Poles seek help as they battle on in Warsaw


21 August 1944: Poles seek help as they battle on in Warsaw

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.

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

Married with brass curtain rings in burning Warsaw


13 August 1944: Married with brass curtain rings in burning Warsaw

Thirteen was still lucky for me. That was the date of our wedding day – August 13. A field altar was set up on bales of paper in the store upstairs. The borrowed uniform was pushed and pulled onto me over the plaster dressing of my left arm. Finally, I was ready just as Lili arrived with an honor guard composed of six of her girls, holding a bouquet of rather wilted gladiolus in her hand. An attack on our positions had occurred that morning so none of my colleagues, not even the best man, Stas Nestrypke, could come to the ceremony.

Captured German Sd.Kfz. 251 from the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking, and pressed into service with the 8-th "Krybar" Regiment. The soldier holding a MP 40 submachine gun is commander Adam Dewicz "Gray Wolf", 14 August 1944
Captured German Sd.Kfz. 251 from the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking, and pressed into service with the 8-th “Krybar” Regiment. The soldier holding a MP 40 submachine gun is commander Adam Dewicz “Gray Wolf”, 14 August 1944

Almost a fortnight after the Polish underground Home Army had launched their insurgency and the residents had joined the Warsaw Uprising, the Poles were still controlling sections of the city and holding their own against the German counter-attacks. Thousands of women and children had been murdered by Nazi death squads as they sought to regain control of the city. The insurgents were under no illusions that it would be a bitter fight – but it still did not seem possible that they would have to fight alone. The Red Army was not very far away, they were slow coming, but surely they would take advantage of the situation and join the battle?

Bill C. Biega whose Home Army identity was ‘Pałąk’ was a member of the ‘Kilinski Battalion’. He had been wounded in the early fighting and lay in the Home Army’s improvised hospital. The wounded had time to reflect on the situation:

The failure of the Soviets to maintain their offensive and come to our assistance was ominous. Even Soviet planes had vanished from the air space over the city. True, none of us considered the Bolsheviks (as we continued to call them) to be our friends. But they were allies of our Allies, and common sense seemed to indicate that political differences should not prevent them from taking advantage of the bridgehead we had created on the west bank of the Vistula. We still felt sure that any day their offensive would resume, but nagging doubts disturbed us.

It was this lurking doubt that things might not end well that prompted a conversation with his fellow wounded friend ‘Frasza’ about his long term girlfriend Lili:

Several days later we were both making good progress. I had even been able to walk with Lili’s assistance to the PKO for my arm to be X-rayed. When I returned, and Lili had gone back to the Post Office, ‘Frasza’ asked me, “I’ve watched you two for some time. You’re both obviously very much in love, why don’t you get married?”

“Yes, I love Lili and she loves me,” I answered. “We talked about getting married many times during the last weeks, but it just wasn’t a very practical thing to do in these difficult times. We plan to as soon as this is all over – if we both survive.”
He asked, “Why don’t you do it now?”
“How could it be done?” I responded.
“I will ask the Battalion Adjutant.”

He proceeded to write a note which he sent with one of the couriers. Early the following afternoon a messenger brought him a note. He read it, smiled and said, “The arrangements have been made, your wedding will be tomorrow morning in the paper shop upstairs. I have sent a messenger to Lili to tell her!”

Rysia Vitali, the doctor’s wife and constant assistant, made arrangements to get me a suitable uniform for the ceremony. Lili was in a stage of shock when she received the totally unexpected message, but her friends rallied to help her, gave her a clean blouse and skirt. My father came by visit me (his office in the Government Secretariat was only a few blocks away on Mazowiecka Street). When I told him the news he was vehemently opposed.

He said, “This a ridiculous thing to do, you have no home, no job, no way of supporting a family …” and more in the same vein. All the usual parental objections.

Patiently, I explained, “Dad, you know that we’ve been in love for years. Tomorrow we might all be dead, so all the old rules don’t mean anything. At least we’ll be together as long as we can. Perhaps we’ll survive somehow, let’s hope and pray we do. Then we’ll figure things out together.”

He went away quite angry, but after reflection he realized that I was right. In the morning, he came to the ceremony and gave us his blessing.

