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Posted on Apr 24, 2007 in Carlo D'Este, Front Page Features

The Valiant Poles – Pt 3

By Carlo D'Este

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A typical scene of carnage in the aftermath of the ferocious
battles fought around the villages of Turn and Chambois during
the battle of the Falaise gap

On August 19, the U.S. 90th Division joined the hard-pressed Canadians at Chambois and the gap was finally closed. Those Germans who had escaped were bombed, strafed and harassed as they attempted to find sanctuary east of the Seine. Except for mopping-up operations, the battle of Normandy was over. The Allies had won an overwhelming victory. The Poles, who months earlier had been guarding useless Scottish coastline had established themselves as a superb fighting force. The battle of Mount Ormel was in its own way revenge for what was then occurring in Warsaw, where an uprising to liberate the city was underway by Gen. Bor Komorowski’s Polish Underground Home Army resistance forces against the Nazis. The Polish resistance faced a German garrison that soon numbered 30,000 men. Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, ordered the extermination of everyone in Warsaw and decreed that every building be leveled. Against planes, tanks and artillery, the Poles valiantly resisted for sixty-three days, but lacking sufficient weapons, ultimately in vain.

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In the spring of 1984, a letter arrived on my doorstep, postmarked London. It was from a veteran of the Polish 1st Armored. He had read my book, Decision in Normandy, published a short time earlier, and was inviting my wife and I to attend the division’s 40th reunion, which was being held in the city of Argentan in August. We would first be his guests in London, and then travel to Normandy for the reunion. We eagerly accepted.

Our host turned out to be a charming, very successful businessman and we were lavishly hosted in his London home. A few days later we boarded a train to Dover, where a Hovercraft sped us across the Channel to Calais. For the next week we enjoyed a unique experience as part of a bittersweet reunion of old comrades. That experience included retracing the route of the lead reconnaissance elements of the 1st Armored in the company of one of its former officers. Our journey took us to a farmyard where Polish Shermans routed over a thousand Germans, then to Mount Ormel. Standing on this one-time battleground – a proving ground for Polish courage and unmatched combat ability — our friend recalled in stark detail the desperate battle for survival fought there.

Next month’s final installment in this series will retrace his 1944 odyssey and describe a solemn day of remembrance held on this forgotten Polish battlefield.

[i] A complete list can be found here. 

[ii] The story of the Falaise gap is still controversial and will be the subject of a future article.

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