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After Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany, thousands of Polish military personnel escaped to France, and later the UK, where they made an invaluable contribution to the Allied war effort.

In June 1940, the Polish Government in exile in the UK signed an agreement with the British Government to form an independent Polish Army, Air Force and Navy in the UK, although they remained under British operational command.

Polish ground forces fought in the North Africa campaign, the Italian campaign, the Normandy campaign following on from D Day and in the Battle for Berlin.

Polish personnel served in all RAF commands and across all operational theatres and were some of the most experienced Allied pilots, having already fought in the 1939 campaign in Poland and the 1940 Battle of France. Their contribution to the Battle of Britain was considered invaluable. 5% of the pilots involved in the Battle were Polish (145 in total), but were responsible for 12% of total victories, with 303 (Polish) Fighter Squadron recognised as the most successful of any Allied squadron. Twenty nine Polish pilots lost their lives during the Battle of Britain. Four Polish officers were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Of the Polish contribution to the Battle of Britain, then Commander in Chief of Fighter Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, went on to comment later:

Had it not been for the magnificent work of the Polish squadrons and their unsurpassed gallantry, I hesitate to say that the outcome of battle would have been the same.

After the Battle of Britain, the Polish Air Force continued to serve alongside the RAF in the air campaign until the last day of the war. By the end of the war approximately 19,400 Poles were serving in the RAF, across Fighter, Bomber and Coastal commands. 2,408 Polish airmen were killed during the war. 300 (Polish) Squadron, serving with Bomber Command, suffered the highest number of deaths of any Bomber Command unit.

Polish Navy vessels, which had escaped to the UK on the eve of war, also fought alongside the Royal Navy throughout the entirety of the war, supplemented by a number of British ships and submarines crewed by Polish personnel. They were heavily involved in the escort of convoys, in operations against The Bismarck and took part in D-Day. Of the 4,000 Polish personnel who served with the Polish Navy during the war, 450 lost their lives in action.

By 1944 the Polish Armed Forces in the West numbered 195,000 personnel.

Three Polish mathematicians, Jerzy Rozycki, Henryk Zygalski and Marian Rejewski also pioneered early decryption work that led to the Allies eventually cracking the ‘Enigma’ code, which is considered to have shortened the war by two years. Polish intelligence also operated one of the largest intelligence networks in Europe and Nazi Germany as part of the Allied war effort.

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