Polish Armed Forces in the East

Polish Armed Forces in the East (Polish: Polskie Siły Zbrojne na Wschodzie) (or Polish Army in USSR) refers to military units composed of Poles created in the Soviet Union at the time when the territory of Poland was occupied by both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in the Second World War.

Broadly speaking, there were two such formations. The first was the Anders Army, created in the second half of 1941 and loyal to the Polish government-in-exile, after the German invasion of the USSR led to the Polish-Soviet Sikorski-Mayski Agreement declaring an amnesty for Polish citizens held captive in the USSR. In 1942, this formation was evacuated to Iran and transferred to the Western Allies, whereupon it became known as the Polish II Corps and went on to fight Nazi German forces in Italy, including at the Battle of Monte Cassino.

Following this, the remaining Polish forces in USSR were reorganised into a Soviet-controlled Polish I Corps in the Soviet Union, which in turn was reorganised in 1944 into the Polish First Army (Berling Army) and Polish Second Army, both part of the Polish People's Army (Ludowe Wojsko Polskie, LWP).

In 1944, the Polish People's Army was reorganised to become the military of the communist-ruled People's Republic of Poland.

Anders Army: 1941-1942

After the Soviet invasion and occupation of eastern Poland at the start of the Second World War in 1939, the Soviets effectively broke off diplomatic relations with the evacuated Polish government.[1] Diplomatic relations were re-established in 1941 after the German invasion of the Soviet Union forced Soviet premier Joseph Stalin to look for allies. Thus the military agreement of August 14 and subsequent Sikorski-Maiski Agreement of August 17, 1941, between the Polish government-in-exile and the Soviet government, resulted in Stalin agreeing to declare the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in relation to Poland null and void,[2] and release tens of thousands of Polish prisoners-of-war held in Soviet camps, as well as granting an "amnesty" to the hundreds of thousands of Polish citizens who had also been deported to the USSR.

The Polish Prime Minister, General Władysław Sikorski, nominated General Władysław Anders - one of the Polish officers held captive in the Soviet Union - as commander of a new Polish Army which immediately began to be formed in the USSR with the aim of fighting against the Germans alongside the Red Army.

The new formation became known as the Anders Army and started to organise in the Buzuluk area, by recruiting from NKVD camps for Polish POWs. By the end of 1941 25,000 soldiers (including 1,000 officers) had been recruited, forming three infantry divisions: the 5th, 6th and 7th. In the spring of 1942, the unit was moved to the area of Tashkent. The 8th and 9th divisions were also formed that year.[3]

In the second part of 1942, during the German Caucasus offensive (the most notable part of which was the Battle of Stalingrad), Stalin agreed to use the Polish formation on the Middle Eastern front; and the Anders Army was transferred via the Persian Corridor to Pahlevi, Iran. About 77,000 combatants and 41,000 civilians - former Polish citizens - left the USSR. As such, the Anders Army passed from Soviet control to that of the British government and joined the Polish Armed Forces in the West, forming the bulk of what would become the Polish Second Corps.

Berling Army: 1943–1945

After the Anders Army left Soviet controlled territory, and it became more and more apparent that the Soviet forces were able to hold the front against the German invaders without reliance on Western aid (Lend-Lease Act) or temporary allies (like the Polish government-in-exile), the Soviets decided to assume much greater control over the remaining Polish military potential in the USSR (ignoring the agreements signed with the Polish government-in-exile). Increasing numbers of volunteers were denied the opportunity to enlist in Polish formations, instead they were declared Soviet citizens and assigned to the Red Army. Activities of organisations and people loyal to the Polish government-in-exile, particularly the Polish embassy in Moscow, were curtailed and its assets confiscated. Finally, diplomatic relations between the Soviets and the Polish government-in-exile were severed again as news of the Katyn massacre emerged in 1943.[4]

In 1943, the Soviet Union created the Union of Polish Patriots (ZPP) in Moscow as a future communist puppet government of Poland,[5] designed to counter the legitimacy of the Polish government in exile. The ZPP was led by the pro-Soviet Polish communist Wanda Wasilewska.[6]

At the same time a new army was created - the Ludowe Wojsko Polskie (Polish People's Army, LWP). Its first unit, the 1 Polish Infantry Division (1 Dywizja Piechoty im. Tadeusza Kościuszki), was created in summer 1943, reaching operational readiness by June/July. In August, the Division was enlarged to a corps, becoming the Polish I Corps. It would be commanded by General Zygmunt Berling; other notable commanders included General Karol Świerczewski and Col. Włodzimierz Sokorski. The division with its supporting elements was sent to the Eastern Front in September 1943 and its first major engagement was the Battle of Lenino. By March 1944 the Corps had been strengthened with increasing armoured and mechanical support, and numbered over 30,000 soldiers. In mid-March 1944 the Corps was reorganized into the Polish First Army.