Thirteen was still lucky for me. That was the date of our wedding day – August 13. A field altar was set up on bales of paper in the store upstairs. The borrowed uniform was pushed and pulled onto me over the plaster dressing of my left arm. Finally, I was ready just as Lili arrived with an honor guard composed of six of her girls, holding a bouquet of rather wilted gladiolus in her hand. An attack on our positions had occurred that morning so none of my colleagues, not even the best man, Stas Nestrypke, could come to the ceremony.

However, the Propaganda Section, which was quartered in the night club Adria, just across the street, sent over a film unit. The entire ceremony was filmed, to the annoyance of the Battalion Chaplain, who disliked the bright lights and noise. Lili saw the whole film, two days after the ceremony, in the Cinema Palladium, which at that time was still operating. […]

Bill and Lili's wedding was filmed by a Polish Propaganda unit and featured in Allied publicity about the Uprising.
Bill and Lili’s wedding was filmed by a Polish Propaganda unit and featured in Allied publicity about the Uprising.

[…] We exchanged wedding rings, not gold but brass curtain rings. After the brief ceremony the Chaplain wrote up the marriage certificate using our assumed names of ‘Pałąk’ and ‘Jarmuz’. My father had the presence of mind to say that the time of secrecy had passed, the document must be in our real names, otherwise later on we would have serious problems proving we were legally married. A new document was typed up and signed by Chaplain ‘Corda’2. Then, all the participants and the other patients enjoyed a wedding breakfast composed of French sardines and paté on biscuits captured from the stores of the German garrison in the Post Office. The obligatory toasts were made in vodka.

The attack had been beaten back. Lili and I ducked behind the barricades, which were under constant sniper fire, to the Company command post, where another party had been prepared in the luxurious suite of the (pre-war) chief postmaster. More toasts were drunk, then we ducked back past the barricades to the hospital.

My bed was already in use! “Biega, if you are well enough to get married, we don’t have room for you! We need your bed for the more seriously wounded.”

Once more we returned past the barricades, with our heads low to avoid sniper fire, to the Post Office. We spent our wedding night on the floor of the ante-chamber to the office of the chief postmaster. Our nuptial bed was a mattress on the floor. We did not have much privacy; all night long, messengers tiptoed past our bed into the suite which was the company command post, but this did not bother us. I was in pain so I did not feel very amorous and we contented ourselves by cuddling together, shortly we fell into an exhausted sleep.

See Bill C Biega: Thirteen is My Lucky Number: The Dramatic True Story of a Polish Resistance Fighter. His website Bill Biega has further extracts from the memoir, much more about his subsequent life in Britain and the USA and a section on the Polish Home Army.

Home Army soldier armed with Błyskawica submachine gun defending a barricade in Powiśle District of Warsaw during the Uprising, August 1944
Home Army soldier armed with Błyskawica submachine gun defending a barricade in Powiśle District of Warsaw during the Uprising, August 1944

Warsaw insurrection becomes a popular Uprising


2 August 1944: Warsaw insurrection becomes a popular Uprising

On a much larger scale it reminded me of what I had seen with Mateczka during the siege of Lwow at the beginning of my war, almost five years earlier. We were becoming a fortress. Deep trenches were dug; pavements were torn up; abandoned tramcars were manhandled into place, then overturned to provide the framework that could be filled with enough earth and rubble to stop a Tiger tank.

Polish civilians preparing sand bags in the courtyard of townhouse at Moniuszki street. August 1944
Polish civilians preparing sand bags in the courtyard of townhouse at Moniuszki street. August 1944

In Warsaw the opening shots in a planned military revolt had been fired by the underground Polish Home Army on the 1st August. The Germans had been about to order tens of thousands of ordinary citizens to report for working parties – it was intended to march them to the outskirts of the city to build anti-tank ditches. Such a move would now prove impossible, the residents of Warsaw had endured much over the past five years and many now sought their opportunity for revenge as well.

Andrew Borowiec was a fifteen year member of the Polish Home Army who had been involved in the opening skirmishes of the battle. After months practicing with stones in the forests outside Warsaw he suddenly found himself throwing his first grenade at German soldiers that evening. He describes how the military insurrection quickly became a popular Uprising and how the Poles attempted, at first, to fight a battle within the ‘rules of war’:

In the morning we awoke from rough slumber to discover that it was raining slightly, and the citizens of Warsaw had hijacked our Uprising. Their enthusiasm for it was unquestionable.

