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The Warsaw Uprising

August 1, 1944 - October 2, 1944

by Łukasz Pajewski

The Warsaw Uprising was probably the largest single operation organized and executed by a partisian organization in World War II. It lasted two months, and when it was over, 200 thousand people were dead, and the entire city was in ruins. In trying to achieve its goals, the uprising was a terrible failure. In showing the courage and the dedication of the Polish nation, it was a remarkable success.

Days before the uprising - July, 1944

On June 23rd, 1944, the Soviet Army began its summer offensive in Bielorussia, the Ukraine, and the Baltic region. The Germans, although they had rightly predicted where the Soviets were going to strike, could not muster the sufficient man-power to form an effective line of defense. The Soviet offensive, which began a little past Minsk (now in Bielarus), had within five weeks covered a distance of about 1000 km on a front more than 400 km wide. Patton's race across France pales in comparison to this massive undertaking. By the last week of July, the Soviets were approaching to the outskirts of Warsaw. The Germans, in a desperate attempt, tried to make a stand at Warsaw - Hitler had said that Warsaw must be defended at all costs. To that effect, the Germans gathered units of the 2nd and 9th Armies, as well as the Viking and Totenkopf SS-Armored divisions, the Herman Goering Airborne Armored divisions, and the 4th and 9th Armored divisions. The Soviet divisions, already worn out by their prolonged thrust, were stopped by the Germans on the outskirts of Warsaw in a battle on July 30th-August 5th.

In Warsaw itself, the proximity of the Soviet troops encouraged the Poles, and the leadership of the AK contacted the Polish government in London requesting permission to start the mass uprising, which had been in the works for several months now. It was then still expected that the Soviets would break through the German lines, cross the Vistula, and free Warsaw. In order to strengthen its bargaining position, the London government gave the go-ahead for the uprising, hoping to achieve the goals of controling the Warsaw by forces loyal to the London government and broading popular support for the London government.

To Gen. Komorowski, the leader of the AK, it looked like the time was right for the uprising to begin. He had received reports that in some spots the Soviets had already crossed the Vistula. He did not know the exact details of the tank battles being waged at the moment, and he did not know the next series of moves the Soviets had planned. The wheels of the uprising machinery, once set in motion, could not be easily stopped. The "W" hour was finally set for 5:00 p.m., August 1st, 1944.

At the time of the outbreak of the uprising, the AK had about 12 thousand soldiers in Warsaw proper. There were enough weapons for maybe 4 thousand of them, and enough ammunition for two or three days of fighting. There were also some units of the AL which joined in the fight. Additionally, there were other resistance groups, like the boy scouts, and NSZ. The German forces consisted of about 20 thousand men, mostly from Wehrmaht, SS, and Police troops. The Germans had tanks, artillery, and airplanes, which the Poles were defenseless against.


August 1-4

"W" Hour had been set for 5:00 p.m. on August 1, and when it came, the soldiers that had spent the afternoon in hiding came out on the street to fight the Germans. From the beginning, things were not going well. The Germans had been on full alert since 16:30, and the inexperienced Polish youths had to attack a fortified enemy in broad daylight. It came as no surprise then, that many objectives were only partially, if at all, completed. The most headway was made downtown, but it wasn't enough to meet up with the fighters from the Starówka, Powiśle, or other parts of the city.

In some parts, like Żoliborz and Ochota, things went so poorly that the partisans were largely forced to retreat into the forests surrounding the city. The attacks on the Okęcie and Bielany airports were repulsed, like the attack on the Raszyn radio station. The first stroke, on which so many things depended, was thus only partially successful - large parts of the city were now controlled by the insurgents, but within those sections there were still many fortified pockets of German resistance.

Both the Poles and the German garrison suffered heavy casualties that first day. Yet both also received reinforcements. For the Germans, they were units of the Airborne Armored Herman Goering and the 19th Armored Divisions, both of which were passing through the city to join battle with the Soviets. For the insurgents they came in the form of mass support from the citizens of Warsaw. The insurgents thus got to benefit from all the supplies and experience that the populace had amassed in the five years of German occupation.

On August 2nd, the insurgents resumed the attack. By August 4th, Śródmieście was largely in Polish hands. Many of the troops that had left after the first day had a chance to return, since the Germans were still confused and preoccupied with fighting the Soviets. Wola repulsed several German counterattacks, shielding Śródmieście. In other parts of the city, the situation remained very fluid.

Thus, by August 4th, there were three large insurgent regions of the city. There was the Śródmieście-Powiśle-Starówka-Wola region, the Żyrardów region, and the Mokotów region - overall a large part of the city. In those four crucial days, the partisan units acquired much combat experience, and the support of the people. Yet at the end of those four days, there was also a very clear lack of ammunition and other supplies. It was also expected that by this time the Soviet troops would be crossing the river to help the insurgents. General Komorowski sent a message to London asking for supply airdrops, inquiring when the paratrooper brigade would arrive, and asking the London government to persuade the Soviets to cross the river. He also ordered all offensive operations to cease, so that ammunition might be conserved. The wait for Soviet and Western relief began.


