The Warsaw Uprising
August 1, 1944 - October 2, 1944
by Łukasz Pajewski
The Warsaw Uprising was probably the largest single
operation organized and executed by a partisian organization in
World War II. It lasted two months, and when it was over, 200
thousand people were dead, and the entire city was in ruins. In
trying to achieve its goals, the uprising was a terrible failure.
In showing the courage and the dedication of the Polish nation,
it was a remarkable success.
Days before the uprising - July, 1944
On June 23rd, 1944, the Soviet Army began its summer
offensive in Bielorussia, the Ukraine, and the Baltic region.
The Germans, although they had rightly predicted where the Soviets
were going to strike, could not muster the sufficient man-power
to form an effective line of defense. The Soviet offensive, which
began a little past Minsk (now in Bielarus), had within five weeks
covered a distance of about 1000 km on a front more than 400 km
wide. Patton's race across France pales in comparison to this
massive undertaking. By the last week of July, the Soviets were
approaching to the outskirts of Warsaw. The Germans, in a desperate
attempt, tried to make a stand at Warsaw - Hitler had said that
Warsaw must be defended at all costs. To that effect, the Germans
gathered units of the 2nd and 9th Armies, as well as the Viking
and Totenkopf SS-Armored divisions, the Herman Goering Airborne
Armored divisions, and the 4th and 9th Armored divisions. The
Soviet divisions, already worn out by their prolonged thrust,
were stopped by the Germans on the outskirts of Warsaw in a battle
on July 30th-August 5th.
In Warsaw itself, the proximity of the Soviet troops encouraged the Poles, and the leadership of the AK contacted the Polish government in London requesting permission to start the mass uprising, which had been in the works for several months now. It was then still expected that the Soviets would break through the German lines, cross the Vistula, and free Warsaw. In order to strengthen its bargaining position, the London government gave the go-ahead for the uprising, hoping to achieve the goals of controling the Warsaw by forces loyal to the London government and broading popular support for the London government.
To Gen. Komorowski, the leader of the AK, it looked
like the time was right for the uprising to begin. He had received
reports that in some spots the Soviets had already crossed the
Vistula. He did not know the exact details of the tank battles
being waged at the moment, and he did not know the next series
of moves the Soviets had planned. The wheels of the uprising machinery,
once set in motion, could not be easily stopped. The "W"
hour was finally set for 5:00 p.m., August 1st, 1944.
At the time of the outbreak of the uprising, the
AK had about 12 thousand soldiers in Warsaw proper. There were
enough weapons for maybe 4 thousand of them, and enough ammunition
for two or three days of fighting. There were also some units
of the AL which joined in the fight. Additionally, there were
other resistance groups, like the boy scouts, and NSZ. The German
forces consisted of about 20 thousand men, mostly from Wehrmaht,
SS, and Police troops. The Germans had tanks, artillery, and airplanes,
which the Poles were defenseless against.
"W" Hour had been set for 5:00 p.m. on
August 1, and when it came, the soldiers that had spent the afternoon
in hiding came out on the street to fight the Germans. From the
beginning, things were not going well. The Germans had been on
full alert since 16:30, and the inexperienced Polish youths had
to attack a fortified enemy in broad daylight. It came as no surprise
then, that many objectives were only partially, if at all, completed.
The most headway was made downtown, but it wasn't enough to meet
up with the fighters from the Starówka, Powiśle, or
other parts of the city.
In some parts, like Żoliborz and Ochota, things
went so poorly that the partisans were largely forced to retreat
into the forests surrounding the city. The attacks on the Okęcie
and Bielany airports were repulsed, like the attack on the Raszyn
radio station. The first stroke, on which so many things depended,
was thus only partially successful - large parts of the city were
now controlled by the insurgents, but within those sections there
were still many fortified pockets of German resistance.
Both the Poles and the German garrison suffered
heavy casualties that first day. Yet both also received reinforcements.
For the Germans, they were units of the Airborne Armored Herman
Goering and the 19th Armored Divisions, both of which were passing
through the city to join battle with the Soviets. For the insurgents
they came in the form of mass support from the citizens of Warsaw.
The insurgents thus got to benefit from all the supplies and experience
that the populace had amassed in the five years of German occupation.
On August 2nd, the insurgents resumed the attack.
By August 4th, Śródmieście was largely in Polish
hands. Many of the troops that had left after the first day had
a chance to return, since the Germans were still confused and
preoccupied with fighting the Soviets. Wola repulsed several German
counterattacks, shielding Śródmieście. In other
parts of the city, the situation remained very fluid.
Thus, by August 4th, there were three large insurgent
regions of the city. There was the Śródmieście-Powiśle-Starówka-Wola
region, the Żyrardów region, and the Mokotów
region - overall a large part of the city. In those four crucial
days, the partisan units acquired much combat experience, and
the support of the people. Yet at the end of those four days,
there was also a very clear lack of ammunition and other supplies.
It was also expected that by this time the Soviet troops would
be crossing the river to help the insurgents. General Komorowski
sent a message to London asking for supply airdrops, inquiring
when the paratrooper brigade would arrive, and asking the London
government to persuade the Soviets to cross the river. He also
ordered all offensive operations to cease, so that ammunition
might be conserved. The wait for Soviet and Western relief began.
