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Operation Monika

 

After the fall of France and the evacuation of the BEF (including the Polish 10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade) at Dunkirk, large groups from the Polish Army were left behind and demobilised in camps or escaped into Vichy. Only the Second Foot Rifles (2DSP) covering for the 45 French Corps near the Maginot Line escaped to Switzerland and internment for the rest of the war.

Around half a million Poles had immigrated to France during the 1920s and 1930s as economic émigrés to work in the mines in northern France around the city of Lille. In the spring of 1942 the Free French Riflemen and the Partisans-Francs Tireurs et Partisans Francais (FTPF) was set up with a large number of Poles supporting their activities whose politics were seen to be too left wing and fragmented by the head of SOE, General Gubbins. However, this group remained attractive to the strategic plans being drawn up by the SOE in England as a need for a broad front of support by resistance organizations. The military planners required a greater degree of control and cohesion to ensure any secret army would be effective. The Polish Independence Organization’s (PON) key role was to create havoc through subversive activities and later support the invasion of Europe (Operation Overlord). PON recruited heavily from the émigrés and was seen by Churchill as an unusual opportunity to exploit.  

 

The Polish Government in Exile was also covertly regrouping remnants of army units (what would have been the 3rd and 4th Polish Infantry Divisions) for direct military contact to harry and destabilize the German occupation of France. SOE benefited through the action and dedication of General Juliusz Kleeberg to muster one of the largest secret armies in France. The unit became known as the Polish Organization for Fighting for Independence (POWN) and later commanded by Colonel Andrzej Zdrojewski. POWN’s prime role was to transfer military personnel to and from Britain and to provide guides and couriers for the conduit of military intelligence. POWN worked independently of the SOE and quite often dropped agents into the same areas of operation completely unknown to MOP (EU/P).  

 

SOE recruited heavily from the expatriates too. Known as Operation ‘Monika’ it became a classic victim of politics and war getting mixed up (Foot, 1984; Marks 2000). Monika became one of the EU/P’s headaches as D-Day approached.

Background
In the spring 1941 £600,000 had been earmarked as a loan to the Polish Government in Exile for subversive work by Polish Underground Organizations (excluding the USA) and targeted groups in France, Denmark (called INFLEXION-FELICIA) and South America (called SAINTLY-SOLIDAD).

Monika and Bardsea were borne in a memo dated 27th June 1941 (PRO HS4/221/98269), which outlined two separate operations in France. Initially called Angelica and Adjudicate they both had different roles defined in ‘charters’ to ensure there was little overlap in operational areas.

Angelica was to focus on pre-war and demobilised Polish troops resident in France and was to focus on: -

  • Create a Polish organization for distribution of propaganda
  • Develop a clandestine communications network
  • To develop a clandestine training programme for French and Poles in the art of sabotage for when the ‘time was ripe’
Adjudicate was to focus on the Polish Army left behind and to include the activities of Angelica, but also to include specific acts of sabotage and small raids on the direction of the British (SOE). Adjudicate would also play a role in the evacuation of personnel to England. The memo clearly shows the need for cooperation between the two activities and specifically forbade Adjudicate to be involved in direct contact with Poles who were either in the polish Army, émigrés or other political organizations. The directive stipulated activities must take into account and use local people to avoid suspicion or interfering with the French population. Later memos indicate the ‘rules’ of engagement became of great concern where any activities either directed by SOE or on their own initiative must at all cost try to avoid reprisals upon the local civil population.

Subsequent documents (PRO HS4/221/ 98269) reveal SOE’s dilemma. The exposure and operational risks were different in the occupied and non-occupied French territories. Adjudicate was a contradiction in operational policy to Angelica and the legal status of Polish Army personnel after the collapse of France was considered too since the demobilised men were still classified as Prisoners of War (POW’s). The intelligence briefing also recognised the Polish factions and their psychological make-up would differ between pre-war émigrés and former combatants left behind after the fall of France. For the Germans, there was no difference between these émigrés groups and would treat them all the same. Internal memos indicate various factions were not fully supportive of the operations. Dzierzgowski refused to see agent LIBRACH due to a misunderstanding in differences between Angelica and Adjudicate as he thought them superfluous. A subsequent memo clarifies Angelica was to organise old émigrés based in Northern France in the mining areas around Lille. Polish cadets were not included in Angelica’s charter. However, misunderstanding did arise through interpretation of the documents. Adjudicate’s charter described sabotage and small raids at the direction of the British Authorities implying a role in the future in controlled operations.

