Poles seek help as they battle on in Warsaw

Bombs falling on the centre of Warsaw, August 1944.
Bombs falling on the centre of Warsaw, August 1944.

While the Polish Armoured Division fought a desperate battle in Normandy, in their home country the battle being being fought by their compatriots against their Nazi occupiers was no less fierce.

The Warsaw Uprising had been intended as a short sharp insurrection which would, if wholly successful, see off the last of the retreating Germans and allow the Poles themselves to welcome the advancing Red Army into the city. At the very least the underground Home Army – Armia Krajowa – would be able to assist the Russian to take the city.

Neither scenario had come about. On Stalin’s orders Soviet forces had halted some distance from Warsaw and were doing little to assist. Meanwhile the Germans had shown a determination not only to to cling on to the city but fight back with a relentless savagery, sparing none of Warsaw’s civilians.

As the battle continued for much longer than first expected, the Home Army appealed to the Polish government in exile in Britain to approach the Allies for direct assistance:

Gentlemen, we are approaching you for the second time. For the past three weeks, we have been carrying on a bloody fight completely alone, insufficiently supplied with weapons and ammunition, and without air assistance.

At the same time, all reports that reach us from Polish territory occupied by the Soviets, from territories that are disputed by the Soviet Union and those that are not, inform us that the Soviet authorities intern, arrest, or detain in Camp Majdanek, Armia Krajowa civilian administrators.

This is the AK that so successfully assisted them in fighting the German forces. In this way, after five years of incessant and bloody resistance against the Germans, the Polish nation is being cruelly enslaved by one of its allies. Is it true that the great nations of the United States of America, and Great Britain can passively watch this new tragedy overtaking Poland…their ally?

Is it true that even the Polish Air Force under British command is not allowed to come to the assistance of dying Warsaw? Is it true that Poland is going to be a victim of partition based on spheres of interest?

We are declaring in the most solemn manner that we are fighting on the ruins of burning Warsaw, and we shall fight…for independence, and…defend that independence against any sort of imperialist.

In this fight we have united peasants, workers, and intelligentsia. The Polish nation, seeing the passivity of both great allies toward dying Warsaw, and also their silent approval of the outrages committed under the Soviet occupation, cannot understand and is reacting with bitter disappointment.

As Roosevelt and Churchill argued with Stalin and struggled to find a way to fly munitions into Warsaw, the Uprising continued on the streets.

Zbigniew Czajkowski was a seventeen year old volunteer with the Home Army, now hiding in a hole on the streets of Warsaw, close to the front line with the Germans.

21 August 1944

The mortar bombs, which rain down constantly onto the Krasinski Palace and the surrounding areas, occasionally fall short and explode nearby. Shrapnel whistles close by overhead, so I set about improving my position.

I dig down into the rubble with my bare hands, Irving to make sure the bricks I dig up don’t alter the outward appearance of my position. I have to be very quiet, and pause every time a rocket flies overhead, so it’s nearly dawn bv the time I have provided myself with reasonable protection.

My foxhole is now over half a metre deep, with an entrance invisible from the front, and a comfortable firing position facing the enemy lines. I benefit from my hard work almost immediately, when a few salvos of mortar fire land one after another among our positions. The dust and smoke is so thick it feels as if the rubble itself is on fire.

At precisely 8 o’clock, four Stuka dive bombers pay us their first visit of the day. From where I am, there is also a splendid view of the Old Town. I watch, the aeroplanes circling over the rooftops looking for a target. Then, one after another, they climb into the sky before diving onto their chosen objective. Once above a building they release a long bomb, then with a shriek of engines, climb back into the sky. Now, after a slow count to six, the explosions start.

Black pillars of smoke spoilt from the bombarded area gradually dispersed by the wind. The aeroplanes return, having circled around for a while, this time each dropping two smaller bombs. Again the ground heaves and more smoke rises above the unfortunate buildings. Even so, that’s not enough for these bastards. They circle around for a third time, when they open up with their machine guns. At that moment I think of the people who were sheltering in those houses escaping out into the open, with shrapnel from the fragmentation bombs dropping on them.

The aeroplanes fly away, but it’s not long before they return. I check my watch with each attack. There is always at least forty-five minutes between each raid, the difference rarely more than a few minutes. That’s how long it takes them to fly to the aerodrome, reload with fuel and ammunition, and return. I memorise the numbers and letters on the fuselage of each aeroplane. They are always the same. I lie on mv back and observe how they manoeuvre. The attacks are precise and clinical in their destruction.

I feel quite safe where I am, but my blood runs cold at the thought all those people must be going through not more than 200 or 300 metres away from me.

Lying here I distinctly feel the earth rocking beneath me with each explosion. Were I to stand upright, it would be a struggle to stay on my feet. There is an unpleasant moment when the aeroplanes start flying around directly above us. I can see every menacing detail: the grey/green bombs hanging underneath, the barrel of the machine gun protruding from the propeller boss. I catch a glimpse of the pilot’s face through his glass canopy. I get the feeling as though he was looking directly at me.

More white rockets fly from the German lines. I’m suddenly filled with terror, completely uncovered as I am from the air. I throw handfuls of dust over my uniform to try and blend into mv surroundings. They fly past. I breathe a sigh of relief, until the next sound of engines coming closer. I look out: four aeroplanes are flying in formation straight towards us. I close my eyes and press myself down into the rubble.

The clatter of engines and a whistle just above us … this is it! Silence. The aeroplanes fly over. I’m still counting. Five … six … nothing. Ten … eleven … nothing. Thev didn’t drop their bombs! I open my eyes. Six white rockets are flying across the sky simultaneously. They’ve come from the German positions but are also right above us. Probably the pilots could not figure out where the target was.

There were six air raids before midday, after that I stopped counting. The smoke from the buildings burning all over the Old Town blends into one. Sometimes, it even blocks out the sun.

See Zbigniew Czajkowski: Warsaw 1944: An Insurgent’s Journal of the Uprising

Barricade with a flag at MarszaƂkowska street, Warsaw 1944.
Barricade with a flag at MarszaƂkowska street, Warsaw 1944.

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