Poland’s fate in the early days of the Blitzkrieg in 1939 is well known, but the stories of the Poles who escaped or went underground in order to fight another day, as well as those of the tens of thousands of civilians who marched or died beside them, have been largely forgotten or are ignored.
Ten percent of RAF Fighter Command pilots who flew during the Battle of Britain were Polish and on some days that figure rose to 30%. Poland provided the fourth largest ground force in the Western Alliance and 300,000 Poles served alongside the Red Army on the eastern front. Poles helped to hold Tobruk. They finally captured Monte Cassino after three failed Allied attempts. And Poles dropped near Arnhem in 1944 and despite suffering 40% casualties they secured the rescue of the embattled British paratroopers cut off there. Poles rose up in open rebellion against Nazi rule when other nations were largely supine. They were the first to break the German signal codes and to uncover and report the secrets of the Nazi rocket programme.
Many of those who fought back came from the one million Poles who had earlier been deported to slave labor camps in the USSR by Stalin. Another million or more were similarly taken captive by Hitler’s Germany, but these could not escape. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Poles died during Poland’s war and even her liberation by the USSR did not end her suffering as deportations to the Gulag and other forms of repression continued into the 1980s.
The book tells the story of those Poles who escaped to seek their revenge on the battlefield or who otherwise fought to survive. Based on numerous interviews and archive materials depicting the airmen, soldiers and sailors, as well as the women and children who travelled from their Siberian camps to safety in India and Australia, the story is explained using a range of previously unpublished witness accounts set against a sweeping historical backdrop.
This is Mark Johnson’s second work of history and in it he continues his exploration of the largely untold story of the contribution made to modern Western democracy by peoples of every creed and hue.
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