Contributor: John Radzilowski
ww2dbaseIn 1944, Polandâ€™s political situation grew increasingly precarious as Soviet forces moved into eastern Poland. In the West, unbeknownst to the Poles, the Allies had agreed to give Joseph Stalin a free hand in eastern Europe after the war. In Poland itself, the brutality of the German occupation continued unabated, with thousands dying every day in camps, summary executions and street round ups.
ww2dbasePolish resistance forces were unified under the aegis of the Armia Krajowa, or Home Army (AK, pronounced â€śAhh-Kahâ€ť). (The only exceptions were the miniscule Communist movement and a small group on the right, the ONR.) This underground force was large and well-organized, but lacked sufficient weapons. Only 1 in 10 fighters had a firearm of any sort and heavy weapons were almost non-existent. This organization prepared for an uprising that would strike back at the hated occupiers.
ww2dbaseWith the tacit approval of the government in exile, the Home Army prepared Operation Burza or Storm. As the Red Army advanced, the underground would rise up, defeat the retreating Germans and greet the Soviets as master of their own country. In the summer of 1944, as the Soviets approached Warsaw, the Poles decided to retake their capital city. Their goal was to drive out the Nazis and welcome the Soviets as masters of their own house, forestalling any effort to impose a Soviet-style puppet regime. In Wilno (Vilnius), the AK played a major role in ousting the Germans from the city and helping the Red Army. The Soviet reciprocated by executing the leaders of the Polish resistance and conscripting the rank and file into the Red Armyâ€™s Polish units. This was an ominous beginning, but the real test would be in Warsaw.
ww2dbaseOn the evening of 1 Aug 1944, shots rang out across the city of Warsaw as some 40,000 poorly armed citizen soldiers, including teenagers, men, and women, backed by almost the entire population, attacked the well-equipped, well-fortified German garrison. The first European capital captured by Adolf Hitlerâ€™s armies was fighting back.
ww2dbaseFierce fighting broke out across the city by the late afternoon of 1 Aug. Only 1 in 10 Polish fighters had a weapon, but many went into action hoping to use captured arms from the Germans, or from their own fallen comrades. Units of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, some as young as 12 or 13, attacked Nazi panzers armed only with bottles of gasoline. The Poles seized large sections of the city, but failed to take many key fortified strong points, including the bridges across the Vistula River. Losses were heavy, but the Polish citizen soldiers quickly learned from their mistakes.
ww2dbaseHitlerâ€™s reaction was furious. He ordered the completed destruction of the city and death of all its inhabitants. Heinrich Himmler confidently predicted â€śWarsaw will be liquidated; and this city . . . that has blocked our path to the east for seven hundred years . . . will have ceased to exist.â€ť The Nazi command sent SS police, units of former Soviet soldiers who had deserted to the Nazi cause, and the sweepings of German military prisonsâ€”murderers, rapists, child molesters, and thieves. Behind them came tanks, aircraft, and heavy artillery. Many Nazi units were sent into purely civilian areas where they murdered, raped, and pillaged for days on end, killing men, women, and children without mercy. German and ex-Soviet troops rampaged through hospitals, even maternity wards, killing every living soul.
ww2dbaseAlthough murdering helpless civilians came easily to the German command, retaking the city did not. Units that were skilled in slaughtering the innocent proved less effective against armed citizenry. Nazi forces seized buildings during the day, only to find that the Poles retook them during the night. Fighting raged house to house, room to room. Julian Kulski, a teenager fighting in the cityâ€™s northern suburb, recalled how his unit tricked the Germans into thinking their position was unoccupied:
ww2dbaseNormally, the Poles spared their ammunition under the slogan, â€śone bullet, one German,â€ť but when it came to the SS, a different policy was practiced:
ww2dbaseIn the ruins of the Jewish Ghetto, a unit of Polish volunteers, using a captured tank, smashed through the walls of the â€śGoose Farmâ€ť death camp, routing the Nazi guards and freeing about 400 Jewish prisoners. Although small, it was the first Nazi death camp to be liberated by Allied forces. Amid scenes of joy, the Polish officer who led the attack saw a file of men standing at attention. A former prisoner stepped forward, saluted, and announced â€śJewish volunteer company ready for action!â€ť The former prisoners were enlisted in the ranks. As the officer later recalled the Jewish volunteers were â€śexceptionally brave, ingenious, and faithful people.â€ť
ww2dbaseAs the city fought desperately and the Germans began to bring in reinforcements, the reaction of the Soviets was silence. Soviet forces, which had advanced confidently throughout the summer, stopped within miles of Warsaw. When Allied planes sought to use Soviet airbases to airdrop supplies to the Polish resistance, the Soviets refused. Allied supply planes were forced to make a dangerous return trip and Allied planes that strayed into Soviet-controlled areas were shot at from the ground or even attacked by Red Air Force fighters. Despite the dangers many American, British, Polish and South African aircrews volunteered for this mission.
