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Kresy Family group
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19 February 1944. That night we arrived at the 158th Transit Camp in Amirya near Alexandria, where we waited for our turn, until 25 February. After embarking onto a ship, we left Alexandria at 1 p.m. making our way to Taranto in southern Italy. We crossed the Mediterranean in convoy, under a strong escort of destroyers, without any major problems and on 5 March we disembarked in Taranto. Our battalion set up camp 12 km away in an olive grove in the village of Santa Teresa. I was very happy to find out that the Major had already ‘sold’ me back to the 5th company, where Captain Władysław Kryk was in command, and his deputy Captain Miecio Stafiej. I took over the 3rd platoon and began to organise things. 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 to cope with everything possible and we were determined to get back at the Germans for 1939.
Pozzili and hill Monte Croce
The first bunkers had already been taken, but what remained was the Ridge, where there were still many. The Germans began to escape, so I shot the fleeing men like ducks and strangely enough, I was able to calm down completely and aim, like I was at a shooting range. We began to liquidate each bunker. I selected two infantrymen and sapper Wypych and rushed from bunker to bunker. I pulled the terrified Jerrys’ out by their ears, who seeing the eagles (on our helmets) and the ‘Poland’ badges on our uniforms, shook with fear. 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 had 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. But it seemed to me that the burst was too short, so I repeated it expending it onto the remaining four of them. It could not be helped, it happened, I am ashamed to admit that I shot at the prisoners of war, but it was just a moment and I came to my senses too late.
On 9 May the order to attack came. The ‘D’ day was on 11 May, the hour was not yet specified. The infantry went to the starting point and hid in the gorges by the Sappers’ Road’, so-called ‘Cavendish Road’ (north of Cassino). It was cut into the rock on the side of the mountain by the Indians with New Zealand's help earlier. The Polish sappers improved it for their own use, masking with nets from the top so that it was completely undetected by the Germans.
"stół plastyczny" - 3D map of terrain
Sappers with mine-detectors
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Red point is Cercepicolla
Cerasuolo and Menella
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We moved closer to the front-line and settled down in the beautiful mountain village of Cercepicollo, 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, free rooms, etc and we received beautifully furnished rooms with Mr and Mrs Lombardi. The Company was completely prepared and everything was going smoothly.
After four days we set off to the actual front-line to the city of Pozzilli, where a sector of the road to the front was given to our care. Kazio Smolikowski with the 1st platoon had the stretch of road between Menella and Cerasuolo, which was being bombarded, so they only worked by night. I went as commander of the 3rd platoon to the defence line, to be at the disposal of Lieutenant Colonel Stoczkowski’s 15th Infantry Battalion. We built machine-gun nests, bunkers and shelters for the local people. We sat in the valleys which could be clearly observed from the hills of San Pietro and Monte Croce, and so we also worked only at night, and during the day we sat as quiet as mice in the gorges and rifts.
The job was quite hard; we had to carry everything on our backs up the mountains and at night. We often laid minefields in front of forward positions, which stirred in us lots of emotions, however, we always got out without any losses. But soon there were the first casualties. Corporal Grądzki stepped on an old German mine (or maybe even our own) and with holes in his lungs went off to hospital. Officer Cadet Stasiłowicz and two Pioneers got wounded after a shelter collapsed, Officer Cadet Zygmunt Głuziacki sprained his leg, so they all also ended up in hospital.
However, after eight days we were withdrawn from our sector and we set up camp in the town of Prata. Our place was taken over by the Canadians and French.
Now we began to get ready for a new serious attack on Monte Cassino Abbey. Every day we trained attacks in the mountain area, disarming minefields, storming redoubts, etc. Our company was divided into four groups: Captain Kryk + the 2nd and the 3rd platoon went to the Inferno Gorge for front-line works; Lieutenant Bolesław Dyki with a repair unit and heavy transport camped by Prata in the direction of the Front; Sub-Lieutenant Kazio Smolikowski on the same line with the 1st platoon to be at Major S. Maculewicz's disposal; I with 16 sappers went to the 6th company, where an assault platoon was being organized under my command.
