This is how a gene absent from Chambois writes about the events of those days. Franciszek Skibinsky:
The behavior of the prisoners, among whom there were many SS men, became more and more insolent and provocative. It was possible, however, to avoid the only possible pedagogical measure under such circumstances. I mean just ... shooting.
However, according to the Americans present in Chambois, not only could not such a "pedagogical" measure be avoided, but quite the opposite: the Poles cold-bloodedly shot German prisoners, regardless of their nationality - even if they were Austrians or Poles from territories annexed to the Third Reich. The soldiers of the 1st Armored Division were remembered by the allies as gloomy and angry, all around them prying out only one thing: what the BBC says about the Warsaw Uprising.
Were the prisoners really shot under the influence of the tragic news from Warsaw?
It will be possible to give an unambiguous answer to this question only when Polish historians abandon the collusion of silence around the Chambois topic.
German prisoners of warcaptured by the Polish 1st Armored Division during the Battle of Chambois. The exact number of prisoners of war who fell into the hands of the Poles is still unknown, which gives rise to reasonable suspicions about their destruction.
The main argument of the Polish side in favor of the version that there were no violations of the law in the treatment of the prisoners are the memoirs of the highest rank of the German prisoner from Chambois - General Otto Elfeldt, who never made any claims about the maintenance of German prisoners by the Poles.
This is only partially true. Elfeldt, until his death in October 1982, had no right to say anything bad about the Poles, because neither he nor his group witnessed any crimes on the part of the allies. But we are talking about other prisoners who were not handed over to the Americans and who are still missing.
In Poland, there are only unofficial rumors on this topic. But American veterans openly say that everyone was well aware of the shootings of prisoners by the Poles in Chambois, and even now you can ask the elderly residents of the city about them - the 90th division of the US Army is not afraid of such an investigation.
According to American sources, the soldiers of the 90th division after the war kept in touch with the residents of Chambois, and especially a certain Denise Bucke, who became their kind of "insurance policy" in case the blame for the death of 1300 German prisoners was attributed to the Americans. An officer who fought for Falaise and a veteran of the 90th division, John Colby wrote to me in a private letter:
Even in a letter from Waters, dated September 13, 1999, I see him asking me if I had met Denise Bucke. We called her "Our Lady of Chambois." He and Waters just had a very sweet meeting. Their conversation boiled down, in particular, to the question of the Polish captain and his statement that the Poles had killed 1300 prisoners.
So Denise Bucke and 1300 prisoners.
Where are they from?
In the Chambois area, the Poles faced the problem of the number of prisoners, too large in relation to the personnel of the 1st Armored Division, who were supposed to guard them. Official historical documents speak of 2000 people, but in unofficial research and private memoirs there are different numbers, sometimes contradicting each other.
So there it was:
- 1300 soldiers captured on August 19 by the group of Major Vladislav Zgorzhelsky;
- from 500 to 1000 (according to various sources), captured on August 20 at the height of Mont Ormel;
- several hundred (there is even more spread of data according to sources), taken prisoner on August 20 by patrol platoons of captain Jerzy Vasilevsky;
- and smaller groups captured during 21 August.
Due to the impossibility of keeping such a number of prisoners on their own, the Poles agreed with the Americans to transfer them to a temporary prisoner of war camp, which was held in Chambois by part of the 7th company of the 2nd battalion of the 359th regiment of the 90th division under the command of Captain Laughlin Waters ... The Americans wanted to know how many prisoners they should prepare for the influx. And we received an answer from the Poles - about two thousand.
These prisoners never fell into the hands of Waters.
In his book titled "Narvik and Falaise" Polish veteran Colonel Vladislav Detz, former deputy commander of the 3rd Infantry Brigade of the 1st Armored Division, wrote:
General Elfeldt, 28 officers and 1,5 thousand prisoners had to be sent to the Americans. But this could only be done on August 21st.
Such is the obligatory version of events, admitted to print in Poland, that all the Germans were handed over to the Americans in bulk by the Poles.
Decu echoes and Skibinsky:
On the afternoon of August 20, Major Zgorzelski "sold" 1906 prisoners to the Americans.
Both of these information are false.
I'm not even talking about the discrepancy between the dates and the number of prisoners, which both Polish officers see. Because there is still a basic provision that does not withstand the verification of documents, American publications that have been published since 1945, as well as the memoirs of American and French witnesses: Poles transferred prisoners of war in small groups, in different places and at different times. And their total number did not exceed half of the declared.