ww2dbaseAfter the first weeks of failing to retake the city, the Germans began to remove some of the more thuggish police units and bring in regular combat units backed by dive bombers, tanks, artillery, and railroad artillery. The infamous Kaminski brigade made up of Soviet deserters, responsible for the mass murder of tens of thousands of civilians was relocated to the Kampinos Forest outside the city. On the night of September 2, local AK forces slipped into the brigadeâ€™s compound and tossed hundreds of grenades and petrol bombs into their barracks, virtually annihilating the unit.
ww2dbaseDenied re-supply from the east, the insurgents were driven back by overwhelming German firepower, and forced to rely on capturing weapons or making their own in secret workshops. To escape German detection, the resistance turned to the cityâ€™s sewers, using them to move undetected from place to place. This was often highly dangerous, and even skilled guides could become lost or fall into German booby traps.
ww2dbaseAlthough forced onto the defensive, the Poles continued to mount attacks on Nazi positions. On 20 Aug, the Home Army attacked the State Telephone Exchange, one of Warsawâ€™s few skyscrapers. Special sapper units made up of young womenâ€”called minerkiâ€”led the attack, detonating homemade explosives in the lower part of the building, driving the defenders into the upper floors. Then teams armed with homemade flamethrowers set the building ablaze. Most of the Nazis inside jumped to their deaths to avoid the flames, shot themselves, or were killed trying to fight their way back down the staircases.
ww2dbaseThe most savage fighting occurred in the Old Town, Warsawâ€™s historic heart. German heavy weapons smashed building after building, driving the defenders back into an ever smaller area. Civilians were used as human shields for German tanks. The struggle raged around the fifteenth-century cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Its medieval walls resisted even point blank fire from tanks. Assault after assault on the church was thrown back with heavy losses. Nazi commanders, certain that the church was garrisoned by some elite commando unit, packed a small remote-control tank full of explosives and rammed it into the building. The explosion collapsed the walls. As the smoke cleared, the bodies of the defenders could be seen lying amidst the rubble, still wearing their Boy Scout uniforms.
ww2dbaseAs the Germans closed in on the Old Town, the defenders made a daring escape. Thousands of freedom fighters and civilians slipped away single file through miles of sewers beneath the Germansâ€™ feet. The wounded were carried through the muck. Some went mad confined in the stinking darkness, others got lost, drowned in sewage, or killed by German booby traps.
ww2dbaseAs the people of Warsaw fought and died amid the rubble, the Soviets stood by. Stalin was content to let his former ally, Hitler, get rid of the non-Communist resistance movement. The Western Allies, who had already secretly agreed to Soviet hegemony over eastern Europe, saw the naked lust for power of their Soviet â€ścomrades.â€ť Although in public, they maintained a faĂ§ade of good relations, for many Western leaders Stalinâ€™s promises and his good will could no longer be trusted. In the eyes of many historians, the struggle for Warsaw was the first battle of the Cold War.
ww2dbaseOn 2 Oct, after 63 days of fighting, the defenders of Warsaw, abandoned by their allies and left to face the Nazi army alone, capitulated. The freedom fighters were treated as regular POWs under the Geneva Conventionâ€”a concession that showed how badly the Germans wanted to end the Uprising. The civilians were to be evacuated without reprisals.