On 28 April I was called in to Lieutenant Colonel Stochowski and was given a specific task. We were supposed to work with the 15th Infantry Battalion as an assault platoon on Monte Cassino and the neighbouring hills such as 575, San Angelo, Passo Corno and the Monte Cassino Abbey itself. The preparations were very thorough and everybody knew that our task was going to be very difficult. The Abbey had already been defended for six months and the three attacks of the Americans, the English, the Hindi and the French had cost thousands of lives. Everything was done in secret and under rigorous control. We studied aerial photographs, discussed everything at a 3D map of the terrain and conducted reconnaissance.
I was not given any dates, and all orders were based on the ‘D’ day and the ‘H’ hour. On 8th May I went to our sector together with Bronek Szykier, who was supposed to lead the tanks to the Mass Albaneta. At night I went to the forward front position of the 14th Infantry Battalion and sat there the whole following day too, comparing the map to the terrain. There was some shooting there, but I managed to survive unharmed, though I am not sure if I become any wiser than before. The sector was difficult to inspect, thick and hard bushes made it difficult to see anything. I received a specific plan for the battalion’s attack. They were supposed to walk on four paths, and we sappers were to walk in front to remove any mines and to clear the way to the enemy’s line. Then the infantry would attack the German bunkers. So we trained those patrols, improved our equipment and tackle, and we were ready.
The 2nd Corps’ sector was 2 km long, where the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division and the 5th Kresy Infantry Division and the Tank Brigade were advancing. There was support from 25 artillery divisions (including 5 heavy English 220 mm) so there were over 400 artillery guns + around 400 mortars 3” and 4,2”. This was heavy artillery, but the Germans claimed that the Abbey was impossible to capture, which they proved in the first three attacks, that had cost the Allies around 8 000 lives.
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’. Everything was ready and we were waiting for the ‘D’ day and the ‘H’ hour to come. The attack went along the entire Italian front-line. The Americans came from the east, then the English, the Hindi and the French from the west, we were at Monte Cassino, and the New Zealand Corps was on our right flank.
That was an important moment and a beautiful surprise for the Germans. They did not expect an attack by armoured vehicles from that direction, and they were going to encounter an entire brigade of Sherman tanks there.
At last we received a detailed plan of the attack; everything was strictly timed:
At 11 p.m. on 11 May: an hour-long barrage of artillery and mortars with the aim of attacking close to the back of the enemy lines.
At midnight: the infantry attack, the artillery fire onto Passo Corno, Piedimonte and Monte Cairo, the tanks enter and head through the valley to the gorge of the Mass Albaneta.
The first target of the infantry’s attack, Phantom Ridge was supposed to be reached by the front battalion (15th) at 2 a.m., then a consolidation and the second group was to go to 575 and San Angelo hills (the 16th and the 18th Rifle Battalions).
My task was to lead the infantry to Phantom Ridge and then to retreat.
The plan was clear and it seemed beautifully thought-out and planned, so we went forward confidently, completely trusting our commanders.
But it turned out to be very different in practice:
At 11 p.m. the artillery barrage began at all targets: Phantom Ridge, Mass Albaneta, 575, 593, Snake's Head Ridge, Balcony, Monte Cairo, Passo Corno, San Agnello and the Abbey itself. My platoon and I had already been at the end of the Cavendish Road, where our sappers’ equipment, such as Bangalore torpedoes and beehive charges to blow bunkers up, was stored. Every sapper also had pruning shears, wire cutters, explosive fuse coils for blowing up antipersonnel minefields and other armaments like Thompson sub-machine guns.
So we waited for the Wilki (the Wolves), the 15th Infantry Battalion. The front companies had two path patrols assigned for each, consisting of 3 sappers + 6 infantrymen. They were led by infantry officers in the directions indicated by the reconnaissance. The commanders were: Second Lieutenant Wilhelm Sommer (killed), Second Lieutenant Stanisław Mutermilch (killed), Second Lieutenant Łasota (wounded in the leg) and Second Lieutenant Bartoszak (wounded in the arm). I received an order to stay close to Major Gnatowski, the commander of the left flank.