Memos clearly indicate the personal ambitions of key individuals within MOP (later called EU/P), the SOE and the Polish Government in Exile were causing great friction within these organizations. Agent HUBERT made allegations against the role and formation of Angelica in a memo dated 8th December 1941 where Vice-Premier Mikolajczyk requested that the Adjudicate agent (not named but thought to be LIBRACH) should be withdrawn and sent to N. Africa or Spain. The criticism of the agent indicates direct action was based on a desire to be decorated for bravery while his bravado was likely to cause much damage to the organization and locals within France. In a telegram (undated) to agent BORUTA the changing situation in France postponed the operations where the SOE officers were highly critical of Vice-Premier Mikolajczyk’s role and attitude. Adjudicate was seen more important of the two operations whereas Angelica was described as a ‘nebulous political hedgehog’.

As Adjudicate developed its role on the ground, friction reappeared in areas where operations crossed. Activities of Angelica impacted upon the activities of the Office Polonais and the Union of Poles. Operation Angelica would be sacrificed to save Adjudicate as the Vice-Premier Mikolajczyk still objected to certain individual appointments to run the organization and intensely disliked the British Government’s funding which was running at 200,000 Francs per month for an a team of 87 men. Angelica operated on 500,000 Francs per month for a team consisting of 5,000 men. It was reported Mikolajczyk was ‘diametrically opposed’ to Poles fighting in France, however, had no reservations on Poles fighting in Russia, N. Africa or in the Air Force. The Poles had their own intelligence and propaganda unit run by the Ministry of the Interior and known as KOT.

A memo dated 6th April 1942 reported the views of agent LIBRACH. He suggested that no Poles would be involved in small actions or sabotage until the invasion of the continent in order to avoid reprisals. The remaining units of the 1st and 2nd Divisions representing 5,000 men resented their treatment by Sikorski as they had been left behind during the evacuation. Their role in remaining in France had heightened and remained crucial in the guarantee of Polish nationhood due to the German annihilation policy and losses in Russian gulags. The memo concluded that Adjudicate was in a perilous state and likely to be ‘blown’ due to the indiscretions of its leader (General Baruta). An agent named, as Lieut. Dzierzgowski would lead Adjudicate with funding switched through SOE with promises of more aircraft drops to pacify critics and Vice-Premier Mikolajczyk.

By the end of May 1942 schedules indicate radio sets were dropped (6 in total with only 1 operational in the Toulouse area) with agent HUBERT investigating secure sea routes into Northern France. Included in this mission HUBERT was to report on the distribution of cells, provide details of railways, factories, and other strategic targets for sabotaging.

The data below indicates the potential strength in using the Poles.

Émigrés Poles
Department Number
Nord 90,000
Pas de Calais 105,000
Saone et Loire 12,000
Seine 58,200
Loire 9,800
Calvados 4,500
Ardenne 8,000
TOTAL 287,500
Poles in other centres
Department Number
Allier 4,600
Aube 4,400
Aveyron 3,500
Bouches du Rhone 1,500
Gard 3,300
Isere 2,700
Loire (Inferieure) 1,350
Tarn 3,000
TOTAL 24,350

Vice-Premier Mikolajczyk still opposed the plans and requested the head of Adjudicate should be French with all recruits transferred to other duties. He would only co-operate with Operation Angelica where the Polish Government issued the orders. Major P. Wilkinson confirmed this in an internal memo to SOE and MOP. Operatives still had concerns over their status with threats of collapsing the organizations and requesting General Kleeberg to instruct all officers to cease activities. Agent LIBRACH and his effectiveness was also questioned in a report by General Klimecki, so SOE threatened to shut down Angelica and cancel the remaining £600,000 credit earmarked for the operation. Although LIBRACH had made an interesting contribution to the SOE, he was criticised for intransigence and dictating policy rather than operating within the charter of Angelica. His ethnic origin was a concern to the British Authorities as they felt being a Polish Jew might cause additional problems if caught. SOE was constantly seeking proof of the effectiveness of the operation to the extent that a contact (named as Savery) in the Foreign Office was asked to cross check.

