Thanks to combatants, we can boast multidimensional, colorful history, say Special Forces soldiers. They also add that although they may be generations apart, they are all connected by the love of their fatherland.
The Polish Special Forces soldiers have more than once proven they are very professional and perfectly trained. They have executed the most difficult tasks and highest risk operations during missions in Haiti, the Balkans, Iraq or Afghanistan. They can boast numerous successes, which earned them respect among special units around the world. “We have worked hard for that image. However, there are moments when our combat exploits fade,” say the soldiers. “We are full of humility and respect for the achievements of our predecessors. We proudly wear the symbols worn by soldiers who fought for freedom during WWII,” they admit.
We, the Present-day Silent Unseen
Not everyone could become a Silent Unseen (Cichociemny). The Special Operation Executive (SOE), created in Great Britain in 1940, looked for brave, determined people with strong character. BrigGen Stefan Bałuk, one of the Silent Unseen, once said that he had no more than three minutes to decide if he wanted to return to Poland and fight with the occupier. Those who took up the challenge, like he did, had to complete parachute, diversion and shooting trainings, as well as specialist intelligence, liaison or panzer arms courses. Out of 2.413 candidates that started the training, 606 finished it, and 316 Silent Unseen were parachuted into the territory of occupied Poland.
The paratroopers trained in Great Britain were tasked with organizing the resistance movement and fighting with the Nazis. Some of them died during the flight to Poland, dozens fell fighting with the occupier, also during the uprising. Almost 30 were murdered by the Gestapo. Others died in concentration camps or took poison on being arrested, some were executed after the war. Among those who survived the hardships of the war and the communist period, were Stefan Bałuk, Elżbieta Zawadzka, Jan Nowak Jeziorański, Alojzy Józekowski, Józef Zabielski, Antoni Żychiewicz, Bolesław Polończyk, or Aleksander Tarnawski.
How much of their legend has survived to this day? “We are the contemporary Silent Unseen, the descendants of heroes, implementing the traditions of legendary Home Army paratroopers,” says a soldier of JW GROM, a unit that continues to observe their traditions. “We have similar selection and training procedures, only adjusted to current needs. During the war, each candidate had to be in perfect physical shape to take part first in the general, later advanced, and then specialist training. Several dozen years later, we recruit our soldiers in a very similar way,” says Maj Tomasz Mika, JW GROM’s spokesman.
Special Forces soldiers also point out other similarities, such as the fact that GROM recruits only volunteers, people with strong character, determined and motivated. Also, just like within the ranks of the Silent Unseen, their operators specialize in particular fields. “We serve in very different times, but just like them we are entrusted with executing the most difficult tasks all around the world. We have faced many challenges within almost 30 years of the unit’s existence,” says one of the operators.
JW GROM’s successive commanders and soldiers have taken care of veterans. They have invited them to the unit and also visited them in their homes. They admit that there is a special bond of friendship between them. “These were meetings with older fellows, friends, soldiers. The age difference was insignificant. They shared their memories, and we told them about our tasks. The atmosphere was unforgettable,” recalls the spokesman. In 1994, the then president of Zespół Historyczny Cichociemnych (The Silent Unseen Historical Team) was invited to participate in a joint exercise with the British SAS special forces unit. GROM’s commander wanted to prove that that his operators are worthy of continuing the traditions of the Silent Unseen – and a year later he was given a chance to do so. “Each and every Silent Unseen is a unique figure. I am very happy that I had the honor to meet some of them,” says Maj Mika. He adds that he was particularly fond of Zdzisław “Meteor” Straszyński, who, although resided in Australia, came every year to the Silent Unseen reunion organized by the unit. His cheerfulness and sense of humor were extremely contagious.
Mika also names other extraordinary people who often visited the unit: BrigGen Stefan “Starba” Bałuk, the quiet and humble LtCol Kazimierz Bernaczyk-Słoński, the very pleasant Maj Alojzy Józekowski, and, of course, Maj Aleksander “Upłaz” Tarnawski. “Mr Tarnawski is one of us. We feel a very strong bond with him and we are always happy to have him at our unit. Whenever we visit him at home, he and his wife, Elżbieta, always welcome us as if we were family members,” says the officer. Four years ago, GROM soldiers made one of Mr Tarnawski’s dreams come true and organized a tandem parachute jump for him. They also invited him to a shooting range, where he showed them his high skills. He hit the target perfectly, although, due to his age, he could barely see it.
“We wear the Silent Unseen emblem on our uniform – it was their decision. They chose us to be their heirs. We are proud of them and they are proud of us,” adds a GROM soldier. The unit is preparing to take on the name of one of the Silent Unseen. Out of 316 names, eight candidates were shortlisted. The decision on who the patron will be has not been taken yet.
Commandos Cut from the Same Cloth
“Years ago, we were invited to a meeting with the Warsaw Uprising veterans. They wanted to know who we are, what values we believe in, what our service is like. After learning about what we do, they started to trust us, and we felt enormous respect for them,” remembers one of the soldiers of Jednostka Wojskowa Komandosów (JWK, Commando Military Unit). The Task Force C operator wears on the right shoulder of his uniform the symbol of the “Parasol” (Umbrella) Home Army Battalion, because a year after the first meeting his detachment adopted the traditions of “Parasol” soldiers.
