Warsaw Uprising: The Battle for Warsaw in 1944
Facts that led the Polish Underground Resistance to perform the Warsaw Uprising on the 1st of August in 1944. An uprising which costed the lives of about 200,000 people and 85% of the city's infrastructure.
The Battle for Warsaw (Uprising) - 1944
A controversial Battle of WWII started in the capital of Poland from the Home Army on the 1st of August in 1944. Lasted for 63 Days, the Battle for Warsaw didn't bring the desired outcome, to liberate Warsaw, before the Russian's entrance.
Most people support that Warsaw Uprising was in fact suicidal, there was no chance for success, and that they should let the Red Army finish them.
German sources reported that nothing resembling the Warsaw Rising had been seen since Stalingrad. The difference is that Warsaw was not defended by a professional foul armored army.
With the only help to be a few successful drops from the British Royal Air Force and the ignorance, even sabotage actions of the Russians, the Warsaw Uprising was doomed to fail, although the Armia Krajowa fighters were fighting heroically.
Source: Rising '44 - The Battle for Warsaw by Norman Davies and Warsaw Uprising Museum.
Before Warsaw Uprising
Preparations for organizing Underground Resistance were laid even before the formal military campaign in September 1939 had been lost.
The clandestine 'Victory Service' (SZP) was formed on the orders of the General Staff one day prior to Warsaw's capitulation. Its commander, publicly known only as of the Doctor, was himself a staff officer.
It designed to complement the other part of the plan, which was to send the maximum number of surviving Polish soldiers abroad.
Burring the Dead
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Daily Life under Occupation
Forced Germanization of public life, and a full war of symbols, piled humiliation onto a dispossessed citizenry. German became the official language overnight.
All institutions and many streets, buildings, and squares were given German names. The best wagons and compartments on all trams and trains were reserved for Germans.
The sign «Germans only» appeared in parks and gardens, in apartment blocks, on benches and public toilets, in cafes, restaurants, and hotels. All national monuments were removed. The Frederick Chopin monument was sent for scrap.
Copernicus Statue was decorated with a tablet announcing him as a famous German astronomer. Plans existed to replace the Sygismound column as well.
Nine out of ten parish priests in Warsaw were allowed to keep their positions. It was said that the Nazis wanted the help of the Catholic Church in its onslaught on 'Bolshevism'. On the other hand, they did not hesitate in liquidating troublesome clerics.
As an example, on 17 February 1941, five Franciscan friars were taken from a priory near Warsaw and sent to Auschwitz. One of them was Father Maximilian Kolbe because he was obviously against anti-Semitism.
Public executions, either by hanging or by firing squad, became a daily occurrence. As the condemned were driven to their fate an SS man toured the streets on a lorry and announced the event through a megaphone.
The victims were guilty of something or nothing. You could get out of the house and never return back.
The least hint of resistance provoked massive retaliation. In December 1939, for example, German NCOs had been murdered by common criminals, and 120 inhabitants of the Wawer district were dragged out of their homes and shot in response.
Nazi policy created bands of homeless and street orphans, which they were hunted down and shot. The Nazis systematically took hostages from suspect districts or families. If anyone in the district or family offended, the hostages were killed.
From 1942 onwards, Warsaw was subjected to a special form of random terror, the fearsome round-ups.
In autumn 1943, Governor Frank decreed that the Gestapo could shoot anyone on mere suspicion. The next year, as a gesture of conciliation, public executions were replaced by a secret one within the Warsaw Ghetto ruins.
Read: Warsaw with Kids and Not Only
Soviet Army Approaches
As early as May 1944, Soviet aircraft drop leaflets on Warsaw exhorting the population to armed action.
On 25 July, the Soviet Foreign Office had issued a statement. It announced that the liberation of Polish territory had been launched by Soviet and Polish troops. Their sole object was 'to squash the enemy' and 'to help the Polish people to re-establish an independent, strong, and democratic state.
Also explained that the Soviet Government does not wish to acquire any part of Polish territory or to bring about any changes in the social order. On the evening of July 22, Moscow Radio announces the founding of the Polish Committee of National Liberation (PKWN).
On July 27, the radio broadcasts information about the previous day's agreement between Stalin and the PKWN. According to its terms, the PKWN obtains permission to establish an administration west of the so-called "Curzon Line".
It cuts off one-third of prewar Polish territories: the fertile Galicia with the capital city of Lwów, as well as the Polesie and Wilno regions. At the same time, the PKWN signs an agreement giving the Soviets jurisdiction over crimes committed in the war zone.
Meanwhile, since July 22 the Germans have been frantically evacuating their administration, some of their police forces, and support staff Waves of refugees from the east pass through the city.
On July 27, the Germans bring the panic under control. Police and SS troops come back to Warsaw. Administrative offices begin to work. On July 29 and 30, Moscow Radio and the „Koéciuszko" radio station broadcast an emotive appeal to Varsovians:
«Warsaw already hears the guns of the battle which will soon bring her liberation. Those who have never bowed their heads to the Hitler power will again, as in 1939, join the struggle against the Germans, this time for decisive action. For Warsaw which did not yield, but fought on, the hour of action has already arrived».
At the end of July, the 1st Byelorussian Front commanded by Marshal Konstanty Rokossowski reaches the outskirts of Warsaw and Zygmunt Berling's 1st Polish Army nears Puławy.
