared to about 250–320 per month in 1942.
In addition to the Home Army, there was an underground ultra-nationalistresistance force called Narodowe Siły Zbrojne (NSZ or "National Armed Forces"), with a fiercely anti-communist stance. It participated in fighting German units, winning many skirmishes. From 1943 onwards, some units took part in battling the Gwardia Ludowa , a communist resistance movement. From 1944, the advancing Red Army was also seen as a foreign occupation force, prompting skirmishes with the Soviets as well as Soviet-backed partisans. In the later part of the war, when Soviet partisans started attacking Polish partisans, sympathizers and civilians, all non-communist Polish formations were (to an increasing extent) becoming involved in actions against the Soviets.
The Armia Ludowa , a Soviet proxy fighting forcewas another resistance group that was unrelated to the Polish Government in Exile, allied instead to the Soviet Union. As of July, 1944 it incorporated a similar organization, the Gwardia Ludowa , and numbered about 6,000 soldiers (although estimates vary).
There were separate resistance groups organized by Polish Jews:the right-wing Żydowski Związek Walki ("Jewish Fighting Union") (ŻZW) and the more Soviet-leaning Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa ("Jewish Combat Organization") (ŻOB). These organisations cooperated little with each other and their relationship with the Polish resistance varied between occasional cooperation (mainly between ZZW and AK) to armed confrontations (mostly between ŻOB and NZS).
Other notable Polish resistance organizations included the Bataliony Chłopskie (BCh), a mostly peasant-based organization allied to the AK. At its height the BCh included 115,543 members (1944; with additional LSB and PKB-AK Guard, for the estimated total of 150,250 men, not confirmed).On the other hand, the role of the Polish Police force ('Granatowa Policja') in the General Government (Generalna Gubernia), a semi-state under the full control of Germany remains a debatable issue. There was some co-operation between the Polish Police and the Nazis in persecuting the Jewish community while at the same time some officers secretly supported the underground resistance movement.
Throughout the war the German state was forced to divert a substantial part of its military forces to keep control over Poland:
|Period||Wehrmacht||Police and SS |
(German forces only)
|June 1941||2,000,000 |
(invasion of the Soviet Union)
|Action type||Action totals|
|Delayed repairs to locomotives||803|
|Transports set on fire||443|
|Damage to railway wagons||19,058|
|Blown up railway bridges||38|
|Disruptions to electricity supplies in the Warsaw grid||638|
|Army vehicles damaged or destroyed||4,326|
|Fuel tanks destroyed||1,167|
|Fuel destroyed (in tonnes)||4,674|
|Blocked oil wells||5|
|Wagons of wood wool destroyed||150|
|Military stores burned down||130|
|Disruptions of production in factories||7|
|Built-in faults in parts for aircraft engines||4,710|
|Built-in faults into cannon muzzles||203|
|Built-in faults into artillery projectiles||92,000|
|Built-in faults into air traffic radio stations||107|
|Built-in faults into condensers||70,000|
|Built-in faults into (electro-industrial) lathes||1,700|
|Damage to important factory machinery||2,872|
|Various acts of sabotage performed||25,145|
|Planned assassinations of Germans||5,733|
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 Różycki) at the Polish General Staff's Cipher Bureau in Warsaw had developed a number of techniques and devices— including the "grill" method, Różycki's "clock", Rejewski's "cyclometer" and "card catalog", Zygalski's "perforated sheets", and Rejewski's "cryptologic bomb" (in Polish, "bomba", precursor to the later British "Bombe", named after its Polish predecessor)— to facilitate decryption of messages produced on the German "Enigma" cipher machine. Just five weeks before the outbreak of World War II, on July 25, 1939, near Pyry in the Kabaty Woods south of Warsaw, Poland disclosed her achievements to France and the United Kingdom, which had, up to that time, failed in all their own efforts to crack the German military Enigma cipher.
Had Poland not shared her Enigma-decryption results at Pyry, the United Kingdom would have been unable to read Enigma ciphers.In the event, intelligence gained from this source, codenamed Ultra, was extremely valuable to the Allied prosecution of the war. While ULTRA's precise influence on its course remains a subject of debate, ULTRA undoubtedly altered the course of the war.
Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa, AK) intelligence was vital to locating and destroying (18 August 1943) the German rocket facility at Peenemünde and to gathering information about Germany's V-1 flying bomb and V-2 rocket. The Home Army delivered to the United Kingdom key V-2 parts after a rocket, fired on 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 the United Kingdom in an RAF plane, along with detailed drawings of parts too large to fit in the plane (see Home Army and V1 and V2 ). Analysis of the German rocket became vital to improving Allied anti-V-2 defenses (see Operation Most III).
In July 1941 Mieczysław Słowikowski (codenamed "Rygor"—Polish for "Rigor") set up "Agency Africa", one of World War II's most successful intelligence organizations. His Polish allies in these endeavors included Lt. Col. Gwido Langer and Major Maksymilian Ciężki (prewar heads, respectively, of Poland's Biuro Szyfrów , Cipher Bureau, and of its German section, B.S.-4, which broke Germany's Enigma ciphers). The information gathered by the Agency was used by the Americans and British in planning the amphibious November 1942 Operation Torch landings in North Africa. These were the first large-scale Allied landings of the war, and their success in turn paved the way for the Allies' Italian campaign.
Polish intelligence operated in every European country and ran 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 the United Kingdom's Special Operations Executive. Of all reports received by the British secret services from continental Europe in 1939–45, 43 percent came from Polish sources.Until 1942 most of Britain's intelligence from Germany came from Polish Home Army reports; until war's end, the AK would remain Britain's main source of intelligence from Central and Eastern Europe. Polish Home Army intelligence provided the Allies information not only on the V-1 flying bomb and the V-2 rocket but also on German concentration camps. As early as 1940, Polish agents (including Witold Pilecki) penetrated German concentration camps, including Auschwitz, and informed the world about Nazi atrocities. Jan Karski is another important Polish resistance fighter who reported to the Polish government in exile and the Western Allies on the situation in German-occupied Poland, especially the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, and the secretive German-Nazi extermination camps.
Heinz Duthel has written: "Overall, the Polish networks all over Europe and most importantly within Germany itself supplied the Allies with information on just about all aspects of the German war effort. During the war, their agents supplied 22,047 agent reports, out of 45,770 received by British Intelligence (about half)."
|Deserters from the German Wehrmacht||90,000|
|Evacuees from the USSR||83,000|
|Evacuees from France in 1940||35,000|
|Escapees from occupied Europe||14,210|
|Recruits in liberated France||7,000|
|Polonia from Argentina, Brazil and Canada||2,290|
|Polonia from the United Kingdom||1,780|
|By 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 recruited.|
After the country's defeat in the 1939 campaign, the Polish government in exile quickly organized in France a new army of about 75,000 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 Mandate Syria, to which many Polish troops had escaped from Romania. The Polish Air Force in France had 86 aircraft with one and a half of the squadrons fully operational, and the remaining two and a half in various stages of training.
By the fall of France, numerous Polish personnel had died in the fighting (some 6,000) or had been interned in Switzerland (some 13,000). Nevertheless, about 19,000 Polish - about 25% of which were aircrew - were evacuated from France, most alongside other troops transported from western France to the United Kingdom. In 1941, following an agreement between the Polish government in exile and Joseph Stalin, the Soviets released Polish citizens, from whom a 75,000-strong army was formed in the USSR under General Władysław Anders. Without any support from the Soviets to train, equip and maintain this army, the Polish government in exile followed Anders' advice for a transfer of some 80,000 (and around 20,000 civilians), in March and August 1942, across the Caspian Sea to Iran permitting Soviet divisions in occupation there to be released for action. In the Middle East, this "Anders' Army" joined the British Eighth Army, where it formed Polish II Corps.
The Polish Armed Forces in the West fought under British command and 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 World War II, 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 Polish Air Force first fought in the 1939 Invasion of Poland. Significantly outnumbered and with its fighters outmatched by more advanced German fighters, remained active up to the second week of the campaign, inflicting significant damage on the Luftwaffe.The Luftwaffe lost, to all operational causes, 285 aircraft, with 279 more damaged, while the Poles lost 333 aircraft.