Subsequent Soviet-created Polish army units on the Eastern Front included the Second (1945) and Third Polish Armies (the latter was quickly merged with the second due to recruitment problems), with the number of smaller formations being 10 infantry divisions (numbered from 1st to 10th[3]) and 5 armoured brigades. Plans for a Polish Front were considered but dropped, and the Polish First Army was integrated into the 1st Belorussian Front.

These units were led by Soviet commanders, and fought under Soviet general command (the Second Army, for example, was led by the Soviet general Stanislav Poplavsky). In the Polish First Army approximately 40% of officers and engineers were Soviet, and in the Second Army it was approximately 40%. Special political officers, almost exclusively made up of Soviets, oversaw the Polish soldiers. The Soviets also created political military police, which later became the Main Directorate of Information of the Polish Army (Główny Zarząd Informacji Wojska Polskiego).[7]

The First Army entered Poland from Soviet territory in the summer of 1944, on the right wing of the Lvov-Sandomierz Operation, fighting in the battles during the Soviet crossing of the river Vistula around Dęblin and Puławy.[8] In September 1944 units of the First Army were involved in heavy fighting during the latter stages of the Warsaw Uprising after crossing the river Vistula following the capture of Warsaw's eastern Praga district, but suffered heavy losses.

After eventually taking control of Warsaw in January 1945, the First Army took part in the Vistula–Oder Offensive, and subsequently fought in Pomerania, breaking through the Pomeranian Wall (Pommernstellung) fortified line and capturing Fortress Kolberg, a heavily fortified city, in March. In April–May 1945 the First Army took part in the Soviet invasion of Germany and the final capture of Berlin.

The Second Army reached operational readiness in January 1945. During the Soviet invasion of Germany it suffered very heavy losses at the Battle of Bautzen, and later took part in the Prague Offensive, which was the last major Soviet operation of World War II in Europe.

First Polish Army (1944–1945) a.k.a. Berling Army

Organization as of May 1, 1945

Second Army (Poland)

Formations as of May 1, 1945

See also


  1. See telegrams: No. 317 Archived 2009-11-07 at the Wayback Machine. of September 10: Schulenburg, the German ambassador in the Soviet Union, to the German Foreign Office. Moscow, September 10, 1939-9:40 p.m.; No. 371 Archived 2007-04-30 at the Wayback Machine. of September 16; No. 372 Archived 2007-04-30 at the Wayback Machine. of September 17 Source: The Avalon Project at Yale Law School. Last accessed on 14 November 2006; (in Polish)1939 wrzesień 17, Moskwa Nota rządu sowieckiego nie przyjęta przez ambasadora Wacława Grzybowskiego (Note of the Soviet government to the Polish government on 17 September 1939 refused by Polish ambassador Wacław Grzybowski). Last accessed on 15 November 2006.
  2. "In relation to Poland the effects of the pact have been abrogated on the basis of the Sikorski-Maiski agreement".
    René Lefeber, Malgosia Fitzmaurice, The Changing Political Structure of Europe: aspects of International law, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, ISBN 0-7923-1379-8, Google Print, p.101
  3. 1 2 Note that as there was no coordination between the Polish Armed Forces in the East and West, both formations shared numbers of some divisions, and divisions numbered 5 to 9 existed both within the Anders Army and Berling's First (1,2,3,4,6) and Second Armies (5,7,8,9,10).
  4. Soviet Note of April 25, 1943, severing unilaterally Soviet-Polish diplomatic relations online, last accessed on 19 December 2005, English translation of Polish document
  5. Steven J Zaloga (1982). "The Polish People's Army". Polish Army, 1939-1945. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 0-85045-417-4.
  6. Związek Patriotów Polskic, PWN Encyklopedia, last accessed on 23 March 2006
  7. Polish historian Paweł Piotrowski on LWP. Institute of National Remembrance, from Internet Archive. Last accessed on 23 March 2006.
  8. Polish Army, 1939-1945 by Steven J Zaloga, p.27
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