ww2dbaseOn Hitlerâ€™s personal orders, Warsaw was systematically leveled, block by block, street by street. By the warâ€™s end, one of the great capitals of Europe was a field of rubble, with not a building left standing for miles.
ww2dbaseOn the Polish side 15,200 insurgents killed and missing, 5,000 wounded, 15,000 sent to POW camps. Among civilians 200,000 were dead, and approximately 700,000 expelled from the city. Approximately 55,000 civilians were sent to concentration camps, including 13,000 to Auschwitz. Zygmunt Berlingâ€™s Polish Communist Army losses were 5,660 killed, missing, or wounded in an unsupported effort to cross the Vistula. Material losses were estimated at 10,455 buildings, 923 historical buildings (94 percent), 25 churches, 14 libraries including the National Library, 81 elementary schools, 64 high schools, Warsaw University and Polytechnic buildings, and most of the monuments. Almost a million inhabitants lost all of their possessions. During World War 2, 85% of Warsaw's left bank buildings were destroyed: 25% in the course of the Warsaw Uprising, 35% as the result of systematic German actions after the Uprising, the rest as a combination of the war in Sep 1939 and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Between the war, occupation and Holocaust, Warsaw lost more people than all U.S. and British casualties. German losses in the Uprising were 16,000 killed and missing, 9,000 wounded. Up to 2,000 Germans were captured by insurgents, 1,000 returned after the Uprising (most of the remained were killed by the heavy bombing and shelling). Material losses included three airplanes (two outside the city in the Kampinos forest ); 310 tanks, self-propelled artillery, armored cars; 4 rocket launchers, 22 artillery pieces (caliber 75mm), and 340 trucks and cars.
ww2dbaseAs the Uprising ended, Soviet propagandists and their Western apologists began to sing a different tune: the people of Warsaw were led by â€śfascistsâ€ť who had â€śbetrayedâ€ť them to the Germans. In time, the Soviets would seek to blank the Warsaw Rising from historical memory, and many Western scholars would go along with this version of events. Many histories of World War 2 in English lavish fulsome praise on the Soviet leadership but ignore the Warsaw Rising. Yet, the Rising destroyed whatever shred of legitimacy the Communists might have had over their new eastern European possessions. For all their anti-Nazi rhetoric, they had allied themselves with Hitler at the start of the war, and then stood by while the Nazis killed off the cream of a generation. However, the Soviet failure to help the resistance destroyed any chance of a legitimate Communist regime being established in Poland. The Uprising remained the ultimate symbol of Communist betrayal and bad faith for Poles. Decades later, its memory helped to fuel the non-violent Solidarity movement that would play an important role in toppling Soviet power.
ww2dbaseSources: Rising â€™44, Travellerâ€™s History of Poland, Warsaw Uprising.
Last Major Update: Jan 2006
Warsaw Uprising Interactive Map
Warsaw Uprising Timeline
|1 Aug 1944||Soviet 1st Byelorussian Front under Konstantin Rokossovsky arrived in the suburbs of Warsaw, Poland. In concert, at 1700 hours, an uprising consisted of 50,000 resistance fighters began to disrupt the German preparations against the Soviet attack. Most of the 50,000 fighters belonged to the Home Army, but there were also some communist partisans, Boy Scouts, and Girl Guides in the ranks. Roughly 80-90% of the fighters began the uprising without firearms.|
|2 Aug 1944||The No. 1586 (Polish Special Duties) Flight RAF prepared for airdropping supplies for resistance fighters in Warsaw, Poland. As of this date, the flight only consisted of 5 crews and 8 aircraft. It was based in Italy.|
|4 Aug 1944||From London, England, United Kingdom, Winston Churchill sent Joseph Stalin a message, requesting him to provide material aid to the resistance fighters in Warsaw, Poland. Stalin rejected the request.|
