Monte Cassino, Ancona, Bologna

The Polish Second Corps is formed (Palestine-Egypt 1943-1944)

The Polish Second Corps was formed on July 22nd, 1943 from various units of the Polish Army in the East, on the orders of the General Władysław Sikorski from 16th and 29th July, 1943 in the northern part of Iraq, near Kiruk and Altun Kapon. In August and September of 1943 the corps moved to the southern part of Palestine and was deployed in various places.

In Palestine the corps became an independent part of the British 8th Army under General William Holmes’ command. The combat readiness of the Polish Second Corps was scheduled for January 1st, 1944. Commander of the Polish Second Corps, General Anders, was still the Commander of the Polish Army in the East. In November 25th 1943, General Kazimierz Sosnkowski published ‘The Organizational Guidelines for the Polish Army in the East”. According to these guidelines the Polish Army was divided into three echelons. The First echelon was formed from soldiers of the Polish Second Corps and Polish Military Base, while the second one was formed from the staff and units, which didn’t belong to the Polish Second Corps. The third echelon was formed from units, which were in Palestine and Syria.

In November regrouping of the Polish Second Corps had started. The sub-units of The Polish 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division were the first to be relocated. In December The Polish 2nd Armored Brigade, artillery, as well as command and services of the corps, set off. In the middle of January, 1944 The Polish 5th Kresowa Infantry Division came to Egypt. The whole corps was located in cantonment in Quassim, which was 30 kilometers from the city of Ismailla. In Quassim the corps gained new British equipment. On December 12th, 1943 first DSK units were transported from Qassasin to a harbor in Taufig. For the whole next day, equipment was loaded onto the ship. On December 14th, 1943 the ship was in the Suez Canal and in the evening it arrived in Said harbor. On December 16th, 1943 the ship left the harbour and arrived in Tarento base, in the southern part of Italy.

The Battle of Monte Casino (11-29.05.1944)

From 11th to 29th of May the Polish Second Corps was taking part in the fourth battle to break through the Gustav Line. Its objective was to capture fortifications between Casino and Passo Corno.

The Commander of the Polish Second Corps, General Anders, decided to attack not from the side of Casino along the road to Piedimonte and Rome, as it was done before, but from the southwest of Rapido. Also, the British 13th Corps was attacking along the no. 6 road.

In the night from May 11th to May 12th preparations to mount an offensive were prepared. It was done by ten artillery regiments that had 224 cannons, anti-tanks guns, and more than 20 anti-aircraft guns. Allied artillery supported an attack with four artillery regiments and air force. After finishing APN, The Polish 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division and 15th PodoleUhlans Regiment were charging to the 593 hill and along the narrow passage in Massa Albaneta direction. The Polish 5th Kresowa Infantry Division was fighting at San Angelo. However, there were heavy casualties- about 40-70% of the soldiers died. In the night from May 12th to May 13th Poles withdrew to the starting position.

From 13th to 16th reconnaissance actions were taken. The first cavalry troop of the 1st Krechowiecki Uhlan Regiment attacked southern slopes of the Phantom Ridge, which enabled them to defuse mines. Because of the open fire the enemies couldn’t lay mines again.

On 17th May, after reorganization, the next attack was made. The Polish 5th Kresowa Infantry Division had to capture the ridge of San Angelo and 574 hill, while The Polish 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division had to capture 593, 569,476 hills and then Massa Albaneta.

In the sector of the Polish 5th Kresowa Infantry Division, a strike force was commanded by Colonel Klemens Rudnicki. A strike force captured the Phantom Ridge, and its next target was San Angelo. Also, 13th Riflemen Battalion took part in the battle.

In the sector of the 3rd Division the offensive was commanded by Colonel Roman Szymański. Polish troops were attacking 593 hill and Mass Albaneta. In the narrow passage, near the Phantom Ridge, the cavalry troop of the 4th armored regiment. The combat also lasted for the whole night. About 10 a.m. The Polish 5th Carpathian Rifle Division and patrols of the 12th PodoleUhlans Regiment captured the monastery. On the ruins of monastery Polish flag was stuck and then, on the orders of the General, also the British flag. On 15th May, the group ‘Bob’ captured Piedimonte, while on 25th May the 15th Uhlans Regiment captured Monte Cairo. The road to Rome was re-opened.

