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A Question of Honor: The Kosciuszko Squadron: The Forgotten Heroes of World War IIby Lynne Olson and Stanley Cloud
We first found out about the Polish pilots flying for Britain about ten years ago, when we were doing research on the Battle of Britain for our first book, The Murrow Boys. Specifically, we watched an old British movie called The Battle of Britain which had a couple of scenes featuring Polish pilots. Neither of us had any idea that Poles had fought for the British, and Lynne tucked that little nugget of information in the back of her mind. A few years later, at a Washington dinner party, we met a woman whose father had been a Polish pilot with the RAF during the war. She told wonderful stories about her father and other Polish fliers, and we realized, in talking to her, that the Poles had continued playing a vital role in the war long after the battle. We thought then that their story very much deserved telling ? it was a wonderful adventure story, full of brave and dashing young men who had escaped from their own country to fight for the freedom of France and then England. But even more important was the fact that they played a crucial role in the Battle of Britain: many British officials credited the Poles, particularly the men of the Kosciuszko Squadron, with making the difference between victory and defeat .
But when we finally began doing serious research, we realized that the story of the Poles during World War II was far richer and more complicated than we had imagined. For one thing, the importance of the Poles? contribution to the Allied victory went far beyond what the pilots did. Nearly two hundred thousand Polish troops fought on the Allied side during the campaigns in North Africa, Italy, France, Belgium and Germany. In May 1944, Polish forces were responsible for storming and finally capturing Monte Cassino, which opened the road to Rome. Polish cryptographers were, to a large extent, responsible for the most important intelligence coup of the war: they were the ones who initially cracked the Germans? Enigma code and then turned over their findings to the British, paving the way for the legendary codebreaking system called Ultra. And that wasn?t all. In Nazi-occupied Poland, the Polish underground was spectacularly successful in sabotaging German supply and troop transports and in providing crucial intelligence to the Allies about the Germans? order of battle on the eastern front, as well as about German troop and ship movements, and armament and industrial production.
What the Poles did during the war, in short, was amazing ? and vital to the Allied victory. And yet, with all the attention paid to World War II in the past decade, almost nobody in this country (except Polish Americans) know what the Poles did, and what they suffered during the war. It?s really one of the great epics of the war, full of adventure and drama, triumph and glory, betrayal and tragedy ? and it?s been almost completely ignored. One main reason, we think, is because what happened to Poland during and after the war does not reflect well on its two major Western allies ? the U.S. and Britain. Regardless of the Poles? many contributions to victory, they did not get their country back, despite repeated promises by Winston Churchill guaranteeing Poland?s postwar independence. Instead, Churchill and Roosevelt, in effect, handed Poland over to the control of Joseph Stalin and the Soviets, who historically have been Poland?s most bitter enemy.
After the war, the story of Poland during World War II was defined by others?notably Russia, which had a long record of distorting Polish history, but now also by the West. In many of the most prominent memoirs and histories, Poland, the catalyst of World War II, was treated at best as a rather pitiful victim and at worst as little more than a footnote. The repeated failures of the Allies to come to Poland?s assistance were minimized, as were the important contributions of the Polish armed forces to winning the war.
The Allies owe an enormous debt to the Poles for their victory in World War II, a debt that has never been acknowledged. We have written our book to bring Poland out of the shadows, to give her people the enormous credit that is due them.
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History and Social Science » Military » World War II » Europe » Aviation