Pilsudski Institute of America, Photographs of Polish Soldiers and Civilians During WWII (1939-1945)

This collection of photographs displays Polish Armed Forces in the West with a focus on the Polish Armed Forces in the United Kingdom (1940-1944), the formation of the Polish Army in the USSR (under the command of General Władysław Anders), and the life of soldiers of the Polish Independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade in Africa (1940-1942). The formation of the Polish Armed Forces in the West took place at the outbreak of WWII when, on September 1, 1939, German troops crossed the Polish border. The Polish Army, alone in combat, could not effectively resist Germany's aggression in addition to the Soviet invasion on Eastern Polish territories on September 17, 1939. As a result, Poland was partitioned for the fourth time by Hitler and Stalin, and its government fled into exile to France and later on to Great Britain. At the same time, in the autumn of 1939, the formation of regular troops was ordered by the Polish authorities in exile. This was possible due to prior war agreements with France and Great Britain. Polish Armed Forces in the West were initially formed in France and Syria and later in Great Britain and Palestine. Land army units, the Polish Navy and Polish pilots were organized and sent to function under British forces, and participated in various Allied military operations, including the Battle of Britain, the Norwegian campaign in Narvik, the Siege of Tobruk, and D-Day in France. In February of 1940, Soviets began the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Polish civilians to Siberia and other parts of the Soviet Union, where they were imprisoned or put to work in Gulags. Following the outbreak of the Soviet-German War in 1941 and the signing of the Sikorski-Mayski Agreement, Polish citizens were free to join the Polish Army in the USSR under the command of General Władysław Anders. In the Spring and Summer of 1942, after consultation with the Soviet authorities, approximately 78,000 Polish soldiers and about 35,000 civilians were evacuated to Iran. The civilians were then transported to refugee camps in Africa, New Zealand and Mexico, while the Polish soldiers remained in Iraq where they were fed and trained. On September 12, 1942, the Polish Armed Forces in the Middle East were established from the merging of the Polish Army in the Middle East and the Polish Armed Forces in the USSR. In 1943 the Polish Army in the East, renamed the Polish II Corps, participated in the liberation of Italy and the Battle of Monte Cassino. As the war continued, the now 200,000-strong Polish Army in the West fought faithfully for Poland’s legacy and freedom until 1945, when WWII ended.

Learn More About the Collection


Victims of a village bombing
September 1939. After the bombardment of a Polish village. Two women are looking at the bodies of the victims.
Victory in Europe Day in London
London remembers with gratitude the part played by Polish Forces in the Battle of Britain and the ultimate victory in Europe by flying Polish flags on Victory in Europe Day. On photo number 2, in the background, The Grosvenor House hotel.
War Correspondent Looks at the V-2 Shot Down by Polish Airmen
A Polish war corespondent examines the remains of a V2 destroyed by Polish spitfires. The remnants rocket landed in the forest.
Warsaw in Flames
Fire over Warsaw on the 25th of September in 1939.
Welcoming a submarine
Sailors stand at the side of a ship. They admire a submarine nearby. The submarine appear to be ORP Wilk.
Welcoming of general Sikorski in the Polish Army camp in Taliszczewo.
From the right: Polish ambassador in the Soviet Union Stanisław Kot, general Władysław Sikorski, behind him colonel Okulicki, general Władysław Anders, Andriej Wyszynski Soviet vice-commisar for Foreign Affairs
Wife of US Ambassador Winant at a Polish Hospital
The wife of US ambassador Winant visits a Polish hospital in Edinburgh. She is accompanied by Professor Jurasz, the dean of the Polish medical department at the University of Edinburgh.
Winter Exercises of the Polish Army in the United Kingdom (Scotland) (1)
Medical attention during winter training. Photo 012 shows moving soldiers on wheeled gurneys. Medics bandage up soldiers in photo 013.
Winter Exercises of the Polish Army in the United Kingdom (Scotland) (2)
The photos show the vehicles used during winter training. Photos 002 and 003 show soldiers driving a tractor with guns into position. Soldiers are driving cars and riding on motorcycles during winter training in photo 004. In photo 005, the gun team drags up the gun to couple it up with the tractor. In photo 006, soldiers are loading up the gun.
Winter Exercises of the Polish Army in the United Kingdom (Scotland) (3)
Photo 001 shows the A.A. machine gun team on the lookout in order to protect the artillery battery against air attack. Polish parachute ski troops march in Scotland in photo 010.
Winter Exercises of the Polish Army in the United Kingdom (Scotland) (4)
Photo 007 shows military communications at work. The telephonist of communications is seen in photo 008. Soldiers have their rifles prepped in prone position in photo 009. Photo 011 shows the Polish parachute ski troops in Scotland.
Wojtek the Bear
Iran 1942. The photo shows a young bear named Wojtek. He is the mascot of the Anders' Army. Wojtek was bought in Iran.
Women's Auxiliary Service -- Situational Photos (8)
A female soldier on her way to training exercises.
Women's Auxiliary Service members at work
The photo shows two women of the Polish Women's Auxiliary Service. The women are part of the communications division of the military. One of the women is writing something down.
Workers of the Polish Red Cross
Two volunteers of the Polish Red Cross read papers and books. A soldier sits with the women, and the three talk and eat together.
Zofia Leśniowska (Sikorska) in the Polish Women's Auxiliary Service
Polish Women's Auxiliary Service. General Sikorski's daughter Zofia Sikorska is fixing her hat and smiling. She is the third woman from the right.
Ćwiczenia brygady spadochronowej (6)
Parachute troop training on the rocks. Photos 029 and 040 show the soldiers making their way to the climbing location. Photos 042, 043, and 044 show the soldiers climbing the rocks with the help of ropes.


Islandora Bookmark