After the fall of Poland many Polish pilots escaped via Hungary to France. The Polish Air Force fought in the Battle of France as one fighter squadron GC 1/145, several small units detached to French squadrons, and numerous flights of industry defence (in total, 133 pilots, who achieved 53-57 victories for a loss of 8 men in combat, what was 7.93% of allied victories).
Later, Polish pilots fought in the Battle of Britain, where the Polish 303 Fighter Squadron claimed 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 the United Kingdom. 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 Kościuszko, claimed the highest number of kills (126) of all fighter squadrons engaged in the Battle of Britain, even though it only joined the combat on August 30, 1940These Polish pilots, constituting 5% of the pilots active during the Battle of Britain, were responsible for 12% of total victories in the Battle.
The Polish Air Force also fought in 1943 in Tunisia - the Polish Fighting Team (nicknamed "Skalski's Circus") - and in raids on Germany (1940–45). In the second half of 1941 and early 1942, Polish bomber squadrons formed a sixth of the forces available to RAF Bomber Command but later they suffered heavy losses, with little replenishment possibilities. Polish aircrew losses serving with Bomber Command from 1940 to 1945 were 929 killed. Ultimately eight Polish fighter squadrons were formed within the RAF and had claimed 629 Axis aircraft destroyed by May 1945. By the end of the war, around 19,400 Poles were serving in the RAF.
Polish squadrons in the United Kingdom:
|destroyed||266 1/6||202||90||114¾||103||38½||769 5/12|
|damaged||43⅔ + 3/5||60½||43||66||27||18||252 1/6|
Just on the eve of war, three destroyers—representing most of the major Polish Navy ships—had been sent for safety to the United Kingdom (Operation Peking). There they fought alongside the Royal Navy. At various stages of the war, the Polish Navy comprised two cruisers and a large number of smaller ships. The Polish navy was given a number of British ships and submarines which would otherwise have been unused due to the lack of trained British crews. 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 the war the Polish Navy, which comprised a total of 27 ships (2 cruisers, 9 destroyers, 5 submarines and 11 torpedo boats), sailed a total of 1.2 million nautical miles, escorted 787 convoys, conducted 1,162 patrols and combat operations, sank 12 enemy ships (including 5 submarines) and 41 merchant vessels, damaged 24 more (including 8 submarines) and shot down 20 aircraft. 450 seamen out of the over 4,000 who served with the Navy lost their lives in action.
This does not include a number of minor ships, transports, merchant-marine auxiliary vessels, and patrol boats. Polish Merchant Navy contributed about 137,000 BRT to Allied shipping; losing 18 ships (with capacity of 76,000 BRT) and over 200 sailors during the war.
1,100,000 Soviet personnel who took part in the capture of Berlin from 22 April to 2 May 1945 were awarded with the Medal "For the Capture of Berlin".
Broadly speaking, there were two formations among the Polish Armed Forces in the East. First was the Polish government-in-exile-loyal Anders Army , created in the second half of 1941 after German invasion of the USSR. In 1943 this formation was transferred to the Western Allies and became known as the Polish II Corps. Additionally, remaining Polish forces in USSR were reorganized into the Soviet-controlled Polish I Corps in the Soviet Union, which in turn was reorganized in 1944 into the Polish First Army ( Berling Army ) and Polish Second Army, both part of Polish People's Army (Ludowe Wojsko Polskie, LWP). In 1944, following the takeover of Poland by Soviets from Nazi Germany, the Polish People's Army was reorganized into a Poland-based military formation.
In the aftermath of the Operation Barbarossa, Stalin agreed (Sikorski-Mayski Agreement) to release tens of thousands of Polish prisoners-of-war held in Soviet camps from whom a military force was formed. The Anders Army, as the formation became known, was loyal to the Polish government in exile, and as such its formation was obstructed by the Soviets. Eventually, with about 40 000 combatants and 70 000 civilians, it was transferred to the British command in the Middle East in Egypt, becoming the Polish II Corps and part of the Polish Armed Forces in the West.
