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Polish contribution to World War II

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Title: Polish contribution to World War II  
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Subject: History of Poland, History of Poland (1939–45), Poland, Warsaw Uprising, Polish Resettlement Act 1947
Collection: Military History of Poland During World War II
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Polish contribution to World War II

Polish contribution to World War II
The personnel of submarine ORP Sokół displaying Jolly Roger marking number of damaged enemy ships
PZL.37 Łoś a Polish twin-engine medium bomber built at the PZL factory in Warsaw
ORP Dragon, in the Polish Navy since January 1943
Anti-aircraft mounting, featuring three Polish Polsten cannons

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).

Poles provided crucial help to the Allies 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 the into Berlin. Some Polish contributions were less visible, and some even overlooked, 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.

Unlike in France, the Nazis did not set up a collaborationist government. Instead Poland was governed directly by a purely German administration 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 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]


  • Invasion of Poland 1
  • Aid to the Jews 2
  • Polish resistance 3
  • Intelligence 4
  • Polish Forces (West) 5
    • Army 5.1
    • Air force 5.2
    • Navy 5.3
  • Polish Forces (East) 6
  • Poles in German forces 7
  • Battles 8
  • Technology 9
    • Weapons 9.1
  • See also 10
  • Notes 11
  • References 12
  • Bibliography 13
  • External links 14

Invasion of Poland

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.

British propaganda poster designed by Marek Żuławski, London 1939

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.[1] 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.

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.[2]

German losses included approximately 16,000 killed in action, 28,000 wounded, over 200 aircraft, and 30% of their armored vehicles. The Polish casualties were around 66,000 dead and 694,000 captured. Though the German attack was successful, losses were greater than expected. It has been estimated that, during the September campaign in Poland, the Wehrmacht needed to use more than twice the ammunition they used in France the following spring.

Aid to the Jews

Jewish prisoners of German camp "Gęsiówka" liberated by Home Army during Warsaw Uprising 1944

There was a substantial group of Poles who risked their lives during the German occupation to save Jews. Nazi-occupied Poland was the only territory where the Germans decreed that any kind of help for Jews was punishable by death for the helper and his entire family. Even though, Poland was unique among the German-occupied countries to establish the only organization in Nazi-occupied Europe, which specifically aided the Jewish people.

Known as 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

  • Military contribution of Poland to World War II, Polish Ministry of Defence official page
  • Polish contribution to the Allied victory in World War 2 (1939–1945), PDF at the site of Polish Embassy (Canada)
  • The Poles on the Fronts of WW2
  • Gilbert J. Mros: This V-E Day say 'dziekuje' to the Poles
  • Listen to Lynn Olsen & Stanley Cloud, authors of "A Question of Honor", speak about the "Kościuszko" Squadron and Polish contribution to World War II here.
  • World War 2 in Poland - the September Campaign and Poles on the fronts of WW2
  • Polish contribution to World War II (Polish Underground State) Movie on YouTube
  • Polish contribution to World War II (Regular Forces) Movie on YouTube
  • Polish contribution to World War II (Intelligence Service) Movie on YouTube
  • Poland in World War II
  • Personnel of the Polish Air Force in Great Britain 1940-1947

