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Władysław Bortnowski (1891-1966) was a Polish historian, military commander and one of the highest ranking generals of the Polish Army. He is most famous as the commander of the Pomorze Army to take part in the battle of Bzura during the invasion of Poland in 1939.

Bortnowski was born November 12, 1891 in Radom, Congress Poland, Russian Empire. After graduating from a gymnasium in Zhytomir he joined the Jagiellonian University of Kraków and graduated from its medical faculty. A member of both the Związek Walki Czynnej and Związek Strzelecki, he received officer's training in the latter. After the outbreak of the Great War he joined the Polish Legions and commanded a platoon in the ranks of the 1st Infantry Regiment. A promising officer, in the rank of Second Lieutenant he became the commanding officer of a company of 5th Infantry Regiment and then an adjutant of the 7th Regiment. Wounded in the battle of Łowczówek, after the Oath Crisis of 1917 he was arrested and interned in the POW camp in Beniaminów.

After Poland was re-established following World War I, Bortnowski joined its Armed Forces and was verified in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. In December he became the operations officer of the Polish 1st Legions Infantry Division, composed mostly of his colleagues of the Polish Legions. A veteran of both the Polish-Ukrainian War and the Polish-Bolshevik War, in October 1920 he became the chief of staff of the 3rd Army under Zygmunt Zieliński. After the cease-fire, in November of that year he was sent to Paris, where he received training at the Ecole Superieure de Guerre. In 1922 he graduated and returned to Poland, where he received further practice at various posts, notably in the staff of the Army Inspectorate in Wilno (modern Vilnius, Lithuania). On August 15, 1924 he was promoted to the rank of Colonel and in October of the following year he became the commanding officer of the Kutno-based 37th Infantry Regiment. After the May Coup d'État, in November 1926 he became the commander of infantry of the 26th Infantry Division and then, since 1931 the Zamość-based 3rd Legions Infantry Regiment, one of the most prestigious units of the Polish Army. On January 1, 1932 he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General. From October 12 until March 28, 1938, He served as an Inspector General of the Armed Forces at Toruń.

In the autumn of 1938 Bortnowski was nominated to the command of Zaolzie Operational Group which occupied the Zaolzie area of Czechoslovakia after the Munich Agreement. After the success of the operation, he was appointed to the General Staff as the Army Inspector. Prior to the outbreak of the Polish Defensive War, on March 1, 1939, he was promoted to the rank of Division General and became the commanding officer of the Pomorze Army, the northernmost of the Polish armies to take part in the war. Despite difficult situation resulting from the orders of the Marshal of Poland Edward Rydz-Śmigły, he managed to save a large part of his forces and withdraw with them southwards, to take part in the Battle of Bzura. Heavily wounded in the battle, on September 21 he was taken prisoner of war by the Germans. He spent the rest of World War II in various Nazi POW camps, including Oflag IV-B Koenigstein, Oflag VIII-E Johannisbrunn and finally the Oflag VII-A Murnau. Liberated in 1945, he remained in exile after the war. Initially in Great Britain, in 1954 he moved to the United States. He died November 21, 1966 in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.

Honours and awards[]

Among the military decorations he received are:


  • Konrad Ciechanowski,Armia "Pomorze" 1939,Warszawa, 1983.
  • Jerzy Kirchmayer: Pamiętniki, Warszawa, 1987.
  • Tadeusz Kryska-Karski i Stanisław Żurakowski, Generałowie Polski Niepodległej, Warszawa, 1991.
  • Kazimierz Pindel, Obrona Narodowa 1937-1939, Warszawa, 1979.
  • Piotr Stawecki, Słownik biograficzny generałów Wojska Polskiego 1918-1939, Warszawa 1994.
  • General Wladyslaw Bortnowskiego Archive in the collections of the Institute Piłsudskiego
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