To utilize the potential of the remaining Polish soldiers in USSR, without actually allowing them to become independent from Soviet control, a fact which allowed Anders Army to leave USSR, the Soviet Union created a Union of Polish Patriots (ZPP) in 1943 as communist puppet counter-governmentto the Polish government in exile. At the same time a parallel army (Polish People's Army or LWP) was created which, by the end of the war, numbered about 200,000 soldiers. The Soviet-created guerilla force called Armia Ludowa was integrated with the Polish People's Army at the end of the war. These Soviet controlled units on the Eastern Front included the First, the Second and the Third Polish Armies (the latter was later merged with the second), and Air Force of the Polish Army with 10 infantry divisions, 5 armored brigades and 4 divisions of air force.
The Polish First Army was integrated in the 1st Belorussian Front with which it entered Poland from Soviet territory in 1944. Ordered to hold its position by the Soviet leadership, it did not advance towards Warsaw as Germans suppressed the Warsaw Uprising. It took part in battles for Bydgoszcz, Kolobrzeg (Kolberg), Gdańsk (Danzig) and Gdynia losing 20,000 fighters in the winter of 1944–45, in the process, liberating Polish lands alongside the Soviets.In April–May 1945 the 1st Army fought in the final capture of Berlin. The Polish Second Army fought as part of the Soviet 1st Ukrainian Front and took part in the Prague Offensive. In the final operations of the war the losses of the two armies of the LWP amounted to 32,000.
Before the outbreak of the war, Poland was a multi-nation state with ethnic Poles comprising about 68% of the population. Around 500,000 people who were citizens of Poland before 1939 were drafted into the German armed forces during the war.These were mostly members of the German minority in Poland who were considered by the Nazi authorities to be ethnically German (Volksdeutsche). In 1939 during the Invasion of Poland they created the paramilitary organisation Volksdeutscher Selbstschutz, and actively supported German forces in occupied Poland.
The German armed forces also included ethnic Poles (assimilated to various degree into German society) who were citizens of the Third Reich before the outbreak of war in September 1939 as part of the Polish minority in Germany, mostly concentrated in Silesia, Pomerania and East Prussia. These people were subject to conscription like other German citizens at the time. The degree of loyalty of these soldiers to the Nazi cause varied; tens of thousands of them volunteered to join Polish formations after being taken prisoner by the Allies (15,000 joined in 1944 alone during fighting in Western Europe).
Major battles and campaigns in which Polish regular forces took part:
|Battle||Date||Location||Poland and its allies||Enemies||Issue|
|Invasion of Poland (1939)|
|Invasion of Poland||1 September – 6 October 1939||Poland||Defeat|
|Battle of Westerplatte||1 – 7 September 1939||Poland||Defeat|
|Battle of Mokra||1 September 1939||Poland||Victory|
|Battle of the Border||1 – 4 September 1939||Poland||Defeat|
|Raid on Fraustadt||2 September 1939||Germany||Victory|
|Battle of Wizna||7 – 10 September 1939||Poland||Defeat|
|Battle of Warsaw||8 – 28 September 1939||Poland||Defeat|
|Battle of the Bzura||9 – 19 September 1939||Poland||Defeat|
|Battle of Lwów||12 – 22 September 1939||Poland||Defeat|
|Battle of Tomaszów Lubelski||17 – 26 September 1939||Poland||Defeat|
|Battle of Wilno||18 – 19 September 1939||Poland||Defeat|
|Battle of Grodno||20 – 24 September 1939||Poland||Defeat|
|Battle of Szack||28 September 1939||Poland||Victory|
|Battle of Kock||2 – 5 October 1939||Poland||Defeat|
|Armed Forces in the West (1939–1945)|
|Battle of the Atlantic||3 September 1939 – 8 May 1945||Atlantic Ocean||Victory|
|Norwegian Campaign||9 April – 10 June 1940||Norway||Defeat|
|Battle of Narvik||9 April – 8 June 1940||Norway||Defeat|
