Two Ukrainian heroes in the Battle of Narvik

The history of Ukrainian heroes 

Wasyl Cykwa and Jan Lasowski

Wasyl Cykwas (born 7 May 1914, died 30 June 2004 in Glasgow) and Jan Lasowski (born 1917, died on 16 May 2011) were two Ukrainians who fought as soldiers during World War II. Both distinguished themselves in the battle of Narvik and were awarded the Norwegian War Cross with a sword for their efforts.

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Officer Cadet Leon Słupieński and Wasyl Cykwas number 2 from left. Corporal Jan Lasowski (second from the right) who lost his sight during the Battle of Narvik. On his right is Lieutenant Colonel Wacław Kobyliński, the CO of the 1st Battalion of the Brigade during the Campaign.

Wasyl Cykwas was born of Ukrainian parents in a village southwest of Lviv called Rudki. His mother tongue was Ukrainian as were almost all of the inhabitants in that area. He became a Polish citizen when that territory was given to Poland after WW1, just as it had been acquired by the Hapsburgs in earlier times. This area is now back to being Ukrainian.

The area was then part of the Habsburg Empire and fell to Poland after it disintegrated. In 1937 he applied to France to find work. When World War II broke out with the German and Soviet occupation of Poland in September 1939, he enlisted in the service of the Polish government, which was in exile in Angers, France. He received military training in Coëtquidan, Brittany, and was transferred to the Independent Podhale Brigade. The Brigade was created in France in 1939.

The Polish Independent Highland Brigade / Polish Independent Podhalan Rifles Brigade was created in France in 1939. It had approximately 5,000 soldiers trained in mountain warfare and was commanded by General Zygmunt Szyszko-Bohusz. It was named after the region of Podhale.

After the German attack on Norway on April 9, 1940, it was decided to send Cykwas' branch north, as part of the Allied attempt to resist the invasion. The unit, like that of the French-Polish expeditionary force, was shipped out of Brest and sent via Scotland to Norway, where it was landed at Harstad on 9 May. After a few days it was sent to Narvik. During the battle of Narvik, Cykwas made a name for himself in the battles on Ankenesfjellet. The patrol he participated in fell into ambush, but Cykwas saved the situation by throwing hand grenades at the German attackers. In the match, Cykwas was injured in the foot. He was evacuated to Britain and, despite the injury, continued his service in the Polish / Ukrainian units in Scotland.

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Officer Cadet Leon Słupieński and Wasyl Cykwas number 2 from left. Corporal Jan Lasowski (second from the right) who lost his sight during the Battle of Narvik. On his right is Lieutenant Colonel Wacław Kobyliński, the CO of the 1st Battalion of the Brigade during the Campaign.

During the Allied landing in Normandy in June 1944, Cykwas served in the 3rd Infantry Brigade of the 1st Polish Armored Division. He participated in the liberation of France, then of Belgium and the Netherlands, and then took part in the conquest of Germany. In April 1945, he was transferred to the staff squadron of the 1st Polish Corps. He remained in service in Germany until his return to Britain in April 1947. In December of the same year, he graduated.

The post-World War II political upheavals made it impossible for Cykwas to return to his homeland in Ukraine, which had now become part of the Soviet Union. He settled in Scotland and changed his name to William Campbell.

There is no memorial of the Ukrainian efforts in Norway during WW2.

Wasyl Cykwas received the War Cross with Sword, Norway's highest award. The Krigskorset with sword was presented to him in Buckingham Palace by George VI, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Elizabeth II, Haakon VII of Norway, and Maud of Wales.

- My father was strafed by an aircraft causing much damage to his upper leg thus causing his evacuation to UK, not an ankle injury. He spent 6 months in hospital in Manchester, where he was advised to have his leg amputated. This he refused and he was later able to participate in the DDay landings, said the daughter of Wasyl Cykwas, Elizabeth Backman.

In December 1940, he and other wounded from the Independent Podhale Brigade.

were taken to Scotland. The remains of the Podhak Brigade were located near St. Andrews.

- I just want to add that despite my father applying for a visa to visit his sick parents several times during the 1960s, my father was always refused, for no reason or further explanation. However, we managed to visit a sister of my father in Poland. She and her family had to move up and move west when her husband was considered an ethnic Polish and cleared out of Ukraine by the Soviets after the war. This happened to a lot of people that I'm sure you're aware of, said the daughter Elizabeth.

3From left grandchild, William Campbell (Wasyl Cykwas), his daugther Lizabeth Backman, his wife Irene Muir with grandchild

Another Ukrainian who was involved in the battle of Narvik was Jan Lasowski.

- Like my father, Jan Lasowski went to France not long before the outbreak of WW2 for employment reasons. He was stabbed in the head with a bayonet and permanently blinded while moving towards the Ankenes beach. Mr. Lasowski settled near Paris post war, was given French citizenship and granted the Legion of Honour twice. In 2002 on the 60th anniversary of the fighting in Ankenes, he went to Narvik accompanied by family, Elizabeth Backman told us.

Jan Lasowski was born in 1917 in Sośnica near Lviv. Once it was a Ukrainian village, but after the first World War, it became a part of Poland. It is situated near the Ukrainian border. In 1938 he got a job on a farm in France. When World War II broke out with the German and Soviet Union occupation of Poland in September 1939, he first enlisted in French service. He trained in Coëtquidan, Brittany, and in March 1940 was transferred to the Independent Podhale Brigade.

After the German attack on Norway on April 9, 1940, it was decided to put the unit into an allied operation to meet the German invasion. On April 20, 1940, Lasowski's division was shipped out of Brest and sent to Norway via Scotland. Lasowski's department was also deployed in Ankenesfjellet near Narvik. During an advance in the battle of Narvik on March 28, 1940, he was shot in the head.

In a state of consciousness, he was thrown into a grave because everyone thought he was dead. One of his comrades wanted to say a final goodbye to him and discovered that there was still life in him. The comrade, who was a large powerful man, carried him over his shoulders to the aid site. Jan Lasowski saved his life, but lost sight of both eyes forever. From Narvik, Lasowski was evacuated to Great Britain, where he received training as a carpenter and remained until the end of the war. In 1946 he was reunited with his Polish wife in France and became a French citizen.

He had married two weeks before leaving France to Narvik.

He was also awarded the War Cross with a sword for his efforts in the battle of Narvik. Jan Lasowski died on 16 May 2011 in Crépy-en-Valois in France.

During the battles for Narvik, the Germans returned and suffered their first defeat. In these battles the Independent Podhale Brigade participated in an admirable way. That is why we Norwegians should thank the Ukrainian heroes and Poles for their efforts and Norwegian freedom.

Yana Prymachenko

 

Per-Kaare Holdal

Ph.D., senior researcher 

Institute of History of Ukraine

National Academy of Science of Ukraine

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Support to the Peace Unit

Norway

 

Photos: © IWM HU 128101

Source: Bjørn Bratbak

No memorial in Norway to Ukrainian heroes

There is no memorial in Norway for the heroes of Ukraine.  It's for me a shape !

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