The Home Army Staff considers attacking the Germans and liberating the city before the Soviets march in. On July 25, during the Home Army High Command briefing, the decision is made to undertake the fight in the capital.
Meanwhile, on 31 July, one daring company of T-34s found its way around or through the defense lines and entered the outskirts of Warsaw's eastern suburb. They provided the sight for which the watchers had been waiting for weeks to see.
In Warsaw, the Germans prepare to defend the city against the Russians. On July 27, Ludwig Fischer, Governor of the Warsaw District, issues a decree proclaiming that a hundred thousand people are needed to participate in fortification works.
On the same day about 7 p.m., Col. Antoni Chruściel „Monter", without consultation with the Home Army High Command, orders mobilization. It proceeds quickly and efficiently. On July 28, the inhabitants of the capital boycott Fischer's order.
The Germans do not undertake any repressive measures. Under such circumstances, Gen. „Bór" cancels the order of Col. „Monter", which causes confusion among the Home Army ranks.
It's obvious, that there is disagreement among the high commanders of the Home Army regarding the sense of engaging in an armed struggle in the city.
During the following days, the Home Army Staff receives numerous messages about military movements on the right bank of the Vistula.
Due to the progress of events, on July 31 Gen. „Bór" issues a command to start armed action in Warsaw. "W-hour" is fixed for August 1st, at 17:00. At 20:00 p.m. the coded command is ready to deliver but because of the curfew, they receive it on the next day at 7:00.
There is not enough time to get out of the weapons and reach the gathering points.
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The underground state created by the Poles under the German and Soviet occupation was a phenomenon that had no equivalent around the world.
No occupied country outside Poland had a similarly complex and effectively operating organizational structure with its own administration, judiciary, schools, and a large excellently organized army.
Included a regular underground army, which was part of the overt Polish Armed Forces fighting continuously since 1 September 1939. At first, operated under Service for Poland's Victory and later as Union of Armed Struggle.
In February 1942, the Union of Armed struggle was transformed into Armia Krajowa (Home Army - AK), the largest underground army in occupied Europe. As of 1944, the Home Army had some 300,000 soldiers, but they were able to fight with the massive support and assistance of the Polish society.
The underground Polish Army had also a complex weapons manufacturing system, and it was running training activities together with combat operations like observation and sabotage and also the assassination of traitors and officers of the German terror system.
One of the major achievements of the Home Army was to uncover details of the German V1 and V2 rocket weapon design, while their ultimate goal was a nationwide uprising planned to coincide with the Allied offensive.
Poland's underground civilian and military structures were subordinated to the Polish Government-in-Exile residing in London. This guaranteed the rule of law and compliance with the principles of democracy.
A network of secret schools covered the entire country and underground newspapers were published. Representatives of the country's leading political powers formed an advisory and opinion-making body that acted as a kind of an underground parliament.
Students could enroll formally at the University of Warsaw, in 1940, but it was officially closed. It was giving degree certificates dated 1938-1939. Nazi laws were not considered morally valid.
Underground courts passed death sentences on traitors, Gestapo informers, and individuals who blackmailed the hiding Jews and gave them away to Germans (szmalcownik).
Home Army / Guns
Commander Monter, on the day prior to the outbreak of the Uprising, in the city of Warsaw and the surrounding area, had at his command in the region around 50,000 soldiers.
Of these armed men, 600 platoons were led to fight on the left bank of the Vistula, including around 41,000 people of whom certainly only 100 platoons were fully armed. The People's Army (AL) provided him with another 4 battalions of 800 people.
Finally, the Security Corps (KB) provided the Home Army with 600 people. However, the problem of arming them arose. A problem with no solution in the political-military conditions of the Home Army.
Arms came from four sources. The first was weapons hidden in 1939, which consisted of a minimal amount of equipment that was still fit to use in war. The second source was supplies dropped for the Home Army mostly by the English RAF and the third source was captured German weapons.
Finally, the fourth source was the production of the Underground's own workshops. The state of armament on 1 August can be reconstructed, but with great difficulty.
As a rough figure, Monter had about 7 heavy machine guns, 60 assault rifles, 20 anti-tank guns, 1000 guns, 300 sub-machine guns, around 25000 grenades, and more or less around 1750 pistols.
During the Uprising, over 100 homemade flame-throwers were produced, which turned out to be very effective. Also over 100,000 petrol bombs were produced together with R wz. 42 hand grenade, called Sidolówka.
Sidolówka was first produced in Warsaw in 1942, by the professors of the Warsaw University of Technology under the leadership of Jan Czochralski. It was partially based on an earlier design of the Filipinka grenade, also underground construction.
During the battle in Warsaw and its surroundings, the insurgents captured 4 tanks, 2 armored vehicles, 1.75mm field gun, 12 mine throwers, 4 light anti-tank guns, over 200 anti-tank weapons, 16 heavy machine guns, 86 assault rifles, 155 sub-machine guns, 596 repeater rifles and ammunition for particular weapons, but of a limited nature.
In the City Centre 36 tonnes were collected, 16 tonnes from an American drop with mostly anti-tank weapons, sub-machine guns, and somewhat heavy weapons.
From 13 September Soviet drops began. every night; they delivered about 150 tonnes. However, there was still not enough. Weapons, whatever their quality, were expensive.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that the lack of ammunition provided yet another reason for Capitulation.
