General Anders and General Sikorski in the Middle East

General Anders and General Sikorski in the Middle East

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General Anders and General Sikorski in the Middle East

This picture was taken during General Sikorski's fatal trip to the Middle East in the summer of 1943. On 4 July 1943 his plane crashed at Gibralter, killing Sikorski as well as General Klimecki, chief of staff of the Polish Army, and Colonel Victor Cazalet, M.P., his British liason officer).Sikorski is second from left, Anders second from right.

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Was General Sikorski a victim of the Katyń massacre?

The general was supposedly shot with two bullets the moment his plane started running on the airport lane. What happened to the rest of the passengers was unknown. If they weren’t shot, they might have died from an explosion. The bomb exploded probably after the plane alighted on the water [5, p. 209]. The purpose of the explosion was, besides killing the witnesses, to get rid of any traces and evidence and disguise the murder attempt as an accident. Most probably, there was a man aboard the plane, whom Ludwik Łubieński introduced to Sikorski as Jan Gralewski. He might have let a few assassins in, whom he didn’t necessarily have to know personally. It might have been the two assassins mentioned by Philby in a conversation with Heinrich Miiller.

In 1944 in Moscow, during a meeting with Milovan Djilas, Stalin presented his version of events that led to Gen. Sikorski’s assassination. He cynically blamed the British and said they bore full responsibility for the General’s death. In his book, Djilas wrote that Stalin underscored several times that they ought to beware of English duplicity: “They were the ones who killed Gen. Sikorski in a plane and then neatly shot down the plane – no proof, no witnesses” [1, p.73].

Tadeusz Kisielewski believes that Gen. Władysław Anders or his entourage was preparing a coup d’etat against Sikorski, which was never finalized. It should be mentioned that Colonel Leopold Okulicki was then the commander of the 7th Infantry Division. Jan M. Ciechanowski, in his polemic to Norman Davies’ book about the Warsaw Uprising, reveals that Colonel Okulicki, as the commandant of ZWZ (Związek Walki Zbrojnej – an organization within Polish underground armed forces), the Soviet occupation section, was arrested by the NKVD in Lvov on the night of January 21 – 22,1941.
Tortured, he broke during the interrogation. “He gave a wide and detailed deposition regarding activity, structures and management of the whole Polish underground army, and declared his readiness to start a close and wide political and military cooperation with the Soviet government and NKVD” [2, p. 101]. It should be stressed that Colonel Okulicki broke all the rules of the military conduct, and as a soldier he broke the oath of faith to the Republic of Poland, and he deprived himself the moral qualifications one needs to be a commander.

Tadeusz Kisielewski suspects that: “Sikorski’s journey to the Near East which started on May 25, 1943, aimed to not only inspect the Second Corps and to pacify Anders’ ‘rebellion’, but also to set up a confident contact with the Kremlin” [5, p. 122]. It was very likely to happen Stanisław Strumph-Wojtkiewicz also mentions the story in his book [15, p. 67-68].

Courtesy of the Polish Military Museum in Warsaw:
September 20, 1941: Prime Minister Winston Churchill and General Sikorski, accompanied by General de Gaulle visit the 10th Armoured Cavalary Brigade.

As Zbigniew Stańczyk recalls, first rumor that it were Poles who stood behind the assassination of Gen. Sikorski appeared the day after the catastrophe on a cabinet meeting [14]. During the meeting it was decided that an interrogative commission would be sent to the Gibraltar base. The commission was instructed to find the body of the general, to localize missing mail, to determine the causes of the accident, and to check ,,if a Polish sabotage was possible”. Sta-nislaw Mikolajczyk vetoed then that too many members of the commission were connected with the 2 Department of the Polish Army Headquarters and that would not be helpful in the search for truth.
MieczysJaw Pruszynski wrote that just before Gen. Sikorski died, he ordered to arrest air force officers suspected of plotting against him. According to Pruszyński, the British were afraid that the Polish interrogation would reveal their system of double agents [11, p.139]. It might have been one of the additional reasons to get rid of Sikorski.

It is seems to be very possible that Soviet Russia was the direct or indirect force standing behind the murder as a country the most interested in the removal of Wladyslaw Sikorski. According to Tadeusz Kisielewski, Soviet special services might have prepared such action using their own or other people. In his opinion, Poles might have been the assassins ,,aware or not that they followed orders from Kremlin” [5, p. 133]. They might have believed that “they executed the will of the Polish antagonists of Sikorski” or they could be agents, maybe recruited among officers the Polish Army. It could have also been British assuming they fallowed the orders of their own government.

Courtesy of the Polish Military Museum in Warsaw:
Chicago, December 18, 1942 Gen. Sikorski in the office of Mayor E. J. Kelly. L-R: Karol Ripa, L. Walkowicz, Gen.Sikorski, Amb. Ciechanowski, Mayor Kelly in the background: Pilot Główczyński.

But according to the chief of Gestapo Heinrich Miiller, Harold ,,Kim” Philby informed him that the list of passengers of Maisky’s airplane included names of two professional assassins. It doesn’t seem very likely that any Poles could be traveling with Maisky to Gibraltar. Some documents indicate the fact that an assassination attempt on Sikorski was planned by Polish officers. Most of those files are still secret, but even those very few already disclosed are very interesting. According to Eugenia Maresch among those documents are reports of major Howarth, a SOE (Special Operations Executive) special agent in Cairo, to the central in London, dating from February 1943 [7].

They regard the assassination attempt planned on Sikorski by Polish officers. The fact that such documents existed was overly covered up. Any suspicions against the Polish military circuit that was claimed by the MI3 intelligence working in the Middle East were treated in a similar way.

Maria Nurowska in the biographic novel about Krystyna Skarbek, a SOE agent who was using the name of Christine Granville, noticed that Patrick Howarth felt affection toward the hero of her novel [10, p. 175]. Howarth, an Oxford graduate, came to Cairo in summer of 1942 to take the position of SOE officer responsible for technical equipment of agents who were dropped from planes or transported by submarines. He was fascinated by Christine Granville and in his book about SOE agents he puts her in focus a lot [4, p. 35-58]. Madeleine Masson, the author of a biography of Christine Granville, published in her book a poem by Patrick Howarth that he dedicated to the beautiful Pole [8, p. 251]. Christine Granville stayed in Cairo from 1941 to 1943. During that time she had the freedom to contact Polish officers, including those from the Gen. Anders’ Second Corps.
Eugenia Maresch asks if ignoring these signals was a sign of recklessness, or if the British just didn’t want to know about the planned murder, or maybe it was in their interest to drastically remove Sikor-ski from his position of prime minister. As some of British documents state, the idea of the removal of Sikorski appeared for the first time in 1941.

Kazimierz Leski, in his book ,,Życie niewłściwie urozmaicone. Wspomnienia oficera wywiadu
i kontrwywiadu AK” (A life improperly varied. Memories of a Polish Home Army espionage and counterespionage officer), mentioned the cooperation of Krystyna Skarbek with Stefan Witkowski, chief of a secret intelligence organization, ,,Musketeers” [6, p. 124]. Stefan Witkowski introduced Krystyna Skarbek to Kazimierz Leski as a special British intelligence messenger. Besides contacts with the British intelligence service, Witkowski cooperated also with German intelligence and the Committee of White Russians. According to Gen. Klemens Rud-nicki, by the end of 1941, three “emissaries” sent by Stefan Witkowski came to the camp of the Polish Army of Gen. Anders in the Soviet Union with documents highly embarrassing to the Poles [12, p. 167-169]. Those documents were most probably read by Soviet officers and the whole thing might have been a political provocation. According to Kazimierz Leski, Stefan Witkowski, after Gen. Stefan Grot-Rowecki approved his death sentence given by the military court for betraying the Polish government, was shot in September 1942 in Warsaw by Kripo policemen in the service of ZWZ [6, p. 132].

Kazimierz Leski met Stefan Witkowski for the first time in the fall of 1939 in the apartment of countess Teresa Lubienska in Warsaw, and in the beginning he cooperated with him in the organization ,,Musketeers” [6, p. 72]. Similar to Kazimierz Leski, Józef Garliński, future Polish historian-in-exile, was also connected with the ,,Musketeers”. We should mention here that according to Garlinski, Gen. Sikorski drowned after his plane’s catastrophe [3, p. 121].

The destiny of Christine Granville and Countess Teresa Lubienska was very tragic. After the war, in 1947 in Cairo, Edward Howe, an old friend of Christine, gave her Ian Fleming’s address [9, p. 143]. Edward Howe believed that the famed author would be interested in the personage of Christine and maybe help her in finding a job.
In the years 1940 and 1941, Fleming was involved in a plot that led to the unfortunate trip of Rudolf Hess to Scotland. Hess flew to Scotland on May 10,1941 and was arrested there.

Fleming’s persona could have definitely interested: Christine Granville. Ian Fleming was seeing her occasionally, as she worked then as a stewardess on a cruise ship.
Christine kept her meetings with Fleming secret. One of the places they met was the hotel Granville, near Dover. Obviously those meetings entertained them both. After a weekend with Ian Fleming, Christine told her friend that for the first time since the end of war she spent some “magical hours” with someone whose company was extremely pleasant for her [9, p. 144].

In January and February of 1952 Fleming wrote the novella “Casino Royale”, which was published no earlier than April 1953. Donald McCormick, Fleming’s biographer, believes that Christine Granville was the prototype for Vesper Lynd, the main female character. In chapter XXVI James Bond talks with Vesper about marriage. In the following chapter she’s already dead, leaving a letter to Bond, in which she admits to James that she was a double agent, working for the Russians as well as the British. In the last paragraph of the book, in a telephone conversation, Bond says: ,,Pass this on at once. 3030 was a double, working for Redland…. The bitch is dead now” [9, p. 153]. Daniel Farson, another author fascinated with Christine Granville, was referring to that when posting a question if she was a double agent [9, p. 148].

On June 15,1952, before “Casino Royale” was published, in the hall of the Shellbourne Hotel, located by Le-xham Gardens in Kensington, London, George Muldowney stabbed Christine Granville.
The questions appear: Could Ian Fleming predict Christine’s death? What does Vesper Lynd’s death mean? It seems that Donald McCormick answered these questions. He wrote: “Christine Granville not only knew about Sikorski’s death but something of the background to it and events connected with it, leading to the conclusion that he was murdered” [9, p. 149]. So Krystyna Skarbek was another victim – she knew too much.

On Friday, September 12, 1952, in London, the Polish newspaper, “Dziennik Polski”, wrote:
“An Irishman [George Muldowney] with a face of a half-educated person murdered Krystyna Skarbek, a hero, who helped the Allies’ cause so much, who was awarded with so many foreign medals and whose achievements during the war became almost a legend. No identity check, no formalities. A few concise sentences and the judge is ready, putting on his black cap, he reads the death sentence. Everything happens fast, three minutes at the most” [10, p. 255]. We should add that the killer was mentally unstable and he refused the assistance of a public defender. The sentence was announced on September 10 and the murderer executed on September 30.

One of the closest friends of Krystyna Skarbek, attending her funeral at the Roman-Catholic cemetery in Kensal Green, in London, was Countess Teresa Łubieńska.

A few years later she met the same fate. She was stabbed on May 24, 1957, at a subway stop by Gloucester Road. The death of the countess is a mystery to this day. In his book dedicated to the soldiers of World War II, Cardinal Francis Spellman recollects the words of the Archbishop of Edinburgh and his opinion about the Allies’ responsibility for Poland, spoken on the 5th anniversary of Poland’s takeover by the Soviet Union and Germany, and a year after General Sikorski’s death, with Poland facing once again the threat of liquidation – this time by the Soviet Union. Archbishop MacDonald stated then that: “The honor, the pride and cherished treasure of every English heart will be ruthlessly flung on the scrap-heap if Poland is not free, […] We may conceal the truth from ourselves today, we may camouflage the facts and comfort ourselves with deceitful, soft-sounding words now, but one thing is certain: those guilty of the crime of liquidating Poland, if it comes to pass, will be scorned and despised by future generations they will justly be regarded with horror for all time, as seared with the brand of Cain in the murder of a faithful ally and brother-nation in arms” [13, p. 67].

Selected bibliography:
1. Djilas, Milovan, Conversations with Stalin, Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., New York 1962.

2. Ciechanowski, Jan M., Zmarnowana szansa (Uwagi i refleksje nadpolskim wydaniem książki Normana Daviesa ,,Powstanie 󈧰”, ,,Zeszyty Historyczne” nr 149, p. 99-117, Paryż 2004.

3. Garliński, Józef, Poland, SOE and the Allies, George Allen and Unwin Ltd, London 1969.

4. Howarth, Patrick, Undercover, The Men and Women of Special Operations Executive, Routledge & Kegan Poul, London, Boston and Henley, 1980.

5. Kisielewski, Tadeusz A., Zamach, Tropem zabójców generała Sikorskiego, Dom Wydawniczy REBIS, Poznań 2005.

6. Leski, Kazimierz, Życie niewłaściwie urozmaicone, Wspomnienia oficera wywiadu i kontrwywiadu AK, Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, Warszawa 1989.

7. Maresch, Eugenia, Katastrofa w Gibraltarze. Po 60 latach wciąż
tajemnica, “Mówią Wieki” 2003, nr 7.

8. Masson, Madeleine, Christine: A Search for Christine Granville,
Hamish Hamilton, London 1975.

9. McCormick, Donald, 17F: The Life of Ian Fleming, Peter Owen
Publishers, London 1993.

10. Nurowska, Maria, Miłośnica, Wyd. WAB, Warszawa 2001.

11. Pruszyński, Mieczysław, Komu mogło zależeć na śmierci gen. Si-
korskiego, “Przegląd Wojskowo-Historyczny” 2 (2001), 3, p.136-140.

12. Rudnicki, Klemens, Na polskim szlaku, Wspomnienia z lat 1939
– 1947, Polska Fundacja Kulturalna, Londyn 1984.

13. Spellman, Francis Joseph, No Greater Love: The Story of Our
Soldiers, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York 1945.

