Percorso:ANSA > Nuova Europa > News > Poland celebrates Anders and "Red Poppies" of Monte Cassino

Poland celebrates Anders and "Red Poppies" of Monte Cassino

Honours to Polish II Corps, 70 years after the bloody battle

13 May, 12:51
(by Adam Hanzelewicz) (ANSA) - WARSAW - The Battle for Monte Cassino, which is a symbol of World War 2, was one of the bloodiest battles and engaged allied troops for several months, in a vain attempt to undermine the Gustav line. In May 1944, the Polish II Corps, led by General Wladyslaw Anders, conquered the Nazi stronghold, paving the way to Rome. A prominent victory in the history of Poland, that is similar to the one occurred in Grunwald (Tannenberg) in 1410 against the Teutonic Knights and to another one occurred in Vienna in 1683, when King Jan Sobieski saved Christendom from the Turkish threat.

To this important tribute paid ''to our freedom and yours'' - as the inscription on the memorial cemetery says - where 1,052 Polish soldiers rest in peace, 924 of them killed in the battle for the abbey ruins, are dedicated the lyrics of a popular Polish song, ''czerwone maki na Monte Cassino''(''red poppies on Monte Cassino'') , a symbol of the sacrifice which redeemed the defeat suffered by the Polish army in a few weeks, after the Nazi invasion in September 1939.

The Battle of Monte Cassino - it's better to say Cassino - begins in January 1944, but the Germans manage to repel the Allies on three occasions (January 17 to 25, February 15 to 18, March 15-25) in a few months the French, New Zealander, British, American and Indian (the Nepalese Ghurka) colonial units, lost more than 54,000 men without being able to conquer neither a single hill overseen by the Nazis, nor the city located downstream. The bombing and the destruction of the monastery, on February 15, ordered by General Freyberg (New Zealand), will prove in the end a tactical mistake, that will cost a lot in terms of human lives during the subsequent assaults.

After the failure of another attack in March, General Leese, commander of the 8th British Army asked the Poles to capture Monte Cassino in order to sweep away the German 1st Parachute Division and the 5th Alpine, while the British would cross the river Liri and would join the Poles on their way to Rome; in the meantime, the 5th American army and the French colonial departments would make their way to the capital. The favorable outcome of the offensive would depend on the capture of Cassino.

The Polish II Corps had initially 43,000 men and was made up of 2 infantry divisions (3rd Carpathian Riflemen and 5th Kresowa) and of 2nd Armoured Brigade. The first attack, on the night of 11 and 12 May 1944, was a massacre: no ground was gained, but the Germans recorded heavy losses, and the Polish sacrifice was necessary to reach the British goal on the river Liri.

On May 13, the 'goumiers' - French colonial units responsible for thousands of rapes and looting - captured Monte Maio, splitting the Gustav Line in two. The Germans, who were not expecting attacks from that area, had left a small garrison and therefore did not succeed in 'absorbing the shock' of the Moroccan assault. After reorganizing their army, the Poles launched their final attack on May 17, completing the encirclement after contacting the 78th Infantry Division (UK): the next day, a detachment of 12th Regiment of Lancers of Podolia reached the ruins of the monastery and lifted the Polish flag after the retreat of German forces.

According to Polish historical sources, in the battle for Monte Cassino the Polish II Corps recorded 924 dead, 2,930 injured and 345 missing: in the military cemetery rests in peace General Anders, who died in exile in London in 1970. During the 70th anniversary of the victory, two events have been planned in order to celebrate: the opening of a Memorial Hall for Polish II Corps near the Polish military cemetery and the inauguration of the bust of Anders, donated to Cassino municipality by the association of Polish war veterans who reside in the US.(ANSA).

© Copyright ANSA - All rights reserved