Find Your Hotel in Warsaw
The scouting movement, which started in 1908 in England, was especially welcome after the First World War in the newly independent countries of East-Central Europe.
In Poland as elsewhere, it was equally popular among the boys and girls, whose scout and guide troops were typically organized in secondary schools or parish halls.
After twenty years of development, a strong national organization was established in Warsaw in the shape of the national Scouting Union.
Thanks, apparently, to their smart light-grey uniforms, the members of the movement were universally known as the Szare Szeregi (Grey Ranks) and they entered the Underground conspiracy with happiness.
The Grey Ranks showed their mettle as soon as the war began. They set up auxiliary fire and ambulance services in Warsaw, Poznan, and other cities, and helped the authorities to cope with the effects of the German bombing.
At first, the intention was to accept volunteers only above the age of seventeen. But the pressures from expanding tasks, and the pleas of the youngsters, led to the formation of a three-layer structure.
The reception group took boys and girls of twelve to fourteen years, the training school took recruits of fifteen to seventeen years, and the senior battle was limited to adults over eighteen.
The 'scholars' were confined to non-military operations such as minor sabotage or the Underground postal service. The battlegroups came to be counted amongst the foremost units of the Home Army.
The sororal organization of senior guides trained girls of seventeen+ as nurses, liaison officers, radio operators, cryptographers, and intelligence agents.
Unlike their pre-war civilian predecessors, the wartime Grey Ranks became paramilitaries. But their motto did not change: it was «Be Ready».
Goose Farm Rescued by Zoshka
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The decision to fight for Warsaw was made on 21 July 1944. What remained was only the time of the outbreak of the Rising. It was codenamed as the "W" Hour.
Reports were reaching the leaders of the resistance about the approaching Soviet Army. After the Germans had tackled the earlier temporary panic, their evacuated SS and Police forces started to return to Warsaw along with some German armored units.
On 25 July 1944, MajGen Tadeusz Komorowski "Bór" sent a message to London in which he reported to Prime Minister Stanislaw Mikolajczyk: «We are ready to fight for Warsaw at any moment». The briefing of the Home Army HQ that took place on 31 July 1944 was decisive.
During the meeting, Col. Antoni Chruściel "Monter", came in with information (incorrect, as it soon turned out) that Soviet tanks had reached the outskirts of Praga, which meant that could be expected to enter Warsaw at any time.
It settled the question and the order was given to start the Warsaw Uprising the next day at 17:00. The decision was taken by the Home Army commander-in-chief Tadeusz Komorowski "Bór"- and the Government Delegate for Poland Jan Stanisław Jankowski "Soból".
Reasons for the Warsaw Uprising
A succinct account of the Warsaw Rising, written under pressure by one of the Rising's key planners, only six months after the Capitulation.
Unfortunately, it was buried in the Moscow archives for sixty years. Bear Cub wrote with military precision the nine reasons for launching the Warsaw Uprising.
- Seize Warsaw before the arrival of the Soviet Army. Justified by the need to establish state power and to welcome the Soviet Armies in the role of a host.
- Show the whole world our determination to fight the Germans.
- Resolve the Polish-Soviet conflict by fighting together against Germany.
- Avenge five years of German repression.
- Paralyze the German forces to facilitate the Soviet encirclement of the city.
- Obstruct the stabilization of the front along the line of the Vistula.
- Block the Germans intention of taking 100,000 men for building work
- Prevent the collapse in military and civilian morale which would have occurred if they had done nothing.
- Take control of the struggle which, without our leadership, would have broken out spontaneously and chaotically.
There was no word of regret. On the contrary: if the Rising had not launched, future generations of the Polish nation, and other states nations, would have to judge us cowards, whose courage failed them the decisive moment.
Last Call to Action
The last call to action was the Polish-language broadcast of 30 July, which came from the Soviet-controlled station of the PKWN, and which was repeated four times:
«Warsaw is shaking to the foundations from the roar of the guns. Soviet forces are advancing forcefully and approaching Praga. They are coming to bring you freedom.
When driven out of Praga, the Germans will try to defend themselves in Warsaw. They will want to destroy everything. In Bialystok, they went on the rampage for six days, murdering thousands of your brothers.
Let's do everything in our power to prevent them from repeating the same in Warsaw. People of the Capital! To arms! May the whole population rise like a stone wall around the KRN and the capital's underground army.
Strike at the Germans! Obstruct their plans to blow up public buildings. Assist the Red Army in their crossing of the Vistula. Send them information. Show them the way.
May your million-strong population become a million soldiers, who will drive out the German invaders and win freedom».
Red Army was marching westwards out of Russia for the fourth time - in 1918, in 1920, in 1939, and now 1944. Therefore at their fourth attempt, the Soviets intended to solve their «western problem» once and for all and they were very conscious of previous mistakes.
In a safe apartment in the heart of Warsaw, the last meeting before the Warsaw Uprising was held between the Home Army Commander Bór, the two deputies, Bear Cud and Gregory, and the Head of AK's Warsaw Region, Col. Monter.
Something notable was the absence of the Head of AK intelligence, Heller, who had been delayed by a German roadblock. The timing of the decision was crucial and any delay would cause serious problems.
