Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Spirit of Lions

Polish soldiers carry ammunition to the front lines during the battle of Monte Cassino.
The night before the attack, General Władysław Anders spoke to his troops saying “let the spirit of lions enter your hearts” and…”go and take a revenge for all the suffering in our land, for what you have suffered for many years in Russia and for years of separation from your families!(Source)
Long time Chanter Paweł hails from Poland and he reminded me the other day of the fall of the Abbey of Monte Cassino on the 18th of May in 1944. I was speaking of poppies and the upcoming Memorial Day, Paweł was remembering his valiant countrymen who gave their lives to crack a tough German defensive position in Italy.

Damned good men, damned fine soldiers.

Little did I know that two Poles wrote a song the night before that final assault on Monte Cassino. It was named Red Poppies on Monte Cassino.

Red Poppies on Monte Cassino

Do you see that rubble on the peak?
There, your foe is hiding like a rat
You have to, you have to, you have to
Grab his neck and from the clouds, knock him down
And they went ferocious and mad
And they went to kill and to avenge
And they went like always unyielding
Like always, for honor, fight

Red poppies on Monte Cassino
Instead of dew, were drinking Polish blood
Through these poppies walked soldier and died
But stronger than death was his wrath
Years go by and centuries will pass
The traces of old days will last
And all the poppies on Monte Cassino
Will be redder because from Polish blood they'll grow

They charged through fire, expendable
Not just one, took a bullet and died
Like those madman of Somosierra
Like those, years before, at Racławice
They charged with force of madmen
And they made it. The assault was successful
And their white and red banner
Was raised on the rubble among the clouds

Red Poppies...

Do you see this row of white crosses?
There Pole with honor, took oath.
Walk forward, the farther, the higher
The more of them you'll find at your feet
This earth belongs to Poland
Although, Poland is far away from here
Because freedom, by crosses, is measured
This is history's, one mistake

Red poppies...

Alfred Schütz and Feliks Konarski

Men of the Third Carpathian Rifle Division hear The Red Poppies performed by Alfred Schütz's orchestra, May 1944.

1,072 valiant Poles still watch over the Abbey...

Monte Cassino Abbey, as seen from the Polish cemetery.
Throughout the ages, men and women have fallen in the defense of freedom. They wore the uniforms of many nations, they followed many flags. The one thing they all have in common is a love of freedom, and the willingness to lay down their lives for that freedom.

Remember them...

Further reading and Sources:


  1. We had Polish neighbours where I grew up in East London. Great friends. Divisions of the Indian Army were also at Cassino - Magnificent soldiers - six VC’s awarded. What a hellish campaign.

    1. There were a number of nationalities in that fight. All fought very well indeed.

    2. it was almost like UN of the allies, from ANZAC to Hindu to French colonials and Poles at the end... Oh and of course US forces were there too, and also landed at Anzio where "play-it-safe" by commanding general wasted a great occassion to take Rome by surprise... and led to gruelling siege of the ebachhead by relentless German counterattacks.

    3. We here in the US of A just don't understand, and during WWII, obviously didn't understand, Italy's terrain. There is a very good reason that Italy for most of the non-Roman Empire time was a collection of city-states and small fiefdoms and powers, loosely gathered together amongst semi-flat spots up and down Italy.

      What a great country for defensive works. What lousy terrain for creation of a homogenous people.

      So some 'bright' staffer got the idea that only one big-arsed landing was needed, when 4-5 landings simultaneously, or mostly simultaneously, split up on either side of the country, would have been more successful. But then again, the same smart guys who thought up Makin and Tarawa (bloody Tarawa) probably also hand their hands in the Italian landings. Fortunately, we as a nation and as allies, learned much of what not to do at both Anzio and at Makin and Tarawa, Bloody Tarawa.

    4. Paweł - An apt description of the forces involved.

      FWIW, I don't hold Mark Clark in very high regard.

    5. Beans - The biggest problem with the Italian campaign was a lack of resources. Nobody but the British wanted to go in there, most planners realized the need to husband assets for the amphibious landings in France. More landings in Italy would have done nothing to end the war and probably would have extended it. The assets needed to land in Normandy would not have been there had there been more amphibious assaults in Italy. The Allies had a choice, Italy or France, we chose both, we chose poorly.

  2. And Monty threw them away in Market Garden, sending them into an unsecured daylight landing zone. But still they fought like Lions, like Winged Hussars.

    And now they once again stand as Europe's Saviors. Let us hope that just by standing up, standing tall, the enemies will be too fearful to try the might of the Lion.

    In southern Polish, "Niech Bóg broni prawicy!"

    (Well, loosely tranlated, it still sounds Southern...)

    1. I damned near bit my tongue off restraining myself from commenting on Montgomery. Then, realizing that it wouldn't translate well if I typed it, I decided to let it go. But yes, Monty's plan sucked.

      Again we look to Poland, not the first time, probably not the last.

      Southern Polish? Like down around Kraków?


    2. Well, there you go. Next time you are out of ideas, go riff on all things Montgomery. Don't hold back. Let it out. You know you do.

      Back in my SCA days, one of my friends was a 'knight' whose persona was from southern Japan. How could you tell? "Konichiwa, y'all."

    3. There's a ROK/DPRK version of that joke also.

    4. Damn. Now my thoughts are about Taka-Dave. Godspeed and absent friends...

      So, juvat, what's the ROK/DPRK version?

    5. juvat - No doubt there is amongst we Americans.

    6. Taka-Dave? Sounds like a sad story. You should tell it someday.

    7. https://youtu.be/xTQ0qdFhGkQ
      the jokes might be closer to the truth than imagined...
      unlikely soldiers from all over the world ended in the Civil War

    8. Nice clip. I've read of some of those soldiers, you'd be surprised.

    9. Must be just about universal now, especially with the disproportionate numbers of Southerners in the Armed Forces since the Civil War.