|4 Aug 1944||After sundown, the Allies launched their first airdrop to aid resistance fighters in Warsaw, Poland. Four crews of the No. 148 (Special Duties) Squadron RAF were lost.|
|5 Aug 1944||Seeing that the efforts on the previous night to airdrop supplies to Warsaw resistance fighters in Poland had been costly, Commander-in-Chief RAF Mediterranean and Middle East John Slessor temporarily suspended all flights over the Warsaw area until 12 Aug 1944.|
|5 Aug 1944||Polish resistance fighters of Battalion Zoska, under the command of Waclaw Micuta) captured Warsaw Concentration Camp in the ghetto of Warsaw, Poland. Though small in size, this camp was the first camp with live prisoners to be captured by a military unit fighting for the Allied war effort. Some of the liberated Jewish prisoners immediately took up arms and joined the resistance.|
|8 Aug 1944||Under the direct order of Archibald Sinclair, Commander-in-Chief RAF Mediterranean and Middle East John Slessor dispatched No. 1586 (Polish Special Duties) Flight RAF to Warsaw, Poland. Supplies were successfully dropped in designated zones without any losses.|
|9 Aug 1944||After sundown, No. 1586 (Polish Special Duties) Flight RAF dropped supplies in the Kampinos Forest outside of Warsaw, Poland.|
|12 Aug 1944||Winston Churchill sent another message to Joseph Stalin, relaying Polish request for machine guns and ammunition for the resistance fighters in Warsaw, Poland.|
|12 Aug 1944||After sundown, 5 aircraft of No. 1586 (Polish Special Duties) Flight RAF and 6 aircraft of No. 148 (Special Duties) Squadron dropped supplies for the resistance fighters in Warsaw, Poland. There were Allied no losses.|
|13 Aug 1944||After sundown, 20 aircraft from No. 205 Bomber Group RAF, 4 aircraft from No. 1586 (Polish Special Duties) Flight RAF, and 4 aircraft from No. 148 (Special Duties) Squadron RAF dropped supplies for resistance fighters in Warsaw, Poland. 1 British aircraft of No. 178 Squadron and 2 South African aircraft of No. 31 Squadron SAAF were lost.|
|14 Aug 1944||Winston Churchill ordered Anthony Eden to against request assistance from Joseph Stalin for the resistance fighters in Warsaw, Poland.|
|14 Aug 1944||26 Allied aircraft attempted to drop supplies for resistance fighters in Warsaw, Poland. All of them failed to drop in their primary destinations. 3 aircraft of No. 178 Squadron RAF. 1 aircraft of No. 148 (Special Duties) Squadron RAF, 3 aircraft of No. 31st Squadron RAAF, and 1 aircraft of No. 1586 (Polish Special Duties) Flight RAF were lost. The supplies, seemingly dropped in inconvenient locations, were mostly retrieved by Polish resistance fighters.|
|15 Aug 1944||After seeing that the supply missions for resistance fighters in Warsaw, Poland had been so costly, Commander-in-Chief RAF Mediterranean and Middle East John Slessor again placed restrictions on such missions, limiting drops to locations outside the city of Warsaw only.|
|16 Aug 1944||After sundown, 18 Allied aircraft dropped supplies in the Kampinos Forest outside of Warsaw, Poland. 3 aircraft of No. 31 Squadron SAAF and 2 aircraft of No. 1586th (Polish Special Duties) Flight RAF were lost.|
|17 Aug 1944||After sundown, 1 aircraft of No. 1586 (Polish Special Duties) Flight RAF successfully dropped supplies in the Kabacki Forest near Warsaw, Poland; the other 3 aircraft launched for the same mission could not deliver their cargo for various reasons.|
|17 Aug 1944||The Allied Balkan Air Force suspended most supply flights to Warsaw, Poland, allowing only crews of No. 1586 (Polish Special Duties) Flight RAF to embark on such missions.|
|20 Aug 1944||Members of the Armia Krajowa attacked the State Telephone Exchange high-rise building in Warsaw, Poland.|
|20 Aug 1944||After sundown, aircraft of No. 1586 (Polish Special Duties) Flight RAF successfully made one supply drop in Warsaw, Poland and two drops in nearby Kampinos Forest.|
|20 Aug 1944||After sundown, aircraft of No. 1586 (Polish Special Duties) Flight RAF failed to deliver supplies to resistance fighters in Warsaw, Poland.|
