Aleksander SOBOTOWSKI

 

Account of his participation in the September Campaign and Polish Army in France

In September 1939, L/Cpl. A. Sobotowski was fighting with the Polish Army at the Battle of Warsaw.  When it became apparent that the Germans were too powerful, General Sikorski, in command of the Polish Forces, gave his men the choice of surrendering to the Germans or marching to the then neutral country of Rumania, and thus trying to reach France. L/Cpl. Sobotowski, together with about a thousand others, chose the latter course and, after marching 300 miles, arrived at the border, only to be interned by the Rumanian State Police.

After spending three months in a prison near Bucharest, Sobotowski, an Officer and a Sergeant banded together to attempt an escape. They found that bribery was rife and thus were able to "persuade" the guard to look the other way while they climbed over the wire fence of the prison camp compound.

Once outside the camp, they made for Yugoslavia, a mere 250 miles away! They crossed that border without incident. Still in uniform, they travelled another 200 miles across Yugoslavia to the coast. Here they rested a while, having covered over 750 miles on foot!  Later they managed to get aboard a small steamship bound for France, and on arrival at Toulon, were met by representatives of the Polish underground. In due course, L/Cpl Sobotowski and his companions arrived at the Maginot Line.

Life at the Line was pleasant, with plentiful food, good ventilation and comfortable quarters. This sublime existence continued until the Germans broke through in the spring of 1940.

During this time however, Sobotowski was busy. He and fifty-six others who could speak fluent German were dressed in German Officers' uniforms and ordered to infiltrate behind the enemy lines to report on supplies, stores, troop movements and enemy dispositions, and to check maps of the area and verify intelligence reports. To do this work they became, in effect, members of the German Army. They "borrowed" an enemy staff car, complete with pennants and insignias, which enabled them to collect the required information without interference. These missions lasted from two to three days over a period of several months. Reports were signalled by lamp to aircraft at prearranged times.

On one occasion, towards the end of these operations, L/Cpl Sobotowski and two other Corporals captured a German Brigade Commander, complete with his car. They drove back to the Allied Lines in fine style, passing through a large enemy held town en-route. Here they received a most courteous welcome with all the salutations due to a high-ranking officer. The German Brigadier, duly impressed, returned these compliments with tremendous zeal!

For this particular operation, and his many other exploits, L/Cpl. Sobotowski received the Croix de Guerre and the Polish War Medal.

He changed back into Polish uniform when Dunkirk was imminent and crossed to England in one of the "little ships".

L/Cpl Sobotowski went on to serve in the 1st Polish Armoured Division and participated in the European Campaign.

 

 

Source:  Aleksdander Sobotowski at BBC website: bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar