WA = General Władyslaw Anders' book, An Army in Exile
Anders received permission from Soviet authorities for the transfer of troops to the south.The Polish army in Russia’s new
headquarters were at Yangi-Yul (meaning New Road), near Tashkent. “Soon a flood of men began to arrive.”
By then, almost all had English uniforms and underwear but epidemics like typhus spread rapidly because they were in such
poor health and “there is little soap in Russia and an enormous number of parasites.”
“People still kept reaching the army area from the north but the Soviet authorities put more and more obstacles in their way. Whole convoys were forced to leave their trains and were left stranded in the steppes without any supplies. There was no possibility of buying food in Russia , and anyone deprived of rations simply starved to death.”
“People would leave the camps and not return, vanishing without trace as so often happens in Russia. The NKVD even kidnapped people inside the camps.” (See In and Out of Nowhere, Hunger Knows No Fear and The Quiet Hero)
Anders protested to Soviet authorities but “in spite of official promises that this would never happen again, it continued until our departure.” (WA)
Time of army’s move from Buzuluk to Yangi-Yul.
Soviet authorities opposed the enlistment in the Polish army of national minorities, in contravention of the agreement of
July 30, 1941 which stated expressly that all Polish citizens be released. Stalin’s promise to issue arms for two divisions
was not fulfilled. Arms were only issued to the 5th division and even then in inadequate quantities. (WA)
Anders was receiving pressure from Red Army commander General Zhukov “to send individual divisions to the front” Anders said he would ask Sikorski but was against it. Sikorski agreed to keep the Polish army on Russian soil, intact. “I could not point out to General Zhukov, though as a matter of fact the Russians were well aware of it, that we were also feeding the many Polish women and children who had arrived near the military camp. It was the only way of keeping them alive.” (WA)
(TIME magazine put Zhukov on its cover later in 1942.)
Beginning of March 1942
“That our refusal to send single divisions to the [Russian] front had seriously displeased the Soviet authorities soon
became evident… General Khrulov, the officer in charge of Red Army supplies, advised me that after March 20 the number
of rations issued to Polish troops would be reduced to 26,000. That meant utter disaster. I already had about 70,000 men in
the ranks… the soldiers were already going short so they could keep the women and children from starving to death. The
only reserve I had was an emergency supply of food I had received from Great Britain.”
Anders telegrams Stalin about the issue.
Stalin’s reply re-iterated the decision to reduce rations on March 20 but said the number supplied would be 30,000. Stalin’s excuse for the shortage was that not as many supplies as expected had arrived from America. (WA)
March 18, 1942
Stalin invited Anders to Moscow and received him in the company of Molotov. Stalin agreed to increase the rations to 44,000
and “saw the need” to feed the civilians. He asked about the “present strength” of the Polish army.
Anders said it was growing daily and estimated it was about 80,000.
Anders suggested a “quick evacuation to Persia” and the organisation of a depot at Krasnovosdk and possibly also Ashkabad.
Anders said he would “keep 44,000 of the fittest soldiers in Russia.”
Everything was “settled” 20 minutes after Anders arrived back at his hotel. (WA)
March 25 to April 25, 1942
First evacuation to Persia.
“Not only did the Russians take these decisions quickly, but they promptly and energetically took action to organise transport for those to be evacuated. Further, in response to insistent requests by me, they agreed that a number of women and children should also go to Persia, bringing the total number of evacuees to 40,000. The convoys were to go by rail to Krasnovodsk, and from there by boat to Pahlevi.”
Anders gets in touch with Polish Headquarters in the Middle East to organise “welfare assistance in agreement with British authorities.” To prepare for the evacuees, Anders sends Chief Medical Officer, General Szarecki, Colonel Okulicki and British liaison officer with the Polish army in the Soviet Union, Lieutenant-Colonel Hulls to Pahlevi. (WA)
March 26, 1942
Anders was angered by a telegram he received from Kot:
“Cypher telegram from Kuybyshev, P. 472, dated 26.3.42. General Anders. Information on evacuation of civilians with the army has spread causing a violent flood of people from the north and an uncontrollable movement southwards. I request that you issue instructions for the evacuation to be organised as discreetly as possible in order to hamper the spreading of this news. Kot, Ambassador. 779.”
