On this day there was an important meeting in Warsaw during which Colonel Janusz ‘Sek’ Bokszczanin reported the Soviet’s intentions in not aiding the uprising. Also present at the meeting was notable resistance fighter Jan Nowak, who had just returned from London. He gave several vital pieces of information to Bór-Komorowski: Generał Sosnkowski was against an uprising; the AK could not count on support from outside Poland because both the Polish Parachute Brigade and the Polish Air Force were now under Allied command; and the Polish squadron in Italy was very small.
As the Red Army approached Warsaw and soon after crossed the Vistula south of the city, the Polish Prime Minister, Stanislaw Mikolajczyk flew to Moscow to confer with Stalin. Expecting to overrun the Polish capital quickly, Soviet radio called on the public in the city to rise against the Germans as the thunder of artillery could be heard from the nearby front.
Many AK members such were nowhere near their assigned position. Units that were together and in position were ill-equipped to say the least. The actual first shots of the uprising were in fact fired well before 5.00pm. In one case, at around 2.30pm a small contingent of Polish communists attempted to start the insurrection, and fired on a German position. They were quickly subdued.
In the Mokotow section of town, a key objective was the Woronicz School. The Germans used it to house troops and a valuable stockpile of weapons and ammunition. The Germans inside the school were well-concealed, protected, and heavily armed. Several Polish attacks were beaten back and the AK losses were devastating to the small group. They expended most of their ammunition in the desperate fight. The Poles dug in for the night fearing the worst. However in the second day of the uprising the tables turned and the Poles managed to drive the Germans out of the school after heavy fighting
The insurgents had two main aims in the first days of the uprising. The first was to secure the bridges over the Vistula, especially Poniatowski and Kierbedź, and the main east–west thoroughfares to assist the Soviet advance. The second was to seize control of the main municipal districts on the west bank: Stare Miasto (the Old Town) and Środmieście (the city centre), Żoliborz, Wola, Ochota, Mokotów and Czerniaków, and Praga on the east bank, in order to establish Polish control over the city. But the insurgents lacked the arms and manpower to achieve all these objectives.
Hitler’s first reaction when informed of the uprising was to issue an order to ‘raze Warsaw completely’ from the air, using the Luftwaffe present on the Eastern Front. He was informed that this would cause an enormous number of German casualties because their military units and civilians could not be extracted from the city. Therefore, Himmler and Guderian were ordered: ‘upon stifling the uprising with all available means, Warsaw was to wiped from the face of the earth, all the inhabitants were to be killed, there were to be no prisoners’. Placed in command was General Erich von dem Bach. When he arrived he ordered the SS to stop killing the civilian population.
AK tactics were to allow the Germans to come close to their positions before showering the Germans with grenades, Molotov cocktails and machine-gun fire. Shortages of weapons was, however, a major problem and led to frustrating encounters. Fuel by the need for freedom the AK’s soldiers morale in the beginning was high.
If the uprising was to continue for more than a week, it was essential for the AK to receive supplies through airdrops, but the Allied governments were under no obligation to do so: after all, they had repeatedly warned the Polish Government that such operations carried impossibly high risks. The supplies sent by the Allies were not nearly enough. Stalin refused for weeks to airdrop supplies in Warsaw for political reasons.
Before the uprising had begun no plans had been made on how the insurgents in different areas of Warsaw were to communicate with each other, and radio traffic between them had to go via London. Therefore, the AK command established an impromptu communications network using the complicated labyrinth of sewers running under Warsaw. Despite the awful conditions in the sewer system, the tunnels were safe. They became a critical lifeline between otherwise isolated Polish positions in Warsaw. Short-wave wireless radio sets were few and unreliable. They worked only intermittently and relied on limited battery life.
