Top 10 Surprising Facts About Poland During WWII

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As we?ve already talked about Poland wasn?t actually that nice of a country before it was crushed under German blitzkrieg but that is no reason to erase Poland?s contribution to WWII. ?Known as the spark that ignited World War II the country is widely regarded as just a speed bump and minor inconvenience to the Nazis but the Polish people and their government in exile were vital to the war effort.

10. The Polish invented the mine detector

Polish Invented the Mine Sweeper

When Hitler was threatening to invade the UK the British scattered over 350,000 landmines throughout the country?s beaches. ?In 1941 Hitler had changed his mind and turned his sites to the East, the USSR. ?With the threat gone the British decided to dig up all those landmines keeping that were keeping the Brits from sun tanning. ?Yet no one knew where they were. ?That?s where polish Lieutenant Jozef Stanislaw Kozack came in. ?He perfected a mine detector that was so successful in the UK it was rushed into production and played an integral part in winning the North African campaign and helping the Allies in Europe.

9 – The USSR killed thousands of Polish officers

Polish prisoners of war captured by the Red Army during the Soviet invasion of Poland

Polish prisoners of war captured by the Red Army during the Soviet invasion of Poland

When Poland was overrun by the Nazis they only went half way into the country because Hitler had signed a secret agreement with the Soviets to invade Poland and split it between them. ?When they started their blitzkrieg they actually had to remind the Soviets to invade, which Stalin promptly did. ?The Russians enacted a brutal occupation that saw hundreds of thousands of Polish citizens deported into the Soviet Siberian gulag system. ?In a monumental war crime that would hamper the recreation of the Polish army the Soviets also killed all Polish POW officers. ?Around 22,000 men were rounded up and driven in trucks to the Katyn Forest where they received a bullet and a spot in a giant mass grave. ?Known as the Katyn Massacre the Nazis stumbled across the mass burial pits when they invaded the USSR. ?They called in international observers to verify their claims. ?The Soviets promptly declared the whole thing a Nazi plot and didn?t admit to the massacre until 1990. ?In would take the Polish army years to recover from the loss of so much of its officer corps.

8. 300,000 Poles lived in Iran during the war

Hundreds of thousands of Poles lived in Siberia thinking they would die in the frozen Russian tundra but they were ironically saved by the very man that destroyed their country, Hitler. ?In 1941 Hitler stormed across the border and thrashed the Soviet Army. ?In desperate need of allies Stalin agreed to send Polish citizens to Iran to set up an Army under British sponsorship. ?With little food and weakened by Stalin?s gulags thousands of Poles made their way to Iran. ?Although many died along the way about 300,000 men, women and children made it to and were refugees in Iran until the war ended. ?You can still visit the Catholic graves of all those that died in the Iranian refugee camps.

7. Hungary allowed the escape of Polish forces to France

 The old, and famous Hungarian-Polish Brotherhood


The old, and famous Hungarian-Polish Brotherhood

When Hitler carved up Czechoslovakia before the outbreak of WWII, instead of keeping all of it for Germany he gave part of Czechoslovakia to Hungary. ?This created a common border between Poland and Hungary that didn’t exist before. ??When Hitler invaded, retreating Polish forces streamed across this border where they were interned by Hungarian forces. ?Tens of thousands of members of the Polish military were then able to escape from their camps to France or French governed Syria. ?If Hitler had not given Hungary that land Germany would have been able to totally crush the Polish army. ?Instead the men that escaped would form the core of a battle hardened Polish army in exile. ?Armed and supplied by the west they would be devastating against Nazi formations.

6. A lot of Polish didn?t return after the war

LIfe after the army, Polish Resettlement Corp 1948, construction site in Scotland.

LIfe after the army, Polish Resettlement Corp 1948, construction site in Scotland.