Anders refused to countenance Kot’s suggestion:
“… The soldiers had shared their poor rations with the civilians, who had gathered under the wing of the army for protection, knowing that they could only survive in that way. Hundreds and thousands of Poles had already perished in transit and reserve centres. I accordingly gave orders that any Pole who reported should be included in the military transport, and all nurseries and orphanages.” (WA)
March 27, 1942
Anders received a telegram from General Klimecki, Polish Chief of Staff in London. (At the time, General Sikorski was in
“Cypher telegram from London P. 473, dated 27.3.42. Commander Polish Forces USSR. British authorities are alarmed by the news that families are included in military transports, this not being within the framework of the evacuation scheme. In view of the great food difficulties in Iran it is necessary to stop absolutely transport of families until agreement is reached with British authorities as it may hamper or restrict military evacuation. How many members of families have you already evacuated and how many do you intend to evacuate? Chief of General Staff. 2228.” (WA)
Anders’ rationale: “The time-table for evacuation had already been arranged. It was to begin almost immediately and would take place over a period of about a week. Any Pole who did not leave Russia then would probably never do so.”
He received two more telegrams—from Klimecki and Kot:
“There was no time for long explanations and arguments by telegram: either I could save the civilian population or leave it to its fate. Evacuation might mean that some would die in Persia, but if they stayed in Russia they would soon all be dead. I decided to take full responsibility, and that the evacuation of civilians should proceed as planned. Therefore I did not cancel my orders and instructions.” (WA)
March 29, 1942
Anders flew to Tashkent, over Ashkabad to Teheran, where he found the British authorities “helpful and sympathetic.” He then flew on to Cairo as Sikorski wanted him to go to London. (WA)
April 21, 1942
Anders lands in England.
While in London
Anders met British Prime Minister Winston Churchill for the first time and told him of the urgent need to evacuate the whole Polish army from Russia to the Middle East. (WA)
April 23, 1942
Conference of Polish commanding officers at General Sikorski’s HQ.
On Sikorski’s request, Anders went to Scotland and visited the Polish units stationed there, including motorised and paratrooper units and Polish airmen of the 303 Squadron who had played such a significant part in the Battle of Britain. (WA)
April 27, 1942
Another conference of commanding officers of the Polish Armed Forces, to discuss general military situation and the
participation of Polish troops in the war.
The first item on agenda was the organisation of Polish army formations in Scotland, USSR & Middle East and that of the Air Force, Navy & Parachute Brigade. (WA)
Before Anders departed from London
Anders had another meeting with Sikorski lasting “many hours.” Sikorski was beginning to doubt the good faith of
the Soviet Union. Anders urged Sikorski to withdraw the remaining men from Russia and to do it “while she was still
weak and menaced by Germany.”
Sikorski offered Anders a post in London or to command troops in the Middle East but Anders declined, saying he wanted to complete the work he had began in Russia and did not want the men to think he had deserted them. Anders was appointed Inspector of the troops in the Middle East.
Anders asked Sikorski to do his best to “counteract the mendacious propaganda the Russians were making about the so-called second front.” (WA)
May 20, 1942
In Cairo, Anders has a “long” conference with General Auchinleck, Commander-in-Chief of British troops in the
Middle East “about the organisation of troops in the Middle East as affected by the arrival of Polish units from Soviet
Anders met General Mason MacFarlane, who was on his way to Gibraltar to take over the duties of Governor there.
On the way to Teheran, Anders was joined by an American officer of Polish descent, Major Szymanski. He could speak Polish and was on his way to Russia to act as American liaison officer there. He was refused entry.
Lieutenant-Colonel Hulls was a “great help to the Polish cause, and was one of the few Westerners I knew who really understood the Russian problem.” He remained with Anders and they reached Yangi-Yul together.(WA)
In Teheran, Anders met the Shah of Iran and thanked him for his sympathy towards the Poles and his hospitality to them. Anders stopped to chat to some of the groups of Poles he saw walking in the streets and was told they felt they had “awakened from a long nightmare.” (WA)
In Yangi-Yul the “situation had greatly deteriorated. The NKVD were interfering more and more in Polish affairs, and difficulties and obstacles were put in our way at every step.”
