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Lieutenant-Colonel Vladimir "Popski" Peniakoff DSO MC FRGS (Russian: Владимир Дмитриевич Пеняков Vladimir Dmitriyevich Penyakov, 30 March 1897 – 15 May 1951) was the founder and commanding officer of No. 1 Demolition Squadron, PPA, colloquially known as "Popski's Private Army", during World War II.

Vladimir Peniakoff

Born(1897-03-30)30 March 1897
Huy, Liège, Belgium
Died15 May 1951(1951-05-15) (aged 54)
Bloomsbury, London, England
Wixoe, Suffolk, England
AllegianceFrance/United Kingdom
Service/branchFrench Army
British Army
Years of service1917–1918 (France)
1940–1946 (United Kingdom)
Service number159661
Commands heldPopski's Private Army
Battles/warsFirst World War
Second World War
AwardsDistinguished Service Order
Military Cross
Croix de Guerre
Africa Star


Early lifeEdit

Vladimir Peniakoff was born on 30 March 1897 in Huy, Belgium, to affluent Jewish Russian emigre parents where his father, Dmitri, owned and operated an aluminium factory. Peniakoff began an engineering degree at Free University of Brussels at the age of 15 before his studies were interrupted by the German invasion of Belgium in August 1914.[1][2]

His father took him to England where Peniakoff resumed his studies at St John's College, Cambridge reading mathematics. He initially had conscientious objections to participation in the conflict, but by his fourth term at Cambridge his views had altered, and he went to France to volunteer as a gunner in the French artillery. He was injured during his service with the French Army and was invalided out after the Armistice in November 1918.[2]

In 1924 Peniakoff emigrated to Egypt where he worked as an engineer with a sugar manufacturer. During this period of his life he learned to sail, fly and navigate vehicles through the desert, and also become a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. Peniakoff was a polyglot who spoke English, Russian, Italian, German, French and Arabic well.

World War IIEdit

Peniakoff was commissioned as a second lieutenant on the British Army General List on 4 October 1940, serving in the Libyan Arab Force.[3] He commanded the unit known as "Popski's Private Army" in the Middle East and Italy. He was eventually promoted to lieutenant colonel.

During the conflict he was awarded the Military Cross on 26 November 1942,[4] and on 26 April 1945 he was appointed a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO).[5]

Post-war, in 1947, he was made a Belgian Officier de l'Ordre de la Couronne avec Palme and awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre 1940 avec Palme.

Peniakoff became the British-Russian liaison officer in Vienna before demobilisation, naturalisation and achieving fame as a British writer and broadcaster. In 1950 he wrote the book Private Army about his experiences; it sold very well and was reprinted several times that year.

Personal lifeEdit

In Egypt he married Josephe Louise Colette "Josette" Ceysens, a Egypt-born Belgian, on 10 November 1928 and had two daughters, Olga and Anne, born in 1930 and 1932. After receiving his commission he divorced Josephe in March 1941 and sent the family to South Africa.[2] On 2 April 1948 he married Pamela Firth in Chelsea.[6]


Peniakoff died on 15 May 1951 of a brain tumour at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London. His body was buried in the graveyard of St. Leonard's Church, Wixoe, in the County of Suffolk,[7] joined in 2005 by his second wife Pamela Firth.[8]


  1. ^ Willett. Popski. Willett interviewed many of Popski's surviving Jewish relatives after World War II.
  2. ^ a b c "Vladimir Peniakoff: "Popski"". Friends of Popski's Private Army. 28 January 2012. Retrieved 31 August 2017.
  3. ^ "No. 35063". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 January 1941. pp. 681–682.
  4. ^ "No. 35799". The London Gazette (Supplement). 24 November 1942. p. 5142.
  5. ^ "No. 37051". The London Gazette (Supplement). 24 April 1945. p. 2216.
  6. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 30 August 2017.
  7. ^ Vladimir Peniakoff at Find a Grave
  8. ^ Pamela Hope Firth Matthews at Find a Grave

External linksEdit