Signs of the Enemy part 3 – Chaotic behaviour endangers the division

There is a remarkable amount of detail in the final part of this long entry for the 9th September. I had intended posting the three sections more quickly in succession but it has been challenging to get some of the translation in this piece to read well in English – and with the nuances in meaning as they should be – I hope they are as Józef intended.

 

As the day progressed the unit continued their journey slightly south east to Pacanów but their overall direction was still north east, approximately along the route of what is now the main road from Kraków to Sandomierz. …

 

In our supply column I found a large battalion kit, which had been acquired by Lieutenant Staszek in the streets of Nowy Korczyn. According to him, a moment after our departure from there, there was a dreadful bombing raid in the town and afterwards such a lashing of artillery, that only the facades were left standing. The later supply columns were smashed to pieces whilst those that remained made off. Some couldn’t use their carts because their horses had been slaughtered. So regardless of the bombs, they took with them health equipment from the cart and anything else they found.

From then on I was barely provided with regulation health supplies and for two days I carried only a mask and helmet. We acquired our first casualty (not a casualty from a bullet, only his own stomach).

In Stopnica the major checked over the supply column once more. He ordered us to form a light column consisting of the health cart, the kitchen and its adjoining cart, the ammunition cart and the cart with the officers’ luggage. These five carts followed behind the squadron with Lieutenant Staszek protecting the back of the platoon.

It was already well into the afternoon when we moved off along the road in a south eastern direction to Pacanów. It would have been good that the march went this way, under the care of the squadron, if it wasn’t for the unfortunate supply columns as long as centipedes, like the legendary dragon which had its tail in the eastern Carpathian Mountains and its head in Kraków.

A couple of times the squadron pushed us strongly through the tangle of carts, at other times they waited patiently until everything moved. And so it was all the way to Pacanów.

The most senior commanding officer of our supply column was Sergeant Major Mazański who was in charge of provisions. After him it was me and then a corporal from the kitchen who was from Wełnowiec.

Darkness descended on us here. The sergeant got to work and started yelling and arranging the carts that stood in front of us. Following his nose and using the information gained about the squadron, he turned to the left in the direction of the railway line from Beszowa to Łubnice. We clambered up the hill, at which point I noticed that Lieutenant Zielinski was behind us in the car, at the head of his platoon.

After going about 2 km along the road we found ourselves at a crossroads but couldn’t get our bearings to tell where we were, or where we had to go. Suddenly Major Rostowski himself appeared in front of us, as if he had shot up out of the ground. He was weary and gave us a severe dressing down for getting lost, our untidiness and the loss of contact, even though we were not to blame and nor was it our fault that we were stuck on the roads.

We knocked at three cottages standing along the road but there wasn’t a living soul there. It was a very clear, starry night. The major ordered us to slide down by the side of the road while he went in search of the route, with the objective of establishing contact with the squadron.

We were standing waiting for quite a while and, for the first time, here in this field I appreciated the camaraderie of being in the company of the division and being affiliated with it.  I encountered this privilege more and more often.

Over time I anticipated with accuracy to within a few minutes, the aftermath of certain encounters with those in command. The impact of seeing this behaviour was like a red rag to a bull except that in anger one was powerless and wanted only to escape as far away as possible.

In order not to be repetitive, I will describe in detail only the first such encounter.

We were chatting quietly in the stillness and darkness, avoiding smoking cigarettes overtly, so as not to set off artillery fire somewhere, bending down tediously each time to light a match. Then we heard behind us the racket of approaching engines. A convoy of smaller cars carrying personnel approached ahead of us, with flashing blue lights. In the middle of all this there were officers of various ranks as well as weapons. The first cars stopped at the crossroads, undecided about which way to go. Majors and lieutenant colonels were arguing and gesticulating and moving our carts away into the distance.

The first cars, around 20 to 30 of them, were crammed predominantly with luggage and people. They blocked the next road, sounding the horns loudly, lights on and flashing. At last they moved on. In the second batch there were five or six colossal buses from a Silesian bus company. These too were completely unconstrained. They didn’t have any blue coloured shades for the headlights so, as the headlights were turned on a couple of times, the whole area was clearly visible. Their beams of light illuminating the sky must have been visible for at least 15 to 20 kilometres around on such a clear night.

The whole lot set off slowly. Behind us there were still 20 cars of various types with documents, furniture, the accompanying army, a couple of health carts and so on. In short, it was a long, noisy coil of cars behaving as if in the best times of peace. The buses still hadn’t managed to pass around us when we felt the first consequence of this chaotic, unruly, most shameless swarm of carts of those in command of 23rd Infantry Division. It was a sound unfamiliar to us from very far away and another sound already very well known… A knock… and a moment later a shrill whistle and behind us an explosion.

After the first shell, the second fell even closer. After that a third and fourth but without the whistle, just with a terrible explosion as it landed right at the crossroads and shattered one of the division’s carts. One almost fell on our cook who was standing nearby. I carefully hid myself clinging to the edge of the embankment. But you should have seen those who a while ago had shouted at us for blocking the way. Now all that remained was the smoke from the exhaust pipe of the car.

In one moment the barricade vanished. As the shots fell more and more accurately and didn’t subside there was nothing to wait for. Sergeant Major Mazański sat in the cart and gave the signal to trot, in order to remove himself from the reach of the artillery. It has to be said that the brutes probed well, if one considers that as it was night time they could only shoot from the map. Obviously the task was made easier for them by the drivers of the division, especially the bus drivers.

Such was my first experience of the division as a whole.

As we got to know each other more closely, each day became a little better. Since we still hadn’t made contact with the squadron, we plodded on to Orzelec Mały, Łubnice and Ruszcza. The ride was arduous as the number of carts along the road had made the ground under our feet dreadful. Sand… endless sand… and the horses were ready to drop.

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