As the Russians and the Eastern Polish army raced across Europe more and more reports emerged of the Soviets arresting and prosecuting underground Polish Government officials and Polish military Armia Krajowa (Home Army) soldiers. ?Afraid what would happen if they returned to a communist Poland over a hundred and sixty thousand Poles decided to not return. ?Not wanting to force them to go back home after so many risked so much serving with the Allied forces, special organizations were set up to help the Polish resettle outside their native land. ?In the UK the Polish Resettlement Corps helped those that wanted to settle in the Britain. ?Out of 260,000 Polish who fought on the western front about 100,000 went back to communist Poland while about 160,000 stayed in British territories.

5. Poland had the best fighter pilots

olish Fighter Squadron badge on the left (white circle with red stripes). No. 303 Polish Fighter Squadron.Squadron is famous for claiming the highest number of enemy (German Luftwaffe) kills during the Battle of Britain

Polish Fighter Squadron badge on the left (white circle with red stripes). No. 303 Polish Fighter Squadron.Squadron is famous for claiming the highest number of enemy (German Luftwaffe) kills during the Battle of Britain

As the Nazis overran Poland scattered remnants of it’s highly trained military started to trickle, then stream into France and when it crumbled they made their way into the UK. ?While Hitler tried to bomb Britain into submission during the Blitz Polish pilots were quickly called upon to help defend British skies. ?One of the newly armed squadrons was the No. 303 (“Ko?ciuszko”) Polish Fighter Squadron who flew first Hurricanes until they changed to Spitfires in 1941. ?During the Battle of Britain it had the most kills of any Allied Air force squadron. ?By the end of the war there were almost 20,000 Poles serving in the British Royal Air Force.

4. The Polish spy ring was key to Allied victory

Beginning in 1939, Skarbek worked to organize Polish resistance groups and smuggle Polish pilots out of the occupied nation. She was arrested by the Gestapo in 1941, but faked a case of TB by biting her tongue until it bled. They let her go after hours of interrogation.

Krystyna Skarbek (later Christine Granville) was the daughter of a Polish Count. Beginning in 1939, Skarbek worked to organize Polish resistance groups and smuggle Polish pilots out of the occupied nation. She was arrested by the Gestapo in 1941, but faked a case of TB by biting her tongue until it bled. They let her go after hours of interrogation.

Poland had a long history of dealing with a hostile Germany and had an extensive intelligence network set up throughout Europe. ?When Poland fell thousands of multi-lingual Poles spread throughout Europe blending in with native populations and sending valuable intelligence to the Allies. ??The British got half of their reports from behind enemy lines from the Polish network and Churchill?s staff called them the best spies in Europe. ?When German rocket scientists started developing their long distance missiles the Polish spy network was even able to find and retrieve fallen wreckage of the German V2 rockets.

3. Poland had the fourth largest army in the war

Winston Churchill reviewing Polish troops in England

Winston Churchill reviewing Polish troops in England

At first just those men who had been able to escape to the UK after the Fall of France were able to join the Polish army units. ?After Hitler invaded the Soviet Union Stalin too started to fully utilize the Poles found in Soviet controlled territory. ?Even though Poland itself was occupied its army fought with the Allies on both the East and Western fronts. ?With over 700,000 men and women it was the fourth largest army of the war. ?They fought on the front lines and in addition to normal military units it had over 400,000 partisans, one of largest underground armies, which fought against the Nazis in Poland itself. ?They were highly trained and effective fighting force who were respected by all.

2. Polish mathematicians broke the Enigma machine

A four?rotor Kriegsmarine (German Navy, 1935 to 1945) Enigma machine on display at the US National Cryptologic Museum

A four?rotor Kriegsmarine (German Navy, 1935 to 1945) Enigma machine on display at the US National Cryptologic Museum

One the of most important tools in the intelligence battles raging across Europe was the cracking of the Enigma Machine. ?Used to encrypt German military communication the Nazi high command thought that its codes were unbreakable. ?Codenamed Ultra the effort that successfully decoded the German Enigma messages won the Allies the war. ?Each country tries to rewrite how they broke one of the most important codes yet it was the Poles who did it first. ?After Poland was overrun they were the ones who handed over the secrets of the Enigma to the British allowing them to continue the work. ?Bletchley Park cryptologist Gordon Welchman said: “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.” Even Churchill knew the value of Ultra saying: “It was thanks to Ultra that we won the war.”

