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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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