However badly we had started, there was obviously no going back. The civilians had realized that we controlled the largest part of the city, and during the night they had come on to the streets to ask our sentries where they should build the barricades to defend it.

On a much larger scale it reminded me of what I had seen with Mateczka during the siege of Lwow at the beginning of my war, almost five years earlier. We were becoming a fortress. Deep trenches were dug; pavements were torn up; abandoned tramcars were manhandled into place, then overturned to provide the framework that could be filled with enough earth and rubble to stop a Tiger tank.

Platoon 101 was ordered to help them. And as we worked we had music. Technicians from our propaganda department had been repairing the street loudspeaker system that the Nazis had attached to lamp posts, trees and balconies to tell us their lies, issue their ultimatums and announce their barbaric reprisals.

It had been slightly damaged in the fighting but now suddenly burst into song, and we stood stock still, throats constricting, eyes moistening. For the first time in almost five years we were listening to a public broadcast of our national anthem ‘Jeszcze Polska Nie Zginela‘ — ‘Poland Is Not Yet Lost’.

Later in the day there was another treat. Bor used the system to address his soldiers. ‘After nearly five years of continuous and difficult underground struggle,’ he told us, ‘you now stand openly, weapons in hand, ready to restore freedom to our country and punish the German criminals for the terror atrocities committed on Polish soil.’

Platoon 1O1, not for the moment having any weapons at hand, got on with building barricades. There was almost a holiday mood. Polish flags were unfurled, girls kissed front-line troops in their newly acquired leopard-spotted camouflage, housewives brought glasses of cold tea, bakers offered bread.

And all the time the news got better. We had captured the Powisle Power Station on the west bank of the Vistula, and thus ensured that we had the electricity we needed to run our hospitals and arms factories. This was despite a recent strengthening of its defences when SS-Polizei reinforcements had brought the strength of its garrison up to about a hundred.

But twenty-three of the Polish workers at the plant belonged to us and had smuggled in weapons and explosives. They announced W-Hour by exploding a large bomb beneath the guards’ living quarters while, at the same time, their sentry posts came under heavy fire from outside. The surviving SS-Polizei barricaded themselves in.

A fierce fight ensued, in which about twenty men were killed on each side. It ended at noon the next day when seventy-eight Germans, some of them technicians, came out with their hands up.

From the outset the Home Army had decided that, instead of paying the Germans back in kind, we would uphold the Geneva Convention, to which Poland was a signatory, and take prisoners.

Apart from ethical and propaganda considerations there were good tactical reasons for this. The most obvious one was that soldiers who knew their lives would be spared were more likely to surrender a hopeless position and make our victories less costly. Another reason was that it might encourage the enemy to take prisoners too, if only so that exchanges could be arranged.

Even so, as far as most of the Home Army were concerned, this applied only to the ordinary soldiers of the Wehrmacht. Whether or not an SS man was busy in the Totenkopfverbande [SS Death’s-Head Units – responsible for the concentration camps], breaking records in human suffering, or engaged in more military pursuits was immaterial: they were all shot. A private and deadly cycle of daring assassination followed by cold-blooded reprisal had been going on between the SS and the Polish underground for so long now, they knew what to expect.

And yet, at the Powisle Power Station the SS-Polizei — who, in many ways, were the backbone of Nazi counter-insurgency operations against eastern European partisans — had chosen to surrender rather than fight to the death, and their surrender had been accepted. Were we being magnanimous in victory? .

See Warsaw Boy: A Memoir of a Wartime Childhood.

The Polish Home Army breaks into the open


1 August 1944: The Polish Home Army breaks into the open

At the corner of Franciscan and Nowiniarska Streets, I saw a small hunchback holding a sub-machine gun and firing steadily at the German file of cars. The bullets bounded off the ghetto walls. When he saw me, he held out the machine gun and said, “Citizen, you fire a salvo. It is high time you had a go.”

Patrol of Lieut. Stanisław Jankowski ("Agaton") from Batalion Pięść, 1 August 1944: "W-hour" (17:00)
Patrol of Lieut. Stanisław Jankowski (“Agaton”) from Batalion Pięść, 1 August 1944: “W-hour” (17:00)

As the Red Army marched into Poland from the east, putting the Germans on readiness for retreat everywhere, it seemed that the long agony that the country had endured since September 1939 must soon be at an end.

