Following the signing of the Polish-Russian Military Agreement on August 14, 1941, a Polish Army on Soviet soil was born. The first commander, General Michał Tokarzewski, began the task of forming this army in the Soviet town of Tockoje on August 17. The commander chosen by General Władysław Sikorski to ultimately lead the new army, General Władysław Anders, had been just released from the Lubyanka prison in Moscow, on August 4, and did not issue his first orders or announce his appointment as commander until August 22.
This army would grow over the following two years and provide the bulk of the units and troops of the Polish II Corps.
The Polish II Corps was created in 1943 from various units fighting alongside the Allies in all theatres of war. The 3rd Carpathian Division was formed in Middle East from smaller Polish units fighting in Egypt and Tobruk, as well as the Polish Army in the East that was evacuated from the USSR through the Persian Corridor. Its creation was based on British Army Act of 1940 that allowed the allied units of the exiled government of Poland to be grouped on one theatre of war. However, the British command never agreed to incorporate the exiled Polish Air Force into the Corps.
In 1944 the Corps was transferred from Egypt to Italy, where it became an independent part of the British Eighth Army under General Oliver Leese. During 1944-1945 the Corps fought with distinction in the Italian campaign, most notably during the fourth and final Battle of Monte Cassino, the battle of Ancona during Operation Olive (the fighting on the Gothic Line in September 1944) and the Bologna during the Allies' final offensive in Italy in March 1945.
In 1944 it numbered about 50,000 soldiers. During the three subsequent battles the Corps suffered heavy losses (in the final stage of the Battle of Monte Cassino even the support units were mobilised and used in combat) and it was suggested to Gen. Anders that he withdraw his units. However, since the Soviet Union broke diplomatic relations with the Polish government and no Poles were allowed out of the USSR, Anders believed that the only source of recruits was ahead - in German POW camps and concentration camps.
By 1945 new units were added composed mostly from freed POWs and Poles forced to join the Wehrmacht, increasing the amount of soldiers to approximately 75,000; approximately 20,000 of them were transferred to other Polish units fighting in the West. After the war the divisions of the Corps were used in Italy until 1946, when they were transported to Britain and demobilised. The majority of soldiers remained in exile.
The main bulk of the soldiers were from the eastern voivodeships of pre-war Poland. Although the majority of them were ethnic Poles, there were also members of other nationalities who joined the units of II Corps, most notably Jews, Belarusians and Ukrainians. After being relocated to Palestine, the Corps faced the problem of increased rate of desertions by Jewish soldiers, most of whom defected en masse to the Haganah. The most noted among them was Menachem Begin, the future Prime Minister of Israel. General Anders decided not to prosecute the deserters.
The armament was as follows: