Book Review – “Special Operations Executive: Polish Section”

Book Review Special Operations Executive Polish Section

Author Wieslaw Rogalski provides a detailed account of the selection, training, and employment of Polish men and women who parachuted into Nazi-occupied Poland to help form up the Polish resistance. He traces the history of this effort in Special Operations Executive: Polish Section. The primary aim of his book is to ascertain the ultimate effectiveness of SOE assistance provided to the Second Polish Republic during World War II. Attention is also given to the politics involved in British support to the Poles; but, at the same time, later in the war, ensuring the Soviet Union continues the fight on the Eastern Front.

1939. Just prior to the start of World War II, the United Kingdom and Poland signed a pact of mutual assistance which led to early contacts between British and Polish military authorities. It is here where Rogalski starts his narrative – with details about the British Military Mission to Poland in 1939. He goes on to describe the state of the Polish Army prior to the German invasion – detailing the shortages of military equipment, array of forces, and more.

1939 – German Onslaught. In September 1939 the Germans invaded Poland and overwhelmed the Polish army; although it fought bravely. The author describes the defeat and, once the Soviets invaded from the east, how some Polish forces and the government fled Poland, many eventually taking refuge in France. Of course, once the Germans attacked France, the Polish government and military forces left for Britain.

Ramping Up the Resistance and SOE. This is the point where the author describes the formation of a a large and effective Polish resistance movement within Poland called the Home Army. He also details the establishment of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the subsequent formation of the “Polish Section”. Covered in the book are the relationships of the British government, Polish government in exile, SOE, Polish Section, the Air Ministry, and other organizations. The personalities of the Polish government, SOE, Polish Section, and others get a lot of attention in this book.

Selection and Training. The selection and training of the Poles was difficult and comprehensive, covering the use of weapons, communications, tradecraft, demolitions, intelligence, parachutes, and more. The training sites were located in Scotland and England; and later, at other locations around the world. The Poles enjoyed more autonomy in the SOE training program than did those from other nations who would link up with their respective resistance movements. Once fully trained the Poles were parachuted into occupied Poland to link up with the Home Army.

Air Bridge. The establishment of an air bridge to accomplish personnel infiltrations and supply drops was a difficult and dangerous task. There were several air routes for infiltrating the Poles, weapons, ammunition, communications gear, and other equipment. Various aircraft were tried, some more suited for the long two-way trip than others. The initial air infiltrations were conducted over Denmark, then the southern tip of Sweden, over the Baltic Sea and then into Poland. Later flights were launched from Italy and over the Caucasus and Hungary into Poland. Some air infiltration (and exfiltration) routes worked better than others. Hundreds of Poles would parachute into Poland from early 1941 to late 1944 from aircraft. Most of the drops sites would be in central Poland. The author provides a wealth of details about the aircraft, air infiltration routes, difficulties of getting support from the Air Ministry, and the use of Polish pilots for the infiltration and supply flights.

1941. It wasn’t long before the Germans broke their agreement with the Soviets and launched Operation Barbarossa – a widescale attack against that country in 1941. The relationship between the British and the Poles would see a drastic adjustment once the Soviet Union became an ally of Britain. Moscow had plans for Poland after the war and that did not include the survival of the Second Polish Republic; rather it wanted to establish a Communist regime. Britain had to balance its support for the Polish government in exile in London and its support to the Polish resistance movement with the need to keep the Soviets fighting on the Eastern Front. The Polish Home Army wanted to be equipped and supplied sufficiently to be able to conduct guerrilla warfare and to subsequently support an uprising of the Polish people against the Germans. However, according to the author, the British were content to supply just enough assistance through the air drops to support sabotage, subversion, and intelligence gathering.

Relevance to Current Events. Although this book covers events decades ago, in World War II, it has relevance to today’s security environment in Europe. In World War II resistance movements formed under Nazi occupation were supported by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Today, a similar construct is occurring – Russian forces occupying eastern Ukraine and resistance by the Ukrainian Armed Forces in a conventional fight; but also special operations and resistance activities taking place behind the lines in the Russian occupied territories.

Supporting a Resistance Movement in Today’s World. In light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine; the Nordic, Baltic, and East European countries are prudent in improving their ability to deter or delay a Russian invasion until NATO can respond. In the future, it is possible that Western nations could be providing assistance to guerrillas and an underground in Russian occupied countries. However, the world has changed since World War II – and assisting a resistance movement the way it was done in the 1940s would not work well today. A read of Rogalski’s book provides a good account of the logistical difficulties of supporting a resistance movement in a Russian-occupied Eastern European country.

ROC. When the Russians first invaded eastern Ukraine and Crimea in 2014, Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) became very active in providing advice, support, and training to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Much of this training was in accordance with the Resistance Operating Concept – a method with which Nordic, Baltic, and East European countries can conduct ‘resistance operations’ in the event of an invasion or occupation by Russian military forces. Just as the SOE Polish Section supported the Home Army in Poland, western SOF forces may find themselves conducting unconventional warfare and supporting resistance movements in the Baltic States, the Nordic countries, or in Eastern Europe.

A British Dilemma. The British were caught in the middle – do they support the Polish Home Army fighting in Poland and risk alienating their valuable ally, the Soviet Union on the Eastern Front? Or do they keep their relationship with the Soviets intact and ensure they continue their march on Berlin? The United Kingdom attempted to straddle the middle ground. The allies would provide just enough assistance to the Home Army to enable it to conduct sabotage, subversion, and intelligence gathering . . . and to demonstrate continued support for the Poles. However, the quantity and types of weapons and equipment that would support a general uprising were not provided. This would ensure the Soviets were not antagonized by the support provided to the Home Army; to the extent that the Soviets might scale down their campaign against Germany.

Warsaw Uprising 1944. As the Soviets were approaching Warsaw the Home Army rose up against the Germans in the summer of 1944. The British and the United States flew supplies, weapons, ammunition, money, equipment, and humanitarian supplies to Warsaw to aid the revolt. It was enough to show support for the Poles; but not enough for the uprising to be successful. The Soviets halted their advance short of Warsaw; only to continue once the Germans had defeated the Warsaw uprising (Wikipedia).

Aftermath. The end of the Second World War would see a Soviet-occupied Poland and the death of the Second Polish Republic. The Home Army was disbanded, the Polish government in exile was dissolved, and the thousands of Poles in conventional Polish military units fighting alongside Allied units around the world were discharged. After the war many were assimilated into the United Kingdom and other allied nations; choosing not to return to a Soviet-occupied Poland. The Soviets tightened their grip on Poland and established a communist regime that would last for decades. Members of the Home Army were hunted down, interrogated, imprisoned, or killed. Wieslaw Rogalski’s book is an excellent read for one who is interested in history, World War II, and resistance movements. It is also a good study on the difficulties of supporting a resistance movement in an occupied East European country.


About the Book Author: Wieslaw Rogalski was born in England in 1950. His parents came to Britain as members of the Polish Allied Forces under British Command.

Special Operations Executive: Polish Section, The Death of the Second Polish Republic, by Wieslaw Rogalski, Helion & Company Limited, Warick, England, 2022. Available on and the SOF News Book Shop.

About John Friberg 201 Articles
John Friberg is the Editor and Publisher of SOF News. He is a retired Command Chief Warrant Officer (CW5 180A) with 40 years service in the U.S. Army Special Forces with active duty and reserve components.