What Was The Polish Army Fighting For?

After the Battle of Monte Cassino there were other Allied battles to drive the German Army north and out of Italy.  In July 1944 the Polish Second Corps was again victorious against the Germans by capturing the Port of Ancona along the Adriatic Sea. President Franklin Roosevelt wrote a citation directed at General Wladyslaw Anders for “exceptional meritorious conduct, performing outstanding services to the United States and the Allied Nations” in the Italian Campaign.

My mother with wounded and recovering soldiers in Italy.

My mother with wounded and recovering soldiers in Italy.

While the Polish Army was engaging in battle, the Western Allies were making devastating decisions for Poland’s future without consulting their Polish ally. Information was coming to light that back in November 1943, Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin met secretly in Tehran to decide how to handle the ‘Polish problem’. In essence decisions were made to give Stalin the right to keep the land he annexed as a result of the Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement between Germany and Russia in 1939. So Russia was given the rights to her spoils for invading Poland and now while fighting on the same side, there was no protection from the United States or Britain, only concessions.  In exchange for this Poland was to receive the promise of true independence for part of the country and receive new lands in the north and west at Germany’s expense.  Here was Poland, the country that suffered the worst occupation in history, by war’s end losing roughly six million citizens to mass murder and deportation at the hands of both Germany and Soviet Russia, deserving of full independence but not deserving to sacrifice half of its land, especially to Russia, one of the original invaders.

As a result of this agreement among the three powers, my parent’s homes would no longer be in Poland.

Tatus 1944

My dad on the right just before the Battle of Monte Cassino in 1944.

When the Polish government pressed for assurances for this true independence, they received vague replies from Washington and London.  The meeting in Tehran was to be the first of three nails in Poland’s coffin for independence and land protection.

Another act of Soviet betrayal came in August/September 1944. Since the war began, the Polish underground grew to 380,000 strong, and became very effective in fighting the Nazi’s. By 1944 it was the biggest and strongest underground of any European country.  Their main effort was to carry out continuous resistance against the German occupation, receiving their orders from the High Command in London. By mid 1944 the Russian Army was pushing the Germans from the east into occupied Poland. While the Germans were suffering heavy losses in Italy and the invasion took place in France, the question of an organized uprising in Poland was under consideration.  An uprising in Warsaw against the Germans would help the Russians advance into Poland and Warsaw.  The only way it would work was if the Polish underground in Warsaw received help from the Soviet Union.

Many in command like General Anders knew that Russia’s intentions were self-serving. The Polish Cabinet nevertheless authorized the uprising in Warsaw by the Home Army made up of 40,000 soldiers and women on active service.  After the first day of battle the Polish underground was able to seize most of the capital city.  However after a few weeks, the tide turned.  The underground command pleaded for help from the Allies, and the Red Army who was sitting outside the city.  The Home Army commander sent a scathing telegram to the Polish Government in London stating the lack of defenses against the German Army, pleading for help from the Allies.  He said, “I state that Warsaw in her struggle receives no assistance from the Allies, just as Poland received none in 1939.  The balance-sheet of our alliance with Great Britain so far show only our assistance in 1940 in the defense of the British Isles, in the Norwegian campaign, in Africa, Italy and on the western front.  We demand that you clearly state this fact to the British…”

There were other combat units fighting for Poland in addition to the Second Corps. From 1940 to 1944 Polish airmen, infantry and sailors who escaped to France and Britain following the September Campaign, fought in all the Allied campaigns. Under the British command several sorties flown by Polish airmen attempted to deliver arms and ammunition to Warsaw but many were shot down.  The American Air Force prepared to drop equipment into Warsaw and proposed that these aircraft land on American bases in Soviet Russia, but Stalin refused to grant permission. As usual, Poland received little to no support.

Meanwhile in Italy, the Polish Second Corps was still engaged in battles along the Adriatic coast. After Ancona, the 5th (Kresy) Division, my dad’s division, was involved in the Battle of Metauro, which was the heaviest in the Adriatic sector.

Metals earned by both my mother and father during the Italian Campaign.

Metals and patches from the Italian Campaign – for both my dad and my mother, including her dog tags.

Toward the end on August 1944, General Anders had a sit down conversation with Winston Churchill. Mr. Churchill was of course very flattering to the General about Polish accomplishments, and was concerned about the moral of the Polish Soldiers.  General Anders said that each soldier was first and foremost obligated in the task of  destroying the Germans, but at the same time they were concerned about the future destiny of Poland and the events in Warsaw.  After some political posturing, Churchill pleaded that the General should “trust Great Britain, who will never abandon you – never.”  General Anders said that Poland will never consent to the Russians taking as much territory as they wish. They will never consent to a faits accomplis and that all discussions about future boundaries should be done at the peace table, after the war.

From August 1 to October 5, 1944, the Polish underground resistance organization fought valiantly but surrendered to the Germans.  Those who survived were treated as prisoners of war and sent to German prison camps.  The Germans destroyed the city to accomplish Polish surrender, and all along the Red Army, sitting outside of Warsaw, intended to come into the city after surrender so they would be the liberators!

My reflection on these events, after reading General Anders book, An Army in Exile, is one of great sadness. Soldiers fight for country, for freedom, but for the Polish soldier, his country was being used as a bargaining chip.  This had to be demoralizing, but the glimmer of hope that their country would emerge free after the war, and their lands not taken, was still a possibility.  There was no fait accomplis, not yet.

 

 

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