The Polish airborne drop that morning was inadvertently spread out over an area of western Jutland measuring 30 kilometers in length, and roughly 16 kilometers in width. Once NATO fighters materialized in large numbers the formation of transport aircraft scattered. Flight paths were no longer a priority as survival became the preeminent aspiration for the An-12 aircrews. The absence of fighter escorts only served to heighten the alarm, and inevitable panic that materialized as missiles filled the air, and transports disappeared in explosions, or fell to the ground trailing smoke and flame. Parachutes started appearing in the sky, in ones and twos at first as some fortunate Polish paratroopers were able to escape from their fatally damaged transports. Gradually, more parachutes blossomed in greater numbers. Some of the transport pilots dropped their human cargo much earlier than the plan called for either because of aircraft damage, or fear. In either case it mattered little. A stampede effect was created as Cub aircrews jockeyed to discharge their paratroopers and depart the area immediately.
For the majority of the 6th Airborne Brigade’s men, the perilous drop only marked the beginning of their difficulties that day. The real troubles started upon landing. Most of the paratroopers came down nowhere near their assigned drop zones outside of Skaerbaek. In fact, less than 25% of the paratroopers landed there. The remainder came down behind or upon Danish and Polish positions, and units moving. Some unfortunate men landed in the middle of fighting. Troops on the ground, both Danes and Poles, were surprised by the sight of large numbers of parachutes dropping from the sky. In some cases, Polish infantry and tankers assumed they were the enemy and opened fire leading to a considerable number of friendly casualties.
By chance, a large portion of the 6th’s command group was dropped in the rear area of the Polish 8th Mechanized Division, not far from the forward division HQ. The brigade commander and his subordinates were escorted to the headquarters and immediately went to work attempting to locate and establish contact with their three battalions. As this was going on, the 6th’s commanding officer discussed the situation with the 8th Mechanized Division’s commander. He described in detail the attack by NATO fighters, lack of Soviet fighter escorts, and the chaotic drop. As he spoke, the rage he felt manifest itself in every word. It was clear he blamed the Soviets for the loss of so many of his men, and felt the decision not to escort the transport aircraft carrying Polish soldiers was deliberate. The colonel was so engrossed in his story that he did not notice either how loud he was speaking, or that he had the undivided attention of every man in the command bunker.
The brigade’s commander was venting his frustration and anger to what was essentially a captive audience. However, he was completely unaware of the earlier unrest in another Polish division, and the brutal crackdown that followed. Even though the 8th Mechanized had not been on the line at the time, once it moved up, stories and rumors filtered through its sub-units. This, matched with the already existing hatred and suspicion of all things Soviet and Russian, angered the Poles. But they kept that anger hidden, waiting for the right moment to bring it to the surface. The 6th Airborne Brigade commander had unknowingly helped regenerate the anger.
He was not the only one to do so.
Author’s Note: Ran myself a little ragged so the Polish Airborne section will be divided into two parts instead of being just one. Apologies.