Monter had been able to ride a bicycle that afternoon for a few miles beyond the eastern suburbs and reported that the German had abandoned several localities on the immediate periphery and that the Soviet tanks had been sighted on the road to Praga.
After the Monter report was accepted, Bór concluded that is time for action and no delay could be afforded.
Wehrmacht's High Command had announced the same afternoon that the Russians had launched a general assault on Warsaw from the southeast. It also said that the commander of the German 73rd Infantry Division had been taken as a prisoner.
If Warsaw's AK unleashed the rising then, they were going to prevent the Germans from bringing up reserves and cut off their supply lines.
But, if, on the other hand, the Germans were forced back across the river under Soviet pressure, as could be expected at any moment, their troops would crowd into the city in great numbers and would paralyze any chance of action by us.
The city would become a battlefield between Germans and Russians and would be reduced to ruins. Hence, it was decided that the right time for the Uprising had arrived.
Finally, Gen. Monter was then asked to put the necessary order into writing for distribution to his subordinates. Teams of runners were at hand to carry the order to every Underground unit in Warsaw. Only 22 hours left and eight out of them fall into the night curfew.
The results were that many were not even able to inform their units until Monday morning and the scramble to make preparations before the 17:00 deadline was hectic.
Unfortunately, soon after the runners left with the message, the Chief of AK intelligence finally arrived and he convinced that Monter's report about the Soviet tanks on the road to Praga was false.
If the information was presented earlier, might have changed Bór's decision, but as soon as the runners left, it was already too late and the runners could not be recalled. Also, there was no way to check whether Monter was right or wrong.
One case of an early outbreak was at 1.50, in the suburb of Żoliborz, where a young Home Army captain, known as 'Mark', had the distinction of launching the Rising prematurely. Leading his company towards their rendezvous point, he ran into a motorized German patrol.
It was a moment of a hard decision whether to attack or not against the German, that possibly they have noticed that the group of youngsters is carrying sub-machine guns under their coats.
They decided to start a fight from which they emerged unscathed. They threw their grenades into the German lorry, which exploded and they managed to run across the street and to take cover with the rest of the unit.
Except for the Żoliborz incident, also, in the City center and Wola, the fighting began before the W hour.
At five o'clock, as arranged, the main German strongpoints were rushed, infiltrated, or bombarded 'by groups of dashing young men wearing red-and-white armbands.
Civilians were still on the streets. Some were hit in the crossfire or cut off from their homes for life. Soon, the red-and-white banner was waving atop the Prudential Building, the city's tallest building.
A major German arsenal and storehouse were captured. So, too, were the main post office, together with the power station, the railway office in Praga, and wide swathes of the city.
The cost was 2,500 lives with 80 percent of them being soldiers of the Home Army.
The Rising gave the Nazi leaders the pretext for punishing Warsaw once and for all. Himmler was informed by radio at 5-30 p.m. and he took the news to Hitler saying:
«The moment is a difficult one. But from the historical point of view, the action of the Poles is a blessing. We shall finish them off.
Warsaw will be liquidated; and this city, which is the intellectual capital of a sixteen- to a seventeen-million-strong nation that has blocked our path to the east for seven hundred years, ever since the first battle of Tannenberg, will have ceased to exist.
By the same token, the Poles themselves will cease to be a problem for our children and for all who will follow us».
Hitler's response was not directly recorded. But it was undoubtedly reflected in Himmler's subsequent orders, which talked of 'every inhabitant to be killed', no prisoners to be taken, and 'every single house to be blown up and burned'.
It is well worth mentioning that the Home Army had its political warfare department forming part of the Bureau of Information and Propaganda (BIP). It was not only functioning with brilliance but also it kept going without interruption from beginning to the end.
Warsaw formed a close-knit, dynamic community driven no less by culture than by military energies. The insurgents were fighting to save their way of life.
A survey of the Home press during the Warsaw Uprising, published only in April 1945, is to wonder how such an enormous pile of the material was smuggled out of Nazi-occupied Europe in the middle of the war.
Apart from a full run of the official Home Army Information Bulletin, it contains extracts from the socialist Worker, Warsaw Fights, Insurgent News, and the Polish Commonwealth.
Everyday news was dominated by detailed accounts of the fighting, but it contained innumerable curiosities. The bombing of Auschwitz by the RAF, for instance, was known within a day. So, too, were the capitulations of Finland and Belgium.
It was harder to find out what was happening in Praga than in Canada. The cultural life of insurgent Warsaw was enriched by radio, film, theatre, photography, graphics, art, and literature.
Recitations, concerts, and plays were staged at the Palladium Cinema. Evening shows in the open air of an Indian summer were well suited to the needs of amateur troupes.
The performance of the drama Warszawianka was being prepared in Mokotov until the leading actors were killed by German heavy guns. Poetry was obviously connected to the heightened emotions of a community facing annihilation.
Beginning of the End
Except for the serious gaps in intelligence and the absence of established communication, at the beginning of the Warsaw Uprising, there was a very serious shortage of weapons and ammunition.
Many arms caches had been removed from Warsaw in preparation for a general Rising in the countryside. Barely one-quarter of Bór's men could hope to go to war with a weapon in their hands.
Bór's own command post was being relocated to a reinforced concrete building, where radio signals could neither be received nor sent. The insurgents were dispersed into a large number of small groups that could not easily communicate.
