THE WARSAW UPRISING

 

Warsaw Uprising Colour

CAPTURED GERMAN HALF TRACK

 

 

 

 

Before daybreak in the early morning hours of September 1st 1939, German forces crossed the western Polish frontier and the world awoke to a new and terrifying form of warfare, Blitzkreig.

The Germans assaulted the Poles hurling over fifteen hundred modern aircraft and fifty six divisions on the ground including nine panzer supported by motorized infantry.

The Polish army, numbering Thirty divisions not only faced nearly double their numbers on the battlefield, they were also heavily outclassed in all forms of weaponry possessing but one single armored brigade supported by twelve outdated cavalry brigades to challenge the oncoming German panzer divisions.

The Polish air corps numbering nine hundred first line aircraft were taken completely by surprise and virtually annihilated before they even got airborne. Within a week, the German Luftwaffe had complete control of the skies and her armies had penetrated deep within the heart lands of Poland itself.

Polish resistance to the German invaders was brave but in vain, inside ten days the Polish armed forces  numbering two million men ceased to exist as an organized force and was split into single incoherent pockets with no command and control structure with the rest of the army.

It was now the turn of the Soviets. On September seventeenth Russian armies crossed into eastern Poland  across an undefended border. On the eighteenth they linked up with their German collaborators at Brest Litovsk

After the Germans encircled Warsaw on the sixteenth, resistance within the capital, largely by its citizen population along with the remnants of retreating Polish military units was magnificent and forlorn.

After Twelve days of violent air and artillery bombardment the Warsaw radio stations ceased to play the Polish National Anthem and German troops entered the ruins of the city three days later.

Within thirty six days it was all over, thirty five million people had now fell under the totalitarian rule of Hitler and his Third Reich, who sought not only conquest but the enslavement and extermination of the Polish nation.

After the fall of Poland Hitler ordered the head of the Central Security Office of the Reich, SS  Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich, to begin the task of confining all Polish Jews together within selected areas for future relocation.

 

REINHARD HEYDRICH

 

 

 

 

On November 23rd, all Polish Jews received the order to wear a distinctive yellow star on their person to easily identify them. In April 1940 the Jews within the city of Lodz were the first to be confined to a ghetto. In October of the same year, the half million Jewish inhabitants of Warsaw were ordered to follow suit. Soon after all Jews  within the country would suffer the same fate.

Each ghetto was separated from Aryan quarters of the city by high walls and barbed wire guarded by both  local and German police. During the first winter of 1940 - 41 famine, cold and wide spread epidemics killed tens of thousands.

With the German preparations for the upcoming attack on Soviet Russia, a dramatic change in the Jewish situation was about to occur. In May 1941 Hitler gave Heydrich orders charging him to take any steps necessary to achieve a final solution to the Jewish problem in the areas under German control throughout Europe. 

Mass executions of Jews began within mere weeks of the German invasion of the Soviet Union. During the first five months of the Russian campaign, Special Action Units massacred more than 100,000 Jews a month.

In early 1942, the Nazi's began deporting Jews from Germany and throughout occupied Europe for systematic  liquidation in death camps equipped with gas chambers. Deportations within Warsaw began in July 1942 and would not cease until Poland's liberation by Soviet forces in February 1945.

In July of 1944, a Soviet  offensive east of Warsaw caused a mass evacuation of German civilians, this along with the successful landings by Allied forces in France and the assassination attempt on Hitler's life suggested a possibility of an immanent  and total collapse of the German military.

after years of horrendous atrocities at the hands of their Nazi overlords, this series of recent events prompted the remaining populace within Warsaw, Pole and Jew alike, to attempt an armed uprising to liberate the city. With the news that Soviet forces were approaching, General Komorowski assumed command and gave the order for the uprising to commence on August 1st at 17:00 hours.

 

GENERAL KOMOROWSKI

 

 

 

 

The Polish Home Army numbered 40,000 combatants and possessed enough ammunition for three days fighting. Within their arsenal they could call upon 1,000 rifles, 60 sub machine guns, 10 heavy machine guns, 40 light anti tank guns, 1700 pistols and 20,000 grenades. It was imperative that in the course of the fighting that additional weaponry and supplies be captured from the enemy.

From the outset things did not go well as many objectives were only partially taken, if at all.  Although the 10,000 strong German garrison was caught by surprise, for the most part it did manage to repel the Polish attacks against key strategic installations and limit the insurgent gains within the first two days of the uprising.

By the third day the insurgency was in control of three large regions of the city and had gained the full support of the people. It was very clear however that ammunition and other supplies were quickly running out. To conserve ammunition General Komorowski ordered all offensive operations to cease and await the arrival of Soviet forces which were believed to be crossing the Vistula towards Warsaw.

Instead of Soviet troops, large German reinforcements began to arrive on August 3rd and 4th. Units of the 2nd and 9th Armies supported by SS Armored brigades Totenkopf and Viking along with the elite Herman Goering Airborne  division, were withdrawn from the east and sent into Warsaw to put down the uprising.

Hitler also issued the order that every inhabitant within the city should be executed, no prisoners were to be taken, Warsaw was to be burned and razed to the ground to set a terrifying example to the whole of Europe.

On the nights of August 4th and 5th the Royal Air Force along with the Free Polish Air Corps flew 213 sorties hundreds of miles behind German lines in an attempt to drop supplies to aid the insurgency.

Already suffering a 30% casualty rate and then the refusal by the Soviets to allow American aircraft access to bases within Soviet controlled territory forced the western allies to call off airborne operations, leaving the insurgents to fight on alone.

