The Founding Core Of The 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade
- The 4th Polish Cadre Rifle Brigade
In 1940 France was taken over by the Nazis. General Sosabowski (who ran an artillery training school there), leaves France in June 1940 (around 6000 soldiers left with him) and arrives via the frigate “Abderpool” into Plymouth on 22 June 1940.
There, he catches a train to Glasgow (It's not clear if the troops went with him) and eventually ends up setting up camp with troops at Elioch Castle near Glasgow. In the war, the British Army easily acquired property for training purposes from landowners etc. It would appear that his troops were then sent to North East Scotland at this point, to set up defences.
At this point, General Sosabowski also sets up a saboteur unit at Inverlochie Castle on the west coast of Scotland. These will be trained, sent to Poland and specialise in espionage, sabotage and silent murder. (This was the early beginnings of the Cichociemni that would train at Largo House in Upper Largo, Fife, RAF Ringway and Audley End). We don't know if this group was ever directly sent to Largo House, Upper Largo, Fife and then Audley End, but the concept itself was born with this unit.
In October 1940 the troop unit at Elioch Castle is renamed to "4th Officers Cadre Brigade" or The 4th Polish Cadre Rifle Brigade and they move to Largo House In Fife and set about defending the East Neuk Coastline from Buckhaven to Crail, in Fife, by digging trenches, putting concrete bollards in etc.
The troops though were often left to languish, with no plan of how to deploy them, they sat around waiting to be re-assigned. Discipline, as well as low morale, were a huge problem. Absences without leave, fights, drunkenness, boredom and frustration were everyday issues at the camp. This was made worse by operations being planned for, trained for, then abandoned. General Sosabowski would have witnessed this issue with moral and it would have concerned him greatly.
In February 1941, the London office tells General Sosabowski that he can send 20 officers to do a four-week parachute training course at an airborne training centre in Cheshire – The Ringway Airfield, AKA "RAF Ringway" (now the site of Manchester International Airport).
The men came back enthused but admitted that they were being asked to do things beyond their strength. They also struggled with the British system of training that disregarded rank, the poles felt this was disrespectful. General Sosabowski started to realise that here they were, in the UK, getting nowhere, whilst poles back home were actively fighting the Germans.
According to his book, he was alone in the YMCA in Leven, Fife, thinking about this when he decided they had to be far more pro-active about it and made up his mind to form a Polish Parachute Brigade. He decided that the 20 men who had come back from RAF Ringway would act as unit heroes, encouraging others to try it out. Some sources say all the parachutists were volunteers, however, General Sosabowski in his book indicates that some were conscripted in because "bravery was not optional".
Officially, his unit was The 4th Polish Cadre Rifle Brigade there to defend the Firth of Forth from invaders, however unofficially they were starting to organise and train as a parachute Cadre Brigade.
According to the book "Audley End, Station 43", most of the initial Cichociemni came from the initial volunteers that parachuted at Kincraig point, Earlsferry, Fife, in other words, the 4th Polish Cadre Rifle Brigade.
Some of the troops at the transit camp in Auchtertool, Fife, join his parachute regiment and are then added to with other Polish army units, formed in the USSR, and evacuated through the Middle East to the camp as well as other volunteers from other parts of the world including volunteers from the 2nd Grenadier Battalion.
At the same time, something interesting was happening at RAF Ringway…
RAF Ringway, Manchester, 1940/41
Since 1940 RAF Ringway had been the venue for RAF parachute training. It is most likely the first Cichociemni ("The Silent Killers") were trained there , with final training at Audley End "Station 43", (and not Largo House, Fife) because the first members of the Cichociemni landed in occupied Poland the night of February 15 to 16, 1941 which was before training at Largo House was underway as that commenced June 1941.
On 15 February 1941 RAF Ringway became an independent parachute training school and this in turn allowed General Sosabowski to send his troops there for training.
By mid 1941 it was noted that the Polish soldiers that trained there were weak from malnutrition, years of imprisonment in soviet labor camps along with a higher than average age for a paratrooper. So the need for a specific training regime for them to be formed was recognized.
It was at this point that Largo House in Upper Largo, Fife, was secured as the training grounds for them, initially being the 4th Polish Cadre Rifle Brigade who trained there.
The training at Ringway involved going to a large hanger called "Kilkenny's Circus" where they would be grouped up then transported to Tatton Park where there was a balloon whose rise and fall was controlled by a winch on a lorry. There was usually a YMCA van supplying hot food and drinks there as well.
Where The 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade Was Born
- Kincraig Point, Earlsferry, Fife, Scotland
By Sept 1941 there had been such an enthusiastic number of volunteers to the unit (presumably not just from the 4th Polish Cadre Rifle Brigade but also other soldiers who had joined them, probably back at the distribution camp in Auchtertool, Fife) who had gone through basic training that airborne exercises started to be carried out in the form of an assault on Kincraig Battery, Shell Bay, Earlsferry, Fife, Scotland.
