May 22, 2011

The Battle of Monte Cassino: Phase Four - Polish Army (A race against death)



(9/11) Battlefield II The Battle for Monte Cassino Ep13 World War II (00:10:00m)






Bitwa o Monte Cassino (HQ) Battle for Monte Cassino (English w/Polish subtitles) (00:003:30m)



The Battle of Monte Cassino
Phase Four
March 26 - May 18, 1944

Since the Battle began, the German defenses at Cassino and Monastery Hill could not be penetrated. Despite heavy bombing, the enemy held fast and continued to block the road to Rome. Now, along a 30 km (18 mile) stretch from Cassino to the Gulf of Gaeta, 17 Allied Divisions were positioned ready for the next phase of battle.

The US had 8 divisions: the US II Corps (Major Gen.Keyes), the 85th Infantry Division (Maj.Gen. Coulter), the US 5th Army, the French Expeditionary Corps (Maj.Gen.Brosset), 2nd Moroccan Division (Brig.Gen.Dody), the 4th Moroccan Mountain Division (Maj.Gen. Sevez), and the 3rd Algerian Division (Maj-Gen. de Monsabert).

The British Army had the task of capturing the Liri Valley and advance towards Rome. The mission was given to the British 8th Army consisting of the British XIII Corps (Lt. Gen.Kirkman), the British 4th Division, the British 78th Division, the 8th Indian Division, and the British 6th Armored Division.

Reserves consisted of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division, the 5th Canadian Division, and the 6th South African Armored Division. Also part of the British contingent was the II Polish Corps, under the command of Lt.General Wladyslaw Anders. The Polish forces consisted of the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division (Maj.Gen.Duch), the 5th Kresowa Infantry Division (Maj-Gen.Sulik) and the 2nd Armored Brigade (Maj.Gen Rakowski).

To the II Polish Corps was given the most difficult task
of the mission - the capture of Cassino and Monastery Hill.

The Cassino sector was controlled by the German 1st Parachute Division and the 44th Infantry Division. The Liri Valley was defended by the Panzer Grenadier Division and a few units from the 305th Infantry Division. The coast was held by the 71st Infantry Division, 3 battalions of the 44th Infantry Division, the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, and the 90th (Reserve) Panzer Grenadier Division. The Arunci Mountains were controlled by the 44th Infantry Division.


On April 11 discussions were under way between Allied top brass and President Roosevelt for a massive offensive in the area. The plan called for large-scale deception targeted at Field-Marshal Kesselring -to convince him that the Allies had finally abandoned further attacks on the Gustav Line, and that their mission was now to land at Civitaveccia, north of Rome. In order to remain convincing, the Allies resorted to several diversionary tactics: code messages were sent which were intercepted by German Intelligence indicating that the Allies were planning a landing at Civitavecchia by the US 26th Division and the Canadian 1st Corps. A few Allied troops were dispatched to Salerno and Naples to be seen "practicing" amphibious landings - in broad daylight! Meanwhile, Allied air forces were conspicuously making reconnaissance flights all over the beaches at Civitavecchia. False information was spoon-fed to German spies while Italian partisans were put into action. The 78th Division transferred its unit to within 80 km (50 miles) behind the front line, and openly "practiced' crossing the river.

As these diversions were being carried out, the Allied positions at Monte Cassino and Rapido were being heavily reinforced under camouflage. The II Polish Corps, already positioned at Monte Cassino was ordered to maintain strict radio silence. Its location was cleverly concealed by miles of camouflage - the French Expeditionary Corps, consisting of 99,000 men was completely hidden from view!

Camouflage was so successful that it not only hid an entire army but permitted the construction of six bridges. The Germans did not suspect a thing. All troop movements were done secretly and under the cover of darkness. The ruse succeeded. Kesselring sent 2 armored divisions to Civitavecchia with additional reserves on standby.

May 11. 23:00 h The Allies opened intense bombardment from 1,600 guns aimed at German positions all along the 30 km (18 mile) length coast to the Rapido Valley. The Germans were taken by complete surprise.

May 12. Within an hour the 2nd Moroccan Division, the Moroccan 4th Mountain Division, and the US II Corps, attacked Monte Faito (Arunci Mountains) capturing it at 3:00 a.m. The Moroccan 8th Rifle Division captured Monte Feuci, and soon afterwards Monte Majo. At 11:50 p.m. The 8th Indian and British 4th Divisions followed the French Expeditionary Corps in an attack across the Rapido. Despite intense German fire, they were able to extend their bridgeheads.

