Sosabowski     Virtuti  Orzel
commemorating the history of the family
General Stanisław Sosabowski

General Stanisław Sosabowski

A Personalised CV of my grandfather Major General Stanisław Franciszek Sosabowski CBE
by Stan Sosabowski

8th May 1892
Born 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 - Stanisław Andrzej Janina and Kazimiera but died early leaving young Stanisław the burden of looking after and feeding the family.

Realschule [High School] in Polish followed by 2 years at The Commercial Academy in Krakow. Returned home to work as a bank clerk.

Commander 24th Polish Rifle Unit then Regional Commander Polish Forces South Eastern Galicia. The beginnings of a new independent Polish army.

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 Stanisław 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 nigh.

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.

Transferred to the Ministry for Army Affairs Warsaw. Following the treaty of Versailles the family return to Poland as Polish citizens and take up residence in the Zoliborz district of Warsaw - Officer's Zoliborz (a very chic Warsaw suburb then and especially now).

As materials and supplies specialist fluent in French Member of the Polish Mission to the Interallied Council in Spa Belgium. - a sort of mini Marshal plan to help kick start Poland a brand new nation in need. Promoted to Major.

Attended the Polish Army General Staff College" Wyszsza Szkola Wojskowa " in Warsaw. Joined a very select band of people. Many of his fellow students Przedrzymirski Heller Ulrich would later hold high military office. Second son Jacek born in Warsaw.The grand family house with around 400 meters living space is constructed at Josef Haukiego Street No 11. The house consisted of basement ground first and second floors and large garden. Worth millions today.

1923 - 1927
Having completed Staff College assigned to the Army General Staff as Staff Officer. Overall objective - to help rebuild Poland's shattered and piecemeal army and officer corps. The Prussians had not allowed Poles to become officers while in the Russian and Austrian armies the officer class was a pampered snobbish elite. His specialization was supply and material matters.

March 1928
Promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. Given command of a battalion of the 75th Infantry Regiment at Chorzow and then at Rybnik in Sylesia southern Poland a fiercely independent German-speaking region, which is the heart of Poland's coal mining industry. That same year made Deputy CO of the 3rd Highland Rifle Regiment an elite mountain infantry unit.

Lecturer then Head of Department Polish General Staff College. Nicknamed " The Shopkeeper." Published 2 books which became standard military texts

After 6 years had had enough and returned to the line.CO 9th Infantry Regiment 3rd Infantry Division Zamosc. Then tragedy !!!. His younger son Jacek died in a terrible accident.

January 1939
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.

September 1939
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.

October 1939
Warsaw capitulates. The September Campaign was over. The Polish Army surrendered and was interned in the Prisoner of War Camp at Zyrardow. Escaped!! Sort of walked out would be more accurate. Finding no luck in Warsaw fled Poland. First to Lwow then by foot over the mountains to Czechoslovakia then on to Budapest and finally a plane to Venice and Paris. He was the first high-ranking officer to have made it. Reported immediately for debriefing to General Wladyslaw Sikorski the then Prime Minister and Supreme C., a charismatic leader and astute politician.

January 1940
His first command on French soil. Deputy CO 1st Infantry Division [the Grenadiers] at Coetquidan in God forsaken Brittany. What a hole! And weren't the French ever so arrogant and difficult to work with. The Poles had lost n'est pas? Poland had been overrun in one month. Oui ? Donc imbeciles. Only the French knew how to fight! Soon after Deputy CO 4th Rifle Division at Les Sables d'Olones on the Atlantic coast. What a lucky break!

July 1940
Hitler invades France. Now it was the turn of the French to eat humble pie and their Maginot Line to be made mincemeat of in no time at all. Escaped on the very last and very overcrowded steamer the Abderpool sailing to England with some 3200 soldiers many officers from the 4th Division. All in all in this the first wave some 24000 Polish soldiers made it. They became the nucleus of the 1st Polish Army Corps stationed in Scotland. Their initial task together with the Home Army was to defend the realm from possible attack from Norway.

21st July 1940
Plymouth. Then Glasgow. There the initial hurdle was to convince the paymaster that yes there were indeed 2000 officers each entitled to 5 shillings per day instead of just 2.

July 1940
Next stop Biggar in Lanarkshire. On his own initiative to combat the demoralizing rain formed the 2nd Cadre Rifle Brigade. Cadre because of the large number of officers in the ranks.

August 1940
Next stop Eliock in Dumfries. The brigade renamed the Canadian Cadre Rifle Brigade. The possibility of going to Canada was a big incentive for new recruits. Name changed to the 4th Cadre Rifle Brigade when another unit went in place. Wrote to Sikorski asking to be made Commanding Officer - he had had enough of being second in command. Request granted.

October 1940
Final stop Leven in Fife. The brigade now with full British Army status formed part of the defense force guarding a 15 mile stretch of the Firth of Forth and the Fourth Railway bridge. Phew what a year that had been !

February 1941
In a flash of inspiration the CO decided that the brigade must become a parachute elite. Able to help liberate occupied Poland by the shortest route namely by air. Intensive training began in the town of Upper Largo in the grounds of Largo House known as "The Monkey Grove" and on a makeshift welded together training tower at Lundin Links nearby.

Training continued at the British Parachute Training Center Ringway Airport Manchester. Also helped select and train men " The Silent and Unseen " for special operations in Poland. Very brave patriots.

June 1944
Promoted to Major General - one of the few Polish Army generals of WW II who made a difference

1st August 1944
Operation Tempest - The Warsaw Uprising A crazy solo attempt to free Warsaw. A blood bath. The Home Army against 8 German divisions !! 63 days of vicious fighting while the Russian Army waited from across the other side of the Vistula.
His son though seriously wounded did manage to come out alive. The outcome was a totally devastated city 15,000 Home Army soldiers and 200 000 civilians dead.
All in all precisely what Stalin had wanted.

17th September 1944
Operation Market Garden - An equally foolhardy and ill planned undertaking! Brigade parachuted in and around Arnhem and got stuck there. Operation called off soon after.'A 100km corridor to nowhere' was the end result.

December 1944
He had served his purpose now it was payback time. Relieved of command by " Boy " Browning and madeInspector of Salvage and Disposal. Inspector Nobody ! What a terrible blow to his soldierly pride. The brigade had been his family, his life, everything.

One of the founders and honorary member of the Polish Airborne Association [ZPS Zwiazek Polskich Spadochroniarzy] for former members of the brigade.

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.

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.

September 1967

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.
  • Some 30 Scout Troops in Poland are named after him.

Back to index


Authors: Hal Sosabowski & Stan Sosabowski
Pictures of the Virtuti Militari and Orzel by kind permission of Prof. Z. Wesolowski. All other content copyright, all rights reserved.