Creation of the II Polish Corps
The II Polish Corps, under the command of Lt.General
Wladyslaw Anders, was formed as a result of the Sikorski
Maisky Agreement signed on December 4, 1941. After
Germany's invasion of Russia, in June 1941, Stalin and
Sikorski pledged mutual military support in the fight against
a common enemy.
Part of the agreement dealt with the formation of a Polish
army on Soviet soil, to fight alongside the Red Army against
the Nazi threat. General Sikorski and General Anders met
with Stalin to discuss the details of the Polish armament,
conditional upon the release of all Polish prisoners held
in Soviet camps.
When the Soviets invaded Poland in September 1939, the NKVD arrested and deported over 1.5 million Poles to
Russian gulag where hundreds upon thousands of Poles suffered the most brutal of Soviet torture. Suddenly,
Stalin agreed to the release of the Poles, granting them "amnesty" - their only "crime" was their resistance to
Russian supremacy. Though Stalin led the Allies to believe that he would release them all, only a small number
was given official permission to leave. Approximately 100,000 Poles were released from the camps. All efforts
by Sikorski and Anders to obtain the release of the remaining prisoners failed.
Thousands of Polish military poured out of Soviet concentration camps, followed by thousands of civilians, men,
women and children. Severely emaciated, starving and suffering from disease, many died trying to reach army
checkpoints. Anders was anticipating the arrival of some 15,000 Polish officers, but none ever reported for duty.
After an extensive inquiry and search, no trace of them could be found. Anders approached Stalin on numerous
occasions demanding to know their whereabouts but was always met with evasion and lies. (Katyn) To make
matters worse, the infamous NKVD, (the predecessor to todays KGB) took extraordinary measures to ensure that
as many Poles as possible would perish. There were numerous instances where Polish refugees were forced to
disembark from trains and convoys, and left stranded on the Russian steppes without supplies, food or water,
while their transports went on without them.
Taking advantage of the terms of the Polish-Soviet Agreement, Stalin insisted on sending Polish army units to the
front without providing them with reinforcements. Anders refused to permit this, calling it a wholesale slaughter of
his men. Undeterred, Stalin reduced the food rations to the refugees from 70,000 to 26,000 soldiers. It was not
enough to sustain them - there were over 115,000 Polish refugees, both military and civilian. In August 1942,
Anders met with Churchill to discuss the organization of the Polish armed forces and plans to have them
evacuated from Russia. It was agreed that they would be transferred to Persia (Iran) to serve under the command
of General Wilson. This breakthrough gave Anders hope that Great Britain would not abandon Poland. After
interminable postponements, Stalin finally agreed to an evacuation of the Polish refugees. News of the
evacuation erupted in a violent flood of thousands upon thousands more Polish POWs heading towards Russian
borders. Not all made it out in time. The remainder were trapped in Russia, not given official permission to leave.
The Polish army was also stationed in Iraq, camped out in tents under the blistering heat. Many men, women and
children suffered bouts of malaria, but to the Poles it was nothing. They had already suffered worse. Training
sessions took place all throughout the Middle East, but none so inspiring as that located in Gaza, Mount Sinai,
and Nazareth - the Holy Land. In a short time, the men were miraculously transformed into healthy, strong
The 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division arrived in Palestine.They were formed from the Carpathian Infantry Brigade,
under the command of Brigadier-General Stanislaw Kopanski, and under whose command fought brilliantly at
Tobruk. Other troops which arrived were the Carpathian Lancers, the 12th Podbole Lancers, and the 15th
Poznan Lancers, among many other Divisions. Just when the Polish forces were assembled and in excellent form,
Churchill approached Anders and obliged him to give up 3,500 of his best soldiers to reinforce the Polish Air
Force in Great Britain. (They were to become a vital part of winning the Battle of Britain. See Kosciuszko
Squadron) Anders complied.
During this time the Allies had landed on the Italian mainland - September 1943. Anders was again under intense
pressure from British Command to transfer several thousand more Polish troops to England. Anders strongly
opposed this measure and argued that his army had to remain as strong as possible and to engage in battle as
soon as possible. Meanwhile, the Soviet government had already set up the Union of Polish Patriots (UPP), a
move which accelerated the already deteriorating relationship between Russia and Poland. The UPP forced the
enlistment of vast number of Poles who had been prevented from leaving Russia during the evacuation.
By 1943, the II Polish Corps was fit, fully trained, and ready to engage in battle. In a letter to Anders on July 22,
1943, General Wilson expressed anticipation for the arrival of the Polish soldiers in Italy.
Within the rank and file of many Polish divisions and regiments, were also Polish-Jews, eager to serve their
country. They were among the refugees released from the Russian gulag, and survived the long voyage to
freedom with their Polish compatriots. Unfortunately, once the II Polish Corps landed in Palestine, a large
contingent of Polish-Jewish servicemen deserted their posts. This came as a terrible blow to the Polish army
virtually on the eve of battle and no doubt ignited not a little hostility towards the Jews. Nevertheless General
Anders chose to grant them all amnesty. Despite this devastating setback, many Polish Jews remained committed
to fighting for Poland and remained in the army. They fought many battles including the Battle of Monte Cassino.
Among the thousands of Poles killed in action there were many Polish Jews. Their tombstones, engraved with the
Star of David, can be found at Polish war cemeteries throughout Europe, and at Monte Cassino.
Besides the II Polish Corps, there were other Polish Divisions. During the September Campaign of 1939, the
Polish army had evacuated Poland reorganizing its troops on French soil. There were only four divisions among
the 85,000 troops - the First Grenadier Division, Second Infantry Fusiliers Division, 3rd and 4th Infantry Division -
the 10th Brigade of Armored Cavalry, and 10ieme Brigade de cavalerie blindee making up the motorized
Brigade, and the Polish Independent Highland Brigade, the latter having taken part in the 1940 Battle of Narvik.
After the fall of France, Sikorski evacuated many of the Polish troops to England, however only 25,000 of them
were able to escape. In England, the I Polish Corps was formed, comprising of the Polish 1st Armored Division,
the Polish Independent Parachute Brigade, and numerous other regiments. They trained in Scotland, defended
the shored of Great Britain, fought the Battle of Normandy, the Battle of the Falaise Gap, and liberated many
towns and villages in Belgium and Holland.