WWII Footage: Commonwealth Troops at Monte Cassino (00:03:14m)


May 13 01:00 a.m. The II Polish Corps went into battle. The 13th and 15th Battalions of the 5th Kresowa Infantry Division reached Point 517 (Widno) under heavy fire but lost 20% of their men. The 13th Battalion (Col. Kaminski) was the first to reach Phantom Ridge, but were caught in a barrage of gunfire (in front and both flanks), mines and traps. Casualties were very heavy and the units were almost completely wiped out.
Polish soldiers charging up Phantom Hill
Another division of the Polish 13th Battalion reached Phantom Ridge from its southern slope but they too also came under heavy fire. The 5th Battalion (Col.Stoczkowski) made it up Phantom Ridge in complete darkness and battled the Germans seeking cover behind bushes and boulders. Two companies succeeded in reaching Point 517 passing German bunkers and coming under heavy fire.The 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division was to capture Monte Calvario (Pt. 593) in what was aptly described as a race against death. Under the protection of Allied artillery fire, the 2nd Battalion scrambled up the footpath, at intervals of barely 100 paces, to get as close as possible to the summit, and wait. During artillery fire, the Germans had to withdraw into their shell-proof shelters, but came running out as soon as firing had stopped. The Poles knew that they had precious seconds with which to reach those vacant positions before the enemy could return to them and f ire on the Poles at point-blank range.Two platoons of the 1st Company succeeded in reaching those vacant posts and after close combat, took ten prisoners. The 3rd Company on the western slope of Point 593 took 17 prisoners.While these tactics succeeded on Point 593, they ended disastrously on Point 569. Artillery fire had halted much too early so that Germans had returned to their positions in time to greet the Poles with a barrage of gunfire.

Polish Soldiers- Monte Cassino

Polish Soldiers transporting Artillery Uphill
At 6:30 a.m. The Polish Battalion on Phantom Ridge was reinforced by additional Polish troops. By all appearances the area seemed to be devoid of Germans, but as soon as Polish troops were concentrated in one area, they were surprised by intense enemy fire.

The attack on Massa Albaneta was initiated by the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division supported by the Polish 2nd Armored Brigade. But before they could achieve their objective, their tanks were hit  by enemy fire and burst into flames. The remaining tanks were destroyed by mines, killing or wounding 18 of the 20 engineers.

At 7:15 a.m. Allied bombers reached the front line and circled constantly over enemy positions. They attacked specific targets at the command of Polish ground troops who hailed them in like a taxi cab. The bombers knocked out the headquarters of the German 10th Army and the command post of the XIV Panzer Corps. A Polish garrison held onto Monte Calvario with only 29 men and 1 officer, reinforced by a reserve unit. But they were overtaken by the German 14th Company and 22 men of the reserve regiment. The enemy recaptured Mont Calvario. The Poles ( 7 soldiers and 1 officer ) retreated.

The Polish men of the 15th Battalion who remained on Phantom Ridge endured the most ferocious enemy fire. They suffered considerable casualties and were at the point of total exhaustion, their men lying wounded and in shock.  But their sacrifice was not in vain - they had relieved the British units in the Liri Valley from heavier artillery fire. At days end, the II Polish Corps had to withdraw its troops.

However, the British XIII Corps did not achieve half of its objectives and the US II Corps still could not penetrate German positions.

May 12-13. Violent fighting continued in the Liri Valley. More bridges were built over the Rapido. The II Polish Corps was ordered to wait and not attack Cassino town until the 8th Indian and British 4th Divisions had achieved their mission in the Liri Valley. Gen. Juin assembled a mountain assault division comprising of 12,000 men of the Moroccan Rifle Division. The French 1st Motorized Divison captured Santa Andrea, while the 1st Moroccan Infantry Division made its way to the Liri Valley.

May 14. The 1st Moroccan Infantry Division pushed its way towards San Giorgio (on the right bank of the Liri River). The 3rd Algerian Infantry Division captured Castelforte, clearing the way for a mountain assault. The goumiers of the Moroccan supply battalion were able to climb the Arunci mountains with barely any German resistance. (The Germans had assumed that no one could scale its rugged slopes. They were sorely mistaken.) The goumiers captured Monte Rotondo and reached the Ausente Valley. This opened the southern section of Cassino.

During this time the II Polish Corps were suffering heavy casualties on Monte Cassino. Meanwhile, the British XIII Corps was slowly expanding the Rapido bridgeheads.The French posed a significant threat to the Germans. Gen. Juins' troops had begun their attack on Via Casilina, but not from the Cassino gap as originally intended. His troops made its way instead through the Arunci Mountains, and by so doing breached the once-impregnable Gustav Line. The way was now clear for the Moroccan 4th Mountain Division to launch a surprise attack and cut into the Gustav Line even further. The US II Corps captured Santa Maria Infante. After repeated efforts the British XIII Corps was finally able to throw a pontoon bridge across the Rapido. The Goumiers Mountain Assault team climbed Monte Fammera, near Spigno.

Polish Soldiers  - Monte Cassino

May 15. British 78th Division crossed the Rapido followed by the XIII Corp but neither were able to break through to Cassino. The 8th Indian Division captured Pignataro after a short fight. The French captured key enemy positions over Ausonia, and Monte Petrella and Monte Revole.

