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1st Polish Parachute Brigade

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1st Polish Parachute Brigade

1st Independent Parachute Brigade
1. Samodzielna Brygada Spadochronowa (Polish)

Brigade standard
Active 23 September 1941—30 June 1947
Country Poland
Allegiance Polish Government in Exile
Branch Polish Army
Type infantry
Role Airborne force
Size Brigade
Motto “Najkrótszą drogą” (By The Shortest Way)
Engagements Operation Market Garden
Battle honours Order of William
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Gen. bryg. Stanisław Sosabowski

The 1st (Polish) Independent Parachute Brigade was a parachute brigade under command of Maj.Gen. Stanisław Sosabowski, created in Scotland in September 1941, with the exclusive mission to drop into occupied Poland in order to help liberate the country. The British government, however, pressured the Polish into allowing the unit to be used in the Western theater. Operation Market Garden eventually saw the unit sent into action supporting the British 1st Airborne Division at the Battle of Arnhem in 1944. The Poles were initially landed by glider from 18 September, whilst due to bad weather over England, the Parachute section of the Brigade was held up, and jumped on 21 September at Driel on the South bank of the Rhine. The Poles suffered significant casualties during the next few days of fighting, but still were able, by their presence, to cause around 2,500 German troops to be diverted to them for fear of supporting the remnants of 1st Airborne trapped over the lower Rhine in Oosterbeek.

History

The brigade was originally trained close to RAF Ringway and later in Upper Largo, finally based in Lincolnshire, close to RAF Spitalgate (Grantham) where it trained and from which it would eventually depart for Europe after D-Day.

It was formed by the Polish High Command in exile with the intent of being used to support Polish resistance during the nationwide uprising, a plan that encountered opposition from the British, who argued they would not be able to properly support it.[1] The pressure of the British government eventually caused the Poles to cave in and agree to let the Brigade be used on the Western Front.[1] On 6 June 1944 the unit, originally the only Polish unit directly subordinate to the Polish government in exile and thus independent of the British command, was transferred into the same command structure as all other Polish Forces in the West. It was slotted to take part in several operations after the invasion of Normandy, but all of them were canceled.[1] On 27 July, aware of the imminent Warsaw Uprising, the Polish government in exile asked the British government for air support, including the drop of the Brigade in the vicinity of Warsaw.[2] This request was denied.[2] Eventually, the Brigade entered combat dropped during the Operation Market Garden.[1]

During Operation Market Garden, the brigade's anti-tank battery went into Arnhem during the third day of the battle (19 September), supporting the British paratroopers at Oosterbeek. This left Sosabowski without any anti-tank capability. The light artillery battery was left behind in England due to a shortage of gliders. Owing to bad weather and a shortage of transport planes, the drop into Driel, was delayed 2 days, to 21 September. The British units which were supposed to cover the landing zone were in bad situation, and out of radio contact with the main Allied forces.[1] Finally the 2nd Battalion, and elements of the 3rd Battalion with also the support troops from the brigades Medical Company, Engineer Company, and HQ Company were dropped under German fire East of Driel. They overran Driel, after it was realised that the Heveadorp ferry had been destroyed. In Driel, the Polish Paratroopers set up a defensive "Hedgehog" position, from which over the next two nights further attempts to cross the Rhine were made.

The following day, the Poles were able to produce some makeshift boats and attempted the crossing. With great difficulty and under German fire from the heights of Westerbouwing at the northern bank of the river, the 8th Parachute Company and later additional troops from 3rd Battalion, managed to cross the Rhine in two attempts. In total about 200 Polish Paratroopers made it across in two days, and were able to cover the subsequent withdrawal of the remnants of the British 1st Airborne Division.

On 26 September 1944, the brigade (now including the 1st Battalion and elements of the 3rd Battalion, who were parachuted near to Grave on 23 September) was ordered to march in the direction of Nijmegen. The brigade had lost 25% of its fighting strength, amounting to 590 casualties.[1]

In 1945 it was attached to the Polish 1st Armoured Division and undertook occupation duties in Northern Germany until 30 June 1947, when it was disbanded. The majority of its soldiers stayed in exile.

Post-war honours

More than 61 years after World War II, the Brigade was awarded the Military Order of William (31 May 2006) for its distinguished and outstanding acts of bravery, skill and devotion to duty during Operation Market Garden.[3]

Brigade Order of Battle

  • Brigade HQ CO: Maj.Gen S. Sosabowski
    • Deputy Brigade CO: Lt.Col. S. Jachnik
  • 1st Parachute Battalion CO: Lt.Col. M. Tonn
    • 1st Parachute Company
    • 2nd Parachute Company
    • 3rd Parachute Company
  • 2nd Parachute Battalion CO: Lt.Col. W. Ploszewski
    • 4th Parachute Company
    • 5th Parachute Company
    • 6th Parachute Company
  • 3rd Parachute Battalion CO: Maj. W. Sobocinski
    • 7th Parachute Company
    • 8th Parachute Company
    • 9th Parachute Company
  • Airborne Anti-tank Battery CO: Capt. J. Wardzala
  • Airborne Engineer Company CO: Capt. P. Budziszewski
  • Airborne Signals Company CO: Capt. J. Burzawa
  • Airborne Medical Company CO: Lt. J. Mozdzierz
  • Transport and Supply Company CO: Capt. A. Siudzinski
  • Airborne Light Artillery Battery CO: Maj. J. Bielecki

See also

References

External links

  • Address by Her Majesty the Queen of the Netherlands, 31 May 2006
  • Eagles on the Rhine The Poles at Arnhem

Further reading

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