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Operation Bardsea - Special

When Brigadier-General Prugar-Kietling crossed the Swiss border with the 2nd Division (2DSP) on the 20 – 21st June 1940 it was assumed the conditions of internment would make the troops redundant for the remainder of the war. For the S.O.E and the Polish Government in Exile, having a cadre of trained officers together with combat experienced soldiers must have been seen as a devastating blow to future strategic planning for the opening up of another front or the future invasion of Europe. It is known that the Poles ran a small intelligence network based in Switzerland and were active in the Haute-Savoie region of Western France.

On the 25th July 1944 the EU/P section responded to an unusual request (PRO/HS4/225/109941) via the French Section of the S.O.E or more commonly known as the RF (Gaullist) section. EU/P initially questioned the request for two Officers and twenty Cadet Officers and N.C.O’s from Switzerland to take command of the French Resistance based in the Maquis. On The 17th July 1944 the German Army all over South Western France stepped up anti-partisan action. 3,000 heavily armed troops attacked the Polish led ‘Chateau Neuf /Bistrot Maquis’ near La Croiselle. The German troops were ironically made up of 2,000-conscripted Polish and Rumanian troops with skills in mountain warfare. Intelligence reports indicated the attacks had been held in check at Beaumont, however concerns were raised by MU/P over the use of Polish troops by the Wehrmacht.

The Bardsea Operation (Special) was authorised on the 5th August 1944. Captain Andrzej Fedro would be dispatched from Algiers with a Jedbergh team and dropped in the Aveyron region near Chateau Neuf De Randon with Three Million Francs to support the operation and the Maquis. They were equipped with side-arms (.45 Colt) and dressed in Polish military uniform with civilian clothes and fake papers as part of their evasion kit. The objective was to re-form and unite the many small units clustered around the region into a more effective force using the Monica contacts. For example, one unit led by Major Stanislaw Malecinski who had stayed behind after the fall of France and operated in the Chateauroux area had 300 Poles at his disposal. The key task for these groups would be to harass and block German troop movements once the US Army invaded southern France from Algeria. A cipher dated 23rd August 1944 indicated there were 1,000 men desperately awaiting arms in locations like La Chatre, Pau and Bayonne, however, the exchange of memos indicated their plight was made worse by not being counted as a priority for arms drops.

On the 15th August 1944 Operation Dragoon – the invasion of southern France was timed to compliment with Overlord in the North. The US Seventh Army hit the beaches between Toulon and Cannes with airborne troops dropped further inland. According to Foot (1984) the French under De Gaulle were ‘left in the dark’ with the really secret details of the invasion plans despite the invasion force being assembled in Algiers with US troops (Fifth Army) pulled from the Italian campaign.

Captain Fedro was dropped into France on the night of 23rd August. Due to fog he jumped from 1,000 metres with 24 containers into the forest around Cassagnes and 2Km from the local Maquis reception committee. It quickly became apparent that the FFI and FTPF were at loggerheads since the distribution of arms from the containers resembled ‘looting’ rather than systematic distribution. On the 24th August Rodez had been liberated and Captain Fedro made his way there to meet the British liaison officer, Major Stanfield. Colonel Benoit who was the French Commanding officer of the district seconded a Lt. Golobek who was a French officer of Polish extraction and a driver to Captain Fedro. Captain Fedro began touring the district and contacting the small groups ranging from 10 to 25 men in each. At Decazeville he encountered the excesses of ‘Liberation’. Decazeville is a small mining town that had 4,000 Polish miners. Here Fedro found the town being terrorised by the M.O.I (Mouvement International des Ouvriers or Mouvement des Ouvriers Immegrés) who were extorting money, carrying out arrests and trials of collaborators and ‘fascist’ Poles, some of whom had been summarily shot. Those arrested were mainly members of Monica Organization or who had been in contact with the Polish Government in Exile. Fedro visited local families and the wounded in hospital where grants and donations of money ranging from 500 – 1,000 Francs were made. At Toulouse and Albi Polish reception centres were set up to aide the Polish families and made plans for the Maquis fighters to escape and join the Polish Army in Britain once the Maquis units were disbanded. Many families planned to return to the new liberated Poland unaware that Stalin had other plans for post-war central Europe.

By early September the Bardsea Special groups were being mobilised with orders to meet in Lyon under the command of Colonel Bogusz. Troops from the 2DSP were ready and waiting in the Hotel du Golf at Divonne on the Swiss-Franco border. Captain Fedro was sent orders to move all active units to Lyon to await further instructions.

By 10th October 1944 a significant number of units had been established in France. The table below indicates the roll-call numbers of active units in Haute Savoie.

Senior Officers
Junior Officers
Annecy Company Staff
Company Commander: Captain Bluma
Platoon Leader: 2nd Lt. Polubca
La Roche s/Foron  
Aix-Les-Bains Captain Bartkowski
Source: Smolinski (1992:115)

The largest operational area was well organized with good training and was commanded by Captain Bluma. The area controlled by the company covered: Savoie, Haute Savoie, Annecy, Aix-Les-Bains, St. Pierre d'Albigny, Lyon and St. Etienne. There were enthusiastic attacks on the Germans when opportunities arose. Priorities had been set on flushing out Wehrmacht soldiers within the region. In Annecy a Polish company specialized in rounding up the Gestapo and the hated Milice created by Petain began operations in the region. In all there were 230 officers and 1,383 troops from the 2DSP operating in France by May 1945.

The collapse of the German southern front was swift with the Allies rushing up the Rhone Valley reaching Lyon by 3rd September and the French troops in the south met General Patton’s Third Army near Dijon on the 12th September. The effectiveness of Operation Bardsea (Special) was never fully tested. Fedro’s mission was concluded by 20th September 1944 when he was ordered to Paris.

In the aftermath of the collapse and German withdrawal from South West France, the authorities had to deal with Prisoners of War held by the F.F.I in the Lyon region. Colonel Gaberle at the Polish Consulate in Lyon sought clarification over the Poles who had fought for the Germans in terms of interrogation and execution. A cipher from the EU/P reminded Colonel Gaberle that troops in German uniform must be treated according to the Geneva Convention. However, at local level the non-Germanic Poles may be screened and dealt with at their discretion. There is no comment in the files as to their fete.

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