|21 Aug 1944||After sundown, repeating the same missions as the previous night, aircraft of No. 1586 (Polish Special Duties) Flight RAF successfully made one supply drop in Warsaw, Poland and two drops in nearby Kampinos Forest.|
|23 Aug 1944||Aircraft of No. 1586 (Polish Special Duties) Flight RAF dropped supplies to resistance fighters in the Kampinos Forest near Warsaw, Poland.|
|25 Aug 1944||The headquarters of NKVD rear guard troops of Soviet 3rd Byelorussian Front ordered Soviet troops to disarm and detain all Polish Home Army troops who were attempting to pass through Soviet lines toward Warsaw, Poland.|
|26 Aug 1944||Two aircraft of No. 1586 (Polish Special Duties) Flight RAF were lost while attempting to drop supplies for resistance fighters in Warsaw, Poland.|
|27 Aug 1944||After sundown, Allied aircraft dropped supplies to resistance fighters in Warsaw, Poland. Two aircraft were lost.|
|28 Aug 1944||Balkan Air Force commanding officer William Elliott ordered the temporary suspension of supply missions over Warsaw, Poland due to losses.|
|31 Aug 1944||Chief of the Air Staff Charles Portal asked Commander-in-Chief RAF Mediterranean and Middle East John Slessor if dropping supplies from a higher altitude with delayed parachutes would keep aircraft safer when they delivered supplies to resistance fighters on the ground in Warsaw, Poland.|
|1 Sep 1944||After sundown, aircraft of No. 1586 (Polish Special Duties) Flight RAF dropped supplies to the Radom-Kielce district south of Warsaw, Poland as well as the Kampinos Forest. Four crews were lost.|
|10 Sep 1944||After sundown, 5 aircraft of No. 1586 (Polish Special Duties) Flight, 8 aircraft of No. 148 (Special Duties) Squadron RAF and No. 178 Squadron RAF, and 10 aircraft of Nos. 31 and 34 Squadrons SAAF dropped supplies on Warsaw, Poland and nearby Kampinos Forest. 1 Polish, 1 South African (of No. 34 Squadron SAAF), and 1 British (of No. 148 (Special Duties) Squadron RAF) were lost.|
|12 Sep 1944||In Britain, airmen of the US 355th Fighter Group were briefed on missions to Warsaw, Poland. As landings in Soviet-controlled territory was possible, the airmen were instructed to carry no sidearms and to avoid engaging in political discussions with Soviet civilians and military personnel who they might come in contact with.|
|13 Sep 1944||After sundown, two aircraft of No. 1586 (Polish Special Duties) Flight RAF took flight to drop supplies on Warsaw, Poland. One of them was shot down over Hungary, while the other successfully made its delivery.|
|14 Sep 1944||Soviet troops reached the suburbs of Warsaw, Poland and began air dropping supplies to the Armia Krajowa.|
|18 Sep 1944||After sundown, 5 aircraft of No. 34 Squadron SAAF launched to deliver supplies for resistance fighters in Warsaw, Poland. Only two successfully delivered their cargo, outside city proper.|
|18 Sep 1944||In Britain, crews of US 100th Bomber Group were briefed in the early morning, joined by 355th Fighter Group intelligence officer Danny M. Lewis and 358th Fighter Squadron technical officer Captain E. H. McMillan. They were later joined by Brigadier General Mateusz Izycki of the Polish Air Force. At dawn, starting around 0600 hours, 110 B-17 aircraft loaded with supplies for Polish resistance fighters took off from various bases in Britain with fighters in escort. Preceding them were British Mosquito light bombers, which would arrive over Warsaw, Poland 20 minutes prior to the B-17 bombers to relay weather information and reports on German defense. One of the B-17 bombers developed engine trouble over Torun-Brodnica-Rypin area about 150 kilometers northwest of Warsaw and was forced to dump some cargo containers to save weight; this would provide the Germans some clue as to the mission and destination of this flight. German fighters began attacking over the Szcztno-Zakrocym-Nasielski area at 1237 hours as the first bombers arrived over Warsaw. While many of the containers went into the hands of the resistance fighters, a large number were also captured by the Germans; ironically, food and German ammunition (meant for Polish fighters operating captured German weapons) would be used by German troops.|