At 11.45 we set off to the assault position of the 14th Rifle Battalion. But already in the gorge between the Doctor’s House (a forward medical aid station), and the 14th Rifle Battalion positions we were hit by an artillery and mortar barrage, which immediately disorganised the whole attack. I lost one patrol at once, where Second Lieutenant Muttermilch, Officer Cadet Jurek Patkowski and sapper Michał Budrewicz were killed and three infantrymen got wounded. The entire chain of communication was broken, everyone started to fight on their own, it was impossible to command. I was stunned by the situation, I did not know what to do at first, but I calmed down quickly and got incredibly angry with the Jerrys, I left the Major and rushed ahead. I managed to catch my reserve patrol Corporal Jan Marciuk + 4 people and rushed ahead, to find out what happened to my second patrol. I caught up with it quickly; it was safe and sound and working well. It was led by second lieutenant Sommer towards the ‘house’ on Phantom Ridge. I let him go ahead, and was trying to organise the second patrol myself, but it was impossible to do so due to the lack of equipment and bearing, because the commander was killed. So Major Gnatowski resigned from using the second path and the entire company went rushing ahead using only one path, which was simply covered with corpses and the wounded. But the living walked stubbornly forward with revenge in their eyes. That is how we arrived at the foot of the Phantom Ridge at 4 a.m.
At that moment, the infantry assault platoon led by second lieutenant Kostek Sobolewski moved in. I knew him well from Russia, so I wished him luck and kept waiting for the Major. In fact, my task was completed, the second patrol had already been defeated, second lieutenant Sommer killed, two infantrymen and sapper Strzelec were wounded. Major Gnatowski arrived; he was completely confused by the situation, there was no communication with the rear, he didn’t know what was happening on the right flank, where the Rysie (the Lynxes), the 13th Rifle Battalion were attacking, but he decided to advance and sent the company of around 20-30 people to attack. Dawn started to break and I saw the first German bunkers which opened fire at our infantry. I found out that Kostek was wounded in the chest and at that moment I just flew into a fighting rage out of anger and grief. So I drew out a Thomson from under an arm of the first corpse (no live soldier would have given it up for love nor money) and I rushed forward.
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 was not easy. According to the testimonies of the prisoners of war, an officer crew was defending there and had three “Spandau” machine guns (MG 42) aimed in all directions. I did not have a flame thrower as all of them had got damaged on our way. I didn’t have a PIAT either; if we came closer we would surely die. So I only kept observing the area and waited for the opportunity to shoot them with the Bren gun into the bunker opening. 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 asked for 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 hit 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 crawled to me, made me a strong dressing and gave me a morphine injection. I felt better at that point and even decided to smoke a first cigarette. So I called corporal Wieczorek, who was my adjutant, and gave him a new task. He was supposed to mark out the supply route from Phantom Ridge to the road running in the middle of the valley to the Mass Albaneta. At that moment, the Major came and seeing me wounded said to me, as soldiers do: ‘It serves you right! You shouldn’t have pushed in there when you didn't need to. Your task was completed at the foot of Phantom Ridge’. Those were hard words, but I saw that he was proud of me, as he smiled and shaking my hand he also said ‘You’re going to be fine, you’re not going to hell just yet, just clear off quickly to the FAP (Forward Aid Post).’ I could see that the situation was not too good. We only had 20-30 people and every counter-attack could eliminate us quickly, the more so because we were starting to run out of ammunition.
So with the help of corporal Wieczorek and the field medic I dragged myself from Phantom Ridge and joined Kostek, whom I had left in the care of platoon leader Marciuk. He was very disturbed by my appearance, as I was all covered in blood with a dressing on my neck and chest where I got hit with small pieces of shrapnel. We were both loaded onto German stretchers and set off towards the road. But the artillery continued to attack, so only Divine Providence could save us. Half-way through, we were hit by artillery and mortar fire. I ordered the stretchers to be put down and to hide 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 unscathed. However Sapper Jewtuch was hit by a large piece of shrapnel in his stomach and died instantly. Finally, we arrived at the gorge, but here again the mortars were firing and it was difficult to pass. I couldn’t jeopardize my boys so I decided to walk there on my own feet. So I stood up and walked down blindly. There was only 300 m to the FAP (Forward Aid Post /WPO Wysunięty Punkt Opatrunkowy), but I felt that I was not going to make it. I pulled myself together and was determined to get there. I was only 50 m away when I fainted, but I was already taken care of by the field medics and regained consciousness quite quickly. They immediately let our boys know, who were standing several metres below and Kazio Smolikowski came by.