In Old Town the Poles captured 2 German tanks. One of the tanks, crewed by men from the Zoska Battalion, smashed through the walls of the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, freeing the remaining inhabitants. Over half a million Jews had been herded into the tiny ghetto and systematically starved, all the while being deported en masse to concentration camps. The Polish underground had been in contact with the ghetto underground and had smuggled in food aid and weapons, and even helped smuggle out VIPs. However, the aid was insufficient to say the least.
Within Warsaw the AK insurgents were beginning to lose ground: Wola and Ochota had been lost, and there had been a temporary withdrawal of AK units from Mokotów and Żoliborz. The Germans began to concentrate all their resources on the reduction of individual sectors. The first area to experience the full impact of an all-out German attack was the Old Town, a six-centuries-old warren of narrow streets, overlooking the Kierbedź and railway bridges.
The Germans brought in a 600mm mortar to completely level the Old Town. Except for the sewer system, there was now no way in or out of the Old Town. The tens of thousands of civilians that remained within the area suffered heavy casualties. In fact, the points further from the front lines were bearing the brunt of the bombardment.
The increased offensive against the Old Town left the Polish headquarters vulnerable to being overrun. The defense was weakening. General Bor-Komorowski, ordered HQ move to the city center. Bor-Komorowski and his staff under the cover of dark slowly entered the sewer one by one. Upon reaching the city center, General Bor-Komorowski found the conditions there desperate as well. While this section had been spared the massive bombardments that had plagued the Old Town, food, water, ammunition, and medical supplies were critically low. The heavy fighting in Old Town continued as preparations were made to evacuate that part of the city.
After a month the AK defenders had to retreat from Old Town, using the sewers accessible from a single manhole in Krasinski Square. “A few gas-bombs through the manholes or an outbreak of panic in the tunnels would be enough to prevent anyone getting out alive,” recorded Bór-Komorowski. “Besides, how could the entry of 1,500 into the sewers be concealed when the manhole by which they must enter lay concealed only some 220 yards from the enemy positions?” He nonetheless gave the order, since the defenders “had nothing more to lose”. “Slowly, very slowly, the queue of waiting people disappeared,” wrote Bór-Komorowski.
The governments of Britain and the United States did take a step of immense importance: they issued separate but identically worded declarations granting combatant rights to the AK: ‘The Polish Home Army, which is now mobilised, constitutes a combatant force forming an integral part of the Polish Armed Forces.’ The situation in Warsaw was deteriorating rapidly. Bór-Komorowski telegraphed London: ‘The civilian population is undergoing a crisis, which could have a fundamental influence on the fighting units.’ The withdrawal from the Old Town had taken its toll, and the civilians were now badly demoralised.
The city center was now in the enemy’s crosshairs. This final bastion of Polish resistance was about to feel the sting of the German war machine. During the time the Old Town was the focus of the enemy onslaught, the city center had suffered relatively little bombing and shelling. With the Old Town in enemy hands, that was about to change. The German guns were turned on the city center, and the impact was immediate. Electricity was cut off and the AK was quickly running out of even basic supplies.
Another severe blow to the Warsaw defenders was inflicted when the Germans discovered the Poles’ use of the sewer system. The Germans had been tunneling to the Polish Exchange building, still in Polish hands. During their excavation, the Germans accidentally dug a hole through exterior walls of one of the sewer tunnels and before long they could hear the movement of the Poles within the sewers. For many Poles, this once-vital lifeline became a battleground of its own. The Germans use every means at their disposal to make it very difficult for the AK to move through the sewers.
General Rohr, commanding the Germans forces in the south part of Warsaw, invited Bór-Komorowski or his representatives to talks to discuss the terms for surrender. Bór-Komorowski was prepared to surrender on three conditions: that combatant rights for the AK soldiers would be respected, clarification of the fate of the civilians, and clarification of the German attitude towards the Underground Government. These conditions, as Bór-Komorowski informed London, were designed to delay the surrender because it seemed that the Red Army was renewing its advance on Warsaw.
Throughout the uprising Bór-Komorowski had been receiving further reports from Soviet-occupied Poland, all of which contained the same message: the Soviets disarmed the AK, arrested many of the officers and conscripted the men into the 1st Polish Army. Therefore, there appears to be no good reason why he should have assumed that the Soviet entry into Warsaw would lead to any other result. Stalin did not want the uprising to succeed, so he ordered the Red Army to wait outside the city.
The Lublin Committee needed to do something to assist the uprising because to do nothing would have been politically suicidal and have forfeited it all the support it had worked so hard to gain. International pressure was also beginning to have an effect on Stalin. Stalin finally gave in and the Soviets made a massive airdrop on Warsaw with 382 planes carrying a total of 64,000 pounds of food, 18,000 rounds of ammunition and 1,200 grenades. The Soviets offered some other assistance with sporadic artillery support and air support.
A gleam of hope remained to the south of the city, where Hungarian units were stationed. They were wavering in their loyalty to Germany. The policy of the Hungarian Government appeared to be not to allow its troops to join the Poles but also not to intervene against them.
With Praga lost to them, the Germans turned their attention to attacking Czerniaków, the area directly across the Vistula from the 1st Polish Army, in order to prevent the Poles from crossing the river. General Berling, commander of the 1st Polish Army issued orders for such an attempt to be made. After initial contact with the AK, the 1st Polish Army was forced to withdraw from Warsaw after a heavy German counter-attack. The Poles suffered heavy casualties. The 1st Polish Army would not enter Warsaw again until January 1945.
The collapse of the Czerniaków bridgehead left the Germans free to concentrate on the reduction of Mokotów and Żoliborz. Famed Resistance fighter Jan Nowak met Okulicki, the AK chief of staff, who warned him that the AK would have to surrender soon because there was no more ammunition or food. A meeting was held between General von dem Bach and Lieutenant-Colonel Zygmunt Dobrowolski, representing Bór-Komorowski. Von dem Bach asked for the surrender of the AK, promising to respect the latters combatant status. He also offered a cease-fire for the evacuation of the remaining civilians in the city.
When the Germans were obviously winning, Stalin decided to reduce tension with the Western Allies by indicating he did not object to their helping the Poles —as long as their planes did not land on Soviet airfields—and sent a little help himself. But the strategy had worked: the Germans crushed the AK for him. The remaining AK forces surrendered, and the Germans levelled to the ground most of what was left standing of Warsaw. The last shot of the Warsaw Uprising was fired on October 2, 1944.
Bór-Komorowski signed the capitulation agreement. The Polish Government informed him that he had been appointed as commander-in-chief of the Polish Armed Forces in succession to Sosnkowski, who had been sacked. Bór-Komorowski transmitted the terms of surrender to London, and then he and ‘Monter’ broadcast a farewell to the AK. Bór-Komorowski informed London that he had appointed Leopold Okulicki to succeed him as commander of the AK with orders to continue the underground fight. He also told London that he felt morally obliged to march into captivity with the soldiers he had commanded.
The surrender of the Warsaw garrison did not spell the end of the entire AK. Almost 300,000 soldiers still operated within German-held territory, and although the Soviets were escalating their concentrated effort to disarm AK units and arrest and execute AK commanders, the Burza offensive continued. However, the large-scale offensive operations were over. Partisan units continued to conduct raids and sabotage missions, but most began to melt back into the population. As the Soviets advanced in Poland some of them tried to escape from the country as to avoid being captured or evan executed by the NKVD.
At the end of the year Stalin wrote to Roosevelt to complain that the Western Allies were effectively supporting Polish democrats, whom he characterized as “a criminal terrorist network against Soviet officers and soldiers on the territory of Poland. We cannot reconcile with such a situation when terrorists instigated by Polish emigrants kill in Poland soldiers and officers of the Red Army, lead a criminal fight against Soviet troops who are liberating Poland, and directly aid our enemies, whose allies they in fact are.” To describe Polish democrats as the allies of the Nazis shows Stalin’s attitude towards Poland at the time.