Participation of the 2nd Polish Corps in the Italian Campaign 

The Polish army suffered huge losses but the last attack was successful and the monastery was taken on 18 May 1944, opening the road to Rome for the Allied forces. A patrol of the Polish 12th Podolian Cavalry Regiment finally made it to the heights and raised a Polish flag over the ruins at 10.20.  

Toward the end of that year, the whole division moved to Egypt to the city of Qassasin, to prepare for their departure to the Italian Front. 

On 17 February 1944, Jurek as the commander led the Heavy Attack Unit of the 18th GMC (probably General Motors Company vehicles) Battalion through Cairo and Mena to Alexandria.

The Italian Campaign 21 December 1943 - 21 April 1945

Excerpt from Jurek’s journal:
We spent the evenings in Taranto, where we went to the Officers’ Navy Club or to the theatre. Two weeks of final preparations for military combat passed quickly. We had already been prepared for every possibility and we were eager to get back at the Germans for 1939. We moved closer to the front-line and settled down in the beautiful mountain village of Cercepiccola, where our quartermasters with Captain Kryk at the head, had already settled. The headquarters had already been prepared, the army occupied public buildings such as schools, any available rooms, and we received beautifully furnished rooms with Mr and Mrs Lombardi. The company was in perfect shape and everything was well organised.

Evacuation to Persia

Jurek left the “Soviet Paradise” on 5 August 1942 by ship from Krasnovodsk across the Caspian Sea on one of the heavily over-loaded vessels and landed in Pahlevi (now Bandar-e Anzali, Iran).

Now they had to make a complete change to the British way of doing things. That meant a new organizational structure, new arms and new rules. Most of the soldiers were part of the estimated 1,7 million people that had been deported from the eastern borderlands of Poland (Kresy) into the USSR and were in very bad shape after several years of forced labour in forests, sawmills, mines, as well as building roads and railways, etc. Many thousands died of malnutrition, exhaustion, and diseases (typhoid was rampant), often on the doorstep to freedom, waiting to be transported to Persia. Only about 116,000 (soldiers and civilians) were evacuated during 1942 across the Caspian Sea with Anders Army.

Many countries had joined the Allied Forces: as well as British and Americans, there were French from North Africa, Indians, Gurkhas, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Canadians and Poles.

On 15 Feb 1944 the ancient Monastery was heavily bombed by the Allied Army, in a series of American air raids.

October 1942. Since their divisions were quite small, the 5th and 6th become the 5th Kresy Infantry Division (5 KDP) with two brigades, the 5th Wilno and 6th Lwów.

The Sappers formed the Sappers Command 5 KDP with three independent line companies and one stationary company.

The official name of the division was adopted on 7 March 1943.

A Polish bugler from  3DSK played the Hejnał Mariacki, announcing the victory 

​​​​The Polish flag was hoisted first on the ruins of the monastery

Sappers (engineers) lived dangerously: they blew up bridges or built bridges - as necessary, disarmed mines and blew up German bunkers, etc.  The following eye-witness description was written by another Polish soldier:

“A sapper's job was very often very dangerous; one could say suicidal. At Monte Cassino they played a vital role by cleaning the road for the tanks. They did it at night, under fire, crawling under tanks that were slowly advancing. They worked with complete disregard for their safety. That was an act of heroism of the highest degree. Many, many of them were killed. But they did their job; our tanks got through and once they got on Mass Albaneta they started to destroy German bunkers one by one. Later on, when we were on the Adriatic Coast, Germans mined every place that would be suitable to cross a river (every bridge was either mined or destroyed). Again, sappers had the job of clearing the mines. And it was not easy. Germans tried every trick in the book; they put one mine on top of another, so that when a sapper pulled one the other detonated, they used wooden and plastic boxes so that a mine detector could not find it and so on. Again, they were many times under fire. It takes nerves of steel to carefully disarm a mine under such conditions. I take my hat off to sappers - they did their job!”
Romuald Lipinski, The 12 Podolski Lancers.

Excerpt from Jurek’s journal:
During the course, Sundays and holidays were meant for sightseeing, so we went to Suez, Port Said, Cairo and Alexandria.

Excerpt from Jurek’s journal:
Our next camp was in the desert and we began preparations to receive the entire Division. I became transport manager and drove all day with a Hindu unit to get materials such as bricks, wood, coconut mats, and other things. It was as hot as hell, reaching 70-75°C, and the hot wind from the continent made it hard to breathe. Training was only until 10 am, and later on there was a tropical break until 4 pm. So we sat naked in our tents, poured water over ourselves and sweated. Malaria began to spread, knocking out whole sections. We saved ourselves with quinine, and most of all, with whisky and gin in the evenings. 