External links

  • Władysław Anders: An Army in Exile: The Story of the Second Polish Corps, 1981, ISBN 978-0-89839-043-8.
  • Władysław Anders: Mémoires (1939–1946), 1948, Paris, La Jeune Parque.
  • Margaret Brodniewicz-Stawicki: For Your Freedom and Ours: The Polish Armed Forces in the Second World War, Vanwell Publishing, 1999, ISBN 978-1-55125-035-9.
  • Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski: Secret Army, Battery Press, 1984, ISBN 978-0-89839-082-7.
  • George F. Cholewczynski (1993). Poles Apart. Sarpedon Publishers.  
  • George F. Cholewczynski (1990). De Polen Van Driel. Uitgeverij Lunet.  
  • Jerzy B. Cynk: The Polish Air Force at War: The Official History, 1939–1943, Schiffer Publishing, 1998, ISBN 978-0-7643-0559-7.
  • Jerzy B. Cynk: The Polish Air Force at War: The Official History, 1943–1945, Schiffer Publishing, 1998, ISBN 978-0-7643-0560-3.
  • Norman Davies: Rising '44: The Battle for Warsaw, Viking Books, 2004, ISBN 978-0-670-03284-6.
  • Norman Davies, God's Playground, Oxford University Press, 1981.
  • First to Fight: Poland's Contribution to Allied Victory in World War II, 2009, ISBN 978-0-9557824-4-2.
  • Józef Garliński: Poland in the Second World War, Hippocrene Books, 1987, ISBN 978-0-87052-372-4.
  • Robert Gretzyngier: Poles in Defence of Britain, London, 2001, ISBN 978-1-904943-05-1.
  • F.H. Hinsley and Alan Stripp, eds., Codebreakers: The Inside Story of Bletchley Park, Oxford University Press, 1993.
  • Jan Karski: Story of a Secret State, Simon Publications, 2001, ISBN 978-1-931541-39-8.
  • Halik Kochanski: The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War, Harvard University Press, 2012, ISBN 978-0-674-06814-8.
  • Jan Koniarek, Polish Air Force 1939–1945, Squadron/Signal Publications, 1994, ISBN 978-0-89747-324-8.
  • Stefan Korboński, Zofia Korbońska, F. B. Czarnomski: Fighting Warsaw: the Story of the Polish Underground State, 1939–1945, Hippocrene Books, 2004, ISBN 978-0-7818-1035-7.
  • Władysław Kozaczuk, Enigma: How the German Machine Cipher Was Broken, and How It Was Read by the Allies in World War Two, edited and translated by Christopher Kasparek, University Publications of America, 1984, ISBN 978-0-89093-547-7. (This remains the standard reference on the Polish part in the Enigma-decryption epic.)
  • Władysław Kozaczuk, Jerzy Straszak: Enigma: How the Poles Broke the Nazi Code, Hippocrene Books; February 1, 2004, ISBN 978-0-7818-0941-2.
  • Richard Lukas: Did the Children Cry? Hippocrene Books, 1994.
  • Richard Lukas: Forgotten Holocaust. Hippocrene Books, 2nd rev.ed., 2005.
  • Richard Lukas: Forgotten Survivors. Univ. Press of Kansas, 2004.
  • Lynne Olson, Stanley Cloud: A Question of Honor: The Kosciuszko Squadron: Forgotten Heroes of World War II, Knopf, 2003, ISBN 978-0-375-41197-7.
  • Michael Alfred Peszke, Battle for Warsaw, 1939–1944, East European Monographs, 1995, ISBN 978-0-88033-324-5.
  • Michael Alfred Peszke, Poland's Navy, 1918–1945, Hippocrene Books, 1999, ISBN 978-0-7818-0672-5.
  • Michael Alfred Peszke, The Polish Underground Army, the Western Allies, and the Failure of Strategic Unity in World War II, foreword by Piotr S. Wandycz, Jefferson, NC, McFarland & Company, 2005, ISBN 978-0-7864-2009-4. Google Print
  • Polish Air Force Association: Destiny Can Wait: The Polish Air Force in the Second World War, Battery Press, 1988, ISBN 978-0-89839-113-8.
  • Polish Troops in Norway, a photographic record of the campaign at Narvik, published for the Polish Ministry of Information by M.I.Kolin (Publishers) Ltd., London July 1943.
  • Harvey Sarner: Anders and the Soldiers of the Second Polish Corps, Brunswick Press, 1998, ISBN 978-1-888521-13-9.
  • Stanisław Sosabowski: Freely I Served, Battery Press Inc, 1982, ISBN 978-0-89839-061-2.
  • Gordon Welchman, The Hut Six Story: Breaking the Enigma Codes, New York, McGraw-Hill, 1982.
  • Michał Wojewódzki, Akcja V-1, V-2 (Operation V-1, V-2), 3rd ed., rev., Warsaw, Pax, 1975.
  • E. Thomas Wood, Stanislaw M. Jankowski: Karski: How One Man Tried to Stop the Holocaust, Wiley, 1996, ISBN 978-0-471-14573-8.
  • Steven J. Zaloga: Poland 1939: The Birth of Blitzkrieg, Osprey Publishing, 2004, ISBN 978-1-84176-408-5.
  • Steven J. Zaloga: The Polish Army 1939–1945, Osprey Publishing, 1982, ISBN 978-0-85045-417-8.
  • Adam Zamoyski: The Forgotten Few: The Polish Air Force in the Second World War, Pen & Sword Books, 2004, ISBN 978-1-84415-090-8.


