Polish military operations in West-Europe since 1944

Polish military operations in West-Europe since 1944

Roughly seven weeks after D-Day (6 June 1944), the 1st Polish Armoured Division landed in Normandy. On 1 August 1944, the Poles came ashore in France and were making themselves ready for battle. Maczek attended a meeting with his Canadian superiors, Lieutenant-General Henry Crerar and Major-General Guy Simonds. The encounter was pleasant and Simonds identified that Polish military culture was different than theirs, but was not considered a hindrance to the Canadians. Maczek thought pleasantly about the meeting as well. He mentioned the encounter as ‘warm’ and viewed his direct superior, Simonds, as a capable, energetic commander.

Although the contact was friendly on a personal level, differences existed in military tactics. Maczek wanted maneuver space for his armor and thought that the Canadian tank operations were, like the British, too static. Furthermore, the relationship between Henry Crerar and Bernard Montgomery was estranged, since the failed allied invasion of Dieppe (1942). Montgomery considered Crerar an ‘indecisive’ commander, who could not control his subordinate officers. In return, General Crerar requested to be present at the headquarters to oversee operations during the invasion of Dieppe, but was refused by Montgomery. Crerar was furious that he was not allowed to be present, while -predominantly- Canadian forces were conducting the raid. He could only claim his presence, by telling Montgomery that a refusal meant a conflict at the highest political level.

totalize
A map indicating the direction of the operations Totalize (yellow) and Tractable (blue), in which the Poles were involved

In Normandy, the 1st Polish Armored Division saw battle on 8 August 1944, during Operation Totalize, directly followed by Operation Tractable. Although German sources claimed the ‘hesitative nature’ of the Poles, this information should be regard as biased. The sense of superiority by the 12th SS Armoured Division was reflected in their aggressive tactics ‘strike upon sight’, which made all opponents look cautious. In particular, because this SS unit was almost completely made up of fanatical Hitlerjugend soldiers. Furthermore, the Poles felt uneasy with the thickness of their armor compared to German tanks. In Normandy the allies noticed the superiority of German tanks. Consequently, tracks were being placed on the exterior of the tanks to improve the armor thickness and prevent penetration by German shells. Although well trained, the German forces of the 7th Army were encircled by the Western Allies during Operation Tractable.

At the start of the operation, the Poles advanced rapidly through enemy lines by taking an important obstacle in the terrain. The Dives river formed a natural flanking barrier for the Germans, until elements of the 1st Polish Division, pro-actively, found a crossing near the village of Jort. The ability of most Polish soldiers to interact with their fellow Slavic forced laborers and captured Germans in Jort, contributed to an excellent information position. This feature, in combination with the Polish military culture that gave subordinate commanders extensive freedom to act, made the advance possible.

Subsequently, the Polish troops advanced rapidly in the direction of Chambois to link up with American forces and close the gap for the German 7th Army. The French town was only briefly reached by Polish forces, due to the mounting pressure of the German army. The 7th Army was pushed by the Allies in an eastward direction, where the 1st Polish Armored Division was located. The Poles quickly took the high ground, on hill 262 near Mont Ormel and dug in. The Polish position was known as Maczuga or ‘mace’, the hastily retreating Germans had to pass the Maczuga for a final bashing by the Poles. After several days of fighting, both the Germans and Poles were lacking ammunition, resorted to hand-to-hand combat in order to survive. This fighting in the Falaise pocket marked the baptism of fire for the Polish troops in the liberation of Western-Europe.

 

maczuga
A Polish view from the Maczuga, facing the German escape route (red arrows)



Sources

Roman Johann Jarymowycz, Tank tactics: from Normandy to Lorraine (2001), 190

Peter de Leeuw, ‘Maczek, soldaat onder de soldaten’ in: De Stem, Regio Breda  ( 13 december 1994) en Evan McGilvray, The Black Devils’March: A Doomed Odyssey. The 1st Armoured Division 1939-45 (Lancaster 2005), 12.

Stephen Ashley Hart, Montgomery and ‘Colossal Cracks’. The 21st Army Group in Northwest Europe 1944-45 (Westport 2000), 160.

Hamilton, Master of the Battlefield. Monty’s War Years 1942-1944, 714-715.

Hamilton, Monty. The Making of a General 1887-1942, 507.

Maczek, Van paardenwagen tot tank, 177.

McGilvray, The Black Devils’March: A Doomed Odyssey, 15-17.

John Alan English, The Canadian Army and the Normandy Campaign (2009), 218.

Hubert Meyer, The history of  the 12. SS-Panzerdivision Hitlerjugend (Winnipeg 1994), 173.

Hamilton, Master of the Battlefield. Monty’s War Years 1942-1944, 782.

Brenda Ralph Lewis, The Hitlerjugend in Peace and War 1933-1945 (Londen 2000), 152-153.

Lewis, The Hitlerjugend in Peace and War 1933-1945, 159-161 aldaar 161.

Hubert Meyer, The 12th SS. The history of the Hitler Youth Panzer Division: Volume 2 (Mechanicsburg 2005), 51-100 aldaar 66.

Hamilton, Master of the Battlefield. Monty’s War Years 1942-1944, 797.

Copp, Fields of fire: the Canadians in Normandy, 235-237.

Mc Gilvray, The Black Devils’ March: A Doomed Odyssey, 35.

Meyer, The 12th SS. The history of the Hitler Youth Panzer Division: Volume 2, 66-71.

Colonel C.P. Stacey, The Victory Campaign . The Operations in North-West Europe 1944-1945 (Ottawa 1960), Volume III, 261.

Copp, Fields of fire: the Canadians in Normandy, 249.

John Keegan, Six armies in Normandy: From D-Day to the liberation of Paris June 6th – August 25th 1944 (Londen 1984), 277-278.

Copp, Fields of fire: the Canadians in Normandy, 249-250 en Roman Johann Jarymowycz, Tank tactics: from Normandy to Lorraine (2001), 197.

Stacey, The Victory Campaign, 265.

‘Poles Great Fight: Defeated Two SS Corps and Closed the Gap’ in: The Tank, 26, (1947), 78.

McGilvray, The Black Devils’March: A Doomed Odyssey, 55 en English, The Canadian Army and the Normandy Campaign , 235.

Maczek, Van paardenwagen tot tank, 212.