Polish Exile Armies, 1939–45: Manpower and Military Effectiveness

  • Paul Latawski


From the end of the eighteenth century, Polish armies in exile have been a re-occurring feature in the military history of Poland. The final partition of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795 created conditions that were particularly conducive to the birth of such formations. The combination of statelessness, movements for national liberation and willing foreign patrons meant that Polish armed struggles to recover an independent state often took place on foreign soil. The earliest of these exile armies were Napoleon’s Polish legions. Between 1797 and 1807 some 20,000 troops fought for the French emperor.1 One of their marching songs, the Dabrowski mazurka, had lyrics that spoke of returning from ‘the Italian lands to Poland’ (ziemi Wloski do Polski). It would become in due course Poland’s national anthem. If the Dabrowski mazurka demonstrates the centrality of the exile army to Polish historical consciousness, then the story of the destruction of Polish exile units in 1802–03 in Napoleon’s efforts to pacify Santo Domingo in the Caribbean provides a salutary lesson on the consequences of linking national struggles to cynical foreign patrons.2


Polish Officer Polish Force Polish Community Soviet Authority German Army 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2005

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  • Paul Latawski

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