Warsaw Uprising


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The Warsaw Uprising (Powstanie Warszawskie) was an armed struggle during the Second World War by the Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa) to liberate Warsaw from German occupation and Nazi rule. It started on August 1, 1944, as part of a nationwide uprising, Operation Tempest. The Polish troops resisted the German-led forces until October 2 (63 days in total). Losses on the Polish side amounted to 18,000 soldiers killed, 25,000 wounded and over 250,000 civilians killed, mostly in mass executions conducted by advancing German troops. Casualties on the German side amounted to over 17,000 soldiers killed and 9,000 wounded. During the urban combat—and after the end of hostilities, when German forces acting on Hitler's orders burned the city systematically, block after block—an estimated 85% of the city was destroyed.

The Uprising started at a crucial point in the war as the Soviet army approached Warsaw. The Soviet army had reached a point within a few hundred metres across the Vistula River from the city on September 16, but failed to make further headway in the course of the Uprising, leading to accusations that Stalin did not want the Uprising to succeed.

The situation came to a head as Operation Bagration, the Soviet offensive, reached the old Polish border on 13 July. At this point the Poles had to make a decision: either carry out the uprising in the current difficult political situation and risk problems with Soviet support, or fail to carry out an uprising and face Soviet propaganda describing Armia Krajowa as collaborators and ineffective cowards. The urgency of this decision increased as it became clear that after some successful Polish-Soviet co-operation in the liberation of various towns (for example, in the Wilno Uprising), in many cases the Soviet NKVD units who followed behind would either shoot or send to Gulag most Polish officers and those Polish soldiers who could not or would not join the Soviet Army.

In the early summer of 1944, German planning required Warsaw to serve as the strong point of the area and to be held at all costs. The Germans had fortifications constructed and built up their forces in the area. This process slowed after the failed July 20 Plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, but by late July of 1944, German forces had almost reached their full strength again. On July 27, the governor of the General Government, Hans Frank, called for 100,000 Polish men between the ages of 17–65 to present themselves at several designated meeting places in Warsaw the following day. The plan envisaged the Poles constructing fortifications for the Wehrmacht in and around the city. The Home Army viewed this move as an attempt to neutralise the underground forces, and the underground urged Warsaw inhabitants to ignore it.

More than 1,000 members of German Ordnungspolizei and Sicherheitspolizei have died in the course of their normal police duties; this does not include the losses during participation in any special operations. Alongside those losses, the number of 500 casualties among the various officials of all administration sectors deserves a separate mention – from the speech of Hans Frank on 18 November 1943

The official Soviet propaganda line tried to portray the Polish underground as "waiting with their arms at ease" and not fighting the common enemy. As the Soviet forces approached Warsaw in June and July 1944, Soviet radio stations demanded a full national uprising in Warsaw to cut German communication lines of units still on the right bank of Vistula. On July 29, 1944, the first Soviet armoured units reached the outskirts of Warsaw, but were counterattacked by German 39th Panzer Corps, comprising 4th Panzer Division, 5th SS Panzer Division, 19th Panzer Division, and the Hermann Goering Panzer Division. In the ensuing battle of Radzymin Germans enveloped and annhiliated Soviet 3rd Tank Corps at Wołomin, 15 kilometers outside Warsaw. The Germans crushed its resistance by August 11, inflicting a 90% casualty rate on this encircled Soviet force.

On 25 July the Free Polish Cabinet in London approved the planned uprising in Warsaw. Fearing German reprisals following the ignored order to support fortification construction, and believing that time was of the essence, General Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski ordered full mobilisation of Home Army forces in the Warsaw area on 1 August 1944.

This mobilization decision had some key ramifications with the Soviet Union. Stalin decried for not being officially consulted on the uprising and thus suspected subterfuge from his Western allies. In retrospect, both sides were jockeying for regional political alignment, with the Polish Home Army's desire for a pro-Western Polish government and the Soviet's intention of establishing a Polish Communist regime.

The Home Army forces of the Warsaw District numbered about 50,000 soldiers, 23,000 of them equipped and combat-ready. Most of them had trained for several years in partisan warfare and urban guerrilla warfare, but lacked experience in prolonged daylight fighting. The forces lacked equipment, especially since the Home Army had shuttled weapons and men to the east of Warsaw before making the decision on 21 July to include Warsaw in Operation Tempest. Besides the Home Army itself, a number of other partisan groups subordinated themselves to Home Army command for the uprising. Finally, many volunteers, including some Jews freed from the concentration camp in the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto, joined as the fighting continued.

