Polish Army in Russia 1942 50k Brown "We Shall Return"

1/05/2012     Poland, Russia

This scarce and seldom seen stamp was issued by the Polish Army of the Soviet Union, set up by Stalin under the command of General Anders at their main transit camp at Janji-Jul, near Tashkent in modern- day Uzbekistan.

At the outbreak of WWII, September 1939, Germany and Russia had divided up Poland under the notorious Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in the course of which almost 2 million Poles including most of the Armed Forces were transported into forced labour camps or political and psychiatric prisons in Russia. However on 22 June 1941, Hitler launched Operation Barbarosa, an unexpected and devastating attack on the Soviet Union with over 4½ million highly mechanised axis troops. Stalin and The Soviets suddenly found themselves on the same side as the Allies.

Stalin issued an "amnesty" for Polish citizens imprisoned or deported to the Soviet Union to allow the recruitment and formation of a Polish Army. The army was set up in the South Asian part of Russia, headed by General Anders, a former inmate of the notorious Lubyanka prison in Moscow. However the creation of this army was long on rhetoric and short on substance and it soon became clear that the Soviets could neither feed nor equip the Poles, let alone provide military logistics.

The only joy for many of the new recruits was the availability of real leather boots and woollen battle dress courtesy of the British Army!

After much pressure by Anders and with the support of Churchill, Stalin was persuaded that the Polish Army could replace some of the Allied contingents required for the protection of the Caucasian and Arabian Oilfields, speeding up the plans for the opening of the Western Front. Eventually General Anders managed to get Stalin's agreement to evacuate Polish troops through Persia (Iran) to Iraq and Palestine (then under British mandate administration) where they would be provisioned and equipped be the British.

Out of the nearly 2 million Poles forcibly moved to the Soviet Union, only 114,000 soldiers and a few civilians, were saved by the evacuation to Persia. It was a unique exodus of people from the USSR.

Unfortunately, the evacuation of General Anders' Army was not long lived.

By April 1943 the Germans, who had advanced through the Soviet held part of Poland found mass graves of thousands of Polish officers in the Katyn Forest, near Smolensk. At first the Soviet propaganda machine tried to blame the Germans for the massacre but the Poles arranged for an independent, international Red Cross investigation which publicly confirmed that the officers had indeed been killed by the Soviets. Stalin was furious, accused the Poles of collaborating with German propaganda and broke off diplomatic relations with the Polish government in exile in London.

The "amnesty" was withdrawn. Soviet citizenship was again imposed on all Poles in Russia, men of conscription age were drafted to Russian Army units and the evacuation of the Anders Army ceased.

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