Many of the books dealing with WWII either deliberately, or through lack of proper research by the authors omit the involvement of Polish troops in the Italian Campaign and especially the battles for Monte Cassino, Ancona and Bologna. Monte Cassino is most commonly referred as an Allied victory. Some books give the credit to the French colonial troops.
Breakthrough the Gustav Line was indeed an Allied victory, capturing of the Monte Cassino Hill and the Abbey, Hills 593 and 569, San Angelo and Mas Albaneta was solely a Polish effort.
This site was created with the idea of setting the facts straight. All photographs come from the book "Monte Cassino" by M.Wankowicz or from personal collection of the site creator.
Monte Cassino monastery as it looked in mid May 1944.
The three major units of the Polish 2nd Corps were the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division (formed around Kopanski's SBSK veterans from the Tobruk fighting), 5th Kresowa Infantry Division and 2nd Independent Armoured Brigade.
Beginning in September 1943, the 2nd Corps was moved to Italy and took up positions on Sangro River Line. Its activities were limited to occasional patrols as the British 8th Army did not want Germans to know that reinforcements were being brought in for a spring offensive on Rome.
In May 1944 the 2nd Corps was in position to participate in the fourth battle for Monte Cassino. The Poles were given the difficult task of taking the monastery itself. The three previous attacks had been bloody failures; the monastery was situated high in the rocky hills and made an ideal defensive position for the crack troops of the German 1st Parachute Division.
In contrast to the previous attempts, this offensive was to be launched against the whole length of the Gustav Line and would combine the efforts of both the British 8th Army and American 5th Army.
In the early morning of 12 May 1944, following a two-and-half-hour bombardment, the Kresowa infantry attacked towards San Angelo and the Carpathian Rifles towards the infamous Hill 593.
The artillery proved less effective than hoped for, and Polish loses soon mounted. The Carpathian Rifles gained a tenuous grip on Hill 593, but in a few hours' fighting had already lost 20 percent of their strength. Gen. Anders called his bloodied units back to their start lines in the evening.
Although no ground had been gained Gen. Leese complimented the Poles, noting that without their sacrifices the British drive across the Rapido River into the valley below would not have succeeded. Polish 2nd Corps drew away reserves and artillery that would otherwise have been directed against British XIII Corps .
On 16 May, XIII Corps nearly had the monastery cut off, and on 17 May the second Polish attack begun. This time Poles were supported by the Sherman tanks from the Polish 2nd Armoured Brigade. By nightfall they had a weak grip on Hill 593 overlooking the Monastery. That night most of the surviving German paratroopers began to retreat to avoid being captured, and on 18 May the Poles brushed past their rearguards and the 12th Podolski Lancers Regiment raised the red and white national flag over the Monte Cassino monastery.
In the week's fighting the 2nd Corps had suffered appalling losses; there were 4,199 casualties, 25 percent (over 1,150 ) of these dead.
Following the Cassino Battle, the 2nd Corps took part in the drive up the Adriatic coast, capturing Ancona on 20 July1944 and Bologna in April 1945.
Text from the book by Steven Zaloga " The Polish Army 1939-45".
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