Polish Army During the Second World War

Polish Campaign of 1939
On 1 September 1939 at 4:45 am, without any declaration of war, Germany carried out an armed assault on Poland. Despite having less arms and equipments at their disposal, the Polish Army mounted fierce resistance at the beginning. As another aggressor – the Soviet Union – joined the war on 17 September, the outcome was already doomed. Fierce fights lasted until 6 October 1939, when the Independent Operational Group “Polesie” commanded by Gen. Franciszek Kleeberg capitulated.
In the showcase (9), you can see a figure of Sergeant Eugeniusz Pokrowski, a commander of the heavy machine gun company of the 21st Infantry Regiment. There are also a collection of gas masks, a fragment of a bandolier of the 16th Uhlan Regiment excavated after the war, and a dog tag of Private Antoni Soroka from the 35th Infantry Regiment, who fell in the village of Rytel. The real pride of the collection is a “Mors” model 39 number "13", a Polish 9 mm submachine gun (only 39 pieces were produced) , and a 7.92 mm Polish anti-tank gun model 35 “Ur”, which is in a perfect condition. Have also a closer look at the Polish helmet model 31 coated with a characteristic anti-reflective paint named “Salamandra”.
The second part (10) of the showcase contains uniforms of Major Jerzy Hryniewicz, a sapper, a shelter builder at the Bydgoszcz bridge-defence position, and a gunnery sergeant. Among them, you can see a fragment of a track of Polish TK tankette and a collection of projectiles and bombshells used in Polish guns. We would also like to direct your attention to the grenades used by the Polish Army: defensive grenade model 33 and offensive grenade model 24. Beside, you can also see two Browning machine guns manufactured in Poland: a hand-held machine gun model 28 and a heavy machine gun model 30.

History of Polish Soldiers Captured by Soviets and Germans Between 1939-1945

The reconstructed railway wagon aims at depicting the history of Polish war prisoners during the Second World War. Its walls contain descriptions, photo reproductions, documents, letters, and post stamps, which shed light on the living conditions in concentration camps and tragic fate of Polish officers executed in the spring of 1940 in Katyn, Tver, Kharkiv, and Mednoye. On the floor, there is a backlit map of Europe with a highlighted and marked network of stalags and oflags set up by the German Third Reich, as well as concentration camps, labour camps, and places of torment of Polish soldiers on the territory of USSR.

Polish Army on the East between 1943 and 1945.

The Polish People’s Army was formed in the period 1943-44 and consisted of Poles who “were late for Anders”. It was subject to USSR in military and political terms – it did not acknowledge the authority of the Polish Government-in-Exile in London. Composed of one infantry division at the beginning, it soon grew into two armies. Polish soldiers fought in the bloody battles of Lenino, Warsaw, Bydgoszcz, and battles along the Pomeranian Wall; they participated in taking over Kołobrzeg and Berlin.

The showcase (11) contains a uniform jacket of Second Lieutenant Jerzy Domański from the 1st Tadeusz Kościuszko Infantry Division decorated with a Cross of Valour and a figure of a private with the characteristic PPSh 7.62 submachine gun. Below, there is a shot-through helmet of the period of the battles along the Pomeranian Wall and a fragment of an armoured plate from German fortifications. The next exhibit may answer the following question “Why do so many Polish soldiers are buried in anonymous graves?” – it is a dog tag in a form of ebonite container, which did not provide adequate protection of the information written on the paper note that had been put inside it. On the board with the photograph showing Polish soldiers marching to the front at Lenino, two puttees are hanging, one belonging to Capral K. Linder from the 3rd Reserve Infantry Regiment. Below, you can see an SVT-40 7.62 mm semi-automatic rifle used during the first battle of the Kościuszko Infantry Division. The Russian “Shashka” sabre model 1927 manufactured by ZIK, used by soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Brigade, who became famous for the last mounted charge of Polish cavalry during the Battle of Schoenfeld (at that time known in Polish as Borujsko; now as Żeńsko), also deserves our attention.

