Polish Resistance in the ranks of the M.O.I and F.T.P.F
(Francs-tireurs et partisans – main-d'œuvre immigrée)
When war broke out in 1939, there were many Poles working in the mining districts in France who decided to join the resistance around the same time as Francs-tireurs et partisans français (FTPF) was being formed. The M.O.I was a sub-group made up of foreigners as an immigrant movement who were largely communists and drawn from across central and eastern Europe, including Jews (Collin, 2005). Later in the war, Ukrainians and Russians joined the Maquis with some Poles who had been conscripted into the Wehrmacht and Todt organisation and were more likely to join the rival FFI. Local success was important in undermining the German occupation of France for its propaganda value which was spread through the underground press. One example was 250 Russian soldiers sent to the Maquis in the Valenciennes area (59-20 MOI-PMP). Traitors who were often Volksdeutsche, denounced fellow Poles to the Gestapo or Feldgendarmerie were dealt within by the F.T.P.F. An example of this was Léon Jankowski and Joseph Krys whom lived in the Lille area were assassinated and their leader Walter Zabczyk based in Douai (Ponty,1988) remained under surveillance. The relationship between other Polish underground movements remained ‘strained’ through most of the war (Sękowski, 2015). A major organisation P.O.W.N (Polska Organisacja Walki o Niepodleglosc and Operation MONICA (P.O.W.N) also drew recruits from the Polish diaspora in France of which there was some 500,000 but was allied to Sikorski’s government in London. The communists remained suspicious of P.O.W. N’s intentions until late in the war and this was reflected in post-war analysis. The role of the F.T.P.F was also contentious within France during the war as communist resistance fighters engaged in urban guerrilla warfare in Paris causing the wartime authorities to suppress ‘terrorists’ (Peschanski, 2009).
The communist view diminished slightly when archival records in London demonstrated a more strategic rather than political stance. There were other breakaway organisations that were not allied to either the communists or London. Joseph Szczerbinski group of resistance collapse upon his arrest on 6th August 1942 with members merging with M.O.I (59-20 MOI-PMP).
In the north of France, the nucleus of the M.O.I formed in September 1940 in Valenciennes and included Stefan Marcinkowski (Remy), Stanislas Wojcik (Bolek) later commander of the 1st Regiment of the P.M.P ‘Tadder Kosciuszko’, Jan Frelich (Pierre), Father Jean Pacholski (Leon), Jean Heva (Yvan), and Antoni Trawinski who was responsible for propaganda (59-20 MOI-PMP). Recruitment sought out those to be reliable and able to work under clandestine conditions and the group carried out it’s first sabotage in September 1941 with over 100 men in their ranks. (Hyperlink: Operation Monika)
The M.O.I and F.T.P.F
In October 1940, the ‘Military Committee’ was at loggerheads with each other that caused a split in the organisation. Stanislas Nawrot and Bolesław Maslienkievicz (Bolek) split from Francois Sobiecki taking with them Joseph Niemczyk (Felix) commander of the 3rd Regiment ‘Tadder Kosciuszko’, Jean Katka, Joseph Zak (Jacob Bieszczak), Mieczysla Kondracionek, Alexandre Kilm, Felix Czak (Hugo) who left for Monceau Les Mines, leaving the resistance in the Douai sector in slight disarray for a short period. Francois Sobiecki along with his wife, were arrested on 30th November 1941 and taken to Lille where he was shot. His wife was deported to Germany.
Orders came from the Central Committee M.O.I headed by Capt. Argot (Abraham Liessner), Col. Gérars (Czech), Col. Michel (Eugène Thieme), Col. Bergeron (Aubert Nicolas), Col. Bernand (Commander of the Pas de Calais), André Rocq (Alain), Emile Gary (Commander Denain) and Edouard Domuin responsible for Nord and included 17 Departements (59-20 MOI-PMP). The cells or companies were named after their local connection as a means of identification.
