polish soldier world war 2: warsaw uprising 1944
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Q: What were the Polish Underground State and the Home Army (Armia Krajowa, AK)?

Q: Why did the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 begin? Why did it fail?

Q: What were the human and material costs of the Uprising?

Q: Were the Warsaw Uprising and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising the same event?

Q: Where can I learn more about the Warsaw Uprising of 1944?

Q: What were the Polish Underground State and the Home Army?

A: The Polish Underground State was a covert administrative, political, and military structure operating in occupied Poland during World War 2 (19391945). The Underground State organized, coordinated and engaged in resistance against German forces. It was established by and responsible to the London-based Polish government-in-exile which Allied governments recognized as the legitimate government of Poland. The Underground State did not include Polish communists or parties of the extreme right. [ poland in world war 2 ]

The Home Army, 380,000 soldiers at its peak, was the military wing of the Underground State. It consolidated a number of military groups spontaneously formed after the Polish campaign of September-October 1939. The Home Army's losses during the five-year struggle, including the Warsaw Uprising, were more than 72,000 soldiers killed. [ underground  ]

The Polish Underground State oversaw and conducted many operations, including:

  • sabotage and diversion Destruction of war-related factories, warehouses, machinery, and disruption of transportation infrastructure in order to impede the German operations. Actions such as 'Fan' ('Wachlarz') targeted the railroad system between Germany and the eastern front.
  • self-defense and retaliation Liquidation of Gestapo agents, gendarme, and individual reprisals for exceptional brutality, such as the assassination of SS General Franz Kutschera, as well as common banditry and collaborators. Other types of actions included rescuing Polish prisoners, capturing military magazines or transports, and retaliations against German colonists.
  • partisan warfare The first spontaneous military actions started after the September of 1939 defeat. Later, they were transformed into planned warfare serving the strategic Home Army's aims to increase sabotage and diversionary operations and to prepare for the national uprising. In some regions, Home Army units were fighting massive German colonization efforts combined with the expulsion of Polish farmers. With the eastern front crossing the pre-1939 borders, an operation code named Tempest had been executed aimed at liberating Polish territory by fighting withdrawing German forces.
  • intelligence Among its biggest successes were obtaining information about German preparations for the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, the development of the secret weapon (V-1) in Peenemunde resulting in Allied aerial bombardment of the facility in 1943, and the capture of an unexploded V-1 rocket and its transfer to England.
    [ intelligence cooperation ]
  • liaison Maintaining regular contact with the government-in-exile by means of clandestine radio stations and dozens of couriers and emissaries. Jan Karski, the most famous courier, brought to Allied leaders such as F. D. Roosevelt and British Foreign Secretary A. Eden, an eyewitness account of conditions in occupied Poland and particularly about the German terror and extermination of the Jews.
  • help to polish jews Even though helping Jews in occupied Poland was punishable by death, in 1942 various help committees were integrated into the Zegota (the Relief Council for Jews in Poland) organization with the expressed purpose of helping Jews. It organized and provided accommodations, financial aid, medical care, and procured forged identity documents for Jews in hiding on the 'Aryan' side. Among others, Zegota was responsible for saving 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto. Additionally, through its couriers and radio transmissions, the Polish underground had been informing the free world about the plight of the Jews under German occupation. [ zegota ]
  • army training The standard program provided five months of schooling for the officer cadets and four months for the noncommissioned officers. Between 1941–1944, over 8,500 students completed these programs.
  • arms and equipment The sources of weapons were: pre-1939 war Polish arms, captured or purchased from Germans, airdropped by the British, and those produced by the underground in clandestine shops where machine guns (based on a British Sten design), revolvers, grenades, and flame-throwers were manufactured.
  • education Due to the severe restrictions put on Polish schooling, an alternative underground education system covering levels from elementary schools to universities was organized. In 1944, underground high schools had over 100,000 students. In the same year, underground universities enrolled over 10,000 students in four cities. In addition, there were ten clandestine pedagogical institutes training new teaching cadres for the future independent country.
  • civil resistance The basic rules of civil resistance assembled in a code of rights and obligations were established, disseminated and enforced. Many actions were directed against German forced labor, agricultural quotas, newspapers, cinema, and lottery. Underground courts of justice were organized with a written code establishing its composition, procedures, and the manner of carrying out sentences.
  • diversionary propaganda Code named Action 'N' was involved in psychological warfare aimed at driving a wedge between combat soldiers and the SS, Gestapo, party bosses, and gendarmerie formations. Action 'N', among others, produced and distributed German-language magazines, booklets, and leaflets pretending to originate from nonexistent opposition within Germany.
  • publications During the entire German occupation, over 1,120 different periodicals were published. The highest circulation was achieved by the Home Army's weekly Information Bulletin with 50,000 copies. Seventeen publications managed to sustain publication throughout the entire occupation period of 1939-1945. In addition to Polish and Action 'N' German language publications, there were 25 periodicals in Hebrew and Yiddish (in the Warsaw Ghetto), one in French, and one in English designed for POWs held in the German camps on Polish territory.
The Home Army was dissolved on January 19, 1945, and underground administrative structures on July 1, 1945. With it the Polish Underground State reached its end.

