When the North Korean army moved towards Seoul on June 25, 1950, the world held its breath. This was great news for the Polish authorities in exile – there was hope for the renunciation of the communist dictatorship in Poland.
After the end of World War II, Polish soldiers who sacrificially fought in the ranks of Allied armies suddenly became a ballast for the British and Americans who were setting up a new global order with Stalin. On the one hand, the Polish Armed Forces in the West played too important a role to simply demobilise them and send them back to the country occupied by the communists. On the other hand, Labour politicians who took the lead in the UK feared that the war-torn British economy would not bear such a burden. The Polish authorities, in turn, both political and military ones, resisted the demobilisation of Polish troops in the West. Among the Poles in exile, there was a widespread belief in the imminent outbreak of World War III, in which the PAF were to play a significant role of liberators from the communist yoke not only in Poland, but also in other countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
Various projects for the use of Polish soldiers were presented to the Allies before this was to take place. The Chief of Staff of the Commander-in-Chief, Major General Stanisław Kopański, proposed that a Polish military contingent be deployed to support the American army in the war with Japan, still unresolved in 1945. Other plans included organising Polish forces to occupy the defeated Germany. It was even proposed to turn the PAF into a kind of French Foreign Legion that would support the British army in its colonial conflicts.
All these initiatives were aimed at preserving the integrity and combat capability of the Polish army. Unfortunately, it did not last long. In the spring of 1946, the British authorities decided to demobilise Polish soldiers, and the Polish Armed Forces were transformed into the Polish Resettlement Corps (PRC).
Officially, the Polish Armed Forces were disbanded in 1947, but unofficially their skeleton structures, the so-called nuclei, were preserved. The Minister of National Defence, the Commander-in-Chief, the Inspector General of the Armed Forces, the Union of the Chief Staff, the army command in the form of secretariats of the branch circles and the Sapper Command and the Communications Command continued to operate. The secretariats served as the latter two bodies. The disbanded military units de facto functioned in the form of 74 troop groups and one regular unit – the Young Brigade Group “Pogoń” [Polish: Brygadowe Koło Młodych]. The skeleton structure of the army was complemented by liaison officers operating in western countries. Their main task was to unofficially maintain contacts between the Polish military authorities and headquarters or high-ranking officers from the West.
The most important and, at the same time, the most secret of the aforementioned military organs was the General Staff Nucleus [Polish: Zawiązek Sztabu Głównego]. It is not even possible to set a starting date for the work of this strictly underground cell. It was probably the year 1947. It consisted of 20 officers subordinate to the general inspector of the armed forces, Lieutenant General Władysław Anders. The most important role in the organisation of the Union was played by the planning department headed by Colonel Henryk Piątkowski. The task of officers sworn in by General Anders in the Nucleus was to develop variants of possible reactivation of the Polish army in the West and to observe the geopolitical situation in which such a possibility could arise. After the Berlin blockade, the first great crisis of the Cold War in 1948-1949, especially after the outbreak of the Korean War, the Polish military unanimously stated that this long-awaited moment had taken place.
A Voice in the US
It was then decided to remind the United States, which took on the greatest burden in the Korean war waged by UN forces, of Poland. In the autumn of 1950, General Anders flew across the pond, paying an official visit. He tried to draw the attention of the local political and military authorities to the importance of Polish emigration, both in the context of the Cold War and a possible new world conflict.
It was expected that the Polish general would establish contacts and raise funds for military and political activities. However, the most hoped for the reactivation of the Polish Armed Forces. It was also one of the main points of the visit’s agenda. Anders proposed the establishment of a Polish military contingent in Western Europe, that would comprise 100,000 soldiers, to the U.S. heads of defence.
Despite many declarations and manifestations of sympathy for the Polish cause, Anders’s October visit to North America did not bring the expected results. From American politicians and military, the general received neither consent to establish Polish military formations, nor financial support. Its only positive effect was that the Americans were reminded of Poland’s problems and became aware that Polish emigration still had considerable political and military potential. However, Washington wanted to use it for its own political purposes. That is why, like the British or French, it was two-faced with the Polish authorities. On the one hand, the emigrants were coquetted with promises, while, on the other hand, there was no intention to break off contacts with the communist government in Warsaw.
Hope Dies Last
Despite this vicious circle, Anders and his staff did not give up their attempts to reconstruct the PAF in the West. After the failure of his visit to the United States, the general changed his tactics and established closer contacts with the military representatives of Central European countries, especially with Ukrainians. The outcome of these meetings was a consensus on the establishment of national armies within NATO recruiting refugees from behind the Iron Curtain.
A special memorandum dated 31 July 1951 was then prepared and submitted by Anders to the headquarters of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander Europe. Earlier, in the first half of 1951, he had instructed his staff to draw the so-called aide-mémoire, concerning the formation of military units consisting of former soldiers and refugees from the countries of Central and Eastern Europe under the Soviet reign as part of the North Atlantic Treaty. This document, supplemented by Anders’s suggestions recorded during his visit to Washington, was sent to the Council of Deputies in London. There was also Anders’s memorandum, but both documents did not affect any binding decisions on the matter. However, General Anders did not resign this time either, and on 15 March 1952 he sent a second memorandum to NATO. Unfortunately, it also shared the fate of earlier initiatives.
The indefatigable general, however, still tried to make the West interested in reactivating the Polish army. He talked about it, inter alia, with his former superior from the Italian front, Marshal Harold Rupert Alexander, Congressman Charles J. Kersten or General Alfred M. Gruenther, commander-in-chief of the NATO Joint Armed Forces in Europe in 1953-1956. However, no one was interested in reconstructing the Polish Armed Forces nor other armies recruiting Central European nations, which could upset the balance of power in Europe, and thus turn the Cold War into the hottest, because nuclear, clash of two opposing global blocs. Although Anders was suggested to set up small sabotage troops or intelligence networks in the USSR states, he was against it. He also approached initiatives aimed at changing Polish veterans into mercenaries with a similar attitude.
The end of the Korean War in 1953 brought relaxation in relations between the powers and the reactivation of the PAF could not be discussed anymore. However, the efforts of General Władysław Anders prove that he saw a role for Poland in allied structures already in the first years of NATO’s existence. Therefore, some historians rightly consider General Anders’s memorandum of 31 July 1951 as Poland’s first attempt to join NATO.
autor zdjęć: NAC