Polish Underground Army


On the day when Warsaw capitulated to the German panzer divisions, the Poles began to form secret underground organisations to continue their resistance against the German aggressors. On September 27, 1939, General Michał Karaszewicz-Tokarzewski, who had served as a corps commander of General Kutrzeba and who was connected with the previous Sanacja regime in Poland, proposed to General Juliusz Rómmel, one of the commanders of the defense of Warsaw, to establish an underground military organisation, the Service for Victory of Poland (Służba Zwycięstwu Polski, SZP). His plan extended far beyond a strictly military formation and was going to draw from the traditions of the underground movement that developed during Poland's partitioning, thus including all aspects of civilian life. General Rómmel approved of the plan immediately and transferred power to General Tokarzewski, who soon appealed to all major political parties for support. In October 1939, he toured the country making contacts and extending authority of his new organization. Tadeusz Komorowski and Klemens Rudnicki, who had established by that time a resistance group in Kraków, did not trust Tokarzewski and passed their doubts to the new Polish Prime Minister in Exile and Commander in Chief, General Władysław Sikorski. Taking their views on board, in November 1939, General Sikorski transformed SZP into the Union of Armed Struggle (Zwiazek Walki Zbrojnej, ZWZ) and appointed his follower, General Kazimierz Sosnkowski, to head the organisation.

By General Sikorski's instructions, Poland was to be divided into two sectors. The Sovietoccupied zone was to be commanded by General Tokarzewski, headquartered in Lvov, and the German occupation zone was to be commanded by Colonel Stefan Rowecki, headquartered in Warsaw. Colonel Rowecki (future codename “Grot”) already in his youth was an organiser of a secret scouting organisation. He served in the Polish Legions during the First World War and was a veteran of the 1920 Polish-Soviet War. He thus appeared to be the right candidate to head a secret underground army in the absence of many Polish officers who were imprisoned by the Soviet NKVD. A group of Jewish soldiers within the Polish Military formed their own independent resistance organisation – Jewish Military Union (Żydowski Związek Wojskowy, ZZW). The intelligence reports on the activities of the Polish underground movement were sent to the Polish government in exile by radio and via effective system of underground couriers. Jan Karski, a Polish reserve officer and an aspiring junior diplomat in a pre-war Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, became one of the first Polish couriers to smuggle information outside German occupied Poland. In December 1939, he reached France where he met General Sikorski from whom he received specific instructions on the future operations of the Underground Army in Poland:

General Sikorski: “The movement must not be confined merely to the function of resistance and must take shape as an actual state. All the apparatus of the state must be created and maintained at all costs, no matter how crude it is”.
“But the Army”, he added, “must never be allowed to interfere in the political life. We have had enough of that. It must be the armed force of the people, animated by the idea to serve the people, and not to rule them, not to lead them”.

Jan Karski “How literally should we interpret our principle of 'non-collaboration'”?

General Sikorski: “The Poles in Paris live very well. We eat good food, sleep in comfortable quarters and we have few personal worries. We cannot tell the suffering and starving people in Poland what to do. It would be immoral. If they want my suggestion on the matter I would say that any collaboration is unfavourable to our international political status. They should do whatever they judge necessary. As long as we are abroad we cannot issue orders to the Polish people. The functioning of the government in France is merely to take care of their interest abroad. Our task is to fight the Germans. But please ask them to remember our history and traditions. Tell them that we here are sure they will choose the right way.”275

Karski arrived back to Poland in April 1940 carrying with him the most momentous order of the day, the idea of unification of all underground movements into one Underground State. This was called the Doctrine of the Polish Underground. Foundations for carrying out this task have already been laid by Colonel Tadeusz Komorowski (future codename “Bór”) who, together with his companions was building in Kraków his own intricate espionage network. Bór-Komorowski recalled later in his memoirs: “Once I knew I was to stay and work out a plan for the organisation of the Underground Army in south-west Poland practical methods to execute this plan had to be decided upon. None of us had any experience in these matters. Every day officers, civilians – once even a monk from a remote monastery – turned up, reporting to me the numbers and other details of their local organisations. Often they had sworn in a few hundred people, mostly youth determined to fight to the last. They were all coming for instructions and orders. Rudnicki and I worked out the main principle of our conspiracy. We instructed our people to form groups of five. Each member of a group was allowed to know only his four fellow members, each one of them in his turn creating a new group of five. In this way the pyramid, with me at the top, was constantly growing. The use of real names was forbidden and pseudonyms introduced. The whole area was subdivided into sectors, corresponding to the pre-war administrative divisions. Each sector was to have its own local commander.“276 The recruits for the Underground Army were trained in secret military schools and engaged in all sorts of sabotage operations. At that time Soviet Russia was helping Hitler considerably in his fight against the west, so Colonel Komorowski engaged his men in systematic destruction of railways, rolling stock and stores of war material to impair German war potential. From January 1939, Komorowski's network was subordinated to Colonel Rowecki, who passed him the wording of the solemn oath which was delivered to Warsaw from the Polish authorities in France: “Before God the Almighty, before the Holy Virgin Mary, Queen of the Crown of Poland, I put my hand on this Holy Cross, the symbol of martyrdom and salvation, and I swear that I will defend the honour of Poland with all my might, that I will fight with arms in hand to liberate her from slavery, notwithstanding the sacrifice of my own life, that I will be absolutely obedient to my superiors, that I will keep the secret whatever the cost may be”. The member of the Underground Army who was swearing in the new soldier had to answer: “I receive thee among the soldiers of Freedom. Victory will be thy reward. Treason will be punished by death.”277

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275 Jan Karski, Story of the Secret State. My Report to the World (Penguin Books, Reprint, 2011), kindlebook, location: 132-133 »

276 Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski, The Secret Army. The Memoirs of General Bor-Komorowski (Great Britain: Frontline Books, Reprint, 2011), p. 23 »

277 Ibid., p. 29 »