|Battle of France||10 May – 25 June 1940||France||Defeat|
|Battle of Dunkirk||26 May – 4 June 1940||France||Retreat|
|Battle of Britain||10 July – 31 October 1940||United Kingdom (airspace)||Victory|
|North African Campaign||10 June 1940 – 13 May 1943||North Africa||Victory|
|Battle of Tobruk||10 April – 27 November 1941||Libya||Victory|
|Sinking of the Bismarck||26 – 27 May 1941||Atlantic Ocean||Victory|
|Operation Crusader||18 November – 30 December 1941||Libya||Victory|
|Dieppe Raid||19 August 1942||France||Defeat|
|Italian Campaign||10 July 1943 – 2 May 1945||Italy||Victory|
|Battle of Monte Cassino||17 January – 18 May 1944||Italy||Victory|
|Normandy Landings||6 June 1944||France||Victory|
|Invasion of Normandy||6 June – 30 August 1944||France||Victory|
|Battle of Ancona||16 June – 18 July 1944||Italy||Victory|
|Operation Totalize||8 – 9 August 1944||France||Victory|
|Battle of Falaise||12 – 21 August 1944||France||Victory|
|Operation Tractable||14 – 21 August 1944||France||Victory|
|Siegfried Line Campaign||25 August 1944 – 7 March 1945||France/Germany||Victory|
|Hill 262||12 – 21 August 1944||France||Victory|
|Operation Market Garden||17 – 25 September 1944||Netherlands/Germany||Defeat|
|Battle of Arnhem||17 – 26 September 1944||Netherlands||Defeat|
|Battle of the Scheldt||2 October – 8 November 1944||Belgium/Netherlands||Victory|
|Gothic Line||late August 1944 – early March 1945||Italy||Indecisive|
|Western Allied invasion of Germany||22 March – 8 May 1945||Germany||Victory|
|Spring 1945 offensive in Italy||6 April – 2 May 1945||Italy||Victory|
|Battle of Bologna||9 – 21 April 1945||Italy||Victory|
|Armed Forces in the East (1943–1945)|
|Battle of Lenino||12 – 13 October 1943||Soviet Union (Belarus)||Indecisive|
|Operation Bagration||22 June – 19 August 1944||Soviet Union/Poland||Victory|
|Lvov–Sandomierz Offensive||13 July – 29 August 1944||Ukraine/Poland||Victory|
|Lublin-Brest Offensive||18 July – 2 August 1944||Belarus/Poland||Victory|
|Battle of Studzianki||9 – 16 August 1944||Poland||Victory|
|Vistula-Oder Offensive||12 January – 2 February 1945||Poland||Victory|
|Battle of Poznań||24 January – 23 February 1945||Poland||Victory|
|East Pomeranian Offensive||24 February – 4 April 1945||Poland/Germany||Victory|
|Battle of Kolberg||4 – 18 March 1945||Germany||Victory|
|Battle of Berlin||16 April – 2 May 1945||Germany||Victory|
|Battle of the Seelow Heights||16 – 19 April 1945||Germany||Victory|
|Battle of Bautzen||21 – 30 April 1945||Germany||Victory|
|Prague Offensive||6 – 11 May 1945||Czechoslovakia||Victory|
|Underground actions (1939–1945)|
|Hubal's fight||October 1939 – 30 April 1940||Poland||Defeat|
|Czortków uprising||21 – 22 January 1940||Poland||Defeat|
|Polish resistance in France||1940 – 1944||France||Victory|
|Zamość uprising||December 1942 – mid-1944||Poland||Victory|
|Operacja Główki||1943 – 1944||Poland||Partial success|
|Warsaw Ghetto Uprising||19 April – 16 May 1943||Poland||Defeat|
|Operation Belt||20 – 21 August 1943||Poland||Victory|
|Operation Chain||late November 1943||Poland||Victory|
|Operation Tempest||January – October 1944||Poland||Partial success|
|Battle of Murowana Oszmianka||13 – 14 May 1944||Poland/Belarus||Victory|
|Battle of Porytowe Wzgórze||14 – 15 June 1944||Poland||Victory|
|Battle of Osuchy||25 – 26 June 1944||Poland||Defeat|
|Operation Ostra Brama||7 – 15 July 1944||Poland/Lithuania||Tactical victory|
|Lwów Uprising||23 – 27 July 1944||Poland/Ukraine||Victory|
|Warsaw Uprising||1 August – 2 October 1944||Poland|
aerial supply only
|Battle of Kuryłówka||7 May 1945||Poland||Victory|
|Attack on the NKVD Camp in Rembertów||21 May 1945||Poland||Victory|
|Augustów roundup||20 – 25 July 1945||Poland||Defeat|
Polish engineers who escaped German occupied Poland contributed to weapon developments during the war. A Polish/Czech/British team brought the 20 mm Polsten to fruition as a simpler and cheaper to produce but as effective derivative of the 20 mm Oerlikon gun.
