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Cichociemni (Polish pronunciation: [t͡ɕixɔˈt͡ɕɛmɲi]; "the Silent-Dark Ones" or "The Unseen and Silent") were elite special-operations paratroops of the Polish Home Army (Polish: Cichociemni Spadochroniarze Armii Krajowej) of the Polish Army in exile, created in Great Britain during World War II to operate in occupied Poland.
The origins of the name are obscure and will never be known but was probably related to how some soldiers would seemingly disappear from their line units overnight to volunteer for special operations service and it also describes those "who appear silently where they are least expected, play havoc with the enemy and disappear whence they came, unnoticed, unseen."
The Cichociemni were trained initially in Scotland in preparation for missions for the Polish underground in occupied Poland such as building clearance and bridge demolition. In 1944 training was also carried out in Brindisi, Italy, which had by then fallen to the Allies.
Initially the name was informal and was used mainly by the soldiers who volunteered to parachute into Poland. However, from September 1941 it became official and was used in all documents. It was applied both to the secret Polish Headquarters training unit created to provide agents with necessary knowledge, money and equipment, as well as to agents who were transported to Poland and to other German-occupied countries.
On 30 December 1939, Captain Jan Górski, a Polish Army officer who had escaped to France after the invasion of Poland, drew up a report for the Polish Chief of Staff. Górski proposed creating a secret unit to maintain contact with the underground ZWZ, using a group of well-trained envoys. The report was ignored, so Górski resubmitted it several times. Finally the commander of the Polish Air Force, General Zając, replied that, while creation of such a unit would be a good move, the Polish Air Force had no means of transport and no training facilities for such a unit.
Górski and his colleague Maciej Kalenkiewicz continued studying the possibility of paratroops and special forces. After the capitulation of France, they managed to reach the United Kingdom. They studied documents on German paratroops and drafted a plan to create in exile a Polish airborne force to be used in covert support operations. The force was to be employed solely in aid of a future uprising in occupied Poland. Their plan was never adopted, but on 20 September 1940 the Polish commander-in-chief, General Władysław Sikorski, ordered the creation of Section III of the Commander-in-Chief's Staff (Oddział III Sztabu Naczelnego Wodza). Section III's purpose was contingency planning for covert operations in Poland, air delivery of arms and supplies, and training of paratroops.
The 3rd Detachment started to accept volunteers soon afterwards. Those who were chosen left their units silently and at night - hence the name, Cichociemni. Among 2,413 candidates, only 605 managed to finish the training and passed all the exams. 579 of them qualified for the airlift.
Among the volunteers were:
- 1 general
- 112 staff officers
- 894 officers
- 592 NCOs
- 771 privates
- 15 women
- 28 civilian envoys of the Polish government in exile
The training prepared by the Polish 6th Detachment of the General Staff (Oddział VI Sztabu Naczelnego Wodza) and the British Special Operations Executive consisted of five parts:
- preparation and physical training (kurs zaprawowy)
- psychological and technical research (kurs badań psychotechnicznych)
- parachute training (kurs spadochronowy)
- covert operations and partisan warfare (kurs walki konspiracyjnej)
- final course (kurs odprawowy)
During the first phase of the training all the volunteers were taught to use all weapons (including British, Polish, German, Russian and Italian) and mines. Additional courses were organized on which the soldiers were trained in basic covert operations, topography, cryptography, and sharpshooting. They were also taught all the details of life in occupied Poland, from laws imposed by the Germans to fashion popular in Warsaw under the occupation. The fourth course included all sorts of covert operations, Jujutsu, and shooting at invisible targets,
The final course included learning of a new, false identity. All soldiers who passed training were sworn in as members of the Armia Krajowa.
The first air bridge was organized on February 16, 1941. The Allied air commands carried out 483 air bridges altogether, losing 68 planes to air crashes and enemy fire. Apart from the Cichociemni themselves, approximately 630 tonnes of war material were delivered in special containers. In addition, the agents delivered the following amounts of money to the Armia Krajowa:
- 40 869 800 forged Polish zloty
- 26 299 375 dollars in banknotes and golden coins
- 1 755 pounds in golden coins
- 3 578 000 German marks
Through 27 December 1944, 316 soldiers and 28 envoys successfully parachuted into Poland. Additionally, 17 agents were dropped into Albania, France, Greece, Italy and Yugoslavia. An unknown number of Poles (including the best known, Krystyna Skarbek) were also parachuted into France by the British Special Operations Executive to start an underground movement among the half-million-strong Polish minority.
Though the unit was organized in collaboration with SOE, it was largely independent. The Polish section of the SOE was the only one which chose its own men freely and operated its own radio communication with an occupied country. Also, the identities of the Polish agents were known only to the Polish General Staff.
