Poland’s Brilliant World War II Leader
General Stanislaw Maczek
by Stan Z. Biernacik
General Stanislaw Maczek (born March 31, 1892) was the last Commander of the First Polish Army Corps under Allied Command, and who previously led the famous First Polish Armored Division.
Gen. Maczek’s military career began as an officer of the Austrian Army who fought on the Italian front in 1914. Following the outbreak of World War I, Polish units were organized around the cities of Krakow and Lwow, and the young officer offered his services to the reborn units of the Polish Army.
Soon, his military talents became evident in the battles for the relief of the city of Lwow, under Ukrainian siege in 1918, and later in the struggle of the young Polish Republic to stop the invading armies of the Communist Russia led by Marshal Budienny.
Following the cessation of hostilities, the highly decorated Major Maczek decided to make military service his lifetime career.
When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, Colonel Maczek commanded the 10th Motorized Cavalry Brigade, which had fought several battles before. On orders from Commander-in-Chief Marshal Rydz Smigly, the Brigade fighting the encircling Nazi forces crossed the Hungarian border where it was interned.
Learning that Polish forces were being organized on French soil, Col. Maczek escaped from Hungary in October 1939 and reported to Gen. W. Sikorski, commander of the Polish forces in exile, in Paris. As reward for his services, Gen. Sikorski promoted Maczek to the rank of Brigadier General and placed him in charge of Polish units at the Army camp at Coetquiden, Brittany.
When Nazis invaded France in 1940, Gen. Maczek was given charge of the 10th Armored Cavalry Brigade, which fought bloody battles against the invader on June 16 and 17, and scored important victories in the vicinity of Montbard, and on the Burgundy Canal.
The brave efforts of the Polish brigade proved to be in vain when the government of France capitulated.
Under the orders of Gen. Sikorski, the Brigade was dissolved and her men were ordered to seek safety in un-occupied France until they could reach the shores of England, the last bastion of freedom. There Prime Minister Winston Churchill rallied his countrymen, calling on them to continue their struggles against the Nazi menace.
With France’s collapse, thousands of Polish soldiers found their way to friendly British soil and organized military units. Gen. Maczek was one of them.
In February 1942, Gen. Maczek was ordered by Gen. Sikorski to form the First Polish Armored Division. Eager to fight and take revenge on the enemy, the Division proved its worth during the 1944 invasion of Europe. During the Battle of Normandy, Polish troops took part in the encircling move against Nazi troops, and were credited with the closing of the Caen-Fallaise Gap, where fourteen Nazi divisions were trapped and destroyed.
After this decisive battle, Gen. Maczek’s Division continued to spearhead the Allied drive across the battlefields of France, Belgium, Holland, and finally Germany.
The Division’s "moment of glory" came when its forces captured the German port of Wilhelmshaven and accepted the surrender of the entire garrison, which included some 200 vessels of Hitler’s navy.
Gen. Maczek commanded the First Armored until the end of the hostilities in Europe.
In May 1945, he was promoted the rank of Lieutenant General and was given command of the First Polish Army Corps in Scotland. Gen. Klemens Rudnicki, who coincidentally celebrated his 93rd birthday on the 28th of March of this year, succeeded Gen. Maczek as commander of the Division.
All those who knew Gen. Maczek and those who fought under his command have no doubt that the history of armored warfare will include his name as one of the most brilliant commanders who served the Allied cause with the greatest distinction during World War II.
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