The battalion fought in the Warsaw Uprising under the command of a Silent Unseen, Capt Adam “Pług” Borys, and the unit was mainly made up of Gray Ranks (Szare Szeregi) scouts. They organized, among other things, assassinations of Nazi criminals, including Franz Bürckl, commander of the Pawiak prison, and Franz Kutschera, SS and Police leader for the Warsaw district.
“At the beginning, in the 1990s, combatants would come to Lubliniec, but met only with the unit commanders. The situation gradually changed, until one day they started calling us »our boys«. And then we became really attached to them. It is always a joyous occasion when our unit is visited by, for example, Maria »Malina« Wiśniewska or Zbigniew »Brzoza« Rylski – they are the combatants who come here most often,” says Piotr, a JWK operator.
“Combatants are happy to visit our unit. Despite the age difference, we have a brother-like bond. It’s as if an older friend shared his experience and knowledge with a younger one, who wants to continue his work,” adds a JWK sniper. Soldiers proudly present the emblems of the Home Army Battalions. “It is more than just a badge. It shows everyone that we feel we are the heirs of people who carried out special actions during the war. We see similarities between operations executed by the Home Army and those taken on by current special forces. We know that the most important thing, just like then, is to select the right people and have a perfect plan, because some actions have to be carried out in less than a minute,” says Darek of Task Force C.
BrigGen Janusz “Gryf” Brochwicz-Lewiński had a particularly strong bond with the unit. He served in “Parasol,” and during the Warsaw Uprising he led the defense of the Michla Palace in the Wola district. The soldiers not only regularly invited “Gryf” to the unit, but also visited him at home, for example on his birthday. “The general was a living legend. He gladly talked about his service and life after the war. For us, he was invincible,” says Piotr, adding that “people, who fought for our country, are passing away. We truly regret that there will be no more meetings, no more stories. However, we have to make sure that these people remain in our memory.”
Combatants are also deeply respected by soldiers cultivating the traditions of the “Zośka” and “Miotła” battalions. They often visit the unit and gladly meet with the soldiers. “It takes years to build true friendship. Each meeting is like reading another page of our history. There is not one person in the unit who doesn’t appreciate these memories,” says “Jawo” of JWK’s command team.
The youngest heirs of insurgent traditions at the JWK are the Task Force A soldiers. The commandos have been wearing the symbol of the Home Army “Miotła” Battalion (created at the beginning of 1944) for six years now. Its soldiers dealt with diversion and sabotage, denounced traitors and informers, and liquidated them. The code name of the battalion, Miotła (Broom), reflected the type of tasks they specialized in: the soldiers were to “sweep” enemies and SS agents out of the capital. “Sweepers” were mostly boys and girls from poor districts of the city. “When we listen to the stories from the time of the Uprising, it makes our flesh creep. The veterans share with us memories about life in the occupied country, organizing the resistance, underground education. We feel honored to have earned their trust and to be the heirs of their legacy,” says the modern-day “sweeper,” a Task Force A operator.
“Task Force groups cultivating the traditions of the Home Army Battalions fighting in the Warsaw Uprising truly enjoy the meetings with combatants. Unfortunately, we can’t meet the soldiers of the 1st Independent Commando Company (SKC) anymore,” says Arek, commander of Task Force B. Commandos of this detachment have adopted the traditions of the 1st SKC, created in 1942, and commanded by Capt Władysław Smrokowski. The soldiers of that company were the first Poles to carry out combat operations on the Italian Peninsula. They took part in the Battle of Monte Cassino. They also fought for Ancona, and after the 1st SKC was turned into the 2nd Motorized Commando Battalion, also for Bologna. “They were the precursors of the modern special forces. They volunteered from among the most motivated soldiers; perfectly trained and always assigned to the most demanding combat tasks. We are proud to be able to cultivate the traditions of such a distinguished unit,” says “Tedi,” an NCO of Task Force B.
The soldiers of the 1st SKC used to come to Lubliniec until the end of the 1990s. There are no living soldiers of that detachment any more, but the soldiers of the unit keep in touch with the veterans of the 2nd Motorized Commando Battalion, the unit created on the basis of the 1st SKC. “The Commando Company emblem is extremely important to us. We wear it with pride, because we know that the 1st SKC commandos fought for freedom with great devotion,” adds the group commander. His subordinates went to Italy in 2018 in order to follow their predecessors’ combat trail. They also found the graves of all soldiers who were buried there.
“You think differently about history when you are standing in the very place where grand battles were fought. This year we have returned to Italy. In mid-April, a memorial plaque commemorating the Polish soldiers of the 1st Independent Commando Company was unveiled in Pescopennataro. “We wanted to commemorate the events of 1943, when the soldiers of the 1st SKC had their combat baptism in Italy while fighting for a small town,” emphasizes the commander of Task Force B.
autor zdjęć: arch. JWK