Not only this but the 40-50,000 members of the AK who had been put on stand-by were also sworn to secrecy.
The Polish Resistance leaders had seen how Stalin had shown no generosity during Operation Tempest when their colleagues had approached the Soviets in a spirit of partnership. The Soviet Command never revealed their secrets to anyone.
It was perfectly possible that Rokossovsky would call a halt on the Vistula and take a breath after an exhaustive trip and in the fact that Wehrmacht was already taking steps for a counter-attack.
Underground leaders certainly could not hope to smash Wehrmacht, but to seize the city or large parts of it and hold long enough to allow critical developments to occur. The estimated time was five to seven days.
During this time, the Premier could achieve a good deal with Stalin in Moscow, western powers should be able to fly in arms and the Underground authorities could establish their own administration.
Soviet Government's refusal to help the Warsaw Uprising was revealed on 15/16 of August and it was based on ruthless political calculations, rather than operational difficulties.
«We intend to have Poland lock, stock, and barrel. We don't care a fig for those Polish underground fighters who have not accepted Communist authority. To us, they are no better than the Germans, and if they and the Germans slaughter each other off, so much the better».
Of course, none of this was known at the time in Warsaw.
First Week of August
After the confusion and the early outbreaks of the first afternoon of the Warsaw Uprising and due to the fact that the Germans were more or less expecting an outbreak, many key objectives had not been won.
Most importantly, the insurgents had met with little success in Castle Square, in the Police District, and at the airport, where they had suffered heavy losses.
Above all, they had not been able to seize control either of the western or the eastern ends of the two main bridges across the river. They already knew that they could be in for a very long fight.
Later on 3 August, the insurgents captured their first German tank, they repaired it and drove it into action against its former owners.
Early targets were set to be the SS Goose Farm Concentration Camp, the Gesiowka Prison, and also the Umschlagplatz, where the German was deporting the Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto.
Unfortunately, at the time when the Home Army was trying to free Gesiówka, tens of thousands of civilians in Ochota and Wola received the German avengers, which foretold the awful nightmare that soon was going to be repeated in the whole of Warsaw.
During the night of 4/5 August, the first RAF bombers appeared in the skies over Warsaw, having flown from Italy. They made successful drops over Krashinski square and Wola. At least they knew they were not totally forgotten.
On 5 August, SS-Ogtuf. Erich von dem Bach reached Warsaw, to take charge of all anti-insurgent operations and his arrival coincided with the mass murders in Ochota and in Wola and also with heavy bombardments.
Soon, the predefined limit for the insurgents to hold the rising was reached, but there was no sign whatsoever of a resolution. They had taken control of much of the capital, but they had not driven the Germans out.
High hopes were transferred to the Premier's mission in Moscow, but unfortunately, this didn't go well at all. Also, there was no response from the Western Allies, so the only way was to keep fighting.
Royal Castle in 1941
After the First Week
Ninth Army Command has requested police formations to be brought in for crushing the Rising. After the first week, therefore, when neither side had gained the advantage, Warsaw became the scene of long, relentless battles of attrition.
Every day, usually at dawn, the Germans would return to their sectors like workmen returning to a building site, call up the bombers and the heavy guns, pound the insurgent positions into mounds of rubble and gain a few yards or a couple of streets.
Still, 18 of August the center fighting continues to be very heavy. the enemy continues with the ruthless destruction by air bombardment, by 75mm tank artillery, and by mine throwers. About 40% of the city center is completely destroyed and another 20% badly damaged.
Germans are carrying out their attempt to destroy Warsaw and the losses among the civil population and the Home Army are very high.
Thousands of people are each day rendered homeless in Warsaw and hundreds are killed. There are thousands of wounded men, women, and children suffering from the most horrible burns and in some cases from shrapnel and bullet wounds.
But the determination of the battle population to fight to the last man is only strengthened by this German barbarism.
Captured German Staff Car
On practically every open piece of ground, wells are being dug. The shortage of water is starting to be serious. If in ten days the city receives no relief then the food will also give out. Rations are already very short.
The situation in Warsaw is desperate and on the outskirts, huge concentration camps full of women and children living in the open air without food or help. They are dying of hunger and disease. The Germans show no mercy. The men were shot, women and children were taken as prisoners.
Despite these drawbacks, the troops of A.K. continue to fight with magnificent courage. There was no help against the German planes, no way of fighting against them. Therefore planes systematically threw missiles on a block of houses one after another.
End of August
A verse is written on the 28th by a soldier of the Kilinski Battalion who bore witness to their unbroken spirit:
«Remember, you cannot doubt in Freedom. Whatever comes, even if you fail. Remember that the whole wide world Is watching you in wonderment. Though all assistance crumbles And hunger and pain set in. We shall not lose our wager. The wager of honor».
By the end of August, both sides in the struggle for Warsaw were sensing the sour smell of failure. Von dem Bach's hard-pressed men must have been painfully aware that their colleagues in the Wehrmacht were smirking at their inability to finish off a gang of bandits.
Gen. Boor's subordinates were sick with anxiety that their stupendous sacrifices might yet be in vain. Old Town would soon have to be abandoned, the Western allies could not supply effective assistance, and Soviet Army silence is not due to practical difficulties.