So, on August 20, 1944, the Poles handed over, according to American data, about 750 Germans, and according to the Polish - 796. They were handed over to the wrong Americans who were expecting them. They were transferred not to the 7th company of the 2nd battalion of the 359th regiment of the 90th division of captain Laughlin Waters, but to the 5th company of the 2nd battalion of the 359th regiment of the 90th division of captain Edward Lingardt, who accidentally met the Poles. confirmed the transfer of prisoners. The fifth company immediately got rid of the prisoners, transferring them to the 3rd battalion of the 358th regiment of the 90th division, that is, to another battalion that fought in Chambois. In the American documentation, this group, which contained the gene. Otto Elfeldt, not even registered in the assets of the 2nd battalion of the 359th regiment, but only in the assets of the 3rd battalion of the 358th regiment.
The last group of prisoners, approx. 200 people, the Poles handed over to the Americans on August 22 to the command of the Waters company. This happened on the estate of Paul and Denise Bucke, members of the Resistance movement who speak English. Denise Bucke was present at the transfer of the prisoners along with Waters.
When Waters asked where the rest of the prisoners were, because there should have been two thousand of them, and there were only about 200, the Polish captain just shrugged his shoulders and replied: “There are none. We shot them. That's all that's left. " Waters, who had already witnessed how the Poles shot prisoners, began to shout: "Why weren't these people shot?" Then, recollecting himself, he added that they have no right to do this, to which he received the answer: “Oh yes, we have. They shot at my fellow countrymen. " And then, taking Waters by the hand, took him to the side and added: “Captain, we cannot shoot these. We're out of cartridges. "
This case, well-known in Chambois, overshadowed US-Polish relations, especially since the fate of at least 1300 prisoners is unknown, and their traces are lost after being recorded in the assets of the 1st Armored Division. But the Poles cannot escape the question of the treatment of prisoners of war while the Americans write the following:
Corpses don't lie. In the territory where we had not fought before, but only later occupied, we found whole heaps of German corpses. They were bodies without weapons, helmets, belts. They lay supine with their arms thrown back; in this position do not go into battle.
“Yesterday, our troops, together with units of the Polish 24th Armored Regiment, advanced along the Div and took the city of Chambois,” - reported on August 20, 1944, Canadian Lieutenant Colonel Jean Thorburn at a meeting at the headquarters of the 27th armored regiment of the Sherbrooke riflemen. And this phrase is firmly inscribed in the annals of Canadian military history. It's hard to find anything more annoying for Americans from the 90th Infantry Division and its fighter battalions. tanks.
If the Canadians really took the city on August 19, then with whom did the Americans fight stubbornly in the center of Chambois until August 21? From the Polish point of view, the Canadians quite unfairly credit themselves with the capture of Chambois solely on the grounds that the 1st Armored Division was subordinated to the Canadian II Corps, although no Canadian fought in Chambois.
Franciszek Skibiński in one of his books calls the Poles "liberators of Chambois" and claims that it was taken already on 19 August.
But the Canadian national hero and veteran of the Battle of Chambois, Major David Currie of the 29th Reconnaissance Armored Regiment of Southern Alberta, sees it completely differently:
On the evening of 19 August, the Poles took the northern edge of the city and attacked the II SS Panzer Corps, which was concentrating on approaching it. The battle continued until August 21, when the Falaise cauldron was closed.
Currie is the only Canadian to be awarded the Victoria Cross (the highest military honor in the British Empire) for the Battle of Normandy. At Chambois, he commanded a mechanized tank group operating in the vicinity of the Poles.
There is no author in the Polish historical literature of the same format and culture as Terry Kopp. One of the few just, Kopp, without reservations and without embellishment, pays tribute to the Americans, Canadians and Poles who participated in the battles for the Falaise Cauldron. The cultural gap between Poland and Canada is illustrated in a warm article by Kop, entitled "Our Polish brothers in arms".
And in Polish publications, the most famous Canadian, Major David Currie, almost does not exist. If he is mentioned, it is usually casually, with errors and with belittling of the significance of his group. Currie commanded the forces of three Canadian regiments. Like the Poles, he plugged the gaps in the front and more than once rescued the Poles in critical situations - for this he received his Victoria Cross. And how the Poles describe other Canadian connections, it is better not to remember.
