Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Soldier Bear

When Nazi Germany invaded Russia in the Summer of 1941, the prospects facing the Polish soldiers captured by the Soviets improved immensely.  Normally, they would have languished in work camps until most of them were starved or worked to death.  But with the Blitzkrieg taking huge swaths of Soviet territory, Stalin decided that having more troops eager to fight the Germans was in his interest. So they were sent to the Caucasus mountains and crossed into British territory, where they were inducted into the British army.

Along the way, some of them found a bear cub and brought it along.  They fed it condensed milk, and the bear grew up as a mascot of their 22nd Transport Company, Artillery Division, Polish 2nd Corp.  They named him Wojtek.

He was very popular with the troops, and would play and wrestle with all takers.  He would also mimic what they did - he loved being with the troops and they loved having him there.  As the unit prepared to move into theater they got him official paperwork with Name, Rank, and Serial Number.  The paperwork actually got him onto the transport when they shipped out to Italy.

The problem for the troops was what would they do with him when they went into combat.  They were responsible for keeping the artillery batteries resupplied, and they took him on the trucks, keeping him chained to the truck while they moved the shells to the cannon.  One of his closest friends stayed back with him.

Until one day in a particularly intense firefight, his comrade was called forward to be a forward observer.   Wojtek was left alone.  The unit struggled to move the heavy ammunition.

They they saw Wojtek, coming through the smoke.  He was mimicking them by carrying ammunition.  As a now full grown bear, he was easily the strongest member of the unit and they were able to keep up with the demand.  After the battle, the unit adopted his likeness on their official badge.

In May 1945 the unit was shipped to northern England for demobilization.  Wojtek found a home in the Edinburg Zoo where he had to adjust to a life without his buddy giving him some of their beer ration.  He lived until 1963.

You can read more of his story here.


James Storyteller Pritchett said...

The right to keep and arm bears shall not be infringed.

Old NFO said...

Amazing story! :-)

Borepatch said...

James, that made me laugh out loud.