70 years ago today WW2 started in Europe with the attack by the Wehrmacht on Poland. The BBC has written up a fine piece on the rememberance of a Polish veteran of the Westerplatte battle here (let’s not get too fussy regarding that Schleswig-Holstein was not a cruiser, but a pre-Dreadnought battleship (Linienschiff – literally, ‘ship of the line’) of the Deutschland-class). Mr. Skowron is a year younger than my grandfather, who participated in the invasion of Poland as a Senior Gunner in a counter-battery observation battalion. Unlike Mr. Skowron, who at the end of the heroic resistance of the Westerplatte garrison was captured by the Germans, many of those Polish soldiers who were captured (and not quickly murdered at Katyn or elsewhere) by the Soviets would be given a chance to fight on the Allied side. This was a journey that would take many of them to Tobruk, where they distinguished themselves in the break-out following the lifting of the siege on 7 December 41. They were denied a more prominent role in the defeat of Panzergruppe by the abysmal transport situation west of Tobruk, which restricted the ability of 8th Army to sustain forces in the pursuit. A Polish field regiment supported the reduction of the Fortress Bardia on 31 December/1 January, and some of its forward observers were captured by the garrison.
Eventually, the Polish Carpathian Brigade would grow to a Polish corps fighting in Italy, and a Polish armoured division fighting in Normandy and North-West Europe. Unfortunately for those Poles who chose to continue the fight, it would take another 44 years after the end of the war before their country was liberated.