Senior officers and veterans from Polish and British special forces are to gather in London to mark the 75th anniversary of a little-known chapter of the secret war against the Nazis.
The soldiers will on Saturday be honouring the Cichociemni (the Silent and Unseen) – Polish guerrilla fighters trained in Britain. They were parachuted at night into occupied Poland from 1941 onwards, the first such air drops behind German lines, to lead the resistance movement against the Nazi occupation.
The Armia Krajowa (the “home army”) had 300,000 men and women fighting for it at its peak, by far the biggest resistance movement under the Third Reich, and it temporarily succeeded in liberating Warsaw in the summer of 1944. Many of its leaders were Cichociemni. However, their history was suppressed even before the war was over by Poland’s new Soviet occupiers, who saw them as British agents.
Of the 316 Cichociemni who parachuted into occupied Poland, 103 were killed in the war, either in combat or in camps or under Gestapo torture. Nine were killed by the Soviet secret police after the war, and many more were imprisoned. Some managed to avoid capture by melting back into postwar Polish life, either changing their names or keeping their wartime exploits a secret.
Just one of the 316 is still alive. Aleksander Tarnawski, who flew to London for this weekend’s event, is 95 but evidently still fit. Less than two years ago, he carried out a parachute jump.