On 30 July 1941, an agreement was signed between the Polish Government-in-Exile and Soviet Russia to free all Polish soldiers taken as POWs during the Soviet invasion in 1939; this was followed on 12 August 1941 with an “amnesty” to Polish citizens deported and imprisoned since the invasion, and an agreement for the formation of a Polish Army in Russia.
Hania Kaczanowska: The Ghostly Soldier of Buzuluk
Polish Forces in Russia December 1941
(click to enlarge)
The Soviets did not deliver the promised equipment. For example, the 5th Infantry Division had only four artillery guns instead of 49, only 10% of the promised trucks, 45% of the ambulances, etc.
Together, all divisions had only 200 rifles - well-illustrated by this photo with the caption "but for the Poles, the worst of all was the absence of weapons for they had to train with wooden rifles".
There was a mysterious lack of officers at the joining centres, later explained by the discovery of mass graves at Katyn in April 1943: nearly 26,000 Polish military and police officers murdered by the Soviet NKVD in Spring 1940. This effectively deprived Poland of its leaders.
At the time of the “Amnesty”, the Poles had permission to assemble a Polish army of 40,000 at Buzuluk in Russia. However, 400,000 Poles were freed – but only ex-soldiers could join up at this time so the Russians sent the free non-soldier (civilians) to Tashkent and Bukhara and the southern Aral Sea regions to work on the collective farms (Kolkhoz) while waiting.
Polish Army joining centres
23 March 1942
(click to enlarge)
On 4 August 1941, General Wladyslaw Anders was released from Lubianka prison, Moscow. He began the formation of the Polish Army in Buzuluk. This resulted in a massive gathering of Polish citizens to the centres where the Polish Army was being formed, namely Totskoye and Buzuluk. It is estimated that at one time there were approx. 1.7 million Poles in Soviet Russia, though by this time about one third had died.
These people came to the Polish army camps in rags, totally exhausted, some of them dying from disease and malnutrition within a few days of arrival. Their quarters were tents which, at freezing temperatures of -50C, augmented their misery.
Clothes and boots were lacking; only in December did the first great coats arrive from England.
An agreement was made that the army would be moved to Iran where it would be used to guard the oil fields. The British government agreed to also accept the families of the soldiers.
During two evacuations, one in March 1942 and the other in August 1942, roughly 115,000 Poles left Russia from Krasnovodsk to the port of Pahlevi in Persia, about half of them civilians and half soldiers. It should be noted that this was not even six percent of all of the Polish citizens in Russia.
In October 1941, some British uniforms arrived. It was decided that the Polish Army would be 96,000-strong and that it would be moved to southern USSR.
In February 1942, the army was moved further south, where climatic conditions were better, but contagious diseases were endemic. Anders' headquarters were now in Jangi-Jul near Tashkent, where most units were located. Other parts of the army were in Samarkand, Shakhrisabz (Uzbekistan), Margilan (Tajikistan), Frunze, Dzhalalabad (Kirgizia), Ashkhabad (Turkmenia), Alma-Ata, Chimkent, Logovoi and Merke (Kazakhstan).
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