In the middle of the battle of Falaise, on 19 August 1944, I was sent to General Maczek, Commander of the 1st Polish Armoured Division - under somewhat dramatic circumstances - as a British liaison officer, writes Michael A. Thomas [further to the obituary by Adam Zamoyski, 13 December].
My predecessor had fallen the day before and I was to board my jeep the same night: "I can tell you only approximately where his tactical HQ would be at the moment," said Brigadier Peto. "The Poles being more daring than any other unit are usually far ahead and probably cut off somewhere."
Passing through heavy German fire, I finally found the general at noon the next day. Indeed, he was cut off and the German lines were only a few hundred yards away. The stocky man, short necked with a peasant face not unlike the Polish Pope, looked at m e briefly: "I not need [sic] liaison officers I need ammunition." Then he ordered his three HQ tanks, which did not possess a single round, to circle around the hill in front of his headquarters to give the Germans the impression of the presence of overwh elming armour, like extras on the stage.
He was the born troop commander more than a staff officer. Forceful, humorous, intelligent, imaginative, crafty even, and immensely brave. He hardly ever stayed in his ACV (Armoured Control Vehicle) but usually went forward in his command tank directing the battle from the forward line as in former centuries. At night, like his men, he slept underneath his tank.
Although a strict disciplinarian he was adored by officers and men. He was generous, far-sighted and any pettiness was alien to him. With all his ardour to beat the Germans, revenge was not in his mind, only the restoration of his beloved Polish Fatherland. Indescribable was his despair when he and his men learnt that Poland had been virtually abandoned at Yalta. Nevertheless, they remained indomitable in their loyalty to the Allied cause, but demanded to pursue the enemy into his heartland until final victory.
Maczek's personal integrity and soldierly philsophy was unrivalled. He would explode if he heard of any plundering: "My long years in war have taught me that not even the most insignificant plundering could be tolerated. A soldier who starts with that, ends up as a coward. His life, that he risks at all times, becomes suddenly exaggeratedly precious to him."
His relationship with Montgomery remained cool. He never forgave Monty his crude joke that Maczek, born in Lemberg, would become a Soviet general after Lemberg had fallen to the Russians. Equally, he resented Monty's naive question of whether the Poles spoke German or Russian at home.
In Britain's post-war financial situation the government was unwilling to grant pensions to their Allied Polish officers, not even to Maczek. (His outstanding staff officer Colonel Stankiewicz, was forced to earn his living as a garage hand.) It was the
Dutch who honoured Maczek, the liberator of Breda, with a generous life pension. It is in Breda where this great soldier will be buried.
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