In the year 2000 while at the dedication of the new Katyn Memorial in Baltimore, Maryland, I was approached by an older gentleman before the start of the ceremony. At the time I was wearing a 10th Dragoons uniform, and as he came closer I could see excitement in his eyes. This unassuming gentleman discreetly mentioned that he was in the original Dragoons during the war and asked me if I would pin his medals upon his blazer before the event began. Needless to say I was honored to meet a veteran of the regiment and even more so to pin three rows of impressive decorations upon his person. So by a chance encounter I had met Maj. Jan Karcz. Little did I know what a part he was going to play in my research and in my life over the next nine years.
After the ceremony, I was able to speak privately with the Major and he agreed to give me his contact information. Thus began a lasting friendship that I was very fortunate to have made.
For nine years Jan helped me with every aspect of research and documentation concerning the Dragoons. He graciously allowed me to visit him at home on two occasions and was always welcoming on the phone, as well. Not only did he help with regimental history, but on at least two occasions, our organization was contacted by sons of WWII Polish veterans who had fought alongside the Dragoons. One person had mentioned his father being mortally wounded in France. Jan actually remembered the incident and was able to fill in some of the lingering questions from this family member. I cannot express the gratitude displayed by this individual for Jan’s information on the last moments of his father’s life. That was the type of person Jan was, always willing to help. Given the role Jan played in the research and development of this unit, I thought it only fitting and proper to have a special place to honor and remember the man who helped us out so much. The following pictures and documentation were donated by Jan’s family to our unit so that others could learn. We are very grateful for their contributions. The below pasted photos constitute the bulk of Jan’s surviving war-time documentation.
I. Early Life
Jan Karcz came from a prominent military family. His father was the inspector of all Polish cavalry forces before the war. His duties took him to different parts of Poland but he had very vivid memories of living in Grudianz at the cavalry officer’s school before the war. Jan’s family was tightly knit. Both his mother and father were moral pillars of strength. Jan remembered Marshall Jozef Pilsudski bouncing him on his knee when he was young. The Marshall’s daughter, Wanda, was a frequent guest at the Karcz residence. Those were the circles the Karcz family traveled in. When the war broke out Jan was too young to serve in the regular army. The elder Col. Karcz bade goodbye to his family on August 31st and he went to join his cavalry regiment during the general mobilization. Jan was assigned duty on a military mail train in Warsaw.
Once the situation for Poland’s military seemed hopeless, Mrs. Karcz secreted the family out of Poland and through Lithuania. After a dangerous journey, they eventually made their way to France where Jan quickly joined the artillery officers’ cadet school in Coetquidan, France. The reconstitution of the Polish army under General Sikorski was well underway. Poland was fielding several infantry divisions, a new mechanized brigade under Col. Maczek, and several artillery units.
Click on either photo to view full image. Description can be shown and hidden by clicking in the center of the full image.
II – France Falls
As history shows, the French army and BEF were quickly overrun by the German juggernaut. Jan had not fully completed his training at this point. He and several others were ordered to leave France via any means possible. Some Polish soldiers were being evacuated via the Dunkirk beachhead. As they were receiving their orders, an interesting incident occurred. The men were approached by a representative of the French government asking them to carry a large portion of French gold with them to England where it would be out of the Nazis’ hands. This was an interesting development indeed which, although weighing them down physically, allowed them to barter for provisions and transportation along the way. The party quickly began their trek to the southern port city of Marseilles. At this point the men needed a boat to leave France. With gold in hand they were able to purchase an older sailing vessel,but they had no crew.
Polish army men were now crewing a boat. Luckily, Jan had some navigational experience and the men learned the ropes while they were sailing. Their destination was the nearest friendly port they could find that was controlled by the British. After some discussion it was decided the safest place for the men, their boat and the French gold would be the port of Gibraltar. To sail through the U-boat infested waters of the Mediterranean was scary, but the group hoped that as they were on a civililian sailing vessel, they wouldn’t arouse any suspicion.
After several days at sea, Gibraltar was finally in sight. As they approached, signal flares and cannons echoed from the British fortress. Jan and crew raised a home-made Polish flag as they sailed into port. They had thought their British hosts were saluting their journey with much fanfare. Their shock and dismay were perhaps only equaled by the British when they learned all the firing was supposed to be a warning for the vessel that was boldly sailing through a mine field. Luckily, the boat made it in one piece, but their hosts were rather chagrined that the mine field didn’t do its job.