May 16. A company from the 16th Battalion of the 5th Kresowa Infantry Division reached Phantom Ridge for a reconnaissance mission. They were able to capture and hold enemy positions. By nightfall the entire northern section of Phantom Ridge lay in Polish control. By sunrise the 15th Polish Battalion captured the southern slope of Phantom Ridge. The 5th Kresowa Infantry Division succeeded in penetrating enemy positions on Phantom Ridge, and Colle Sant'Angelo but were met with heavy fire and were driven back.

Meanwhile, the British 4th Division in the Liri Valley failed to capture Cassino town.May 17. The goumiers had traversed the Arunci Mountains and reached the Itro-Pico Road 40 km (25 miles) behind the German Cassino front. Within minutes they were on the Via Casilina. They were soon joined by the British 78th Division and began their advance towards Rome. After months of fierce fighting the German defenses, now depleted, began to crumble. Sections of the German defenses were wiped out entirely. The 1st Company of the 1st Battalion of the 3rd Parachute Regiment had just 1 soldier, 1 NCO and 1 officer remaining. The US II Corps made steady progress on the coast and was able to capture Formia.



Monte Casino 1944 (00:56:05m)


At 18:05 H. The commander of the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division received word from the Commanding General that the enemy was on the verge of retreating. (This information was obtained by Intelligence interception of Enigma messages.) At 23:30 H. Enemy aircraft circled over their corps sector dropping flares - a clear signal which ordered retreat.


Polish Soldiers - Monte Cassino

May 17-18 The Germans had abandoned Monte Cassino and Monastery Hill. The 4th Battalion captured Point 493. There appeared to be no fire from Monastery Hill. A patrol was sent to survey the area. No one was found except for sixteen wounded German soldiers, an ensign and two medical orderlies.

German Paratroopers surrendering at Monte Cassino

May 18 9:05 a.m. Lieutenant Gurbiel ascended to the height of Monastery Hill and hoisted the red and white banner of Poland. Czech, the section leader played the Hejnal on the bugle. The Battle of Monte Cassino had finally come to an end after months of desperate attempts to destroy German strongholds. The Polish soldiers numbering 51,000 strong fought with the assurance that their material superiority and steely courage would pave the way to victory. But tragically, the Polish soldiers knew that their beloved homeland had been sacrificed to the Soviets, still continued to fight just the same. Over 4,100 men of the II Polish Corps lost their lives on Monte Cassino.

Polish Flag atop Monte Cassino
Master Corporal Emil Czech plays Hej Mariacki


 Victory came at a very high price. 
For Your Freedom and Ours.
 
Polish Cemetery Monte Cassino









7 comments:

Anonymous said...

my uncle died there boleslaw szafranski god rest his soul i was born may 18 1968

Polish Greatness said...

May God bless the souls of all the Polish soldiers, including your uncle, Boleslaw Szafranski, who fought so valiantly at Monte Cassino. Their sacrifices will always be remembered. Respectfully yours.

Anonymous said...

My grandad passed away this year. He was in the Polish 2nd Corps (British 8th Army) Carpathians Rifle Division and fought at Monte Cassino. He was one of the first into the Monastery. He often talked about his time as a soldier. A photo was taken of him and his friends sitting on the library steps on 18th May 1944 - by either a British or American reporter. The photo was published in a newspaper, but he gave his copy to a friend at the time. Over the years we have searched in vain to locate that photograph. My grandad is no longer with us, but I am determined to locate that photo somehow.

Polish Greatness said...

Please accept my condolences on the passing of your dear grandfather. What a remarkable man he was to have fought in the Battle of Montecassino. I wish I could help you find this photograph you are looking for, but I can only offer one suggestion. The best recourse would be to visit your local librarian, who can provide you with references you can search. Also consider contacting the Library of Congress, and the British Library. I am sure you will find the photo since it has been published! Best Regards.

Anonymous said...

My father Inlaw Mr. Eric Kocjan was with the Carpathian Regiment and had fought from the Battle of Tubruk on through to Monte Cassino. He was a young officer with a mortar platoon and had been responsible for firing the smoke rounds on the day of the main offensive. I had the honor of travelling with him to Italy on the 60th Anniversary of the Battle to visit the site. He is etched into my mind forever as he visited the graves of him comrades. He spoke highly of what they accomplished during the battle. Most importantly though he was a man who understood the history and was always open to discussion. Eric Kocjan has now just passed away but his efforts and stories during the war will remain with our family. Respectively submitted by Vern Johnston

Anonymous said...

My father Walter Zolnierowicz was in the 17 th Riflesbrigade .6 Lwowska Brygada of the 5th Kresowa ,He was wounded twice at Monte Cassino . He was in the camp at Totskoye, Orenburg Oblast Russia .May Putin and his RED friends fry in HELL

Terri Szewczyk said...

My father Adam Waszukiewicz was with the Carpathian Regiment. He never could speak of the things he remebered from that fight, it was too difficult for him.

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