14. Stańczyk, Zbigniew L., Jeśli był spisek. “Rzeczypospolita”
z 4.07.1998 (“Plus – Minus”).

15. Strumph-Wojtkiewicz, Stanisław, Sikorski i jego żołnierze, Księgarnia Ludowa T. Lemański, Łódź 1946.


Invasion of Poland Edit

On 1 September 1939, the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany began. Consequently, Britain and France, fulfilling the Anglo-Polish [5] and Franco-Polish treaties of alliance, declared war on Germany. [6] Despite these declarations of war, the two nations undertook minimal military activity during what became known as the Phoney War. [7]

The Soviet invasion of Poland began on 17 September, in accordance with the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. The Red Army advanced quickly and met little resistance, [8] as Polish forces facing them were under orders not to engage the Soviets. About 250,000 [1] [9] to 454,700 [10] Polish soldiers and policemen were captured and interned by the Soviet authorities. Some were freed or escaped quickly, but 125,000 were imprisoned in camps run by the NKVD. [1] Of these, 42,400 soldiers, mostly of Ukrainian and Belarusian ethnicity serving in the Polish Army, who lived in the territories of Poland annexed by the Soviet Union, were released in October. [9] [11] [12] The 43,000 soldiers born in western Poland, then under Nazi control, were transferred to the Germans in turn, the Soviets received 13,575 Polish prisoners from the Germans. [9] [12]

Polish prisoners of war Edit

Soviet repressions of Polish citizens occurred as well over this period. Since Poland's conscription system required every nonexempt university graduate to become a military reserve officer, [13] the NKVD was able to round up a significant portion of the Polish educated class as prisoners of war. [f] According to estimates by the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), roughly 320,000 Polish citizens were deported to the Soviet Union (this figure is questioned by some other historians, who hold to older estimates of about 700,000–1,000,000). [14] [15] IPN estimates the number of Polish citizens who died under Soviet rule during World War II at 150,000 (a revision of older estimates of up to 500,000). [14] [15] Of the group of 12,000 Poles sent to Dalstroy camp (near Kolyma) in 1940–1941, mostly POWs, only 583 men survived they were released in 1942 to join the Polish Armed Forces in the East. [16] According to Tadeusz Piotrowski, "during the war and after 1944, 570,387 Polish citizens had been subjected to some form of Soviet political repression". [17] As early as 19 September, the head of the NKVD, Lavrentiy Beria, ordered the secret police to create the Main Administration for Affairs of Prisoners of War and Internees to manage Polish prisoners. The NKVD took custody of Polish prisoners from the Red Army, and proceeded to organise a network of reception centres and transit camps, and to arrange rail transport to prisoner-of-war camps in the western USSR. The largest camps were at Kozelsk (Optina Monastery), Ostashkov (Stolobny Island on Lake Seliger near Ostashkov), and Starobelsk. Other camps were at Jukhnovo (rail station Babynino), Yuzhe (Talitsy), rail station Tyotkino (90 kilometres (56 mi) from Putyvl), Kozelshchyna, Oranki, Vologda (rail station Zaonikeevo), and Gryazovets. [18]

Kozelsk and Starobelsk were used mainly for military officers, while Ostashkov was used mainly for Polish Scouting, gendarmes, police officers, and prison officers. [19] Some prisoners were members of other groups of Polish intelligentsia, such as priests, landowners, and law personnel. [19] The approximate distribution of men throughout the camps was as follows: Kozelsk, 5000 Ostashkov, 6570 and Starobelsk, 4000. They totalled 15,570 men. [20]

According to a report from 19 November 1939, the NKVD had about 40,000 Polish POWs: 8,000–8,500 officers and warrant officers, 6,000–6,500 officers of police, and 25,000 soldiers and non-commissioned officers who were still being held as POWs. [1] [12] [21] In December, a wave of arrests resulted in the imprisonment of additional Polish officers. Ivan Serov reported to Lavrentiy Beria on 3 December that "in all, 1,057 former officers of the Polish Army had been arrested". [9] The 25,000 soldiers and non-commissioned officers were assigned to forced labor (road construction, heavy metallurgy). [9]

Preparations Edit

Once at the camps, from October 1939 to February 1940, the Poles were subjected to lengthy interrogations and constant political agitation by NKVD officers, such as Vasily Zarubin. The prisoners assumed they would be released soon, but the interviews were in effect a selection process to determine who would live and who would die. [22] [23] According to NKVD reports, if a prisoner could not be induced to adopt a pro-Soviet attitude, he was declared a "hardened and uncompromising enemy of Soviet authority". [22]

On 5 March 1940, pursuant to a note to Joseph Stalin from Beria, six members of the Soviet Politburo — Stalin, Vyacheslav Molotov, Lazar Kaganovich, Kliment Voroshilov, Anastas Mikoyan, and Mikhail Kalinin — signed an order to execute 25,700 Polish "nationalists and counterrevolutionaries" kept at camps and prisons in occupied western Ukraine and Belarus. [24] The reason for the massacre, according to the historian Gerhard Weinberg, was that Stalin wanted to deprive a potential future Polish military of a large portion of its talent. [25] The Soviet leadership, and Stalin in particular, viewed the Polish prisoners as a "problem" as they might resist being under Soviet rule. Therefore, they decided the prisoners inside the "special camps" were to be shot as "avowed enemies of Soviet authority". [1]

The number of victims is estimated at about 22,000, with a lower limit of confirmed dead of 21,768. [1] According to Soviet documents declassified in 1990, 21,857 Polish internees and prisoners were executed after 3 April 1940: 14,552 prisoners of war (most or all of them from the three camps) and 7,305 prisoners in western parts of the Byelorussian and Ukrainian SSRs. [26] Of them 4,421 were from Kozelsk, 3,820 from Starobelsk, 6,311 from Ostashkov, and 7,305 from Byelorussian and Ukrainian prisons. [26] The head of the NKVD Administration for Affairs of Prisoners of War and Internees, Pyotr Soprunenko [ru] , was involved in "selections" of Polish officers to be executed at Katyn and elsewhere. [27]

Those who died at Katyn included soldiers (an admiral, two generals, 24 colonels, 79 lieutenant colonels, 258 majors, 654 captains, 17 naval captains, 85 privates, 3,420 non-commissioned officers, and seven chaplains), 200 pilots, government representatives and royalty (a prince, 43 officials), and civilians (three landowners, 131 refugees, 20 university professors, 300 physicians several hundred lawyers, engineers, and teachers and more than 100 writers and journalists). [22] In all, the NKVD executed almost half the Polish officer corps. [22] Altogether, during the massacre, the NKVD executed 14 Polish generals: [28] Leon Billewicz (ret.), Bronisław Bohatyrewicz (ret.), Xawery Czernicki (admiral), Stanisław Haller (ret.), Aleksander Kowalewski (ret.), Henryk Minkiewicz (ret.), Kazimierz Orlik-Łukoski, Konstanty Plisowski (ret.), Rudolf Prich (killed in Lviv), Franciszek Sikorski (ret.), Leonard Skierski (ret.), Piotr Skuratowicz, Mieczysław Smorawiński, and Alojzy Wir-Konas (promoted posthumously). [ citation needed ] Not all of the executed were ethnic Poles, because the Second Polish Republic was a multiethnic state, and its officer corps included Belarusians, Ukrainians, and Jews. [29] It is estimated about 8% of the Katyn massacre victims were Polish Jews. [29] 395 prisoners were spared from the slaughter, [1] among them Stanisław Swianiewicz and Józef Czapski. [22] They were taken to the Yukhnov camp or Pavlishtchev Bor and then to Gryazovets. [18] Up to 99% of the remaining prisoners were killed. People from the Kozelsk camp were executed in Katyn Forest people from the Starobelsk camp were killed in the inner NKVD prison of Kharkiv and the bodies were buried near the village of Piatykhatky and police officers from the Ostashkov camp were killed in the internal NKVD prison of Kalinin (Tver) and buried in Mednoye. [18] All three burial sites had already been secret cemeteries of the victims of the Great Purge of 1937–1938. Later, recreational areas of NKVD/KGB were established there. [30]

Detailed information on the executions in the Kalinin NKVD prison was provided during a hearing by Dmitry Tokarev, former head of the Board of the District NKVD in Kalinin. According to Tokarev, the shooting started in the evening and ended at dawn. The first transport, on 4 April 1940, carried 390 people, and the executioners had difficulty killing so many people in one night. The following transports held no more than 250 people. The executions were usually performed with German-made .25 ACP Walther Model 2 pistols supplied by Moscow, [31] but Soviet-made 7.62×38mmR Nagant M1895 revolvers were also used. [32] The executioners used German weapons rather than the standard Soviet revolvers, as the latter were said to offer too much recoil, which made shooting painful after the first dozen executions. [33] Vasily Mikhailovich Blokhin, chief executioner for the NKVD is reported to have personally shot and killed 7,000 of the condemned, some as young as 18, from the Ostashkov camp at Kalinin prison, over 28 days in April 1940. [27] [34]

After the condemned individual's personal information was checked and approved, he was handcuffed and led to a cell insulated with stacks of sandbags along the walls, and a heavy, felt-lined door. The victim was told to kneel in the middle of the cell, and was then approached from behind by the executioner and immediately shot in the back of the head or neck. [ citation needed ] The body was carried out through the opposite door and laid in one of the five or six waiting trucks, whereupon the next condemned was taken inside and subjected to the same treatment. In addition to muffling by the rough insulation in the execution cell, the pistol gunshots were masked by the operation of loud machines (perhaps fans) throughout the night. Some post-1991 revelations suggest prisoners were also executed in the same manner at the NKVD headquarters in Smolensk, though judging by the way the corpses were stacked, some captives may have been shot while standing on the edge of the mass graves. [35] This procedure went on every night, except for the public May Day holiday. [36]

Some 3,000 to 4,000 Polish inmates of Ukrainian prisons and those from Belarus prisons were probably buried in Bykivnia and in Kurapaty respectively, [37] [38] about 50 women among them. Lieutenant Janina Lewandowska, daughter of Gen. Józef Dowbor-Muśnicki, was the only woman POW executed during the massacre at Katyn. [36] [39]

The question about the fate of the Polish prisoners was raised soon after Operation Barbarossa began in June 1941. The Polish government-in-exile and the Soviet government signed the Sikorski–Mayski agreement, which announced the willingness of both to fight together against Nazi Germany and for a Polish army to be formed on Soviet territory. The Polish general Władysław Anders began organizing this army, and soon he requested information about the missing Polish officers. During a personal meeting, Stalin assured him and Władysław Sikorski, the Polish Prime Minister, all the Poles were freed, and not all could be accounted because the Soviets "lost track" of them in Manchuria. [40] [41] [ better source needed ] Józef Czapski investigated the fate of Polish officers between 1941 and 1942. [42]

In 1942, with the territory around Smolensk under German occupation, captive Polish railroad workers heard from the locals about a mass grave of Polish soldiers at Kozelsk near Katyn finding one of the graves, they reported it to the Polish Underground State. [43] The discovery was not seen as important, as nobody thought the discovered grave could contain so many victims. [43] In early 1943, Rudolf Christoph Freiherr von Gersdorff, a German officer serving as the intelligence liaison between the Wehrmacht's Army Group Centre and Abwehr, received reports about mass graves of Polish military officers. These reports stated the graves were in the forest of Goat Hill near Katyn. He passed the reports to his superiors (sources vary on when exactly the Germans became aware of the graves—from "late 1942" to January–February 1943, and when the German top decision makers in Berlin received those reports [as early as 1 March or as late as 4 April]). [44] Joseph Goebbels saw this discovery as an excellent tool to drive a wedge between Poland, the Western Allies, and the Soviet Union, and reinforcement for the Nazi propaganda line about the horrors of Bolshevism, and American and British subservience to it. [45] After extensive preparation, on 13 April, Reichssender Berlin broadcast to the world that German military forces in the Katyn forest near Smolensk had uncovered a ditch that was "28 metres long and 16 metres wide [92 ft by 52 ft], in which the bodies of 3,000 Polish officers were piled up in 12 layers". [3] The broadcast went on to charge the Soviets with carrying out the massacre in 1940. [3]

The Germans brought in a European Red Cross committee called the Katyn Commission, comprising 12 forensic experts and their staff, from Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania, Switzerland, and Bohemia & Moravia. [46] The Germans were so intent on proving the Soviets were behind the massacre they even included some Allied prisoners of war, among them writer Ferdynand Goetel, the Polish Home Army prisoner from Pawiak. [47] After the war, Goetel escaped with a fake passport due to an arrest warrant issued against him. Jan Emil Skiwski was a collaborator. Józef Mackiewicz has published several texts about the crime. Two of the 12, the Bulgarian Marko Markov and the Czech František Hájek, with their countries becoming satellite states of the Soviet Union, were forced to recant their evidence, defending the Soviets and blaming the Germans. [48] The Croatian pathologist Eduard Miloslavić managed to escape to the US.

The Katyn massacre was beneficial to Nazi Germany, which used it to discredit the Soviet Union. On 14 April 1943, Goebbels wrote in his diary: "We are now using the discovery of 12,000 Polish officers, killed by the GPU, for anti-Bolshevik propaganda on a grand style. We sent neutral journalists and Polish intellectuals to the spot where they were found. Their reports now reaching us from ahead are gruesome. The Führer has also given permission for us to hand out a drastic news item to the German press. I gave instructions to make the widest possible use of the propaganda material. We shall be able to live on it for a couple of weeks". [49]

The Soviet government immediately denied the German charges. They claimed the Polish prisoners of war had been engaged in construction work west of Smolensk, and consequently were captured and executed by invading German units in August 1941. The Soviet response on 15 April to the initial German broadcast of 13 April, prepared by the Soviet Information Bureau, stated "Polish prisoners-of-war who in 1941 were engaged in construction work west of Smolensk and who. fell into the hands of the German-Fascist hangmen". [50] In April 1943, the Polish government-in-exile led by Sikorski insisted on bringing the matter to the negotiation table with the Soviets and on opening an investigation by the International Red Cross. Stalin, in response, accused the Polish government of collaborating with Nazi Germany and broke off diplomatic relations with it. [51] The Soviet Union also started a campaign to get the Western Allies to recognize the pro-Soviet government-in-exile of the Union of Polish Patriots led by Wanda Wasilewska. [52] Sikorski died in the 1943 Gibraltar B-24 crash —an event convenient for the Allied leaders. [53]

Soviet actions Edit

When Joseph Goebbels was informed in September 1943 that the German Army had to withdraw from the Katyn area, he wrote a prediction in his diary. His entry for 29 September 1943 reads: "Unfortunately we have had to give up Katyn. The Bolsheviks undoubtedly will soon 'find' that we shot 12,000 Polish officers. That episode is one that is going to cause us quite a little trouble in the future. The Soviets are undoubtedly going to make it their business to discover as many mass graves as possible and then blame it on us". [49]

Having retaken the Katyn area almost immediately after the Red Army had recaptured Smolensk, around September–October 1943, NKVD forces began a cover-up operation. [22] [54] They destroyed a cemetery the Germans had permitted the Polish Red Cross to build and removed other evidence. [22] Witnesses were "interviewed" and threatened with arrest for collaborating with the Nazis if their testimonies disagreed with the official line. [54] [55] As none of the documents found on the dead had dates later than April 1940, the Soviet secret police planted false evidence to place the apparent time of the massacre in mid-1941, when the German military had controlled the area. [55] NKVD operatives Vsevolod Merkulov and Sergei Kruglov issued a preliminary report, dated 10–11 January 1944, that concluded the Polish officers were shot by German soldiers. [54]

In January 1944, the Soviet Union sent another commission, the Extraordinary State Commission for ascertaining and investigating crimes perpetrated by the German-Fascist invaders to the site the commission's name implied a predestined conclusion. [22] [54] [55] It was headed by Nikolai Burdenko, the president of the USSR Academy of Medical Sciences (hence the commission is often known as the "Burdenko Commission"), who was appointed by Moscow to investigate the incident. [22] [54] Its members included prominent Soviet figures such as the writer Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy, but no foreign personnel were allowed to join the commission. [22] [54] The Burdenko Commission exhumed the bodies, rejected the 1943 German findings the Poles were shot by the Soviet army, assigned the guilt to the Nazis, and concluded all the shootings were done by German occupation forces in late 1941. [22] It is uncertain how many members of the commission were misled by the falsified reports and evidence, and how many actually suspected the truth. Cienciala and Materski note the commission had no choice but to issue findings in line with the Merkulov-Kruglov report, and Burdenko was likely aware of the cover-up. He reportedly admitted something like that to friends and family shortly before his death in 1946. [54] The Burdenko Commission's conclusions would be consistently cited by Soviet sources until the official admission of guilt by the Soviet government on 13 April 1990. [54]

In January 1944, the Soviets also invited a group of more than a dozen mostly American and British journalists, accompanied by Kathleen Harriman, the daughter of the new American Ambassador W. Averell Harriman, and John F. Melby, third secretary at the American embassy in Moscow, to Katyn. [55] Some regarded the inclusion of Melby and Harriman as a Soviet attempt to lend official weight to their propaganda. [55] Melby's report noted the deficiencies in the Soviet case: problematic witnesses attempts to discourage questioning of the witnesses statements of the witnesses obviously being given as a result of rote memorization and that "the show was put on for the benefit of the correspondents." Nevertheless, Melby, at the time, felt on balance the Soviet case was convincing. [55] Harriman's report reached the same conclusion and after the war both were asked to explain why their conclusions seemed to be at odds with their findings, with the suspicion the conclusions were what the State Department wanted to hear. [55] The journalists were less impressed and not convinced by the staged Soviet demonstration. [55]

An example of Soviet propaganda spread by some Western Communists is Alter Brody's monograph Behind the Polish-Soviet Break (with an introduction by Corliss Lamont). [56]

