Warsaw Rising 1944


From the day when Warsaw fell on September 28, 1939, the Polish Underground Army had been preparing for a national armed rising against the German oppressors. The plan, conceived early in the war, stipulated that it should occur at the moment of German collapse under the military pressure from the western allies. This plan had to be revised by the changing circumstances of the war. In summer 1943, the Allies had no soldiers in Europe apart from the island of Sicily. From the east, the Soviet Army, equipped by the American land-lease agreement, pushed westwards. It soon became clear to the leaders in Poland that the Soviets would reach their country prior to the western allies. Although the opening of the front in the Balkans was considered at some point by the Allies it has been aborted to facilitate the Soviet takeover of Central and Eastern Europe. Consequently, as the planning for a cross-Channel invasion of the German-occupied France progressed the aid to underground resistance to Poland shortened in favour of movements in France, Belgium and Holland as well as resistance fighters in Italy, Greece and Yugoslavia. In fact, the drops to occupied Poland were significantly reduced already after the British-Russian treaty of 1941. Throughout the war, Poland, despite the effectiveness of its underground army, received a tenth of the supplies that were dropped to Greece and barely one twentieth of those dropped to France and Yugoslavia.311 An elite formation, the 1st (Polish) Independent Parachute Brigade, under General Stanisław Sosabowski, was trained in Scotland specifically to be dropped in German-occupied Poland and assist in the liberation of the country. Yet, after the death of General Sikorski, the Polish government in exile yielded to the British pressure and put the brigade under British command, to be used in the Allied operations on the western front.

Both the British and the American governments were well aware from mid-1943 onwards that Polish underground leaders were planning to launch an insurrection against the Germans. President Roosevelt received a memorandum to this effect prior to the Teheran Conference, on November 23, 1943. At no point did the Anglo-American elites advise the Polish Government that a Rising might not be successful. On the contrary, the Allies constantly urged the Poles to attack the Germans and thereby to assist the allied war effort.312 The plan to liberate Poland called Operation Burza (Operation “Tempest”) was devised in 1943 by General Stanisław Tatar, known in London circles under his pseudonym 'Tabor'. He was a crypto-communist and a proponent of a national brand of Communism independent of Moscow. He had been a number three within the Underground movement and was assigned to Section III (Operation and Training) Headquarters of the Army responsible for the planning and preparation activities related to the current armed struggle and the future general uprising. The aim of the Operation Tempest devised by General Tatar, was to cooperate with the advancing Red Army on a tactical level while Polish civil authorities came out from underground and took power in Allied-controlled Polish territory. This plan was approved by the Delegate of the government-in-exile and by the Polish underground parliament. Neither knew at that time that an order had been issued to Soviet commanders in November 1943 for the disarming of AK units which revealed themselves to the Soviets and killing of those that resisted. Unaware of the trap, the Commander in Chief of the Home Army, General “Bor” Komorowski issued the orders for the launch of Operation “Tempest”. He later described how they were put into practice: “Partisan groups were assembled into larger units and directed to districts which lay across the German lines of retreat. In the eastern provinces, which were the first to start Burza operations, all soldiers of the Home Army were being mobilised. Regiments, battalions and divisions received names and numbers as in 1939. Arms and ammunition, radio and other equipment, stores, warm clothing (short uniform overcoats, caps and boots), hospital equipment, etc – all these things manufactured at home in secret workshops – were being gradually smuggled to the forests. The Polish partisan groups in the east grew into substantial regular forces long before the Red Army front reached them.”313