  3. The Poles fought with bravery and fortitude in the Second World War continuing their proud tradition of fierce warriors since at least the Battle of Vienna. Admittedly my Polish history is a little weak, I'm sure Pawel can help out there. Good linking there Sarge, that shot of the Polish cemetery backgrounded by the Casino......sobering.

    1. Got a little dusty reading of the Poles losses there.

  4. Still one of my favorite scenes in the movie Battle of Britain is about the Polish Squadron. It kinda reminded me of this poster I had in my dorm room.

  5. Thousands of lions at Cassino... and one bear.


    1. Yup, same link in the sources above.

    2. Poles have been looking for besting Texans in flamboyancy, so they went with this:
      Right to keep and arm bears.

    3. Parachuting Polish Bears with Guns. God! What a magnificent image! Now put that into a video game or movie! Would beat wookies all to heck!!!

    4. I swear I looked, and I didn’t notice that. Sorry. I’ve been down and distracted and out of it lately.

      On the other hand, you’re correct, and the American Heritage Museum is pretty great. My brother was kinda astonished to discover something that world-class just down the street. He had to get his picture taken with the Scud, heh.

    5. Paweł - Yup, nothing beats an armed bear, correction, an armed Polish bear!

    6. Beans - Oh Lord, now the armed Polish bears are dropping from the sky!

    7. a bear - In all fairness, who looks at footnotes? I seldom do. I hope I didn't come across as snarky, just wanted to say that I knew about Wojtek. In one of those links there's apparently going to be a statue of Wojtek in Warsaw, that would be something to see!

  6. I would add one more battle that at least deserves a post on anniversary...
    Closing of the Falaise Gap. Polish 1st Armored Div. was the tip of the spear of the southward Monty's drive that eventually made contact with Pattons troops driving from the south. German 2nd SS Panzer Corps, the formation that would go on to be crucial in Arnhem, failed to dislodge the stubborn Poles who at one time had to organise circular defence perimeter. I could only wonder how they felt having their revenge for 1939, with Germans now on receiving end of blitzkrieg style encirclement... complete with allies havinmg total air supremacy.

    1. The Poles fought spectacularly.

      But Monty was quite willing and able to toss them away and use them recklessly, and too many good men paid with their lives for Monty's fecklessness.

      The Poles have always been good tankers, taking to them like the superb cavalry they have always been. Polish tankers bought their country precious time to fall back, only to be stabbed in the back, sometimes literally, by those bastard Soviet Russians.

      Not enough has been written as to the damage the Poles caused against the Wermacht and the German panzers, or the Luftwaffe. Poland kind of screwed with Hitler's master time-table in a most glorious way. And few know it, only thinking 'Duh, stupid Poles tossing horse-cavalry against tanks' when that didn't happen. Hate how everyone 'knows' the falsehoods and not the facts. Grrr.

      Though the Italians did pretty well with their cavalry attacks against Soviet Russians a couple years later.

    2. Paweł - Wherever the Poles fought, they fought hard and they fought well. I am familiar with the 1st Polish Armored Division at Falaise. Yes, that deserves a post of its own.

    3. Beans - There's that name again...

      Seriously, you're right. The Poles hurt the Germans badly in 1939. They had to rethink a lot of their doctrine after the Polish campaign, which sucked for the French and the British.

      Of course, if those two had pitched into the fight while the bulk of the Wehrmacht was in Poland, would have been a very different war. Possibly a shorter one as well.

    4. Yes, it would have been nice if France and England had actually joined in with all their treaty partners. The Finns would not have been left swinging in the wind and having to go to Germany for help.

    5. True, but it was pretty unlikely due to the doctrine of the time. They assumed that WWII would be a rehash of WWI. The Huns had a different idea.

    6. Well, totally not in Britain and France's defense, it's not like their own observers and spies didn't report on what the Nazis practiced with Soviet Russia, then in Spain, then in lots of wargames before Poland. But who believes the man on the street when you and your fellow 'betters' know everything, right?

    7. Ah yes, the "betters." Always the bane of mankind.

  7. Ifs to the left of them, ifs to the right of them, ifs in front of them; Into the valley of what-ifs rode the gallant.

    1. Puts me in mind of Kipling, well the "if" part.

      One of the things I find so fascinating about history is the "what ifs."

    2. "One of the things I find so fascinating about history is the "what ifs." " One of the reasons I think you would like alt-history. The book ' 1632 ' by Eric Flint would be a good place to start.


    3. Or the Harry Turtledove books, before he got boring.

      There's a web page, Luft46.com, that looks at the plane projects the Germans had in the works, both actual and theoretical models. If Poland hadn't punched the Nazis so hard and they had to rebuild their army, some of those radical aviation designs could have come out in time to actually matter.

    4. Paul - I keep meaning to get a copy of that book, I've read a brief synopsis and it sounds right up my alley.

    5. Beans - I've read a couple of the Turtledove books (a long, long time ago), plausible "what ifs" if you ask me. Not all alternate histories are (I can't stand The Man in the High Castle, for example.)

      As to the designs the Luftwaffe might have fielded, who knows? They had the most advanced fighter in the world in the Me-262. Hitler declared it a bomber. For revenge ya know. Thank God the Nazis were mostly incompetent jackwagons. Not the soldiers, sailors, and airman of the Wehrmacht, but the party boys definitely so.

      Again, thank God for that.

    6. Well, in Hitler's defense, we have one of the most advanced fighters in the F-35 yet we want it to do the A-10's job. So, stupidity still continues today.

    7. We want it to do everything.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)