Western response Edit

The growing Polish-Soviet tension was beginning to strain Western-Soviet relations at a time when the Poles' importance to the Allies, significant in the first years of the war, was beginning to fade, due to the entry into the conflict of the military and industrial giants, the Soviet Union and the United States. In retrospective review of records, both British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt were increasingly torn between their commitments to their Polish ally and the demands by Stalin and his diplomats. [57]

According to the Polish diplomat Edward Bernard Raczyński, Raczyński and General Sikorski met privately with Churchill and Alexander Cadogan on 15 April 1943, and told them the Poles had proof the Soviets were responsible for the massacre. Raczyński reports Churchill, "without committing himself, showed by his manner that he had no doubt of it". Churchill said "The Bolsheviks can be very cruel". [58] On 17 April 1943 the Polish government issued a statement on this issue, asking for a Red Cross investigation, which was rejected by Stalin, who used the fact that Germans also requested such an investigation as a "proof" of Polish-German conspiracy, and which led to a deterioration of Polish-Soviet relations. [59] Shortly afterward, however, on 24 April 1943, the British government successfully pressured the Poles to withdraw the request for a Red Cross investigation, [59] and Churchill assured the Soviets: "We shall certainly oppose vigorously any 'investigation' by the International Red Cross or any other body in any territory under German authority. Such an investigation would be a fraud and its conclusions reached by terrorism". [60] Unofficial or classified UK documents concluded Soviet guilt was a "near certainty", but the alliance with the Soviets was deemed to be more important than moral issues thus the official version supported the Soviets, up to censoring any contradictory accounts. [61] Churchill asked Owen O'Malley to investigate the issue, but in a note to the Foreign Secretary he noted: "All this is merely to ascertain the facts, because we should none of us ever speak a word about it." [55] O'Malley pointed out several inconsistencies and near impossibilities in the Soviet version. [55] Later, Churchill sent a copy of the report to Roosevelt on 13 August 1943. The report deconstructed the Soviet account of the massacre and alluded to the political consequences within a strongly moral framework but recognized there was no viable alternative to the existing policy. No comment by Roosevelt on the O'Malley report has been found. [62] Churchill's own post-war account of the Katyn affair gives little further insight. In his memoirs, he refers to the 1944 Soviet inquiry into the massacre, which found the Germans responsible, and adds, "belief seems an act of faith". [63]

At the beginning of 1944, Ron Jeffery, an agent of British and Polish intelligence in occupied Poland, eluded the Abwehr and travelled to London with a report from Poland to the British government. His efforts were at first highly regarded, but subsequently ignored, which a disillusioned Jeffery later attributed to the actions of Kim Philby and other high-ranking communist agents entrenched in the British government. Jeffery tried to inform the British government about the Katyn massacre, but was as a result released from the Army. [64]

In 1947, the Polish Government in exile 1944–1946 report on Katyn was transmitted to Telford Taylor. [65]

In the United States a similar line was taken, notwithstanding two official intelligence reports into the Katyn massacre that contradicted the official position. In 1944, Roosevelt assigned his special emissary to the Balkans, Navy Lieutenant Commander George Earle, to produce a report on Katyn. [22] Earle concluded the massacre was committed by the Soviet Union. [22] Having consulted with Elmer Davis, director of the United States Office of War Information, Roosevelt rejected the conclusion (officially), declared he was convinced of Nazi Germany's responsibility, and ordered that Earle's report be suppressed. When Earle requested permission to publish his findings, the President issued a written order to desist. [22] Earle was reassigned and spent the rest of the war in American Samoa. [22]

A further report in 1945, supporting the same conclusion, was produced and stifled. In 1943, the Germans took two U.S. POWs—Capt. Donald B. Stewart and Col. John H. Van Vliet—to Katyn for an international news conference. [66] Documents released by the National Archives and Records Administration in September 2012 revealed Stewart and Van Vliet sent coded messages to their American superiors indicating they saw proof that implicated the Soviets. Three lines of evidence were cited. Firstly, the Polish corpses were in such an advanced state of decay that the Nazis could not have killed them, as they had only taken over the area in 1941. Secondly, none of the numerous Polish artifacts, such as letters, diaries, photographs and identification tags pulled from the graves, were dated later than the spring of 1940. Most incriminating was the relatively good state of the men's uniforms and boots, which showed they had not lived long after being captured. Later, in 1945, Van Vliet submitted a report concluding the Soviets were responsible for the massacre. His superior, Major General Clayton Lawrence Bissell, General George Marshall's assistant chief of staff for intelligence, destroyed the report. [67] Washington kept the information secret, presumably to appease Stalin and not distract from the war against the Nazis. [68] During the 1951–52 Congressional investigation into Katyn, Bissell defended his action before the United States Congress, arguing it was not in the U.S. interest to antagonize an ally (the USSR) whose assistance the nation needed against the Empire of Japan. [22] In 1950, Van Vliet recreated his wartime report. [69] In 2014, a copy of a report Van Vliet made in France during 1945 was discovered. [70]

From 28 December 1945 to 4 January 1946, a Soviet military court in Leningrad tried seven Wehrmacht servicemen. One of them, Arno Dürre, who was charged with murdering numerous civilians using machine-guns in Soviet villages, confessed to having taken part in the burial (though not the execution) of 15,000 to 20,000 Polish POWs in Katyn. For this he was spared execution and was given 15 years of hard labor. His confession was full of absurdities, and thus he was not used as a Soviet prosecution witness during the Nuremberg trials. He later recanted his confession, claiming the investigators forced him to confess. [71]

At the London conference that drew up the indictments of German war crimes before the Nuremberg trials, the Soviet negotiators put forward the allegation, "In September 1941, 925 Polish officers who were prisoners of war were killed in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk". The U.S. negotiators agreed to include it, but were "embarrassed" by the inclusion (noting the allegation had been debated extensively in the press) and concluded it would be up to the Soviets to sustain it. [72] [ better source needed ] At the trials in 1946, Soviet General Roman Rudenko raised the indictment, stating "one of the most important criminal acts for which the major war criminals are responsible was the mass execution of Polish prisoners of war shot in the Katyn forest near Smolensk by the German fascist invaders", [73] but failed to make the case and the U.S. and British judges dismissed the charges. [74] Only 70 years later did it become known that former OSS chief William Donovan had succeeded in getting the American delegation in Nuremberg to block the Katyn indictment. The German opponent of Hitler, Fabian von Schlabrendorff, who was stationed in Smolensk during the war, had convinced Donovan that not the Germans but the Soviets were the perpetrators. [75] It was not the purpose of the court to determine whether Germany or the Soviet Union was responsible for the crime, but rather to attribute the crime to at least one of the defendants, which the court was unable to do. [b]

In 1951 and 1952, with the Korean War as a background, a congressional investigation chaired by Rep. Ray Madden and known as the Madden Committee investigated the Katyn massacre. It concluded the Poles had been killed by the Soviet NKVD [22] and recommended the Soviets be tried before the International Court of Justice. [66] However, the question of responsibility remained controversial in the West as well as behind the Iron Curtain. In the United Kingdom in the late 1970s, plans for a memorial to the victims bearing the date 1940 (rather than 1941) were condemned as provocative in the political climate of the Cold War. It has also been alleged that the choice made in 1969 for the location of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic war memorial at the former Belarusian village named Khatyn, the site of the 1943 Khatyn massacre, was made to cause confusion with Katyn. [77] [78] The two names are similar or identical in many languages, and were often confused. [22] [79]

In Poland, the pro-Soviet authorities following the Soviet occupation after the war covered up the matter in accordance with the official Soviet propaganda line, deliberately censoring any sources that might provide information about the crime. Katyn was a forbidden topic in postwar Poland. Censorship in the Polish People's Republic was a massive undertaking and Katyn was specifically mentioned in the "Black Book of Censorship" used by the authorities to control the media and academia. Not only did government censorship suppress all references to it, but even mentioning the atrocity was dangerous. In the late 1970s, democracy groups like the Workers' Defence Committee and the Flying University defied the censorship and discussed the massacre, in the face of arrests, beatings, detentions, and ostracism. [80] In 1981, Polish trade union Solidarity erected a memorial with the simple inscription "Katyn, 1940". It was confiscated by the police and replaced with an official monument with the inscription: "To the Polish soldiers—victims of Hitlerite fascism—reposing in the soil of Katyn". Nevertheless, every year on the day of Zaduszki, similar memorial crosses were erected at Powązki Cemetery and numerous other places in Poland, only to be dismantled by the police. Katyn remained a political taboo in the Polish People's Republic until the fall of the Eastern Bloc in 1989. [22]

In the Soviet Union during the 1950s, the head of KGB, Alexander Shelepin, proposed and carried out the destruction of many documents related to the Katyn massacre to minimize the chance the truth would be revealed. [81] [82] His 3 March 1959 note to Nikita Khrushchev, with information about the execution of 21,857 Poles and with the proposal to destroy their personal files, became one of the documents that was preserved and eventually made public. [81] [82] [83] [84]

During the 1980s, there was increasing pressure on both the Polish and Soviet governments to release documents related to the massacre. Polish academics tried to include Katyn in the agenda of the 1987 joint Polish-Soviet commission to investigate censored episodes of the Polish-Russian history. [22] In 1989, Soviet scholars revealed Joseph Stalin had indeed ordered the massacre, and in 1990 Mikhail Gorbachev admitted the NKVD had executed the Poles and confirmed two other burial sites similar to the site at Katyn: Mednoye and Piatykhatky.

On 30 October 1989, Gorbachev allowed a delegation of several hundred Poles, organized by the Polish association Families of Katyń Victims, to visit the Katyn memorial. This group included former U.S. national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. A mass was held and banners hailing the Solidarity movement were laid. One mourner affixed a sign reading "NKVD" on the memorial, covering the word "Nazis" in the inscription such that it read "In memory of Polish officers killed by the NKVD in 1941." Several visitors scaled the fence of a nearby KGB compound and left burning candles on the grounds. [85] Brzezinski commented:

It isn't a personal pain which has brought me here, as is the case in the majority of these people, but rather recognition of the symbolic nature of Katyń. Russians and Poles, tortured to death, lie here together. It seems very important to me that the truth should be spoken about what took place, for only with the truth can the new Soviet leadership distance itself from the crimes of Stalin and the NKVD. Only the truth can serve as the basis of true friendship between the Soviet and the Polish peoples. The truth will make a path for itself. I am convinced of this by the very fact that I was able to travel here. [86]

His remarks were given extensive coverage on Soviet television. [87] On 13 April 1990, the forty-seventh anniversary of the discovery of the mass graves, the USSR formally expressed "profound regret" and admitted Soviet secret police responsibility. [88] The day was declared a worldwide Katyn Memorial Day (Polish: Światowy Dzień Pamięci Ofiar Katynia). [89]

In 1990, future Russian President Boris Yeltsin released the top-secret documents from the sealed "Package №1." and transferred them to the new Polish president Lech Wałęsa. [22] [90] Among the documents was a proposal by Lavrentiy Beria, dated 5 March 1940, to execute 25,700 Poles from Kozelsk, Ostashkov and Starobelsk camps, and from certain prisons of Western Ukraine and Belarus, signed by Stalin (among others). [22] [90] Another document transferred to the Poles was Aleksandr Shelepin's 3 March 1959 note to Nikita Khrushchev, with information about the execution of 21,857 Poles, as well as a proposal to destroy their personal files to reduce the possibility documents related to the massacre would be uncovered later. [84] The revelations were also publicized in the Russian press, where they were interpreted as being one outcome of an ongoing power struggle between Yeltsin and Gorbachev. [90]

In 1991, the Chief Military Prosecutor for the Soviet Union began proceedings against Pyotr Soprunenko for his role in the Katyn killings, but eventually declined to prosecute because Soprunenko was 83, almost blind, and recovering from a cancer operation. During the interrogation, Soprunenko defended himself by denying his own signature. [27]

During Kwaśniewski's visit to Russia in September 2004, Russian officials announced they were willing to transfer all the information on the Katyn massacre to the Polish authorities as soon as it became declassified. [91] In March 2005 the Prosecutor-General's Office of the Russian Federation concluded a decade-long investigation of the massacre. Chief Military Prosecutor Alexander Savenkov announced the investigation was able to confirm the deaths of 1,803 out of 14,542 Polish citizens who had been sentenced to death while in three Soviet camps. [92] He did not address the fate of about 7,000 victims who had not been in POW camps, but in prisons. Savenkov declared the massacre was not a genocide, that Soviet officials who had been found guilty of the crime were dead and that, consequently, "there is absolutely no basis to talk about this in judicial terms". Of the 183 volumes of files gathered during the Russian investigation, 116 were declared to contain state secrets and were classified. [93] [94]

On 22 March 2005, the Polish Sejm unanimously passed an act requesting the Russian archives to be declassified. [95] The Sejm also requested Russia to classify the Katyn massacre as a crime of genocide. [96] The resolution stressed that the authorities of Russia "seek to diminish the burden of this crime by refusing to acknowledge it was genocide and refuse to give access to the records of the investigation into the issue, making it difficult to determine the whole truth about the killing and its perpetrators." [96]

In late 2007 and early 2008, several Russian newspapers, including Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Komsomolskaya Pravda, and Nezavisimaya Gazeta, printed stories that implicated the Nazis in the crime, spurring concern this was done with the tacit approval of the Kremlin. [97] As a result, the Polish Institute of National Remembrance decided to open its own investigation. [1]

In 2008, the Polish Foreign Ministry asked the government of Russia about alleged footage of the massacre filmed by the NKVD during the killings, something the Russians have denied exists. Polish officials believe this footage, as well as further documents showing cooperation of Soviets with the Gestapo during the operations, are the reason for Russia's decision to classify most of the documents about the massacre. [98]

In the following years, 81 volumes of the case were declassified and transferred to the Polish government. As of 2012 [update] , [99] 35 out of 183 volumes of files remain classified. [100]

In June 2008, Russian courts consented to hear a case about the declassification of documents about Katyn and the judicial rehabilitation of the victims. In an interview with a Polish newspaper, Vladimir Putin called Katyn a "political crime". [101]

On 21 April 2010, the Russian Supreme Court ordered the Moscow City Court to hear an appeal in an ongoing Katyn legal case. [102] A civil rights group, Memorial, said the ruling could lead to a court decision to open up secret documents providing details about the killings of thousands of Polish officers. [102] On 8 May 2010, Russia handed over to Poland 67 volumes from "criminal case No. 159", launched in the 1990s to investigate the Soviet-era mass killings of Polish officers. Copies of these volumes, each comprising about 250 pages, were packed in six boxes. With each box weighing approximately 12 kg (26.5 lb), the total weight of all the documents stood at about 70 kg (154 lb). Russian President Dmitry Medvedev handed one of the volumes to the acting Polish president, Bronislaw Komorowski. Medvedev and Komorowski agreed the two states should continue to try to reveal the truth about the tragedy. The Russian president reiterated Russia would continue to declassify documents on the Katyn massacre. The acting Polish president said Russia's move might lay a good foundation for improving bilateral relations. [103] In November 2010, the Russian State Duma admitted in an official declaration that Joseph Stalin and Soviet officials ordered the Soviet NKVD secret police under Lavrentiy Beria to commit the massacres. [104]

In 2007, a case (Janowiec and Others v. Russia) was brought in front of the European Court of Human Rights, with the families of several victimes claiming that Russia violated the European Convention on Human Rights by withholding documents from the public. The declared admissible two complaints from relatives of the massacre victims against Russia regarding adequacy of the official investigation. [105] In a ruling on 16 April 2012, the court found Russia had violated the rights of victims' relatives by not providing them with sufficient information about the investigation and described the massacre as a "war crime". But it also refused to judge the effectiveness of the Soviet Russian investigation because the related events took place before Russia ratified the Human Rights Convention in 1998. [106] The plaintiffs filed an appeal but a 21 October 2013 ruling essentially reaffirmed the prior one, claiming that the matter is outside the court's competence, and only rebuking the Russian side for its failure to substantiate adequately why some critical information remained classified. [107]

Archive searches are continuing in the Belarus state archives for one of the execution lists containing the names of 3,870 officers whose identities and exact place of execution (presumably Bykivnia and Kuropaty, as mentioned above) were not yet established. [38]