Arms had still not been supplied and fewer rations were being delivered. Malaria was taking a “heavy toll in lives owing to the poor state our people were in. Thousands of Poles were still held in labour camps and prisons, and rumours of the mass extermination of our missing officers were gaining currency.”
Sikorski’s reply to a telegram from Anders: “For reasons of high policy the troops have to stay in Soviet Russia.”
Soviet authorities began arresting staff members at the Polish Embassy in Kuybyshev.
Ambassador Kot leaving his post because of “ill health” before a replacement was found did not help matters. His position was temporarily assumed by Counsellor of the Embassy Henryk Sokolnicki. (WA)
A visit to troops by Polish Army Bishop, the Very Reverend J Gawlina (Apparently the Soviet government was trying to prove to
the US and UK that there was religious freedom in Russia.)
Bishop Gawlina stayed with the troops until their evacuation to Persia. (WA)
The Polish army spent its last months in the Soviet Union in Uzbekistan
Stalin had presented Anders with two horses, which he used to “ride by concentration camps, where I saw thousands of wretched people in rags, looking just as my soldiers has looked on their arrival not long before.” (WA)
July 7, 1942
At Kuybyshev, Anders spoke with British Ambassador, Sir Archibald Clark Kerr, who said that a few days previously Molotov had offered to evacuate the Polish army to the Middle East. “… Just as we were talking he received a telegram from the British Government instructing him to approach the Soviet Government in connection with the evacuation of the Polish army, and to intervene in favour of the evacuation of families of servicemen, and Polish children.” (WA)
July 8, 1942
A year after the signing of the Polish-Soviet Agreement 171 Polish men left the gold-mining gulag of Kolyma. They arrived at
the army enlistment station just before its departure from Russia:
“Nearly all had lost fingers and toes, and their bodies were covered with symptoms of scurvy…”
Later Anders spoke to them and received 62 written reports from them. He summed up their experiences in the place where “You can eat gold with a spoon” and “Kolyma means death.” (WA)
Lieutenant-Colonel Tishkov of the NKVD met Anders when he returned from Kuybyshev, and informed Anders of the Soviet Government’s decision to move the Polish army to Persia. he handed Anders a letter:
“From Moscow. Ref 2651/1224. Deliver immediately. Urgent. Official. Yangi-Yul. Commander-in-Chief Polish Army in USSR, Lt-Gen Anders. The Government of the USSR agrees to the request of the Commander-in-Chief Polish army in USSR, Lt-Gen Anders, concerning the evacuation of Polish units from the USSR to the Middle East and does not intend to put any obstacles in the way of the immediate carrying out of that evacuation. Plenipotentiary of the Council of People’s Commissars in USSR, for Polish Affairs.” Seal Major General of State Secretary, signed Zhukov.
This allowed for the evacuation of about 70,000 Poles and included about 4,000 Jews. The Soviet orders specifically forbade the inclusion of Polish Jews, Ukrainians and White Ruthenians but Anders negotiated a concession for the Polish Jews who had enlisted and their families. (WA)
Two weeks was allowed for “completing the task.”
Anders received permission to have Chief of Staff General Bohusz-Szyszko stay behind “to wind up all matters connected with our stay in Soviet Russia, see that the men in hospital at the time of the evacuation could leave later, and look after the new arrivals who still appeared at Yangi-Yul in spite of the measures being taken by the NKVD.” (WA)
August 12, 1942
Anders receives a telegram to meet at “Very Important Person” in Moscow.
August 13, 1942
Anders meets with General Wavell and the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir Alan Brooke. “They were sympathetic
[to the Poles’ problems] but were obviously very preoccupied by the very critical military situation of Russia.”
Anders was told Churchill expected him at 8.30pm and dined with “others.”
“Churchill did not turn up till three in the morning, when he appeared very satisfied with the results of his talk with Stalin.”
As there was not enough time left for talks between Anders and Churchill, they arranged to do so in Cairo at a later date. (WA)
August 19, 1942
Anders left the Soviet Union, bound for Teheran.
