The Warsaw Uprising of 1944
Excerpt from the book “Danuta – Growing up between Katyn and Auschwitz”
Maria Szonert Binienda
Glory to Polish Heroes of 1944 Warsaw Uprising against Germans on the 79th anniversary of the mortal battle for liberty and dignity of the Polish People!
The Warsaw Uprising known as Operation Tempest was ordered by the Home Army (AK) Commander Bór-Komorowski with the approval of the Delegate of the Polish Government in London. The plan was to coordinate the takeover of the city with the Soviet final push across the Vistula River in order to assure liberation by the Polish forces and establishment of an independent Polish administration.
On July 19, soon after the Soviets entered Eastern Poland, the Moscow radio urged the Warsawians to rise. At the same time, the Germans started to evacuate civilian offices from Warsaw and called on Warsawians to report to work on fortifications around the city. In the atmosphere of suppressed exuberance, the Warsawians were ready to rise against the hated oppressors on their own accord.
On July 31, the Home Army spotted a Soviet patrol in the suburbs of Warsaw. At 5:30 PM that day Bór-Komorowski gave the order to start Operation Tempest on August 1 at 17 PM. The long-awaited Hour “W” finally came.
The response of Warsawians was unprecedented. In unity, the entire city stood up to fight, the old and the young, men and woman, communists and capitalists, all underground organizations, no matter what their affiliation or belief.
On August 4, the underground press reports: The Home Army already controls most of Warsaw. The Polish Government in Great Britain has requested that the Home Army be considered as the regular Allied Army and be given the full support of the Allied forces. The first Allied planes with arms and food for fighting Warsaw have already taken off from Brindisi in Italy.
On August 5, 1944, General Rokossowski, commanding the fast-advancing First Byelorussan Front, receives a simple and unequivocal order from Stalin to stop the offensive on Warsaw and wait for further orders. Thus, the Soviet offensive comes to an abrupt halt.
The fleeing Germans immediately realize that sudden change of heart, stop the retreat, and send reinforcements to crash Warsaw. By halting the advances of the Soviet Army toward Warsaw, Stalin hoped for a quick defeat of the Warsaw Uprising. Despite Churchill’s urgent requests for permission for the Allied fighters to land on the Soviet side of the frontline, Stalin didn’t allow for the landing.
In the first weeks of the uprising, the Allied planes, many of them with Polish pilots, took off from Great Britain and Italy, carrying arms and food for fighting Warsaw. The round-trip non-stop fighter flights from England or Italy to Warsaw, 2800 kilometers without refueling, entailed unreasonable risk and extensive casualties. The entire air support to Warsaw quickly became unsustainable due to heavy losses. After 199 sorties consisting of 97 Polish and 105 British flights, the air support was discontinued.
By the end of the first week of the Uprising, the underground press reports: Warsaw is fighting! The Warsawians bravely hold their ground, desperately preserving their positions. However, the Soviet Army stationed at the bank of the Vistula River is not advancing while the Germans are sending reinforcements to Warsaw. The most brutal Nazi formations, SS Viking Panzer Division, and SS Hermann Goring regiment with the most murderous penal brigade thugs are believed to be moving towards Warsaw!”
“What’s going on?” Dad wonders. “Why are the Soviets stuck there?”
He tunes in on his short waves radio and catches a distant Russian voice. Soon he flushes with anger. “This must be the end of the world!” He exclaims and heads to the door.
“What is it?” Frightened Danusia stands in his way.
He looks at her reflexively and sits down again. “Unbelievable, just insane! The Soviets call the Home Army a handful of rebels… and… the Warsaw Uprising a gang of power-seeking criminals! Can you imagine this kind of meanness? And they talk about some puppets in Lublin as the legitimate Polish government. No one has ever heard of those jerks!”
On August 11, the radio reports:
After heavy fighting and extensive losses, the Warsawians lost their positions in three districts: at Wola, Ochota, and Muranów. In the lost districts, the Germans conduct mass executions of the civilian population. It is reported that thousands of Warsawians are being executed every day.
The listeners are seized by fear. What is happening? What’s happening to their friends, to their neighbors, to their homes? And how about the Polish Army that stands near Warsaw with the Soviet forces? Why don’t they move to help Warsaw?