Q: Why did the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 begin? Why did it fail? [ Okulicki ], [ Remembering ]

A: The Home Army's attempt to free Warsaw before the entry of the Red Army was prompted mainly by political and ideological reasons [ NKVD ]. The Uprising was expected to be short, a week long at the most, and have the character of a mopping-up operation. The main reasons for starting the Uprising:

  • Liberate the City Most of the underground believed that a Polish London-based government-in-exile had to be established in Warsaw before the newly created Russian-sponsored Committee of National Liberation would take charge. Military developments on the Eastern and Western fronts appeared to have created a singular opportunity to wrest control of Warsaw from the collapsing Germans shortly before the entry of the victorious Red Army. At the same time, the Soviet-controlled radio Kosciuszko issued appeals to Warsaw inhabitants to raise up against Germans. [ kosciuszko ]
  • German Collapse During the Spring east front offensive, twenty five German divisions had been destroyed. Red Army and Russian-commanded Polish troops reached the Vistula river. Disorganized front Wehrmacht troops were withdrawing through Warsaw and German civilians, in panic, were evacuating from the city. At the same time, the attempted Hitler assassination was announced. On the western front, victorious Allied troops were breaking through Normandy defenses. [ map  ]
  • Call for 100,000 Men On July 27, the German Governor of occupied Poland Hans Frank called for 100,000 Polish men between the ages of 17–65 to arrive at several concentration places in Warsaw. They were to be employed as laborers constructing German fortifications around the city. The Home Army interpreted this call as an attempt to neutralize and destroy the underground forces and urged everybody to ignore it. At the same time, expecting German retributions, the Home Army commander ordered mobilization in the Warsaw region.

The main reasons for the Uprising's failure:

  • Global Politics In the early spring of 1943, the Soviet Union broke off its diplomatic relationships with the Polish government-in-exile. This was in response to a Polish call for an International Red Cross investigation of the Katyn massacre. From that point on, the Soviet Union's government became openly hostile to the lawful Polish government in London and its representation in occupied Poland. [ Katyn ]
  • Lack of Support The Russian East front offensive had stopped on August 3rd just ten miles from Praga, Warsaw's right bank district. Although Russia controlled over 100 airfields within Warsaw's range, their planes disappeared from the Warsaw sky until September 10th. Moreover, the first massive Allied airdrop took place on September 18th at the time the Uprising was already doomed.This delay was in large part caused by the Soviet Union's refusal to allow Allied planes on missions to Warsaw to land on its airfields. On September 16th, when the Red Army had reached Warsaw's right bank, it made only a half-hearted effort to storm the city. All their attempts were conducted by the Russian-commanded Polish Army of Gen. Berling. [ allied support ]
  • Miscalculations The Home Army believed that the Soviet Union's military goal of their spring offensive was to capture Warsaw. Poles were unaware that this objective might be superseded by the Soviet Union's political goal of eliminating all of the potential opponents of the future communist-led government in Poland. The Home Army did not take into account the consequences of the agreement reached among Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin at the Teheran conference at the end of 1943, which placed Poland within the Soviet sphere of influence (control). Also, unknown to the Poles, at that conference Stalin received from Roosevelt assurances [ teheran ] to acquire the Polish eastern provinces the Soviet Union occupied during 1939–1941 as a result of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact. [ map  ],
    [ britain & uprising ]

