Book Review: The Armed Forces of Poland in the West 1939-46: Strategic Concepts, Planning, Limited Success but no Victory!


by Michael Alfred Peszke

Solihull, Eng.: Helion / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2013. Pp. xvi, 222. Illus., maps, appends., notes, biblio., index. $29.95. ISBN: 1908916540

The Triumph and Tragedy of the Polish Nation-in-Exile

The role of the Polish armed forces in exile during World War II, which numbered some 200,000 by 1944, nearly equal to the French Army, has received fairly good coverage in the literature of the war, notably for such heroic feats as the storming of Monte Cassino or the airborne drop during Market-Garden.  But much less attention has been given to the development by Polish leadership in exile of a “national” policy, or their strategic thinking and long-term planning, which are the subject of this book. So this work is much less about fighting, than about planning, organizing, politicking, and diplomacy. 

Peszke, who fled Poland in 1939 with his father, a Polish Air Force officer, opens with a short review of the rebirth of Poland during World War I, the events of the interwar period, and the disaster of 1939. He then covers the recreation of the Polish government and armed forces in France, to the tune of several divisions, and their role in military operations during the “Phony War” and the Fall of France. There follows the second rebirth of a Poland-in-exile in Britain, which begins the main body of the book. 

The Polish armed forces, for a long time Britain’s only non-Commonwealth ally, were rebuilt, and participated in the Battle of Britain and other operations, rising to some 200,000 troops at their peak. Peszke makes the important observation that whereas most of the other occupied nations – France, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway – had extensive resources beyond Nazi control (e.g., colonies, merchant fleets), Poland had only its human resources, the Poles who formed the armed forces-in-exile. While Polish forces fought on many fronts, a strategy was developed, the resistance nourished, and plans were even laid for liberation of the motherland from both the Nazis and the Soviets, as politicians and generals engaged in complex negotiations. Ultimately, of course, while Poland “won” the war she lost the peace, remaining under the Soviet thumb for nearly 45 years after V-E Day. 

A volume in the series “Helion Studies in Military History,” The Armed Forces of Poland in the West is a good read for anyone with an interest in the Second World War. 

Note: The Armed Forces of Poland in the West is also available in hardback, $89.95, 978-1-9099-8260-4.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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