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  3. ^ Mordecai Paldiel "Churches and the Holocaust: unholy teaching, good samaritans, and reconciliation" p.209-210, KTAV Publishing House, Inc., 2006, ISBN 0-88125-908-X, ISBN 978-0-88125-908-7
  4. ^ L.S.I.C. at the Wayback Machine (archived October 26, 2009)
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  6. ^ Righteous Among the Nations - per Country & Ethnic Origin January 1, 2008
  7. ^ Yad Vashem actual statistic by country
  8. ^ “Righteous Among the Nations” by country at Jewish Virtual Library
  9. ^ a b c d e Steven J Zaloga (1982). "The Underground Army". Polish Army, 1939–1945. Oxford: Osprey Publishing.  
  10. ^ a b c "Encyklopedia PWN". Retrieved 2009-10-23. 
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  13. ^ "Sowjetische Partisanen in Weißrußland: SR, April 2006". Retrieved 2009-10-23. 
  14. ^ a b c "Encyklopedia PWN". Retrieved 2009-10-23. 
  15. ^ Radosław Butryk Butryński (2007). "Bataliony Chłopskie. Geneza rozwoju (Peasant Battalions. Genesis)". Polska Podziemna (Poland's Underground). Retrieved January 5, 2013. 
  16. ^ Czesław Madajczyk. Polityka III Rzeszy w okupowanej Polsce page 242 volume 1 , Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, Warszawa, 1970
  17. ^ Bohdan Kwiatkowski, Sabotaż i dywersja, Bellona, London 1949, vol.1, p.21; as cited by Marek Ney-Krwawicz, The Polish Underground State and The Home Army (1939-45). Translated from Polish by Antoni Bohdanowicz. Article on the pages of the London Branch of the Polish Home Army Ex-Servicemen Association. Retrieved March 14, 2008.
  18. ^ Władysław Kozaczuk, Enigma: How the German Machine Cipher Was Broken, and How It Was Read by the Allies in World War Two, edited and translated by Christopher Kasparek, passim.
  19. ^ Former Bletchley Park mathematician-cryptologist Gordon Welchman has written: "Ultra would never have gotten off the ground if we had not learned from the Poles, in the nick of time, the details both of the German military... Enigma machine, and of the operating procedures that were in use." Gordon Welchman, The Hut Six Story, 1st ed., 1982, p. 289.
  20. ^ Codebreakers: The Inside Story of Bletchley Park, edited by F.H. Hinsley and Alan Stripp, Oxford University Press, 1993, pp. 12–13.
  21. ^ Michał Wojewódzki, Akcja V-1, V-2 (Operation V-1, V-2), passim.
  22. ^ Tessa Stirling et al., Intelligence Co-operation between Poland and Great Britain during World War II, vol. I: The Report of the Anglo-Polish Historical Committee, London, Vallentine Mitchell, 2005
  23. ^ Major-General M.Z. Rygor Slowikowski, In the Secret Service: the Lighting of the Torch, translated by George Slowikowski and Krystyna Brooks, with foreword by M.R.D. Foot, London, The Windrush Press, 1988
  24. ^ Kwan Yuk Pan, Polish veterans to take pride of place in victory parade, Financial Times, July 5, 2005. Retrieved 31 March 2006.
  25. ^ a b Dr Mark Ostrowski: To Return To Poland Or Not To Return" - The Dilemma Facing The Polish Armed Forces At The End Of The Second World War.Chapter 1
  26. ^ a b c d e Steven Zaloga (21 January 1982). The Polish Army 1939-45. Osprey Publishing. p. 15.  
  27. ^ Kenneth Koskodan (23 June 2009). No Greater Ally: The Untold Story of Poland's Forces in World War II. Osprey Publishing. pp. 51–52.  
  28. ^ a b Andrew Hempel (8 November 2005). Poland in World War II: An Illustrated Military History. Hippocrene Books. p. 26.  
  29. ^ Zaloga p17
  30. ^ General Wladyslaw Anders,Mémoires 1939-1946, La Jeune Parque, publ. Paris 1948
  31. ^ Steven J. Zaloga, Ramiro Bujeiro, Howard Gerrard, Poland 1939: the birth of blitzkrieg, Osprey Publishing, 2002, ISBN 978-1-84176-408-5, Google Print, p.50
