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The Polish Military in the Many Battles of WWII

By Ted Rajchel | Columnist 

During World War II the Polish military represented the Allies, the fourth largest fighting force, after the American military, the English military, and the Russian military, who made the name of Poland a byword among liberty-loving people. Poland—occupied by German and Russian troops. Poland—a country without a flag. Four hundred thousand Poles with the Russian troops, 200,000 with the aAllies. 

The First Allied Victory

The Battle for the first time that British, French, Polish, and Norwegian fought forces together, they won the recapture of Narvik, Norway, which was  on May 28, 1940  It was the first major defeat of the war for Nazi Germany.  

Historians have claimed that the recapture of Narvik convinced Hitler to change his plans to invade Great Britain, scheduled for the same year. Lessons learned from Narvik were also an important factor in the Allies’ planning of D-Day in 1944.

Battle for Narvik

Narvik was captured by German  troops on the morning of April 9, 1940.  Their objective was to gain control of the iron ore, a critical resource for the German arms industry, that was shipped out from the Kiruna Mine. 

The Norwegian Sixth Division fought the Germans under the command of Major General Carl Gustav Fleischer, and after some time received support from the British navy and French and Polish troops. They recaptured Narvik on the 28th of May, 1940. However, by the 9th of June, German soldiers had made a new advance. The situation in France was critical, and the Allies decided to transfer their troops there.  

Without allied support it was impossible to continue the military campaign in Norway. King Haakon took the difficult decision to flee the country. He travelled to London together with Crown Prince Olav and members of the Norwegian government, and established a Norwegian government-in-exile there. 

Major Polish Effort

Minister of Defense Ine Eriksen Sokeide made special mention of the volunteer Polish troops. After Poland was invaded in September, 1939, the fighting spirit was high and 5,000 soldiers from the Polish brigade-in-exile fought in Narvik, Norway. This was the first major defeat of the war for Nazi Germany.

Honored the Fallen Polish Soldiers

King Harald made note of the Polish efforts in his remarks: “Brave Poles came to Norway to provide support and assistance during the Second World War.”  

The Polish Independent Highland Brigade was a Polish military unlit created in France in 1939, after the fall of Poland, as part of the Polish Army in France.  It had approximately 5,000 soldiers trained in mountain warfare and was commanded by General Zygmunt Szyszko-Bohusz.  It was named after the region of   Podhale in southern Poland.  

In February it was assigned to the Anglo-French Expeditionary Corps prepared to be sent to Finland. Eventually in May and June, 1940, it took part in the Allied campaign in Norway and fought with distinction in the battles of Narvik.  

After the beginning of hostilities on the western front, the brigade was withdrawn to France, where it fought in the defense of Brittany. Disbanded, some of its soldiers were evacuated to Britain and Egypt, while others joined the French resistance.

The Start of Something New

Crown Prince Haakon also had the opportunity to meet some of the veterans during a ceremony to honor some of the veterans of this battle: “It both marks an historic event and represents the start of something new, namely that Polish, British, French, and Norwegian soldiers fought shoulder to shoulder. It was a symbol of the allied solidarity that has since become part of the basis for NATO today,” by Crown Prince Haakon in Narvik.

The Battle of Britain

The 144 Polish pilots, who made up around 5 percent of the Royal Air Force (RAF) shot down about 12 percent of the total losses suffered by the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain.  What made this even more remarkable is that the majority of these hits was carried out single handedly by No. 303 Kosciusko Polish Fighter Squadron, regarded as the best division within the Royal Air Force (RAF).

The Kosciuszko Squadron was named  in honor of the 30 year-old Polish officer, Thaddeus Kosciuszko, who served the cause of freedom and was one of the heroes of the American Revolutionary War in the forces of General George Washington’s Continental Army. The air squadron fought under the red and white banner. Not one of the Americans in the Kosciuszko Squadron was of Polish ancestry , but they served with such intensity, heroism, and skill that they won Poland’s highest military honors.

The Polish II Corps Fought In Italy

They captured the hill and abbey of Monte Cassino (May, 1944) opening  the way for the Allies to go to Rome. Polish II Corps in Italy largely recruited from Soviet prison camps.  They did some of the toughest fighting for the allied cause during the Italian campaign, suffering 923 killed, 2,931 wounded, 335 missing in action  from the battle fought in 1944 to 1945.  The dead were buried in Italy.  