Q: What were the human and material costs of the Uprising?

A: Poles: 15,200 insurgents killed and missing, 5,000 wounded, 15,000 sent to POW camps. Among civilians 200,000 were dead, and approximately 700,000 expelled from the city. Approximately 55,000 civilians were sent to concentration camps, including 13,000 to Auschwitz. Berling's Polish Army losses were 5,660 killed, missing or wounded. Material losses were estimated at 10,455 buildings, 923 historical buildings (94 percent), 25 churches, 14 libraries including the National Library, 81 elementary schools, 64 high schools, Warsaw University and Polytechnic buildings, and most of the monuments. Almost a million inhabitants lost all of their possessions.

During World War 2, 85% of Warsaw's left bank buildings were destroyed: 25% in the course of the Warsaw Uprising, 35% as the result of systematic German actions after the Uprising, the rest as a combination of the war in September 1939 and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

Germans: 16,000 killed and missing, 9,000 wounded. Up to 2,000 Germans were captured by insurgents, 1,000 returned after the Uprising. Material losses: three airplanes (two outside the city in Kampinos forest ), 310 tanks, self-propelled artillery, armored cars, 4 rocket launchers, 22 artillery pieces (caliber 75mm), and 340 trucks and cars.


Q: Were the Warsaw Uprising and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising the same event?

A: No. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was a struggle of the Jewish fighters who, between April 4, 1943 and May 16, 1943, gave armed resistance to the German efforts to liquidate the ghetto's remaining 55,000 inhabitants. The two principal Jewish resistance groups, a 500-strong Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB) and a 200-strong Jewish Fighting Union (ZZW) knowing the Nazi plans for the 'Final Solution' decided to die fighting rather than passively accept their fate.

After 27 days of fighting, the Ghetto Uprising ended with the death or capture and consequent extermination of almost all of its inhabitants. It was also the final act in the complete destruction of the 350,000 Warsaw Jews. German losses were 16 dead and 85 wounded. Several dozen of the surviving fighters were able, with the help of the Polish underground, to escape the ghetto area and continue the fight. In 1944, some of them took part in the Warsaw Uprising.

The Warsaw Uprising, on the other hand, was a struggle of the Polish underground which, between August 1, 1944 and October 2, 1944, conducted an armed struggle aimed at liberating Warsaw and its 1,000,000 inhabitants from the German occupation at the time the Soviet army was approaching the city limits from the east. The 38,000 Polish Home Army augmented by 2,000-strong nationalist and communist units initially controlled a majority of Warsaw's left bank. However, with the German determination for a complete destruction of the city and its Home Army, the Warsaw Uprising ended after 63 days of struggle at the cost of 15,200 dead or missing and 5,000 wounded insurgents and over 200,000 Polish civilians dead. German losses were 16,000 dead and missing and 9,000 wounded.

All of the surviving inhabitants were expelled from the city and many of them sent to death, labor or POW camps. The remaining, still-standing, buildings were systematically destroyed. More than three months later, in January of 1945, the Red Army and Gen. Berling's Polish First Army entered a deserted and ruined city.


Q: Where can I learn more about the Warsaw Uprising of 1944?

A: Check the Resources page [ resources ]; it includes a listing of books, videos, documents, and websites related to the Warsaw Uprising.