Among those transported to Poland were soldiers of all grades. The oldest of them was 54 years old, the youngest was 20. As a rule, all volunteers were promoted one rank upwards at the moment of their jump.
In Poland the Cichociemni were transferred mostly to various special units of the ZWZ and AK. Most of them joined Wachlarz, Związek Odwetu and KeDyw. Many became important staff officers of the Polish Secret Army and took part in the Operation Tempest and the Uprisings in Wilno, Lwów and Warsaw.
The cichociemni took over various duties in occupied countries:
- 37 started working for the intelligence
- 50 were radio operators and envoys
- 24 were staff officers
- 22 were airmen and airdrop coordinators
- 11 were instructors of armoured forces and professors of anti-tank warfare in secret military schools
- 3 were trained in forging documents
- 169 were trained in covert operations, diversion and partisan warfare
- 28 were envoys of the Polish government
The most notable Cichociemni included:
|Rank||Name and pseudonym||Dropped||Note|
|Colonel||Kazimierz Iranek-Osmecki - Antoni||March 14, 1943||commander of the 2nd Detachment of the Armia Krajowa General Staff (intelligence and counterintelligence), discovered the German V-1 and V-2 testing facility at Peenemünde. Fought in the Warsaw Uprising.|
|General||Leopold Okulicki - Niedźwiadek||March 14, 1943||deputy Chief of Staff of the Armia Krajowa, commander of the Nie organization, arrested by the NKVD, probably tortured to death in Lubyanka prison in Moscow on December 24, 1946|
|Second Lieutenant, later Lieutenant (now Brigadier-General rtd., an honorary rank)||Stefan Bałuk - Starba; Kubuś||April 10, 1944||specialist in document forgery and microphotography, operative of legalization section 'Agaton', part of the
intelligence operations of the Armia Krajowa. During the Warsaw Uprising he was deputy commander of 'Agaton' Platoon, and finally commander of 'Communications Unit 59', a detachment protecting the AK general staff
|Captain||Tadeusz Klimowski - Klon||January 7, 1942||Chief of Staff of the Polish 27th Home Army Infantry Division|
|Second Lieutenant||Tadeusz Chciuk-Celt - Sulima||December 28, 1941 and April 4, 1944||Operation Jacket and Operation Salamander -- the only Cichociemny to go on two parachute missions and return to base|
|Captain||Adam Borys - Pług||October 2, 1942||organizer of the Agat group fighting against the Gestapo. The unit's best known action was the assassination of Franz Kutschera, SS and Reich's Police Chief in Warsaw in an action known as Operation Kutschera|
|Captain||Władysław Kochański - Wujek / Bomba||September 2, 1942||organizer of the Huta Stepańska and 700 strong Huta Stara (Bomba's Unit) self-defences. Kidnapped by Soviet Partisans in December 1943 and imprisoned in the Soviet gulags. Released in 1956 and returned to Poland, worked and studied at the Higher School of Economics, graduating in 1963 with a master's degree. Awarded the Silver Cross of Military Virtue.|
|Warrant Officer||Adolf Pilch - Góra, Dolina||February 17, 1943||organizer of a 1000-strong cavalry partisan unit in the Nowogródek area, broke through to the Kampinos forest near Warsaw and liberated it with his men, fighting 235 battles between June 3, 1943 and January 17, 1945.|
|Lieutenant Colonel||Maciej Kalenkiewicz - Kotwicz||December 28, 1941||organizer of the Cichociemni and the main planner of the Operation Ostra Brama, KIA in the Battle of Surkonty against NKVD forces on August 21, 1944.|
|Lieutenant||Józef Czuma - Skryty||February 18, 1943||organizer of a partisan unit of his name in the Warsaw area, arrested by the Gestapo on July 12, 1944, probably tortured to death in Pawiak prison.|
|Lieutenant, later Captain||Stanisław Jankowski - Agaton||March 3, 1942||forgery specialist, help set up the Home Army's document forgery department, codenamed 'Agaton section'; commander of 'Agaton Platoon' during the Warsaw Uprising; later adjutant to the Home Army's C-in-C; he survived the war to became a notable architect|
|Colonel||Józef Spychalski - Grudzień, Luty||March 31, 1942||commander of the Kraków AK Area, arrested by Gestapo on March 24, 1944.|
|Colonel||Roman Rudkowski||January 26, 1943||commander of the 3rd Detachment of the Home Army General Staff (air forces and aerial deliveries).|
|Major||Bolesław Kontrym||September 2, 1942||organizer of the secret police force, took part in the Warsaw Uprising. After the war arrested by Urząd Bezpieczeństwa and executed in January 1953.|
