Polish war veterans joined their former comrades from a host of Allied nations to mark the 75th-anniversary of D-Day, the invasion of Nazi-occupied France that opened up a second front against Germany, and one of the turning points of the Second World War.
The last survivors, all in their 90s, were the focus of the commemorations in England and France of the greatest air and sea-borne invasion in history despite the presence of heads of state from 15 countries, including President Donald Trump and Queen Elizabeth II.
Mateusz Morawiecki, the prime minister, represented Poland at the ceremonies that paid tribute to the hundreds of thousands of sailors, airmen and soldiers who took part in the landings and the subsequent brutal and bloody Battle of Normandy.
“On June 6, 1944 the Allies, among whom were the Poles, landed in Normandy,” said the prime minister on Twitter. “Today I had the opportunity to thank the veterans for their courage and bravery.”
Polish land forces would have to wait for their time before joining the savage fighting raging in the fields and villages of Normandy, but on June 6 11 Polish squadrons of Britain’s Royal Air Force flew missions, while three Polish Navy ships joined the armarda crossing the English Channel.
As a tribute to, and a reminder of, the contribution played by Polish forces during the landings, on June 9, a memorial will be unveiled it the Normandy town of Plumetot to three Polish RAF squadrons. The three Spitfire squadrons, 308, 317 and 302, first flew support operations from the UK before moving to Plumetot following its liberation.
The V-for-victory shaped memorial will carry the inscription “For our freedom and for yours” in Polish, English and French.
In the days and weeks that followed D-Day, the 1st Polish Armoured Division, under the command of General Stanisław Maczek and part of the Second Canadian Corps, became involved in intense and costly fighting for Normandy as the Allies came up against well-defended and experienced German forces.
The division, consisting of around 16,000 troops and 381 tanks, was tasked with breaking the German defences in the Caen-Falaise area. It also played a key role in the Battle of the Falaise Pocket, the decisive engagement of the Normandy campaign that resulted in the destruction of Germany’s Army Group B west of the River Seine and cleared the way to Paris.
The Poles had to close the pocket to prevent German forces escaping, and therefore came under a series of attacks from enemy armoured forces desperate to fight their way out before being totally surrounded.
“At Falaise we locked the Germans like there were in a bottle, and the Polish Armoured Division was the cork in the bottle,” General Bernard Montgomery, commander of Allied land forces, would later write.