- Popski's Private Army -
Who was Popski
(D.S.O. - M.C.)
Vladimir Peniakoff was born in Huy, Belgium, on 30
March 1897. His parents, who had emigrated from Russia remained Russians
all their lives, but Vladimir opted for nationality of the country where
he was born. Vladimir's father was a noted scientist in Czarist Russia,
devoting the greatest part of his life to the research and production of
aluminium, patenting for the production of this metal in the late 1890s.
He built two production plants in Northern France and one in Belgium at
Zelzate. All these factories, however, were destroyed by the Kaiser's
armies in the First World War. And so the elder Peniakoff found his
factories and his life's work in ruins on the return of the family to
Belgium in 1918. Vladimir's parents decided that his first language
would be English. Although he was fluent in a number of languages,
Vladimir never quite mastered his mother tongue, and various people
after the Second World War expressed their suprise that he spoke Russian
When he was seventeen -during the First World War- Vladimir entered St.
John's College, Cambridge and from then on, altough he didn't take the
British Nationality until November 1946, he considered England to be his
first country. Later, Vladimir broke all his ties with Belgium andsailed
to Egypt in 1924, and it was as the director of a sugar mill that he
applied for entry into the British Army when war was declared in 1939.
Belgium was invaded in May 1940 and the General Headquarters in Cairo
recognized Vladimir as an Allied national, and accepted him into the
British Army. He settled his home affairs, provided for his wife and two
daugthers, sent them to Africa and went to war.
Vladimir Peniakoff was granted a commission in the Libyan Arab Force, a
company which he transformed into a commando-unit, with the idea of
operating behind the enemy lines. But it was as a lone operator that
Vladimir became known, being taken to and from behind enemy lines by
that famous unit, the Long Range Desert Group. Towards the end of the
desert campaign Vladimir was asked to form a raiding unit of his own
-the outcome being the "No 1 Long Range Demolition Squadron".
During their travels with the L.R.D.G., the New Zealanders found his
real name Peniakoff too much of a tongue-twister, so he was dubbed "POPSKI"
by those brave and resourceful soldiers. When Vladimir hesitated in
choosing a name for his new unit, General Sir John Hackett, who was then
in charge of Special Operations in the Middle East, dubbed his unit into
"Popski's Private Army". The formation of the unit, however,
didn't take effect until just before the battle of El Alamein, and P.P.A.
was therefore too late to take part in the battles for Egypt and Libya,
but it made contributions to the fighting in Tunisia and Algeria. After
the desert and North Africa campaign,
P.P.A. operated extensively in Italy and Austria up to the last day of
the war. After the war P.P.A. disbanded and Popski married a girl from
Suffolk. Later he lived in England where he deceased in the middle of
May 1951 of a brain tumor.
Source: P.P.A. veterans.
Research and Archive Section P.P.A..