The development of the resistance can be divided into three phases:
- Organisation and training until 20th May 1944
- May to June 1944 sabotage, propaganda, and diversionary actions
- Fighting alongside Free French Forces
In the Douai sector, Jean Rutkowski (Simon) led the group until his arrest in March 1943 and was deported to Germany with Joseph Niemczyk (Felix) taking over command of the 3rd Regiment P.M.P. In June 1941 the nominal roll of fighters was:
Pont de la Deule - 9
Waziers - 12
Frais Marais - 4
Barrois - 7
Guesnain et Dechy - 5
Auby - 4
Austries - 3
Fenain - 5
The Valenciennes sector was originally commanded by Stephan Marcinkowsky (Remy) who was arrested on 25th April 1942 with his wife with the command being passed onto Tomasz Peetka (Antek). Denain sector was commanded by Kostek Skupien (Zygmund) commander of the 2nd Regiment that only had 13 men by 1st July 1942. Pressure from Gestapo after 1941 put pressure on them. Arrests started in Valenciennes where 50 victims were arrested including Sandor Serediak who was shot in Lille prison on 19th September 1941 whose mother was also arrested and sent to Dachau. Other arrests included Bogdan Zak on 26th September 1941 and sent to Dachau due to his age. Stanislas Kaszmarek was arrested in November 1941 and deported to Germany where he managed to escape back to France in 1943.
The arrests, torture and deportations continued. Paul Frelich (Son) was caught early January 1942 and viciously tortured before being shot in Lille was unrecognizable by his siblings. Roman Szpandel was arrested in Maubeuge in February 1942 and died in Buchenwald in 1944. Marian Caban was arrested alongside Szpandel, was deported to Dachau, and survived not knowing her brother Léon was interned there. Capt. Jean Waysand F.T.P.F was arrested in Somain on 19th September 1942 and shot on 15th December 1942 having sung Polish patriotic songs in his cell in defiance of the authorities. His wife Estoucha, a doctor to the underground (Jeanne Lefevre) was arrested on 6th March 1943 and eventually sent to Ravensbrück and Mauthausen. These are just some of the patriots who lost their lives.
In May to June 1944 there was a concerted effort to unite the various Polish resistance organisations and factions under P.K.W.N (Polska Komitet Walki o Niepodleglosc) and general mobilisation ahead of the D-Day Landings. The order for strikes, seizure of arms and diversionary activities was designed to cause mayhem deep behind the front lines despite SHAEF’s concerns and scepticism over the effectiveness of the resistance to support a widespread uprising.
The 1st company of the 1st Regiment ‘Tadder Kosciuszko’ captured one German soldier, six Volksdeutsche, 45,000 cigarettes, seven rifles, seventeen grenades and fifty-five cartridges. The cigarettes were almost as important as the capturing of arms since these could be ‘bartered’. The first and second squads were involved in action around Hérin to the west of Valenciennes, where one German soldier was killed and several injured.
The 2nd company of the 1st Regiment ‘Tadder Kosciuszko’ on 2nd September 1944 captured two German soldiers, pistols, and ammunition and on the next day attacked a German column at Vicq in the Haute-Marne area. Here, the firefight lasted three hours killing nine Germans, demolished a truck and three horses killed with four horse teams and two additional horses taken along with any surviving Germans.
On 4th September 1944 the 3rd Company (Thivencelle) attacked a German column of six heavy trucks close to the French-Belgium border with one truck captured intact while the 4th Company (Quiévrechain) commanded by Max blocked and resisted a column of four assault tanks close to the French-Belgian border and escaped with a truck and 1,200Lt of fuel. The 6th Company (St. Vaast la Hougue) in Normandy consisting of 24 Poles joined 17 F.T.P.F captured a considerable amount of ammunition from a dump.
The 9th Company (Bray Thiers) on 2nd September 1944, led by Pepe, armed only with one grenade led a surprise attack on a German detachment guarding 100 Moroccan POWs. The captured weapons were then used to attack other German detachments, taking twenty prisoners, twenty rifles and many hand grenades. During the same day, the 6th Company (Escaudain) attacked a German detachment taking two prisoners and confiscating their weapons for further use.
From 31st August until 1st September 1944 the 8th Company (Fenain) surrounded four Germans on the road between Somain in the Marchiennes (D957) and detained them. On the following night, they attacked a German truck and captured three rifles, 1 submachine gun, six grenades and ammunition.
The 10th Company (Denain) took part in street fighting on 2nd September 1944 and had barricaded themselves into a factory resisting a German counterattack using tanks to break up the fight. One tank was destroyed, and four Germans taken prisoner with one Pole KIA.