Original money carried by the crew from occupied France
III – In England
Jan was quickly posted to officer’s training in the newly formed First Corps in Scotland. Given his previous experience with artillery Jan found himself learning the intricacies of the British 2lb anti tank gun. While it was nice to be training again, it was also bad since the 2 pounder was quickly becoming obsolete against the ever thickening German armor. Nonetheless, the training continued as the Polish troops readied themselves for the expected invasion of the UK by the Nazis.
During the following months, a reorganization happened in the Polish I corps. A new armored division was formed under the recently promoted General Maczek. Jan was eventually posted to the dywizjon rozpoznawczy. The basic translation is “divisional reconnaissance.” Training commenced in Lanark, Scotland, and Jan was one of the original members. As the war and training progressed, the division went through yet another reorganization. It was determined that an armored division needed armored infantry to move forward with the tanks to ensure their safety from enemy infantry. The reconnaissance regiment was re-designated the 10th Dragoon Regiment. The unit had three line squadrons of infantry that were transported in U.S. made half tracks. In addition, there were a heavy mortar section, anti tank platoon and regimental level reconnaissance squadron. The Dragoons also had organic medical, supply and maintenance squadrons. Because of the new developments, the men were quickly retrained as highly skilled mobile infantrymen. Jan was posted to lead the anti tank squadron now equipped with the more powerful British 6 lb gun. This was equivalent to the U.S. 57mm gun.
IV – Preparing for Invasion
IV. Preparing for invasion – Jan had made several contacts within the British Royal Artillery regiments stationed nearby. As more and more British units moved south for embarkation training, certain supply dumps were left in Scotland. During an outing on his regimental M20 motorcycle Jan met with a reserve RA officer in charge of a now needless ammunition dump. After an exchange of pleasantries Jan was able to secure all the six pound ammunition his unit could want. Having an unlimited supply of ammo they soon became expert gunners. Here’s where the story gets interesting. It’s now June 1944 and the division is getting ready to mobilize for their transport to the continent. As part of this the RA and other British supply corps inspected the various assets of the division. Upon inspecting the bores of Jan’s guns they were found to be basically shot out. The British were disgusted and wanted to bring charges against Jan. He then took them to a firing range where his gunners demonstrated their skills to the R.A. officers. The men were so accurate they were be able to call out and hit the boggey wheels from a target tank on the range. Needless to say the British officers were impressed although they didn’t show it. In the end the charges were dropped, new barrels were supplied and the regiment’s A-tk squadrons continued on their way south for transport to the Normandy beachhead. It is also worth mentioning that as they left Lanark, the regiment was presented with a bill for all damages incurred to the town within the last two years of training. The bill came to a ridiculously low total of just a few pounds. The citizens of Lanark had formed a long lasting friendship with the Dragoons. The bill was torn up, and the Dragoons’ service as ambassadors of Poland in their newly adopted home was complete.
Original invasion currency carried by Jan as he embarked for Normandy
V – Normandy and Beyond
It is not the intention of this page to relate the entire history of the 1st Armoured Division or 10th Dragoons. Books have been written by more scholarly authors than myself. Details of the first several months can be had by clicking on “1944 Combat Reports” from our main Dragoons page. Books dealing with the 1st Armoured Division may also be referenced from our “Suggested Reading” page. What I do want to do however, is showcase the remaining documents from the Karcz collection as they relate to his time in combat. I think one of the best ways to do that is by referencing some of the more important citations written to support Jan’s medals of valor. The legitymacjas and corresponding citations will appear below.
Excerpt from the citation in support of The War Cross 1940 (Belgium)
“In the name of Leopold III, King of the Belgians, I, the Prince Regent of the Realm hereby confer upon Lieutenant Jan Karcz of the Polish 1st Armoured Division the War Cross 1940 with Palms. Lt. Karcz distinguished himself in the fighting for the liberations of the city of Ypres from the enemy during which he was seriously wounded, but continued to lead his troops until the surrender of the enemy forces.”
Excerpt from the citation in support of the War Cross 1939-1945 (France)
“By authority vested in me by the National Committee of Liberation on January 7, 1944, I confer on Lt. Jan Karcz of the Polish Army the decoration of the Croix de Guerre 1939-1945 avec l”Etoille d”Argent. Lt. Karcz had shown consistent bravery and leadership during the battle for the liberation of France in 1944 and has particularly distinguished himself during the battle for St.Omer on September 7, 1944, when he broke with his unit through the German lines, advanced rapidly to the center of the city and captured the City Hall liberating the Mayor and other hostages held by the Gestapo.”