There were tense deliberations with the underground Home Army about how soon they should join the attack. Many were eager to begin the final battle with the Germans and demonstrate that Poland had not been completely cowed by the occupation. Others, knowing how weakly armed the Army was compared with Wehrmacht were more cautious.

It was over a year since the Jewish uprising in Warsaw had ended badly. Now it seemed that the Red Army could only be a week or more away, it was time for Poles to get their vengeance in first.

Like many others in the city Michael Zylberberg, a jewish survivor living a precarious existence in Warsaw, sensed that something was at hand:

I stepped out to find Krakowskie Przedmiescie Street in a turmoil. Crowds were milling around, all on the run. German police and soldiers were lined up in front of the government buildings, guns in hands. I did not hurry; I simply wondered where to go. Perhaps the best thing would be to go back to Mokotow and stay with my Polish police neighbour. He was afraid and so was I. We had that in common, at least.

I got as far as Krolewska Street but could get no further. I was in the front line and there was shooting on all sides. German soldiers were lying on the pavements, firing up at buildings that had been taken over by the Polish fighters. All the houses and shops were tightly shuttered and I just stood there with nowhere to hide. To walk on to Mokotow was out of the question. I had to try to get back to the Old City.

There at least I had an old friend, Ignacy Pulawski. Now I could return to him without being afraid of informers. Bent double, I ran through Pilsudzki Square, rechristened Hitler Square. It was lined with armed Germans. Apart from myself there was no other civilian to be seen. The Germans smiled at my distress.

In Senatorska Street, hard by Dr. Fischer’s residence, a motor bicycle drew up with two Germans. Suddenly, Poles appeared in all doorways and hurled grenades. The cycle and the two Germans were blown to pieces.

It was about five o’clock, zero hour according to my informant in the restaurant. I got to Nowiniarska Street, and saw columns of German cars driving along by the walls of the Warsaw ghetto. They were being shot at from various side streets but offered no return-fire.

At the corner of Franciscan and Nowiniarska Streets, I saw a small hunchback holding a sub-machine gun and firing steadily at the German file of cars. The bullets bounded off the ghetto walls. When he saw me, he held out the machine gun and said, “Citizen, you fire a salvo. It is high time you had a go.”

I wondered what he meant; did he really know who I was? I gladly fired a round of bullets, however. I felt that I had been accorded the greatest honour possible.

Standing in front of Pulawski’s shop at 88, Nowiniarska Street, I saw a young man of about twenty in civilian clothes with the Polish national emblem, an eagle, on his hat. He held a revolver. He stopped beside me and said, saluting, “Sir, the arsenal is at your disposal.” At first I was bewildered, but quickly realised that he thought I was Pulawski. The shop next door sold stationery but I had noted that it was open only one day in three.

Pulawski had told me confidentially that in the cellar below the stationer’s there was a secret arsenal. Now I understood. The young man was in a hurry to join his unit, and so was handing it over, to Pulawski as he thought. I smiled and took over the arsenal.

Joyfully I went into Pulawski’s office and told him the news.

All was gay and happy at Pulawski’s, as if it were all over. A group of Polish friends were toasting the day’s events in vodka. I thought it was premature but was afraid of showing my fears, and said nothing of what I had seen and done in the last few hours.

Pulawski welcomed me with open arms. He was delighted to see me and have me with him. We stayed together for a month, and I relived some experiences that reminded me vividly of my last days in the ghetto.

After the first night there, everyone quickly realised that the end was still a long way off. A German tank came down the street, stopped at the corner of Franciscan and Nowiniarska Streets, and proceeded to fire at all the houses. The bombardment was fierce and marked the beginning of a new battle that was to continue for over two months.

See A Warsaw Diary (Library of Holocaust Testimonies)

See Julian Engeniusz Kulski: Dying, we live: The personal chronicle of a young freedom fighter in Warsaw (1939-1945). For more on Julian Kulski see Warsaw Uprising.

RAF pilot lies low with the French


27 July 1944: RAF pilot lies low with the French

To my great satisfaction, they got their wish. Four miles down the road, this two wagon convoy was strafed by Spitfires and the vehicles were turned into wizard flamers. The two drivers, however, escaped since they abandoned their lorries at the first sign of the Spitfires. This incident was seen by several Frenchmen, who expressed their pleasure later that evening.

