Clandestine arsenal. Members of the Polish resistance during the clandestine production of the makeshift grenades Filipinka. There is also a German, and a British grenade on the table.



The day 1 August 1944 in Warsaw was hot and muggy like before a storm. Every now and then the sun was hiding behind the clouds, and one might expect a rain any moment. Yet, the streets were unusually crowded. Trams were running seldom and with irregular intervals; passengers crowded them to the utmost. About the noon to the streets took groups of young men walking quickly in apparent hurry. Reinforced patrols of the German police and gendarmerie were cruising throughout the whole city, but without bothering by-passers. The crowd grew by hour.

In Żoliborz a German patrol spotted a suspiciously looking group of young men on the intersection of Kochowski St. and Krasiński St. The Germans opened fire at them, and the Poles returned fire.

It was 14:00. Most likely nobody realised that, yet the shots exchanged between the German patrol and the Home Army 9th Company Żniwiarz - accidental ones and yet so casual in the occupied city - became the first shots of what was soon to become a battle known as the Warsaw Uprising. It was the biggest combat action of the Polish underground forces in the history of the Second World War, which would involve 50,000 Polish insurgents and one-million population of a major European city.

To the Germans the Polish uprising was not a surprise. They were making preparations for it ever since the defeat at Stalingrad in February 1943. During the spring of 1944 they had fortified their precincts with concrete bunkers and barbed wires at the entries. Among the fortified objects was even the Europejski Hotel, which served as the garrison hotel for the German officers.

As the front was coming closer, the invaders showed growing unrest. During the last weeks of July the German defences in eastern Poland were shattered. The necessity to send more troops to the front depleted the garrison of Warsaw. On 9 July the Schutzpolizei unit of Colonel Rudolf Haring, trained for street fights in a big city, was sent to the action near Grodno.

The collapse of the front, and the escape of panic-stricken German officials and Volksdeutsche on 23-25 July aggravated the state of unrest. The streets of Warsaw saw the gloomy retreat of the weary troops from crushed divisions of the Germans and their satellites; they saw the wounded transported on the wagons requisitioned from the Polish peasants. Warsaw was euphoric from joy - it seemed that the war and German occupation was coming to the end. The attempt of the high-ranking Wehrmacht officers to overthrow Hitler on 20 July 1944 augmented those hopes. Although the attempt failed, it clearly demonstrated the moods of at least a part of the German military command. Especially that it happened a month after the great Soviet offensive in Byelorussia.

On 22 June a powerful artillery barrage was laid along the central front. Once it was over, on 23 June four Soviet fronts rushed to the assault on the German defences. On 3 July was liberated Minsk, on 13 July - Vilnius, on 23 July - Lublin, and on 27 July - Bialystok. On 25 July first Soviet units reached the Vistula. Somewhat later the Soviet fronts launched the offensive in the Ukraine, and liberated Stanislavov (Ivano-Frankovsk), Lvov and Przemysl. Soviet forces had crossed the San, and were heading to Rzeszow. Meanwhile the advanced 3rd Tank Corps from the 1st Byelorussian Front reached Miedzylesie and cut the railway to Otwock. Warsaw was becoming a frontline city, in the operational zone of the Red Army.

The Germans decided to hold the city whatever the cost. On 31 July Warsaw had two German commandants. One of them - Gen. Günther Rohr - was appointed by the commander of the Army Group Centre, Field-Marshal Walter Model. The other one - Gen. Reiner Stahel, "an ascetic-looking Austrian intellectual" -  was appointed by Adolf Hitler himself. They both resided in the Brühl's Palace - the non-existing nowadays residence of the governor of the Warsaw District. Stahel possessed fresh experience of street fights in Vilnius, for which he was decorated with oak leaves and swords to his Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, and was reputed as a specialist in counter-insurgent operations and defence of big cities. Although he commanded a weak garrison, his forces were still superior to the insurgent forces, especially in respect of the weapons. Operationally Stahel reported to the commander of the 9th Army, Gen. Nikolaus von Vormann, and in case of emergency he could relay on regular Wehrmacht units, which at the end of July were concentrated around Warsaw.

