1st Regiment of the Krechowiecki Lancersolish
of the Polish 2nd Corps
In November 1941, General Anders entrusted Major Zaorski with the mission of organizing the 1st Cavalry Unit from the Lancers, members of various former Polish cavalry regiments. It was the first step on the way to recreating the 1st Regiment of the Krechowiecki Lancers.
In February 1942, our Regiment was transferred south to Otaru in Uzbekistan. One of the most important tasks facing the Regiment was to rebuild the honorable cavalry tradition. I was directly involved in this task as an educational officer of the forming Regiment. In Tock, I received from Major Zaorski the book "History of the 1st Regiment of Krechowiec Lancers" with the words: "Your task is to implement the tradition of the 1st Regiment”.
The Krechowiecki Lancers Regiment in the USSR provided help to Polish civilians, exiles following the Army from the farthest parts of Soviet Russia. This was another link in the noble tradition of the Krechowiaks, because this task was not part of the official duties of a military unit.
On 25 March 1942, our 1st Regiment of Krechowiec Lancers left Otar and, on General Anders’ orders, we left Russia.
46 officers and 1,249 non-commissioned officers and lancers left Russia in the first transport. In addition to soldiers, 68 civilians were also taken, a total of 1,363 people. The evacuation route led through Chu-Lugovoye, Jambul, Arys, Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara, and across the Amu Darya River. Palm Sunday, 29 March 1942, we celebrated on the train. The transport arrived in Krasnowodsk on 30 March. We continued our journey by ship, a 14-thousander. About 5,000 people were loaded on board. A gale storm arose, so that it was not until the afternoon of 31 March that the ship unmoored and set off across the Caspian Sea towards Pahlevi, Persia (present-day Iran).
On 1 April 1942, at 10.45 am, our ship "Agamali - Ogły" anchored in front of the port of Pahlevi. At 3.00 pm, our Regiment landed on Persian soil. The Soviet hell was behind us. My God! We have finally become free.
We spent two days in the open air. On 3 April, we moved to a new accommodation area, this time under tents. Our main task during the first few weeks after the evacuation, was to support and organize care for the civilian population arriving by sea transports via the Caspian Sea from the USSR. A transit camp was set up for the incoming civilians who were to continue on their way to Tehran. Our 1st Cavalry Regiment was in charge of this area. One of the first tasks was to build a field altar for the celebration of the Easter Mass.
After 22 April, we set off on a long journey to a new place of residence, which was supposed to be Bash-Shet in Palestine. On 26 April, we stopped with the full composition of our Regiment at the Habbaniya camp. This is where we experienced our first sandstorm. Here we observed the celebration of the Queen of Poland on 3 May.
After the Holy Mass was celebrated by the regimental chaplain, a parade of 4,000 soldiers took place, in front of Archbishop d'Arloye and Charge d'Affaires of the Republic of Poland in Baghdad, Henryk Malhomme. After the review, the Archbishop, on behalf of the Pope, gave the Regiment his blessing. Then he spoke in French, wishing the Krechowiaks "good luck in the field and a happy return to your Great Homeland": In the evening there was a bonfire.
On 6 May 1942, we set off on our journey. Through the Iraqi desert we drove into the black sands of Transjordan. Around noon we reached the Trans-Jordanian-Palestinian border. We stayed at the camp at Bash-Shet near Gedera. Here our Regiment remained until 25 July. The conditions were very good. It was a time of respite and rehabilitation after the Soviet misery.
In Bash-Shet, old Krechowiacy began to appear. On 16 May, we learned from Antoni Lipski that the Regiment's banner had been saved. It was secured and hidden in Warsaw.
At the first meeting in Bash-Shet, our commander put forward a project to make a ringraf, which would be submitted by the Regiment as a votive offering of the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Sorrows at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
In June 1942, due to the reorganization, the name of the 1st Lancer Regiment was changed to the 2nd Tank Battalion. (Over time, the name of the Regiment kept disappearing and reappearing).