The second part of the showcase (12) contains a uniform of Corporal Anna Siergiejczuk and a figure of a sapper with a VIM-203 model 41 mine detector. Another weapon characteristic of the soldiers of the Polish First and Second Army is a DP light machine gun with a flat pan magazine and a Mosin model 1891/30 sniper rifle with a PU scope. One of the most interesting items are the track links of an early version of T34/76 tank used by Polish forces during the battles of Lenino and Studzianki, and in Bydgoszcz. Beside, there are projectiles for 45 mm cal. anti-tank gun and for division gun model 1942 (ZiS-3). It is worth stopping at the 50 mm grenade launcher model 38, which is in a perfect condition. In the ammunition box found near Bydgoszcz in a place where the 8th Infantry Regiment fought on 26 January 1945, you can see a howitzer projectile. What you may also find interesting are two American field telephones handed over to USSR along with other military equipment as part of the Lend-Lease military aid.

Polish Soldiers During the Second World War

The two showcases collect uniforms of soldiers whose histories reflect different war paths of Poles to their homeland. The first one (13) shows two British uniforms of Zofia Pizarska, a nurse from the Polish II Corps, and her hospital uniform. Beside, you can see a British uniform of a soldier who fought in the battles of Monte Cassino, Lieutenant Colonel Antoni Bieganowski from the Polish 5th Kresowa Infantry Division, and a unique standard sewn for the soldiers of the 8th Infantry Division in the period when the Polish Armed Forces were being formed in USSR.

The second showcase (14) contains a uniform of Captain Jan Świtalski from the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division. Beside, there is a uniform of Captain Leonard Ziętek from the 4th Infantry Division in Great Britain of 1945, and further there is a service dress (British design) of General Mieczysław Boruta-Spiechowicz, a commander of the 1st Infantry Division on the territory of USSR, and then of the Polish I Armoured-Mechanised Corps. At the end, you can see a uniform of Sergeant Zenon Kucewicz from the 8th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division. The collection is complemented by a baton and a dog tag of a bandmaster of the 5th Kresowa Infantry Division, Master Sergeant Adam Dyląg.

Polish II Corps

The path of the soldiers of the Polish II Corps led from the Soviet Union, where Polish military units began to emerge in 1941, through Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, to Italy. There, in May 1994, as part of the British Eighth Army, the Corps commanded by General Władysław Anders joined the battle, storming the strong German Gustav Line. Subsequently, they fought in the Battle of Ancona; they finished their combat trail by capturing Bologna.

The first part of the showcase (15) is dominated by a figure of a scout dressed in a camouflage overalls and a figure of a lieutenant from the Independent Commando Company. Please note the personal equipment of the Polish soldiers: from underwear, through military gear and personal belongings, to toilet paper. The Vickers .303 (7.7 mm) heavy machine gun mounted on an Mk. IV tripod and the characteristic M1928A1 Thompson .45 (11.43 mm) submachine gun with an additional magazine and an oiler are the highlights of this showcase. Small firearms are represented by a Colt 1911A1 .45 (11.43 mm) pistol.

The second part of the showcase (16) presents a tank-crew member of the 2nd Armoured Brigade and a lieutenant of a signal unit of the Polish II Corps. Between them, there is a collection of forage caps used by the Polish Armed Forces on the West. Below, you can see valuable pieces of small arms used by Polish soldiers, such as British PIAT anti-tank grenade launcher with a high-explosive anti-tank warhead, which was used for destroying German pillboxes at Monte Cassino, and an American Browning M1919A4 .30 (7.62 mm) heavy machine gun on a tripod. Furthermore, there is a British Lee Enfield .303 (7.7 mm) repeating rifle, which is inherent to the Polish II Corps. The version contained in the showcase is No 4 Mk I*. Next to it, you can see a bayonet No 4 Mk II with P37 webbing sheath. Individual equipment of a Polish soldier includes a TL-122-C flashlight, British P37 canteens, a P37 small infantry spade, and a British Lightweight Service Respirator, which was a part of a soldier’s equipment, although no chemical weapons were used during the Second World War.

Independent Polish Brigades on the West

After the September defeat, General Sikorski’s government situated in France commenced forming several large military units. The Independent Highland Brigade, organised in a hurry, was dispatched to Norway and went down in history as a great success, participating in the Battles of Narvik. The restored Colonel Stanisław Maczek’s 10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade, just as the hastily created infantry division, fought bravely in the French campaign at the turn of May and June 1940. What is more, the Independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade composed of Polish refugees on the territory of Syria in Homs, having got in British Palestine, made a glorious contribution to the defence of the Tobruk fortress in 1941.

In Great Britain, the 1st Independent Parachute Brigade was formed, which participated in Operation Market Garden and took part in the Battle of Arnhem.