The Polish 1st Armored Division in the Falaise Cauldron fought excellently, but with peculiarities of national tactics. Gord Collette, a Canadian signalman from the 4th Armored Division, has repeatedly observed the actions of the Poles, including in the battles for Chambois. His memoirs are a unique contribution to the "trench truth" of the war, often contradicting dry, official historical monographs. The Polish mixture of reckless courage, indiscipline, ill-conceived initiative, a desire to stand out and specifically understood tactics aroused mixed feelings among Canadians. Where Skibinsky saw "excellent knowledge of tactics and the most effective use of them," Canadians saw something else:
Their soldiers were excellent, but the army needed discipline, and their hatred made them a very problematic ally in battle. Both the Poles and our division were ordered to act with armored formations - starting at the exact time indicated and the end when the precisely indicated goals were achieved. This was done in order to enlist reliable cover for the flanks. The attack went ahead, the goals were achieved - then we stopped to strengthen on new lines. But the Poles refused to obey and continued to advance - thus, they exposed their left flank. After waiting for them to advance far enough in the center, the Germans went to their rear, cut them off from the main forces and began to destroy the Poles in parts. Our reserve armored regiment was ordered to come to the rescue and remove the survivors from the encirclement, which resulted in tangible losses in equipment and tank crews for us. They did this once - and we helped them out. A few days later, they again acted in a similar way - and again this resulted in the loss of half of our tanks and crews for us, when our regiment went to their rescue. When they did this for the third time, as far as I know, the general commander of our division notified the corps headquarters that he was sending the regiment to the rescue - but for the last time he was giving such an order to the units entrusted to him. If the Poles do this again, he will no longer send them any help, and damn them - let them get out as they can. As a result, the Poles no longer acted in this way, but our general was recalled from the active army back to Canada, to an administrative position. What a fucking injustice to send a great line commander to hang around in the rear.
Why did the demons of World War II in Western Europe suddenly return to Poland so many years later?
This whole unpleasant story actually dragged on latently for decades. But in 2000 it was rethought.
That year the Polish translation of Stephen Ambrose's book was released "Citizens Soldiers" (Citizen Soldiers). In Polish translation - "Citizens in uniform" (Obywatele w mundurach). There you can find an excerpt from a conversation between the already mentioned John Colby, which took place in Chambois between Captain Laughlin Waters of the 90th American Infantry Division and Polish soldiers escorting prisoners who, according to earlier Polish-American agreements, were supposed to deliver Waters 1,5 –2 thousand, but brought - only 200 and said that the rest were shot.
No one in Poland was surprised, no one was indignant, no one on this occasion began to demand any answers to this question, shocking for the Polish mentality. Democratic public opinion was gagged. And the veil of silence fell over this whole story, according to the principle - "quieter over this grave", which in this case is far from imagery.
Polish veterans of the 1st Armored Division have publicly denied these conversations in Chambois, accusing both Western historians and Polish journalists of lying.
Meanwhile, the authenticity of this conversation is easily confirmed even today by unbiased historians and journalists. As a long-term researcher of the history of the battles for Chambois and an informal consultant to a large team checking all the details of the conflict over the capture of this city, I researched it myself. The conversation took place at the estate of the Buquet couple and in the presence of many witnesses, including Denise Bucke, who spoke English.
Whether anyone likes it or not, at least one report published in the United States on the execution of prisoners of war by Poles in Chambois has become known in the world. And there is no getting away from him.
However, according to the Polish side, the Chambois problem does not exist.
On the other hand, there is a huge problem of Polish public opinion ignorance of the real picture of the battle in Normandy, which is directly superimposed on the gigantic problem of pathological myth-making on the theme of the Polish army, as the only armed force in the history of mankind, not affected by baseness and criminal acts. This, in turn, coincides with the inability of the Poles to assimilate the slightest but negative historical information about themselves.
If we add to this the perception of World War II in the West through the prism of fiction films, all these "Kelly's Heroes", "Dirty Dozen", "Weapons of Navarona" and other "Where the eagles don't fly", as well as the underdeveloped market of solid translated literature on the topic of World War II, it should be stated that in the imagination of the Poles, the war in the Western European theater of operations has turned, if not into a farce, then into some fanfare - akin to stories about cowboys and Indians.
There is a lot of food, drink and women. There - cool military equipment, clean uniforms, serviceable supplies. And only weather whims occasionally interfere with the good mood or plans of military strategists. Any information other than these stereotypes would be shocking and implausible for Poles.
However, there are no such wars.
Just as there are no wars that come out with clean hands, regardless of whether they are fighting on the right side or on the wrong side.