Polish and Italian officials have attended a commemoration ceremony at Monte Cassino, where Polish troops broke through the German defences on May 18, 1944, and opened the road to Rome for allied troops after four months of fruitless assaults on the Gustav line.
The Polish II Corps under General Władysław Anders played a key role in the fourth allied attempt at storming the Gustav line. The attack involved 20 allied divisions along a 20-mile long front but it was the Polish troops that were given the most difficult task, namely taking the Monte Cassino monastery, the main defensive position along the entire Gustav line. Despite suffering heavy losses due to being forced to advance up a mountain under heavy shelling and machine gun fire, the Polish troops ultimately took control of the monastery and hoisted the Polish flag above its ruins.
Among those taking part in the commemoration ceremony was the daughter of General Anders, Poland's Ambassador to Italy Anna Maria Anders.
The Polish Minister of Defence, Mariusz Błaszczak took to twitter to praise the bravery of the Polish soldiers, writing that the Battle of Monte Cassino serves as proof of the glory of Polish soldiers. He also wrote that it was thanks to their courage and bravery that the allied troops achieved an important military success.
In all, 923 Polish soldiers were killed in the fighting, with 2,931 wounded and 345 reported missing.
In 1945, a Polish war cemetery was opened at Monte Cassino, where 1,072 Polish soldiers were laid to rest. After passing away in the United Kingdom in 1970, General Władysław Anders was buried alongside his soldiers according to his own wish.
The Anders Army was formed in 1941 in the Soviet Union out of Polish POWs and civilians, deported by force deep into Siberia in Kazakhstan following the joint attack against Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union at the outset of the Second World War.
Following the German attack on the Soviet Union in 1941, and some mediation by the United Kingdom, Joseph Stalin allowed the Anders’ Army to be created. However, as it didn’t receive the promised equipment and food, in March 1942 it made its way through British-controlled Iran to Palestine under a British-Soviet-Polish understanding.
In Palestine, the Polish soldiers passed under British command before setting off for Italy where they liberated Monte Cassino, Ancona and Bologna. Most of the unit's soldiers did not dare to return to Soviet-occupied Poland after the war and instead settled primarily in the UK as well as other parts of the British Commonwealth.