Ceremony at Polish war cemetery marks battle of Monte Cassino
May 18 marks the 76th anniversary of the 1944 Battle of Monte Cassino in which Polish forces, under the command of General Władysław Anders, played a key role.
Seventy-six years ago, the Polish II Corps, under heavy German shellfire, seized the Benedictine abbey ruins on the hill of Monte Cassino, breaking the German Gustav line and opening the way to Rome for the Allies.
Among those taking part in the commemorations was the daughter of General Anders, Poland's Ambassador to Italy Anna Maria Anders and local officials.
The Battle of Monte Cassino is proof of the glory of Polish soldiers, Defence Minister Mariusz Błaszczak said in a Monday tweet. Soldiers, under the command of General Władysław Anders, thanks to their courage and bravery, achieved an important military success, added the minister.
Sejm Speaker Elżbieta Witek said that "the ethos of the Battle of Monte Cassino has forever become an important part of Polish history and Polish national heritage." "It is a symbol of the nation's relentless struggle for freedom and independence, against all odds."
Monte Cassino, a historic 6th-century hilltop abbey which stood in the path of the Allies' progress to Rome, was used by the Germans as an observation point for their artillery, located on the other side of the hill.
The Battle of Monte Cassino, called "the biggest inland battle in Europe", involved four Allied assaults against the Nazi-German Winter Line in Italy during the WWII Italian Campaign. The fighting continued for 123 days, from January 17 to May 18, 1944. The Allies' goal was to gain passage to Rome. Polish troops proved fundamental in fulfilling the plan.
On May 18, 1944 a Polish patrol climbed to the top of Monte Cassino and raised the Polish flag over the ruins of the abbey. In all, 923 Polish soldiers were killed in the fighting, with 2,931 wounded and 345 reported missing.
In 1945, a Polish war cemetery was opened at Monte Cassino, where 1,072 Polish soldiers were laid to rest. In 1970, General Władyslaw Anders was buried alongside his soldiers.
The Anders Army was formed in 1941 in the Soviet Union. In March 1942 it made its way through Iran to Palestine under a British-Soviet-Polish understanding. In Palestine the force passed under British command and provided the bulk of the Polish II Corps (member of the Polish Armed Forces in the West), which fought in the Italian Campaign.