On the second day I received some more morphine, so it was not too bad, but the next three days I howled with pain and found it very difficult to breathe. No wonder as I was wounded in my left lung. After eight days I was moved to the 2nd Military Hospital in Campobasso. I met Wanda there and again I had the best care. Wanda Czopowik was our old sappers’ friend from Russia. After three days I was put onto a hospital train to the 1st Military Hospital in Casamassima [later renamed 5th Military Hospital].
The battle was dreadful, simply a massacre, but our people were like devils, like madmen, trying to get at the Jerrys to avenge their friends. At least I had such feelings. I didn't have any high-minded thoughts such as 'for Warsaw, Kutno, Westerplatte' but simply seeing the blood and suffering around me I just wanted to avenge those people, who were strangers, but at that particular moment so dear to me. The Germans were surprised by our presence, as they had been assured that there were only Americans or New Zealanders in this sector and hence the deadly fear on their faces when they saw the ‘eagle’ and ‘Poland’. They knew very well what we felt towards them and what they were guilty of.
On 18 May at 10.20 when the Abbey was taken over by the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division and the 12th Podolian Lancers Regiment troops, the Germans would rather withdraw through their own minefields and surrender to the English than fall into the hands of the Poles.
There were also many tragic moments, like when one of the troopers took over a bunker and took his brother as a prisoner of war, who had been conscripted into the German army and had to fight against us. A captain from the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division found his 17-year old son on hill number 575 and there were many more such tragedies. There were also cases where the Jerrys dressed up in our uniforms, crossed the frontline and at the back controlled the artillery fire or spread panic. But they were quickly detected, as none of us retreated and would certainly not encourage anyone else to do so. Radio communication was almost impossible, as the Jerrys joined in straight away, gave wrong orders and disorganised the entire action. However, our signal corps was very well trained and was not taken in by such jokes and the Jerrys received a bunch of strong words from them.
So, despite the steel pillboxes and the well-hidden bunkers, despite the two best SS divisions, paratroopers and Goering's division, Monte Casino was taken over by the Polish Corps, and the survivors managed to retreat towards Rome and the Gothic Line.
But we also suffered great losses. 28 sappers from my Company are buried at Cassino, and about 10 were wounded. Colonel Wincenty Kurek, Lieutenant Colonel Kamiński and many others died. The 15th Infantry Battalion had nine officers killed and fifteen wounded (60 % of the officers).
After three months in hospital, on 17 August 1944 I re-joined my Company, stationed in Istra and took back command of the 3rd platoon and took part in actions on the Adriatic coast.
Recommendation for Virtuti Militari
Second Lieutenant Gradosielski Jerzy of the 5th Comp. Sap.
2Lt. Gradosielski was assigned as the commander of a sapper patrol to the 15th Rifle Battalion, which attacked Phantom Ridge.
During the attack on the night of 11/12 May 1944, Second Lieutenant Gradosielski, advancing with the infantry, captures two German bunkers, bandages badly wounded second lieutenant Sobolewski from 15 B.S., while capturing the next bunker he was wounded. He reported to his superior commander, Major Gnatowski, and was evacuated.
Major Gnatowski in the letter L.dz.536 / Pt / 44 of 23 May 44 wrote:
"Second Lieutenant Gradosielski was assigned to the 15th Infantry Battalion for action 11/12.V.44 on Phantom Ridge and hill 575. He was extremely brave, he served as an example for other soldiers. He personally eliminated two bunkers with the Germans. He was wounded in the fight for the third bunker "
Lt. Gradosielski deserved to be decorated with the Virtuti Military 5th class
24.V.44 Commander of 5.Kresowy Sapper Battalion Lt. Col. Józef Hampel
Prata Sannita today
After an hour I was loaded onto a jeep and taken to the GAP (General Aid Post/GPO Główny Punkt Opatrunkowy) on the Inferno Track. I got to the operating table immediately, where they took the shrapnel out quite easily and then I was sent further on to the CCS (Casualty Clearing Station/ SOE Sanitarny Ośrodek Ewakuacyjny) nr 5 in Pozzili/Venafro. There I was well looked after by Halina, Major Szymański’s wife and Tania, who was there with the field canteen.