General Antoni Chruściel, codename 'Monter', commanded the Polish forces in Warsaw. Initially he divided his forces into eight areas:

* Area I (Śródmieście, Old Town)
* Area II (Żoliborz, Marymont, Bielany)
* Area III (Wola)
* Area IV (Ochota)
* Area V (Mokotów)
* Area VI (Praga)
* Area VII (Powiat Warszawski)
* Zgrupowanie Kedywu Komendy Głównej

On September 20 a re-organisation of this structure took place to fit the structure of Polish forces fighting among the Western Allies. The entire force, renamed the Warsaw Home Army Corps (Warszawski Korpus Armii Krajowej) and commanded by General Antoni Chruściel (Monter), formed into three infantry divisions.

On August 1 their military materiel consisted of:

* 1,000 rifles
* 1,700 pistols
* 300 machine pistols
* 60 submachine guns
* 7 machine guns (Meant by medium or light machineguns, such as the MG 42)
* 35 anti-tank guns and carbines (including several PIATs)
* 25,000 hand grenades (Mainly of the 'stick' variety).

In the course of the fighting the Poles obtained further gear through airdrops and by capture from the enemy (including several armoured vehicles). Also, the insurgents’ workshops worked busily throughout the uprising, producing 300 automatic pistols, 150 flame-throwers, 40,000 grenades, a number of mortars, and even an armoured car.

On August 1, 1944, the German garrison in Warsaw numbered some 10,000 troops under General Rainer Stahel. Together with various units on the left bank of the Vistula River, German forces comprised some 15,000 to 16,000 Wehrmacht soldiers as well as SS and police forces. Critically, these well-equipped German forces had been prepared for the defence of the city's key positions for many months. Several hundred concrete bunkers and barbed wire lines protected the buildings and areas occupied by the Germans. Also, at least 90,000 additional German troops were available from occupation forces in the surrounding area. As of August 23, 1944, the German units directly involved with fighting in Warsaw included:

* Battle Group Rohr (commanded by Major General Rohr)
* Battle Group Reinefarth (commanded by SS-Gruppenführer Reinefarth)
o Attack Group Dirlewanger Brigade
o Attack Group Reck (commanded by Major Reck)
o Attack Group Schmidt (commanded by Colonel Schmidt)
o Various support and backup units
* Warsaw Garrison (Group of Warsaw Commandant) commanded by Lieutenant General Stahel

A large section of the personnel on the German side came from collaborationist Ost forces, including Russians, Cossacks and Azeris. All of these forces, however, remained clearly subject to the control of the German war machine.

The uprising began officially in daylight at 17:00 or "W-hour" August 1, a decision which is now regarded as a costly mistake. Although the Germans failed to realise that extra activity and early fights with the insurgents were linked and had not developed a plan for dealing with the uprising, they received a warning, reportedly from a Polish woman, an hour before the start. Lack of surprise, a sudden change of plan, inexperience in day fighting and incomplete mobilization meant that many of the earlier Polish objectives of the uprising were not achieved. The first two days were crucial in establishing the battlefield for the rest of the uprising. Most successes were achieved in the city centre (Śródmieście) and old town (Stare Miasto) and nearby parts of Wola, where most objectives were captured, although major German strongholds remained. In other areas such as Mokotów the attackers almost completely failed to capture their objectives, while in areas such as Wola they captured most of their targets, but with very heavy losses that forced them to retreat. In Praga, on the East bank of the river, the German concentration was so high that the Polish forces fighting there were forced back into hiding. Most crucially, the fighters in different areas failed to link up, either with each other or with areas outside Warsaw, leaving each section of the city isolated from the others.

After the first several hours of fighting many units adopted a more defensive strategy while the civilian population started erecting barricades throughout the city. The moment of greatest success, on August 4, was also the moment at which the German army began receiving reinforcements. SS General Erich von dem Bach was appointed commander and soon after began to counter-attack with the aim of linking up with the remaining German pockets and then cutting off the Uprising from the Vistula (Wisla) river. August 5 is marked by the liberation of the former Warsaw Ghetto area by insurgents and by the beginning of the Wola Massacre, where in mass executions approximately 40,000 civilians were slaughtered by the Germans. A critical aim of this German policy was to crush the will of the Poles to fight and bring the uprising to an end without having to commit to the heavy city fighting; until late September, the Germans were, in fact, shooting all captured insurgents on the spot for the same reason. In other areas, the prime aim of the German troops seems to have been to loot and rape rather than fight, which actually allowed Polish defence to continue against the odds. This German policy was later reversed when the German commanders decided that such atrocities only stiffened the resistance of the Poles to fight their oppressors. From the end of September on, some of the captured Polish soldiers were starting to be treated as POWs. On August 7 German forces were strengthened by the arrival of tanks with civilians being used as human shields. After two days of heavy fights they managed to cut Wola in two and reach the Bankowy Square.
Długa street 1944