Also at Kincraig Battery, Shell Bay, Earlsferry, Fife, were the 4th Polish Cadre Rifle Brigade protecting Buckhaven to Crail coastline (having arrived in the UK in June 1940) whom were sent to Largo Bay and Shell Bay in October 1940 to defend the North East Fife coastline and also for instruction as a cadre unit).
On 23 Sept 1941 at Kincraig Battery, Fife, Polish parachutists flew in 12 planes from what is now Manchester Airport (RAF Ringway) and dropped around Shell Bay, Earlsferry, Fife, for an assault exercise on Kincraig Battery, watched by Polish and UK generals as well as Lord Elgin. General Sosabowski along with General Sikorski was there too.
What was formed there was quite outstanding...
What Is The Best Way To Get To Kincraig Battery (Kincraig Point)?
Kincraig Point is best accessed from Shell Bay Caravan Park outside Elie, Fife, Scotland. You can park up there outside the main area then walk to the foot of the cliff. Go over the wooden bridge and then follow the path along the cliff. You will eventually reach Kincraig Battery, the place where the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade (1 Samodzielna Brygada Spadochronowa) was officially formed.
Announcing A New Polish Unit
- Formation Of The 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade
Because Polish soldiers were forced out of Poland in Sept/Oct 1939 it was their deep longing and determination to return to Poland as a lightning force and repay on Polish soil for their defeat and humiliation. This desire was in every polish soldiers mind and heart and it was likely that this desire (of General Sosabowski's) suddenly saw an outlet on 23 Sept 1941.
On 23 Sept 1941, General Sikorski who was present at Kincaig point with General Sosabowski, was so impressed with the 4th Polish Cadre Rifle Brigades parachuting skills that he announced "As from today you will be called the 1st Independent Parachute Brigade. When the hour comes you will like victorious eagles swoop down upon our foe and you will be the first to fight back in our motherland".
When this announcement was made, essentially the 4th Polish Cadre Rifle Brigade became dissolved and rebranded as the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade.
Therefore the 23rd Sept 1941 is regarded as the birth date of the unit and General Sosabowski as it's founder. The founding place of the unit therefore was Elie in Fife (and not Leven which is about 10 miles down the road).
The original plan was to have the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade (1 Samodzielna Brygada Spadochronowa) work closely with underground resistance in Poland and form an uprising against the Germans, AKA the "Warsaw Uprising".
However, Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin (!) protested over this plan and in the end they were dropped in 1944 over Arnheim in Operation Market Garden.
On 9 October, 1941 the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade (1 Samodzielna Brygada Spadochronowa) was formally recognized as a Paratroop Brigade by the polish military HQ. It took till Feb 1943 for the British Army to recognize this regiment, at that point the parachutists were granted pay of two shillings a day, which was considered extremely good pay.
In July 1944, the Brigade moved to Cambridgeshire/ Lincolnshire centering on Peterborough/Stamford areas of eastern England.
A Call To The Middle East
In General Sosabowski's biography "Freely I Served" he states that he was in the YMCA at Leven in Fife, where his office was, and it was there that the idea of the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade (1 Samodzielna Brygada Spadochronowa) first entered his mind. As matters developed he must have thought more and more about this idea.
At Kincraig Point, with Sikorski, the announcement was made that the 4th Polish Rifle Cadre would now be known as the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade (1 Samodzielna Brygada Spadochronowa). They must have conferred together, likely that day, about increasing the size of the Brigade.
What we do know is that once the exiled Polish soldiers had gotten to The Middle East, a call was put out from Britain to The Middle East for volunteers for this unit. According to the account of this Polish Soldiers biography http://www.rymaszewski.iinet.net.au/, 300 Polish soldiers initially left for the Uk to join the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade.
This was the beginning of the movement of Polish troops from the Middle East to the UK (As the ones that came prior to this came out of France to the UK)
The 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade's Fife Connection
The more I started to research the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade (1 Samodzielna Brygada Spadochronowa), the more I came to appreciate the connection with Fife. Here are just some of the connections with fife.
- 4th Polish Rifle Cadre stationed at Largo House, Upper Largo, Fife
- Thousands of Polish Soldiers stationed at a Distribution Camp in Auchtertool, Fife
- General Sikorski (Polish Government in Exile) had a house in Auchtertool, Fife
- 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade formed at Kincraig Point, Elie, Fife
- 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade stationed at Largo House, Upper Largo, Fife
- Parachute training tower located at Lundin Links, Fife
- The parachute silk was made in Castleblair Works, Pilmuir St, Dunfermline, Fife