The Anders Army was the name given to a large group of Polish troops and civilians who survived imprisonment and exile it the Soviet Union, were formed into a military unit within the Soviet Union and then moved under British control and most famously fought in Italy, taking part in the final battles at Monte Cassino. This book covers their entire vast journey, not just that well known Italian interlude.
The people who formed the Anders Army - both military and civilian - survived incredible adversity. In 1939 the Soviet Union invaded what was then eastern Poland, and began to deport anyone it didn't approve of and their families into the massive Soviet prison camp system (the infamous Gulag Archipelago). Hundreds of thousands of Poles were involved, and many didn't survive the experience. Those who did had to survive nearly two years of dreadful abuse, before the German invasion of the Soviet Union suddenly changed them from enemies of the revolution into potential allies. New Polish military units were formed inside the Soviet Union, under the command of General Anders, and from all across the prison camp network survivors of the purges made their way to Central Asia to join the army. The Soviets never did commit Anders's and his men to combat, and eventually they were allowed to move out of the Soviet Union, and into British custody in Iran, a move seen at the time as a great escape. From Iran the fighting men went to Egypt and Palestine, and then into combat in Italy, while their families were scattered across the world. At the end of the war very few chose to go back to Soviet occupied Poland, especially as many of them came from the eastern areas that became part of the Soviet Union, and instead were resettled elsewhere (many in Canada, Australia or Britain).
The period in Soviet captivity is the most compelling section of the story, revealing some of the horrors of the Soviet system. The officers within the Anders Army were lucky not to have been killed during the Katyn massacres, where the Soviets murdered around 22,000 Poles who they judged to be a threat to their take over of eastern Poland. Their desperate efforts to reach the newly formed army in 1941-42 and the eventual escape into Iran would make a compelling enough story by itself.
The later stages of the story are overshadowed by the slow realisation that Poland wouldn't emerge from the war a free country, or with anything even vaguely similar to her pre-war borders. This combines with the increasingly virulent anti-Polish propaganda coming from the Soviet Union to taint the eventual victory for many of the Poles.
The only minor quibble I have with this book is that it isn’t always possible to easily tell which bits are the authors work and which are the words of participants in the story, especially during some of the very lengthy extracts - I had to double check the author's biography a couple of times after reading long sections in the first person just to be sure!
The narrative is supported by copious first hand accounts, pictures and maps. Contemporary photos are supported by modern visits to many of the same sites.
This is a compelling account of one of the most impressive achievements of the Second World War, the creation of a major fighting unit from the survivors of Soviet repression.
1 - First Fruit of the Nazi-Soviet Pact 1939-1941
2 - The Consequences of Barbarossa, 1941
3 - Central Asia, 1942-1943
4 - Consolidation of the Army, 1941-1943
5 - Evacuation from the USSR, 1942-1943
6 - Iran, 1942-1943
7 - The Carpathian Brigade, 1941-1943
8 - Iraq, 1941-1943
9 - Who were the Andersowcy?
10 - Civilian Diaspora, 1942-1944
11 - Palestine, 1943-1945
12 - Sikorski's Last Mission, 1943
13 - 'The Ander's Aliyah', 1943
14 - Egypt, 1941-1945
15 - Italy: The Road to Monte Cassino, 1944
16 - Wojtek, the Soldier Bear, 1942-1963
17 - Italy: The Road from Monte Cassino, 1944-1945
18 - War's End: From Italy to Nowhere, 1945-1946
19 - Britain: End of the Trail, 1946-1948
20 - Retrospective
Author: Norman Davies