  32. ^ Overy, Richard J., The Air War: 1939–1945, London, Europa Publications, 1980. p. 28
  33. ^ Bartłomiej Belcarz counts 53 victories, including 19 shared with the French, or 57 according to data given by Jerzy Cynk. 53 victories makes 7.93% of 693 allied victories — Bartłomiej Belcarz: Polskie lotnictwo we Francji, Stratus, Sandomierz 2002, ISBN 978-83-916327-6-5
  34. ^ Despite a number of 126 kills was overestimated, but according to recent British historians, 303 Squadron was fourth best fighter squadron with at least 44 kills, and the best Hawker Hurricane-equipped squadron. According to Jerzy Cynk, it however scored some 55-60 victories — see No. 303 Polish Fighter Squadron.
  35. ^
  36. ^ Cynk, Jerzy Bogdan: The Polish Air Force at War: The Official History, Vol.1 1939–1943. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Books, 1998. ISBN 0-7643-0559-X
  37. ^ Cynk, Jerzy Bogdan: The Polish Air Force at War: The Official History, Vol.2 1943–1945. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Books, 1998. ISBN 0-7643-0560-3
  38. ^  
  39. ^ 86 years of the Polish Navy. Retrieved on 31 July 2007.
  40. ^ The Battle of the Atlantic and the Polish Navy. Retrieved on 31 July 2007.
  41. ^ "Świat Polonii". Retrieved 2009-10-23. 
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  43. ^ a b Polacy z Wermachtu
  44. ^ Christian Jansen, Arno Weckbecker: Der “Volksdeutsche Selbstschutz” in Polen 1939/40. München: R. Oldenbourg, 1992. ISBN 3-486-64564-1.
  45. ^ PDF of 1938 US patent 2130006
  46. ^ Cynk, Jerzy B. The P.Z.L. P-23 Karas (Aircraft in Profile number 104). Leatherhead, Surrey, UK: Profile Publications, 1966
  47. ^ Jerzy B. Cynk: Samolot bombowy PZL P-37 Łoś. Warszawa: Wydawnictwa Komunikacji i Łączności, 1990. ISBN 83-206-0836-8
  48. ^ Cynk, Jerzy B. Polish Aircraft, 1893-1939. London: Putnam & Company Ltd., 1971. ISBN 978-0-370-00085-5
  49. ^ "HF/DF An Allied Weapon used against German U-Boats 1939–1945 © Arthur O. Bauer" (PDF). Retrieved 2009-10-23. 
  50. ^ Steven J. Zaloga; Richard Hook (21 January 1982). The Polish Army 1939-45. Osprey Publishing. pp. 3–.  
  51. ^ Jerzy Jan Lerski (1996). Historical dictionary of Poland, 966-1945. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 18–.  
  52. ^ a b E. Garrison Walters (1988). The other Europe: Eastern Europe to 1945. Syracuse University Press. pp. 276–.  
  53. ^ Stanley Cloud; Lynne Olson (12 October 2004). A Question of Honor: The Kosciuszko Squadron: Forgotten Heroes of World War II. Random House Digital, Inc. p. 50.  
  54. ^ Julian Jackson (22 April 2004). The Fall of France:The Nazi Invasion of 1940: The Nazi Invasion of 1940. Oxford University Press. p. 74.  
  55. ^ a b Jean-Benoît Nadeau; Julie Barlow (2003). Sixty million Frenchmen can't be wrong: why we love France but not the French. Sourcebooks, Inc. pp. 89–.  
  56. ^ a b Pierre Goubert (20 November 1991). The Course of French History.  
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  59. ^ Philippe Buton, La France et les Français de la Libération, 1944-1945: vers une France nouvelle?, Musée des deux guerres mondiales, Universités de Paris, 1984, p.95
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  65. ^ Leonid D. Grenkevich in The Soviet Partisan Movement, 1941-44: A Critical Historiographical Analysis, p.229 or Walter Laqueur in The Guerilla Reader: A Historical Anthology, New York, Charles Scribiner, 1990, p.233.
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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 [63] Mark Wyman wrote "Armia Krajowa was considered the largest underground resistance unit in wartime Europe".[64] 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.[65][66] 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).[66][67]