After renaming the 1st Regiment, Major Zaorski issued an order which reads, among other things: “Let none of us be put off by this temporary name. Replacing a horse with a motorbike - we will always remain Lancers, we will never part with magenta and white pennants and we will prove to those who count on us that we will fulfill our military duty in the same way as our predecessors did at Krechowce, Wołodarka, Komarów or Brzozówka". After this order, the battle to restore the name of the Regiment began.
In August 1942 there was a further military reorganization. One of the reasons was the threat to the Middle East by German troops. The commander of the British Forces in the Middle East — General Claude Auchinleck decided to move the Polish troops from Palestine to Iraq.
After discussions on the organization and name of the army, the proposal of General Władysław Anders was finally approved. On 12 September 1942, the Commander-in-Chief, General W. Sikorski, made a decision. The name Polish Armed Forces in the USSR was liquidated, as well as the names of the Polish Army in the Middle East and the 2nd Rifle Corps. All the troops in the Near and Middle East became part of the Polish Army in the East. With the introduction of the new organization, preparations began to transfer the Polish army to Iraq. This lasted about 2 months and took place in stages. There was always the threat of German intervention. There was a fear that the Germans might break through the line of the Caucasus Mountains, which would make it possible to organize airfields from which they could bomb the oil fields in both countries and the bases in Habbaniya and the Persian Gulf.
The life of us, young soldiers, after the difficult experiences of captivity, separated from the Homeland, from the family, from normal everyday life, uncertain tomorrow, surrounded by the desert - was not easy. In such circumstances, it was important for us to have the so-called daylight nurses. They were girls who left the USSR together with the mass of the civilian population. Their task was to run a common room where you could go, drink tea, talk, listen to music or do some reading, and relax for a while. When I think back to those days, I am amazed at the maturity with which we approached life, the presence of these wonderful girls, and our work.
Training was sometimes very exhausting. Driving a tank in a desert in such heat that you have the impression that in a moment the hot earth will catch fire is not easy. Once, with my orderly, Antoś, we were very hungry, and began to wonder how to prepare something to eat here in the desert. Finally, we came up with an idea: we wiped the sheet metal on the hood of the tank with a rag and fried eggs. The sheet was so hot that it was a perfect substitute for a frying pan. It didn't get any easier as the rainy season and the cold Iraqi winter set in. Tents had to be bricked up and covered kitchens built.
One of the most difficult experiences for us in the Iraqi desert was the news of 13 April 1943, that the German army found the death pits of thousands of Polish officers, mainly from Kozielsk, in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk. This message knocked us off our feet, especially those who had been at this camp. After all, they are our colleagues, more - they are our brothers. I remembered many of them, their names, surnames, those conversations about Poland, about families, lectures, plans, hopes for the future. And they, really, were murdered? How to bear this awareness, this burden?
In June 1943, I became the educational officer of the Battalion. I had already prepared myself for this responsibility in the Regiment. Going through regular training, I also organized academies, celebrations of holidays, trips, competitions, I ran a senior scout club Podkówka. I tried my best to cheer everyone up.
In June, the training of tank crews in Baon was completed. We celebrated this day with competitions between squadrons including: shooting from a moving tank at a moving target, shooting at a target, shooting, removing faults in equipment (replacement of a pin in a tank track). It was all about the speed and quality of the job. During this competition, a record was set - the time to replace the pin in the track was 7 minutes.
At the end of June, we experienced another change of residence. This time our Battalion stopped near the village of Taza - Khurmatki (13 miles south of Kirkuk).
On 28 June 1943, the 5th Tank Battalion of the 1st Cavalry Regiment was renamed the 1st Armored Cavalry Regiment. It was another important step to restore the full name: 1st Regiment of Krechowiecki Lancers.
Another period of training began. The period until the end of September 1943 was the most difficult period in terms of climate. Further Valentine tanks were delivered. This time was devoted to rallying tank crews and platoons. In addition, we continued shooting training and improving drivers as part of the squadrons and the Regiment. This included riding in adjustable columns. Officers were being trained on various Polish and British courses.
Excerpted and translated from his “Zapiski wojenne z Iraku”that was written in Polish.
Zdzislaw Peszkowski later became a priest.