An RAF Typhoon landing at a forward airstrip, as supply lorries pass in the foreground, 26 July 1944.
An RAF Typhoon landing at a forward airstrip, as supply lorries pass in the foreground, 26 July 1944.
A French family returns to their village, Buron, near Caen, which was completely wrecked during the fighting, Normandy, 18 July 1944.
A French family returns to their village, Buron, near Caen, which was completely wrecked during the fighting, Normandy, 18 July 1944.

RAF Typhoon Pilot Frank ‘Dutch’ Holland had had the misfortune to be shot down on 7th June whilst over Normandy. He had gone on the run to evade capture and had been helped by the French.

Eventually he had moved to a farmhouse and adopted the identity of a French farm labourer, complete with false papers, assisted by his ability to speak French. He was therefore in a unique position to see the German occupation of France:

Throughout most of July, we were at most only 30 miles from the front and you could often hear the artillery further north. Also, of course, there were frequent overflights by British and American aircraft and German ones. Overall it was clear that the Allies had primary control over the skies, even if they didn’t on the ground.

There were, however, a number of dogfights that we saw. But only once did I see one of our aircraft shot down. The fights usually ended with the Huns as the losers, either shot down or fleeing. When I saw one of these kills, I had to restrain myself and never show my feelings about it, certainly not shout anything, as I had outside my barn in Lion d’Or, since there were often German soldiers around witnessing the same events.

But I silently rejoiced every time an enemy plane was shot down. In the Lair household, we kept up with the news by means of an old crystal set hidden in the chimney, which we took out from its hiding place and listened to at least once every day, usually at night, around the kitchen table. The sound was fairly terrible — you literally had to bring two crystals together to get the transmission — but it was good enough to get the gist of what was happening in the war.

It was on this radio set that I first heard about “doodle-bugs” being used to bomb London. The French term was “avion sans pilote”. Hearing about these reminded me immediately of course about our earlier attacks on the V1 installations. Using this set, however, was not without risk because of the German soldiers who were camped out in the village.

They all felt free to enter the house without much more than a quick knock, or not even that, to ask for an egg to be cooked or the like. If any of them had caught us listening to the crystal set, the least that would have happened would have been confiscation of the radio. But there might have been punishment of some kind as well. Still, we were never caught.

So, it was the secret broadcasts that were our main source of news from the front. And it continued to be disappointing. Progress was being made on the Cotentin peninsula and the fighting around Cherbourg, mostly involving American troops, was pretty fierce before the Allies broke through enemy lines. The Germans were clearly fighting back strongly, especially around Caen. It was apparent, four and more weeks after the start of the invasion, that Normandy was not being taken by the Allies in a walk, not by a long shot.

Patton’s army had come south from the Cotentin peninsula and was now coming around the back of Caen, as it were. But the city was still held by the enemy and the progress of the American and British forces seemed agonisingly slow. Yet, it was also clear that the Germans were taking some heavy punishment and that this was beginning to take its toll on their morale.

One day, two Germans, driving two large wagons, stopped in front of the farmhouse, got out and demanded cider and eggs. André questioned them and learned that one lorry was filled with ammunition, the other with petrol. They were taking both of these loads to the front at Caen. They admitted that they didn’t like doing this job in the daylight because they felt they were sitting ducks for the “Tommies” of the RAF. (To many of the Germans, all British servicemen were “Tommies”, not just those serving in the Army.)

In fact, they said they would rather have the Tommies machine-gun their trucks from the air well before they got to the front rather than at the front, where the fighting was so intense. In a way, I was surprised to hear this from them, that they would be so candid about their fears to French civilians (plus one Brit in Frenchman’s clothing!) in occupied France. In telling us this, did they really think we would be sympathetic to their plight? Or were they just getting it off their chests, thinking that it didn’t matter really what we thought. (Probably the latter.) Of course, we tried to look poker- faced at this, and certainly didn’t say anything unsympathetic. But in incidents like these, you could get a glimpse of German morale beginning to crack.

To my great satisfaction, they got their wish. Four miles down the road, this two wagon convoy was strafed by Spitfires and the vehicles were turned into wizard flamers. The two drivers, however, escaped since they abandoned their lorries at the first sign of the Spitfires. This incident was seen by several Frenchmen, who expressed their pleasure later that evening.

