Stanislaw Franciszek Sosabowski was born on the 6th May 1892, in Stanislawow a town in Austrian Poland known then as Galicia. At that time Poland did not exist. For over 126 years it had been partitioned by the 3 great powers of the day Russia Prussia and Austria. Today the town lies deep in the Ukraine. Father a railway clerk had 4 children in all 2 boys and 2 girls - Stanislaw Andrzej Janina and Kazimiera but died early leaving young Stanislaw the burden of looking after and feeding the family.
1914 - 1916
The start of World War 1. Mobilized as a cadet corporal in the gray uniform the 58th Infantry Regiment of the Austrian Imperial Army. Helped defend the Austrian Fortress city of Przemysl. Decorated with every conceivable medal available to an NCO. As cadet sergeant he was only 1 of 3 survivors out of a company of 250 men. If a Russian bullet didn't get you one of the other 3 Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Starvation Disease or Hypothermia would. World War I was an orgy of senseless death. For example in the Battle of the Somme on the Western Front the British army sustained 57,000 casualties in one day. Badly wounded he spent many months in hospital. Sent to convalesce in the Czechoslovak Republic to be joined by his wife to be Maria Tokarska.
Promoted to 2nd lieutenant for his conspicuous bravery. First son Stanislaw Janusz born in Brno. Exempt from active service because of his war wounds. Sent to Archduke Franz Josef's HQ in the Tyrol as Staff Officer. Privy to loads of highly confidential information and secret orders. It was plain that the Central Powers had lost and that the end of the war was in sight.
Asked to be transferred to Lublin (General Government). Poland was reemerging from the ashes of World War I and 120 years of exile. Promoted to Captain. Swore allegiance to the newly formed Polish State. Organized and supervised the disarming and returning home of Ukranian soldiers, former unites of the Austrian Army. A delicate task.
Recognition. Colonel in Chief 21st Infantry Regiment " The Children of Warsaw " one of the most prestigious regiments in Poland stationed in the capital itself. In May led the yearly regimental parade through cheering Warsaw on his white horse. 6 months later there would be a radically different kind of parade - arrogant victors amongst a silent and vanquished folk.
The start of World War II. Hitler invades Poland. Blitzkrieg. Tanks motorized infantry and complete air mastery against an ill equipped opponent. His regiment formed part of Army Modlin. After many days of forced marches and skirmishes found themselves behind enemy lines. Led them to safety. For this inspired leadership and his part in defending the Warsaw suburb Grochow awarded the Virutui Militari Poland's highest medal. 2 weeks later Poland invaded from the East. The carve up was complete. The game was up. A cat in hell stood a much better chance.
17 September 1944 - Operation Market Garden
It was Montgomery's masterplan to shorten the war by six months by bypassing the Sigfried line. It involved securing all the key bridges over the Rhine the Maas the Waal and a number of canals using elite American British and Polish Airborne forces backed up on land by the swift advance of an armoured brigade. The most important bridge, the gateway to the industrial heartland of Germany, was the 600m long Arnhem bridge over the Lower Rhine a mere 64 miles due north of the front line. The deciding factors would be surprise, and feeble German resistance and the very fast link up with the Sherman tanks of XXX Corps. It was to be the largest airborne troop landing in history. The First Allied Airborne Army was composed of two Corps. The US Corps comprising the 82nd and 101st Airborne and the British Corps with the 1st and 6th Airborne Divisions, the 52nd Lowland Division and the Polish Parachute Brigade. General Breton was overall Commander in Chief while 'Boy' Browning led the British Corps from a safe distance away. Urquhart was the actual battle commander of the British and Polish forces.
As the day approached General Sosabowski became increasingly anxious. From the start he had been vehemently opposed to the whole idea and had made his objections abundantly and in fairness, abrasively clear at staff meetings and at a last minute private meeting with Browning. His protests were of no avail and made him even more unpopular with Browning who after the battle would get his own back on this troublesome thorn in his side.
"Market Garden" began early on Sunday morning September 17th with 1400 bombers carpet bombing numerous military targets. Then at 9.45, 2023 transport planes many towing gliders, took off from 26 airports in England and made their tortuously slow way to the Low Countries. Above and below and as far as the eye could see this aerial armada was protected by 1500 American and British fighter planes; Mustangs, Mosquitoes, Tornadoes and the like, making a total of 5000 allied planes in the air at one go. It was a truely awe-inspiring sight, wave after wave of aeroplanes hour after hour after hour.
Soon in the region of 20,000 allied soldiers would find themselves on the ground fighting to seize their allotted objective and keep their bit of the corridor open until the arrival of the tanks of the Irish Guards led by Horrocks. The Americans with objectives close to the front line had a bit of luck and made it all look rather easy. The 101st Airborne under Maxwell D. Taylor just failed to save the Son bridge near Eindhoven but which for the most part remained intact. Link up with XXX corps occurred a day later on the 18th. Further north the 82nd under Gavin with his 7500 men also fared very well and took three of their four designated bridges around Nijmegen on the first day. Link up with XXX Corps occurred four days later when the Nijmegen viaduct was captured intact. However still further north around Arnhem Sosabowski's worst fears were being realised. Some 5200 of Urquhart's men (The 1st Airborne Division) had landed and the outlook seemed bright.