August 5-12

That relief soon came. Polish bomber pilots flying from bases on the Apula (Italy) started making nightly ammo drops over Warsaw. The pilots then had to fly back to Italy, since the Soviets refused them permission to land on their ground. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough. Many of the airdrops actually fell into German hands, and the deliveries were eventually called off because of the high risk and relatively low return.

The 5th of August also saw the first determined counterattacks by the Germans. The thrust came from the Wola region, and after three days of heavy fighting, the 5000 Wehrmacht soldiers cracked part of the AK defense, which consisted of about 2000 poorly supplied and armed men. This drove a wedge between Śródmieście and Stare Miasto, splitting the largest insurgent enclave in two.

At the same time, the other German thrust bogged down in the Mokotów-Ochota region. The defense of those regions by the insurgents shielded Śródmieście for over a week, staving off a premature collapse of the armed effort. The Germans were able to make only limited headway, managing to recapture one of the main east-west through-fares across the Vistula.

By August 10th, however, the AK leadership knew the result of the Soviet-German battle that had taken place, and knew that the Soviets would not be advancing to free Warsaw. A previous order, stating that insurgents move out of the way of large German attacks, was changed so that connectivity could once again be reestablished between the various city regions. At that time the German leadership also started to vent its anger on the civilian population. Thousands of civilians were executed, and many more died as they were driven before the German troops as those were moving toward the insurgent barricades. It had become clear to both sides that the rest of the fight would be a long and dirty struggle, which pitted on the one side supreme courage and determination against a better-trained, better-armed, and numerically superior opponent.


August 12 - September 2

After the fall of Wola, the German attack centered on the Stare Miasto region. This area was the largest insurgent enclave, and it was also the region with the bridges to the other side of the Vistula. The attack came on the 12th of August, and after heavy fighting, the Poles were forced to retreat, leaving the area of the old Jewish ghetto. Yet at the same time that they were withdrawing from one position, the insurgents were carrying out a counter-attack to reform a link between Śródmieście and Stare Miasto. While this attempt was unsuccessful, it did force the Germans to divert some troops from the main thrust to deal with this new event. Seeing that reestablishing connections between the city districts, Komorowski once again turned to the London government for aid. Another request was made for the deployment of the Polish airborne brigade, as well as for more supply drops. An order was also sent out to all AK units around Warsaw to come to its aid. This was only partly successful, as only about 1400 of the 3000 available men were able to make their way into the city. The insurgents, however, erased some of the german centers of resistance (among others on August 11th in Staszic palace and on August 20th in stubbornly defended house of PAST on Zielna St.). They also enlarged their possesions in Śródmieście-Południe region.

After conquering Stare Miasto the Germans undertook tries to shut down the main artery of traffic longways Al. Jerozolimskie-Poniatowski Bridge, but they came up against unbeatable defence.

September 6-11

On September 6th Germans conquered Powiśle, pacyfying defenceless civilian population. On September 11th 47th Soviet army conquered the Prague. The "Bach" regiment received a task to completelly shut off the partisians from the Vistula with help of german air force and the 9th Armored Division. The german offensive on the Czerniaków narrowed the positions of insurgents to only a small piece of land near the Wilanowska an Zagórna streets.

September 16-30

On September 16-22th a part of the First WP Army opened some bridge-heads in Czerniaków, between Poniatowski Bridge and Railway Bridge, and in Żoliborz. In the same time Russian and Polish air force gained the mastery of the air above the Warsaw and was dropping weapons, ammunition and food.

Germans with help of the 9th army erased some of the Polish head-bridges (the last one in Czerniaków - September 22). The next strike on Mokotów, where the "Baszta" regiment was fighting brang on September 27th the capitulation of Mokotów (the part of the crew with the leader of the "Mokotów" regiment - Lieutenant-Colonel Józef W. Rokicki went through the severs to Śródmieście).

Separated german forces executed an operation in Puszcza Kampinoska, drawing on September 29th a battle near Jaktorów with insurgent forces. 19th Armored Division, supported by the infantry of "Bach" regiment striked on Żoliborz, which capitulated on September 30th.

In face of hopeless situation - hunger, the lack of weapons, ammunition and medical help AK established on September 30th negotiations with "Bach".


October 2

In headquarters of "Bach" regiment in Ożarów Poles signed a capitulation act. The insurgent armys, however, keeped the combatant rights. The displaced population was conducted to the concentration camp in Prószków and from there to the back of the front-line, to an extermination and work camps in Poland and Germany. Warsaw became the terrain of the activities of the german forces which burning and blowing up destroyed almost 80% of the city.

The aftermath

63 days fight of the insurgents, which was waged in circumstances of german crushing superiority and very aversing political situation could only be waged thanks to the boundless patriotism, heroism and sacrifice of the whole society of Warsaw and its will of uncompromised fight against hitlerism. The loses of Polish partisians were huge. 16000-18000 killed (the most sacrified youth) and about 25000 wounded. Civilian population loses were even bigger. Over 150 thousand of killed or murdered. The first army of WP lost over 3764 soldiers during forcing the Vistula and fights on the bridge-heads. The entire city was destroyed. The german loses were about 26000 soldiers.



  • A. Borkiewicz - "Powstanie Warszawskie 1944"
  • J. Kirchmayer - "Powstanie Warszawskie"
  • T. Bór-Komorowski - "Armia Podziemna"
  • Internet


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