The next day the Warsaw radio station broadcasts a desperate plea for help. The Home Army Commander issued an order to all units of the Home Army in the country to provide reinforcements to Warsaw. The situation in the city is dramatic. The Allied air support has been terminated while the German air raids intensify. Every bit of help counts!
But the Soviet Army tightly controls the access to Warsaw from the east and makes sure that no units of the Home Army break through to Warsaw… With every passing day, though, the drama of fighting Warsaw is gaining momentum on the international scene, putting more pressure on Stalin. On August 12, Churchill once again asks Stalin to provide support to the Warsaw Uprising. On August 18, a large number of American airplanes appear over the sky of Warsaw. Together 110 flying fortresses supported by 73 fighters make 1300 drops of arms and supplies for the Home Army.
By this time, however, the Home Army has been carved up into four different pockets of resistance and consequently intercepts only 380 drops. On its return flight, the American mission suffers heavy losses and further flights are canceled.
The next day, the Polish radio reports:
Paris rose today! The French people take over their capital. The French Resistance closely cooperates with the American Command to coordinate their attacks inside the city with the final push of the American Army into Paris. Assailed from all fronts, the German garrison has begun to withdraw!
“Damn! I can’t listen to this!” Dad shouts. “Is there a curse on us…?”
He goes out to get some fresh air. Nearby, a group of neighbors gesticulates vividly.
“Something must have happened,” he worries.
One of the women from the group walks towards him.
“What happened there?” He asks.
She gives him a wild look. “See there?” She bursts in fury. “See that smoke on the horizon! That’s burning Warsaw!” She yells in a wild voice.
Dad stops, his eyes fixed on the pillar of smoke high in the sky. That’s his home, his furniture, his books, his photo albums, his life…
“They will succeed, they just must hang on to their positions a little longer!” Zbyszek joins him from behind.
“Hoping for what? A miracle?”
“But Dad! The mint is very well fortified. Our group commander, Pelka, is excellent. He is in the rank of Major in the Home Army.” (Home Army Major Mieczysław Chyżyński (Pełka); PWB/17 PWPW Group Commander.)
“Yes, yes, Pelka is excellent, so what?”
Dad stands in silence and watches the sky.
Throughout the entire war, Pelka, the real name Mieczyslaw Chyzynski, has been running a big underground operation, producing on a mass scale fake identification documents for the Home Army. This low-key quality control worker at the mint was a commander of the Home Army Group PWB/17 in charge of defending the mint fortress in the Old Town.
Over the next few days, the main attack is aimed at the Old Town. The mint fortress represents the primary target in the Old Town. Heavy bombing continues around the clock. Relentless diving Stuka planes proceed with systematic devastation of the city, street by street, and house by house. The roar of approaching dive-bombers paralyzes the defenders of Warsaw. Some attempt to sing to control their fear, others pray, yet others are simply ready for their fate. To many, there is no way back. It’s either to win and regain their freedom and dignity or to die. To these men and women of Warsaw life in oppression is not worth living anymore.
On August 26, the Poles listen to the radio reports on the great victory parade in Paris. Fighting under American command, the French armored division was given the honor of spearheading the advances to Paris. General de Gaulle paraded down the Champs-Elysees greeted by enthusiastic crowds of thousands of liberated Parisians. The Third French Republic has been restored!
While the victory parade takes place in Paris, the Poles learn that the Old Town has been lost in Warsaw. The mint was fighting to the last bullet but was ultimately overtaken by the SS forces, the gendarmerie, and a flame-thrower battalion supported by the Wehrmacht.
The Home Army Group PWB/17 under the command of Major Pelka with less than 100 soldiers retreated from the mint towards the desperately defended Śródmieście district. A large group of civilians was left behind though in the infinite labyrinths of the mint’s basement. Those people reached the climax of mental torment and became unable to escape or even get up. In addition, the withdrawing Army Group PWB/17 left behind about thirty heavily wounded friends. Doctor Petrynowska, known in conspiracy as “Rana” meaning “Wound,” decided to remain in the building with her patients.
A herd of ferocious enemies swarmed the ruins of the mint from all directions. Talking in many different languages, the invaders had difficulties communicating with each other.
The Nazi SS forces under the command of Colonel Schmidt consisted of about 1500 men representing all sorts of human refuse from many different countries and demonstrated blatant disregard to human life and any civilized norms.