The 12th Company (Douchy) in the Loire region attacked a German column on 2nd September and managed to burn two heavy trucks rendering them useless.
The 3rd Regiment, 1st Company (Guesnain) led by Francoise Papie attacked the airfield at Dechy, just to the east of Douai and managed to loot fourteen rifles, two heavy machine guns and three thousand rounds of ammunition. The 3rd Company (Auby) were also in action between the 1st to 3rd September 1944 attacked a group of SS soldiers without any arms, leaving several dead after a one-sided struggle. During the same period the 4th Company (Waziers) supported F.T.P.F who were attacking a German column at 01.30 consisting of a tank, heavy trucks and two cars. The firefight lasted half an hour and the Poles seized four guns, two cars, one German killed and four wounded with a further four taken prisoner. As the column dispersed, the Poles pursued them and captured a further heavy machine gun, a machine gun, handguns, and hand grenades and fifteen horses used for transport. The following morning another detachment of Poles captured several German prisoners and confiscated their weapons to add to their own arsenal. The M.O.I and F.T.P.F released a joint declaration calling for more volunteers to assist in the liberation of France using a recruiting camp at Hérin where a new battalion of Poles was created consisting of two companies, 1st Company commanded by Maslan Kiewicz and 2nd Company by Kazmirierz Zborowski.
As the liberation of France continued to clear out the last German garrisons, many of these soldiers joined the regular French Army (1st Army) and fought in Germany.
M.O.I and F.T.P.F. Départment du Rhone
In the Lyon area, the Polish resistance were concentrated in:
- St. Fons
- Vaulx en Velin
- St. Pierre-la-Palud
The resistance was formed at the beginning of 1941 mainly using propaganda and seeking arms. From mid 1942, the group split into propaganda activities and combat (M.8.1) that included sabotage and diversionary actions. The propaganda activities included targeting Poles conscripted into the Wehrmacht in the garrisons at Fort La Motte-Giron, Gerland in Lyon and Part Dieu in the centre of Lyon with some success. The combat unit sabotaged the rail tracks and factories and ambushing German columns.
During the liberation of Lyon, these groups were active with sixty-five combatants in the company Dabrowski which later merged with the battalion of Henri Barbusse. In December 1944 they joined the 1st French Army and fought in Germany. After the Armistice, they reformed as the 19th Polish Infantry and were based in Besançon and then many returned to Poland.
In the St. Pierre-la-Palud the miners formed their resistance cell in 1942 and carried out extensive propaganda activities and sabotaging the mines and railway lines. The group consisted of forty-five men under the command of Goral Franco. In August 1944 as the liberation of southern France commenced (Operation DRAGOON), German anti-partisan operations started against them. Encamped on a hill above St. Pierre, the German attack inflicted damage, causing a withdrawal until the liberation of Lyon commenced at the end of August. They joined the 5th Battalion of Henri Barbussei. under the command of General De Lattre de Tassigny. The 5th Battalion was commanded by Roman Krakus. On Armistice Day, the Poles were assigned to train with 19th Polish Infantry and were based in Besançon with many choosing to return to Poland.
At Vaulx en Velin, about one hundred men participated in the insurrection at Villeurbanne and Lyon under the command of Lt. Szczepan Wall.
The 9th Polish Battalion based in the Saône and Loire region was commanded by Mieczysław Bargiel (Roger) and based in Montceau-les-Mines (71-6 AS) (Hyperlink to Mieczysław Bargiel (Code Name Major Roger). The 1st Company was commanded by Lt. Vincent Piniarski (August) and the 2nd Company by Lt. Julien Oriowski (Jules). (The 3rd Company records were not included in this archive).
The companies were largely made up of local miners and were recruited mainly between July and August 1944. The operational records indicate the regiment intensified its activities from 23rd March 1944 when they attacked a sanatorium holding twenty-two political detainees. In the following months the sabotaging of railway lines and bridges or surprise attacks on transport columns around Montceau-les-Mines were effective. From 12th August 1944, sabotage, and surprise attacks, particularly on the Milice were stepped up and lasted between two and five days with small groups or a full battalion of 292 men. The battalion had a supply drop of 1.5 tonnes of arms and ammunition on 15th April 1944 at Salornay-sur-Guye, a remote rural area between Montceau-les-Mines and Macon. The derailment of a train between Montceau-les-Mines and Ciry-le-Noble interrupted traffic for twenty hours with two carriages falling into a ravine along with six tanks.