Polish–Russian relations Edit

Russia and Poland remained divided on the legal description of the Katyn crime. The Poles considered it a case of genocide and demanded further investigations, as well as complete disclosure of Soviet documents. [96] [108] [109]

In June 1998, Boris Yeltsin and Aleksander Kwaśniewski agreed to construct memorial complexes at Katyn and Mednoye, the two NKVD execution sites on Russian soil. In September of that year, the Russians also raised the issue of Soviet prisoner of war deaths in the camps for Russian prisoners and internees in Poland (1919–24). About 16,000 to 20,000 POWs died in those camps due to communicable diseases. [110] Some Russian officials argued it was "a genocide comparable to Katyn". [22] A similar claim was raised in 1994 such attempts are seen by some, particularly in Poland, as a highly provocative Russian attempt to create an "anti-Katyn" and "balance the historical equation". [109] [111] The fate of Polish prisoners and internees in Soviet Russia remains poorly researched. [ citation needed ]

On 4 February 2010, the Prime Minister of Russia, Vladimir Putin, invited his Polish counterpart, Donald Tusk, to attend a Katyn memorial service in April. [112] The visit took place on 7 April 2010, when Tusk and Putin together commemorated the 70th anniversary of the massacre. [113] Before the visit, the 2007 film Katyń was shown on Russian state television for the first time. The Moscow Times commented that the film's premiere in Russia was likely a result of Putin's intervention. [114]

On 10 April 2010, an aircraft carrying Polish President Lech Kaczyński with his wife and 87 other politicians and high-ranking army officers crashed in Smolensk, killing all 96 aboard the aircraft. [115] The passengers were to attend a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre. The Polish nation was stunned Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who was not on the plane, referred to the crash as "the most tragic Polish event since the war." In the aftermath, a number of conspiracy theories began to circulate. [116] The catastrophe has also had major echoes in the international and particularly the Russian press, prompting a rebroadcast of Katyń on Russian television. [117] The Polish President was to deliver a speech at the formal commemorations. The speech was to honour the victims, highlight the significance of the massacres in the context of post-war communist political history, as well as stress the need for Polish–Russian relations to focus on reconciliation. Although the speech was never delivered, it has been published with a narration in the original Polish [118] and a translation has also been made available in English. [119]

In November 2010, the State Duma (lower house of the Russian parliament) passed a resolution declaring long-classified documents "showed that the Katyn crime was carried out on direct orders of Stalin and other Soviet officials". The declaration also called for the massacre to be investigated further to confirm the list of victims. Members of the Duma from the Communist Party denied the Soviet Union had been to blame for the Katyn massacre and voted against the declaration. [104] On 6 December 2010, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev expressed commitment to uncovering the whole truth about the massacre, stating "Russia has recently taken a number of unprecedented steps towards clearing up the legacy of the past. We will continue in this direction". [120]

The Communist Party of the Russian Federation and a number of other pro-Soviet Russian politicians and commentators claim that the story of Soviet guilt is a conspiracy and that the documents released in 1990 were forgeries. They insist that the original version of events, assigning guilt to the Nazis, is the correct version, and they call on the Russian government to start a new investigation that would revise the findings of 2004. [121] [122] [123] A number of Russian historians and organizations such as "Memorial" openly admit the Soviet responsibility, pointing out inconsistencies in the alternative versions – primarily the fact that another major mass execution site in Mednoye was never under German occupation and contained remains of victims originating from the same camps as those killed in Katyn, killed at the same time, and even though it was only exhumed in the 1990s it contained well preserved Polish uniforms, documents, souvenirs as well as Soviet newspapers dated 1940. [124]

Memorials Edit

Many monuments and memorials that commemorate the massacre have been erected worldwide. [ citation needed ]


General Wladyslaw Sikorski

"When the sun is higher, Sikorski is nearer."

Wladyslaw Sikorski was the personification of the hopes
of the Polish people for a free and independent Poland.
The struggle for Poland's liberation had been a very long and arduous one. At the end of WWI Poland finally
regained its independence after having been virtually erased from the map for 123 years.

Sikorski had been at the forefront of the struggle. With an educational background in engineering and military tactics he became actively involved in a number of Polish underground organizations in 1907 Sikorski joined the underground Polish Socialist Party in 1908 he organized the secret Zwiazek Walki Czynnej ( Combat Association) and two years later, the Zwiazek Strzelecki (Rifleman's Association). The objective was to instigate an uprising against the Russian empire, one of the partitioners. The creation of the latter association while approved by a statute of the Austrian authorities, were Polish paramilitary troops, formed illegally. At the outbreak of WWI, there were over 8,000 "members" dispersed among 200 groups. Many of them joined the Polish Legions. During WWI Sikorski was the chief head of the military section of the Supreme National Committee and then as commissioner he was responsible for recruitment to the Polish Legions in Krakow, the latter organization created by Jozef Pilsudski.

Związek Strzelecki - Rifleman's Association

No sooner had WWI come to an end that the Polish-Soviet war (1919-21) broke out over the tenuous question of Poland's newly established borders. By that time Sikorski had become a high-ranking officer of the Polish army, and had led successful battles capturing the ancient city of Lwow, and Przyemsyl. The Soviet forces were confident of achieving an easy victory but were very surprised by the
unexpected. In what has been termed "Miracle at the Vistula", Polish forces under Sikorski's command succeeded in utterly defeating the Bolshevik advance towards Warsaw, giving Pilsudski the time needed to organize a counter-offensive.

Polish Soldiers displaying captured Soviet banners
Aftermath of Battle of Warsaw - Soviet-Polish War

Sikorskis' forces successfully penetrated deep into Latvia and Belarus, heaping further humiliation upon the defeated Russians. General Sikorski was hailed as the beloved hero of Poland and was decorated with Poland's highest honour, the Virtuti Militari Medal.

During the inter-war period Sikorski had succeeded Pilsudski as the Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Armed Forces (April 1921), and also became Chief of the Polish General Staff. For the next several years he rose to very high government ranks. From December 1922 to May 26, 1923 he served as Poland's Prime Minister as well as Minister of Internal Affairs.

Charles de Gaulle WW I
During this period Sikorski garnered immense respect from and support of the Polish people. He established various reforms, and built a viable foreign policy that received international approval through the League of Nations. Moreover, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States all recognized the legitimacy of Poland's new frontiers, won during the Russian-Polish war.

Sikorski had made significant strides in strengthening Polish-French cooperation. It was instrumental in laying the foundations that led to Poland's victory during the Polish Soviet War. The French Military Mission to Poland provided the military organization and logistical assistance vital to the nascent Polish armies. Among the French officers involved in the mission was the future General Charles de Gaulle.

Polish Badge KOP
From 1923-24 Sikorski held the position of Chief Inspector of Infantry. And the following year, under Prime Minister Wladyslaw Grabski, Sikorski served as Minister of Military Affairs, guiding the modernization of the Polish military. He created the Border Protection Corps (Korpus Ochrony Pogranicza) a military formation to defend Polands' eastern borders from attacks of Soviet armies. From 1925-1928 Sikorski became Commander of the Military Corp District VI in Lwow, a city of great historical importance imbued with a rich Polish and Jewish cultural heritage.

Polish soldiers KOP
Despite these contributions, Sikorski was dismissed from public service in 1928 by Pilsudski and was
transferred to the Reserves (Sikorski had joined the anti-Pilsudski movement and opposed the semi-dictatorial regime of the Sanacja.) For the next few years Sikorski had withdrawn from politics altogether and spent his time in Paris working with officials of the Ecole Superieure de Guerre and writing numerous books and articles about the scale of future warfare. Sikorski was a visionary and a pioneer of the theor y of the "blitzkrieg". His publications were carefully scrutinized by several countries, in particular by Soviet Russia.

Nazi Blitzkrieg Sept 1, 1939
Soviet infantry invading Poland Sept 17, 1939
The rapid militarization by the Nazi Wehrmacht were to bring these theories to fruition. On 1st September 1939 Germany invaded Poland in a "lightning war" overrunning her armies with overwhelming numbers and fire power. Seventeen days later Soviet armies invaded Poland from the east - the culmination of a secret pact by Hitler and Stalin to partition Poland and destroy the very foundations of her existence. To the world it appeared that Poland had collapsed. But Poland was not yet lost.

Wladylsaw Sikorski had returned to Poland in 1938 ready to be of service however he was refused a military command by then Commander-in-Chief, Marshal Edward Rydz-Smigly (successor to Pilsudski). Thousands of Polish armed forces had escaped the German onslaught. By the end of the month, Sikorski too had evacuated Poland escaping through a perilous route from Romania to Paris. Sikorski was at once officially installed as the Prime Minister-in-exile and Commander-in-Chief of the Polish forces, joining President-in-exile Wladyslaw Raczkiewicz, and Stanislaw Mikolajczyk.

But with the Fall of France, Polish forces evacuated once again - this time to England. On June 19, 1940 Prime Minister Sikorski met with Winston Churchill, and pledged to provide Polish forces to fight alongside those of Britain. By August, Sikorski and Churchill signed the Polish-British Military Agreement calling for the creation, and training of the Polish Armed Forces. Most renowned were the Polish pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain the summer of 1940, and whose pilots scored the highest ratio of kills. Most famous was the 303 squadron (the Kosciuszko squadron). At this juncture, Poland became the second largest ally, with troops stationed in Great Britain and the Middle East.

When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941 in Operation Barbarossa, the dynamics of the war changed significantly. Churchill had been hoping for just such an outcome to curry favor with the Soviets, an ally upon whom the British relied to win the war against the Nazi scourge. It also presented ominous changes to Poland's relationship with Britain, and especially that with Russia. It came as no surprise to Sikorski. He was a pragmatic strategist and knew what the outcome meant. Seeing no other alternative he succumbed to pressure from the British Foreign Office and opened negotiations with the Russians.

In July 1941 General Sikorski and Ivan Maisky agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations between Poland and Russia and by mid-August, the Sikorsky-Maisky Pact was officially signed. The Soviets abrogated the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August of 1939 as null and void, and agreed to the release of tens of thousands of Polish prisoners of war on the basis of an "amnesty" , a condition which was an absurdity considering that Soviets were the aggressors. (The evacuation was fraught with numerous obstacles and took place under the most arduous conditions. Thousands of Poles perished. Those who survived and made it to the Middle East were eventually formed into the 2nd Polish Corps under the command of General Wladyslaw Anders.)

Signing of Sikorski-Maisky Agreement July 1941

Amid the huge numbers of incoming Polish refugees, there was a conspicuous void. Many thousands of Polish officers never showed up, and their absence could not yet be explained. Sikorski was relentless in his attempt to resolve the mystery, but no avail. Stalin provided only flimsy excuses. He assured Sikorski and Anders that all the Polish soldiers had been released but that the Soviets may have "lost track" of some of them in Manchuria.

L-R General Anders, General Sikorski, Stalin, Kujbyszewie

The horrifying truth was discovered in April 1943 when Nazi German forces found the mass graves in Katyn Forest, twelve miles west of Smolensk, Russia. Thousands upon thousands of bodies had been exhumed and examined. They were the remains of the Polish Officers who had disappeared and who had been executed by the Soviet NKVD in 1940, upon Stalin's order.

Russian-Polish relations had always been fragile, but now had reached the breaking point. On April 16, General Sikorski fervently demanded an investigation by the International Red Cross. Ten days later Stalin broke off diplomatic ties with Poland, and in a futile attempt to create a smoke screen, accused the Polish government-in-exile of cooperating with Nazi Germany. (Russian governments have since refused to admit Stalin's culpability for the massacre, that is, until the 1990s).

Exhumed bodies of Polish Officers massacred at Katyn Forest, Russia

Another very contentious issue between Russia and Poland dealt with the subject of Polands eastern border. Stalin had long intended that the border be draw along the Curzon Line, which would sever one third of Poland's vast territory. Sikorski fiercely argued in defense of maintaining Poland's pre-war borders and refused to yield to any pressures. But in the end Poland was betrayed by its closest allies - Great Britain and the United States, both of whom gave Stalin whatever he wanted in exchange for his alliance. (Read about Yalta Conference)
Crash of Sikorski's Liberator July 4, 1943

On July 4, 1943 the Liberator plane carrying Sikorski and several other passengers plunged into the sea sixteen
seconds after takeoff from Gibraltar. All the passengers except for the pilot were killed. The cause of the crash was attributed to "engine trouble". However, a Soviet conspiracy has never been ruled out.

In fact, there were several incidences prior to the fatal crash, in which Sikorski's plane had been tampered with Sikorski was very outspoken and a threat to the new Anglo-American-Soviet alliance, all the more reason for Stalin to want Sikorski out of the way. His death marked a turning point not only for Polish-Anglo relations, but the future of the Polish nation and its people. Sikorski's successor, Stanislaw Mikolajcyzak was considered "persona non grata" and possessed none of the influence nor diplomacy that Sikorski wielded so successfully. To Churchill and Roosevelt, handing Poland over to Stalin became as easy as childs play.

Sikorski's death came as a terrible blow to a nation which hoped and prayed for freedom and independence. Poland's national newspaper, Biuletyn Informacyjny published the news to a grief-stricken country and set July 15, 1943 as a national day of mourning.

The memory of Sikorski is still very much alive in the soul of the Polish people. Since Sikorski's tragic death, statues and monuments of him have been erected throughout the world to preserve his memory. Among the many centres and institutes there is also: the Sikorski Institute, in London, England a memorial plaque at Gibraltar dedicated to Sikorski a statue of Sikorski on Portland Place in London, a stone monument on the grounds of Place Polonaise, in Toronto, Canada, and a seated sculpture of Sikorski (as a young man) at Inowroclaw, Poland. Even a film was produced in 1948, entitled, "The Enemy" and in 2003 the Polish Sejm declared the 60th anniversary of Sikorski's death as "Year of General Sikorski".

That Sikorski's name continues to be omitted from Western history is cause for concern. It is of vital importance for historical accuracy to include the details about Poland, in particular the story of a great man and a great general who had much to teach by example . May the world come to recognize the name Sikorski and understand the true meaning of honour and greatness.

Sikorski Maisky Agreement

Once the Germans invaded Russia during their Operation Barbarossa and in direct contravention of the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement, Britain came into the arena.

Britain signed an agreement with Russia called the "Sikorski Mayski agreement" . The agreement was named after it's 2 founders: The Polish Prime Minister Wladyslaw Sikorski and the Soviet Ambassador Ivan Mayski.

The agreement came into existence due to Stalins concerns over Germanys invasion of the Soviet Union.

Stalin sought assistance from other nations including the UK and in return agreed to null the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement.

Therefore, all Poles were no longer "guilty" of anti-bolshevism etc and were "pardoned" for the previous crime (that is to say, the crime of being a pole).

It was called an "amnesty" and all poles including General Wladyslaw Anders would be released from captivity.

Trail of Hope: The Anders Army, an Odyssey Across Three Continents

When I was very young, a classics course I took included Xenophon’s account of the March of the Ten Thousand, the story of a Greek army escaping from Persia. I no longer remember the details of the Greek-Persian conflict but I do remember that all of us, including our teacher, cheered for the freedom-loving Greeks, against Persia and its tyrant.

I alone in my class knew that Xenophon’s tale was but a short story compared to the saga of the Polish army that escaped from another tyranny, led to freedom by General Władysław Anders. The General’s name and image were known to me from my earliest childhood as a kind of collective godfather to all the children he had rescued. This was a military leader who knew precisely what motivated his men – my father was one of those men — and leaving the children behind would undermine their spirit. Possibly the only man who was never intimidated by Joseph Stalin, Anders insisted that they be evacuated with the army, and didn’t give up until the tyrant agreed.

But who would be our Xenophon? Who could do justice to this epic tale with its cast of over a hundred thousand men, women and children and their encounters with so many cultures spread over all the earth’s continents the hardships and the battles the beauty of the lands and the friendship offered along the way the excitement of seeing new worlds… and finally coming to terms with loss?

