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Stanisław Sosabowski
Born (1892-05-08)8 May 1892
Died 25 September 1967(1967-09-25) (aged 75)
Place of birth Stanisławów, Galicia, Austria–Hungary (now Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine)
Place of death Hillingdon, United Kingdom
Buried at Powązki Military Cemetery, Warsaw
Allegiance Austria-Hungary Austro–Hungarian Empire
Poland Poland
Service/branch Austro-Hungarian Army
Polish Land Forces
Years of service 1913–1946
Rank Generał brygady (Major General)

World War I
Polish-Bolshevik War
World War II

Awards Order Virtuti Militari III class Order Odrodzenia Polski II class Order Order Odrodzenia Polski V class Krzyż Niepodległości Cross of the Valorous Golden Cross of Merit with Swords Order of the British Empire (CBE) Dutch Bronze Lion
Medal Wojska za Wojnę 1939–45; Officer's Medal of the Active Combatants Association; Academic Laurels from The Polish Academy of Science; Freeman of the Municipality of Heteren
Other work Factory worker

Stanisław Franciszek Sosabowski CBE (Polish pronunciation: [staˈɲiswaf sɔsaˈbɔfskʲi]; 8 May 1892 – 25 September 1967) was a Polish general in World War II. He fought in the Battle of Arnhem (Netherlands) in 1944 as commander of the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade.


Early years

Stanisław Sosabowski was born on 8 May 1892, in Stanisławów, in a railway workers' family. He graduated from a local gymnasium and in 1910 he was accepted as a student of the faculty of economy of the University of Kraków. However, the death of his father and poor economical situation of his family forced him to abandon the studies and return to Stanisławów. There he became a member of Drużyny Strzeleckie, a semi-clandestine Polish national paramilitary organisation. He was soon promoted to the head of all Polish Scouting groups in the area.[citation needed]

World War I

In 1913, Sosabowski was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian Army. After training, he was promoted to the rank of corporal, serving in the 58th Infantry Regiment. After the outbreak of World War I he fought with his unit against the Imperial Russian Army in the battles of Rzeszów, Dukla Pass and Gorlice. For his bravery, he was awarded several medals and promoted to First Lieutenant. In 1915, he was badly wounded in action and withdrawn from the front.

In November 1918, after Poland regained its independence Sosabowski volunteered for the newly formed Polish Army, but his wounds were still not healed and he was rejected as a front-line officer. Instead, he became a staff officer in the Ministry of War Affairs in Warsaw.

Inter-war years

After the Polish-Soviet War Sosabowski was promoted to Major and in 1922 he started his studies at the Higher Military School in Warsaw. After he finished his studies he was assigned to the Polish General Staff. Promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, in 1928 he was finally assigned to a front-line unit, the 75th Infantry Regiment, as commanding officer of a battalion. The following year he was assigned to the 3rd Podhale Rifles Regiment as its deputy commander. From 1930 he was also a professor of logistics at his alma mater.

In 1937 Sosabowski was promoted to colonel and became the commanding officer of the 9th Polish Legions Infantry Regiment stationed in Zamość. In January 1939 he became the commander of the prestigious Warsaw-based 21st "Children of Warsaw" Infantry Regiment.

Invasion of Poland

According to the Polish mobilisation scheme, Sosabowski's regiment was attached to the 8th Infantry Division under Col. Teodor Furgalski. Shortly before the German invasion of Poland started his unit was moved from its garrison in the Warsaw Citadel to the area of Ciechanów, where it was planned as a strategic reserve of the Modlin Army.

On 2 September the division was moved towards Mława and in the early morning of the following day it entered combat in the Battle of Mława. Although the 21st Regiment managed to capture Przasnysz and its secondary objectives, the rest of the division was surrounded by the Wehrmacht and destroyed. After that Sosabowski ordered his troops to retreat towards Warsaw.

On 8 September Sosabowski's unit reached the Modlin Fortress. The routed 8th Division was being reconstructed, but the 21st Regiment was attached to the corps led by general Juliusz Zulauf. After several days of defensive fights, the corps was moved to Warsaw, where it arrived on 15 September.