The decision to evacuate the Old Town had been taken during the night of 25/26 August after seven days of constant bombardments and massed attacks. The armed defenders had been reduced from 8,000 to 1,500.
Wola District Warsaw After Dirlewanger
Beginning of September
Each of the planned stages in the Old Town evacuation was executed with success between 31 of August and the 2nd of September.
The concluding exodus of the rearguard was less deadly than expected. One group, dressed from head to toe in SS uniforms, walked out on the surface through the Saxon Square, mimicking the actions of a German night patrol. The very last party, under Col. 'Aurochs', ran to the manhole at 8 a.m. on the 2nd, seen off by a burst of machine-gun fire.
They duly emerged in the City Centre to pose for a photograph. The worst of all tragedies was encountered by the 35,000 civilians and 7,000 unmovable wounded who were left behind. As soon as the SS arrived, a selection was ordered, as on the ramp at Birkenau.
Those judged incapable of work the old, sick, and wounded were promptly shot. The healthy were formed up for immediate transportation to concentration camps, mainly to Mauthausen or to Sachsenhausen.
A German tank drove over the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and pulverized it. The Sigismund Column was felled by a single vandal shot and left where it lay.
Much German effort and ingenuity were put into persuading the civilian population to pack their bags and leave. Clouds of leaflets were dropped from the air: «Do you wish to live or die?»
Anyone who left, other than active insurgents, was promised fair treatment and medical aid. The representatives were urging people not to believe German promises, but rather to reflect on the fresh news of mass murders.
On 8, 9, and 10 September, three consecutive evacuations took place involving 20-25,000 persons. The majority who left were women, children, the elderly, and the poor. In some cases, AK men escorted their wives and families to the assembly point.
The Red Cross reported that men were being separated from the rest at Prushkov and that the «women and children were being sent west».
Pressure for capitulation was started by Gen Rohr, but although the demands were met, they were requesting AK to surrender the same day and that was not possible.
Middle of September
Rokossovsky occupied Praga and finally put an end to the long-drawn-out uncertainties on the central sector of the Vistula Front. All major German positions east of the Vistula had been overrun. The Soviet Army had taken control of a crucial springboard for further advances.
With Marshal Rokossovsky's assent, therefore, Gen. Berling issued an order on 16 September 1944. Units of the 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment of the First Polish Army were to force the Vistula and to link up with the insurgents.
Actually, this was what Gen. Bór had expected six weeks earlier. Definitely, crossing the Vistula under fire was no easy task, but the Soviet planes started providing some good cover.
Entry Berling's Army September 1944
On the 18th of September 1944, a huge fleet of Flying Fortresses of the US 8th Army Air Force flew from Britain to supply Warsaw and then continued to the Soviet base at Poltava. That was the first and last time.
Approximately 1284 containers dropped and reported with fair to excellent results. In reality, over 80% of the containers fell into German-controlled districts. Around 21 only reached the insurgents, 19 fell into the Soviet lines, and 960 were collected by the Germans.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that on the Soviet side the drop was reported as a supply to the Germans. Even a German guard who watched said:
«Oh, how decent they are. The Americans are bringing the supplies that we left in our haste in the west, and they are delivering it to us in Warsaw, by plane».
End of September
The last two weeks of September, in the center of the city, on the perimeter still controlled by the Home Army, fierce fighting with German forces persisted day by day. Surviving a civilian's status went from very bad to fatal.
In the western suburbs, long controlled by the German authorities, civilians were being evacuated, suspected insurgents were being shot, men and women were being shipped out either to concentration camps or forced labor in the Reich.
In one part of the eastern suburbs, on the right-bank foreshore, the men of the Berling Army together with some Soviet logistical units were risking their lives, and dying in their droves, to relieve the Rising.
Finally, in other parts of the eastern suburbs, especially in the sprawling streets and estates of Praga, the NKVD was engaged in operations virtually identical to the SS.
Nazi and Soviet repressions were proceeding simultaneously, in one and the same city. Ever since 1944, the Soviets watched passively as the Germans destroyed Warsaw and its inhabitants.
Attempts were made by the Home Army Command to establish reliable communications with Rokossovsky's headquarters. After all, Soviet aircraft were now regularly dropping supplies, usually without parachutes, and many of them were destroyed.
Also, the Soviet artillery had opened up over the river against German positions in the Citadel and the Danzig Station.
Monter was ordered to organize seven men, who were going to visit Rokossovsky in person and take radio equipment with them, to ensure a permanent link. It took them three days to travel from the city center to Praga.
First moving through the sewers from the city to Mokotov and eventually crossing the Vistula under cover of darkness on the night of 18/19 of September.
Unfortunately, when reaching Rokossovsky's HQ, they ran straight into trouble, because the NKVD had found a German propaganda leaflet, purporting to emanate from the Home Army and urging the Varsovians to fight against Bolshevism.
Finally, Bór also sent a telegram to Rokossovsky via London and Moscow, giving precise instructions on how to reactivate the municipal telephone cable under the Vistula. The Polish were able to decipher and listen to the Soviet military radio traffic.
In the last week of September, German forces had assaulted all three remaining insurgent islands with renewed vigor. The northern district of Zoliborz was attacked by the 46th Panzer Corps. The AK commander requested permission to surrender, which was reluctantly agreed.
Only the city center was holding out, sheltering the Home Army HQ on Prius XI street, but even there the German positions constrained freedom of movement. The civilian massacre continued in the streets.