SS General Erich Von Dem Bach now arrived and assumed command, quickly launching a strong counterattack with 5,000 Wehrmacht troops against the Wola district. After three days of heavy fighting the Germans successfully split the enclave in half, inflicting 1,500 casualties upon the defenders.

All other efforts to retake the city were repelled in the face of strong local resistance. The Germans did however manage to recapture one of the bridges across the Vistula. This fanatical resistance by the Polish home guard had staved off total collapse at a critical moment during the armed uprising.

Due to the inability of the first German attempts to recapture key positions, German commanders now began to  perpetrate crimes against the civilian population on a massive scale, executing nearly 30,000 people by firing squad and adopting a strategy of utilizing human shields, which were forcibly marched before the German troops as they moved towards the insurgent barricades.

After bitter fighting the Wola district finally fell to German forces on August 11th. The Polish survivors fled through the sewers to attempt a link up with other units still fighting within the city. The Germans now centered  their next attack against the Stare Miasto region. This insurgent enclave was the largest within the city and was of extreme strategic importance, for it controlled the remaining bridges over the Vistula.

The German assault went in on August 12th, after heavy fighting the defenders were forced to retreat, leaving the area around the old Jewish ghetto under German control. On the same day the Poles launched a major counter attack against the Staszic palace and managed to destroy this strong center of German operations as well as capturing much needed supplies.

General Komorowski once again radioed the London government with urgent requests for the deployment of  the Polish airborne brigade as well as airborne supply drops but to no avail. Komorowski then pleaded with the Soviets which were still just over the Vistula to assist them, but his request fell on deaf ears.

Komorowski then ordered all Polish units within the countryside to come to Warsaw's aid. In all some 1500 men were able to penetrate the German defenses and aid in the struggle. Even with this new influx of reinforcements the Polish Home Army was scraping the bottom of the manpower barrel. In desperation Komorowski sent word that it was imperative for all able bodied citizens within the city to rise up and fight along side their countrymen.

  

WARSAW RESIDENTS TAKE  THE OATH TO DEFEND THE CITY

 

On August 19th, the Germans launched a mass assault to retake the Stare Miasto (Old Town) district. After two days of intense fighting the surviving insurgents were pushed out of their positions and forced into the sewer canals to escape.

The next day, as the Germans were marching into the Old Town, the Home Army launched two major counter attacks, first defeating the German forces within the Polish Telephone Company and then occupying the Warsaw Police Headquarters.

For the next eleven days casualties on both sides mounted as each side launched a series of bloody  counterattacks upon one another with neither side gaining a clear advantage over the other. It was not until September 3rd - 6th, that the Germans finally pushed the Home Guard out of Powisle.

Securing this strategic district broke the Home Army's continuous defensive lines and would now allow the Germans to launch future operations into the flanks of the neighboring insurgent held districts.

On September 10th, the Soviets began to slowly move ground forces against the Germans in the Warsaw  region. Their main contributions however were in the air as they began to drop supplies to the insurgency while Russian fighters chased German air power from the skies.

This persuaded the Home Army leadership to discontinue capitulation negotiations with the Germans. In reality the Soviet aid was only offered to help extend the struggle which was weakening both the Poles and Germans to the Soviets later advantage.

Between September 13th - 15th, detachments of the 1st Polish Army (under Soviet command) and Russian support units pushed the Germans from their defensive positions on the right bank of the Vistula.

From the 16th - 19th, the Polish 1st Army attempted river crossings in the face of determined German resistance. After three bloody days, the Poles successfully crossed the river and secured several bridgeheads on the left bank of the Vistula.

The Germans regrouped and quickly counter attacked the exhausted Poles, the refusal by the Russians to send in forces in support of the Polish gains made the bridgeheads unsustainable and the Poles were forced to retreat back across the river suffering heavy casualties.

Following this success, General Von Dem Bach stepped up the German efforts to finally crush the uprising. Launching simultaneous attacks from Powisle the Germans quickly gained  control of Sadyaba and Siece, effectively recapturing the entire southern part of the city. The Germans also began to systematically destroy and level every city block in their path to flush the insurgents out into the streets.

    

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

 

                                                                      

 

 

On September 24th, the Germans launched an attack against enemy positions in the Upper Mokotow area. After four days of fierce fighting the surviving defenders exhausted the last of their ammunition stocks and fled into the sewers. On September 29th the Germans moved on the district of Zoliborz supported by strong elements of the 19th Panzer division.

The Poles had minimal ammunition and possessed no weaponry capable of engaging the German armor thus when the assault went forward the Poles were quickly overwhelmed, leading to the districts surrender the next day.

Facing inevitable defeat and with no other options available, General Komorowski gave the order for all unit commanders to lay down their arms. A general ceasefire was signed on the evening of October 2nd, ending 63 days of fighting.

General Komorowski and 16,000 insurgents were taken prisoner and amazingly were not executed but granted the status and treatment of regular POWs of the Allied Forces by SS General Von Dem Bach.

  

GENERAL'S KOMOROWSKI AND VON DEM BACH

 

The Warsaw uprising was the largest military operation undertaken by any resistance movement throughout Europe during the Second World War. The Polish home guard suffered 25,000 combatants killed, were the toll amongst the civilian population was a staggering 150,000, many of which were killed in support of the fighting and the numerous massacres staged throughout the duration of the uprising.

The Germans suffered 10,000 casualties with an equal number seriously wounded. After the capitulation the Germans proceeded to destroy the surviving buildings within the city. When the Red Army resumed its offensive operations and captured Warsaw in January 1945, the Germans had effectively demolished 70% of the city. 

 

 

 

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