Saturday, January 17, 2009

Poland Alone: Britain, SOE and the Collapse of Polish Resistance, 1944 by Jonathan Walker

An interesting book about a subject few know much about. While I am quite interested in the Warsaw uprising of 1944, especially the role the Red Army played, or did not play as the case might be, in it, this book goes somewhat beyond that. The author analyzes the relationship that existed between the Polish Home Army (AK), the Polish government in exile, the British SOE, and the British government. Overall it is an interesting account but, in my opinion, lacking in a few instances.

First, there is not enough coverage of the Red Army and its actions as well as few sources on the subject from the Soviet/Russian side. True, this isn't what the book is ultimately about, but I still think more could have been done. For example, the author would have greatly benefited from David Glantz's article on what the Red Army was doing on the eve of the uprising and throughout the uprising itself. But I will give credit to the author in that he does explain the situation the Red Army found itself in (although not in the detail I'd have liked to see); the dedicated and heavy German resistance and reinforcements that were brought in to hold the Red Army from entering Warsaw, the various attempts and minor offensives that were undertaken by the Red Army, etc.

While some of the accusations the author goes through have merit, others seem to be taken out of context and, forgetting realism, are seen in a simply idealistic light. For example, how much could Britain negotiate on the part of the Poles with Stalin? Not much since Stalin controlled Poland. Yes, it's not fair that Poland's borders were moved, but Stalin had his reasons and Churchill, as well as others within England, understood this reality. On the other hand the author quite poignantly points out that not only was the Soviet Union out of the loop in regards to the beginning of the uprising, but the British themselves were never forewarned. Then when requests were made to begin dropping supplies, immediate action could simply not be taken as there was no planning done for such operations.

In the end I think this narrative has much to offer in explaining the relationship that developed between Poland and the British throughout WWII. Yet, ultimately I believe there is still much that remains to be written about these events, especially the uprising.

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