65 years ago today – the plight of the Poles

Polish Paratroopers preparing for take off

Polish Paratroopers preparing for take off

Perhaps the most tragic of all the tragic elements of the Battle of Arnhem is that of the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade.

Recruited from exiled Poles who had escaped from occupied Poland and made their way to Britain, the Parachute Brigade had been training hard in Scotland for several years. Under the command of the Polish Government in exile, they had in fact pioneered many of the training features that were later adopted by their British counterparts, who had been relatively late in developing airborne forces. The original plan had been to use the Brigade to drop into Poland as part of the liberation of their homeland, possibly in conjunction with an underground uprising.

When Lieutenant-General Browning took over as commander of British Airborne Forces, he quickly identified the Poles as a unit that he would like under his command. From then on significant pressure was exerted on the Poles to put the Brigade under Allied command for the invasion of Europe. This sat uneasily with Major-General Sosabowski and his men, who wanted to go into action in Poland. Eventually a deal was struck whereby the Poles would fight one battle under allied command, and then revert back to Polish command.

Sosabowski’s independent, and at times abrupt manner won him very few friends among allied command. Although men such as Urquhart and Hackett had a healthy respect for the experienced Polish General, Browning had developed a deep dislike for him. Sosabowski’s known disapproval of the Arnhem plan muddied waters even further.

Originally due to jump into action on 19 September, on a drop zone south of Arnhem Bridge, their take off was delayed due to poor weather over the airfields in England. They finally arrived in Holland on 21 September, at a drop zone just south of the River Rhine at Driel. The plan was that the Poles could secure the south bank, await XXX Corps arrival and hopefully reinforce the British across the Rhine. The arrival of the Poles forced the Germans to redeploy more troops to oppose them, giving some respite to the British over the river. On 22 September the Poles, along with British engineering assistance, attempted to cross the Rhine. Although using only small rubber boats, a small number of men made it across.

The Poles had done everything that could have been expected of them, fighting in a battle in a strange country, having jumped into a desparate situation over which they had so little control. Nevertheless, wheels were already in motion that would lead to one of the most shameful legacies of Operation Market Garden.

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31 responses to “65 years ago today – the plight of the Poles

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