Operation Tempest began in the early 1944 when Red Army forces of the 2nd Belarusian Front crossed the pre-war Polish border. Home Army managed to contact the commanders of the advancing Red Army and undertook few successful joint operations against the German Army. During the spring and early summer of 1944, the Soviet armies made no further advances against the Germans. Instead they were occupied with the disarming of any AK units they found in Volhynia and East Galicia. In April, orders were issued for the conscription of all men aged between 17 and 35 into Berling's 1st Polish Army, a Polish division within the Red Army, and those who refused were either to be disarmed or arrested. Many who refused were deported to unknown locations. In the provinces of Vilnius and Volhynia, the AK units played key roles in the battles to liberate the provinces. As Polish soldiers, elated at the victory, prepared to enter the city they were prevented from doing so by Soviet troops and ordered to withdraw from the area. Next, the Polish officers were invited to a conference with the Soviet commanders. Upon their arrival they were promptly arrested and either sent to the Soviet labour camps or conscripted into the Red Army. The town of Grodno (today's western Belarus), was taken on July 16 with much the same effort. Following liberation of the city, Red Army attempted to root out Home Army arresting and executing its members, especially officers. Many Red Army groups ignored the opportunity to find support among the Poles and chose instead to terrorise further Polish civilians looting and burning villages and in many cases brutally raping untold numbers of Polish women and young girls.314

In liberated Lublin, on July 22, 1944, the Soviet-controlled communists established a puppet provisional government in order to, in Stalin words, “set up an administration on Polish territories”. It was given a very patriotic name - Polish Committee of National Liberation (PKWN) and was headed by a socialist Wanda Wasilewska. On August 3, 1944 Beria forwarded an NKVD report to Stalin regarding recent operation to disarm 'so called Polish Home Army units' captured in Lithuania. He was at pains to show not only that 'the Polish nationalists are fomenting anti-Soviet activity' but also that the captured men had little inclination to cooperate. Not a single AK officer had offered his services.315 General Bor appealed to General Sosnkowski to approach the British government and ask it to dispatch a military mission to Poland to observe these events. In April 1944, Churchill gave a final and unequivocal refusal to this.316 The only British agent to be directed at that time to the banks of Vistula river was the agent of the elites of the City of London, Dr. Josef Retinger (codename “Salamander”). On April 4, 1944 he was parachuted into Poland as an SOE agent, with a mission to assess the strength of the Home Army and see if he could persuade the Poles to surrender to the Soviets in view of the secret agreements that has been reached between London and Moscow regarding the future post-war order. Upon his arrival, he met with General Bor and Government Delegate and held various other meetings. By that time the Home Army had gathered enough intelligence to consider Dr Retinger an agent of foreign intelligence, hostile to the Polish independent state. Accordingly, the Home Army liquidation unit 993/W received an order to liquidate Dr Retinger. Several attempts were made on his life. Izabela Horodecka, member of 993/W, had testified that she was appointed with a mission to accompany Dr Retinger to the airport whence he was due to fly to Brindisi and to disseminate anthrax into his suitcase.317 Dr Retinger had survived the trip, but returned to London very sick. For several months he was bed-ridden and his activities were restricted to seeing visitors and writing letters. Yet he managed to bring with him Tomasz Arciszewski, a veteran socialist who would become, in the near future, prime minister of the Polish government in exile.318

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311 Lynne Olson & Stanley Cloud, For Freedom Yours and Ours: The Kosciuszko Squadron: Forgotten Heros of World War II (United Kingdom, 2004), p. 283 »

312 Prof. Norman Davies. “Britain and the Warsaw Rising” www.warsawuprising.com/paper/davies1.htm »

313 Bor-Komorowski, The Secret Army, p. 183-4 »

314 Koskodan, No Greater Ally, p. 188-189 »

315 Norman Davies, Rising 44: The Battle for Warsaw (London, 2004), p. 272 »

316 Mikolajczyk to Churchill, 21 February 1944; Churchill to Mikolajczyk, 7 April 1944, AK Documents, vol. VI, no 1807, 375, no. 1817, 386 »

317 Dariusz Baliszewski, “Misja Salamandra”, Wprost, 11 July 2004 https://www.wprost.pl/62789/Misja-Salamandra »

318 Pomian, Joseph Retinger, p. 182 »