1. The West went to war for Poland and then ended up selling it out.

Stalin Political Comic

This cartoon by the American cartoonist Paul Plaschke appeared in the Chicago Tribune, shortly after the Yalta Conference. It shows Stalin playing poker with Churchill and Roosevelt.

The west finally acted on Hitler?s aggressive actions in Europe only after the dictator broke across the German Polish border. ?An uneasy alliance between the communists and the west was formed in order to defeat the Nazi death machine. ?Hitler?s forces were beaten back and the world?s leaders pondered as to what Europe would look like after the war. ?The Soviet Union who took huge casualties in the war decided to take as much as possible of Europe and wanted to set up a series of buffer states between it and the west, ruled under the thumb of Stalin. ?Tired of war and not wanting to antagonize Soviet Allies, bankrupt western leaders let the Iron curtain descend over Eastern Europe.? As Stalin refused to hold free elections communist governments took over. Six years after the world went to war because a dictator invaded Poland the West handed Poland to another brutal dictator.

Eric Yosomono writes for Gaijinass.com

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19 Comments

  1. It was Roosevelt who sold out Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe not “the West”. Churchill wanted to invade the USSR as soon as the Nazis were defeated for fear of Stalin trying to swallow up all of Eastern Europe. FDR was more worried about British “Imperial expansion” than “Uncle Joe” trying to aggressively expand the USSR. The British were able to keep the Soviets out of Greece but without America’s help, they couldn’t stop Stalin’s plan to dominate Eastern Europe. Churchill warned FDR about the “Iron Curtain” that was about to descend but Roosevelt naively fell for Stalin’s patronizing assurances of peace and brotherhood. Stalin played FDR like a fiddle.

    • Well you’re wrong because FDR died before the war ended in Germany. So if he was the only one stopping war against the Soviets the West had plenty of time before the fall of the Nazi regime to attack the Soviets.

      • The U.S. declared war on Germany on Dec. 11, 1941.
        FDR died April 12, 1945.
        Hitler died April 30, 1945.
        The act of military surrender was signed May 7, 1945 by Admiral Donitz.
        FDR was President for 1200 days during the war in Europe.
        Truman was President for 26 days during the war in Europe.
        The time line alone proves you wrong.

        If you truly wish to learn more on the subject, I suggest you read the book published by Churchill which contains all correspondence between himself, FDR and Stalin as well as a few other notables. I would be happy to dig through my library to find the book if you wish to know the title.

        • Your “timeline” proves my statement. You stated that FDR was the only thing holding back the West invading the Soviet Union. FDR died before the war was over, as shown by you. If the one obstacle to invading the Soviet Union died then America and the UK should have declared war on Stalin, they didn’t.

          Thankyou for proving my point.

        • Hitler received the plans for Operation Barbarossa on Dec. 5, 1940 with a planned start date of May 15, 1941. The invasion did not get underway until June 22, 1941, 190 days after Hitler gave the OK. Using a very conservative estimate of 1 month to plan the invasion prior to presenting it to Hitler, that would mean Barbarossa took a minimum of 220 days to plan, stage and execute. And that was under optimal conditions! I can’t help but find it impossible to believe that he Allies, while still fighting Germany, would be able to plan, stage and execute an operation against the USSR in 26 days!
          Look, I’m really not interested in getting into a pissing contest with you Eric, I’m just trying to pass along some of the knowledge I’ve gained from studying WWII and military history in general for 4 decades. Take it or leave it, I really don’t care. It’s up to you whether you want to approach the subject with an open mind or not.
          Poland’s contribution to the war effort has been largely overlooked and I thank you for bringing some of it to light. I did find your list interesting and there was certainly some information that was new to me and I look forward to researching it further.
          All the best,

