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Voytek the Soldier Bear

"He liked a cigarette, he liked a bottle of beer - he drank a bottle of beer like any man."

For centuries, Poland has been known specifically for two things – badass spicy sausages, and getting epically fucked over by every other European nation in every possible way.  Polish people are constantly getting about as much respect as the Duke University football program, and the once-proud nation has been carved up more times than Joan Rivers’ face.  The early days of World War II was no exception, when the unsuspecting, peaceful Poles all of a sudden found themselves getting sneak-attack double-teamed by the international military superpower dickheads Germany and the Soviet Union.  Sure, the Communists and Fascists fucking hated each other, but apparently they were willing to join forces and work together to oppress the citizens of Poland, steal their land, and imprison anyone they damn well pleased.

Of course we know about what the Germans did to the people of Poland, but it certainly wasn’t any picnic being on the receiving end of the sickle and hammer either.  Captured Polish POWs that weren’t executed on the spot by the Russkies were shipped out to fucking hardcore Gulags in Siberia, where the spent twelve hours a day eating disgusting borscht and gruel, mining snow from ice caves with pickaxes like the Dwarves in Snow White and toiling away in temperatures that never got above negative fifty degrees in the summertime.  However, once Germany double-crossed the Soviets and started beating the holy living shitburgers out of the Red Army, Josef Stalin all of a sudden had a change of heart and decided to let captured Polish POWs out of prison so they could help fight for the Allies.  Since the Poles weren’t too keen on fighting on behalf of the Russians who had oppressed and imprisoned them, they decided to serve under the British instead.  A large number of these men were put on trains and sent to Iran, where they formed up into the Polish Second Army Corps.  II Corps’ first mission was to travel to Palestine, link up with the British 8th Army and assist in the Allied invasion of Italy.

On their trip through Iran, the men of the Polish 22nd Transport Artillery Supply Company came across a young Iranian boy wandering through the desert like Jim Morrison tripping balls, and carrying a large cloth sack.  The men thought the boy looked tired and hungry, so they gave him some food and a Crunch bar or some shit.  When the kid thanked them, the Poles asked what was in the bag.  The boy opened it up and revealed a tiny, malnourished brown bear cub.  Since the soldiers knew the little cub was in very poor health and needed attention quickly, they bought the bear from the kid for a few bucks (or whatever the hell they used for money in 1940’s Iran – I can’t be bothered to look it up), and fed it some condensed milk from a makeshift bottle.  For the next several days, they nursed the bear back to health, giving it food, water, and a warm place to sleep.

Over the long journey from Iran to Palestine, the bear, now named Voytek (it’s spelled Wojtek in Polish but pronounced "Voytek” because Polish is a crazy fucking language) quickly became the unofficial mascot of the 22nd Company.  The bear would sit around the campfire with the men, eating, drinking, and sleeping in tents with the rest of the soldiers.  The bear loved smoking cigarettes, drank beer right out of the bottle like a regular infantryman, and got a kick out of wrestling and play-fighting with the other soldiers.  Of course, he was the most badass asskicking wrester in the entire company, thanks in part to the fact that he grew to be six feet tall, weighed roughly five hundred pounds, and could knock small trees over with a single swing of his massive, clawed paw.  He grew to be a part of the unit, improving the morale of men who had spent several years getting their asses kicked in slave labor camps, and was treated as though he were just another hard-drinkin’, hard-smoking’, hard-fightin’, hair-growin’ soldier in the Company.  When the unit marched out on a mission, Voytek would stand up on his hind legs and march alongside them.  When the motorized convoy was on the move, Voytek sat in the passenger seat of one of the jeeps, hanging his head out the window and shocking the shit out of people walking down the street.

In addition to kicking peoples’ asses and drinking beer, Voytek also enjoyed taking hot baths for some reason.  Over the summer in Palestine, he learned how to work the showers, and you could pretty much always find him splashing around the bath house.  Once, he entered the bath hut and came across a spy who had been planted to gather intelligence on the Allied camp.  Voytek growled, slapped the dude upside his stupid head, and the man immediately crapped his pants and surrendered.  The Soldier Bear was lauded as a hero for successfully capturing an enemy agent, who in turn was interrogated and gave up vital intelligence on enemy positions.

When it was time to stop fucking around and get “in the shit” as they say, II Corps linked up with the hardcore British 8th Army and headed out to the middle of the Category 5 Crapstorm the was brewing in Italy.  The problem, however, was that British High Command did not allow any pets or animals in their camp, so the Polish Army formally enlisted Voytek the Bear into their ranks.  He was given the rank of Private, assigned a serial number, and from that point on was included in all official unit rosters.  The Brits were like, “whatever chaps”, and didn’t even bat an eye when Voytek marched ashore with the rest of the 22nd Company.

The Poles’ Finest Hour of the war came in the incredibly bloody battle for Monte Cassino.  By the time II Corps arrived, the Germans were deeply entrenched in the hilltop monastery, and three previous Allied assaults on the position had all proved more fruitless than a South Florida orange tree in the middle of a worldwide Nuclear Winter.  The campaign was proving to be one of the bloodiest battles of the Western Front, and the Poles were brought in to make the final push to capture the fortress.  During the fighting, Voytek the Hero Bear actually hand-carried boxes of ammunition, some weighing in at over 100 pounds, from supply trucks to artillery positions on the front lines.  He worked tirelessly, day and night, bringing supplies to his friends who were bravely battling the Nazis.  He never rested, never dropped a single artillery shell, and never showed any fear despite his position being under constant enemy fire and heavy shelling.  His actions were so inspiring to his fellow soldiers that after the battle the official insignia of the 22nd Artillery was changed to a picture of Voytek carrying an armful of howitzer ammunition.  In the same vein, you have to assume that it was pretty fucking demoralizing to the Germans to see that the Poles had a fucking GIANT GODDAMNED BROWN BEAR fighting on their side.

Thanks in part to the heavy shelling by their artillery, the Polish forces broke through the Nazi defenses and captured Monte Cassino.  Voytek and his comrades would go one to fight the Germans across the Italian peninsula, breaking through the enemy lines and forcing the Krauts out of Italia for good.  After the war, some elements of the Polish Army, including Voytek, were reassigned to Scotland, since Poland was under USSR control, and many Polish soldiers did not like the prospect of living in a Soviet-run police state.  Voytek lived out the rest of his days in the Edinburgh Zoo, where he passed away in 1963 at the age of 22.  It was said that he always perked up when he heard the Polish language spoken by zoo guests, and during his life in there he was always being visited by his old friends from the Polish Army – some of whom would throw cigarettes down into his open arms, some of whom would even jump into the bear enclosure and wrestle with him for old time’s sake.

The idea of a fucking alcoholic Nazi-fighting bear is so awesome that you’d think it was something out of a bizarre cartoon or a Sci-Fi Channel Original Movie.  It’s the sort of shit that, even with all of the historical evidence, seems too totally awesome to be true.  The bear was a hero of World War II, and there are statues of him and plaques memorializing his brave service in Poland, Edinburgh, the Imperial War Museum in London, and the Canadian War Museum.  Unbelieveable.


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