Excerpt from the citation in support of The Military Cross (United Kingdom)
“Georgius VI DEL GRANTIAE BRITANNIAE OMNIUM REX, FEDEL DEFENSOR, INDIAE IMPERATOR. Be it known that we have directed that the Military cross be conferred on Lt. Jan Karcz of the 10th Dragoons, Polish Army. During the battle for Abbeville on September 10, 1944, Mr. Karcz’s unit acted as left-flank guard and he had discovered that a bridge, thought destroyed, was intact but defended by a superior force. Chancing on a troop of 6 tanks being sent to a British division on the right, he has asked the officer in charge for help, which was refused. Being the senior Allied officer present, Mr. Karcz removed the officer from command and, assisted by the troop sergeant Ian Mackenzie of the Scots Guards, he has stormed and captured the bridge over the river Somme. This led to the capture of Abbeville with minimal civil and military casualties. Mr. Karcz led the attack himself and, under covering fire of the tanks, personally eliminated the enemy guard and cut the wires to the detonating charges. He then deployed his small force and successfully defended the bridgehead against four attacks by superior enemy forces.”
Excerpt from the citation in support for the order of the Virtuti Militari Class V
“On August 10, 1044, 2nd. Lt. Karcz’s armored vehicle was hit and disabled, the driver being killed and the rest of the crew wounded. K. surprised a German sergeant, killed him and took his machine pistol and a bag of hand grenades. He then ambushed and destroyed the German anti-tank cannon, killing the crew, destroyed two machine-gun nests killing in all 17 German soldiers. He took 37 other prisoners forced them to carry his surviving members of the crew to his own lines.”
Excerpt from the citation in support for The Cross of Valor
“On August 19, 1944, 2nd Lt. Karcz led his unit during the attack on the Norman Town of Chambois. He has shown great courage and perseverance forcing his way through the German defences. Although wounded, he destroyed a machinegun nest, killing its crew. He was the first Allied soldier from the 21stArmy Group to make contact with Americans, thus closing the Falaise pocket.On March 7, 1945, Lt . Karcz volunteered to lead a night patrol over the lower Rhine in Holland, a river nearly 200 yards wide. The patrol spent over three hours in German lines, killed several of the enemy, and brought back one officer and one NCO as prisoners.”
Excerpt from the citation in support of The Bronze Lion (Dutch)
“I Wilhelmina, by the Grace of God and the will of my People, Queen of the Netherlands, Princess of Orange, Nassau, Dutchess of Brabant, etc., etc, to all Greetings. Know ye that it has pleased us to award the gallant ally of our armed forces Lieutenant of the Polish Army Jan Karcz with the decoration of the Bronze Lion for outstanding courage and leadership during the battle that led to the liberation of our beloved city of Breda.”
VI – Occupation and Post War
The following scans are various forms and items dealing with the army of occupation as well as the PRC
After returning to the U.K. Jan continued his studies and earned his degree from Oxford University. Later on after immigrating to American he earned his Phd. from Chappel Hill in North Carolina. There he was a proffessor of economics. As if his war time record wasn’t impressive enough he went on to serve on the U.S. Federal Reserve Board under the Nixon and Ford administrations. Whenever I called Jan to talk about the color schemes of WWII tanks I also received a lecture on world economics. I thoroughly enjoyed these conversations.
If you haven’t read it yet, click on the page labled “Flag Project.” There you will see information regarding how instrumental Jan was in the production of the 10th Dragoon colors we now carry with pride. The culimination of the ceremony was Jan arranging for the Polish Military Attache General Soczewica to officiate at the ceremony. LtCol. Karcz was to be the guest speaker at the event but shortly before underwent surgeury to correct a minor problem. The recovery precluded his attendance at the event, but I related the details to him over the phone. Just 10 days later my mentor passed away to his eternal reward while napping in his favorite chair. The world lost a scholar and a gentleman. I lost a close friend. Words cannot express my sense of loss but also the pride each of us feels when we don the uniform of the Dragoons and relate their history to the public. Jan’s memory carries on in each member of the recreated unit and we especially thank his family for entrusting us with these precious, original documents.