|19 Sep 1944||Prime Minister StanisĹ‚aw MikoĹ‚ajczyk of the Polish government-in-exile sent a message to Franklin Roosevelt, Carl Spaatz, Anthony Eden, and others requesting a repeat of the 18 Sep airdrop operation to supply resistance fighters in Warsaw, Poland. Despite the fact that the Home Army fighters received less than half of the crates dropped, they were desperately short on supplies.|
|21 Sep 1944||After sundown, 12 Polish, British, and South African air crews dropped supplies for resistance fighters in Warsaw, Poland.|
|24 Sep 1944||US Ambassador to the United Kingdom John Winant met with US Army Air Forces generals Carl Spaatz and Ira Eaker to discuss the possibility of conducting another major supply drop for resistance fighters in Warsaw, Poland. They concluded that similar missions should not be conducted due to the closure of US bases in the Soviet Union (the closure was planned for 5 Oct 1944), the shortening of daylight hours, and the rate of aircraft loss.|
|27 Sep 1944||2,000 fighters of the Armia Krajowa surrendered in Warsaw, Poland.|
|27 Sep 1944||Carl Spaatz authorized Operation Frantic 8, which called for 72 B-17 bombers, 64 P-51 fighters, and 2 Mosquito aircraft to drop supplies to Polish resistance fighters in Warsaw, Poland on 30 Sep 1944. The Soviets, whose bases were required for receiving the bombers after the operation, agreed only after Winston Churchill personally asserted pressure on Joseph Stalin.|
|28 Sep 1944||In the United Kingdom, US airmen were awarded by the Polish government-in-exile for having dropped supplies to Polish resistance fighters in Warsaw, Poland during Operation Frantic 7. Colonel Karl Truesdell, Jr. received the Virtuti Militari 5th Class personally awarded by Commander-in-Chief General Kazimierz Sosnkowski, while nine other airmen received the Cross of Valor.|
|28 Sep 1944||The Polish underground political group Council of National Unity sent another message to Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, and Franklin Roosevelt requesting supply drops and air strikes on German positions.|
|30 Sep 1944||Operation Frantic 8, a USAAF air mission to supply Polish resistance fighters in Warsaw, Poland scheduled for this date, was postponed to 1 Oct 1944.|
|1 Oct 1944||General Tadeusz Komorowski sent a message to the Polish military leadership in London, England, United Kingdom noting that he had made the decision to lay down arms as his resistance fighters were running out of supplies to continue the fighting.|
|1 Oct 1944||Operation Frantic 8, a USAAF air mission to supply Polish resistance fighters in Warsaw, Poland scheduled for this date, was postponed to 2 Oct 1944 due to weather.|
|2 Oct 1944||The Warsaw Uprising ended in failure after 63 days of fighting largely due to lack of food and ammunition. 15,200 insurgents and 200,000 civilians were killed, while the German occupation forces suffered 16,000 killed. Many buildings were destroyed in the fighting.|
|2 Oct 1944||Operation Frantic 8, a USAAF air mission to supply Polish resistance fighters in Warsaw, Poland scheduled for this date, was postponed to 3 Oct 1944 due to weather. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union sent the Americans a falsified report which claimed that the Soviets had evacuated a large number of Polish resistance fighters from Warsaw, Poland, thus the planned airdrop mission would not be necessary.|
|4 Oct 1944||Carl Spaatz announced that USAAF's Frantic operations would no longer involve the dropping or supplies for Polish resistance fighters.|
|5 Oct 1944||Major General Orvil Anderson, US Eighth Air Force deputy commander for operations, informed the Polish government-in-exile that US bases in the Soviet Union were now closed, and there would be no more American missions to drop supplies to Polish resistance fighters.|
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General Douglas MacArthur at Leyte, 17 Oct 1944