“I was seen off at the airport by Soviet generals and other dignitaries in a most courteous and ceremonious way. Indeed, it is only right to make clear that since I left prison the Soviet authorities had tried to emphasise by their conduct towards me my privileged position and personal prestige. Had it not been for the terrible sufferings of my fellows, I should have no reason to complain.” (WA)
Anders on Zhukov: “… although [he was] devoted heart and soul to the Communist regime… I owed it to his energy that the two evacuations were carried out so efficiently, and it was thanks to him, also, that I succeeded in getting many thousands of men released from prisons and concentration camps who would otherwise never have been freed.” (WA)
“We who left Soviet territory then and in the following weeks numbered something under 115,000.” (WA)
“As soon as we had left Soviet Russia, the Kremlin began to organise a new Polish army under Russian Communist command. This was patronised by the so-called Union of Polish Patriots.”
“A Russian broadcasting station took the name of the beloved Polish military hero Kosciuszko, to broadcast their own slant of ‘news’ of Poland and to deceive Poles all over the world.” (WA)
Anders questioned why he was able to find only three of the officers among the troops in his last battle in Rajgrodek in September 1939, and questioned Soviet authorities regarding the whereabouts of thousands of other missing officers.
Polish officers who had been in the Griasovietsk POW camp told Anders that the Kozielsk, Starobielsk and Ostashkov POW camps were “broken up in the spring of 1940, the prisoners from them being taken in batches to an unknown destination. From that time their families received no more letters from them.”
Of the 15,000 officer POWs Anders knew of, only 400 were released after the Polish-Soviet Agreement of July 30, 1941. (WA)
August 22, 1942
Anders met with Churchill, in the presence of General Sir Maitland Wilson, commander of PAI Force (All British forces in Iran
and Iraq, with headquarters in Baghdad.
Churchill said it was originally intended to place Polish forces in North Persia, where the Tenth Army was being developed as part of the command to which General Sir Maitland Wilson had just been appointed.
Anders talked about the Poles still in Russia:
“… Churchill also said he thought it would be well to obtain President Roosevelt’s co-operation in this matter.”
Anders told Churchill about the disappearance of large numbers of officers and the urgent need for securing the evacuation of Polish children, “for they could not be expected to survive another winter.”
Churchill replied that he had given orders for women and children to be “received from Russia together with the troops.”
Regarding the officers, Churchill “thought it possible that the Russians were averse to letting them go for fear of the stories they might spread about their treatment.”
When Anders talked of the Russians’ perfidy, “Churchill pointed out to me how dangerous such language as I was using would be if spoken in public. No good, he said, would come of antagonising the Russians.” (WA)
Anders met with the British Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East, General Sir Harold Alexander:
“At that time Rommel’s troops, having taken Tobruk, stood close to Alexandria and Cairo, and when I first met General Alexander he was working, in the most difficult circumstances, at plans for the Battle of El Alamein, later won so brilliantly by General (later Field-Marshal) Montgomery, who at the head of the Eighth Army led his soldiers from one victory to another… The part played by General Auchinleck in the critical time after Tobruk has never been adequately made known. This splendid soldier carried out a most difficult task when he took over command of the routed troops and, averting catastrophe at the last moment, brought the enemy to a standstill. Had he not done so, the North African offensive would not only have been impossible, but the Mediterranean would have been closed to the Allies; while the Germans, who at the same time were advancing towards the Caucasus, would have attained their aim of mastery over the Middle East.” (WA)
Anders visited the Carpathian Lancers, in a front sector not far from Cairo.
On the way back to Teheran, Anders inspected the area allotted to the Polish army in Iraq, “travelling by way of
Baghdad to Quizil Ribat and Khanaqin… endless expanses of desert shimmering under a blinding sun, and almost a
complete lack of water…”
Anders travelled by car from Khanaqin to Teheran, passing through Kermanshah and Hamadan, and met “great convoys of lorries moving southwards filled with unfamiliar figures in Australian slouch hats, shirts and shorts, and covered with dust. But their smiling faces were familiar, and my heart beat faster to hear their gay Polish songs…” (WA)
August 28, 1942
Anders visited the military and civilian camps in Pahlevi and took a march-past of the troops on the beach.
“I returned from Pahlevi by the most beautiful road I have ever seen, the Shah’s road connecting Pahlevi with Teheran. At first it ran not far from the shore of the Caspian Sea, with wide tilled fields on either side, but then it gradually climbed, passing through mountain gorges and dense forests, from which it emerged high in the mountains, to wind at a great height along the edges of a precipice, diving, at one place, into a tunnel through the rock. The road was open to traffic only five months of the year: snow drifts, avalanches and flooded mountain streams made it impassable the rest.” (WA)
(Did the Shah have a separate road or was this the same road the Polish evacuees took in buses and trucks that did not hug the road as well as a senior military commander’s car?)
