Major Leon Gnatowski

from "Monte Cassino" by Melchior Wańkowicz

And still Gnatowski lives - and fights

Major Leon Gnatowski

After lieutenant commander Domon withdrew from Widmo, everybody thought there were none of our soldiers on the hill. The reality was different. As lieutenant colonel Domon says - he gave Major Gnatowski from a distance by shouting the command to withdraw.

As it may be - Major Gnatowski stayed in Widmo with a group of his soldiers and 10 soldiers from the 17th squadron under the command of lieutenant Zajdzinski, who didn't receive the command to withdraw, either.

The last connection was broken, already at three in the morning there was no one to make the phone line work, because the phone patrols have been killed. Three patrols which have been sent to the battalion were killed, too.

Major Gnatowski, a Masovian, a hard fellow, wounded 1920, twice wounded in the September campaign, "Virtuti"1 bearer, remembers the command received from the battalion: the overall attack was due at 15.00 o'clock.

1 Note after the battle: decorated for Monte Cassino with the Virtuti Crest IV class and given the grade of lieutenant commander.

Major Gnatowski waits. Major Gnatowski sends patrols in all directions. He sends sergeant Pawlik to the back to turn around the company of captain Bartosik, who was given the order to withdraw. Pawlik doesn't come back. So he sends sergeant major Malczak - Malczak reports that Widmo in the back is empty. The 18th squadron has disappeared, taking captain Bartosik's company, too. He sends second lieutenant Domiechowski to the right - second lieutenant Domiechowski reports only wounded and dead there. The same news is brought by a runner sent to the left - no living soul there, only wounded and dead ones. They ask major Gnatowski not to send them for a search anymore. It's obvious... They were left alone... And there, where the runners have been sent, they have nothing for a cover. Every covering boulder, every rock was taken by a wounded or nailed by a corps.

Major Gnatowski doesn't want to believe. How is it - at 15.00 was to be our attack. If there's no one there before the attack, than it's probably because they are regrouping. They have to hold on.

Major Gnatowski doesn't know that just at the moment lieutenant Beres, the last company officer of captain Kromkaya's Carpatian Division is withdrawing his people.

Major Gnatowski doesn't know that just at that moment on the right side lieutenant Domanski, tragic commander of the rest of two companies 13 attacks a bunker and dies.

Major Gnatowski doesn't know that there's nothing behind him, because the 18th escaped. He doesn't know that the corps commander at 14.00 gave the order for all companies to leave Widmo.

He only knows he has to hold on. His soldiers know it, too.

Lieutenant Domiechowski's gunmen beat with two machine guns. He is a good soldier - young, companionable, tough… They have a third machine gun, but it's silent, the gunmen suffer, they keep in reserve... Lieutenant Domiechowski told them not to reveal the position of the third machine gun. But sergeant Magiera takes his harmonica and begins playing a folks tune. A missile falls in, destroys the harmonica and wounds his face. First of all Magiera picks up the machine gun and puts it in another place, as, once having discovered it, they will surly destroy it, and only then he sits down and dries his face up.

The attack has been stopped, they even move behind the Germans. Sergeant Oczkowicz, who's not a bazooka shooter, found a lone bazooka missile. He tears the bazooka from the shooter, runs under the fire of Spandau guns to the german bunker and burns it down.

After pushing back the attack the excitement ebbs down. German missiles whistle. Besides of that deep silence is in Widmo. Times goes on…

It's 15.00 o'clock and our artillery begins a vicious attack of Widmo. The brigade doesn't know our soldiers are stuck there.

Maybe they're repeating the night's plan? - thinks major Gnatowski in his masovian head. So everybody has to hold on for 45 minutes because according to this plan, after 45 minutes the fire will be moved on.

And besides, the German fire doesn't stop attacking Widmo. From this compliant fire of both artilleries there are many wounded. Sanitary Radziewicki, having no bandage left, takes his own shirt off and tends to the wounded. Sanitary Radziewicki can not afford looking for cover. He's always moving. He is wounded. He goes on bandaging. Naked to the waist, he now tears the shirts of the wounded.

The soldier begins to get nervous. Where is the command? Where are the other battalions? Are we surrounded?

Time goes on… Maybe the supply is coming, maybe they'll come about 15.00. Major Gantowski makes a one more try - he sends lieutenant Konopacki to the brigade to find it out. Wounded lieutenant Konopacki didn't get there.

From Corno, about 2 miles away, two Germans show themselves with their arms raised. Apparently they hope to provoke fire to see our positions. This afternoon, May 12th, the confusion in the mountains is so great, that even they, who know exactly where our positions are, get lost.

Now a thing happens which is difficult to forget. The "unmotivated" and weakened soldiers are being attacked by a German strike coming from the hill in front, which is going to give them the rest.

How everyone jumps up! Free machine gunmen grab rifles and run forward. Rifleman Adamowicz sprints with a big stone in his hand. The Germans, magnificent soldiers in the bunkers don't like such a play. They retreat.

Major Gnatowski understands there'll be no Polish attack. Major Gnatowsksi is September's veteran - in September the soldier waited for the benevolent night. It's May now and real darkness will come only at 21.00.

Then he orders:

  1. Second lieutenant Bartoszak leads all the soldiers to the path and down to the outgoing position, securing from the front.
  2. Second Lieutenant Meksula - is going to look for the Carpathian Divisions in the area of Gardziela and report that the 15th is leaving their position.
  3. Lieutenant Matulewicz secures the back and collects the wounded.

Carrying their wounded on the rifles, the last 26 are coming down. Nobody awaits them.

So before the lines of the 14th , the eternal patrol, they shout "Wolves are coming!"...

Still on the 14th line they leave their excellent scout, the last one of the four scouts, second lieutenant Bartoszak, who dies...

At 22.00 the brigade of the 14th battalion receives a report... from the resurrected Major Gnatowski.

Major Leon Gnatowski and his men

Major Leon Gnatowski and his men

Major Gnatowski (at right)