The task fell to Norman Davies, who felt a comprehensive study of Anders was long overdue. Failing to interest a publisher in an academic work, he chose a popular style that in many ways does more justice to the texture, the colour and the drama of this incredible journey. He visited many of the sites along the Trail accompanied by the photographer, Janusz Rosikon.

Masterfully combining personal stories with the historical record, Davies weaves a tapestry that gives equal prominence to politicians and statesmen – the knaves and the rogues, the valiant and the stoic, the pompous and the duplicitous, the liars and the dupes – and to ordinary people – mothers and children, youth and the elderly, soldiers and teachers, the strong and the dying.

The Trail begins in Poland with the forced removal of Polish citizens from their homes to be sent into exile in the vast Soviet empire. Davies follows the trains to the camps and prisons throughout Russia and its subject republics. North to the region around Archangel, east to Central Asia, the steppes and deserts of Kazakhstan, farther east still to the camps of Magadan and north east to the gold mines of Kolyma where the survival rate was 10 percent. There is scarcely an area of the Soviet empire that doesn’t have mass graves, the remains of watchtowers, and barbed wire. As the Polish writer Ryszard Kapuściński noted, this country that failed to provide basic comforts for its citizens managed to surpass all others in the production of barbed wire.

Unprepared for the 1941 attack by his then ally, Hitler, Stalin needed the Western allies who in turn needed him. Included in their agreement was a demand for the release of his Polish prisoners. An “amnesty” was declared. Thousands of Poles could leave their camps, but they had to fend for themselves. They set off, marking out new trails, by boat, makeshift raft, trains, carts and their ill-shod feet all in search of that “Trail of Hope” and the Polish army that promised life and liberty.

Generals Sikorski and Anders in Iran, 31 km to Tehran, 4371 to Warsaw

One pictures this great migration across that immense country with its ever-changing topography, ancient cities – Samarkand, Ashhabad – as well as collective farms, environmental degradation, and primitive settlements of mud huts and the tents of nomads.

In time, the disparate routes came together in Uzbekistan, to the Caspian Sea and a flotilla of filthy crowded barges that would take them Persia (Iran). Hundreds of thousands did not make it, some never released from their prisons, some buried in unmarked graves, others working “for bread” until, by some whim, the Soviet authorities allowed them to return to Poland. For many that did not happen until after the death of Stalin.

General Anders discussing strategy, Apennines 1944

Trail of Hope is not history “from above.” This is the story of a people, and few historians have such respect for the men, women, and children who endured, resisted, overcame or succumbed to the deadly force unleashed by war. They are not an undifferentiated mass, they are not labeled or placed in some arbitrary categories. They are people with all the diversity and dignity the word demands.

Still, the context is nothing less than World War II. But you don’t get the standard war of tanks and bombs as seen on the History Channel. Instead you get much more of the geopolitical currents of the time, and an unembellished picture of familiar figures: the dictator responsible to no one the prime minister struggling for victory even as his country’s empire is coming to an end and the ailing leader of a young and strong country indulging a delusional fondness for the dictator.

General Rudnicki leads the liberation cavalcade in bologna

Iran, the first stop in freedom, was a den of intrigue, the “Powers” competing for influence in a region awash in oil. The Shah was deposed, his son installed in his place. Iranians were not consulted.

The Middle East, then as now, had its politics and these were added to the complex Polish relations with Britain and with Russia. Stalin, intending to keep the Polish territory he annexed in 1939, recognized only “ethnic Poles” – but not Jews and Ukrainians – as Polish citizens. Still, some 6-7 thousand Jews did join, despite NKVD obstructions. Anders was adamant that Jewish volunteers be accepted, though some of his men were not welcoming. The General demanded unity he prevailed.

Ukrainians who were Polish citizens often enlisted by concealing their identity (conveniently losing their documents). Once out of Russia, they resumed their identity and Uniate clergy joined the ranks of Roman Catholic, Jewish and Protestants chaplains.

For their part, the British were wary of an influx of Jewish soldiers into their troubled Mandate Palestine. And indeed, about half deserted once they got there. Despite British pressure, Anders refused to pursue them as deserters. The most famous defector, Menachem Begin, was spared that label when Anders accepted his resignation, and the future Israeli Prime Minister returned his uniform. The Jewish civilians (the Children of Tehran) evacuated from Russia with Anders were also settled in Palestine.

On a lighter note, Anders’s men enjoyed entertainment by some of Poland’s best pre-war cabaret stars, many of them Jewish. After the war, they settled in Israel where a large Polish-speaking audience welcomed them.

The Trail continued, but now with a new energy and sense of purpose. The civilians found refuge in the splendid city of Isfahan, in Beirut and Palestine, in India courtesy of two Maharajas, in what was then British East Africa, in New Zealand and in faraway Mexico. All of them waiting for the war to end so they could go home and rebuild their devastated country.

In the Middle East, while Anders strengthened his army, education was provided for the young recruits and cadets who had missed several years of schooling. Among their stellar teachers were Jerzy Giedroyc, Wiktor Weintraub and Melchior Wańkowicz. Egalitarianism ruled, distinctions between the well-born and the poorest ignored.

Polish orphans welcomed to New Zealand by Prime Minister Peter Fraser

The Anders Army distinguished itself in the Middle East, in North Africa and finally in Italy. There, Anders told his soldiers, “You will walk the trail well-known in Polish history, from Italy to Poland” — z ziemi włoskiej do Polski — as sung in the Polish national anthem.

Alas, it was not so. Chapter 18 is poignantly titled, ”From Italy to Nowhere.” The interests of the “Great Powers” prevailed. The Trail once again broke up into a great many disparate routes. The Communist regime revoked Anders’s citizenship, fearing his return would inspire resistance.

In the final chapters, Davies visits survivors or their descendants wherever fate took them. He surveys the literature on the subject, some of it by outstanding writers. He also lists archives that have been barely touched, all awaiting a curious, passionate, and ambitious young scholar.

Trail of Hope is a wonderful book, richly illustrated – rescuing many photos from private collections — a significant resource in itself. While telling the story of an odyssey without equal in modern times, it is also a social history, a story of human relations.

Davies calls Anders “a great man,” and so he is. A loyal ally, an inspiration to his soldiers, and a father figure to thousands of children, they don’t make them like that every day.

This is a war story like none other a war story equally about civilians and soldiers. It is about soldiers who shared a part of the meagre pay to contribute to the support of the orphaned children scattered across India and Africa.

For those of us who were children at the time, we remained forever in awe of the courage, strength and resilience of our soldiers, parents and guardians. If your family was part of the Trail of Hope, get a copy for every one of your grandchildren.

As for the rest of our readers, I can only add that this journey makes the adventures of Paul Theroux read like a package tour to a Club Med.

Tamerlane’s tomb, Samarkand

Anders portrait in the Sikorski Museum, London

All images courtesy of Rosikon Press, Warsaw

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Irene, I just wanted to say that your latest issue is superb, beginning with your review of “Trail of Hope” – which I’m anxious to get my hands on as soon as I can – and John Guzlowski’s memoir.
It’s a bit of a poignant reminder for me because my mother, 88 in a couple of months, has been suffering from dementia for more than a year but recognizes her family and her long-term memories of childhood, Soviet enslavement and time in Africa are still vivid. One irony – and delight for us, is that her natural sweetness and kindness is so emphatic now, despite her wartime ordeals and sufferings.
My uncle Jan (my mother’s brother) is 93 and living on his own in Kingston, Ontario I visited him recently and he was telling me about having to hurriedly bury his father (my grandfather) somewhere in Uzbekistan. He died of dysentery. My uncle Jan, who later fought at Monte Cassino, said these words are burned in his memory: “Hurry up and leave or you’ll get infected and die, too.”
My mother came from a family of eight, half of whom perished (her parents and two siblings) as a result of the Soviet deportations.
I am so pleased and grateful that you, Norman Davies and John Guzlowski and others are continuing to disseminate these stories. And you are so right, get copies of Davies’s book for your children and grandchildren.
Best regards,

What a wonderful review – I really enjoyed reading it. Thanks so much.

ed. note: Aleksandra Gruzinska, a “Barcelona child” asked us to post hits comment from her:
Trail of Hope: The Anders Army, an Odyssey Across Three Continents – I especially appreciated your review of the Norman Davies book and plan to order it for our University library. One paragraph needs to be added – Gen. Anders’s extraordinary undertaking of sending a group of 120 Polish children from Italy to Barcelona, Spain. I doubt Davies knows about it. (Few people do.) Anders cared very much about this group and made it a point to visit the children in Barcelona. When I read “Trail”, I will concentrate on the Yalta episode where a great American President, very sick at the time, condemned Eastern Europe to 40 years of communist domination behind an impenetrable iron curtain. AG

I thank Mr Davies very much for writing and publishing this book but I really wish someone had done it 50 years ago for both our parents and their children:-

It took me a whole lifetime to understand my parents and their family friends and this book certainly would have helped a lot. Everyone wrote us out of the history books, we were the “Lost Polish Tribe” for so long, and even now how many mainland Poles still suffer from their ex-Communist amnesia about us and smugly inform us that we are not really “true Poles” but merely “persons of Polish ancestry”? The simple fact is that the Free Polish forces of the West preserved the traditions and character of the Second Republic much better than did the Poles who languished under 40+ years of Communist oppression and we their children are the surviving custodians of those traditions and that history and their gentle bravado and strong spirits which carried them through so much misfortune and so very different from the fearful collective neurosis of modern Poland and its misguided political leaders still fighting old battles which have already been won instead of focusing on the future:- we can certainly teach them a thing or two and we are just as “Polish” as them although we have become a very different kind of Pole out here in the wider world of Polonia Expatria.

If you look at page 400-401 in the book you will see a picture of a Sherman tank rolling through the Egyptian desert and standing in the turret you will see a young lad projecting a look of youthful determination which just says “Polska Odradzająnca!”:- that young lad was apparently my late father, Henryk Chamot, age 16 and he apparently did not reach his 18th birthday until after May of 1945 when the war ended and by then he had at least 2 years of military experience including at least a year of actual combat service (including his share of shrapnel wounds and the type of little “medals” which only combat soldiers are “awarded”) even before he was “legally” old enough to be in the army. There were hundreds (and possibly thousands more) like him along with several thousand women (including 5,000+ truck drivers), and a very diversified group of men of all ages and from every type of background and of course one 500-lb Persian brown bear who “joined” in Palestine and became a naturalized Pole and all regimented into a small under-strength army which “punched well above its weight”:- was there ever a more improbable and impossible project than the Polish Second Corps?:- Polonia Dominat et Omnia Vincit!

Btw, Pani Irena, you imply somewhat that General Anders was motivated to take Polish orphans with him only to keep his troops in good morale but actually he really did it because it was the right thing to do regardless:- Firm and united let us be, rallying round our liberty, and in our Polish kinship joined, peace and safety we shall find!

General Anders himself was a quite interesting person and unfortunately this book does not quite do him justice:- he came from a Polonized Baltic-German family and he was a Lutheran and his first wife was also from a Polonized European ancestry and was also Lutheran and actually a divorcee. They were happily married for 20+ years and they had two children but his first family became separated from him during the war and were trapped in Warsaw during the German occupation and even managed to survive the Warsaw Uprising before they finally emigrated to join General Anders in Italy where his wife became involved in Polish expatriate community work and public service. Unfortunately his first marriage also became a casualty of war and they separated amicably and General Anders went on to marry a second wife and start another family:- you can read about it in a little book published posthumously in Polish in 2007 by his first daughter, Anna Anders-Nowakowska. For most of us General Anders was a semi-mythical Polish version of “George Washington” but he had a private and very human life of his own and also had to worry about the fate of his family in Warsaw for several years with no information and Mr Kaczynski et al please note:- there are many ways to be “Polish”, we are not all neurotic virginal ultra-dogmatic Catholics who cannot speak anything other than Polish and with a very limited view of the wider world.

Finally, yes, it would be fine for one or more young scholars to continue this research and write still more about the Polish Second Corps but what this book really needs is the last missing chapter, Chapter 21, the one titled “Wracanie” as in “Kiedyś wracami do ojczyzny!”, a theme which preoccupied our parents so very much, and now it’s our task to write that missing chapter and to fulfill the old prophecy of the “missing” fourth verse of the original Mazurek Dąbrowskiego which was written 219 years ago for another exiled Polish army.

Irene, you are right in calling Norman Davies “Our Xenophon”. It’s a very apt description. Congrats to you for a very brilliant review of his latest book that deals with the epic “Odyssey Across Three Continents”. It is a story that needed to be told and was told superbly by a great historian, Norman Davies.

An incredible journey well told. My father was with Anders. My mother and sister followed his army to get out of the USSR. Wonderful review.

Many thanks to Norman Davies and yet,sadly,the history of those days can never be complete.My Father left us on 12/10/42 to join the Polish Army in Kyrgistan,walking 60 kilometres because transport was unavailable.My Family survived through my Mother’s efforts and the unstinting help of the soldiers in Blagovieshchanka(14p.p.).
I can only repeat “Thank You”.In our case history’s circle almost closed by my son’s recent business visit to that country.

The reason many of Anders’ soldiers did not “welcome” Jewish “volunteers” is that it was well known that numerous Jews in eastern Poland had ostentatiously welcomed the Soviet invaders. This was widely known, especially since the exiles were from the Kresy. They were rightly regarded a traitors. Since the reviewer fails to mention the specific geographic origin of the exiles the reader is either misled or left wondering.
Would a stuffy footnoted study have done more justice to the truth of the story?
Gromada’s “very brilliant” usage is typical. “Brilliant” is a superlative requiring no qualifiers he implies other degrees of brilliance and thereby loses contact with any real-world referent, thus consigning his usage to the logical positivist category of nonsense. Where was the editor?
Richard Adamiak Ph.D.

Excellent review. My mother was one of those thousands for whom Anders was little short of a god. If he hasn’t got one yet, then Norman Davies deserves a medal.

Wonderful review. It is all so very interesting for me. My father, Theodor Piotrowicz, was in Anders Army. Sadly he died many years ago. This book gives me the opportunity to now find out more details of his service under General Anders.


Poland had ceased to exist as a nation in 1795 when its territory was invaded and partitioned for the third time among the empires of Austria, Prussia and Russia. A total of 215,000 square kilometers (83,000 square miles) was split among them, the lions share kept by Russia. The King of Poland Stanislaw August Poniatowski abdicated in November 1795 and spent the remainder of his life in Grodno, Russia.

Poland would not emerge again as a nation for another 123 years.

Painting depicting Polish Legions
fighting with Napoleons army 1799

Though Poland was invaded and occupied she was never conquered. The Polish Legion was formed
(1790-1810) - an army-in-exile allied with the French to fight against their common mortal enemies. (Among the Polish commanders was Jan Henryk Dąbrowski, the Polish hero after whom the Polish national anthem was written.) The Poles fought with Napoleons armies, believing that in so doing, France would come to Poland's aid. In 1807 Napoleon Bonaparte set up the Duchy of Warsaw on land that had been ceded by the Kingdom of Prussia.

The Duchy, covering an area of 155,000 square kilometers (59,846 sq.miles) was held in personal union by King Frederick Augustus I of Saxony, one of Napoleon's allies.

But when Napoleon failed in his plan to conquer Russia, the Duchy fell again under Russian control and was replaced in 1815 by the Congress of Poland (officially known as the Kingdom of Poland). However it was nothing more than a puppet state under the iron control of Russian powers.

Waves of Polish gentry, artists, poets, intelligentsia, and politicians emigrated from the former Polish state, from 1831 to 1870, seeking not only freedom and liberty, but the chance to plan and instigate revolutionary uprisings against the empires. The Polish Uprisings of 1831 and 1863 were brutally crushed by imperialist forces, and the Soviets inflicted draconian measures upon the Polish people, including that of Russification. Polish property was confiscated, people deported, forced into military service, Polish universities and schools were closed, resulting in a dramatic decrease in literacy. The Austrian sector fared only slightly better, but the Poles were instead subjected to Germanization.

General Wladyslaw Anders

From this crucible arose future generations of great Polish leaders who would fight for Polish freedom and independence. One of them was Wladyslaw Anders. He was born on August 11, 1892 in Krosniewice-Blonie (near Kutno) about a hundred miles west of Warsaw, in what was then part of the Russian Empire.

Anders had been brought up in the Protestant-Evangelical Church, but many years later would convert to Roman Catholicism. He was an undergraduate at Riga Technical University, and joined the Polish fraternity, Arkonia. Wladyslaw's father, Albert, was of Germanic origin, and worked as an agronomist and administrator of estates. His mother was Elizabeth Tauchert. Wladyslaw was one of four brothers, Charles, George Edward and Tadeusz, all of whom were officers in the Polish army at the start of WWII.

Badge of Krechowiecki Lancers Regiment

During WWI, Wladyslaw Anders served in the Tsar's Imperial Army and led the 1st squadron of the 1st Krechowiecki Lancer's Regiment. By the mid-1930s he had been promoted through the ranks to become General. After WWI he joined the newly formed Polish Army and was appointed commander of the 15th Poznan Lancers Regiment and led them in battle against the Red Army in the Polish-soviet war of 1919.

In September 1939 when the Germans invaded Poland, Wladyslaw Anders assumed command of the Nowogrodek Calvary Brigade, which fought at Lidzbark. He was shot twice during battle, but despite his wounds, he led his men to safety. After the Soviets invaded, Anders was captured by the Red Army and deported to the infamous Lubyanka prison in Moscow where he was interrogated and tortured. He was imprisoned for two years and vowed that if he were to survive the horrors he would convert to Catholicism. He kept his promise. He might have been doomed to a tragic end, had it not been for an unexpected event - on June 22, 1941 the Nazi's invaded Russia.

Lubyanka Prison, Moscow (recent photo)
Stalin might have been aware of the impending German invasion but was ill-prepared to counter the German blitzkrieg. Russian losses were initially very heavy, and though the Soviets had substantial war materiel they were hopelessly obsolete. It was a key turning point for Britain in the war. Though Churchill vehemently detested the communist regime, he wasted no time in establishing a military alliance with Stalin. Churchill stated emphatically, that "If Hitler invaded Hell, I would at least make a favorable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons." Henceforth under the Lend-Lease program, Britain, as well as the United States and Canada began shipping massive quantities of supplies and war materiel to Russia. (By 1945 a total of 1,400 ships had made the perilous trans-Atlantic crossings.)

Shortly after Germany's attack on the Soviet Union, Stalin ordered the release of Wladyslaw Anders from prison, with the intention of forming a Polish army on Soviet soil. By August 4, 1941 General Sikorski named Wladyslaw Anders as commander of the new Polish army and on the 17th of August, the Sikorski-Maisky agreement was signed. The agreement called for the release of tens of thousands of Polish POWs from Russian gulags who would form the new Polish Army. Generals Sikorski and Anders had met with Stalin to discuss the details of Polish armament, which was conditional upon the release of all Polish POWs from Soviet camps. The new recruits came to be known as "Ander's Army" - officially the 2nd Polish Corps.

Polish POWs ex-gulag prisoners lined up at recruitment centre to enlist in Anders Army - 1941

Polish ex-PoWs in Anders Army
Poles who had been arrested by the Red Army during the invasion in 1939, and who were interned in gulags throughout Siberia, were being released - but only a small fraction of them. Despite pressure from Sikorski and Anders, Stalin was unwilling to release all Polish POWs. They were being used as slave labor for Soviet production quotas, and later, forced to enlist in the Soviet armies.

Recruitment for the new Polish army initially took place in the NKVD camps, beginning in the Buzuluk area. By the end of 1941 over 25,000 soldiers had been recruited and several infantry divisions had been formed. (Among these recruits was Menachem Begin, future Prime Minister of Israel.)

Thousands of Polish refugees who tried to make the perilous journey never reached the checkpoints, having died along the way from starvation, illness and extreme cold. Others had travelled thousands of miles from the remote camps in Siberia to Tashkent, Kermine, Samarkand (in Uzbekistan), and Ashkhabad (in Turkmenistan) to enlist in the new Polish army. The notorious NKVD agents raised numerous obstacles in an effort to prevent the refugees from reaching their destinations. In one of the incidences, they were ordered to disembark from a train and were left stranded in the wasteland of the Russian Steppes as the train sped off without them.

The ranks of Polish recruits were steadily expanding. Attempting to take advantage of the Polish-Soviet agreement, Stalin wanted to send the new recruits to the front immediately - without reinforcements, but General Anders refused to permit it. The gulag had rendered the men were too weak and ill for military duty. In retaliation, Stalin reduced the food supply from 70,000 to 26,000 soldiers. It was not enough food to sustain them all, considering that the total number of Polish refugees was 115,000 (military and civilian). To meet the urgency, General Anders ordered his soldiers to share whatever food was available with the civilians.

Starving Polish Children rescued by Iran

Sikorski, Anders and Churchill had met to discuss the formation of the Polish army under British command, and plans for an evacuation of Polish military and civilians from the USSR. After several
postponements, Stalin finally relented, and on March 18, 1942, he agreed to the evacuation of the Polish army to Iran. A mass exodus of biblical proportions began in March until the end of August of that year. Masses of Polish soldiers and civilians traveled by ship and overland to reach Palestine, through Iran and Iraq. When news leaked out among the Soviet camps that an evacuation was taking place there erupted a violent surge of refugees trying to reach Soviet borders. Not all made it out in time. The remainder were trapped in Russia, not having received official permission to leave. Despite vigorous efforts by General Sikorski and General Anders to negotiate for their release, Stalin adamantly refused to concede.

Transport carrying Polish refugees from USSR arrive at Persian port 1941

Out of the one and a half million Poles who were deported to Russia, over half of them perished from starvation, cold, and disease. Approximately 41,000 soldiers and 74,000 civilians - women, children, and the elderly, all Polish nationals, left Russia and made their way through Iran eventually reaching British Command bases in the Middle East.

When General Anders reviewed his new recruits for the first time, they were severely emaciated, ill, and dressed in rags. It was a startling sight to behold, made all the more astounding when these same men lined up, stood at attention and saluted Anders. Polish boys voluntarily joined the cadets, and about 1,500 Polish women joined the Auxiliary services. By 1943, the men of the 2nd Polish Corps were fit, healthy, well-trained and ready for battle. (Incidentally, there were many other Polish Divisions stationed in Palestine, including the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division, Carpathian Lancers, 12th Podbole Lancers, etc.)

General Wladyslaw Anders reviewing troops of 2nd Polish Corps

Upon reaching Palestine, 4,000 Jewish soldiers from Ander's Army had deserted, although a few of them like Menachem Begin requested permission to do so. The news of such desertion came as a terrible blow to an army that was on the verge of going into battle. Despite British pressure to charge them with desertion, General Anders was not willing to pursue a court martial, but chose instead to grant them all amnesty. Despite this betrayal, there were many other Polish-Jews who chose to remain with the Corps and fought together with them in the battles at Monte Cassino. (Many of them also died in battle and their graves, marked with the Star of David, rest alongside those of other Polish heroes at the Polish War Cemetery at Monte Cassino.)

General Anders had been anticipating the arrival of some 15,000 Polish officers, none of whom ever showed up, and whose whereabouts could not be determined. After an extensive search turned up nothing, Anders approached Stalin on several occasions asking for an explanation but his inquiries were always met with evasion and lies. (It wasn't until 1943 that the shocking truth was discovered. The Nazis discovered the mass graves of the missing Polish Officers, at Katyn, near Smolensk Russia. Each Officer had been executed by the Soviet NKVD by a single bullet to the back of the head and their corpses piled layer upon layer into huge mass graves.)

Polish Soldiers Charging Up Phantom Hill
The 2nd Polish Corps became known as one of the best trained military units of WW2, and the Polish soldiers were praised for their fierce fighting ability and bravery. Their greatest victory was the capture of Monte Cassino on May 17-18, 1944. Polish troops were able to succeed when
other allied troops failed at every attempt. But it was a victory that was hard-won and cost the lives of many thousands of Polish soldiers.

The 2nd Polish Corps waged other battles along the Adriatic Coast, liberating the cities of Bologna and Ancona.

General Wladyslaw Anders chatting with General Alexander

The Battle of Monte Cassino was a major victory for the Allies and a stepping stone to the next great victory in the greatest battle of all time - the Battle of Normandy. Yet despite these victories, Poland had been betrayed and abandoned by her allies. The men of the 2nd Polish Corps had fought and died for the freedom of Italy, and of Europe, not knowing that they had already lost their beloved homeland - Poland.

Though the West has always proclaimed to be the victors of World War II, the reality was quite different. It was not democracy that won, but rather totalitarianism. General Anders cautioned Western Allies to be wary of the Soviets, knowing full well the Russian reputation for deceit. But his forewarning fell on deaf ears. Anders stated,

By the end of WW2, the Soviets had installed a communist puppet regime in Poland and began hunting Polish soldiers and officers who were deemed "enemies of the state". Many Poles never returned to Poland after the war. Those who did were imprisoned, tortured, and executed. For these reasons, Wladyslaw Anders and many others chose to remain in exile. For the interim Anders maintained a prominent role in the Polish government-in-exile, and as inspector-general of the Polish forces-in-exile.
General Wladyslaw Anders passed away in London on May 12, 1970. He never applied for British citizenship. According to his last wishes, he was buried at the Polish War Cemetery at Monte Cassino, Italy - among the fallen heroes of the 2nd Polish Corps.

General Anders and General Sikorski in the Middle East - History

By James I. Marino

Despite the Nazi conquest of European nations during World War II, individual soldiers from the occupied countries rose again to fight the German Army, and the largest army in exile to fight the Germans was Polish. Polish forces fought in North Africa, on the Eastern Front, in Western Europe, and on the Italian peninsula.

The Polish II Corps carried the fight to the Axis during the Italian Campaign. Thousands of former Soviet prisoners and scattered exiles provided the bulk of the corps. The Polish soldiers traveled a long, hard road to fight in Italy. British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery wrote in his memoirs, “Poles played a part which gained them the admiration of their comrades and the respect of the enemy.”

According to Polish historian Michael Alfred Peszke, “The Polish Army from the Soviet Union is the keystone to the history of the Polish endeavor in World War II.”

Major General Wladislaw Anders and the Polish Armed Forces

Following the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland in 1939, some 1.5 million Polish citizens found themselves arrested and transported to Soviet labor camps and prisons. After the Nazis struck Russia, British diplomats led by Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden indicated to the Soviets that the exiles could provide a potent source of manpower for the antifascist struggle. On July 30, 1941, the leader of the Polish government in exile, General Wladyslaw Sikorski, reached an agreement with the Soviets. Poles residing on Russian soil after September 1939 were allowed to join the Polish armed forces, responsible only to the Polish government and led by Polish officers.

Major General Wladislaw Anders was given command of the proposed army. Born in a Russian-controlled area of Poland, he graduated from high school in Warsaw and continued on to Riga Technical University. In 1913, he joined the Russian Army and entered the cavalry school. During World War I, he commanded a cavalry unit and was wounded five times. In 1917, he studied at the Academy of the General Staff in St. Petersburg. Then he took part in the formation of the Polish Corps, under General Jozef Dowbor-Musnicki. After the surrender of Germany, he returned to Poland in 1918 and joined the Polish Army and became chief of staff of Greater Poland. During the Russo-Polish War in 1920, he directed the Poznań Uhlans. He entered the Ecole Superieure de Guerre in Paris and became the military commander of Warsaw in 1925. In 1932, he led the Polish team riding in the equestrian competition of the Nations Cup in Nice.

Between 1928 and 1939, Anders commanded the cavalry brigades based in eastern Poland. He fought against the Wehrmacht in September 1939. After fighting along East Prussia, his cavalry task group marched south toward Hungary and engaged the Red Army invading Poland on September 17. Wounded, the Soviets captured him, and the NKVD (Soviet Secret Police) imprisoned him in Lubyanka Prison and later in Lwów.

Released after 18 months of captivity, Anders was tasked to form the Polish Army in the Soviet Union. He distrusted all things Soviet and later wrote in his autobiography, “God only knows how many were murdered and how many died under the terrible conditions in the prisons and forced labor camps.”

The Making of a New Polish Armed Forces

The communist government refused to allow the Polish soldiers to head to Britain to join the units forming there. Soviet Premier Josef Stalin would only open the gulag gates to provide soldiers for his own army. The Soviets noticed two clear attitudes among the Poles: disdain for everything communist and complete trust between the soldiers and officers.

By November 1941, there were 40,000 Polish men at arms, 60 percent without boots, numerous Polish women, and hundreds of children to be cared for. The Soviets reduced the food rations. Most of the welfare aid for the gathering Polish citizens came from over 800 American charitable services, which enabled the Poles to set up 105 schools and 58 old people’s homes in Russia. By March 1942, the army’s strength reached 67,500 soldiers.

By April 1942, approximately 26,000 Polish veterans were organized into two divisions in Uzbekistan under the command of Anders, but the communists provided only 8,651 rifles and 16 artillery pieces. After long political wrangling and a direct appeal from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in a letter dated July 17, 1942, Stalin finally agreed to allow the Poles to move to Iran as part of the Allied occupation force there. Anders led an exodus of 112,000 men, women, and children. Unfortunately, over 4,000 soldiers died in Russia waiting for Stalin’s permission.

From Iran, the Poles moved to Iraq and came under British command for further training and equipping. By August 1942, an additional 44,000 soldiers and 26,000 civilians, refugees and exiles from around the world, joined them. Although the majority of these were ethnic Poles, there were also members of other nationalities who joined the units of II Corps, most notably Jews, Belarusians, and Ukrainians.

Historian Thomas Brooks noted in The War North of Rome, “Anders matched his men in fighting spirit and toughness of mind and body, with a fiery Polish patriotism.“

As one of their comrades attempts to establish communications via walkie-talkie, a pair of Polish soldiers mans a two-inch mortar on an Italian hillside. The Poles have taken cover adjacent to a destroyed German self-propelled gun.

The Polish eagle became a prominent decoration on British-supplied helmets throughout the corps. When their training ended in June 1943, American General George S. Patton, Jr., reviewed the Polish soldiers and described them as “the best looking troops, including the British and American, that I have ever seen.”

Polish Troops to the Mediterranean

At the Quebec Conference in August, Roosevelt and Churchill decided to send the Polish Corps to Italy. Churchill wrote to Chief of Staff General Sir Alan Brooke, “The time has come to bring the Polish troops into the Mediterranean theatre. The men wish to fight. The intention is to use them immediately.”

After Polish Prime Minister Sikorski died in a plane crash at Gibraltar, Anders became the focus of Polish nationalistic pride and fervor. To his countrymen Anders was an inspiration, and to his allies he was a military leader whose ability commanded the greatest respect.

Churchill wrote a second memo to Brooke: “There is an urgency for reinforcements in Italy and the need to bring the Polish Corps into operations. A lot of time and energy has been spent on the Poles who for two years have done nothing.”

Anders met Churchill at the British Embassy in Cairo on August 22. Churchill immediately liked Anders, while Anders extended trust and belief in the prime minister.

The Polish II Corps

The Polish II Corps became a major military formation of the Polish Army in World War II under the nominal control of the Polish government in exile in London. Its 3rd Carpathian Division was formed in the Middle East from Colonel Stanislaw Kopanski’s seasoned Carpathian Brigade, which fought at Tobruk and in Egypt. The 5th Kresowa was built around the staff of the 5th Division originally organized in the Soviet Union.

According to the British Army Act of 1940, Polish units were to be grouped in a single theater of war. The British completely equipped, organized, and trained the Polish units to British standards and organizational guidelines, but only after a direct order from Churchill to chief military assistant General Bruce Ismay, which read, “I regard the equipping of the Polish Corps as of the first importance and urgency.”

Manpower shortage meant that each Polish division would have only two brigades instead of the standard three in a British division, with skeleton staffs for their third brigades awaiting the recruiting of additional manpower. An armored brigade was formed with only 10 tanks, along with an independent infantry brigade that became the basis for a third division. To help solve the troop shortage, the Poles recruited Polish prisoners who had been forcibly recruited into the Wehrmacht.

In July and August 1943, the Polish II Corps moved to Palestine for final training. This consisted of maneuvers in the mountainous regions to acclimatize the troops to the terrain they would encounter in Italy. Prior to arriving in Italy, the Corps totaled 45,000 men. The 3rd Division included the 1st and 2nd Carpathian Rifle Brigades, and the 5th Division was composed of the 5th Wilenska and the 6th Lwowska Infantry Brigades.

The Corps’ divisional order of battle followed British lines with three field artillery regiments, an antitank regiment, engineers, a heavy machine-gun battalion, communications troops, an antiaircraft artillery regiment, and a reconnaissance regiment, the 12th Podolski Lancers in the 3rd Division and the 15th Poznanski Lancers in the 5th Division. The Corps’ 2nd Armored Brigade consisted of three armored regiments and supporting units. The 3rd Division had 13,200 men, the 5th Division 12,900, and the 2nd Armored Brigade 3,400. In 1944, the corps was transferred from Egypt to Italy and became part of the British Eighth Army under General Oliver Leese.

Keeping the Polish II Corps in Tact

There was concern as to how the corps would be utilized. The British wanted to augment their replacement pool with the Poles. Anders furiously rejected suggestions that his corps be broken up and attached to British and American divisions in battalion-sized units, but attempts to make up the corps’ manpower shortage with recruits from Polish communities in Canada and the United States failed miserably. The Soviets also refused to allow more Poles to leave the country.

After months in the Soviet Union, the soldiers who formed the Polish II Corps were allowed to leave the country for their eventual destination of Iraq, where they came under British command. Their families were permitted to follow the soldiers to the West.

Anders proposed to send his corps into battle without a pool of replacements. The Poles would take “liberated” manpower to replace their losses and flesh out their incomplete divisions on the battlefield. Large numbers of ethnic Poles had been impressed into the Wehrmacht as ethnic Germans, and Anders believed they would gladly join him if given the chance. The Poles also had intelligence indicating that thousands of Polish prisoners had been sent to Italy as laborers. These men could also be freed and join the II Corps.

The British relented, and the Polish II Corps would fight as an autonomous unit. After arriving in Italy, the Polish corps eventually swelled to a force of 110,000. At age 52, Anders commanded Poland’s only force facing the Germans in Western Europe.

“They Seem to Know No Fear”

Elements of the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division began landing in Italy at Taranto on December 21, 1943. The transfer of all Polish units from Egypt and the Middle East continued until the middle of April 1944. These troops landed at the Italian ports of Taranto, Bari, and Naples. Corps headquarters followed in January 1944, the 5th Kresowa Division in February, and the armored brigade in April. The 2nd Base Corps completed the move.

The first Polish unit to see action in Italy was the Independent Commando Company. On December 29, 1943, it took part in a diversionary raid with British No. 9 Commando on the Gariglianio River estuary defenses. The 3rd Carpathian Division entered combat along a quiet sector of the front on the Sangro River. On February 10, Lt. Gen. Anders reported to General Leese at Eighth Army headquarters at Vasto, and the Polish II Corps officially became part of Eighth Army.

British soldiers readily acknowledged the fighting spirit of the Poles. An Irish Guards officer in the 78th Division described his encounter with them. “Their motives were as clear as they were simple. They only wished to kill Germans and they did not bother at all about the usual refinements when taking over our posts. They just walked in with their weapons, asked where the Germans were, and that was that.” The 78th Division history carried a significant entry. “Of their resolve there was no doubt. For whose gallantry the Division soon learnt to feel an awed yet amused admiration. They exposed themselves with the most reckless abandon. They seem to know no fear.”

Battle of Monte Cassino: The Polish Corps’ Chance to Prove Itself

The 3rd Carpathian Division’s first patrol went out on February 21, northwest of San Angelo. In May it moved up to Monte Cassino, where the Poles proved their worth in capturing the destroyed abbey high atop a mountain that commanded the Allied approaches through the valley below.

The German defenses at Cassino had not been penetrated despite three assaults and heavy bombing. The enemy held fast and continued to block the road to Rome. In May, along the 18-mile stretch from Cassino to the Gulf of Gaeta, 17 Allied divisions stood ready for the next phase of battle. After previous attempts had failed to take Cassino, General Leese called Anders and his chief of staff, General K. Wisniowski, to Eighth Army headquarters on March 24. Leese told Anders of the planned offensive, Operation Diadem, to open the road to Rome.

Leese offered the Polish corps the mission of taking Monte Cassino. After a brief discussion with Wisniowski, Anders accepted the task. Anders later described his reasoning. “The battle would have international scrutiny and impact it would be the first face to face battle with the Germans since 1939 capture of Monte Cassino would disprove the Soviet propaganda that the Polish Army was unwilling to fight the Wehrmacht casualties would probably be the same in a supportive role it would have great significance for the future of the Home Army of Poland.”

Planning Operation Diadem

The Polish II Corps prepared to launch the fourth assault on the monastery. Operation Diadem would begin May 13 and the Polish II Corps’ task was to isolate the abbey from the north and northwest, dominate Highway 6, and then capture the abbey itself. At the same time, eight American divisions, four Commonwealth divisions, and four French divisions were to cross the Liri River, cutting Highway 6. The Polish II Corps assault force consisted of the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division, the 5th Kresowa Infantry Division, and the 2nd Armored Brigade.

Soldiers of the Polish II Corps attached to one of the Carpathian Rifle Brigades fire a British 4.5-inch field artillery piece during offensive operations in the Apennine Mountains of Italy.

The corps staff began to formulate the battle plan. General Anders contributed extensively to the staff’s work. He drew certain conclusions from the previous Allied assaults and decided not to become bogged down in a street fight in the town. He rejected an assault from the south that was too exposed to German flanking fire. He decided to attack from the northwest between Hills 569 and 601. The 3rd Carpathian Division was responsible for seizing the southern end of Snakeshead Ridge, Massa Albaneta, Monte Castellone, and Hills 593 and 569. The 5th Kresowa Division had Colle Sant’ Angelo and Hills 575, 505, 452, and 447, and was then to cover the advance of the 3rd. Each division allotted one brigade for the initial attack. The plan utilized direct frontal assault into strong German positions. Capture of the high ground would isolate the abbey. To the Polish soldiers, who had wandered through Russia, the Middle East, and now Italy for five years since the defeat and subjugation of their country and people, the battle would be a chance to confront the hated Germans and regain their honor.

“The Spirit of Self-Sacrifice”

General Anders’ order of the day just before the assault on Cassino read: “Soldiers, The task assigned to us will cover with glory the name of the Polish soldier all over the world. The moment for battle has arrived. At this moment the thoughts and hearts of our whole nation will be with us. We have long awaited the moment for revenge and retribution over our hereditary enemy. For this action let the lion spirit enter your hearts, keep deep in your heart God, honor, and our land—Poland! Go and take revenge for all the suffering in our land, for what you have suffered for many years in Russia and for years of separation from your families.”

A postwar Polish veteran explained their motivation: “The spirit of self-sacrifice that had been manifested at the Battles of Grunwald, Chocim and Warsaw is passed on from generation to generation and constitutes the bedrock of Polish pride. The Poles entered the Battle of Cassino with the vision of a free Poland … carried in their hearts and minds. They joined the battle not because they were so ordered but because of their inner love for Poland and their hatred for the oppressor of their Motherland.”

Heavy Losses in the First Assault

For the night assault, the Polish troops blackened their faces and equipment and donned camouflage wraps.

A 40-minute barrage opened the assault. Immediately, the Poles caught an unlucky break. The Germans planned to relieve defenders with fresh units, and they had nine battalions in the strongpoints when the assault started. At 1 am, the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division’s 1st Carpathian Rifle Brigade assaulted Point 593 (Mount Calvary on Snakeshead Ridge), Hill 569, and Albaneta Farm. The 1st Carpathian Battalion’s attack on Massa Albaneta failed with heavy losses, due mainly to German artillery. By 2:30 am, the assault battalions had lost one of every five men.

The 2nd Carpathian Battalion of the 1st Carpathian Brigade carried Point 593. Four counterattacks by German paratroopers, the final ending with bitter hand-to-hand fighting, left few Poles on the position at dawn. Forced to retreat, the entire 2nd Battalion numbered no more than a few dozen men. The 3rd Carpathian Battalion strike on Hill 569 also failed.

The 5th Kresowa Infantry Division’s 5th Wilenska Brigade jumped off a half hour after the Carpathian Brigade to seize Colle Sant’ Angelo, Hills 706, 601, and 575. The infantry ran into heavy fire. By 3 am, all three battalions were engaged along Phantom Ridge. The division commander, Brig. Gen. Nikodem Sulik, committed the 18 battalions of the 6th Lwowska Brigade to reignite the advance, but it was not possible to continue the attack.

The 13th and 15th Battalions of the 5th Wilenska Brigade were decimated. According to the brigade diary, “In the valley and on the slope of the ridge lay corpses, twisted human shapes, shattered limbs, bloody bits of bodies.” General Anders had no alternative but to terminate the assault.

The Poles had attacked with panache and skill but took heavy casualties. The Germans committed a horrific atrocity after the assault. Two young officer cadets were captured, and the Germans crucified them with barbed wire and nails. No quarter was given by either side from that moment on.

With victory in sight but heavy combat still ahead, Polish II Corps soldiers slog through mud somewhere in Italy in February 1945. The Poles acquitted themselves admirably throughout the Italian campaign.

A Second Assault

The II Corps staff immediately began drawing plans for a second assault. Leese arrived and expressed satisfaction with the Poles’ attack because it was “of great assistance” drawing artillery fire and reserves away from the British. Anders used the same basic strategy, but this time the attack would be made by both entire divisions. Both brigades of the 5th Kersowa Division were directed on Colle Sant’ Angelo. The 3rd Carpathian Division focused both brigades on just Albaneta. The Poles concentrated their artillery support and planned a rolling barrage for the advancing infantry. Polish sappers and engineers cleared minefields and obstacles during the interim. Leese endorsed the entire endeavor.

The second assault jumped off at 10:30 pm on May 16. New brigades were leading the assaults, supported by 200 air sorties at daybreak. One observer wrote, “When the second attack began the soldiers were drained physically and psychologically. The issue hung on a knife edge, only vigorous leadership could overcome the exhaustion and inertia.” Fighting raged all night.

Lance Corporal Dobrowski of the 5th Battalion described the assault on Hill 593: “We begin to ascend Hill 593, the weakest soldiers can no longer keep pace. We are in no particular formation. No sections no platoons. The situation is such we must use our own initiative. Now we engage the enemy. All is confusion and the Germans’ positions are mixed with ours. With munificent impartiality we hurl our hand grenades. From the neighboring heights Spandaus, Schmeissers and heavy machine guns catch us in a murderous crossfire.” The hill was taken and held.

Capturing the Monastery

The divisions seized the initial objectives on Phantom Ridge and Snakeshead Ridge then moved on to Hills 601, 575, 505, and 569. By May 18, the Poles had seized the objectives. The French Expeditionary Corps breakthrough south of Cassino forced the German Tenth Army to order the withdrawal of the 1st Parachute Division from Monte Cassino.

The Poles intercepted the radio message but were too weary to pursue the paratroopers. Corps headquarters sent word to the 3rd Carpathian Division to send a patrol from the 12th Podolski Lancers Reconnaissance Regiment to scout the abbey. The scouting party, led by Lieutenant Casimir Gurbiel, entered the ruins of the abbey and found them empty except for a few wounded German paratroopers. A homemade regimental pennant was raised at 9:50 am above the ruins. A Lancer bugler played the medieval Polish military signal, the “Krakow Hejnal.” When the notes were heard in the 4th Carpathian Battalion’s command post, officers and enlisted men unashamedly cried.

A Polish officer wrote in his diary about that occasion. “We hung on grimly until the exciting news arrived that the monastery was in our hands. I shall never forget the pure joy of that moment. We could hardly believe that our long task was done.”

General Anders walked up to the abbey late in the afternoon. He recounted the moment in his postwar memoirs. “The battlefield presented a dreary sight. Corpses of Polish and German soldiers, sometimes entangled in a deadly embrace, lay everywhere, and the air was filled with the stench of rotting bodies. There were overturned tanks with broken caterpillars. Crater after crater pitted the sides of hills and scattered over them were fragments of uniforms, helmets, tommy guns, Spandaus, Schmeissers and hand grenades. The slopes of hills where fighting had been less intense were covered with poppies in incredible number, their red flowers weirdly appropriate to the scene.”

Major General Wladislaw Anders commanded the Polish II Corps from training through arduous combat during the Italian campaign and became a national hero in his native land.

An Honorary Decoration For the Polish II Corps

The Poles continued fighting until May 25, by which time the positions of Saint Angelo Hill, Point 575, Passo Corno, and Mount Cairo were captured. The Polish II Corps lost 50 men a day, about 20 percent of its strength, by the end of the Cassino battle. The Poles immediately attacked east to penetrate the Hitler Line before the Germans could man it.

Through Operation Diadem, the capture of Rome, and the advance beyond the Italian capital, the Allied forces were heavily battered. The British and Canadian rifle companies had 30 percent casualties. The American casualty rate was 41 percent, but the Polish II Corps had the highest with 43 percent, sustaining 3,784 casualties of which 860 were killed. Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery wrote after the war, “Only the finest troops could have taken that well-prepared and long-defended fortress.” Immediately after the battle, General Charles de Gaulle commented to the press, “The Polish Corps lavished its bravery in the service of its honor.”

The Polish II Corps received an honorary decoration after Cassino. Eighth Army Order No. 65 granted the right of all individuals who took part in the Cassino operation to permanently wear the Eighth Army shield on their right shoulder even if in the future they were no longer part of the Eighth. Later, Order No. 95 extended the privilege to any soldier of the Polish II Corps.

Deception at the Battle of Ancona

After the battle at Cassino, the Polish II Corps shifted to the Adriatic coast. On June 15, 1944, the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division replaced the 4th Indian Division. The entire sector came under Anders’ command. The Polish corps headquarters was located at San Vito near Ortona. Additional British regiments and Italian units bolstered the strength of the corps. The 17th and 26th Heavy Artillery Regiments, Royal Artillery, the 7th Queens Own Hussars, and the Italian Corpo Italiano de Liberazione came under the Polish II Corps. The 5th Kresowa Infantry Division arrived between June 18 and 21, followed by the corps artillery and the 2nd Armored Brigade.

The Battle of Ancona took place from June 16 through July 18, 1944. The Polish objective was the capture of Ancona harbor. Anders’ orders to his units were simple, direct, and aggressive. “Pursue the enemy at the highest possible speed and capture Ancona harbor.”

Anders also deceived the Germans. He created the impression that the 3rd Carpathian Division would attack along the coast road. Instead, he launched the 5th Kresowa and the 7th Hussars on an encircling sweep inland. Anders performed a series of feints, radio deception, and skilled maneuver, unhinging the German 278th Division. Supported for the first time entirely by air attacks by the Polish City of Gdansk No. 318 Squadron, the Poles moved rapidly up the Adriatic coast and crossed the Aso River by June 20. Assisted by Italian Alpini, the Poles captured Fermo and Pedaso on June 21. By the 25th, the Polish II Corps faced the German LI Mountain Corps, and stiff resistance held up the Polish offensive around the Chienti River.

Breeching the Gothic Line

In July, the Polish corps began rolling again, capturing Numano on July 5 and Osini, only 10 miles south of Ancona, the following day. The Poles repulsed a counterattack by the mountain troops on July 8, and took Monte Palesco two days later. After a fierce battle, Ancona was captured by the Carpathian Lancers on July 18. The 3rd Carpathian Division secured the port and 2,500 prisoners. This was the only battle in the West that was exclusively carried out by the Polish military. The offensive cost the Poles 2,150 casualties.