An eye-witness of those days described the situation from the last days of July as follows:

Suddenly, in the second half of July, something uncanny happened. They started to flee. Warsaw was boiling from joy. Who could foresee that this one and a half of a week were just the preludium allegro e molto vivace to the danse macabre et funebre of the Uprising?

First to flee were civilians: Reichsdeutsche, Volksdeutsche, Stammdeutsche, Ostdeutsche, Baltendeutsche, colonists, fascists, whiteguardists, collaborationists, on peasant carts, haggard, dusted, with bundles and children - just quickly, just westwards. Mixed with them were wagon trains - German, Hungarian and vlasovite. After the civilians rushed Distriktleiters, Bezirksleiters, Kreisleiters, Ortsleiters, Burgmeisters, Treuhanders, Wohnungsamt and Arbeitsamt.

Then came the time to load on the trucks and trains: Sicherheitspolizei, Geheimestaatspolizei, Kriminalpolizei, Ordnungspolizei, Schutzpolizei, Hilfspolizei, Bahnschutz, Selbstschutz, Werkschutz, Grenzschutz, Hitlerjugend, Sturmabteilung, Sonderdienst and Baudienst.

So far Warsaw had seen only the march and escape to the east.

German quarters, police and administrative, almost emptied. (...)

Then they made come back: Sipo, Schupo, Orpo, Kripo, Gestapo, SD, SA, and with them Werkschutz, Bahnschutz, all sorts of -leiters, Wohnungsamt and Arbeitsamt. In the streets the tanks from the Herman Goering Division rode eastwards. Vlasovites swarmed around. (...)

It was an incredible mess. In the main streets tanks were moving eastwards, infantry marched westwards, and Russian patrols were on reconnaissance around the outskirts of Praga. [Kurdwanowski J. (2004).]

At the Chief Command of the Home Army (Armia Krajowa - AK), which closely watched all the troops movements, ruled optimism and to some extent astonishment. Hectic exchange of dispatches between Warsaw and London brought in general chaotic and confusing messages, while Moscow unequivocally distanced itself from the Polish government in London and its agencies in Poland.

As the Red Army entered Poland, on 26 July 1944 the Soviet government made a statement, which read:

Soviet troops have entered the limits of Poland filled with one determination: to rout the enemy German armies and to help the Polish people in the task of liberation from the yoke of the German invaders, and in the restoration of an independent, strong and democratic Poland. [Soviet Foreign Policy During the Patriotic War. (1946).]

In the liberated areas the Red Army was transferring the administration to the temporary authorities of the Polish Committee of National Liberation (Polski Komitet Wyzwolenia Narodowego - PKWN), which had its seat in Lublin, and on 22 July 1944 announced so-called July Manifesto, which declared broad political and social reforms in the post-war Poland. All the units of the Polish underground movement in the rears of the Red Army had to terminate their activities and surrender their arms. Those were first of all Home Army's 3rd, 5th, 9th and 27th Divisions. As to the People's Army (Armia Ludowa - AL), its groups either joined regular units of the Polish army formed in the USSR, or undertook policing duties. Youth of the military age was subjected to the conscription, but many members of the Home Army, or people suspected in sympathizing with AK, were arrested. That caused conflicts between the underground movement subordinated to the government in exile in London and the political Left represented by the PKWN. In fact, Poland had two centres of political administration - one in Lublin, and one in London, where resided Stanisław Mikołajczyk's government, Supreme Command and the General Staff of the Polish Armed Forces, political parties and organizations.

Although the occupation authorities installed themselves in Cracow, to the Poles Warsaw remained the capital of the (temporarily dysfunct) Polish state. There were installed headquarters of all the main underground organizations - AK, AL, Peasant Battalions (BCh), National Armed Forces (NSZ), Polish People's Army (PAL), and others, as well as political leadership of the political organizations affiliated whether with the West or the East, like the Socialist Party Freedom, Equality, Independence (WRN), National Party (SN), Peasant Party (SL), Home National Council (KRN), Polish Workers' Party (PPR), Polish Socialist Workers' Party (RPPS), Wola Ludu (Popular Will), and groups of democratic intellectuals. Methods of the political struggle and tactics of the military resistance were studied in Warsaw, and executive orders were going to the whole country from Warsaw. Warsaw was an important node of roads and railways, and an element of the system of German defences along the Vistula. In 1944, after the extermination of the Jews, the population still numbered a million of people living on both banks of the Vistula.

