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The Warsaw Rising 1944

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In August 1944, Warsaw was the last major obstacle to the Soviet army's triumphant march from Moscow to Berlin. When the Wehrmacht was pushed back to the Vistula River, the people of Warsaw believed that liberation was at hand. So, too, did the Western leaders.

There were many different opinions on whether the Rising should take place in Warsaw because of fears that it would cause the destruction of the city and losses among the civilians. Eventually, it was decided that the battle of Warsaw would not be only of military significance but also of political one - Warsaw could be one of the first European capitals liberated and then it would be able to establish its own, independent government.


Finally the decision about starting the uprising in Warsaw was made. Some 23 000 of the Home Army (AK) soldiers started the uprising in the afternoon of August 1, 1944, hoping that the Soviet Army will support the Resistance soon. In the meantime Hitler ordered the city and its inhabitants to be utterly destroyed.

To fight against the Rising the Germans use a garrison already present in the city and a specially recruited Korpsgruppe. Artillerymen, tank soldiers and sappers were recruited from the Wehrmacht. They were reinforced by policemen and soldiers from the Waffen SS, as well as airmen from the Luftwaffe and frontline infantry units. Troops of criminals and eastern collaborative units were incorporated into the SS structures. They were distinguished by their particular cruelty in battle.


It was expected that the battle would last a few more days, until the Red Army entered the city. However, Stalin condemned the Rising as a criminal adventure and refused to cooperate with the Warsaw Resistance. Despite many pleas, including the ones from the Polish prime-minister who was paying a visit in Moscow since July 31, sometime before August 8, Stalin ordered to delay offensive actions nearby Warsaw. He did not even agree for the allied transport airplanes to land on Soviet airfields which practically precluded helping the uprising by airdropping the supplies, because the nearest airfields were located in England and Italy. Poland’s Western allies expressed regret, but decided that there was little to be done.

Not till the middle of September, when the uprising was already on the verge of disaster, a mass air-drop was possible but the insurgents took over only some 47 tons of it. The battle dragged on, the death toll among the civilians increased, there lacked food, water and medicines. Tens of thousands of defenseless civilians were killed week after week. One by one, Warsaw districts were turned into rubble as Soviet troops watched from across the river.



The insurgent’s main problem was a lack of weapons. They were supplemented with weapons produced by the insurgents themselves, weapons captured from the enemy and airdrops. Polish and allied pilots together with soldiers from Berling’s Army come to help. They had to face well-trained German formations armed to the teeth and supported by artillery, panzer divisions and the air force.

Everybody joined the fight, including youngsters and women. Although during the first few days of combat the insurgents captured a lot of strategic objects, and as the days went by the ranks were increasing (together there fought some 34 thousands of soldiers), the Home Army was unable to fully drive the Germans out of the downtown, nor to seize the main communication routes and bridges. The 16-thousand-strong German garrison was significantly reinforced (including the troops specializing in fighting partisans) and on August 5, 1944, the Germans began to counter-strike, using tanks, heavy artillery and assault aircraft.

In the first of recaptured districts (Wola), the German troops committed a mass slaughter of civilians. This was to happen again later a few more times. The attacking German columns split Warsaw into the “insurgent islands”, the contact between which was managed by secret passages through cellars and sewers.

On October 2, 1944, the insurgents capitulated. Some 150 000 civilians were killed, most of the city was utterly ruined (later on special German squads kept destroying the remaining buildings), 520 000 citizens expelled of the city. 17 000 insurgents were taken prisoners.

The Warsaw Rising was probably the largest single operation organized and executed by a partisan organization during WWII. The uprising did not reach its military nor political objectives, yet for the generations of Poles to come it became a symbol of courage and determination in the struggle for independence.


The story of the Warsaw Rising (including pictures, memorabilia, documents etc.) is told by the Warsaw Rising Museum.

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