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General Wladyslaw Anders was a Polish general who commanded the Polish II Corps during the fighting in the Western Desert and in Italy, taking part in the final capture of Monte Cassino in May 1944.
Anders was born in Warsaw in 1892, at a time when that part of Poland was part of the Russian Empire. In 1914 Anders joined the Russian cavalry, and fought against the Germans until the Bolshevik revolution. He then switched sides, joining Pilsudski's Polish Corps, which had been fighting as part of the Austrian Army since 1914, in the belief that a victory for the Central Powers was the best route to an independent Poland.
That independent Poland came into existence after the collapse of German resistance in 1918. Anders became chief of staff of the Poznán Army, leading it against the Soviets in the Russo-Polish War of 1919-20. This began a long association between Poland and France, who had sent military advisors to help the Poles against the Soviets. Anders himself benefited from this association by studying at the Ecole de Guerre in 1922-24
At the start of the Second World War Anders fought against the German and then the Soviet invaders of Poland, finally being captured by the Soviets. After refusing the join the Red Army, Anders was imprisoned in the Lubianka, where he remained until the German invasion of Russian in 1941.
This attack forced Stalin to make some recognition of the Polish government in exile in London. As part of the agreement he agreed to form a Polish army from the prisoners still in Russian hands, and Anders agreed to command this army. His first task was to find the Polish prisoners scattered around the immense Soviet labour camp system. Even after two years, Anders was still able to find 159,000 men, although most of them were in terrible physical condition. Anders' next task was to convince Stalin to give his army enough equipment to allow them to fight, but although Stalin had agreed to the formation of the Polish corps, he had no intention of actually arming it. Eventually, in 1942 Anders (with Churchill's help) convinced Stalin to let him move his men from Russian into Persia, where they could fight with the British in the Western Desert.
Ander's Army fought with the British as the Polish II Corps, taking part in the campaigns in North Africa and in Italy. Their most famous achievement was the capture of Monte Cassino in May 1944, after three previous assaults had failed with heavy losses. II Corps remained in Italy to the end of the war, fighting on the Adriatic coast and in the Po Valley. Anders himself ended the war as acting commander of all Polish forces in the west.
At the end of the war the II Corps was disbanded, and 98,000 of the surviving 112,000 men decided to settle in the west, with only 14,000 returning to a newly Communist dominated Poland, large parts of which had been lost to the Soviets. Anders settled in Britain, taking command of the organisation that helped to resettle the Poles in the west, and acting as a leader of the Polish community in Britain until his death in 1970.
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