During the Warsaw Uprising, much of ulica Długa (Long Street) was reduced to ruins. The Bank Polski (Bank of Poland) redoubt, in the 1944 photo (left), is one of the few buildings on that street still standing. Photo on right shows the Bank still bearing the scars of the Uprising. The lighter-colored bricks were added during the building's reconstruction after 2003.

The German aim was to gain a significant victory to show the Home Army the futility of further fighting and make them surrender. This did not succeed. Between August 9 and August 18 pitched battles raged around the Old Town and nearby Bankowy Square, with successful attacks by the German side and counter-attacks from the Polish side. Once again, German 'special' tactics were demonstrated by targeted attacks against clearly marked hospitals (reminiscent of Luftwaffe attacks againt hospitals in September, 1939). The Old Town was held until the end of August when diminished supplies made further defence impossible. On September 2 the defenders of the Old Town withdrew through the sewers, which at this time were becoming a major means of communication between different parts of the uprising. More than 5,300 men and women were evacuated in this way.

German tactics very much hinged on bombardment through the use of huge cannons (including the Schwerer Gustav supergun) and heavy bombers which the Poles, without any anti-aircraft artillery and few anti-tank weapons, were unable to effectively defend against.

The Soviet army captured Eastern Warsaw and arrived on the Eastern bank of the Vistula in mid-September. When they finally reached the right bank of the Vistula on September 10, the officers of the Home Army units stationed there proposed recreating the pre-war 36th 'Academic Legion' infantry regiment; however, the NKVD arrested them all and sent them to the Soviet Union.

Contrary to our expectations, the enemy has halted all of their offensive actions along the entire front of the 9th Army. – from the journal of German 9th Army on August 16, 1944, showing the German amazement at the Soviet response to the Uprising.

However, Soviet attacks on 4th SS Panzer Corps east of Warsaw were renewed on August 26, and slowly pressed 4th SS Panzer Corps into Praga, and then across the Vistula. Many of the "Soviets" who arrived in Poland were actually from the 1st Polish Army (1 Armia Wojska Polskiego), and some of them landed in the Czerniaków and Powiśle areas and made contacts with Home Army forces. With inadequate artillery and air support, though 1st Polish Army had 5 artillery brigades under it, and coming in too small numbers, most were killed and the rest were soon forced to retreat. After repeated, almost unsupported attempts by the 1st Polish Army to link up with the insurgents failed, the Soviets limited their assistance to sporadic and insignificant artillery and air support. Plans for a river crossing were suspended "for at least 4 months", since operations against the 5 panzer divisions on 9th Army's order of battle were problematic at that point, and the commander of the 1st Polish Army, General Zygmunt Berling, who ordered the crossing of the Vistula by his units, was relieved of his duties by his Soviet superiors. From this point on, the Warsaw Uprising can be seen as a one-sided war of attrition or, alternatively, as a fight for acceptable terms of surrender. Fighting ended on 2 October when the Polish forces were finally forced to capitulate.

In the first weeks of the Uprising on Polish-controlled territory, people tried to recreate normal life in their free country. Cultural life was vibrant, with theatres, post offices, newspapers and similar activities. Boys and girls of the Polish Scouts acted as couriers for an underground postal service, risking their lives daily to transmit any information that might help their people. Near the end of the Uprising, lack of food, medicine, overcrowding and obviously indiscriminate German air and artillery assault on the city made the civilian situation more and more desperate.

The limited landings by the 1st Polish army, mentioned above, represented the only external force which arrived to physically support the uprising. Most importantly, there was limited support in terms of airdrops from the Western allies, (the Royal Air Force, in which a number of Polish, Australian, Canadian and South African pilots flew, made 223 sorties and lost 34 aircraft), but the effect of these airdrops was mostly psychological, as all but one American airdrop had to be carried out from faraway Brindisi in Italy. Although the Soviets briefly (13 September–28) provided some airdrops, without parachutes, they actively prevented Allied assistance by denying landing rights to Allied aircraft on Soviet-ocuppied territory, and even shot down a number of those which carried supplies from Italy.