          Steve

  2. Good article!
    About: “When German rocket scientists started developing their long distance missiles the Polish spy network was even able to find and retrieve fallen wreckage of the German V2 rockets.”
    It was not just a wreckage, but a dump squib fallen into wetlands. It was hidden by locals and after Germans finished searching for it, it was then disassembled. The rocket was probed by engineers and the key parts with documentation was send to UK.

  3. A “mine sweeper” is a naval ship that is used in the detection and destruction of marine-based anti-shipping mines. I decided that if the author is so ignorant of such a simple and well-known fact related to military hardware, the rest of the article must be an equally poorly written piece full of other complete nonsense and ridiculous mistakes, so I stopped reading after #1. What a truely pathetic piece of drivel.

  4. steven rostkowski on

    Just to make a comment about Poland wasn’t actually that nice of a country between the world wars. 1.Poland got very little foreign investment to help it after it achieved its independence. 2 The Czechs refused to help Poland in any way when the Russians attacked Poland in 1920. 3. The Czechs broke an international agreement over the territory you mentioned Poland took from it after Munich which I might add had a large Polish population and was an industrialized area Poland needed more than the richer and industrialized Czech state. 4. The Czechs probably had a bad attitude toward Poland because they figured that Germany eventually would attack Poland and not them since the Sudetenland was Austrian before the great war but Western Poland had been in Germany. 5 Poland took the area because if they didn’t the Germans would have. This was what the Polish foreign minister said was his final reason to go in since Poland did not trust Germany. Poland was also offered parts of Slovakia but did not agree to this.

    • Dude, Poland wasn’t nice because what?
      “1.Poland got very little foreign investment to help it after it achieved its independence”

      What does this have to do with anything? We were not at the table to make a decision, when the money grabbing countries divided the spoils of war, for themselves… either after WWI or WWII we had NO COMPENSATIONS from Germany or Russia.
      But the Germany stole our art whch now is estimated for 4 billion euro. And still don’t want to give it back. We never took handouts like BRITAIN FRANCE USA and others
      ISRAEL. Let me remind that germany invaded foland … but they are paing israel for it, not us.

      2 The Czechs refused to help Poland in any way when the Russians attacked Poland in 1920

      You are reffering to the SOVIET attack on Poland between The Polish?Soviet War (February 1919 ? March 1921) it was an armed conflict that pitted Soviet Russia and Soviet Ukraine against the Second Polish Republic.

      Therefore after 123 years of being under Germano – Russian allience to attack together and erase The Polish nation from the European Maps, a time in which using Polish language was forbidden, and which ended with the WWI.
      Only a year after that, we are raided by russo-ucrainian soviet coalition Led by LENIN … Who goes to conquer the entire Europe… The communist party in Berlin who were Hitlers oposition. And the reason why he hated Yews. With the communist party in France which were both ready for the revolution to come and conquer.

      Our Polish forces STOP THEM and the fact that the Czechs did not give a damn and help us, makes US NOT NICE…. FAK JUU you imbecil

      We alone stood and Pi?sudski our leader slapped Lenin in his face like a little bitch he was. To what russian historians today reffer to as Lenin’s greatest defeat.

      Lenin quotes:
      “Recovery proceeding excellently. Am sure that the crushing of the Kazan Czechs and whiteguards, as well as of the kulak extortioners supporting them, will be exemplarily ruthless.” Telegram to Leon Trotsky (7 September 1918)

      The Soviet leaders’ desire to spread their revolution to Germany and Western Europe is alluded to in the book subtitled, “Lenin’s Failed Invasion of the West,”

      3. The Czechs broke an international agreement over the territory you mentioned Poland took from it after Munich which I might add had a large Polish population and was an industrialized area Poland needed more than the richer and industrialized Czech state.

