II Corps (Poland)

This article is about a Second World War formation. For the First World War formation, see Polish II Corps in Russia. For the Polish Army in the First World War, see Blue Army (Poland).
General Władysław Anders, commander of the Polish II Corps in Italy

The Polish II Corps (Polish: Drugi Korpus Wojska Polskiego), 1943–1947, was a major tactical and operational unit of the Polish Armed Forces in the West during World War II. It was commanded by Lieutenant General Władysław Anders and fought with distinction in the Italian Campaign, in particular at the Battle of Monte Cassino. By the end of 1945 the corps had grown to well over 100,000 soldiers.


Victims of Soviet deportations from occupied Poland in 1939–40 had been processed by the NKVD and sent to concentration camps, labour camps or penal exile in Siberia.[1] The Nazi-Soviet pact of August 1939[2][3] effectively ended on 22 June 1941 when the German Wehrmacht invaded the USSR.[4] The release of many thousands of Poles from the Soviet Gulags, following the signing of the Polish-Russian Military Agreement on August 14, 1941, allowed for the creation of a Polish Army on Soviet soil.[5][6] Its first commander, General Michał Tokarzewski, began the task of forming this army in the Soviet town of Totskoye on August 17. The commander ultimately chosen by Władysław Sikorski to lead the new army, Lieutenant General Władysław Anders, had just been released from the Lubyanka prison in Moscow, on August 4, and did not issue his first orders or announce his appointment as commander until August 22.

This army would grow over the following two years and provide the bulk of the units and troops of the Polish II Corps.

The Polish II Corps was created in 1943 from various units fighting alongside the Allies in all theatres of war. The 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division was formed in the Middle East from smaller Polish units fighting in Egypt and Tobruk, as well as the Polish Army in the East that was evacuated from the Soviet Union through the Persian Corridor. Its creation was based on the British Allied Forces Act 1940 which allowed the Allied units of the exiled government of Poland to be grouped in one theatre of war. However, the British High Command never agreed to incorporate the exiled Polish Air Force into the Corps. In February 1944 Polish II Corps was transferred from Egypt to Italy, where it became an independent part of the British Eighth Army, under Lieutenant-General Sir Oliver Leese. During 1944–45 the Corps fought with distinction in the Italian campaign, most notably during the fourth and final Battle of Monte Cassino, in May 1944, the Battle of Ancona during Operation Olive (the fighting on the Gothic Line in September 1944) and the Battle of Bologna during the final offensive in Italy in March 1945.

Snow camouflage coated AFPU cameraman, Sergeant Eric Deeming, filming troops of the 2nd Coy., 1st Battalion, 1st Carpathian Rifles Brigade, 3rd Carpathian Rifles Division, returning from a patrol. Height 1210, north of Rionero in Vulture.

In 1944 the Polish II Corps numbered about 50,000 soldiers. During three subsequent battles it suffered heavy losses (in the final stage of the Battle of Monte Cassino even the support units were mobilised and used in combat) and it was suggested to General Anders that he withdraw his units. However, since the Soviet Union broke off diplomatic relations with the Polish government and no Poles were allowed out of the USSR, Anders believed that the only source of recruits lay ahead – in German POW camps and concentration camps.

By 1945 new units were added comprising mainly freed POWs and Poles forcibly conscripted into the Wehrmacht. This increased the Corps' strength to around 75,000 men; approximately 20,000 of whom were transferred to other Polish units fighting in the West. After the war the divisions of the Corps were used in Italy until 1946, when they were transported to Britain and demobilised. The total establishment of the Polish II Corps in 1946 was 103,000. The majority of soldiers remained in exile and settled in Britain. The Corps had a consistently high fighting reputation and was well-regarded by the American and Commonwealth troops with whom they fought.


In May 1945 the Corps consisted of 55,780 men and approximately 1,500 women in auxiliary services. There was also a bear mascot, named Wojtek, who was officially entered onto the unit roll as a private soldier, subsequently being promoted to corporal. The majority of the Corps were Polish citizens who had been deported by the NKVD to the Soviet Gulags during the Soviet Union's annexation of Eastern Poland (Kresy Wschodnie) in 1939. Following Operation Barbarossa and the Sikorski-Mayski Agreement many of them were released and allowed to join the Polish Armed Forces in the East being formed in Southern Russia and Kazakhstan. For political reasons the Soviet Union soon withdrew support for the creation of a Polish Army on its territory and reduced the supply rate, which resulted in General Władysław Anders withdrawing his troops to British-held Persia and Iraq. From there they were moved to British-controlled Palestine, where they joined forces with the 3rd Carpathian Division composed mainly of Polish soldiers who had managed to escape to French Lebanon through Romania and Hungary after the defeat of Poland in 1939.

The main bulk of the soldiers were from the eastern voivodeships of pre-war Poland. Although the majority were ethnic Poles, there were also other nationalities, most notably Jews, Belarusians and Ukrainians. After being relocated to Palestine, many Jewish soldiers deserted and fled into the countryside. Menachem Begin, however, though urged by his friends to desert, refused to remove his uniform until he had been officially discharged.

A Polish soldier Master Corporal Emil Czech plays the Hejnał Mariacki in the Monte Cassino monastery ruins.

The armament was as follows:


During the Italian Campaign the Polish II Corps lost 11,379 men. Among them were 2,301 killed in action, 8,543 wounded in action and 535 missing in action.

Order of battle

At the time of its demobilisation in 1946, the 2nd Polish Corps establishment was as follows: (Note that there were some differences between this order of battle and the one at the time of the battle for Monte Cassino in 1944.)

Emblem of the Polish 2nd Warszawski Armoured Division
Breast badge of the 4th ‘Skorpion’ Armoured Regiment
Gen Anders inspecting Armoured Forces Training Centre with Gen Przewlocki and Col Szostak in the background Italy 1945
Emblem of the Polish 14th Wielkopolska Armoured Brigade
Badge of the Polish 2nd Corps

See also


  1. Davies, p. 448
  2. Roberts
  3. Vincent
  4. Davies, p. 444, 453
  5. Stefancic, p. 157, 159
  6. Davies, p. 272


External links

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