Plundering through the basement maze of the mint, the savage group burst into the medical shelter where Doctor Petrynowska was busy performing surgery. She turned to them saying:
“Move away!” One of them ordered.
“No, I can’t move away right now! I am a medical doctor and can’t leave my patients.”
The SS-man clenched his teeth and opened machine gun fire, killing Doctor Petrynowska and her patient instantly. In a rage, the conquerors proceeded with full-blown killing by throwing grenades on the beds of wounded patients. Only a handful of nurses survived this slaughter. They were subsequently sent to dismantle the mint barricades and together with several more civilian men survived the initial fury of the attackers.
Most of the civilians found in the basement did not survive the takeover though. Those who survived were loaded into buda trucks and sent to the Gestapo prison. None of them was ever seen again. All patients in two hospitals were killed on the spot. All the civilian population was either killed or sent to concentration camps.
The Old Town was emptied in preparation for its final hour–total destruction. A few days after the slaughter, a number of articles appeared in the German press, describing the glorious victory in the Old Town. “Das Reich” and “Signal” included the following article that was subsequently reprinted in the Polish media.
“For several days, the Reinefarth group was attacking with heavy weaponry a large building complex in the Old Town. The front line extended for about 250 meters. Mine-throwers and heavy cannons tore open thick reinforced concrete walls, heavy bombing destroyed the courtyards, and Goliath tanks together with armor-piercing artillery forced the defenders down from the higher elevations. But inside the molehill of cellars, in the maze of basements and corridors, the fight raged on while the monumental buildings were turning into a stack of rubble in a permanent cloud of smoke and dust. Eventually the forces of Wehrmacht, SS, police, gendarmerie, and the flame-thrower battalion came together, the basement maze was ultimately overtaken and Colonel Schmidt received a report that the immense ruins at last have been captured.
Dad listens to the news about the destruction of Warsaw flowing over the airwaves and feels numb. How strange… The drama of Warsaw transcends any words and feelings. Warsawians are dying in hundreds of thousands; they will all die with Hitler breathing his last venomous breath and Stalin waiting in peace until the “wet” job is done for him. Even in their final deadly grip, the two miscreants again join forces in destroying the Poles.
Troubled by the Polish situation, Roosevelt and Churchill wrote to Stalin again, expressing their concern over the international image of the Allied forces if the Warsaw patriots are left out to be slaughtered. Under considerable pressure from his Allied friends, by mid September Stalin decided to make some meaningless gestures toward fighting Warsaw. He was convinced that after six weeks of a siege, the Uprising must have been in its final days.
General Rokossowski who commanded the First Belorussian Front stationed near Warsaw was of Polish origin. Together with General Berling commanding the First Polish Army formed by the Polish puppet communist government, Rokossowski was inclined to allow for the offensive on Warsaw at the earliest possible opportunity.
On September 8, he presented to his generals a plan to capture the district of Praga on the eastern bank of the Vistula River, just across from the fighting enclaves of the Home Army. At the meeting, he asked General Berling to take the lead role in the offensive. By September 14, the combined Polish Soviet forces captured Praga and arrive within sight of agonizing Warsaw. At that time Stalin who has been under considerable pressure from the West to help the “Polish patriots” spoke with General Rokossowski.
According to Rokossowski’s subsequent recounts, Stalin, in a telephone discussion, expressed his desire to “provide help to the Uprising” and recommended using the Polish Army for the operation. On September 15, General Berling received an order to start preparations for crossing of the Vistula River and for descent operations. At the same time, a courier from fighting Warsaw delivered an urgent request for help, indicating that the capitulation of Warsaw was a matter of days.
Under considerable pressure but totally unprepared, Berling began the descent on Warsaw the same night. By then the German forces were fully prepared to repel the attack from the river side, lining up 40 thousand well-armed men, 220 tanks, and about 416 cannons and mortars. Berling’s Army also consisted of about 40 thousand men but was poorly armed.
The lack of landing equipment slowed down the descent considerably. Nevertheless, several Polish regiments reached the Czerniaków beachhead on the west side of the river. For five long days, the Polish Army had struggled to preserve and strengthen its presence on the beachhead. But their effort was doomed to failure from the outset because the Germans had plenty of time to put in place curtain of fire for unwanted visitors.
Many historians later concluded that the only feasible way to conquer Warsaw in mid-September was through the encirclement of the city by the entire First Belorussian Front.
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