After two months of preparations, Operation Diadem was ready to start. The Germans had had many months, even years,  to build their lines of defence and to reinforce existing defences along the Gustav line. The German divisions were not many but they were experienced battle veterans, extremely well-entrenched in strong well-concealed bunkers above their enemies on the steep mountain slopes. The Polish troops were up against the 1st German Parachute Division with two battalions trained in mountain warfare.

5KDP was tasked with capturing Hills 575, 505, 452 and 447, as well as Colle Sant’ Angelo.

Excerpt from Jurek’s journal:
On 28th April I was given a specific task. We were supposed to go with the 15th Infantry Battalion as an assault platoon to Monte Cassino and the neighbouring hills such as 575, San Angelo, Passo Corno and the Monte Cassino monastery itself. The preparations were very thorough and everybody knew that our task was very difficult. The monastery had already been defended for six months and the three attacks by the Americans, the English, the Hindi and the French had cost thousands of lives. Therefore, everything had to be done with the greatest secrecy and under strict supervision. We studied aerial photographs, discussed everything at a sand table, we conducted reconnaissance. I wasn’t given any dates, and all orders were based on the ‘D’ day and the ‘H’ hour.

We were aware that the task was very difficult and that we were going to suffer great losses, but we were in good spirits, as General Sulik said: ‘we are not fighting for Monte Cassino, but for Poland’.

The infantry went to the starting point and hid in the gorges by the sappers’ road, the so-called ‘Cavendish Road’. It was cut into the rock on the side of the mountain by New Zealanders and our sappers, and was masked with nets from the top and was completely undetected by the Germans. That was totally unforeseen and a beautiful surprise for the Germans. They didn’t expect an attack by armoured vehicles from that direction, and they were to encounter the entire brigade of M4 Sherman tanks there. At last, we received a detailed plan of the attack; everything was on time. The fourth battle for the Liri valley began during the night of 11 May 1944.

In November 1942, Jurek was sent to the British Sappers Centre in Ismailia, Egypt for a five-month engineering course. They trained with British and American equipment, learned how to build pontoon and truss bridges, about detonators used by the British sappers and their work systems. 

Port Said. Jurek on right

During the Italian Campaign Jurek was
Commander of the 3rd Platoon of Sappers and Reconnaissance,

and Commander of the Assault Platoon,
     of the 5th Sappers Company, 

     Sappers HQ, 

     5th Kresy Infantry Division (5KDP),
     2nd Polish Corps.

click on images to enlarge

On 26 February 1944 the Sappers left Egypt and landed in Taranto, Italy on 5 March 1944. Jurek was then transferred back to his home 5th Company, whose commander was Capt. Władysław Kryk, and took up command of Platoon 3 to the end of the war. 

various Bailey bridges built later in Italy

The Polish Army, now part of the British Eighth Army, travelled to Tehran, Irak, Egypt and Lebanon for intensive training although it took time for the emaciated soldiers to recuperate. 

Jurek's division journeyed through Tehran and Hamadan to Iraq, to the city of Khanaqin. 

Both Polish and British flags hoisted

Excerpt from Jurek’s journal:

… the entire company went ahead using only one path, which was simply covered with corpses and the wounded. But the living moved on stubbornly and with revenge in their eyes. That is how we arrived at the foot of Phantom Ridge at 4 a.m.

When dawn broke, I saw the first German bunkers which opened fire at our infantry. I found out that a good friend was wounded in the chest and at that moment I just flew into a fighting rage, out of anger and grief. So I pulled out a Thomson from under an arm of the first corpse (a live one wouldn’t have given it away for love or money) and I rushed forward. The first bunkers had already been taken, but what remained was the Ridge, where there were lots of them.

The Germans began to escape, so I shot them like fleeing ducks and strangely enough I was able to calm down completely and aim, like I was at a shooting range. We began to liquidate the bunkers. I selected two infantrymen and a sapper and rushed from bunker to bunker. I pulled the frightened Jerrys out by their ears, who seeing the eagles and the ‘Poland’ badges shook with fear. They knew very well what we felt towards them and what they were guilty of. So I approached another bunker in the row, shouted ‘hande hoch’ and took the Germans out into the fresh air. Five of them came out, but the last one was holding a triggered hand-grenade and wanted to throw it in our direction. My reaction was faster however and a short burst of fire from the Thomson left that grenade in his hand for ever.

