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
- Three photos of road signs on the road from Derma to Tobruk. The signs are in German and Italian. The photo number 001 shows road signs to Martuba in Libya. The photo 002 depicts a Tobruk sign as well as several signs to various German military installations. The sign on the photo 003 reads "Tobruch". The photo number 004 depicts a milestone "Confine Egiziano K.M. 222" (Egyptian border)
- Polish Merchant Navy's Part in Invasion of Europe. The first and third photos show ammunition being unloaded from the SS "Kordecki." The second photo shows the American airborne troops heading for France on board the SS "Kordecki." The fourth photo depicts the mascots of the SS "Kordecki" as they take up a point of vantage on an Oerlikon gun on board.
- Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham (left) congratulates Polish Wing Commander Stanisław Skalski, who has just been awarded the Gold Cross of the Virtuti Militari. Aged 26, Skalski has won his country's highest decoration for his leadership of the Polish Unit in the Battle of Tunisia, when the squadron set up an Allied record by shooting down the highest number of German aeroplanes, 27. He was decorated by the Polish commander-in-chief gen. Kazimierz Sosnkowski during an inspection tour of Polish units with the TAF.
- The "Skalski Circus." Photo 001 shows the Polish flying ace, wing commander Stanisław Skalski. He commanded the Polish fighter unit in North Africa and later in Italy. His squadron was nicknamed "Skalski Circus." Photo 002 shows Skalski resting. Skalski is accompanied by s British fellow officer in Photo 003. Photo 004 depicts the Polish commanding officer visiting the "Skalski Circus." From left ot right: Wing Commander Skalski, Air Vice Marshal Iżycki, and a "Daily Telegraph" war correspondent. Skalski visiting Gurkhas is seen in Photo 005.