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Italy 1943 - 1945:

Polish Formations

The Polish Army was destroyed in the German and Russian invasions of 1939. After the surrender of the Polish nation, about 1,700,000 Poles were deported into the U.S.S.R. The head of the Polish Government in Exile, based in London, entered into negotiation with the U.S.S.R. and secured agreements in July and August 1941 to form a new Polish Army. In March 1942, the first contingent left Russia for Iran.

Other contingents followed, enough men to form two infantry divisions, an armoured brigade and other supporting units. In June 1943, the II Polish Corps was officially formed. During July and August 1943, the Corps commenced training in Palestine. The corps was deployed to Italy, with the 3 Carpathian Infantry Division arriving in December 1943. The 5 Kresowa Infantry Division arrived in early 1944, together with the 2 Polish Armoured Brigade. The II Polish Corps first saw action in the fourth battle for Monte Cassino In May 1944. It remained under command of 8 Army during the advance to the Gothic Line, and also took part in the final campaign when it captured Bologna.

In late 1944 and early 1945, reinforcements became available to the Polish Corps through the unconventional methods of recruiting former Polish members of the Wehrmacht, many of whom had been conscripted into the German Army following the invasion of their country, captured by the Allies in various theatres and held in Prisoner of War Camps. The 2 Armoured Brigade was expanded into an armoured division, and additional brigades formed in the 3 Carpathian and 5 Kresowa Divisions.

II Polish Corps was involved in the final offensive in Italy that led to the collapse of German forces in Italy and the armistice that came into effect on 2 May 1945. The status of the Polish troops remained in dispute in the immediate aftermath of the war. With their Homeland now under communist rule, and its borders moved westwards, most men decided not to return.  About 140,000 men, women and children were brought from Italy and Germany to the U.K. where the Polish Resettlement Corps was established to look after the men who had fought so valiantly in Italy and help them integrate them into British society. The Polish soldiers were denied the morally justified opportunity to participate in the Victory Parade in London, due to sensitivities about the Soviet Union and its leader, STALIN. Personally, I know of three families whose fathers or grandfathers fought at Monte Cassino, yet their story is often overlooked.

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