1st Grenadiers Division (Poland)
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|1st Grenadier Division|
Memorial badge of the division, featuring the Cross of Lorraine
|Size||16,180 soldiers and officers|
|Engagements||Battle of Lagarde, Maginot Line|
The 1st Grenadier Division (literal translation 1st Grenadiers Division; Polish: 1. Dywizja Grenadierów, French: 1ère Division des Grenadiers) was a Polish infantry formation raised in France during the early stages of World War II. The division was created as a result of the Invasion of Poland as part of the Polish Army in France, and took part in the Battle of France in 1940.
As an effect of the Franco-Polish Military Alliance, the formation of a Polish division in France began in early September 1939, shortly after the Invasion of Poland. The French government gave over a military camp at Coëtquidan to the Polish military mission and permitted voluntary recruitment from the Polish diaspora in France, which were particularly numerous in the coal-producing regions of Flanders. After the fall of Poland and the formation of the Polish government in exile, the newly appointed Polish commander-in-chief Władysław Sikorski ordered the formation of the 1st Grenadier Division on November 13, 1939.
Initially commanded by Colonel Stanisław Maczek, the division was taken over by Colonel Bronisław Duch in January 1940. It was organized according to the French model and was equipped with French weapons and uniforms. Altogether, the formation numbered eventually about 13,000 enlisted soldiers, 2600 NCOs and 580 officers of all grades, when it was sworn in by Gen. Sikorski on May 25, 1940, shortly before arriving at the front in Lorraine.
At the end of April 1940, the division was moved to Colombey-les-Belles in Lorraine where it received its long-awaited heavy equipment and final training. On May 18 the formation was moved to the area of Sarry and was attached to the French 4th Army, French XX Corps. 1st Regiment under Colonel Lowczowski was assigned to defend the Maginot Line near Wittlesburg. Initially divided between the two units of the Corps, the French 52nd Infantry Division and the 'Sarry Fortress Group,' the division operated in a supporting role. It first saw combat on June 14, 1940, when attacked by German forces. The following day the division was centered and successfully defended its positions. However, during the night the French 52nd Division broke down and withdrew soon after it was attacked to Dieuze. Fearing his corps being cut in two, the formation commander ordered the Poles to withdraw to the second line of defenses. It withdrew to the area of Dieuze, where it covered the retreat of the French division throughout the day of June 16. The following night it successfully disengaged itself and withdrew to the defensive line of the Marne-Rhine Canal, where it covered the area around Lagarde. As a result of the two-day-long Battle of Lagarde, the division was heavy damaged, but managed to hold its positions. However, the 52nd Division had been destroyed by the Wehrmacht and the remainder of the corps was disbanded by its commanding officer.
The remnants of the XX Corps, then composed mostly of the Polish division and a small detachment of the Sarry Fortress Group, withdrew to the forests around Baccarat. There it formed a perimeter defence in and around the town of Meriller. Not attacked directly, the XX Corps was surrounded by the enemy on June 19. The Poles broke through to Neureville, but were unable to continue their assault. On June 21, after receiving information of Franco-German capitulation talks, Gen. Bronisław Duch disbanded the unit and ordered his men to either flee to neutral Switzerland, or to join the Polish forces in the United Kingdom. Many chose the latter option, including the general himself.
Altogether, the division lost approximately 5200 men during the Battle of France.
Order of battle
- 1st Warsaw Grenadier Regiment
- 2nd Wielkopolska Grenadier Regiment
- 3rd Silesian Grenadier Regiment
- 8th Uhlan Regiment
- 1st Wilno Light Artillery Regiment
- 1st Pomeranian Heavy Artillery Regiment
- 1st Modlin Engineer battalion
- 1st Gdańsk Signals battalion