The operation split un-occupied France into 6 areas, 15 districts and 65 posts or cells with these being located in 58 localities. The organization had 300 men with between 1,500 to 2,000 men who could be mobilized. In the occupied zone, it was 1 large northern area divided into 5 districts with areas around Paris, Calvados and Seine et Marne acting as separate areas. 10 couriers and 2 trainers initially assisted in the set-up, training and communication. Agent LIBRACH acted as the chief organizer with agent BARUTA (Chief of the Polish Section) and LESPARRE (Chief of the French Section) were area controllers. Reception committees for airdrops were based in Lyons, Perigeux, Cahors and Clermont Ferrand. Although the cells were scattered all over France, there were clusters around Limoges, Toulouse and Lyons. A ‘Rebecca’ unit was based in or around Limoges. A Rebecca unit was an early directional finding device that assisted in accurately locating drop-zones for supplies.

Hudson bombers dropped supplies and a report indicates that a drop on 23 April 1942 at Chateau le Roc near Perigeux took two weeks to clear and hide the stores in the surrounding area. A supply drop in the same area was lost in May 1942. Although officially put down to ‘bad luck’, the post mortem report also indicated poor planning on the ground by LIBRACH where incorrect signalling alerted the local gendarmes. Successive reports indicate the difficulty of operating separate political and military operations in such close geographical and cultural proximity. At one stage there were so many agents in the field that when agents were arrested, internal memos went through different organization of the British (SIS and SOE), French and Polish Governments to clarify whose operative it may have been.

For much of 1942 the constant disagreement of the charter of Angelica and Adjudicate remained a political ping-pong ball game between different British departments and Polish organizations. It was agreed that the diversionary role of Adjudicate during the invasion of the continent would be referred to as MONIKA. A memo dated 29th June 1942 by General Gubbins reviewed the whole saga and it indicates that Adjudicate had been cancelled due to the complexity of its charter and the various factions both within the Polish Government in Exile, SOE and the British High Command. For those on the ground, the danger remained. A letter sent on the 7th July 1942 by Vice-Premier Mikolajczyk reported that 7 men had been arrested with head of the cell (Bahyrycz) managing to escape (his name was given orally to MOP headed by Major Hazel) and hoped to cross the Spanish frontier. A young saboteur had been recruited to blow up a power station and told his mother of the operation who then informed the police. The result of the arrests led to police regulations being tightened in both Vichy and German occupation zones. Searches in the Pouzol / Puy de Dome area by Vichy gendarmes concentrated on Poles resident in the area and Permis de Circulation were cancelled to curtail their activities and movements.

Designated Activities
Monika Team Number Designated Activities Status August 1942
1 Disrupt all utility services, communications and power in the Lille, Armentieres, Tourcoing, Tournai, Roubaix, Douai and Bethune area for 72 hours Reconnaissance of 12 bridges, 2 power stations and mining of the Canal de la Deule with the railway junctions at Lens, Henin-Lietard and Orchies completed.
2 For the whole of France: political action, ferment strikes, local uprising. No reports
3 Calvados Coast: Provide guides, local intelligence and disruption to communication and power during invasion. No reports
4 Disruption of power in 7 areas: Vichy, Lyon, St.Etienne, Marseille, Bordeaux, Nord, Pas de Calais, Calvados, and the frontier between Vichy and Occupied Zone. Status report with KOT
 
Monika continued to operate and whose role would be used to support the Special Forces (Bardsea teams) when the final D-Day preparations and Operation Overlord was activated. Since incidents and activities were so entwined with the Bardsea Operation, much is recounted in elsewhere in this text. A memo dated 19th February 1944 (EUP/PD/5779) confirmed the size and success of setting up Monika. In Lille there were 561 sections containing 5 members in 131 locations (2805 operatives). In Belgium there were 74 sections in 31 localities (370 operatives) and including isolated groups another 3,400 operatives. In Southern France (Vichy) there were 293 sections with 11 members in each based in 125 localities (3200 operatives). When politics between General de Gaulle, SHAEF and the British Government became strained, the SOE and SIS had to remind everyone that 25% of the French partisans were made up of Poles. When the BBC finally announced the invasion and subsequent bridgeheads over ran northern France, many Poles joined the Free French Army to continue the fight. However, the ‘illegal’ recruitment of Poles by the Partisans-Francs Tireurs et Partisans Francais (FTPF) caused huge problems for the invasion forces and the SOE. POWN and Major Chalmers Wright (who had been working under cover for SOE) carried out an investigation over a series of incidents reported in the Seclin, Lens, Noeux-Les-Mines area where the French communists had set up an HQ in a former concealed German blockhouse. Propaganda leaflets accused POWN of holding back their forces, which had created a rift between the French and the Poles in their united fight against Hitler. The exploitation of the political power vacuum had a great impact upon the military planners at SHAEF, the Foreign Office, SIS and SOE while the Free French set up administrative systems in areas of liberated France. Memos indicate the communist party was recruiting and supporting the recruits financially with the level of activity based on strikes spreading from Belgium through France and into Switzerland (at Chandeline, Valais Canton). Stefan Kubacki led the Poles in Lille while in Liege Gorlicki and Gitlin were the key players in recruitment and planning activities. It appears the communist revolt was short lived.

