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Driel Commemoration of the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade of General Sosabowski

In September 1944, around 1,000 parachutists from the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade of General Sosabowski were dropped at Driel. Every year, the contribution of this brigade to the Market Garden operation is commemorated. This year opposite and overlooking the house at Molenstraat 12, a bust of General Stanislaw Sosabowski was unveiled on Friday afternoon. In September 1944, this building was the headquarters of Sosabowski and his Polish airborne troops.


The 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade was formed by the Polish High Command in exile with the aim of its being used to support the Polish resistance during the nationwide uprising, a plan that encountered opposition from the British, who argued they would not be able to support it properly. The pressure of the British government eventually caused the Poles to give in and agree to let the Brigade be used on the Western Front. On 6 June 1944 the unit, originally the only Polish unit directly subordinate to the Polish government in exile and thus independent of the British command, was transferred into the same command structure as all other Polish Forces in the West. It was slotted to take part in several operations after the invasion of Normandy, , but all of them were cancelled. On 27 July, aware of the imminent Warsaw Uprising, the Polish government in exile asked the British government for air support, including dropping the Brigade in the vicinity of Warsaw. This request was refused on the grounds of “operational considerations” and the “difficulties” in coordinating with the Soviet forces.]Eventually, the Brigade entered combat when it was dropped during Operation Market Garden in September 1944.

During the operation, the Brigade’s anti-tank battery went into Arnhem on the third day of the battle (19 September), supporting the British paratroopers at Oosterbeek. This left Sosabowski without any anti-tank capability. The light artillery battery was left behind in England due to a shortage of gliders. A small part of the brigade with Sosabowski was parachuted near Driel on 19 September, but owing to bad weather and a shortage of transport planes, the drop into Driel was delayed by two days, to 21 September . On 21 st  brigade arrived at the distant town of Grave, falling directly on the waiting guns of the Germans camped in the area. The British units which were supposed to cover the landing zone were in a bad situation and out of radio contact with the main Allied forces. Finally, the 2nd Battalion, and elements of the 3rd Battalion, with support troops from the Brigade’s Medical Company, Engineer Company and HQ Company, were dropped under German fire east of Driel. They overran Driel, after it was realised that the Heveadorp ferry had been destroyed. In Driel, the Polish paratroopers set up a defensive “hedgehog” position, from which over the next two nights further attempts were made to cross the Rhine.

Poles attempted the river crossing in small rubber boats under heavy fire. Even so, at least 200 men made it across the river and reinforced the embattled British paratroopers.

Despite the difficult situation, at a staff meeting on 24 September, Sosabowski suggested that the battle could still be won. He proposed that the combined forces of XXX Corps, under Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks, and the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade should start an all-out assault on the German positions and try to break through the Rhine. This plan was not accepted, and during the last phase of the battle, on 25 and 26 September, Sosabowski led his men southwards, shielding the retreat of the remnants of the 1st Airborne Division. Casualties among the Polish units were high, approaching 40%, and were at least in part, the result of Lieutenant-General Browning’s decision to drop the paratroops just 7 kilometres from the bridge at Arnhem.

After the battle, on 5 October 1944, Sosabowski received a letter from Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, commander of the Anglo-Canadian 21 st Army Group, describing the Polish soldiers as having fought bravely and offering awards to ten of his soldiers. However, on 14 October 1944, Montgomery wrote another letter, this time to the British commanders, in which he scapegoated Sosabowski for the failure of Market Garden. Sosabowski was accused of criticising Montgomery, and the Polish General Staff was forced to remove him as the commanding officer of his brigade on 27 December 1944.

After World War II General Sosabowski could not return to Poland, which was occupied by the Soviet Union. He had no retirement fund, so he was forced to work in the factory till his 75th birthday. Ultimately general Sosabowski was posthumously awarded the Bronze Lion in 2006 and his brigade the Military Order of William.( Dutch: Militaire Willems-Orde)

Photo: Public domain Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=946161

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