Then, hell was unleashed
All communications equipment was inoperative. On top of this, only Frost's 2nd battalion was able to advance swiftly along a small road running along the bank of the Lower Rhine and take the north side of the bridge. The south side proved impossible.
Monday the 18th, more reinforcements were dropped but General Urquhart had gone missing and was presumed dead! Frost in the mean time had begun his desperate lonely loosing fight at his end of the bridge - few reinforcements and fierce German counter attacks recapturing lost houses. Over the next 2 days the situation began to deteriorate. The allied forces around Oosterbeek were encircled and their perimeter had begun to shrink. Many dropping zones were in enemy hands.
Wednesday the 20 th, XXX Corps had reached Nijmegen barely 17 km away from Arnhem well behind schedule but certainly in time to change the course of events. There they rested and waited for orders. Incomprehensible! It was also on that day that Browning first received news about the tragic situation the British forces were in.
Thursday 21st, weather conditions allowed the dropping of further reinforcements but by then Frost's group had been overwhelmed on the fated bridge. His incredibly brave stand had not been in vain. He had prevented any panzer reinforcements from crossing the bridge. XXX Corps had meanwhile received orders to continue their advance! Sosabowski's Polish Parachute Brigade was dropped on the south side of the river at Driel nearly opposite to where the main British forces were. They had effectively ceased as a fighting unit bottled up in a cauldron 3 km by 1500 m and shelled continuously from three sides for days. But there was no immediate way of helping Urquhart [see his comments] no way to ford a 400m wide fast flowing river under German observation and fire power. Even the RAF masters of the air had refused repeatedly to help their comrades in need.
Friday 22nd, advance reconnaissance from XXX Corps linked up with Sosabowski but 2 Sherman tanks were knocked out by Polish mines of all things. The first attempt to cross the Rhine late that night failed miserably. Only 50 soldiers, made it.
Saturday 23rd, Urquhart’s laconic radio telegram to Browning reads thus: “under continuous attack from infantry artillery tanks and flamethrowers. HQ under fire. Situation unchanged but defense weaker. Still no communication with our forces on the south side. Today’s supplies drop a failure. Little ammunition no food no water – everyone is filthy. Moral is high but the constant battering is taking its toll. We are holding out in the hope of better days”. What incredible courage! British stiff upper lip at its very best! At 0100 hours the Poles tried once again using American pontoons but under the continuous German barrage incur heavy losses and only 200 manage to join their British comrades.
Sunday 24th, German artillery continued hammering the British and the supplies drop once again failed. After a staff meeting with Horrocks it was decided that the third traverse attempt was to be lead by a battalion? of the Dorsets. Trucks arrived with boats without oars followed by 6 amphibious craft soon to be stuck in the mud. The Germans had by now got used to this turkey shoot. By daybreak only 100 men had made it.
Monday 25th. Operation Berlin! Defeat and retreat back across the cursed river to the welcoming Poles. Out of the 10,000 men who originally went in, only 2,000 made it back.
One of the founders and honorary member of the Polish Airborne Association [ZPS Zwiazek Polskich Spadochroniarzy] for former members of the brigade.
1947 - 1948
Demobilized. At 57 what can a Polish ex general do in a foreign country after the ravages of a world war ? A return to Poland might mean a show trial jail humiliation or worse.All were very real possibilities. It had to be Blighty then - Hobson's choice. A dabble in real estate was successful but a business venture attempt, a second hand furniture shop in Maida Vale called " Polycraft" failed.
1949 - 1966
Storekeeper then production worker in the Electrical Assembly Plant CAV Electrics Acton. Wrote 2 books in his spare time war memories and an autobiography which are still in print. Weekdays meant anonymity greasy overalls and clocking in as Stan with "his mates" for 6 pounds p/week !Weekends and holidays the genuinely loved General was feted all over the world by ex brigade members and grateful citizens whom he had helped liberate. What a contrast ! After 17 years hard graft stopped work at 75! An ignoble finale to an amazing life.
Died of heart problems Hillingdon Hospital Middlesex. Buried in the family grave with military honours at the Powazki Military Cemetery Warsaw.
For his outstanding bravery and unrivaled leadership awarded the following more important top decorations:
- The Independence Cross;
- The Cross of Valour;
- The Order of Polonia Restituta Class V;
- The Golden Cross of Merit with Swords;
- The Virtuti Militari Cross Class V;
- The CBE;
- The Officer's Medal of the Active Combatants Association;
- Academic Laurels from The Polish Academy of Science;
- Freeman of the Municipality of Heteren;
- Krzyz Komandorski z Gwiazda Orderu Odrodzenia Polski (The Commander's Cross with Star) posthumously
- Order of Polonia Restituta.