Bridge destroyed by retreating Germans - Edward Herzbaum (courtesy of David Holzman)

Bridge destroyed by retreating Germans

The Cadet Officers school was at first located close by the Tasmanian Lake (Lago Trasimeno) near Peruggia.

'My Story' - excerpts from Romuald Lipinski's memoir

10. Action on the Adriatic Coast


After Monte Cassino we were sent to the area of Campobasso for a couple of weeks.  We were supposed to spend enough time there to reorganize and resupply our equipment.  Unfortunately, our supplies did not arrive from Poland.  The only source of manpower now was deserters from the German army and they started to come to us in large numbers.  Many of them were from the Polish provinces that Germans had incorporated into the Third Reich.  These were the areas near Poznan, Torun, Pomerania and Slask. These people considered themselves to be Poles and had deserted from the German army at the first opportunity.  Our command recognized this fact and, upon a declaration by a prisoner that he was a Pole, after a short training period, he was given a uniform and an assignment.  They proved to be very good soldiers, motivated, well-trained and disciplined.  Another source of manpower were the people that were trickling in from partisan groups, refugees from Poland, who made their way somehow through Germany, France or via other routes. So, even though our army was outside of Poland, our numbers, instead of decreasing, were increasing.

Unfortunately, our period of recuperation did not last long. Orders came to get ready and after three weeks of rest we were sent to the Adriatic coast.  At that time the Germans were retreating on the entire front.  We were trying to catch up with them, going full speed along Highway No. 16 for three days, from Pescara to Macerata.  Everywhere that we went we asked: "Dove Tedeschi" (Where are Germans?), and everywhere we were getting the same answer: "Sono scappati via" (They just ran away).  But at Macerata it was different.  There the Germans put up stiff resistance. 

It is difficult to describe our action on the Adriatic coast. It was a mobile type of warfare. The terrain was rolling, cut from time to time by rivers flowing east to the Adriatic Sea.


The Germans were retreating in an orderly fashion, leaving practically every bridge destroyed.  Also, any passage through any stream or river was mined.  Our sappers had plenty of work in removing those mines.  The Germans used all kinds of tricks to make our lives difficult - and short.  For example, when it became obvious that metal mines could be detected using a metal detector, they started to use plastic mines. These could only be detected by sticking a bayonet in the ground and, if it did not penetrate far, we knew that it might be a stone or a mine.  Then they started to bury two mines, one on top of the other, coupled together, hoping that the bottom one would explode when raising the one above it.  They also used small cubes of TNT, in wooden boxes, which could be placed anywhere. That would be just enough to blow one's foot off.

Their tactics were to retreat and set up a resistance line behind a river. When our troops crossed the river they would put a  barrage of artillery at the troops that had established a bridgehead and also cut off any supplies that could be brought across the river. Then they could easily liquidate the bridgehead. They were always on the slopes of hills facing south. Under these conditions, visibility was a problem because in the afternoon they were in the shade and we could not see them very well. Being the reconnaissance regiment of the 3rd Carpathian Division, our task was to follow the retreating Germans, camouflage ourselves, and detect any machine gun nests, mortars or artillery so that, when our main forces arrived, we would be able to define their targets.  There were situations when we were practically surrounded by Germans.  Sometimes, we spent the whole night with our guns at the ready, expecting fire at any time.  Sometimes we would advance close to the Germans during the day and retreat for the night in fear of being surrounded. Because of these conditions, we were constantly on the move and there was no time to dig decent shelters. Most of the time we were sleeping in small foxholes, just deep enough to be below ground level, so that the fragments of shrapnel would not hit us. Sometimes I would find an old crater left from heavy artillery fire. That was a treat because it made a decent shelter and it was already there - no digging.  At that time it was summer, it was warm and this outdoor sleeping was not so bad.  But sometimes the rain would come during the night and we would wake up in a pool of water.  Well, you just had to shake it off, like a dog and go ahead with your duties.  Being a mortar platoon, we were assigned to whichever line squadron was in action. So, when our line squadrons were changing, one being on combat duty and the other in reserves, we stayed at the front line all the time.  Throughout the summer of 1944 we were in constant action.  As a result of this, we had no respite from combat duty between June and late September, when I was sent to the Panzer cadet officers school.

War in Italy was often called the "gentlemen's war", and I think there was a reason for this.  It could not be compared with the Russian front, where hundreds of thousands of Russians were taken prisoner in one operation nor with the battle of Kursk 6,000 tanks were used. Ours was a small-scale war, brutal as all wars are, but some degree of consideration for human life was observed. There seemed to be an unwritten agreement that at about five o'clock in the afternoon both sides would stop fighting.  At that point, it was possible to get out of the foxhole, go to a neighbour and chat about "the good old days" and smoke a cigarette. 

Once we had a squadron of British tanks attached to our regiment. Our commanding officer sent three of the tanks out for reconnaissance. We were observing them moving cautiously through no-man's land. Then, at 17.00, they took their tanks to one place, got out and started to have tea.  I am sure that the Germans were observing them also. There was no fighting during tea- time. 

In one place there was a self-propelled gun that would always, at about 05.00, fire several rounds at our positions.  I got used to those nightly artillery explosions and I could sleep through the night without waking up.  I heard them, I felt the earth shaking and pushing me down into my foxhole (the foxhole was so narrow that you could only lie on your side and any shaking of the earth would exert pressure on the chest or the back), but it did not bother me.  Sometimes I woke up, and a minute later I would fall asleep again. Sometimes I did not even wake up and next morning my friends would tell me about the shelling. Then, one day our guys decided that they had had enough of this. They worked out that every night the Germans brought the gun to the same spot at a certain time after dark, then waited until 05.00, fired a few rounds, and then retreated after the shelling.  Our men found the place by following the tracks on the ground and set up an ambush. When the Germans arrived the next night they took them as prisoners. We were not bothered by night shelling anymore.  

We lived in tents and there was mud everywhere.  Later on we were transferred to Gubbio, also near Peruggia, to a building that used to be an old monastery. At least there was no mud. Contrary to tradition, this was a fun school.  Normally, cadet-officer schools were very tough, discipline was incredible, the students were busy 24 hours a day, and they were yelled at, and insulted - any non-commissioned officer would do his best to make their lives miserable. Our school was different.  The instructors were all front-seasoned officers, as well as the students. They knew each other, they had fought together a few weeks before coming to the school, and sometimes they had been in the same tank. The instructors knew that the men that were here had been through the same test of nerves,  exposed to the same dangers as they had been. We were treated as younger colleagues, not as subordinates. So, the training did not consist of just lectures, but very often it was a discussion of experiences during certain engagements, critical analysis of the situations, what should be done in such and such a case, and so on.  Of course, discipline was observed, but it was more out of respect for higher ranks than out of fear of being reprimanded.  It was the same in the regiments. Somehow, we understood our officers and they understood us, the ranks.

The cadet-officers school ended in the middle of April 1945,  but we, the students from the cavalry regiments, had to stay two weeks longer to go through special training on the Staghound armored cars.  So I graduated on the day of the end of the war in Europe, on 7 May 1945.  Our graduation ceremony was subdued by the news that one of our colleagues, who had gone to his regiment two weeks earlier, had been killed in action.  We were sent to our regiments with our officer cadet diplomas, all with the rank of corporal.

Romuald Lipinski intro
2 Invasion
3 Deportation
4 Siberia
5 Amnesty

6 Evacuation
7 Training

8-9 Battle of Monte Cassino

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