That relief soon came. Polish bomber pilots flying
from bases on the Apula (Italy) started making nightly ammo drops
over Warsaw. The pilots then had to fly back to Italy, since the
Soviets refused them permission to land on their ground. Unfortunately,
it wasn't enough. Many of the airdrops actually fell into German
hands, and the deliveries were eventually called off because of
the high risk and relatively low return.
The 5th of August also saw the first determined
counterattacks by the Germans. The thrust came from the Wola region,
and after three days of heavy fighting, the 5000 Wehrmacht soldiers
cracked part of the AK defense, which consisted of about 2000
poorly supplied and armed men. This drove a wedge between Śródmieście
and Stare Miasto, splitting the largest insurgent enclave in two.
At the same time, the other German thrust bogged
down in the Mokotów-Ochota region. The defense of those
regions by the insurgents shielded Śródmieście
for over a week, staving off a premature collapse of the armed
effort. The Germans were able to make only limited headway, managing
to recapture one of the main east-west through-fares across the
By August 10th, however, the AK leadership knew
the result of the Soviet-German battle that had taken place, and
knew that the Soviets would not be advancing to free Warsaw. A
previous order, stating that insurgents move out of the way of
large German attacks, was changed so that connectivity could once
again be reestablished between the various city regions. At that
time the German leadership also started to vent its anger on the
civilian population. Thousands of civilians were executed, and
many more died as they were driven before the German troops as
those were moving toward the insurgent barricades. It had become
clear to both sides that the rest of the fight would be a long
and dirty struggle, which pitted on the one side supreme courage
and determination against a better-trained, better-armed, and
numerically superior opponent.
August 12 - September 2
After the fall of Wola, the German attack centered
on the Stare Miasto region. This area was the largest insurgent
enclave, and it was also the region with the bridges to the other
side of the Vistula. The attack came on the 12th of August, and
after heavy fighting, the Poles were forced to retreat, leaving
the area of the old Jewish ghetto. Yet at the same time that they
were withdrawing from one position, the insurgents were carrying
out a counter-attack to reform a link between Śródmieście
and Stare Miasto. While this attempt was unsuccessful, it did
force the Germans to divert some troops from the main thrust to
deal with this new event. Seeing that reestablishing connections
between the city districts, Komorowski once again turned to the
London government for aid. Another request was made for the deployment
of the Polish airborne brigade, as well as for more supply drops.
An order was also sent out to all AK units around Warsaw to come
to its aid. This was only partly successful, as only about 1400
of the 3000 available men were able to make their way into the
city. The insurgents, however, erased some of the german centers
of resistance (among others on August 11th in Staszic palace and
on August 20th in stubbornly defended house of PAST on Zielna
St.). They also enlarged their possesions in Śródmieście-Południe
After conquering Stare Miasto the Germans undertook
tries to shut down the main artery of traffic longways Al. Jerozolimskie-Poniatowski
Bridge, but they came up against unbeatable defence.
On September 6th Germans conquered Powiśle,
pacyfying defenceless civilian population. On September 11th 47th
Soviet army conquered the Prague. The "Bach" regiment
received a task to completelly shut off the partisians from the
Vistula with help of german air force and the 9th Armored Division.
The german offensive on the Czerniaków narrowed the positions
of insurgents to only a small piece of land near the Wilanowska
an Zagórna streets.
On September 16-22th a part of the First WP Army opened some bridge-heads in Czerniaków, between Poniatowski Bridge and Railway Bridge, and in Żoliborz. In the same time Russian and Polish air force gained the mastery of the air above the Warsaw and was dropping weapons, ammunition and food.
Germans with help of the 9th army erased some of
the Polish head-bridges (the last one in Czerniaków - September
22). The next strike on Mokotów, where the "Baszta"
regiment was fighting brang on September 27th the capitulation
of Mokotów (the part of the crew with the leader of the
"Mokotów" regiment - Lieutenant-Colonel Józef
W. Rokicki went through the severs to Śródmieście).
Separated german forces executed an operation in
Puszcza Kampinoska, drawing on September 29th a battle near Jaktorów
with insurgent forces. 19th Armored Division, supported by the
infantry of "Bach" regiment striked on Żoliborz,
which capitulated on September 30th.
In face of hopeless situation - hunger, the lack
of weapons, ammunition and medical help AK established on September
30th negotiations with "Bach".
In headquarters of "Bach" regiment in
Ożarów Poles signed a capitulation act. The insurgent
armys, however, keeped the combatant rights. The displaced population
was conducted to the concentration camp in Prószków
and from there to the back of the front-line, to an extermination
and work camps in Poland and Germany. Warsaw became the terrain
of the activities of the german forces which burning and blowing
up destroyed almost 80% of the city.
63 days fight of the insurgents, which was waged
in circumstances of german crushing superiority and very aversing
political situation could only be waged thanks to the boundless
patriotism, heroism and sacrifice of the whole society of Warsaw
and its will of uncompromised fight against hitlerism. The loses
of Polish partisians were huge. 16000-18000 killed (the most sacrified
youth) and about 25000 wounded. Civilian population loses were
even bigger. Over 150 thousand of killed or murdered. The first
army of WP lost over 3764 soldiers during forcing the Vistula
and fights on the bridge-heads. The entire city was destroyed.
The german loses were about 26000 soldiers.
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