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 West[52] and 200,000 in the East[42]).[61] Polish resistance numbered over 400,000.[9] 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.

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,[55][56] Poland evacuated around 19,000[26] to 35,000.[25] By the end of 1940, Polish I Corps numbered about 14,000;[57] Polish forces in the Middle East, about 3,000;[58] this does not count the Polish air crews (numbering at least 4,000) and the Polish Navy personnel.[26] 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.[59] Until 1944, Polish forces also outnumbered the French. In 1942, the French resistance numbered about 10,000,[55] (the size of Polish resistance is discussed in note b below) and in 1943, the Free French numbered about 70,000.[56] 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.[60] 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.

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.[53][54] Before the battle of France, the Polish Army in France numbered about 75,000 men.[26]

a ^ Numerous sources state that Polish Army was the fourth biggest Allied fighting contingent. Steven J. Zaloga and Richard Hook write 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."[50] 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."[51] 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)".[52]


See also

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.

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.


  • Swiatecki bomb slip, a bomb-release system was invented by Władysław Świątecki in 1925 and patented in the 1926 in Poland and abroad.[46][47] Some components was used in the pre-war Polish PZL.37 Łoś (Elk) bomber. In 1940 Świątecki's invention was taken over by the British, who used it in the Avro Lancaster bomber. In 1943, an updated version was created by Jerzy Rudlicki for the American B-17 Flying Fortress.[48]
  • Wz. 35 anti-tank rifle, 7.92 mm anti-tank rifle developed in secret and used by the Polish Army during the Invasion of Poland invented by Józef Maroszek. The rifle was development of the Mauser rifle with its own special 7.92 mm cartridge with a muzzle velocity of over 1,000 meters per second. With a range of 300 metres it was very effective against all German tanks of the period (the Panzer I, II and III, as well as the Czech-made LT-35 and LT-38) at 100 meters.
  • In World War II, there was an important need to take bearings on the high frequency radio transmissions used by the German Kriegsmarine. The engineering of such high frequency direction finding systems for operation on ships presented severe technical problems, mainly due to the effects of the superstructure on the wavefront of arriving radio signals. However, solutions to these problems were proposed by the Polish engineer Waclaw Struszynski, who also led the team which developed the first practical system at the Admiralty Signal Establishment, England. These systems were installed on convoy escort ships, and were very effective against the U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic.[49] The father of Wacław Struszyński was Professor Marceli Struszyński, a member of the Polish resistance, who analysed the fuel used in the V2 rocket, the formula being subsequently sent to England.
  • A rubber windshield wiper was invented by the Polish pianist Józef Hofmann.
  • Henryk Magnuski, a Polish engineer working for Motorola, co-designed the SCR-300 radio in 1940. It was the first small radio receiver/transmitter to have manually set frequencies. It was used extensively by the American Army and was nicknamed the walkie-talkie.
  • Józef Kosacki invented the Polish mine detector, which would be used by the Allies throughout the war.
  • The Vickers Tank Periscope MK.IV was invented by engineer Rudolf Gundlach and patented in 1936 as the Gundlach Peryskop obrotowy.[45] Initially it was mounted in Polish tanks such as the 7TP and TKS. Subsequently the design patent was bought by the British and used in most tanks of World War II, including the Soviet T-34, the British Crusader, Churchill, Valentine and Cromwell tanks, and the American M4 Sherman. The main advantage of the periscope was that the tank commander no longer had to turn his head in order to look backwards. The design was also later used extensively by the Germans.
  • pistolet wz. 35 Vis, often simply called the "Radom" in English sources, is a 9 mm caliber, single-action, semi-automatic pistol. It was adopted in 1935 as the standard handgun of the Polish Army. The design was appropriated by the Germans and from 1939 to 1945, 312,000–380,000 VIS pistols were produced and used by the German paratroopers and police as the 9 mm Pistole 35(p).
  • PZL.37 Łoś was a Polish twin-engine medium bomber designed in the mid-1930s at the PZL factory in Warsaw by Jerzy Dąbrowski, and used operationally in the Invasion of Poland in 1939. Thanks to the laminar-flow wing it was one of the most modern bombers in the world before World War II.
Polish mine detector of Józef Kosacki being used close to a Universal Carrier that has been destroyed by a mine, Tilly-sur-Seulles, France (June 1944)
360 degree tank periscope of Polish inventor Rudolf Gundlach was first used in Polish 7TP tank.


Major battles and campaigns in which Polish regular forces took part:

Polish infantry, 1939


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).[43]

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.[43] These were mostly members of the Volksdeutscher Selbstschutz, and actively supported German forces in occupied Poland.[44]

Poles in German forces

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.[42] 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.

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-government[14][42] to 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.[42] 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.

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.

Broadly speaking, there were two formations among the Polish Armed Forces in the East. First was 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.

The "Piast eagle" (specimen 43) worn by the soldiers of the Polish 1st Tadeusz Kościuszko Infantry Division of the Polish Armed Forces of the East.