The showcase presents a figure of a soldier from Homs in a typical French desert uniform and English pith helmet. Beside – a soldier of the Battles of Narvik wearing a characteristic cloak and a motorised infantry rifleman of Colonel Maczek’s brigade wearing a Basque style beret. We can also see a soldier of the 1st Independent Parachute Brigade from the Battle of Arnhem with 9 mm Sten MK-V submachine gun and beside him – an “oversmock” protective jacket of parachute units, worn before landing in order to avoid equipment getting entangled in parachute cords. 

Mounted on a bipod, there is a French Châtellerault Mle 24 7.5 mm light machine gun with an anti-aircraft sight and a Châtellerault Mle 1931 7.5 machine gun used in armoured vehicles. You can also see a French MAS 36 7.5 mm repeating rifle and a MAS 38 7.65 mm machine gun, used mainly for self-defence and giving the illusion of a curved barrel. The showcase is complemented by a British Lee-Enfield rifle, this time in version No I Mk 3, and a clip with .303 (7.7 mm) rounds, a packet with 10 .303 (7.7) blanks, and a gun cleaning kit. Among the equipment, our attention is also drawn to a French tank helmet and a military canteen.

1st Armoured Division

The 1st Armoured Division was formed of the units of the Polish I Corps as a result of General Stanisław Maczek’s actions in February 1942 on the territory of Great Britain. After numerous organisational changes and intense training, at the turn of July and August 1944, the division was moved to Normandy, where it participated in the battles as part of the 1st Canadian Army. The division went down in history with its participation in the Battle of the Falaise Pocket, the liberation of Belgium and the Netherlands, and acceptance of German capitulation of the Port of Wilhelmshaven.

The showcase (18) contains a figure of a motorcyclist of the 3rd Rifle Brigade, formed in 1943 in Great Britain. Beside, there is a wind proof camouflage jacket and a battledress uniform of Jerzy Adamski from the 2nd reconnaissance squadron of the 10th Dragoon Regiment of the 1st Armoured Division, as well as a tank crew member wearing an Oversuit Tank Crew. 

The collection is also highlighted by an English Boys .55 (13.2 mm) anti-tank rifle with a clip for five magazines, used, among others, by the Universal Carrier. Note also the BESA 7.92 mm tank machine gun, which is a British copy of the Czech ZB 53 heavy machine gun [Zb vz. 37] and Sten 9 mm submachine guns in two versions: Mk II and Mk III. There are also elements of M4 Sherman tank equipment: wheels, a frequency meter, a stove with a billycan, fire extinguishers, and a fragment of a track of the major enemy of Polish tanks in 1944-1945 – the PzKpfw IV German tank.

Home Army – armed forces of the Polish Underground State

In the occupied country, secret structures of the Polish Underground State were created, which were subject to the Polish Government-in-Exile. The most important part of this state was a conspiratorial military organisation “The Union of Armed Struggle”, later “Home Army”, which was mainly aimed at preparing and instigating a general armed uprising at the time when the occupant is in decline. The largest armed action of the Polish underground was the Warsaw Uprising, which broke out on 1 August 1944. As a consequence of 63 days of fights, approximately 200 thousand of civilians and Home Army soldiers lost their lives. 

The showcase (19) devoted to the underground army demonstrates three characteristic figures: girl scout-paramedic, an insurgent in a German M 40 camouflage jacket for Waffen SS, and a partisan with a captured MP 40 against a parachute canopy from a British container. The Polish resistance movement used weapons hidden after the defeat of 1939, captured from the enemy, manufactured by their own means (an excellent example is “Błyskawica” (Polish for lightning) submachine gun)or those airdropped by the allied powers. Armaments captured from Germans are represented in our exhibition by Mauser 98k 7.92 bolt-action rifle, MG 42 7.92 general purpose machine gun, MP 44 7.92 mm selective-fire rifle, 9 mm P08 Parabellum pistol, 7.65 Walther PPK pistol and 9 mm P.35(p) pistol – which actually is the Polish “Vis” pistol model 35, but manufactured by the occupant. Of the arms airdropped by allied aeroplanes, you can see an English Sten Mk II 9 mm submachine gun. All this is complemented by conspiratorial items: two radio receivers, a roller and a screw – a hiding place used for carrying documents, and falsified seals of the German occupant. The circumstances around the occupied Poland is perfectly reflected by the “Nur fur Deutsche” (“Only for Germans) sign. Signs of such type were placed in public transport and public places; no other nationality than the German one could enter such designated places.