The size and success of Monika can be measured by the content of the following memo: Major Ince at Special Forces HQ received a message on 7th September 1944 to send 3,000 uniforms to the Bressiere Barracks in Paris and another 6,000 to be sent to Toulouse and Lyons and 4,000 to Douai. It was one of the largest most secret armies sustained in the field during war whose real role was never exploited to its fullest extent.

The invasion of France in June 1944 was a shock to the Normans who saw their towns and villages destroyed with war material and debris scattered all over the countryside. While in their part of France the German occupation forces had been reasonably well behaved, it was not the same story for other parts of the country. In Brittany where the Maquis operated with French SAS in Operation Cooney to destroy the rail links and frustrate troop and supply movements, there was hardly a farm or village in which reprisals had left any family untouched. Today a monument stands at Saint Marcel to the west of Malestroit as a reminder a group of Special Forces trained and equipped kept over 4,000 German and Ukrainian Cossacks scouring the countryside well away from front-line activity (Hue and Southby-Tailyour, 2005). After the invasion many in France watched the walls of the Hotel de Ville and wondered when portraits of Pétain would be replaced by Marshall Foch, General de Gaulle or even possibly Stalin (Ambrose, 2002) as many Maquis units were aligned to the Communist Party. The dreaded Malice along with the mistresses of the Germans and collaborators began fleeing in any direction that kept them from being caught and facing rough justice (Miller, 1945).

For the SOE and Special Unit 22 the de-stabilization in northern France and the main concentration of Monika/ P.O.W.N forces became worrying. In a report dated 18th October 1944 (PRO/HS4/239/223485) the extent of Operation Monika and the activities of P.O.W.N are revealed.

While Operation Bardsea was substantially cancelled, the efforts of the P.O.W.N along side and independently of the FFI were concentrated on successfully sabotaging the supply lines and retreat of the German Army through northern France and Belgium and adding to the confusion. Three tanks destroyed, trains de-railed, lorries and staff cars were also destroyed or captured. Several hundred German soldiers were captured and equipment destroyed or pooled for open warfare. Eight independent companies of P.O.W.N operated in this sector while in southern France sixteen regular companies operated in the field with 3,200 men at arms. In Paris a unit of P.O.W.N took over the Polish Embassy on 21st August, some 5 days before liberation and other units manned barricades in the suburbs.

As the German Army began to crumble, great efforts were made by P.O.W.N in the Departments of Somme and Pas-de-Calais to locate V2 sites and were ordered to cut telephone lines to frustrate operations. But, P.O.W.N’s activities came with a price – some 200 men and women caught. Those that were tortured did not betray or reveal the size and scope of the organization. In open warfare some 52 were killed and another 100 caught and missing, most likely shot after interrogation. The espionage activities enabled 2,100 pieces of military, political and general information to be sent to London during the war by couriers and later W/T sets, however, limited availability curtailed their effective operations. Propaganda aimed at the German occupation forces and also the Vichy Government assisted the destabilization and the speed at which France collapsed. Some 180,000 copies of underground papers were printed and distributed with leaflets and brochures.

The political role was fundamental in uniting the Polish émigrés and the organization also cared for families of killed or imprisoned Polish soldiers. George Bidaut, President of the Comite National de la Resistance and General Chaban (General Koenig’s representative in France) praised P.O.W.N for being the only foreign movement in France and Belgium carrying out effective operations in the collapse of France while many French organizations fought amongst them for control.

Aftermath
A memo dated 8th September (MUS/1300/1920 confirmed the Monika had been wound up with the Poles being issued an invitation to join General de Gaulle’s Free French Army by General Koenig and this was reported in the London press. Ffr 4m was sent to Colonel Zdrojewski in Paris to cover any further expenses resulting from Operation Monika.

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