7. Monte Cassino May 1944

2nd Polish Corps infantrymen in the Battle of Monte Cassino. An assault on Pizzo. 2nd Polish Corps infantrymen in the Battle of Monte Cassino. An assault on Pizzo. Pictures come from the National Digital Archives, Polska
Gen. Anders explained that he had accepted this exceptionally hard task because the seizure of Monte Cassino was important in terms of propaganda, and stated that it "[was] equally known as and would come down in history just like the defence of Stalingrad and Tobruk." Apart from that, he claimed that "it [would] be the first instance, after the 1939 defeat, of the Polish soldiers winning against the best soldiers of the German Army," and that "the seizure of the monastery and fortress of Monte Cassino by the Polish soldiers [would] give the lie to the Soviet continuous propaganda that the Polish Army does not want to fight against Hitler. That [would] be then the most effective political argument for the Polish government in London."
On 1 December 1943, before the 2nd Polish Corps units, Italy had been reached by a Polish commando unit under Capt. Władysław Smrokowski. The commando unit, as No. 6 Troop (and also known as the 1st Independent Commando Company) was part of the international battalion called No. 10 Inter-Allied Commando. From mid-December 1943 to early February 1944, it took part in the battle that was going on by the Garigliano River. On 4 April, the commandos were made part of the 2nd Polish Corps.
Starting with 2 February 1944, units of the 3rd Carpathian Infantry Division started taking up their defence positions on the Sangro River, while engaging in combat against the German Army. At the turn of March and April it was joined, in the front line, by the 5th Kresowa Infantry Division. By April 1944, also the Italian First Motorised Group (Italian: Primo Raggruppamento Motorizzato), which was as big as a brigade, had also been subordinated to the Division. Italian soldiers accompanied the 2nd Polish Corps at a later time, too. From mid-June to the end of August 1944, General Anders had under his command the Italian Liberation Corps (Italian: Corpo Italiano di Liberazione, CIL) which numbered about 18,000 soldiers. Later, also the "Maiella" Brigade and the "Friuli" Combat Group cooperated with the Corps.
On 24 March, General Władysław Anders was assigned a task to storm the Monastery of Monte Cassino, which was the key position of the German 'Gustav' Line which blocked the Allies from entering Rome and from reaching the troops of the American 6th Corps outflanked at a bridgehead near Anzio. Prior to that, in three hard battles, both American, New Zealand, Indian and British armies had already been defeated.

From 24 to 27 April, the 2nd Polish Corps settled into offensive positions in the front line in the area of the battle to come. The attack on the German positions was started with an artillery offensive on 11 May at 11:00 p.m. The infantry started their assault on 12 May at 1:00 a.m. At first, the first line of attack had two brigades – the 1st Carpathian Infantry Brigade of the 3rd Carpathian Infantry Division and the 5th Wilno Infantry Brigade of the 5th Kresowa Infantry Division.
The Carpathian foot soldiers launched their attack through "Gardziel" (English: "Ravine") – a narrow passage between two hills – to Hill 593 and Masseria Albaneta, after the conquest of which they were to attack the ruins of the monastery. They only managed to take Hill 593. After fighting off numerous German counterattacks and facing great losses and no ammunition, the soldiers were forced to leave the sites they had seized.
On the other hand, the 5th Infantry Division was attacking the Colle San Angelo, Hill "Widmo" (English: "Spectre") and Hill 575, with the intention of covering the attack of the next unit on the monastery. The only thing that they were capable of doing, and at a great cost, was seizing Hill "Spectre," which they had to leave, though, the following night.
After the failure of the first storm on German positions, the 2nd Corps was on the defensive and preparing for another attack which started in the evening of 16 May. This time, most of the fighting took place in the offense zone of the 5th Kresowa Infantry Division. On 17 May, the 5th Wilno Infantry Brigade, which made part of the Division, fought some really hard battles of "Spectre" and Colle San Angelo, in which, for example, the Brigade commander Col. Wincenty Kurek was killed. By evening, the "Spectre" was taken for good, and the Polish troops approached Colle San Angelo.
At the same time, the 3rd Carpathian Infantry Division, using the 2nd Brigade's soldiers, fought for Albaneta and Hill 593. Although the German defence lines were seriously damaged, the enemy did not manage to break through them. However, already lacking forces that could support the defence of the Cassino area, as well as in the face of both British and French armies advancing to the south of the site, the Germans decided to leave the occupied positions.
In the morning of 18 May, a patrol of the 12th Podolski Uhlan Regiment seized the already undefended ruins of the monastery at Monte Cassino where a white-red flag was posted. By 19 May, the other two units of the 2nd Polish Corps seized all their attack targets, completely breaking through the Gustav Line in the area under attack, which, apart from a military advantage, carried a big propaganda undertone. In the battle of Monte Cassino, the Polish soldiers showed huge commitment, determination, heroism and fortitude, fighting fiercely in extremely harsh conditions against Wehrmacht's best units, among which were, for example, the 1st Parachute Division and 5th Mountain Division.
After the battles in the Gustav Line were over, the 2nd Polish Corps took part in breaking through the so-called "Senger Line," called the "Hitler Line" by the Allies, which blocked the way to Rome. On 19 May, due to exhaustion of both infantry divisions by the Battle of Monte Cassino, General Anders sent to the battlefield the so-called "Grupa Bob" (English: "Bob Group"), which was an improvised brigade group commanded by Col. Władysław Bobiński. On 20–24 May 1944, it fought a fierce battle of the commune of Piedimonte San Germano, which ended by removing the enemy from its territory.

In mid-June 1944, the 2nd Polish Corps was deployed to the Adriatic coast. On 17 June, a group separated from the 3rd Carpathian Infantry Divisions went in pursuit of the foe that was retreating along the coastal road No. 16. On 21–23 June, hard battles were fought by the Cienti River where Germans managed, for a while, to halt the advance of the Polish troops.

Pictures come from the National Digital Archives, Polska logo-nac