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Major-General Stanislaw Maczek

Stanislaw Wladyslaw Maczek, born in Lwòw, Poland, on March 31st, 1892; died in Edinburgh, Scotland, on December 11th, 1994. Polish Army officer.

1st Canadian Army generals in Hilversum, the Netherlands, on May 20th, 1945. Sitting, from left to right: Stanislaw Maczek, 1st Polish Armoured Division; Guy Simonds, II Canadian Corps; H.D.G. Crerar, 1st Canadian Army; Charles Foulkes, I Canadian Corps; B.M. Hoffmeister, 5th Armoured Division. Standing, from left to right: R.H. Keefler, 3rd Infantry Division; A.B. Matthews, 2nd Infantry Division; H.W. Foster, 1st Infantry Division; R.W. Moncel, 4th Armoured Brigade; S.B. Rawlins, 49th British Division
Photograph by Ken Bell. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-137473

Between 1910 and 1914, Stanislaw Maczek studied literature and philosophy at Lwòw University. A reserve officer, he was called up to serve in the Austrian infantry during WWI. When Poland proclaimed its independence in 1918, Maczek joined his country's armed forces.

Between the wars, Maczek followed courses of the Warsaw Superior War School and took several postings as a commanding officer. In 1938, he was promoted to Colonel in charge of Poland's first armoured unit, the 10th Motorized Cavalry Brigade.

In September 1939, Poland collapsed under the double pressure of Nazi Germany in the west and of the USSR in the east. Maczek and his men, after a desperate show of resistance against invading German forces, reached Hungary and then dispersed before regrouping in France where General Wladyslaw Sikorski had set up a Polish government-in-exile. In the spring of 1940, Maczek recreated the 10th Motorized Cavalry Brigade and, even before training was over, threw it into the battle against advancing German invasion forces. After a few weeks of combat alongside French troops, Maczek was forced to order his men to retreat and abandon their tanks. They decided to regroup in England and rebuild a free Polish army.

Through Maczek's and Sikorski's efforts, the 10th Brigade was born again on February 25th, 1942, this time as the 1st Polish Armoured Division under Maczek's command. The division landed in Normandy on August 1st, 1944, with 16,000 men and some 400 tanks. On August 5th, Major-General Maczek's troops were placed under the command of Lieutenant-General Guy Simonds' II Canadian Corps, to crush German resistance and reach Falaise. The Poles and the Canadians fought together on Operations Totalize (August 7th-10th) and Tractable (August 14th-16th). On August 19th, 1944, the 1st Polish Armoured Division found itself ahead of the 1st Canadian Army as it was about to attempt its great thrust forward in order to close the Falaise Gap. The following day, cut off from the Canadian troops, several Polish combat units faced the German Army in bloody combat around Chambois and on Hill 262 ("Maczuga"). Despite the lack of supplies and heavy casualties, the Polish troops held fast until August 21st, when they were finally relieved by Canadian forces.

After a few days' rest, Maczek and his men joined the Canadians who were marching towards the Seine, and later in August and in September towards the Somme, Antwerp and the Scheldt. On September 28th, 1944, the 1st Polish Armoured Division was placed under British command and redeployed in the Maas sector.

Under Maczek, the 1st Polish Armoured Division joined II Canadian Corps on April 8th, 1945, for its final push towards the North Sea, through the Netherlands and Germany. The Poles reached Wilhemshaven, the Kriegsmarine's stronghold. In May 1945, Maczek was promoted to Lieutenant-General and placed in charge of I Polish Corps stationed in Scotland.

The end of World War II brought no happy ending for Maczek and his Polish troops. They had been willing to sacrifice their lives for the freedom of their fatherland, but it seemed to have escaped Nazi invaders only to fall under Soviet domination. Once demobilized, Maczek chose Great Britain as his country of adoption and settled in Edinburgh. In 1961, he published his memoirs under the title of Od podwody do Czolga. General Maczek died in 1994, at the ripe age of 102; he is buried in the Polish military cemetery of Breda in the Netherlands.

Links:

See "Poland's Brilliant World War II Leader, General Stanislaw Maczek" by Stan Z. Biernacik, on the Polish American Journal website.

See "'BACA', Gen. Stanislaw Maczek (1892-1994)", the Green Devils Legion website (in Polish).