The Nazis, fanatically following Hitler's order to wipe the rebel city from the map, we're not going to give up when they had success in view, so only an improvement from Moscow could save the Warsaw Uprising.
Continues below in Capitulation...
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On the 27th of September, the commander LtCol. Charles decided to take his main force out of the city center via the sewers.
Negotiations for capitulation restarted on the 28th of September with Col. Zyndram against Von Dem Bach in the first round for three hours. Later Von Dem Bach wrote in his diary:
«May the Good Lord give me the same powers of persuasion which worked so well in Mokotów».
The second round of negotiations took place on the morning of 29 September and in the background, a decisive Panzer assault on Zoliborz was taking place. Also, Gen. Bór wrote a virtual ultimatum to Rokossovsky, giving him a maximum of three days to launch an offensive.
Also, on September 29th, Gen. Bór wires to London: «Our struggle is dying out, there is no longer any hope of help for the fighting Warsaw. The civilian population and wounded soldiers find themselves in a tragic position».
Famine is rampant in the city. In the last days of September, the Home Army Commander sends peace envoys to initiate parleys for the surrender of the city.
Finally, on the 30th of September, it was the third round of negotiations in order to address some technical issues in regard to a general capitulation, but nothing was signed. In the meantime, the fighting continued.
On October 2, the agreement on suspension of warfare operations in Warsaw is signed in Ożarów.
According to the treaty, insurgents are to lay down their arms and leave the city in tight formations together with their commanders. The civilian population is to leave the city as well.
Evacuation started on 3 of October. The 11,668 soldiers of the Home Army together with 2,000 women marched proudly between 3, 4, and 5 of October wearing for the last time their red-and-white brassards and their White Eagle badges. They had done their duty and more.
5 October 1944 - The last march of the Home Army
The Germans deported the AK soldiers to numerous POW camps inside the Reich. On their way to camps, soldiers are persecuted and once they arrive they are not given any water for a long time.
Civilians (around half a million) passed through a temporary camp in Pruszków, where Germans conduct selection. Some of the men and women are deported to forced labor in Germany, while others are sent to Radom, Czestochowa, and Kraków.
A few Varsovians, with a handful of Jews among them, hide in the ruins until the arrival of the Red Army on January 17, 1945. These are the so-called "Robinsons".
More than 18,000 insurgents and 180,000 civilians died in Warsaw Uprising. There are many representatives of the Polish elite among the fallen and the murdered.
Finally, the Germans broke the provisions of the capitulation treaty and carried out the long-planned action of destroying Warsaw. Only 64 out of 987 historical buildings remained untouched.
Destroying Warsaw, potentially the biggest center of resistance against the new occupation makes it easier to impose the communist system of power and to sovietize the Polish society.
Over 100,000 Varsovians had been sent as slave-laborers to the Reich, in contravention of the Capitulation agreement, and several tens of thousands had been sent to SS concentration camps, including Ravensbrück, Auschwitz, and Mauthausen.
As expected, the Führer's reaction to the fall of Warsaw was one of elation but also of merciless revenge. The demolition of west bank Warsaw proceeded methodically for more than three months.
Despite a critical military situation, in which every last soldier of any age was being impressed into service for the defense of the Reich, thousands of German troops were employed in the ruins of Warsaw, fulfilling the Führer's orders for its total razing.
Brandkommandos or fire squads attacked the empty, desolate, and largely roofless houses with flame-throwers. Demolition teams used dynamite and heavy equipment to bring down the larger buildings and monuments.
Gangs of peasants collected scrap metal and other usable building materials and carted them off. The operation proceeded without a break, day by day, street by street, district by district. The Soviets watched impassively, making no move.
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City of contrasts
Loyalty had in large measures been won before the Warsaw Uprising by the secret 'Underground State'. They ran communal kitchens, built barricades, cleared rubble buried the dead, cared for the sick, and extinguished fires.
In close association with the Home Army and the Government delegates, they maintained a postal service, a widespread system of press distribution, and a fully-fledged Public Security Corps (PKB) with police, judicial, and investigatory functions.
Civilian morale was affected by a wide variety of factors, both political and material, and it passed through several phases. It was high after the outbreak, gradually declined during August, survived a crisis in early September, and revived thereafter.
It is a fact that the largest part of Varsovians chose to stay and share the fate of the fighters and it was the greatest support that enabled the insurgents to keep fighting. The Rising would have collapsed at any point if the civilians chose to follow the German orders and surrender.
After the outbreak and during the Uprising, someone could easily describe Warsaw as a city of contrasts.
Alongside the superhuman sacrifice and selflessness, there was selfishness and shirking; where many gave everything they possessed, others hoarded and capitalized; unprecedented communal solidarity was marred by intrigue and betrayal.
Whilst some people treated the insurgents as faultless heroes, others regarded them as the instigators of their suffering and the murderers of their families and children.
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First, the Battle for Warsaw didn't start on the 1st of August in 1944. The fight started on the 1st of September 1939.
Warsaw and the rest of Poland chose to fight against the Nazi war machine which consumed the whole of Europe. Without the help of the Allies, they stand against the Nazis and they did fairly well.