The Polish Home Army was probably the only World War II resistance movement to manufacture large quantities of weaponry and munitions. In addition to production of pre-war designs they developed and produced during the war the Błyskawica submachine gun, Bechowiec, KIS and Polski Sten machine pistols as well as the filipinka and sidolówka hand grenades. During the Warsaw Uprising Polish engineers built several armoured cars, such as the Kubuś, which also took part in the fighting. The KIS was designed and made in the Jan Piwnik's "Ponury" ("Grim") guerrilla unit that was operating in Holy Cross Mountains region. It was probably the only kind of modern firearm that could be manufactured in the forest without the need for sophisticated tools and factory equipment during the Second World War.[ citation needed ]
a ^ Numerous sources state that Polish Army was the fourth biggest Allied fighting contingent. Steven J. Zaloga wrote that "by the war's end the Polish Army was the fourth largest contingent of the Allied coalition after the armed forces of the Soviet Union, the United States and Great Britain." Jerzy Jan Lerski writes "All in all, the Polish units, although divided and controlled by different political orientation, constituted the fourth largest Allied force, after the American, British and Soviet Armies." M. K. Dziewanowski has noted that "if Polish forces fighting in the east and west were added to the resistance fighters, Poland had the fourth largest Allied army in the war (after the USSR, the U.S. and Britain)".
The claim of the fourth biggest Allied force needs to be taken in perspective. When the war begun in September 1939, the Polish Army was the second largest ally army (and the fourth largest in Europe), after the French, German and Soviet, but before the British.Before the battle of France, the Polish Army in France numbered about 75,000 men.
After the fall of France in June 1940, the Free French had only a 3,000 strong contingent in Britain, growing to 7,000 by the end of the year,Poland evacuated around 19,000 to 35,000. By the end of 1940, Polish I Corps numbered about 14,000; Polish forces in the Middle East, about 3,000; this does not count the Polish air crews (numbering at least 4,000) and the Polish Navy personnel. After the fall of France, the French forces lagged behind the Polish in numbers. It was only after D-Day and the liberation of the French mainland that French forces swelled to 550,000, outnumbering the Polish Army in the West, but not the combined West, East and partisan forces. Until 1944, Polish forces also outnumbered the French. In 1942, the French resistance numbered about 10,000, (the size of Polish resistance is discussed in note b below) and in 1943, the Free French numbered about 70,000. With the entrance of Soviet Union into the war in June 1941, Poland returned to being the third biggest Ally again, and with the entry of United States in December '41, the fourth. However, the Japanese involvement also marked the connection of the European and African theaters to Second Sino-Japanese War, and estimates cited above ignore China, whose armies totaled about two million by the end of the war. Thus for about a year, Poland could be seen as the second biggest ally, after Britain. It was then superseded by China, the Soviet Union and the United States. Counting China, from the end of 1941, Poland was the 5th biggest ally. Near the end of the war, Polish contribution, in terms of numbers was matched or surpassed by that of France.
Total size of Polish armies in the West and in the East has been estimated at 700,000 strong (approximately half a million in the Westand 200,000 in the East ). Polish resistance numbered over 400,000. Therefore, with enrollment in the armies growing as the war progressed and numbers of resistance falling after Operation Tempest, the size of Polish armed contribution can be estimated, at its peak, as one million strong.