American support was also limited. After Stalin's objections to supporting the uprising, Churchill telegrammed Roosevelt on August 25 and proposed sending planes in defiance of Stalin, to "see what happens". Unable and unwilling to upset Stalin before the Yalta Conference, Roosevelt replied on August 26 with: I do not consider it advantageous to the long-range general war prospect for me to join you in the proposed message to Uncle Joe.

Also of significant note was the existence of an American airbase at Poltava in the Ukraine, from which an airdrop was made during the "Frantic Mission" in mid-September. However, this action infuriated Stalin, who immediately forbade all Allied presence in Soviet airspace.

On October 2 General Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski signed the capitulation order of the remaining Polish forces (Warszawski Korpus Armii Krajowej or Home Army Warsaw Corps) at the German headquarters in the presence of General von dem Bach. According to the capitulation agreement, the Wehrmacht promised to treat Home Army soldiers in accordance with the Geneva Convention, and to treat the civilian population humanely. Fighting was so fierce that SS chief Heinrich Himmler remarked: One of the most deadly fights since the beginning of the war, as difficult as the fight for Stalingrad – to other German generals on 21 September 1944.

The next day the Germans began to disarm the Home Army soldiers. They later sent 15,000 of them to POW camps in various parts of Germany. Between 5,000-6,000 insurgents decided to blend into the civilian population hoping to continue the fight later. The entire Warsaw civilian population was expelled from the city and sent to a transit camp Durchgangslager 121 in Pruszków. Out of 350,000-550,000 civilians who passed through the camp, 90,000 were sent to labour camps in the Reich, 60,000 were shipped to death and concentration camps (Ravensbruck, Auschwitz, Mauthausen, others), while the rest were transported to various locations in the General Government and released.

One of the reasons given as to why the Warsaw uprising failed, was the failure of the Soviet Red Army to aid the Resistance. The Red Army, which was ordered to halt and therefore positioned just a short distance away on the right bank of the Vistula, was ordered not to link up with or in any way assist the Resistance forces. Post-war political considerations and malice by Stalin are seen as the reason for the Red Army's failure to act. Another possible reason was the 4-5 Panzer Divisions in the 46th Panzer Corps and 4th SS Panzer Corps on the order of battle of German 9th Army holding positions east of Warsaw.

It is likely that Stalin ordered his forces to halt right before entering the city so that the Home Army would not succeed. Had the Home Army triumphed, the Polish government-in-exile in London would have increased their political and moral legitimacy to reinstate a government of its own, rather than accept a Soviet regime. By halting the Red Army's advance, Stalin guaranteed the destruction of Polish resistance (which would undoubtedly also have resisted Soviet occupation), that it would be the Soviets who "liberated" Warsaw, and that Soviet influence would prevail over Poland. The Soviet military gave a shortage of fuel as the reason why they could not advance. German and Polish sources disagree.

After the remaining population had been expelled, the Germans started the destruction of the remains of the city. Special groups of German engineers were dispatched throughtout the city in order to burn and demolish the remaining buildings. According to German plans, after the war Warsaw was to be turned into a lake. The demolition squads used flame-throwers and explosives to methodically destroy house after house. They paid special attention to historical monuments, Polish national archives and places of interest: nothing was to be left of what used to be a city. By January 1945 85% of the buildings were destroyed: 25% as a result of the Uprising, 35% as a result of systematic German actions after the uprising, the rest as a result of the earlier Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (15%) and other combat including the September 1939 campaign (10%). Material losses were estimated at 10,455 buildings, 923 historical buildings (94 percent), 25 churches, 14 libraries including the National Library, 81 primary schools, 64 high schools, Warsaw University and Warsaw University of Technology, and most of the historical monuments. Almost a million inhabitants lost all of their possessions. The exact amount of losses of private and public property as well as pieces of art, monuments of science and culture is unknown but considered enormous. However, various estimates place it at an equivalent of approximately 40 billion 1939 US dollars. In 2004 the Warsaw self-government authorities estimated that the approximate loss of the municipal property is 45 billion 2004 US dollars (this includes only the property owned by the city of Warsaw on August 31, 1939, and not the properties owned by the inhabitants themselves). The municipal council of Warsaw is currently disputing whether claims for German reparations should be made. Destruction was so bad that in order to rebuild much of Warsaw, a detailed landscape of the city which had been commissioned by the government before the Partitions of Poland, painted by two Italian artists Bacciarelli and Canaletto who ran an arts school there as well, had to be used as a model to recreate most of the buildings.

