This is the ninth post in a series marking the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the end of the Second World War as part of a partnership between Active History and the Juno Beach Centre. If you would like to contribute, contact series coordinator Alex Fitzgerald-Black at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Sean Campbell
An officer on my staff, a former student at Gdansk Polytechnic, translated every sentence into German. When the words ‘Polish Division’ were uttered by the translator, and as if by inattentiveness repeated, it seemed the Germans whitened and unease flashed in their eyes. I enquired if they understood — ‘Jawohl’ — they replied. I gave a sign that they might leave. But, a thought passed through my mind,
‘This is for September 1939’
- Col. Antoni Grudzinski, Second-in-Command, Polish 10th Armoured Brigade, May 6th, 1945.
My grandpapa’s story of the Second World War remains only in sparse pieces of kit, the memories of his children and friends, and a photo album. An avid photographer, he took a quarter album’s worth of photographs documenting his wartime experiences. A treasure to my family, it is also an interesting historic document. My grandfather’s album manages to match up with a unique story. One that saw a long and hopeful saga for the redemption of himself and his Polish countrymen.
Frank Pindor in pilot’s uniform, 1938 (Author’s Photo)
Franciszek “Frank” Pindor, born outside of Krakow in Cieszyn, Poland lied about his age to join the Polish Air Force in 1938. Frank was born into poverty at a time when a military career in Poland meant a respectable future. However, his mother forbade his lofty ambition of becoming a pilot due to the dangers of flying. Instead, Frank trained as a meteorologist before the Germans invaded the following September. Ordered to cross into the then neutral country with 10,000 other airmen, he became a refugee in Romania. Arriving by way of Morocco, Frank once again became a member of the Polish Air Force under French command, operating out of Bron near Lyon, France. They did not stay for long.
Frank (rear left) with his comrades in Morocco, 1940 (Author’s Photo)
Following the Battle of France, Frank fled to Great Britain to continue his fight from British soil. The Polish army-in-exile wasted no time to prepare. Posted to Scotland, available soldiers were to build up a new I Polish Corps and erect anti-invasion defences on the eastern coast at Fife. Polish General Stanis?aw Maczek arrived in September 1940 to rebuild his motorized brigade. Maczek’s plan was to build up a new armoured regiment to participate in the Allied invasion of the continent. Over the next two years, bolstered by international volunteers and a large release of Polish prisoners from the Soviet Union in 1941, Maczek realized his armoured ambitions with the 1st Polish Armoured Division in 1942. My grandpapa transferred to the division, where he received training as a wireless operator in the 2nd Motorized Artillery (Towed) Regiment.
Frank during training in Scotland, c.1940-1944 (Author’s Photo)
On 1 August 1944, the same day as the Warsaw Uprising in Poland, the 1st Polish Armoured Division arrived on French shores at Mulberry Harbour ‘B’ in Arromanches. The division went into battle as “The Black Devils,” a reference to the black epaulette on their left shoulder but also their pre-war uniform of black leather tank jackets. The division immediately moved into combat attached to Lieutenant-General Harry Crerar’s First Canadian Army.
The 1st Polish Armoured Division saw its baptism of fire in Normandy. Following closely on the left flank of the Canadians, the Poles advanced from 8-22 August. At the climax of the pursuit, the Poles stood on a strategic mound that General Stanislaw Maczek designated Maczuga (The Mace). There, an unrelenting onslaught of crack German troops bloodied, but did not break the Poles. As sappers from the Royal Canadian Engineers began clearing the hillside battlefield, they erected a tribute to the defenders on a temporary signpost that simply stated that the ground was “A Polish Battlefield.” After 1,441 casualties, the men of the 1st Polish Armoured Division helped to close the gap that ended the Normandy campaign and started the long drive back to Germany.
Only two photographs of Frank exist from Normandy. Continue reading