The Polish forces also fought in North Africa, on the Eastern Front, in Western Europe, and on the Italian peninsula in the defense of Wester Platte, a coastal point near Gdansk, Poland (September 1, to 7, 1939). The Polish submarine “Orzel” made its way from Tallin, Estonia to England without maps or arms.  

A whole Polish division fought at Legarde and Saint Die in France.  A Polish brigade was effective in the defense of besieged Tobruk (August 15 to December 8, 1941).  The submarine “Sokol” was one of the bravest allied ships operating in the Mediterranean. Polish bombers dropped bombs over the Nazi Germany.  Poles entered the fighting in the East at the side of the Soviet armies (Lenino, October 12, 1943). 

The first army fought soon after at Warka and Praga (on the Vistula River). In the summer of 1944 the Polish armored division, together with the Canadians and Americans, broke the Nazi line of defense of Normandy at Falaise in France. The Polish parachute brigade fought a courageous battle at Arnhem, the Netherlands in the attempt to forge the Rhine. Polish ships convoyed allied transportation of arms and supplies to Murmansk (USSR) through the North Atlantic. Hundreds of transports were blown up.  

In Peenemunde, Germany Polish intelligence had discovered where the V-I rocket was produced. Soon afterwards Polish scientists and intelligence men solved the V-2 mystery and transmitted it to the allies (they participated massively in the resistance movements of Denmark, France, Greece, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.)  Some were in command and others became national heroes.  

The Polish underground struggles, the escapes, and sabotage activities continued wherever possible—in the concentration camps and armaments factories.  

The Second Polish Army, marching from the East fought in the Battles of Bautzen and Dresden, and took part in the liberation of Czechoslovakia side by side with the Soviet Army. The First Polish Army took part in the assault on the Pomeranian Bulwark, Kolobrzeg and Berlin to help end the war.  

Polish Army soldiers put the Polish flag on top of Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to show that the war had ended.  Poland was the only nation to fight in Europe from the first to the very last day of the Second World War.  Over two million Poles were in some way part of a Polish military formation between the first of September, 1939 and the eighth of May, 1945, be it the regular army, partisan units or the underground army.  

Towards the end of the war, around 600,000 soldiers (in the Infantry, tank  divisions, Air force, and Navy) were part of Polish divisions fighting on all European fronts by the summer of 1944, as fierce battles were waged against German troops. Polish underground forces had over 300,000 soldiers in their ranks. These figures put Poland’s army as the fourth largest within the allied powers during the war.  

After this horrible period was over and World War II had ended, new boundaries were designated for Central Europe by Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt at Yalta.  Poland lost a third of its pre World War II area which was taken over by the Soviets. The Allied powers handed over to Poland a large part of Germany east of the Oder and Neisse Rivers.  Nearly the entire population of those provinces either escaped the Red Army in 1945 or were later expelled to Germany, and the territory was settled by Polish refugees from the East, who wanted to avoid Soviet rule.  Also hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians were forced leave Poland to settle in the Soviet Union.  Most of the Jews who survived the Holocaust emigrated to Israel or to America.

The United States Army Arrives In 


For military duty with 5,000 American soldiers arrived on January 12, 2017.  The troops will be followed by 87 tanks, 144 Bradley  fighting vehicles and 2,500 vehicles being transported by land from Germany.  

In 1990 Lech Walesa was elected President of Poland.  In October, 1991, completely free elections for the Polish people were held, the new Democratic Poland inherited severe economic problems from the communists.  

Nevertheless, Poland underwent transitioning from communism to capitalism.  Industry was privatized and today the Polish economy is growing strongly.  Russian troops left Poland and now Poland is a 100% free country. Thank God for this. In 1997 Poland gained a new constitution. Lech Kaczynski became president of Poland in 2005. 

Meanwhile, Poland jointed NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004.  President Obama sent 5,000 American troops to Poland with heavy military equipment to stay.  Finally peace and freedom have come to Poland.          

References: (1) Polish Independent Highland Brigade, Wikipedia; (2) Polish Contributions to World War II, Wikipedia; (3) Polish Land Forces, Wikipedia; (4)  Polish Resistance Movement in World War II, Wikipedia; (5) Poland and Poles in the Second World War; (6) The Battle for Narvir.

Mark Ziobro
Mark Ziobro
Mark is the current Managing Editor for The Utica Phoenix, and a Central New York Native.

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