Reprinted with permission of the Delaware County Daily Times
By Joseph Batory, Times Guest Columnist
It’s a story that most of us know nothing about. There was actually an army from Poland along with the allied armies of the USA, England, France and Canada in the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, which marked the beginning of the end of Nazi tyranny.
The Poles of course were the first ones to fight Hitler’s attempt to take over the world when the Nazis invaded Poland in September 1939. One very heroic Polish brigade was commanded by General Stanislaw Maczek. This division fought bravely against the overwhelming numerical odds of the invaders of Poland and while half of its men were killed, this brigade never lost a battle to the Nazis. When their country was eventually overrun, many Polish soldiers and General Maczek escaped Poland and regrouped in other parts of Europe waiting for another chance to fight the Nazis.
Five years later, this Polish army again led by General Maczek was heavily involved at Normandy. This was no small group. There were more than 15,000 Polish soldiers led by 800 officers with nearly 400 tanks and 4,000 military vehicles.
The division was part of a brilliant invasion victory against the Nazis in a series of offensive and defensive operations, which came to be known as the Battle of Falaise. Fourteen German Wehrmacht and SS divisions were trapped in the huge Chambois pocket and destroyed. Maczek’s division had the crucial role of closing the pocket to block the escape route of the German divisions.
Maczek’s division then continued to spearhead the Allied drive across the battlefields of northern France, Belgium, the Netherlands and finally Germany. During its progress it liberated Ypres, Oostnieuwkerke, Roeselare, Tielt, Ruislede and Ghent in Belgium. In a major achievement, this Polish division managed to drive out the Nazis and free the citizens of Breda in the Netherlands without incurring losses in the town’s population. After the war, a petition on behalf of 40,000 inhabitants of Breda resulted in Maczek being made an honorary Dutch citizen. The division’s finest hour came when its forces accepted the surrender of the German naval base of Wilhelmshaven, taking captive the entire garrison, together with some 200 vessels of Hitler’s Kriegsmarine.
Tragically, when the war ended in 1945, Poland, which had fought so valiantly with the allies, was handed to the Soviets who subjugated the Poles for many decades. In 1945, the newly installed Communists in Poland stripped General Maczek of his Polish citizenship and military rank. This remarkable military leader ended up in his later life as bartender in an Edinburgh hotel in Scotland. What has been lost in history is the bravery of this Polish army and General Maczek who ironically received 20 prestigious military honors for his leadership and bravery and yet is basically unknown.
Joseph Batory is proud of his Polish-American heritage.