Von Dem Bach Receive Gen. Bór - 5 October 1944
Furthermore, even the first day before the city falls, the Underground State was created, and a daily fight against the German occupation started, looking for the right moment for a general Rising.
A general rising was always on the agenda, therefore, the main questions were simply when and how. Gen. Sikorski authorized a plan for a general Rising, which would coincide with a major landing of regular forces in October of 1940.
People and resistance moved underground, they even planned an assassination attempt against Hitler in his only one visit to Warsaw on the 5th of October, 1939 which unfortunately failed. The 500 kilos of explosives placed at the crossing of Nowy Swiat and Aleje Jerozolimiskie Avenue, never exploded.
Young children still in school and scouts were fighting using their own unique ways against the German occupation, women were nursing the wounded, and preparing food and civilians were helping the insurgents on the daily fight.
Groups of people were collecting pieces of clothes and furniture from the ruins of the Royal Castle in order one day to rebuild it. And they rebuilt it and it is just amazing, even though it was completed only in 1990.
It is a fact, they did a lot of mistakes in planning and also the timing was not the best. Many people knew that the Russians will provoke the Uprising in Warsaw and when people start fighting, they'll stop their advance and let the Germans finish them.
The biggest issue was the lack of established communication between the different units. After realizing that the information about the Soviet tanks on the road to Praga was false, the instructions for the Warsaw Uprising could not be recalled, as the runners left already.
Unfortunately, the timing was very important and any delay could cause serious issues. The position of the Undeground leaders was very unpleasant, but it is definite that they were always fighting for the good of Poland.
At least it was one army that cared about the Jews. The first actions of the Armia Krajowa included attacks on targets related to Jew deportation and extermination, like Umschlagplatz, Paviak prison, and Goose Farm (Death Camp in the former Warsaw Ghetto).
From those attacks, many Jews entered the forces of the Armia Krajowa ready to fight against the Germans who killed their families and friends.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that the whole world learned that Poland fights and they will always fight for their freedom despite the casualties and this is the most important achievement of the Warsaw Uprising.
Germans reported that nothing resembling the Warsaw Uprising had been seen since Stalingrad. The difference is that Warsaw was not defended by a professional army with full weapons, but a dedicated band of irregulars with light arms.
Definitely, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943, taught two important lessons, which possibly strongly influenced the final decision for the Warsaw Uprising or the Battle for the Capital.
Firstly, from a military perspective was that if a hundred half-armed hungry fighters, poorly trained were able to fight the German war machine for nearly one month, then a greater army could even succeed in a Rising later on.
Secondly, Warsaw's Ghetto fighters reminded the Polish people who they are, as they gave to them a very Polish example: «Some things in life are more important than life itself».
Just like the fight of Thermopyles at 480 BC. Only 7,000 Greeks stand to fight against the hundreds of thousands of the Persian army with Leonidas. The fight was lost because of a betrayal, but the fighters fight till they perished. And the Battle remained in History and make the Greeks proud of it.
Maybe the Warsaw Uprising was lost, but it will never be forgotten. It opened the way for new victories and keep high the proudness of the Polish nation.
Usually, people often hold the Warsaw Rising leaders personally responsible for the massive death poll among civilians and the city destruction, however, the tragedy cannot be attributed solely to local mistakes.
Certainly, grave mistakes were made. The exiled Government in London lost control of developments when they gave their subordinates in Warsaw the total rights over the final order. The military and political leaders in Warsaw, who launched the final order, erred in some aspects of bad timing.
The choice of 17:00 as 'L-Hour' caused much confusion and reduced the number of objectives that could be gained in the first attacks. Another important factor was the earlier policy of removing weapons from Warsaw, sending the AK soldiers literally to battle without weapons.
Coordination with the Western powers was weak and with the Soviet Union virtually non-existent.
On 28 July, the Soviet Stavka ordered Rokossovsky to occupy the whole line of the Vistula by 2 August at the latest. That was a strong indicator that the AK command for launching the Uprising one day before was perfectly correct.
Definitely, it would have been much more satisfactory if the attempt to reach a Polish-Soviet agreement had taken place earlier, but they firmly believed that had the full support of the Western allies that they would prevent Stalin from cutting up rough.
Churchill and Roosevelt had assured them, they had good grounds to feel that they were not taking a wild gamble.
For five weeks, from late August to early October 1944, Rokossovky's First Byelorussian Front was close enough to Warsaw not only to render intensive assistance but also to effect a rescue.
A limited force was actively engaged at the end of September, yet orders for a renewed offensive on the Vistula were not given. The reasons for the Soviet passivity were largely political and action was eminently possible.
Also, the «Big Three» addressed the Warsaw crisis through a series of totally uncoordinated initiatives and ill-tempered exchanges. They arranged for Premier Mick to go to Moscow, but they left him unsupported at Stalin's mercy.
They protested against Soviet obstructionism, but they showed no urgency in bringing any negotiations back on track. Furthermore, they needed Stalin to help them, so there was no sign of a willingness to protect their ally from Moscow's manifest malevolence.
Finally, Western leaders had no coherent strategy for dealing with Stalin. Germans recognized the Home Army as a legitimate combatant force, but they never thought of asking the Soviets to do the same.
Let's close with this
«Some things in life are more important than life itself»
Warsaw Uprising - 1st of August 1944.
The Battle for Warsaw by Norman Davies
Warsaw Uprising Museum
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