What were the resistance forces concentrated in Warsaw? According to the documentation published after the war, the commander of the Warsaw AK District, Col. Antoni Chruściel (Monter), had at his disposal 1,100 officers, 2,200 officer candidates, 5,300 NCOs, 31,530 enlisted men in combat groups, and 5,000 women in auxiliary services - 45,130 troops all and all. Apart from them, there were AK units subordinated directly to the Chief Command: Baszta Regiment (2,200 men), VI Battalion of the auxiliary security service (WSOP) with 200 men, and sabotage units of the Directorate of Subversion (Kedyw) - 2,300 men.

In the Kampinos Forest at that time operated the partisan detachment under the command of 2nd Lt. Adolf Pilch (Góra-Dolina), which comprised 434 infantrymen, 349 cavalrymen and 39 women - 822 partisans, well armed and supplied with ammunition. Organizationally they reported to the local AK commander Capt. Józef Krzyczkowski (Szymon), to whom that detachment was a substantial reinforcement of his own tiny forces.

According to the archive data, the number of men and women enlisted in AK exceeded 50,000. That human material could make five infantry divisions. But they dramatically lacked weapons, and most of the officers and soldiers, who went to action on 1 August 1944, did not realise that fact. They illuded themselves that the lack of arms and ammunition was just an isolated, individual problem of their outfit, while other AK units were better armed and supplied, and the Chief Command had prepared adequate mobilization reserves, which would be distributed on the first day of the uprising. Many insurgents found themselves in a very tragic situation, when they attacked enemy positions while armed only with few rifles, pistols, and "Molotov's cocktails".

AK regulations foresaw allocating one sub-machine gun, nine pistols, and grenades for each section (10 men). Theoretically 2,300 sections were supposed to start the uprising, so they would require 2,300 sub-machine guns and over 20,000 grenades. Practically it turned out that the insurgents possessed 650 sub-machine guns, 3,800 pistols and revolvers, and 2,600 rifles that is barely one-third of the required arms. Only the stock of 44,000 grenades seemed adequate, but the first days of the fights had demonstrated that it was not so.

It is unclear, whether the Chief Command realised what was the situation with the weapons on 1 August 1944. There was no accurate documentation or detailed reports - the picture has been reconstructed after the war based on theoretical calculations and insurgents' memories. Nevertheless, the fact that the AK forces possessed barely 25-30% of the needed arms is indisputable. The inefficient assaults of the first days of the uprising proved that very painfully.

Insurgent arms originated from many sources: some were hidden after the defeat in the 1939 campaign, some were captured from the Germans, or acquired from their Italian or Hungarian allies, some were airdropped by the Allies, some were made in underground workshops. Thus, the Poles were manufacturing copies of the British Sten sub-machine guns named Błyskawica (Lightning), as well as makeshift grenades - Sidolówka (the name came from the Sidol metal-cleaning agent sold in little tin cans) and Filipinka (constructed by engineer Edward Tymoszak, who used the pseudonym Filip). However, in the beginning of July a big party of grenades fell in the hands of the Germans, and the AK chief of ordnance, Lt.Col. Jan Szypowski (Leśnik) sent 900 sub-machine guns to the partisan units taking part in the operation Burza (Tempest). Another 678 sub-machine guns were unearthed after the war in Leszno Street. Those 1,578 pieces of automatic arms were missed very badly on the W-Hour.

Apart from the individual small arms, insurgents were poorly equipped with heavy arms. Against the German tanks they could use only 29 anti-tank projectors and 12,000 bottles with inflammable liquids, while the German tanks' armour was reinforced with concrete mixture, whereas German tank units were covered by infantry machine-gunners and armoured cars.

So, the forces were unequal, and some officers of the Chief Command opposed vehemently the plan to start the uprising on 1 August 1944. Nevertheless, the fateful decision was made. Why?