      In March 1939 both the Slovaks and the Ruthenians declared independence, whereupon the Poles invaded Czechoslovakia and occupied the Olsa Region, which was populated by Poles. The Hungarians did the same, occupying the border areas that were populated by Hungarians.

      Since Czechoslovakia had ceased to exist, its President Hacha flew to Berlin on 15 March 1939 and placed the remainder of his country under the protection of the Reich.

      It was not a matter of need but a simple matter of taking care of our citizens.
      Do you know that For taking out a flag of Poland, today in Lithuania you receive fines or are jailed. In BElarus our weterans are enjailed for receiving food and clothes packages.

      We never invade or take something because we need more…

      AND THE REST OF YOUR ARGUMENTS ARE A RESULT OF INCOMPETENT INTELECT AS WELL … as you said yourselfe and prove my point.

      “Poland did not trust Germany. Poland was also offered parts of Slovakia but did not agree to this.”
      The rison we didn’t trust germany was simple:

      BY THAT TIME In 1932, a group of cryptologists from the Polish Cipher Bureau found three ways to decipher Enigma

  5. What happened before and during WWII needs to be re-visited openly and honestly without the influence of the propaganda of the last 100 years.

    Given that thousands of young men from virtually every country in Europe were volunteering to fight with the German army against the Soviets, the official narrative of WWII has always struck me as bogus. These men were joining to fight Communism, not Poles. By the way, Churchill did sell out Poland. He declared war on Germany when it re-occupied its pre-WWi borders, but did not object one iota when the USSR invaded.

    At the end of the day, I believe that the people of Poland, Germany, France, the UK, and the US would explode in anger – not at each other, but at the manipulators who have been the cause of European wars for more than 2 centuries.

    However, that isn’t going to happen, because of the laws in virtually all of the above countries, prohibit any rational discussion on the topic. Don’t you think the time has come to question why that would be?

  6. Why Poland wasn’t that nice of the country before ww2? I am intrigued by that. Poland was new country barely restored in 1918, what was so terrible it managed to do? Do you mean preventing Communist spread to western Europe in 1920?

    • Witch of Heart on

      Well, we made a few big mistakes like invading Lithuania and taking Wilno and, uhhh, figting with the others. I’m not 100% sure, but we also helped with invading Czechs because of fear. I’m not proud of it, but well, it happened.

      • A note from the “Source”:
        “The Czieszyn area was given to Poland in trust as result of the
        Versailles Treaty. It was to be decided by plebicite who would finally
        control the area. In 1920 Poland was involved in a major war with Soviet
        Russia. The Czechs took the opportunity to send in their military and
        occupy the area by force. Polish soldiers and police died as a result.
        Additionally, the Czechs denied any rail traffic to Poland to cross
        their territory. When Hitler made his move against the Czechs, Poland
        took the idea that better to get their territory back than give it to
        Hitler. Strange that the Czechs attitude was what it was. Both Poland
        and Czechoslovakia were new countries formed as result of the Versailles
        Treaty. The Czechs were hard bitten Socialists and they saw Poland as
        Nationalistic and right wing despite it being the most multicultural
        country in Europe. So, I guess, they were not about to have anything to
        do with the Poles. Better to lose their country to the Fascists than
        ally themselves with a country they have been neighbors with for a
        thousand year. I would call this a mental derangement.”
        Being not nice is about the Czech part but no one tries to see the other side of the coin. Well it happens.

  7. 4th Largest army in the war is not an exaggeration, It’s complet BS. If your spelling mistake is the “War”, then you forgot all other faction and nation in the asia continent and african continent (I know it’s mostly allies vs Axis, thou it sperate there forces).

    If it was 4th largest army in European theater, Only then you can be right. Furthermore you have been wrong in many of your arugments in this artical and i wish you pay attention to them.

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