Get the Wojtek the Bear special miniature free only when ordering Tough Gut directly from the Warlord Games webstore.

While the fall of Poland at the start of World War Two was swift and (despite the heroism of Polish soldiers) more or less inevitable, it by no means precluded Polish participation throughout the rest of the war. A large number of Polish servicemen had been able to escape the Fall of Poland, and many of these would almost immediately be reformed in France – just in time to have to be evacuated once more. A significant number made it to Britain, however, and were determined to keep fighting. Many others were released en masse from Soviet prisoner-of-war camps and all would go on to serve admirably. Much has rightly been made of the contributions of Polish sailors and fighter pilots, but somewhat less is written of the soldiers of the Polish Armed Forces in the West (to give them their full title). With Campaign Italy: Tough Gut now out, complete with legendary Polish soldier (and bear!), Wojtek, as the special miniature, it’s a great time to look at the actions of Polish troops in the Italian campaign!

The primary Polish formation in Italy was the ‘Drugi Korpus Wojska Polskiego’, rendered in English as Polish II Corps. Officially an independent Polish unit (thanks to the Allied Forces Act 1940, which allowed the sovereign governments of Belgium, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, Norway, France, and Poland to maintain independent armed forces under their own laws and control on British soil), II Corps formed part of the British Eighth Army, and was commanded by General Władysław Anders, who had been released from the notorious Soviet Lubyanka prison, where he had been a prisoner of war, specifically for this task. Comprising two infantry divisions (the 3rd Carpathian Rifle and 5th Kresowa) and the 2nd Armoured Brigade, as well as supporting artillery and rear-echelon units, it was a well-equipped, well-trained, and well-motivated force.

Poles of the 3rd Carpathian Division raising their flag over Monte Cassino, May 1944.

The finest hour of II Corps would undoubtedly come in May 1944 during Operation Diadem, also known as the Fourth Battle of Monte Cassino. Vicious fighting raged for control of the hill known as Point 593, where Polish soldiers battled German Fallschirmjäger for three days, with both sides suffering horrendous casualties, while on the 17th/18th II Corps troops fought their way through the Cassino Heights towards the ruins of the ancient abbey. The fighting was savage, close-ranged (and at times hand-to-hand), but eventually a Polish flag would be raised over the ruins and a bugler played the ‘Hejnał mariacki‘ (St Mary’s Trumpet Call) at the foot of the abbey to announce the Allied victory. With over a thousand men killed, II Corps had paid a heavy price, but cemented their place in history as a hard-fighting, determined unit.

Naturally, the Polish assault is covered in Tough Gut, which means there need to be some rules for the Polish soldiers themselves – these too are included! It’s important to note that II Corps (and the vast majority of the rest of the Polish Armed Forces in the West) was fully supplied with British equipment and both British and American vehicles. To model them on the tabletop, simply use our excellent British plastic infantry – if you’re really keen, you could have a go at painting the Polish national insignia and titles on their battledress, but otherwise they look very much like a British force in battle. Tough Gut does however give us a new Polish late-war infantry section, available as Regulars or Veterans. While essentially the same in terms of equipment as their British counterparts, their Wild Geese special rule allows them to ignore the effects of one pin while taking Order Tests, and if fielding a Polish platoon, this can also be given to all officers, headquarters units, and infantry weapon teams for 1 point per man. Representing their fighting spirit, they use the Up and At ‘Em! National Characteristic from Armies of Great Britain, making them great for fans of an aggressive style of play.

There was also a small contingent of Polish Commandos present in the Italian campaign, and these too can be found in Tough Gut, packing all the special rules and fancy gear (like demolition charges, suppressed STEN submachine guns, and Achnacarry Training, which allows them to cross terrain features normally considered Impassable) that one would expect from such highly-trained elite soldiers. While not cheap in terms of points, they’re certainly dangerous on the tabletop, with their wide variety of rules making them very difficult to get to grips with and their equipment allowing them to dish out a ton of short-ranged punishment. They’re also a great excuse for some awesome and characterful kitbashes, using our plastic Commandos boxed set as a basis – the order of the day should be kit, gubbins, and more kit!

A Polish II Corps force presents a great variation on the tried-and-tested British Army force in Bolt Action – you can go elite and nasty with Commandos, or bring plenty of bodies with the Regular Polish infantry section. Either way, they favour aggressive handling, and can excel when the fighting gets up close and personal. For armoured support, look no further than the Shermans of the 2nd Armoured Brigade, with the Polish eagle emblems proudly emblazoned on their hulls. If you’ve got artillery, then of course you have to add the Wojtek special figure to the crew – his rules actually make him quite handy to have, and if he has to fight anyone, well… He’s a bear!

Corporal Wojtek, the Soldier Bear carries a crate of ammunition in the rugged terrain around Cassino.

High command says there’s a hill needs taking. Soldiers of Poland, prepare to advance!

1 comment
  1. Well, as a Pole (actually living in Germany) I’m moved by deep research and accuracy of this article. Thank You Sir! When someone will be in Italy monastery on Monte Cassino is really worth to watch, there is a polish cementery of II Corps casualtes as well…

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