Polish Forces (East)

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.[41]

ORP Grom destroyer in the Polish Navy

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.[38] 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.[39][40]


Aircraft shot down by Polish squadrons in the West during World War II[36][37]
1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945 total
destroyed 266 1/6 202 90 114¾ 103 38½ 769 5/12
probable 38 52 36 42 10 2 177
damaged 43⅔ + 3/5 60½ 43 66 27 18 252 1/6

Polish squadrons in the United Kingdom:

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.[35]

126 German aeroplanes shot down by the 303 squadron during the Battle of Britain. Painted on a Hurricane.

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, 1940[34] These Polish pilots, constituting 5% of the pilots active during the Battle of Britain, were responsible for 12% of total victories in the Battle.

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).[33]

The Polish Air Force first fought in 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.[31] The Luftwaffe lost, to all operational causes, 285 aircraft, with 279 more damaged, while the Poles lost 333 aircraft.[32]

Air force

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.

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.[26] 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.[29] In the Middle East, this "Anders' Army" joined the British Eighth Army, where it formed the Polish II Corps.[30]

After the country's defeat in the 1939 campaign, the a new army of about 75,000 men.[26] 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.[27] A Polish Independent Carpathian Brigade was formed in French Mandate Syria, to which many Polish troops had escaped from Romania.[28] 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.[28]

Polish flag flying over the ruins of conquered Monte Cassino monastery
Winston Churchill reviewing Polish troops in England 1943.


Polish Forces (West)

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.[24] 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.

campaign. Italian 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' [23]Operation Torch. The information gathered by the Agency was used by the Americans and British in planning the amphibious November 1942 Maksymilian Ciężki and Major Gwido Langer His Polish allies in these endeavors included Lt. Col. [22] In July 1941

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).[21]

Polish Home Army recovers a V-2 from the Bug River.
Home Army intelligence report with V1 and V2 schematic drawings.

Had Poland not shared her Enigma-decryption results at Pyry, the United Kingdom would have been unable to read Enigma ciphers.[19] 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.[20]

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.[18]

General Jacob Devers with Major Mieczysław Słowikowski, on awarding him the Legion of Merit for his invaluable contributions to the Allied North African campaign.


Sabotage and diversionary actions of the Union of Armed Combat (ZWZ) and Home Army (AK) from 1 January 1941 to 30 June 1944[17]
Action type Totals
Damaged locomotives 6,930
Delayed repairs to locomotives 803
Derailed transports 732
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
Damaged aeroplanes 28
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
Number of Wehrmacht and police formations stationed in General Gouvernment
(does not include annexed territories of Poland and parts of Kresy[16])
Period Wehrmacht Police and SS (German
forces only)
October 1939 550,000 80,000 630,000
April 1940 400,000 70,000 470,000
June 1941 2,000,000

(due to invasion
of Soviet Union)

50.000 2,050,000
February 1942 300,000 50,000 350,000
April 1943 450,000 60,000 510,000
November 1943 550,000 70,000 620,000
April 1944 500,000 70,000 570,000
September 1944 1,000,000 80,000 1,080,000

Throughout the war the German state was forced to divert a substantial part of its military forces to keep control over Poland:

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.

[15] the right-wing [9] There were separate resistance groups organized by Polish Jews:

The Gwardia Ludowa, and numbered about 6,000 soldiers (although estimates vary).[14]

In addition to the Home Army, there was an underground ultra-nationalist[9] resistance 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.[13]

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.[9] 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.[10] Its combat activity was low until 1943[9][11] 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.[10] 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[12] 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[10] 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.

Cyprian Odorkiewicz commander of "Krybar" Regiment (second from left) inspects ammunition for PIAT anti-tank weapon belonging to "Rafałki" unit during Warsaw Uprising 1944
Members of AK "Wiklina" entering Zamość 1944
Captured German Panther tank - armored platoon of batalion Zośka under command of Wacław Micuta
1944 Warsaw Uprising - Patrol of Lieut. Stanisław Jankowski ("Agaton") from Batalion Pięść, 1 August 1944: "W-hour" (17:00)
Henryk Dobrzański "Hubal" - first partisan of World War II and his partisan unit - winter 1940
Polish forest partisan Zdzisław de Ville "Zdzich", member of AK "Jędrusie" with Browning wz.1928

Polish resistance

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.[5] 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.[6] There are 6,339[7] Polish men and women recognized as "Righteous" to this day, amounting to over 25 per cent of the total number of 22,765 honorary titles awarded already.[8]

[4] convents such as the Little Sister Servants of the Blessed Virgin Mary Conceived Immaculate.Roman Catholic saved 2,500 Jewish children with cooperation of Polish families and the Warsaw orphanage of the Sisters of the Family of Mary, Irena Sendler and secular, also offered various forms of aid to the Jewish people. For example, the children's section of Żegota led by [3]

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