Instantly upon arrival, Sosabowski was ordered to man the Grochów and the Kamionek defensive area and defend Praga, the eastern borough of Warsaw, against the German 10th Infantry Division. During the Siege of Warsaw the forces of Sosabowski were outmanned and outgunned, but managed to hold all their objectives. When the general assault on Praga started on 16 September, the 21st Infantry Regiment managed to repel the attacks of German 23rd Infantry Regiment and then successfully counter-attacked and destroyed the enemy unit.

After this success, Sosabowski was assigned to command all Polish troops fighting in the area of Grochów. Despite constant bombardment and German attacks repeated every day, Sosabowski managed to hold his objectives at relatively low cost in manpower. On 26 September 1939, the forces led by Sosabowski bloodily repelled the last German attack, but two days later Warsaw capitulated. On 29 September, shortly before the Polish forces left Warsaw for German captivity, General Juliusz Rómmel awarded Col. Sosabowski and the whole 21st Infantry Regiment with the Virtuti Militari medal.


Following the Polish surrender, Sosabowski was a prisoner of war, and was interned at a camp near Żyrardów. However, he escaped and remained in Warsaw under a false name, where he joined the Polish resistance. He was ordered to leave Poland and reach France with important reports on the situation in occupied Poland. After a long trip through Hungary and Romania, he arrived in Paris, where the Polish government in exile assigned him to the Polish 4th Infantry Division as the commanding officer of infantry.

Initially, the French authorities were very reluctant to hand over the badly needed equipment and armament for the Polish unit. The soldiers of Sosabowski had to train with pre-World War I weapons. In April 1940, the division was moved to a training camp in Parthenay and was finally handed the weapons that were awaited since January, but it was already too late to organise the division. Out of more than 11,000 soldiers, only 3,150 were given arms. Knowing this, the commander of the division General Rudolf Dreszer ordered his unit to withdraw towards the Atlantic coast. On 19 June 1940, Sosabowski with approximately 6,000 Polish soldiers arrived to La Pallice, from where they were evacuated to Great Britain.

Great Britain

Upon his arrival in London, Sosabowski turned up at the Polish General Staff and was assigned to 4th Rifles Brigade that was to become a core of the future 4th Infantry Division. The unit was to be composed mainly from Polish Canadians, but it soon became apparent that there were not enough young Poles in Canada to create a division out of them.

Then, Sosabowski decided to transform his brigade into a Parachute Brigade, the first such unit in the Polish Army. The volunteers came from all the formations of the Polish Army. In Largo House, a training camp was built and the parachute training was started. Sosabowski himself passed the training and, at 49 years of age, made his first parachute jumps. According to relations of Sosabowski's former subordinates, the colonel was a strict yet just commander. Impulsive and harsh, Sosabowski could not stand any opposition. This made the creation of a Polish parachute brigade possible, but also made contacts with his superiors problematic.

In October 1942 the brigade was ready for combat and was named the 1st Independent Parachute Brigade. Since the Polish General Staff planned to use the brigade to aid the all-national uprising in Poland, the soldiers of the 1st Polish Para were to be the first element of the Polish Army in Exile to reach their homeland. Hence the unofficial motto of the unit: the shortest way (najkrótszą drogą).

In September 1943, Lieutenant General Frederick Browning proposed that Sosabowski reform his unit into a division and fill the remaining posts with Englishmen. Sosabowski himself would be assigned to the newly formed division and promoted to general. However, Sosabowski refused. Nevertheless, on 15 June 1944 he was promoted to Brigadier General.

Warsaw Uprising

In early August 1944, news of the Warsaw Uprising arrived in Great Britain. The brigade was ready to be paradropped into Warsaw to aid their colleagues from the Home Army, who were fighting a desperate battle against overwhelming odds. However, the distance was too great for the transport aircraft to make a round trip and access to Soviet airfields was denied. The morale of the Polish troops suffered badly, and many of the units verged on mutiny. The British staff threatened its Polish counterpart with disarmament of the brigade, but Sosabowski retained control of his unit. Finally, Polish Commander in Chief Kazimierz Sosnkowski put the brigade under British command, and the plans to send it to Warsaw were abandoned. It was not until after the war that general Sosabowski learnt that his son, Stanisław "Stasinek" Sosabowski, a medic and member of the Kedyw, had lost his sight during the uprising.

