Skip to content

North West Europe 1944 - 1947:

European Formations

 As the German armed forces successively subjucated other European states, governments-in-exile were established in London. Both the Polish and Czechoslov armed forces were reconstituted in France in late 1939 and early 1940. With the fall of France in June 1940, the Poles and Czechs made their way to the United Kingdom, where they were joined by Dutch and Belgians that had escaped from their countries. The British concentrated the men from the occupied nations and steadily moulded them into organised Army formations. The Poles formed the largest contingent, from men who had escaped from Poland, Polish men working in the French coalfields and other industries in France and the U.K.

1 Polish Armoured Division was formed on 26 February 1942 from Polish troops in The United Kingdom. It originally comprised the 10 Armoured Cavalry Brigade and the 16 Tank Brigade, but in October 1943, it was re-organised in line with existing British armoured divisions.The division landed in Normandy on 30 July 1944, and came under command of II Canadian Corps. It fought in battle of the Falaise Gap. Following the breakout, the division advanced towards the River Somme, but on their arrival on 1 September found that there was no bridgehead, so had to fight their way over the river. A Class 40 bridge was completed on 3 September and the Poles pushed on towards Arras. They were then held up by determined German resistance. On 24 September 1944, the division came under command of I Corps. It fought in the rest of the campaign, and at the end of the war, captured the German port of Wilhelmshaven.

This 1 Polish Parachute Brigade was formed in Scotland on 23 September 1941 as The Polish Parachute Brigade, under the command of Colonel SOSABOWSKI, who was promoted Major General on 15 June 1944. In May 1942, the brigade was redesignated as an independent brigade group. The brigade came under command of the I British Airborne Corps circa April 1944. On 21 September 1944, the brigade was dropped south of the River Rhine near to Arnhem to support the 1 Airborne Division during Operation Market Garden. Elements of the brigade were ferried over the river, but were evacuated with the remains of the 1 Airborne Division. The brigade returned to the United Kingdom on 11 October 1944. Following the cessation of hostilities, it was sent to Germany on 8 May 1945, and came under command of the 1 Polish Armoured Division. The brigade was disbanded in the Osnabruck area on 19 May 1945.

The 1 Czechoslovakian Armoured Brigade was officially formed on 1 September 1943. Some personnel from the 11 Czechoslovakian Infantry Battalion, which had served in the Middle East since 1940, were transferred to this formation. The brigade landed in Normandy in August 1944 under command of the 21 Army Group. At the beginning of October 1944, the brigade was ordered to Dunkirk to relieve Canadian troops who were besieging the garrison there. During the period of the siege, in early 1945 the brigade raised a third tank battalion, the infantry battalion was increased from two to three companies, and the artillery regiment from two to three battalions (batteries). The brigade remained at Dunkirk until the garrison eventually surrendered at 09.20 hours on 8 May 1945. Meanwhile, a contingent from the brigade had left to join the United States troops as they reached the Czech border on 1 May 1945. The brigade departed for its homeland after the cessation of hostilities, being incorporated into a Soviet style Tank Corps, however, with the communist coup in 1948, many former personnel left Czechoslovakia.

For further information on the Czechoslovakian Armoured Brigade, please see:

The Royal Netherlands Independent Brigade was formed in 1941 from a nucleus of about 1,500 Dutch military personnel evacuated from The Netherlands following the German invasion in May 1940. Although designated a ‘Brigade’, the formation was in effect a reinforced infantry battalion. It was formally redesignated as the ‘Prinses Irene Brigade’ on 11 February 1941 by approval of Queen Wilhelmina. The first units of the Brigade landed at Normandy on 6 August 1944 and came under command of the 6 Airborne Division within I Corps. It remained with XXX Corps during Operation ‘Market Garden’, being engaged in fighting at Beeringen, and crossing into Dutch territory at Borkel and Schaft on 20 September 1944. During the Winter of 1944/45, the formation was stationed in Walcheren and North Beveland. In April 1945, the brigade took part in heavy fighting on the River Maas near the town of Hedel, together with the 116 Infantry Brigade, Royal Marines. The brigade finally entered The Hague on 9 May 1945, later to be absorbed into the reconstituted Netherlands Army.

The Belgium Independent Brigade was formed in the United Kingdom in 1941. It comprised a nucleus of military personnel evacuated from Belgium during May 1940. This brigade became known by an alternative title as ‘Brigade Piron’ after the name of its commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Baptiste PIRON. It landed in Normandy in August 1944, and came under command of the 6 Airborne Division within I Corps. During September 1944, the formation was used to occupy Belgium, but took part in Operation ‘Market Garden’ under command of VIII Corps. It was withdrawn from The Netherlands on 17 November, and moved back to Belgium to absorb new recruits, many from the Belgian ‘White Brigade’ of partisans, and to re-equip and train. It entered the line in April 1945, now established as a full brigade (with PIRON promoted to Brigadier), to take part in the last battles of the campaign in The Netherlands. After the cessation of hostilities, the brigade returned to Belgium.

Back To Top