Anders arranged for civilian camps and hospitals for civilian evacuees from Pahlevi.
“Even after their arrival in Teheran the effects of their past privations were so great that many died, and within a few weeks there were over a thousand crosses in the Polish cemetery.” (WA)
As Minister of State in the Middle East, Kot helped Anders organise the Documentation Office, “which obtained statements from all the Poles who had been through Soviet prisons and camps.” (WA)
Arrival in Teheran of General Klimecki, Chief-of-Staff of the Polish Commander-in-Chief. Anders pushed for the name The Polish Army. Sikorski agreed. (WA)
General Bohusz-Szyszko was told to wind up his work as Liquidation Committee in Yangi-Yul. The officer commanding the base at Ashkabad (now Ashgabat) in Turkmenistan was also “compelled to depart” the USSR. (WA)
Anders received a report on the desertion of Lieutenant-Colonel Zygmunt Berling “and several officers who had belonged to the group trained in the Communist spirit at the so-called ‘Villa of Happiness’ near Moscow. They took with them a car and all the documents at our base at Krasnovosk.”
Berling and other Union of Polish Patriots, including a Madame Wanda Wasilewska, married to Soviet Commissar Kornieytchuk, ran the Kosciuszko radio station, “spreading libellous reports and propagating the idea of a Polish State entirely dependent on Soviet Russia. Its extravagant statements soon became a joke among Polish troops in the Middle East who knew what conditions really were in Russia.” (WA)
Anders was transferred to the new Polish army headquarters in Quizil Ribat, which “… consisted of several
primitive little huts, and were surrounded by a sea of tents pitched on the sand of the desert and already occupied by Polish
During a malaria outbreak soldiers “only grumbled about the slowness in the arrival of arms and equipment and the consequent delay in their training.” (WA)
A visit by British Minister of State for the Middle East Richard Casey. Anders spoke to Casey about the Poles who remained in
Soviet Russia and asked him to intervene.
“… I told him that nearly every one of the soldiers marching past him had left some of his near relations in Russia, and that is they knew that these would be able to join them it would have a marvellous boost on morale.” (WA)
General Maitland Wilson arrived in Baghdad.
“Munitions began to arrive, and officers and men began intensive training with the greatest keenness… Our chief task was mechanising the army, which meant that 20,000 drivers had to be trained…” (WA)
The Third Carpathian Rifle Division arrived from Palestine.
“It had been formed from the Carpathian Infantry Brigade, which under Brigadier-General Stanisław Kopanski had fought so brilliantly in Lybia and Tobruk, and which was later reinforced with soldiers sent from Russia in the first stage of the evacuation.” (WA)
The Carpathian Lancers arrived, with Major Władysław Bobinski. Thanks to “his great experience and energy, and that of his fellow officers, we were soon able to train the two remaining armoured reconnaissance regiments
12th Podole Lancers
15th Poznan Lancers.” (WA)
Anders consented to give up 3,500 of his “best soldiers to reinforce the Polish Air Force in Great Britain. This was a heavy loss to the army, but we made the sacrifice very willingly, as we were all proud of our Air Force and in particular the part it had played in the Battle of Britain.” (WA)
British Eighth Army victory at El Alamein.
“The strained relations between our Government and the Soviet Union were also made evident by a Soviet Note handed, in October 1942, to our Foreign Minister, Count E Raczynski, definitely refusing to allow any further enlistment in the Polish army of Poles remaining in the Soviet Union. They reinforced their refusal by accusing the Polish army in the Soviet Union and the Commander of the Polish army (myself) of having purposely and without reason refused to send Polish troops to the [Russian] front, thus breaking, they argued, the military agreement of August 14, 1941.” (WA)
November 23, 1942
Anders visited Casey in Cairo. Casey told Anders he had approached Churchill but “the reply had been that the circumstances were not favourable to British intervention with Soviet Russia on behalf of the Poles.” (WA)
© Barbara Scrivens, 2014
Updated October 2016