My father's old soldier buddy recently gave me a copy of a small
publication put together on the occasion of their unit's 20 year
reunion in Toronto in 1964.
My father was in the 9th PAL.PAC regiment of the 2nd Corps Artillery
Group. The 2nd Artillery Group was independant of the infantry and
mechanized divisions and was used for flexible support where needed.
At Monte Cassino, as a lieutenant, he commanded a battery (4 guns)
of medium sized field artillery from his command post situated
At the reunion, a few of the hosting soldiers recalled some of their
experiences. These stories were published in the booklet and I was
surprised to see one of my father's in there as well.
I had assumed that the artillery soldier led a safe life well back
of the front lines. I did not realize that their gun positions
endured constant shelling from the Germans.
His story, like so many others, illustrates the pure luck (or divine
intervention) needed by an individual to survive the war.
The command post was a hole dug into the rock and soil with a wood
plank roof covered in dirt. It was large enough for a few men and
their sleeping cots and a table for a phone link to HQ and maps. At
the entrance they built a "gniazdo bocianie" or "stork's nest,"
ringed with sandbags, from where my father could watch and direct
the action. A wooden telephone cable spool, covered in a blanket was
his "wygodny fotel" (comfy chair). He communicated with his gunners
by one way telephone headsets. The gunners would raise their hands
if they heard and understood.
At 11:05 pm on the 11th of May, his battery opened fire to join the
huge assault on Monte Cassino. This went on all night until, near
5:30 AM on the 12th, he had to give a new set of instructions to the
gunners. All raised their hands to acknowledge the order save for
plutonowy (sergeant) Zmijowski, commanding gun number one. My father
initiated the new firing sequence with guns 2,3 and 4 then jumped
out of his nest to see what was wrong with gun number one.
He had gotten no further than 10 steps when his nest was destroyed
by a German shell. Everything, including his comfy chair, had been
smashed. The blanket was so cut up by shrapnel, it ressembled
fishing net. Support logs holding up the roof nearby had the bark
peeled right off. His mates were shocked to see him poke his head
inside as they had all assumed that he had been blown to
It turned out that gunner number one had taken off his headset for a
moment to rest his weary ears. I would like to thank plutonowy
Zmijowski for accidentally saving my father's life.
Over the course of the Italian campaign, the regiment lost 6 men
killed and 42 wounded. Eighty percent of these losses were due to
incoming German artillery but a few men stepped on land mines, were
injured by prematurely detonated shells or were crushed by the
artillery pieces. A number of them were wounded at the observation
posts, near the front lines, where they were keeping a close eye on
the action and reporting back to HQ.