..... I had one more task to do, to eliminate the right bunker, which was firing along Phantom Ridge injuring our soldiers, who were trying to cross the Ridge. But that wasn’t easy. According to the testimony of prisoners, an officer crew was defending it. ….. But my observation finished quickly. I got shot in the back and fell to the ground, but without losing consciousness. I started bleeding heavily and strangely enough my head became heavy, but I was able to think clearly and I asked them to send me a field medic. I was aware that I was wounded but at the same time I regretted not being able to destroy those officers. My second golden thought was that ‘it was good that I got shot in the centre of my body, and for sure, if I recovered, I wouldn’t become a cripple for the rest of my life’. Finally, the field medic arrived, made me a strong dressing and gave a morphine injection. I felt better at that point and even decided to smoke a cigarette. …..

... I dragged myself from Phantom Ridge and joined my wounded comrade, he was very disturbed by my appearance, as I was all covered in blood and with a dressing on my neck and chest where I was also hit by small pieces of shrapnel. They packed both of us up onto stretchers and we set off towards the road. But the artillery continued to attack, so only Divine Providence could save us. Then half-way along the road, we were hit by an artillery and mortar assault fire. I ordered the stretchers put down and hid behind the scarp. I was lying down and waiting to get shot. I felt quite weak and dizzy. Suddenly a shell fell down a couple of metres away from me, I got completely deafened, covered with soil, but untouched.....

..... Finally, we arrived at the gorge, but there again the mortars were falling and it was difficult to pass. I couldn’t jeopardize the boys so I decided to walk there on my own feet. So I stood up and walked down blindly. There were only 300 m to the first-aid station, but I felt that I wasn’t going to make it. So I pulled myself together and was determined to get there. I was only 50 metres away when I passed out, but I was already taken care of by the field medics and regained consciousness quite fast. After an hour I was taken to the Main First Aid Station in the Inferno Gorge. I got onto the operating table immediately, where they took the shrapnel out quite easily and then I was sent further on to the Casualty Clearing Station nr 5 in Venafro. On the second day, I received some more morphine, so it wasn’t too bad, but the next three days I howled with pain and it was very difficult for me to breathe. No wonder as I got wounded in my left lung. After eight days I went on to the 2nd field hospital in Campobasso. After three days I was put onto a hospital train and travelled to the 1st Military Hospital in Casamassima. 

​Jurek was wounded at Monte Cassino (Phantom Ridge/Widmo) during the first attack, the night of 11-12 May 1944. The Citation for the British Military Cross summarises Jurek’s heroic actions during the battle.

dug-outs on the steep mountain slopes of Monte Cassino

In June of 1943 Jurek completed the course for Commander of Assault Division at the Infantry Training Centre in Khanaqin.  

Jurek was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant on 1 July 1943 – he received his stars and was happy to be ‘someone’ at last. He was transferred to the 6th Sapper Company. At that time, the main division moved to Mosul-Kirkuk to protect the oil fields of Iraq. Meanwhile, the sappers trained for battle in the mountains of Lebanon near Tripoli, a special application course run by the English. They learned things that were completely new to them, such as Bailey bridges, ropeways and sappers’ work in the mountains.

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Kresy Family group

There were four main battles at Monte Cassino: in January, February, March and May 1944.

The 2nd Polish Corps under the command of General Władysław Anders, carried out the fourth and last attack, from the north on the German positions at Monte Cassino. 

The allies were fighting their way up from southern Italy towards Rome. The 1,400-year-old Benedictine Monastery of Monte Cassino stood at the strongest point of a powerful German defensive line, the Gustav Line, which was drawn along rivers backed by steep mountains and ravines - icy in winter and unbearably hot in summer.

various pontoon bridges (built later)


click on images to enlarge

back to page 1

The official name of the division was adopted on 7 March 1943.
On 2 June 1943 at a large inspection by General Sikorski, he agreed that the 5KDP (5th Kresowa Infantry Division) could adopt the bison as its emblem. The symbol was chosen as a result of a competition announced in a divisional order on 14 September 1942.

The Monastery was rebuilt after the war and re-consecrated by Pope Paul VI in 1964

Link to Jurek’s detailed description of his participation in the Battle of Monte Casino – for military enthusiasts

Links to other descriptions of the Battle of Monte Cassino:  Polish military cemeteries in Italy 
The famous song Czerwone Maki na Monte Casssino Red Poppies on Monte Cassino

Romuald Lipinski's memoir

Hania's poem

                                                                                                                                                   To be continued on page 3

Cairo. Jurek kneeling 1st left

The 2nd Polish Corps paid dearly for its victory

860 soldiers were killed

2,822 people were injured 

In addition, 97 soldiers were missing

1,072 Poles are buried in the Polish Cemetery

Sappers at work - with mine detectors

 Training in Habbaniya  on the Eufrates River

They also had to get used to working with mules which were essential for transporting supplies on steep mountain slopes.

Excerpt from Jurek’s journal:
Our only nightmare were the mules, but we couldn’t do without them in the mountains. They were very useful animals but so stupid and stubborn that they very often led us to despair.