The Polish Brigade was formed in Scotland in September 1941, at the request of its highly experienced commander, Stanislaw Sosabowski; a man who was regarded as a hero by those who served under him, and he enjoyed their total loyalty. During the early stages of the war, the Brigade was only responsible to Polish command and the London-based government-in-exile. It had its own training programme, and it was a unique formation in the sense that it was the only Allied parachute unit to comprise entirely of men from an occupied country. However they were consequently seriously restricted in terms of potential reinforcements, more so experienced officers, and due to the high casualty risk involved with airborne operations, the Brigade was not able to readily commit itself to battle. This was not initially a problem as its only planned purpose was to fly to Poland and assist with the liberation of their country whenever an uprising of the Polish Home Army began.

 

As time wore on, the practicalities of this ever happening rendered the operation quite unlikely, and as such there was a great deal of pressure applied on the Poles to come under British command. It was perhaps because of this distant and implausible objective that the Brigade was not given the resources that were made available to British airborne units. The then Major John Frost, freshly returned from the Bruneval Raid, spent what he described as "a splendid evening" with the Polish Brigade, and observed that they "made up with enthusiasm all that they lacked in material backing. Their nation's tragedy made them all the keener to set an example in ingenuity and for them difficulties existed as challenges to be overcome". The Brigade had been raised knowing that they were to be dropped around Warsaw and would help with its liberation; their motto was "By the Shortest Way", but the gradual realisation of the unlikelihood of this operation struck a bitter blow to the morale of the men.

 

In 1942, Major-General Browning, then commander of the 1st Airborne Division, offered to promote Sosabowski to a rank equal to his own, if he would consent to put the Brigade in British hands. Sosabowski declined as he and his men wished to stay true to the original objective. As the Allied invasion of Europe drew near, the Poles were again subjected to a lot of pressure from the British. A compromise was suggested whereby the Brigade would take part in a single Allied operation in Western Europe, but on condition that they were withdrawn if their losses exceeded 25%. This figure was decided upon because of the Brigade's slim hope for suitable Polish reinforcements, however no commander would ever accept such restrictions and Field Marshal Montgomery flatly refused to agree. The situation was at last resolved in June 1944, where it was agreed that the Brigade would take part in an Allied operation after the Normandy landings, without restrictions, after which they would be free to return to Poland whenever an appropriate moment arrived. The Brigade was incorporated into the 1st Allied Airborne Army, and placed under the command of Major-General Urquhart.

 

After their dogged resistance to becoming part of the British airborne fraternity, the Poles now had few friends in positions of authority and its men were quite unhappy. Sosabowski had insisted to Lt-General Browning that their training was not yet complete, but Browning took the opposite view and so the Poles intensified their exercise programme. A disaster followed on the 8th July when two of their Dakota's collided in mid-air, killing 26 Poles of the 3rd Battalion and Supply Company, together with 8 American aircrew.

 

The Polish uprising occurred on the 1st August 1944, and a message was sent to Polish Army HQ in London, stating "We are ready at any time to fight for Warsaw. When the Parachute Brigade joins us, it will have an enormous political and tactical impact". The Brigade was tragically tied to the 1st Allied Airborne Army and could not oblige. This was probably fortunate because the uprising was a complete disaster. 50,000 Poles managed to take Warsaw without too much difficulty, after being urged to do so by the Russians who promised them supplies, but German reinforcements forced the Poles into defensive positions where they were constantly bombarded for the next 63 days. The Russians meanwhile did absolutely nothing to help. Having drawn the supporters of the Polish government-in-exile into the open, they were content to halt their advance and allow the Germans to annihilate them, thereby allowing the Russians to completely seize control of Poland when they resumed their advance. Split into small groups, the Poles were eventually forced to surrender due to lack of supplies. Warsaw was evacuated of civilians and lay in complete devastation.

 

After returning from Arnhem the Polish Brigade, through no fault of their own, suffered the humiliation of being made a scapegoat for the defeat by several high ranking Allied commanders, who in turn were the ones who should have been held to account. Montgomery wrote to CIGS and said that the "Polish Para Brigade fought very badly and the men showed no keenness to fight if it meant risking their own lives. I do not want this brigade here and possibly you may like to send them to join other Poles in Italy". Browning also wrote a letter to Deputy CIGS, recommending that Major-General Sosabowski be relieved of his command "and that a younger, more flexibly minded and co-operative officer be made available to succeed him."

 

Sosabowski was dismissed on the 9th December 1944, and handed over command to his deputy, Lt-Colonel Stanislaw Jachnik. In protest, two of the Brigade's units went on hunger strike over Christmas. Breaking the promise that was made to them, the Brigade was never relinquished from British control, and it did not go back to Poland. In 1945, it went to Germany to form a part of the Allied occupation force, where it remained until 1947, when it was returned to England and disbanded. Most of the men did not go home to Poland, but instead settled down in Britain. The majority married Scottish or English girls, and usually took the jobs with the least glamour attached; many worked in the brickfields around Peterborough where the Brigade had been stationed during the war.

 

Commanders of the Polish Brigade

 

1941-1944

Major-General Stanislaw F. Sosabowski

1944-1947

Lieutenant-Colonel Stanislaw Jachnik