In the battle of Monte Casino and Piedimonte 860 soldiers died (including 72 officers), 2822 soldiers were wounded (including 204 officers), and 97 disappeared (including 5 officers). Polish soldiers were buried in the Polish cemetery at the foot of the Monastery Hill.

The Battle of Ancona 18.07.1944

On 7th June, 1944 the Polish 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division relieved the 4th Infantry Division and gave the chase along No. 16 road. On 18th June, units of the corps captured Pescara. On the left of the Polish 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division, The Polish 5th Kresowa Infantry Division joined the action. Poles captured Loreto, Recanati, Osimo, Castelfidardo, San Pietro Hill, and came to Ancona. The commander of the corps decided to capture the region of Paterniano-Monte delia Crescia-Monte Tarto and that the main attack will be conducted by The Polish 5th Kresowa Infantry Division. The Polish 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division and Carpathian Uhlans Regiment were attacking the enemy in the seaside area. On 17th, in the morning, the Polish 5th Kresowa Infantry Division attacked. Its brigades captured Paterniano, hills to the north of San Stefano, and then Monte delia Crescia and Offagna. In the west Monte Tarto and Croce di San Vinzenzo were captured. After dusk, units were continuing the attack. They relocated to the Esino River, near Chiaravalle.

On 18th units of the corps encroached on Ancona, Capturing the harbor enabling the allies to continue military actions in Rimini and to strengthen the Gothic Line.

After capturing the town and harbor, the attack was continued. The Polish 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division was attacking from the seaside road no.16. It established a bridgehead near the Misa River. On 9th August, the Polish 5th Kresowa Infantry Division with the support of the British 7th Division attacked again. Its units took control of the river bank of Cezano and captured Monterado.

The Polish 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division and 2nd Armored Brigade were fighting near Scapezzano and Cezano. At the same time, in the seaside area, the Canadian Corps was deployed. Its task was to break through the Gothic Line near Monte Lupone-Cattolica. Also, units of the Polish Second Corps were involved in this mission.

From 19th the main attack was conducted by the Polish 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division. It attacked hills near Constanza. The battle lasted for 3 days and it closed with the defeat of the 278th German Division. On 28th August, troops reached Foglia River. On 31st the Polish 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division captured Pesaro and broke through the Gothic Line.

In the battles by the Adriatic the corps lost 1358 soldiers and officers. Killed soldiers were buried in the Polish cemetery in Loreto, near the basilica.

The Battle of Bologna 1945

In April 1945 the Polish Second Corps took part in the battle of Bologna. On 20th April units from the Polish Second Corps crossed over Giana and Idice rivers, and on 21st April at 9 p.m. the 9th Battalion of the Polish 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division entered Bologna and stuck the Polish flag. At 8 a.m. Americans from the 5th Army entered the city. The distance covered in the last phase shows the marching pace: Poles had to cross 50 kilometers, while Americans only 20 kilometers. The Polish Second Corps was fighting for 13 days; it crossed 4 rivers and 9 canals, which were fortified and defended.

Breaking through the enemy’s defenses near Bologna and liberating the city contributed to the defeat of Germans at the Italian front. Units from the Polish Second Corps entered Bologna with the ovation from local people. On the orders of the Commander of the 8th Army, Poles stayed in this area but didn’t take part in the military actions. The 9th Battalion of the Polish 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division was awarded the title of “Bolognese”, while 17 commanders received the freedom of the city. Polish soldiers were granted a memorial by the Town Council, which bore the following inscription “ Al liberatori che primi entrarono in Bologna 21 Aprile 1945 – per benemerenza” (For liberators who first entered Bologna on 21 April 1945 – in honour of their services)

In a tribute to the Poles, the new commander of the British 8th Army, General McCreery pointed out that the soldiers had faced three of the Germans’ best divisions and had pushed them back.

In the battle of Bologna 300 soldiers died and 600 were wounded. Killed soldiers were buried in the local cemetery. Next, the corps became a part of the occupation forces. In 1946 it was moved to Great Britain.