|Major||Hieronim Dekutowski "Zapora" "Odra", "Reżu", "Stary", "Henryk Zagon"||September 16/17, 1943||Dropped on the night of September 16/17, 1943, along with Bronisław Rachwał "Glin" and Kazimierz Smolaker "Nurek", as a part of Operation “Neon 1”. Initially, he was a staff officer in the Home Army outfit under the command of Tadeusz Kuncewicz "Podkowa". Eventually, he became the commanding officer of the 4th company of 9th Pułk Piechoty Legionów AK of the Local Inspectorate of the Home Army "Zamość". In addition to his regular fighting with German anti-partisan units and sabotage, he organized hideouts for Jewish refugees in his partisan camps. After the war, he joined Wolność i Niezawisłość. He was arrested by Urząd Bezpieczeństwa, tortured and tried in secrecy on November 3, 1948. He was sentenced to death and executed on March 7, 1949. His burial place is not known.|
|Major||Jan Piwnik "Ponury"||November 7, 1941||Dropped into Poland on November 7, 1941. He was the commanding officer of KeDyw of Radom-Kielce district of the Home Army. He organized a large Home Army unit called Zgrupowania Partyzanckie Armii Krajowej "Ponury". He was KiA near the village of Jewlaszcze on June 16, 1944.|
|Brigadier-General rtd. (an honorary rank)||Elżbieta Zawacka - "Zelma", "Zo"||September 10, 1943||the only female Cichociemny agent to be dropped into occupied Poland; she served as a courier between Home Army HQ and the Polish government in exile. After the war she was arrested and tortured by Urząd Bezpieczeństwa and spent a long spell in prison. After the war she went into academic research, earning a doctorate degree from Gdansk University.|
|Lieutenant Colonel||Stanisław Dmowski - "Podlasiak"||December 27, 1944||Dropped into Poland to drop point Wilga during operation Staszek 2, subsequently fought in Battalion ‘Andrzej’ operating in the area of Silesia, disrupting German communications and harassing their retreating forces. After the arrival of Russian forces he was at the disposal of the Area Commander of Kraków where he was Chief of Action 2 and Military Intelligence, Home Army Headquarters.
Arrested and interrogated by Urząd Bezpieczeństwa and then released he escaped from Poland in 1946.
Out of 344 men transported to Poland, 112 were KIA:
- 84 in fights against the Germans or tortured to death by the Gestapo after being arrested
- 10 committed suicide in German prisons and concentration camps
- 10 executed by the Communists during and after the war
- 9 were shot down with their planes before reaching their targets
Out of 91 cichociemni who took part in the Warsaw Uprising, 18 were killed in action.
The first book on the Cichociemni was published England in 1954; a Polish edition "Drogi cichociemnych : opowiadania zebrane i opracowane przez kolo spadochroniarzy Armii Krajowej" by Veritas and an English edition "The unseen and Silent; adventures from the underground movement narrated by paratroops of the Polish Home Army" published by Sheed and Ward. The Polish edition was republished in England several times over the years the last being in 1973. A miniature version of "Drogi cichociemnych" published in two volumes by "Kurs" and distributed in communist Poland in 1985.
General c.c. Stefan Bałuk's memoir, Byłem Cichociemnym (I was a Cichociemny) was published in 2008. He was 94 years old when the book first appeared in bookstores. The book was translated into English in 2009 (Silent and Unseen: I was a WWII special ops commando). On August 4, 1995, the Polish special forces unit GROM adopted the name and traditions of the Cichociemni.
- Armia Krajowa
- Polish government in exile
- Special Operations Executive
- Stanisław Sosabowski
- Western betrayal
- Ian Valentine, Station 43: Audley End House and SOE's Polish Section, The History Press (2006), p. 224, ISBN 0-7509-4255-X
- Hubert Królikowski "Tobie Ojczyzno – Cichociemni", Wojskowa Formacja Specjalna GROM im. Cichociemnych Spadochroniarzy Armii Krajowej 1990-2000, Gdańsk 2001.
- P. Bystrzycki, "Znak cichociemnych", Warszawa 1985.
- "Drogi cichociemnych", Warszawa 1993.
- Jędrzej Tucholski, "Cichociemni", Warszawa 1984.
- Jan Szatsznajder, "Cichociemni. Z Polski do Polski", Wrocław 1985.
- C. Chlebowski, "Cztery z tysiąca", KAW Warszawa 1981
- G. Korczyński - Polskie oddziały specjalne w II wojnie światowej. Dom Wydawniczy Bellona, Warszawa 2006, ISBN 83-11-10280-5
- Elżbieta Zawacka" Katarzyna Minczykowska, wyd. Fundacji Archiwum Pomorskie Armii Krajowej, Toruń 2007
- The Museum of the Warsaw Uprising