General Stanisław Maczek (March 31, 1892 – December 11, 1994) was the most accomplished Polish tank commander of World War II. A veteran of World War I, the Polish-Ukrainian and Polish-Bolshevik Wars, he was the commander of Poland's only major armoured formation during the September 1939 campaign, again commanded a Polish armoured formation in France in 1940, and was commander of the famous First Polish Armoured Division, and later of the First Polish Army Corps under Allied Command in 1942–1945.
In April 1919 Maczek was withdrawn from his unit and became the organizer and commander of the so-called 'flying' company (lotna kompania) as part of Gen. Aleksandrowicz's 4th Infantry Division. This unit, created on Maczek's initiative, was modelled after the German Sturmbataillone of World War I, and was almost entirely motorized and well-equipped with heavy machine guns. The unit was formed mostly out of the battle-hardened troops of the Krosno battalion and its combat value was well above the average of the Polish Army of the time. Hence, it served in a "firefighter" capacity, patching holes that appeared in the defensive lines, but also fought with distinction in the Polish spring offensive. It took part in some of the heaviest fighting of the war, including the battles for Drohobycz, Stanisławów, Buczacz and finally the ZUNR capital, Stryj.
After the end of the Polish-Ukrainian fighting, Maczek was confirmed in the rank of major with seniority from June 1, 1919. He was then attached to General Iwaszkiewicz's Polish 2nd Army as a staff officer. Bored with staff duties, Maczek repeatedly asked his superiors to give him command over a front-line unit. His wish was fulfilled only after the start of the Polish-Bolshevik War, when the 2nd Army suffered a defeat in initial clashes with Semyon Budyonny's 1st Cavalry Army. In Jarosław, Maczek formed a new 'flying' Rifle battalion, mostly composed of fresh recruits and horseless uhlans. Despite insufficient training, the unit was moved to the front and Maczek again acted as a "firefighter", moving his unit quickly to wherever it was needed on the front. His unit covered the retreat of the Polish forces at Mosty Wielkie, after which it was attached to Gen. Juliusz Rómmel's 1st Cavalry Division. It took part in the Polish assault on Waręż near Zamość, a tactical counter-assault on the rear of Budyonny's advancing Cossacks directly preceding the victorious battle of Komarów. After the end of hostilities, Maczek's battalion was officially named after him, although it was disbanded shortly after the signing of the treaty of Riga.
In October 1938, Maczek's experience as a commander of "flying" troops received recognition from his superiors, and he was given command of the Polish 10th Motorized Cavalry Brigade, the first fully-motorized formation in the Polish Army.
For five days Maczek’s brigade fought bravely and efficiently, slowing the pace of the German Blitzkrieg to a bloody crawl: despite numerical and technical superiority, the Germans were not able to make more than 10 kilometres headway per day. Maczek's men took maximum advantage of the mountainous terrain, halting many German attacks and occasionally counter-attacking. However, after the front of the Kraków Army was broken to the north of the brigade's position, Maczek's formation was pulled out of the front line.
The brigade then fought as a screening unit, defending the bridges and fords in Lesser Poland, until it arrived at Lwów and joined the city’s defences. It was to form a mobile reserve during the battle for Lwów, allowing other Polish units to withdraw towards the Romanian Bridgehead. However, the plan was made obsolete by the invasion of Poland by the Soviet Union on September 17. After two days, Marshal of Poland Edward Rydz-Śmigły ordered the brigade to cross the Hungarian border. Maczek’s brigade was interned in Hungary. The unit had lost about half of its men, but was never defeated in open combat, gaining respect even from the enemy. It is considered to be the only Polish unit not to lose a single battle in 1939. It is to be noted that Maczek was not only esteemed by his superiors but also loved by his soldiers, who referred to him as Baca, a traditional Polish highlanders' name for a shepherd.
Everything changed when Germany invaded France in the spring of 1940, by simply bypassing the Maginot Line. General Maczek's unit suddenly received all the equipment they had asked for, with one condition: they had to go into action immediately. That was impossible, because many Polish soldiers had no idea how to use the new equipment and there was no time for training exercises. General Maczek decided to lead a small force of his best-trained men, hoping that the rest of his unit would join them later. That small force was called 10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade (10 Brygada Kawalerii Pancernej) in honour of the "Black Brigade" from 1939. On June 6, 10th Brigade had one tank battalion, two strong motorized cavalry squadrons, one anti-tank battery and one anti-aircraft battery. It was attached to the French 4th Army near Reims, and was ordered to cover its left flank. However, Maczek's unit was much too weak to do it successfully against German armoured divisions. Polish soldiers managed only to cover one retreating French infantry division by attacking German forces in Champaubert-Montgivroux. Later the brigade had to withdraw with the rest of French troops, and joined the French XXIII Corps. On June 16 the brigade attacked by night the town of Montbard over the Burgundy Canal. Maczek's soldiers completely surprised the Germans and took many prisoners.
However, the brigade by then was fighting alone, with the French units on both flanks either routed or in retreat. There were no French forces to take advantage of that victory, and the decimated Polish unit found itself surrounded and without fuel. On June 18, general Maczek decided to destroy useless equipment and to withdraw on foot. Later that day he had to split the remnants of his brigade into small groups, so they could pass the enemy lines. Many of Maczek's men, including the general himself, found their way through Vichy France, North Africa and Portugal to the United Kingdom, where a Polish armored unit was recreated, while others joined the Polish and French resistance organizations in France and Belgium. Maczek shared the fate of his men and went to London.
After this decisive battle, Maczek's Division continued to spearhead the Allied drive across the battlefields of France, Belgium, Netherlands and finally Germany. The Division's "moment of glory" came when its forces captured the German port of Wilhelmshaven and accepted the surrender of the entire garrison, including some 200 vessels of Hitler's Kriegsmarine.
General Maczek commanded the First Armored Division until the end of European hostilities and that year was promoted to major-general. After the capitulation of Germany he went on to command the Polish I Corps, then became commanding officer of all Polish forces in the United Kingdom until their demobilization in 1947.
He died December 11, 1994, at the age of 102. He is buried among his soldiers in the Polish military cemetery at Breda, the Netherlands. Each year during Liberation Day festivities, Breda is visited by a large Polish contingent and the city reserves part of the festivities for the fallen Polish soldiers.