The Red Army finally did cross the Vistula River on January 17, 1945. They captured the ruins of Festung Warschau in a few hours, with little or no opposition from the Germans. German units put up some minor resistance in the Warsaw University area, but Soviet forces broke the German defenses in less than an hour. This advance was facilitated when the German High Command redeployed 4th SS Panzer Corps from the Warsaw area to Budapest in December 1944.

Due to a lack of cooperation and often the active aggressive moves on the part of the Soviets and several other factors, the Warsaw Uprising and Operation Tempest failed in their primary goal: to free part of the Polish territories so that a government loyal to the Polish government-in-exile could be established there instead of a Soviet puppet state. There is no consensus among historians as to whether that was ever possible, or whether those operations had any other lasting effect. Some argue that without Operation Tempest and the Warsaw Uprising, Poland would have ended as a Soviet republic, a fate definitely worse than that of an "independent" puppet state, and thus the Operation succeeded at least partially in being a political demonstration to the Soviets and Western Allies. It is also worth mentioning that due to the Warsaw Uprising, the Soviets stopped their offensive in Poland to let the Germans suppress the uprising. Some historians speculate that if they had not stopped their march, they would have occupied all of Germany rather than just the eastern section.

Overall Polish casualties were between 150,000 and 200,000; more importantly, many of those lost were the people who would have played important and even critical roles in the country's recovery (although many of the Polish intelligentsia had already been killed at the time of the Soviet and German invasions in 1939). The city of Warsaw was rebuilt, with the Old Town being restored to its former state. However, complete recovery as a major European capital only began in the early 1990s after the fall of communism.

Most soldiers of the Home Army (including those who took part in the Warsaw Uprising) were persecuted after the war: captured by the NKVD or UB, interrogated and imprisoned, awaiting trials on various charges. Many of them were sent to gulags or executed or just "disappeared". Most of those sent to POW camps in Germany were later liberated by British, American and Polish forces and remained in the West, including uprising leaders Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski and Antoni Chruściel (in London and the United States, respectively).

Factual knowledge of the Warsaw Uprising, inconvenient to Stalin, was twisted by propaganda of the People's Republic of Poland, which stressed the failings of the Home Army and the Polish government-in-exile, and forbade all criticism of the Red Army or the political goals of Soviet strategy. Until the late sixties the very name of the Home Army was censored, and most films and novels covering the 1944 Uprising were either banned or modified so that the name of the Home Army did not appear. Further, the official propaganda of both communist Poland and the USSR suggested that the Home Army was some sort of a group of right-wing collaborators with Nazi Germany. From 1956 on, the image of the Warsaw Uprising in Polish propaganda was changed a little bit to underline that the soldiers were indeed brave, while the officers were treacherous and the commanders were characterised by disregard of the losses. The first serious publications on the topic were not issued until the late eighties. In Warsaw no monument to the Home Army could be built until 1989. Instead, efforts of the Soviet-backed Armia Ludowa were glorified and exaggerated.

In the West, the story of the Polish fight for Warsaw with little support was an embarrassment, as was the shock of Home Army soldiers as Western Allies recognised the Soviet controlled pro-Communist regime installed by Stalin; as a result, the story was not publicised for many years.

The courage of soldiers and civilians involved in the Warsaw Uprising, and its betrayal by the Soviet Union, contributed to keeping anti-Soviet sentiment in Poland at a high level throughout the Cold War. Memories of the Uprising helped to inspire the Polish labour movement Solidarity, which led a peaceful opposition movement against the Communist government during the 1980s, leading to the downfall of that government in 1989 and the emergence of democratic political representation.

After 1989 censorship of the facts of the Uprising ceased, and 1 August has now become a celebrated anniversary. On 1 August 1994, Poland held a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Uprising. Germany and Russia were invited to the ceremony, although there was opposition to Russia's invitation. Moreover, a joke making the rounds suggested that "Yeltsin should be given a pair of binoculars so he can observe the ceremony from across the [Vistula] river." On July 31, 2004, a Warsaw Uprising Museum opened in Warsaw (see "Related links" below for recent news reports on this event).

Warsaw President Lech Kaczyński, now President of Poland, established a historical commission in 2004 to estimate material losses that were inflicted upon the city by German authorities. The commission estimated the losses on at least 45.3 billion euros ($54 billion) in current value.

Several other cities and regions that experienced destruction by Germany have followed Warsaw, including Silesia, Mazowsze and city of Poznań, and said they would prepare their own estimates of war-time material losses.Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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