b ^ Sources vary with regards to what was the largest resistance movement during World War II. As the war progressed, some resistance movements grew larger - and others diminished. Polish territories were mostly freed from Nazi German control in the years 1944-1945, eliminating the need for their respective (anti-Nazi) partisan forces in Poland (although the cursed soldiers continued to fight against the Soviets). Several sources note that Polish Armia Krajowa was the largest resistance movement in Nazi-occupied Europe. For example, Norman Davies wrote "Armia Krajowa (Home Army), the AK, which could fairly claim to be the largest of European resistance"; Gregor Dallas wrote "Home Army (Armia Krajowa or AK) in late 1943 numbered around 400000, making it the largest resistance organization in Europe"; Mark Wyman wrote "Armia Krajowa was considered the largest underground resistance unit in wartime Europe". Certainly, Polish resistance was the largest resistance until the German invasion of Yugoslavia and the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. After that point, the numbers of Soviet partisans and Yugoslav partisans grew rapidly. The number of Soviet partisans quickly caught up and were very similar to that of the Polish resistance. The number of Tito's Yugoslav partisans were roughly similar to those of the Polish and Soviet partisans in the first years of the war (1941–1942), but grew rapidly in the latter years, outnumbering the Polish and Soviet partisans by 2:1 or more (estimates give Yugoslavian forces about 800,000 in 1945, to Polish and Soviet forces of 400,000 in 1944).
The European theatre of World War II, also known as the Second European War, was a huge area of heavy fighting across Europe, from Germany's invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 until the end of the war with the Soviet Union conquering most of Eastern Europe along with the German unconditional surrender on 8 May 1945. The Allied powers fought the Axis powers on two major fronts as well as in a massive air war and in the adjoining Mediterranean and Middle East theatre.
The history of Poland from 1939 to 1945 encompasses primarily the period from the Invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union to the end of World War II. Following the German-Soviet non-aggression pact, Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany on 1 September 1939 and by the Soviet Union on 17 September. The campaigns ended in early October with Germany and the Soviet Union dividing and annexing the whole of Poland. After the Axis attack on the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, all of Poland was occupied by Germany. Under the two occupations, Polish citizens suffered enormous human and material losses. According to the Institute of National Remembrance estimates, about 5.6 million Polish citizens died as a result of the German occupation and about 150,000 died as a result of the Soviet occupation. The Jews were singled out by the Germans for a quick and total annihilation and about 90% of Polish Jews were murdered as part of the Holocaust. Jews, Poles, Romani people and prisoners of many other ethnicities were killed en masse at Nazi extermination camps, such as Auschwitz, Treblinka and Sobibór. Ethnic Poles were subjected to both Nazi German and Soviet persecution. The Germans killed an estimated two million ethnic Poles. They had future plans to turn the remaining majority of Poles into slave labor and annihilate those perceived as “undesirable” as part of the wider Generalplan Ost. Ethnic cleansing and massacres of Poles and to a lesser extent Ukrainians were perpetrated in western Ukraine from 1943. The Poles were murdered by Ukrainian nationalists.
The Warsaw Uprising was a major World War II operation, in the summer of 1944, by the Polish underground resistance, led by the Home Army, to liberate Warsaw from German occupation. The uprising was timed to coincide with the retreat of the German forces from Poland ahead of the Soviet advance. While approaching the eastern suburbs of the city, the Red Army temporarily halted combat operations, enabling the Germans to regroup and defeat the Polish resistance and to raze the city in reprisal. The Uprising was fought for 63 days with little outside support. It was the single largest military effort taken by any European resistance movement during World War II.
The Polish government-in-exile, formally known as the Government of the Republic of Poland in exile, was the government in exile of Poland formed in the aftermath of the Invasion of Poland of September 1939, and the subsequent occupation of Poland by Germany and the Soviet Union, which brought to an end the Second Polish Republic.
Nearly every country and territory in the world participated in World War II. Most were neutral at the beginning, but only a few nations remained neutral to the end. The Second World War pitted two alliances against each other, the Axis powers and the Allied powers. The leading Axis powers were Nazi Germany, the Kingdom of Italy and the Empire of Japan; while the United Kingdom, the United States, the Soviet Union and China were the "Big Four" Allied powers.
The Allies of World War II, called the United Nations from the 1 January 1942 declaration, were the countries that together opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War (1939–1945). The Allies promoted the alliance as a means to control German, Japanese and Italian aggression.