On July 19, the Poles crossed the Esino River and encountered strong German opposition near Ostra. On the 22nd, they reached the Misa River. The Germans placed the 71st Infantry Division and the Poles’ old adversary, the 1st Parachute Division, along the river. It was another 10 days before the Polish force reached the next river, the Misa. A five-day struggle ended with the capture of Ostra, and the corps advanced to the town of Senigallia.

On August 11, the Cesano River was crossed, and the Poles seized a series of towns, Gabrielle, Mondolfo, Poggio, and Orciano. Ten days later, the Poles crossed the Metauro River and reached the Gothic Line.

The Allies now reorganized their forces before the assault on the Gothic Line. The Polish II Corps was on the extreme right flank at the Adriatic coast with the 1st Canadian Corps on its left. Operation Olive, the breakthrough in the Adriatic sector, began on the night of August 25. The Polish II Corps opened the offensive, capturing the high ground north of the resort of Pesaro. The corps’ fighting lines stretched seven miles inland from the coast with its two divisions advancing abreast.

Historian Thomas Brooks described the assault. “The Poles were under-strength and again lacked replacements. They went in without preliminary artillery barrage. The infantrymen waded through water almost three feet deep up into the olive groves on the far side. At midnight, shells rained down four hundred yards ahead of the advancing troops moving forward at the anticipated rate of a hundred yards every six minutes. The Poles inflicted heavy damage on a German parachute regiment caught out in the open in the act of withdrawing. By dawn the divisions were well across the river and into the hills before Foglia.“

German paratroopers man a machine-gun position amid the ruins of the abbey of Monte Cassino.

The night attack by the Polish II Corps, Canadian I Corps, and the British V Corps caught the Germans flat footed and pierced the eastern flank of the Gothic Line.

Fighting in the Appenines

Its task complete, the Polish II Corps now withdrew to become a reserve force. On the 26th, Anders met Prime Minister Churchill, who visited the Polish headquarters. Anders tried to warn Churchill about Stalin, six months before the Yalta Conference. He told Churchill, “Stalin’s declarations that he wants a free and strong Poland are lies and fundamentally false.”

Anders spoke of the Katyn Massacre, in which the Soviets murdered Polish officers and civilian officials, and then mentioned the situation with the Red Army at the gates of Warsaw. “We have our wives and children in Warsaw, but we would rather they perish than have to live under the Bolsheviks.”

Churchill replied, “I sympathize deeply. But you must trust us. We will not abandon you, and Poland will be happy.”

Between October 1944 and January 1945, the Polish II Corps was reinforced and reorganized. The 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division and the 5th Kresowa Infantry Division had the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Brigade and the 4th Wolynska Rifle Brigade added, respectively. The 2nd Armored Brigade was expanded into an armored division with the addition of the Carpathian Lancer Regiment, 2nd Motorized Commando Battalion, 16th Pomorska Infantry Brigade, 4th Armored Regiment Skorpion, 1st Krechowieckich Lancer Regiment, and the 6th Armoured Regiment Dzieci Lwowskich.

After a short period of rest, the Polish II Corps returned to the battlefield and occupied Predappio, the birthplace of Benito Mussolini, and Castrocaro on October 27. The Poles bypassed Faenza and crossed the Lamone River on their way to the Senio River. As the rain, mud, and snow arrived in November, the Polish II Corps pushed through the Appennine foothills south of Highway 9. The Polish troops captured Monte Caselo and Lamone in November and Brisighella on December 6. All operations in the region ceased by the end of December 1944.

“The operations of the Polish II Corps in the Emilian Apennines had needed strenuous effort by the men, who, battling the hills or paddling in mud, fought, attacked, and pushed back the enemy,” wrote Anders. “There were no spectacular achievements it was just a case of steady relentless fighting, and duty well done. The Corps’ losses in these battles amounted to 42 officers and 627 other ranks killed, 184 officers and 2,630 other ranks wounded, and 1 officer and 32 other ranks missing.”

General Richard McCreery, the new Eighth Army commander, recognized the Polish effort in a signal to Anders on December 17: “My best congratulations to you and the 3rd Carpathian Division on your successful operations in difficult country. This attack with the great lack of roads in your area was a fine achievement. Engineers and gunners deserve every credit.”

The Yalta Betrayal

In January 1945, the Italian front was at a standstill. The Eighth Army, after a series of hard-fought river crossings, stood on the banks of the Senio River. The country was sodden from winter rains, and armored operations were impossible.

International events and foreign policy would now impact the Italian campaign. Anders learned of the terms agreed by Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin at Yalta. He wrote a letter to General McCreery saying, “I can see but the necessity of relieving those of my troops now in line. We had marched thousands of miles together and had suffered thousands of casualties. We had come from the torture of the Russian labor camps to the brink of battle which would seal our claim to be allowed to go home. Suddenly we are told, we were told, without ever being consulted that we had no home to go to.”

In early March 1945, McCreery, American General Mark Clark, and British Field Marshal Harold Alexander met Anders, who told them, “How can I ask my soldiers to go on fighting, to risk their lives for nothing. I must withdraw them from the line.”

General Clark replied, “I know the great confidence the Polish soldiers have in their commander, and I also know that they would accept any decision coming from you without hesitation. “

McCreery added, “If you took your troops out of the line, there would be no troops to replace them, and a 10 mile gap would be opened up.”

Anders remained silent for a minute, reflecting that the Polish removal might negatively impact the Allied victory in Italy and also forfeit the Polish claim to be an independent nation. Anders quietly but firmly said, “You can count on the Polish II Corps for this coming battle. We must defeat Hitler first.”

Later in the week, the Polish troops learned that Churchill was to speak to them by radio. Vladyslaw Karnicki, a veteran soldier, remembered what Churchill said. “He said he had to give up a part of Poland because of the Curzon Line. When we looked it up on a map, the meaning became clear. The Anglo-American leaders had given Stalin that part of Poland which was the homeland of the Polish II Corps. He then concluded by saying that after the war if you wished to go home you may, but if you chose not to, England would welcome you with employment and homes. The men were immediately bitter and one sergeants said, ‘Why the hell are we fighting now? We have no country to go to.’ The Colonel stepped in and showed us pictures of England and London which he had visited. He said how good the country and people were. I acclaimed that’s for me, I’m not going to the Russians.”

Although most of the men decided to settle in Britain, the Poles did not show the aggressive spirit in the remaining combat.

German paratroopers man a machine-gun position amid the ruins of the abbey of Monte Cassino.

The Last Italian Offensive

The final offensive to break the stalemate on the Italian front was scheduled for the night of April 9, 1945. The Eighth Army objective was to break through the Po Valley and seize the cities of Bologna and Florence. The Polish II Corps was assigned the direct assault across the Senio River straight to Bologna.

The 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division spearheaded the attack across the Senio, north of the Via Emilia (Highway 9) toward Bologna. The corps struck the boundary between the German 98th and 26th Panzer Divisions. The Poles closed in on Imola, 15 miles from Bologna, and by April 14 that town was captured. At this point the Poles were confronted by their old enemy, the German 1st Parachute Division. The Polish attack was so successful that the German division disintegrated.

The Poles captured the 1st Parachute Division’s battle flag, and on the morning of April 21, the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division entered Bologna ahead of the American 34th Division. The German flag was eventually presented to General Anders as a trophy. The Polish victory was honored by a congratulatory letter from McCreery, who wrote, “You have shown a splendid fighting spirit, endurance and skill in this great battle. I send my warmest congratulations and admiration to all ranks.”

Another British politician, Foreign Secretary Harold Macmillan, publically renounced his prior view of the Polish II Corps. In an open letter he wrote, “I have underestimated the marvelous dignity and devotion of Anders and his comrades. They fought with distinction in the front of attack in the last battles of April. They had lost their country but they kept their honor.”

The liberation of Bologna ended 14 months of Polish II Corps operations during the Italian campaign. Today, 1,432 soldiers of the II Corps rest in the Polish War Cemetery in Bologna-San Lazzaro di Savena, the largest of four located in Italy.

In May 1945, the corps consisted of 55,780 men and approximately 1,500 women in auxiliary services. There was also one bear, named Wojtek. The majority of the forces were composed of former citizens of eastern Poland. During 1944-1945, the Polish II Corps fought with distinction in the Italian campaign, losing 11,379 men. Among them were 2,301 killed in action, 8,543 wounded, and 535 missing.

The Polish Army After the War

After the war, Polish divisions remained in Italy near Ancona, providing care for displaced Polish refugees. They continued to train because they expected a war between the Western powers and the Soviet Union. The total establishment of the Polish II Corps in mid-1946 was down to 103,000 personnel. In August 1946, two divisions were transported to Britain and demobilized. The 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division remained in Italy as part of the occupation forces. Because of the Soviet occupation of Poland, most of the Cassino veterans never returned to their homeland. Inexplicably, the Poles were not allowed to participate in the massive victory parade in London.

Ten members of Parliament signed a letter published in the Daily Telegram in June 1946, objecting to the treatment of the Poles. The letter read, “Polish dead lay in hundreds on Monte Cassino. The Poles fought at Tobruk, Falaise, and Arnhem. Polish pilots shot down 772 German planes. The Polish Forces who fought under British command have not been invited to the Victory March June 8. Ethiopians will be there, Mexicans will be there, the Fiji Medical Corps, the Labuan Police and the Seychelles Pioneer Corps will be there—and rightly too. But the Poles will not be there.

In 1947, the Carpathian division was moved to Britain and housed at Hodgemoor Camp, Chalfont St Giles, and Buckinghamshire. It maintained a presence there until 1962.

Although German authorities asserted that their troops had not occupied the Benedictine abbey of Monte Cassino, Allied commanders wanted it bombed. After the aerial bombardment that left the abbey in ruins, German paratroopers did occupy the rubble and put up stiff resistance against Allied troops.

Anders, a staunch anticommunist, remained in Britain. The Polish communist government stripped him of his Polish citizenship. He died in exile in 1970. His citizenship was reinstated posthumously in 1989, with the formation of a democratic government in Poland under Lech Walesa. Anders also received the title of Commander of the Legion of Honor from the new government. In accordance with his will, he was buried among his soldiers in the Polish military cemetery at Monte Cassino.

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Happy Warrior – Private Wojtek in the Polish Army

After Germany attacked the USSR during World War II, Joseph Stalin restored diplomatic relations with Poland at the request of the Allies. Under the terms of the May-Sikorsky Treaty, Polish soldiers were released from Soviet camps and were allowed to reunite under the command of General Władysław Albert Anders.

Subsequently, the former Polish II Corps, which received the unofficial name of “Anders Army,” left the Soviet Union to join the Allied forces.

In 1942, while in Iran, Polish soldiers met a boy who was carrying an orphaned bear cub. The soldiers offered to buy the cub in exchange for a can of food, chocolate, a pocketknife, and some money. After the purchase, they called the bear cub the Polish name “Wojtek,” which is short for “Wojciech” and means “smiling warrior.”

Polish Soldier in Iran with Wojtek bear.1942

The cub was so small that it could not eat independently or normally swallow food, so the soldiers fed it themselves from an improvised nipple. To stay warm, Wojtek slept on the chest of a soldier named Piotr (Peter), who taught him military greetings and played with him.

Wojtek with a fellow Polish soldier in 1943

As Wojtek grew, he was formally accepted into the 22nd Artillery Supply Company. He became a mascot for this company, with his own personal number and an official rank of private, and would later become a corporal of artillery. Over time, Wojtek learned to stand guard, and in his spare time he playfully scuffled around with the soldiers.

Archibald Brown, a courier for General Montgomery, recalled, “He adored fights with other soldiers and even fought with four opponents at the same time. He hid his claws and skated with them on the floor, braked them and pretended that he was going to bite. But he never offended anyone.”

The military bear also acquired some bad habits: he loved sweets, drinking beer, and eating cigarettes.

Troops of the Polish 22 Transport Artillery Company (Army Service Corps, 2nd Polish Corps) watch as one of their comrades play wrestles with Wojtek (Voytek) their mascot bear.

Soon the Anders Army was transferred from Iran to Palestine, then to North Africa, and then to Italy where they joined the allied forces taking part in the Italian campaign. Wojciech Narębski, who served with Wojtek in the 22nd Company, remembered, “It was strictly forbidden to transport animals, but Wojtek was already so famous and so popular that we had no problems with [his] transportation.”

After arriving in Italy in 1944, the Anders Army was sent to storm the line of German fortifications near Monte Cassino. However, the attack was impossible to carry out without first shelling the German line. Polish artillery actively shelled this area and were in dire need of constant cartloads of shells.

Troops of the Polish 22 Transport Artillery Company (Army Service Corps, 2nd Polish Corps) watch as one of their comrades play wrestles with Wojtek (Voytek) their mascot bear during their service in the Middle East.

Soldiers of the 22nd Company helped transport shells, which is how Wojtek became even more famous. According to one version, a tired soldier appealed to Wojtek to take a box of ammunition–upon which the bear stood on its hind legs, took the box, and carried it to the nearest gun. After that, Wojtek returned to the truck and continued to transport more boxes. According to another version, the initiative of help came from Wojtek himself.

Nevertheless, from that moment on he became one of the most effective porters of shells in his company. The image of Wojtek carrying a projectile became the emblem of the 22nd Company. The legend of the bear who carried shells while under fire soon became known to many of the troops involved in the Italian campaign.

The badge of the 22nd Artillery Support Company of the 2nd Polish Corps. The unit made a design of Wojtek (Voytek) the bear carrying a heavy artillery their emblem after his work in such a role during the campaigns in the Middle East and Italy.

After the Battle of Monte Cassino, the Yalta Conference was held, during which the leaders of the USSR, the United States, and Great Britain resolved questions on the establishment of the post-war world order. One of the most controversial topics was the “Polish Question.”

Jozef Mojden (Юзеф Можджень), a former Anders Army soldier, shared his memories of that time: “The government in exile again lost recognition, so five years in constant fear of being killed, risking their lives for free Poland, went to waste. It became clear that Poland was not free, our struggle was in vain.”

Wojtek (Voytek) the Syrian bear adopted by the 22 Artillery Support Company (Army Service Corps, 2nd Polish Corps) relaxing at Winfield Aerodrome on Sunwick Farm, near Hutton in Berwickshire, the unit’s temporary home after the war.

In 1945, units of the Anders Army could not return to Poland without fearing for their freedom. General Anders spent the rest of his life in exile, and in 1946, the Communist government deprived him of his Polish citizenship and military rank. Many Poles remained in the United Kingdom after the corps was disbanded.

After the war, Wojtek lived for a time with several of the former Anders Army soldiers in the village of Hatton near the town of Duns. He was eventually taken to the zoo in Edinburgh, where the fighting bear became popular with local residents. However, Wojtek’s caretakers and the zoo agreed that after Poland gained independence, Wojtek should be sent back to Poland.

A statue of Wojtek the Bear in Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh, Scotland.Photo Taras Young CC BY-SA 4.0

In 1963, at the age of 22, Wojtek died. Years of life in captivity affected his psychological health. The bear was no longer friendly, as his brothers-in-arms observed when they came to visit him.

Wojciech Narębski reflected, “The fate of Wojtek was very similar to the fate of many Polish soldiers. Many of our soldiers also lost all their relatives, they were orphans, so our bear was an orphan among orphans. Maybe that is why we got along so well?”

A sculpture of Wojtek the soldier bear, by artist David Harding, on display in the Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum, London.Photo Jake CC BY 2.0

Several memorial plaques were erected in honor of Wojtek–at the Edinburgh Zoo, the Imperial War Museum, and the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. A sculpture of the bear-soldier is in the Museum of Sikorski in London. In addition, Wojtek lives on in the book Wojtek – Bear Soldier, songs, and some documentary films including Wojtek: The Bear That Went to War.

Watch the video: SIK 215 - Gen Sikorskis visit to the Middle East (January 2023).

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