Battle of Arnhem

The Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade was included among the Allied forces taking part in Operation Market Garden. Due to a critical shortage of transport aircraft, the brigade was split into several parts before entering the battle. A small part of the brigade with Sosabowski was dropped near Driel on 19 September, but it was not until 21 September when the rest of the brigade finally arrived in the distant town of Grave, falling directly into the waiting guns of the Germans camped out around the area. The Brigade's artillery was dropped together with the British 1st Airborne Division and the howitzers were to arrive by sea transport. This prevented the Polish forces from being used effectively. Three times Poles under Sosabowski tried to force the Rhine crossing in order to help the surrounded 1st Airborne. However, the ferry they planned to use to reach the British had been sunk and Poles attempted the river crossing in small rubber boats under heavy fire. Nevertheless, at least 200 men succeeded in crossing and reinforcing the embattled British.

Despite the difficult situation on the front, during a 24 September staff meeting, Sosabowski suggested that the battle could have still been won. He suggested that the combined forces of 30th Corps and the Polish Brigade should start an all-out assault on the German positions and try to break through the Rhine. This plan was not accepted, and during the last phase of the battle, on 25 and 26 September, Sosabowski led his men southwards and shielded the retreat of remnants of the 1st Airborne. The rate of casualties among the Polish units that fought in the battle was high, in some cases as high as 40%. At least in part, the heavy casualties were the result of Browning's decision to drop the paratroops into a position located 7 kilometres from the bridge.

Gen. Sosabowski (left) with Gen. Browning.

He was portrayed by Gene Hackman in the movie A Bridge Too Far.[1]

After the battle, on 5 October 1944, Sosabowski received a letter from Montgomery, where he described Polish soldiers as fighting bravely and offered Sosabowski to award 10 of his soldiers. On 14 October 1944, Montgomery wrote another letter, this time to British commanders, where he made Sosabowski a scapegoat for the failure of Operation Market Garden. Sosabowski was accused of criticising Field Marshal Montgomery and the Polish General Staff was forced to remove him as the commanding officer of his brigade on 27 December 1944. He was made the commander of guard troops and in July 1948 he was demobilised.

After the war

Shortly after the war Sosabowski managed to bring his only son and his wife from Poland. Like many other Polish wartime leaders and soldiers exiled from communist Poland he settled down, working in West London. He found a job as a factory worker in the CAV Electrics assembly plant in Acton.[2] He died in London on 25 September 1967. It has been suggested that friends and associates with whom he lived and worked in England were largely unaware of his military accomplishments until they attended his funeral, at which his full rank and achievements were read out.

In 1969 his remains were interred in the Powązki Military Cemetery in Warsaw, Poland.

In The Hague, on Wednesday 31 May 2006, Queen Beatrix awarded the Military Order of William to the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade. The commander of the Brigade, the late Major General Stanisław Sosabowski, despite pressure from the British diplomacy,[3] was awarded the "Bronze Lion" posthumously.[4] This happening was the result of a documentary on Dutch TV depicting the Brigade and its commander as having played a heroic and much more significant role in Market Garden than was acknowledged so far. In this film by Geertjan Lassche, Dutch Prince Bernhard said the Polish deserved to be honoured with at least a medal.

The following day, on 1 June, a ceremony was held at Driel, the town where the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade fought. Among the speakers at the ceremony were the mayor of the municipality of Overbetuwe, as well as Sosabowski's grandson and great-grandson.


He was awarded many military honours, including:


See also


  • George F. Cholewczynski (1993). Poles Apart. Sarpedon Publishers. ISBN 1-85367-165-7. 
  • George F. Cholewczynski (1990). De Polen van Driel. Uitgeverij Lunet. ISBN 90-71743-10-1. 
  • Stanislaw Sosabowski (1982). Freely I served. Battery Press Inc. ISBN 0-89839-061-3. 
  • Juliusz L Englert and Krzysztof Barbarski (1996). General Sosabowski/Major Sosabowski. Caldra House. ISBN 0-85065-224-3. 
  • Honor Generała – documentary TV POLONIA 2008, directed by Joanna Pieciukiewicz

External links

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