Disbanding the Polish Second Corps- the fate of soldiers. Emigration and coming back to Poland.

In 1947 the Polish Second Corps was disbanded. From 1945 some soldiers started to come back to Poland. However, most of them joined the Polish Resettlement Corps.

After finishing military operations, soldiers who declared that they are coming back to Poland, were transferred to repatriation camps in San Domenico (about 800 soldiers), Cervinara and Paolisi, near Naples (about 5500 soldiers). Camps were staying in the custody of the British authorities, which were organizing transport to Poland. Soldiers came to Poland by rail (through Milan, Brenner, Plzeň, Prague to Zebrzydowice) and by sea (from Naples to Gdańsk).

Soldiers’ who return to Poland were supervised by the Polish Military Mission in Italy, which was commanded by Colonel Kazimierz Sidor (the Polish Military Mission existed till May, 1946).

From 3rd to 5th December 1945, 12305 soldiers from the Polish Second Corps came home to Poland by rail. There were 32 officers, 1612 non-commissioned officers, as well as 10661 rank-and-file soldiers. From this group, 1226 non-commissioned officers and 8601 rank-and-file soldierswere forced to serve in the German Army. About 8% of these soldiers were cashiered or imprisoned because of the political reasons. About 2% of the soldiers were Belarusians, Russians, and Ukrainians with Polish citizenship. Returning soldiers brought with them 11867 English rifles and 603150 cartridges. Soldiers were headed to the staging areas in Koźle (2 staging areas), Cieszyn, Międzylesie, Katowice, Chorzów, as well as Bielsko-Biała. These areas were formed on the orders of Commander-in-chief of the Polish Army from 27th November, 1945. Recruitment was commanded by General Wsiewołod Strażewski, who was second deputy minister of National Defence, while in the process of recruitment four registration commissions were involved. In the composition of commissions there were officers from the Department of Conscription of the National Defence Ministry, Main Directorate of Information of the Polish Army, as well as the Personnel Department of the National Defence Ministry. The chief of one of those commissions was lieutenant colonel Jan Janikowski. 1572 non-commissioned officers, who returned to Poland, were demobilized, 40 were given a holiday and qualified for further military service. In the group of privates 9892 soldiers were demobilized and 769 were given a holiday. However, later it was decided that soldiers, who were given a holiday, won’t serve in the army. Further transport of soldiers for the Polish Second Corps came back to Poland from Great Britain. 16 371 non-commissioned officers and 41 912 privates returned before December, 1947. Kazimierz Frontczak doesn’t tell how many of them served in the Polish Second Corps. These figures don’t involve soldiers who came back to Poland individually or by repatriation transports. Organized action of soldiers’ return lasted till the second half of 1951. In Gdynia on 20th of September, 1951 Stage Point of the Repatriation Office of Polish Travel Agency “Orbis” was closed.

From 1947 to 1948 723 soldiers, who were living in Wileński, Białostocki, Nowogrodzki and Poleski Voivodeship, came to 312th Camp of the Liberated Prisoners of War in Grodno (these figures don’t involve soldiers who returned in 1946 and stayed in a camp in Vilnius, as well as soldiers who came back individually after 1948). From 723 soldiers, who were in the camp in Grodno, 327 served in the Polish Second Corps, from which 111 in the Polish 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division and 159 in the Polish 5th Kresowa Infantry Division. In the night from March 31st to April 1st officers of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic started arresting soldiers and sent them with families to the Irkutsk Region. Deportation was connected with confiscation of personal possessions and military decorations. Altogether 888 soldiers and 3632 members of their families were sent to Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic and 49 soldiers to Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1956 soldiers and their families were allowed to come back to country. In 1958 in Irkutsk Region there were 1152 soldiers and their family members. Most of them returned to Poland in 1951.

In 1971 the Supreme Court of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic recognized that deportations were unjustified. Soldiers, who came back to the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, were awarded compensation for confiscation of personal possessions. In 2003, in Belarus there were 23 soldiers of the Polish Second Corps, who still didn’t have veteran’s rights.