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Unit 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade

The 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade was formed in Scotland on 23 September 1941.

It was composed of Polish soldiers who, after the fall of France in 1940, arrived in the United Kingdom. The brigade was reinforced by volunteers from Polish Army units formed in Russia and evacuated from there via the Middle East. Further volunteers came from other countries all over the world. The troops received parachute and other specialised training in the brigade and British training centres.

In June 1944 the brigade received its Regimental Colours, a gift from the Polish women of Warsaw, secretly made and consecrated in November 1942 in a Warsaw church.

In July 1944 the brigade was transferred from Scotland to England, where it became part of the First Allied Airborne Army and made operational under its newly promoted commander Major General Stanislaw Sosabowski.

As the liberation of Europe progressed, the brigade was briefed for several actions. The first drop was to be near Paris, another in the north of France, followed by Belgium. Each of these was cancelled at the last moment. For political and logistical reasons the brigade was not permitted to support the popular Polish uprising in Warsaw that began in August.

Finally, in September 1944 the brigade, attached to the British 1st Airborne Division  took part in the assault to capture the Rhine crossings at Arnhem.

Part of the brigade was lost during contested landings. Hiowever the brigade's 2nd Battalion and elements of the 3rd dropped at Driel, opposite Arnhem on the south bank of the Lower Rhine on 23 September. This caused a radical dislocation of the German siege around the cut off 1st Airborne Division in Oosterbeek, ensuring its further survival by a few more days.

Having established a ‘hedgehog’ defensive perimeter on the south bank the Poles managed to ferry 200 paratroopers across the river to support the Oosterbeek defence. They covered the withdrawal of the 1st Airborne Division during the night of 25/26 September, after being reached by the advance elements of the approaching British XXX Corps ground advance. The brigade lost 23% of its fighting strength, which amounted to 400 casualties.

Maj Gen Sosabowski, was controversially removed from command in December 1944, following sustained criticism by Lt Gen Browning, with whom Sosabowski had an acrimonious relationship. This treatment of Sosabowski, and by implication 1st Polish Para Brigade, was considered to be an injustice by many of the British airborne veterans who served and fought alongside the Poles in World War II.

In 1945 the brigade was attached to the Polish 1st Armoured division and undertook occupation duties in northern Germany until 30 June 1947 when the unit was disbanded. Most of the Polish soldiers remained in exile in England.

The Polish 6th Air Assault Brigade is the present day successor to the war-time brigade.

by Harvey Grenville

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