Polish forces stormed Monte Cassino 75 years ago

The 75th anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino was commemorated in Warsaw on Sunday at the Monument to the Battle of Monte Cassino, located by the gates of the city's Krasińskich Gardens.

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The Sunday commemoration included a roll call, a salvo of honour and the laying of wreaths at the monument. Earlier in the day the city also commemorated the anniversaries of the deaths of the pre-WWII Polish Chief of State Marshal Józef Piłsudski and the WWII hero and commander of the Polish troops that captured Monte Cassino General Władysław Anders.

In a letter to those in attendance, the Minister of National Defence Mariusz Błaszczak wrote that capturing the monastery at Monte Cassino was one of the most glorious pages in the history of the Polish military.

"The soldiers storming the stronghold held by Germans showed unprecedented bravery, courage and persistence. In his call to attack, General Anders said that 'In these times the thoughts and hearts of the whole nation will be with us, we will be sustained by the spirits of our comrades in arms. May the lion live in your hearts,'" wrote the minister.

Also taking part in the commemoration was Senator, Plenipotentiary Secretary of State for International Dialogue and the daughter of General Anders – Anna Maria Anders. Ms Anders said that the Monte Cassino anniversary is always a very personal and emotional time for her.

"I remember my father's last visit to Monte Cassino 50 years ago. Being here, I wonder if my father, who so dreamed of a free Poland, could have possibly expected that 50 years on, this free Poland exists. I am not only here as his daughter but also as a senator and secretary of state. I visited Monte Cassino many times and I remember instances when there were no representatives of the Polish government in attendance, we were only there with veterans and emigre representatives. I am pleased that today veterans of the battle receive their due honours and that the commemorations [at Monte Cassino] will be attended by the presidents of Poland and Italy," said Ms Anders.

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Doing the impossible

The 1944 Battle of Monte Cassino, Italy, pitted the Allies against Nazi German forces who captured a medieval monastery and turned it into a fortress which defended a road leading towards Rome. The old Benedictine abbey, perched atop a precipitous hill, proved to be a perfect stronghold for the German forces, which fended off Allied attacks for 123 days. The tables turned when Polish troops under General Władysław Anders launched their offensive on May 12 and seized the abbey by May 18, 1944.

Polish troops played a pivotal role in the successful siege but paid a heavy price for their effort. Among the 54,000 Allied troops who lost their lives on the battlefield, about 1,000 were Polish. They were later buried in the Polish war cemetery on the slopes of Monte Cassino, which also became the final resting place of their commander, General Władysław Anders, who died decades later.

To this day, the efforts of Polish troops, in what proved to be one of the bloodiest battles of the entire conflict, remain one of the most well-known examples of wartime heroism and sacrifice.