Stanisław Skalski was a Polish fighter ace of the Polish Air Force in World War II, later rising to the rank of Brigadier General. Skalski was the top Polish fighter ace of the war and the first Allied fighter ace of the war, credited, according to official lists, with 18 11/12 victories and two probable. Some sources, including Skalski himself, give a number of 22 11/12 victories.
Resistance movements during World War II occurred in every occupied country by a variety of means, ranging from non-cooperation, disinformation and propaganda, to hiding crashed pilots and even to outright warfare and the recapturing of towns. In many countries, resistance movements were sometimes also referred to as The Underground.
A partisan is a member of an irregular military force formed to oppose control of an area by a foreign power or by an army of occupation by some kind of insurgent activity. The term can apply to the field element of resistance movements, examples of which are the civilians who opposed Nazi German, Fascist Italian and Ustaše Croatian rule in several countries during World War II.
The Battle of Łódź was fought on September 6–8, 1939, between the armies of Poland and Nazi Germany in World War II during the Invasion of Poland. The Polish forces were led by General Juliusz Rómmel.
The Polish resistance movement in World War II, with the Polish Home Army at its forefront, was the largest underground resistance movement in all of occupied Europe, covering both German and Soviet zones of occupation. The Polish resistance is most notable for disrupting German supply lines to the Eastern Front, providing military intelligence to the British, and for saving more Jewish lives in the Holocaust than any other Western Allied organization or government. It was a part of the Polish Underground State.
No. 302 Polish Fighter Squadron RAF was a Polish fighter squadron formed in Great Britain as part of an agreement between the Polish Government in Exile and the United Kingdom in 1940. It was one of several Polish fighter squadrons fighting alongside the Royal Air Force during World War II.
Crimes against the Polish nation committed by Nazi Germany and collaborationist forces during the invasion of Poland, along with auxiliary battalions during the subsequent occupation of Poland in World War II, consisted of the systematic extermination of Jewish Poles and the murder of millions of (non-Jewish) ethnic Poles. The Germans justified these genocides on the basis of Nazi racial theory, which depicted Jews as a constant threat and regarded Poles and other Slavs as racially inferior Untermenschen. By 1942 the Nazis were implementing their plan to kill every Jew in German-occupied Europe, and had also developed plans to eliminate the Polish people, through mass murder, ethnic cleansing, enslavement, and assimilation into German identity of a small minority of Poles regarded as racially valuable. During World War II the Germans not only murdered millions of Jewish and non-Jewish Poles, but ethnically cleansed millions more ethnic Poles through forced deportation, supposedly to make room for racially superior German settlers.
The Allied leaders of World War II listed below comprise the important political and military figures who fought for or supported the Allies during World War II. Engaged in total war, they had to adapt to new types of modern warfare, on the military, psychological and economic fronts.
The Polish Armed Forces in the West refers to the Polish military formations formed to fight alongside the Western Allies against Nazi Germany and its allies during World War II..
Following the German invasion of Poland in 1939, many former citizens of the Second Polish Republic from across the Polish territories annexed by Nazi Germany were forcibly conscripted into the Wehrmacht army in Upper Silesia and in Pomerania. They were declared citizens of the Third Reich by law and therefore subject to drumhead court-martial in case of draft evasion. Professor Ryszard Kaczmarek of the University of Silesia in Katowice, author of a monograph titled Polacy w Wehrmachcie noted that the scale of this phenomenon was much larger than previously assumed, because 90% of the inhabitants of these two westernmost regions of prewar Poland were ordered to register on the Nazi Deutsche Volksliste by the invader regardless of will. The number of the conscripts is not known. The data does not exist beyond 1943.
Ulrich Grauert was a general in the Luftwaffe of Nazi Germany during World War II who commanded 1st Air Corps. He was killed on 15 May 1941 when his Junkers Ju 52 aircraft was shot down by F/Lt Jerzy Jankiewicz, flying a Supermarine Spitfire, and Sgt Wacław Giermer, flying a Spitfire II, from the No. 303 Polish Fighter Squadron near Saint-Omer on the French channel coast.
The Armed Forces of the Republic of Poland are the national armed forces of the Republic of Poland. The name has been used since the early 19th century, but can also be applied to earlier periods.