On 25th May 1944 four tonnes of weapons and materials were dropped by parachute over Dettey, a remote rural area just over 10Km N.W of Montceau-les-Mines, probably by RAF 138 Squadron. Surprise attacks on Wehrmacht columns continued in June destroying transports. On 10th July 1944, they sabotaged a bridge at Etang-sur-Arroux, SSW of Autun, causing disruption to traffic for five days. For the following month, the 9th Polish Battalion kept up daily sabotage, ambushes, and harassment of the Germans. Not everything went to plan. On 12th August 1944 an attempt to sabotage a factory at Thelots failed when members of the party fell into the lake when crossing the barrage which left one dead and two injured. Their attacks continue from the 8th to 10th September 1944 when they fought with five hundred men to liberate Autun with six KIA and five injured. Many in the battalion were demobilized on 31st December 1944.
The mobilization of the French resistance (Maquis) has been well documented and largely covers the role of SOE, its agents and the Jedburghs (Jeds) or OSS working in small units to support the disruption to the German war machine prior to and just after the invasion of Normandy (D-Day/ OVERLORD). SOE and the OSS supported only the Maquis that were allied to the FFI to the exclusion of the communist groups, however SHAEF decided that BBC messages would be broadcast to all resistance groups warning of the imminent invasion to appease and reduce friction amongst them.
The logistics of dropping agents and military supplies was a colossal undertaking with the RAF 138 Squadron spearheading these operations in difficult conditions that eased as communication technology improved through use of S-Phones, for example. The FFI (French Forces of the Interior) was an umbrella organization that attempted to unite the various factions and political groups in occupied France and includes the area of the Vichy Government. The Vichy government and the German authorities branded the Maquis as ‘terrorists’ and after March 1944, the Germans increased anti-partisan operations and suppression of a largely supportive local population became more brutal through SS units largely made up of Cossacks (Hue, 2005; Irwin, 2005), the Gestapo, and the Malice working in concert.
The air supply drop to Regiment Valmy was unusual and there’s no archival records to indicate contact with SOE but may have been arranged through SIS. The role of M.O.I and F.T.P.F. in the overall resistance and uprising around operation OVERLORD should not be downplayed as the propaganda activities and sabotage added to the weight and pressure upon the German authorities and Wehrmacht. The confusion and sabotage held back supplies and free movement of German transports for badly needed reserve troops destined for Normandy.
I would like to thank Dr. Steve Kippax for his time and assistance in completing this page. Your support and help are deeply appreciated.
Collin, C. (1994) “ÉTRANGERS ET NOS FRÈRES POURTANT » (ARAGON, L'AFFICHE ROUGE) CONTRIBUTION A L'HISTOIRE DES FRANCS-TIREURS ET PARTISANS DE LA MAIN-D'ŒUVRE IMMIGRÉE”, Guerres Mondiales et Conflits Contemporains, Vol.174, Avril, pp. 161-177.
Collin, C. (2005) “Italians in the M.O.I and ETP-MOI in Lyon and Grenoble”, Guerres Mondiales et Conflits Contemporains, Vol.218, No. 2, pp. 67-83.
Hue, A. (2005) “The Next Moon”, Penguin Books, U.K.
Irwin, W. (2005) “The Jedburghs: The Secret History of the Allied Special Forces, France 1944”, PublicAffairs, USA.
Peschanski, D. (2009) “La confrontation radicale. Résistants communistes parisiens vs Brigades spéciales”, https://hal.science/hal-00363336/document (Accessed 20.09.2020)
Ponty, J. (1988) “Polonais Méconnus: Histoire des travaileurs immigrés en France dans l’entre deux-guerres”, Editions de la Sorbonne, France.
Sękowski, P. (2015) “LES POLONAIS DANS LA RÉSISTANCE COMMUNISTE EN FRANCE”, Prace Historyczne, Vol. 142, No. 4, pp. 671-682.
Selected YouTube Films: