General Władysław Anders is one of the greatest Polish people of the 20th century. He received the Polish Order of the Virtuti Militari for his services in the Polish-Soviet War. Not only was Anders an excellent commander, but also he was a politician who rendered great service to our country.
Władysław Anders was the commander of the Polish Second Corps and commander-in-chief of the Polish Armed Forces in the West. Anders, who came from landowning family, was born near Kutno, on 11th September, 1892. At the beginning he didn’t plan an army career, however after graduating from secondary school in Warsaw in 1910, he joined the Russian Army. After one year of military training course, he became reserve officer and started studying in Riga.
In 1914 he was enlisted in the Russian Army. During the First World War he was very brave and showed his leader-ship talent. He was injured three times and received the Cross of St. George, which is Russian order. Soon he started course in the General Staff Academy in St. Petersburg. After graduating in 1917 he was nominated as a Chief of Staff of one of Russia’s infantry divisions.
In the Polish Army
In spite of an impressive career in the Russian Army, Władysław Anders didn’t forget that he’s Polish. After an outbreak of the Bolshevik Revolution, when the army in Russia almost disintegrated, Anders joined the Polish First Corps, which was formed by General Józef Dowbor-Muśnicki. Also, Władysław Anders was taking part in forming the famous 1st Krechowiecki Uhlan Regiment. In 1918, with other soldiers from the Polish First Corps, he was demobilized by the German troops and then he come back to Poland.
In the same year, after German capitulation, Poles started disarming German soldiers who were in Poland. Anders also took part in these actions. His skills and experience were invaluable for Poland, which was rising after a war. He took part in the Greater Poland Uprising and Polish-Soviet War (1919-1921) and showed his impressive military skills. 15th Poznań Uhlans Regiment and Władysław Anders received personally, the Polish Order of the Virtuti Militari from Marshal Józef Piłsudski. Anders was nominated to be lieutenant colonel, Chief of Staff of Poznań Army and commander of 15th Poznań Uhlans Regiment.
In 1921 finally there was peace. Anders didn’t think about the continuation of his civil studies. In the same year he was sent to High War College in Paris. He graduated in 1922. After coming back to Poland, he became the Chief of Staff of the General Inspectorate of Cavalry. His developing career wasn’t stopped even by the May Coup in 1926. In 1934 he was nominated to be general of a brigade. In 1937 general Anders became commander of the Nowogródzka Cavalry Brigade. The brigade has to defend Płock region from the north in case of Germans’ attack. When Germans attacked Poland, Anders was wounded by shrapnel of an aerial bomb. However, he still commanded Nowogródzka and Wołyńska Cavalry Brigades, as well as 10th Infantry Division. Next tries of defending were not successful; hence Anders ordered the withdrawal of the front-line troops. They headed to The Romanian Bridgehead, where Anders planned counter-offensive. This plan was ruined because of the attack of the Red Army on 17th September. Anders, who was near Lviv, had few battles with Soviet troops. He was wounded two times and captured by Soviets.
The Inhuman Land
General Anders didn’t have medical care, he was kept in a prison cell without heating and his wounds were suppurating. These inhumane conditions were meant to persuade him to join the Red Army. Because Anders didn’t want to do it, he spent 2 years in the prison. Fortunately he wasn’t transported to Siberia or Kazakh’s prison camps, like 1.5 million Polish citizens. He also didn’t share the fate of Polish officers from prisoner-of-war camps, who were murdered in the Katyń Forest. Situation of General Anders and other Polish soldiers in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics changed in the summer of 1941. After German’s attack and defeat of the Red Army, Józef Stalin started searching for help from the West. Poland, which had an alliance with England, suddenly stopped being an enemy of the Soviet Union and became its ally. Soon the Government of the Republic of Poland in exile established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. Soviet authorities formally announced the amnesty for Poles who were deported to Russia. Among these Poles was also General Anders.
Soon the decision about forming the Polish Army in the Soviet Union was made. Its commander was General Anders, who at the same time was nominated to be the general of the division. At the very beginning of forming the Polish Army, General Anders knew that Soviets aren’t enthusiastic about it. Soviet authorities agreed to enlist in the army only ethnic Poles. Inhabitants of the occupied lands in 1939, who had Polish nationality, but belonged to other nations, weren’t allowed to join the Polish Army. The same thing regarded to Poles who were serving in the Red Army.
Despite this, many Polish soldiers and civilians were coming to army recruitment offices in Buzułuk, Tatiszczew and Tockoje. It was very important for General Anders to provide his soldiers with food and accommodation. Food rations provided by Russians weren’t sufficient for soldiers and civilians. The same thing was with military equipment. The Polish Army gained only old and worn-out equipment.
The General was conscious of the fate of Polish soldiers in the Soviet Union. He knew that authorities agreed to form an army only because they wanted to gain help from the Western Allies. The General was afraid that if the character of the war changed, the Polish Army would be disbanded and Polish soldiers will be transported to prison camps. Hence, he started considering a withdrawal from the Soviet Union. Evidently, soldiers’ transport to England was impossible, but marching out to Iran could be manageable.
In March, 1942 Anders had a conversation with Stalin, who agreed to evacuate Polish soldiers. Unexpected Russian help enabled to transfer over 33000 Poles to Iran. A Few months later, the rest of the soldiers and some civilians abandoned the Soviet Union.
This was a large-scale evacuation, however not so many Poles, who were staying in Russia after 17th September, escaped from there. The estimated number of Poles was 1.5 million, and only 115000 arrived to Iran, including 70000 soldiers. General Anders, who was worried about his soldiers, left the Soviet Union on 19th August, 1942.
The Polish Second Corps
After coming to Iran, General Anders was finally able to form an army. He thought that Poles should form one, close-order corps, which could be able to fight independently with English troops. Soldiers went from Iran to Iraq and Palestine, where they took part in military training courses. In July 1943, soldiers of the Polish Army, the Polish Second Corps were formed.
At the same time it turned out that Anders’ decision about abandoning the Soviet Union was right. In April 1943, Germans discovered mass graves of Polish officers in Katyń, near Smoleńsk. They claimed that these were victims of People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs, but Russians denied it. When the Polish government asked The Red Cross to send a committee in order to investigate war crime, Stalin broke diplomatic relations with Poland.
At the beginning of 1944 soldiers of the Polish Second Corps were transported from Palestine to Italy. Finally they could fight with the enemy. Troops, which were commanded by General Anders, became an independent part of British 8th Army, which was fighting against Germans on the Iberian Peninsula. After a couple of fights with the enemy, a very difficult mission was waiting for Poles- to capture monastery at Monte Casino. Monastery, which was besieged by Germans, closed the way to Rome and deep into Italy. British troops were trying a few times to capture the monastery but they didn’t manage. Finally, the decision that Poles have to do deal with this task was made. Because of the possible huge losses, General Anders was able to decide if he wants to order Poles to capture the monastery. The Commander of the Second Polish Corps was conscious that it will be very difficult and there will be many casualties. However, he knew that capturing Monte Casino will reinforce the position of Polish soldiers among the allies. The attack started on 11th May, 1944. After one week of the battle, German’s paratroopers were forced into withdrawal. For this glory General Anders received The Most Honorable Order of the Bath.
Unfortunately, the glory of Polish soldiers didn’t have any effect. General Anders and his soldiers were shocked when they got to know about the decision made by Józef Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Yalta, in February, 1945. Allies allowed Stalin to control Poland. One day after the announcement of this decision, General Anders sent telegram to President Władysław Raczek: “Towards the tragic announcement from the last Yalta Conference, I inform that the Polish Second Corps cannot accept this unilateral decision, which left Poland and Polish nation to the mercy of Bolsheviks. I asked allies for corps’ withdrawal of the front-line positions because my conscience wouldn’t allow me to require sacrificing lives from my soldiers now.” The same request General Anders sent to the commander of the British 8th Army, but he refused a withdrawal because of the military actions. General made the last attempt to prevent Poland from horrible fate during the meeting with Winston Churchill. However, the Prime Minister of Great Britain told that he had never guaranteed the eastern borders of Poland.
At the same time Władysław Anders got new duties. General Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski, Commander-in-chief of the Polish Army, was in the German’s prison; hence the commander of the Polish Second Corps had to take over his responsibilities. When on 28th April, 1945 German troops surrendered in Italy, battles of the Second Polish Corps were ended. A Couple days later Germany capitulated.
Being an expatriate
At the end of war, the main concern of Władysław Anders was the fate of his soldiers, who were in the East of Europe. Prisoners of war, forced laborers and Poles saved from concentration camps were coming to polish military camps in Italy. Many of them joined the Polish Second Corps, which grew to well over 100 000 soldiers. On the initiative of Władysław Anders many institutions were formed in order to help Poles who were coming to Italy. There were built schools, courses and training was organized.
Despite this, the fate of Polish soldiers was still unsure. Allies wanted them to come back to Poland, but many Poles knew the Soviet system. Hence, it’s not surprising that among 200 000 Poles, who were offered transport to Poland, only 30 000 came back. Also, the General didn’t want to come back- in the best case scenario, he would have trial and go to prison, like 16 leaders of The Polish Underground State.
When Anders refused to come back to Poland, the Council of Ministers deprived him and other officers of Polish citizenship. General Anders devoted his time to work for independence. He provided patronage for many Polish institutions in the West. He was trying to remind people of the betrayal of Poland by its allies.
In 1969 Anders took part in the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Mote Casino. One year later, on 12th May, Władysław Anders died. As requested, he was buried at the Polish Cemetery at Monte Casino.