The Polish 1st Armoured Division (Polish: 1 Dywizja Pancerna) was an Allied military unit during World War II. Created in February 1942 at Duns in Scotland, it was commanded by General Stanisław Maczek and at its peak numbered approximately 16,000 soldiers.
The Division was formed as part of the I Polish Corps which guarded approximately 200 kilometres of British coast in 1940-1941.
In the UK it participated in war games together with the 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division, and later fought in France, the Low Countries and Germany.
By the end of July 1944 the 1st Armoured had been transferred to Normandy, its final elements arriving on August 1. The unit was attached to the First Canadian Army. This may have been done to help in communication as the vast majority of Poles did not speak English when they arrived in UK from 1940 onwards. The Division joined combat on 8 August during Operation Totalize. It twice suffered serious casualties as a result of "friendly fire" from Allied aircraft, but achieved a victory against the Wehrmacht in the battles for Mont Ormel, and the town of Chambois. This series of offensive and defensive operations came to be known as the Battle of Falaise in which a large number of German army and SS divisions were trapped in the Falaise pocket and subsequently destroyed. Maczek's division had the crucial role of closing the pocket at the escape route of the trapped German divisions, hence the fighting was desperate and the 2nd Polish Armoured Regiment, 24th Polish Lancers and 10th Dragoons supported by the 8th and 9th Infantry Battalions took the brunt of German attacks by units attempting to break free from the pocket. Surrounded and running out of ammunition they withstood incessant attacks from multiple fleeing panzer divisions for 48 hours until they were relieved (for more read about General Kitching' controversy).
Belgium and the Netherlands
After the Allied armies broke out from Normandy, the Polish 1st Armoured Division pursued the Germans along the coast of the English Channel. It liberated, among others, the towns of Saint-Omer, Ypres, Oostnieuwkerke, Roeselare, Tielt, Ruislede, and Ghent. A successful outflanking manoeuvre planned and performed by General Maczek allowed the liberation of the city of Breda without any civilian casualties (October 29, 1944). The Division spent the winter of 1944-1945 on the south bank of the river Rhine, guarding a sector around Moerdijk, Netherlands. In early 1945 it was transferred to the province of Overijssel and started to push with the Allies along the Dutch-German border, liberating the eastern parts of the provinces of Drenthe and Groningen including the towns of Emmen, Coevorden and Stadskanaal. Memorial in Saint Omer to the Polish 1st Armoured Division
In April 1945 the 1st Armoured entered Germany in the area of Emsland. On May 6 the Division seized the Kriegsmarine naval base in Wilhelmshaven, where General Maczek accepted the capitulation of the fortress, naval base, East Frisian Fleet and more than 10 infantry divisions. There the Division ended the war and, joined by the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade, undertook occupation duties until it was disbanded in 1947; it and the many Polish displaced persons in the Western occupied territories forming a Polish enclave at Haren in Germany which was for a while known as "Maczków". The majority of its soldiers opted not to return to Poland which fell under Soviet occupation, preferring instead to remain in exile
Arrived European Theatre of Operations February 1942
Arrived Continent and entered combat roundabout 1 August 1944