In fact, the German fear of strafing of their vehicles was quite general. Many of the vehicles had a soldier stationed on the running board, whose job was to look out for approaching British or American aircraft. If any were spotted before the aircraft saw them, the lookout would immediately tell the driver and he would quickly try to conceal his vehicle.

See D-Day Plus One: Shot Down and on the Run in France

Prime Minister Winston Churchill and General Sir Bernard Montgomery gather with troops in Caen on 22 July 1944 who took part in the D-Day landings.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill and General Sir Bernard Montgomery gather with troops in Caen on 22 July 1944 who took part in the D-Day landings.
German prisoners being issued with rations, 26 July 1944
German prisoners being issued with rations, 26 July 1944

Polish partisans watch the German retreat


22 July 1944: Polish partisans watch the German retreat

It took hours for the tank columns to pass our positions. Our men later said that some of the Germans riding on the tanks must have spotted us, but just looked the other way. To this day, I can’t imagine how we managed to keep cool in a situation like this, when we could all have been killed and our only defense was in lying low and waiting it out. We had become a tightly disciplined group. Nobody made a false move. About half an hour after the last tank passed, we heard a huge explosion and saw flames and smoke maybe a thousand feet behind us. We later learned that one of the German tanks had broken down; the Germans blew it up, not wanting to leave it behind for the Russians.

A German anti-partisan operation earlier in 1943.
A German anti-partisan operation earlier in 1943.
Military police in 'Partisan territory'.
Military police in ‘Partisan territory’.

The great forests of eastern Poland and western Ukraine had been contested territory for much of the war. It was here that groups of ‘partisans’ with different allegiances sought to evade the German occupation. Here there were nationalist groups, communist groups, a few jewish groups and not a few opportunists. Later as more weapons became available they took the fight to the Germans. The Germans met this threat to their rear with huge armed sweeps through the area and savage reprisals against the local villagers who were simply assumed to be supporting the partisans, which was not always true.

By late July 1944 the forests had become crowded places with more and more people fleeing, both to avoid the repercussions of the German collapse, and also to join in the insurrection that was expected as the Soviet forces approached. Frank Blaichman, a leader of a Jewish partisan group, describes these final days:

At around 10 a.m., our lookouts on top of the windmill reported seeing four Germans on horseback approaching the village. We woke everyone up and told them to go into the fields where there was good cover and to trench in and take up defensive positions.

An hour later, we heard a low rumble, like thunder. The ground began to tremble. Through my binoculars I saw a column of German tanks coming straight toward us from the village. I was dug in alongside Gruber, Chiel, and Dworecki. We told our men to be ready, but not to open fire until ordered.

I saw the column turn left onto a field road that ran parallel to our position; the Germans were now only about a hundred yards from us. We became alarmed because it looked as though they were on their way to engage us in battle.

With our weapons and numbers, we could not possibly engage a column of tanks. My mind was racing: how could we escape? We sent out scouts behind our positions to find a way out. I looked through my binoculars again and saw that the Germans were not combat-ready; instead, they were sitting on top of their tanks.

At this moment, our scouts returned to report that all the roads behind us were filled with German trucks, tanks, and horse—drawn wagons moving west. They weren’t coming after us; they were trying to get away from the Russian Army as fast as they could.

What I was looking at was the Nazi war machine in retreat. We could not move. There was nowhere to go. Hiding in the fields, trenched in, we heard the decisive battles for our area. The forest was full of Russian partisans. When they saw the Germans moving out on all the roads, they called on their air force to bomb and strafe the columns.

When the Germans tried to take cover in the forest, the partisans cut them down with their heavy machine guns. Then the Germans called in the Luftwaffe, and we watched the dogfights above the forest off to the east.

It took hours for the tank columns to pass our positions. Our men later said that some of the Germans riding on the tanks must have spotted us, but just looked the other way. To this day, I can’t imagine how we managed to keep cool in a situation like this, when we could all have been killed and our only defense was in lying low and waiting it out. We had become a tightly disciplined group. Nobody made a false move.

About half an hour after the last tank passed, we heard a huge explosion and saw flames and smoke maybe a thousand feet behind us. We later learned that one of the German tanks had broken down; the Germans blew it up, not wanting to leave it behind for the Russians.

When night fell, the roads were still crowded with thousands upon thousands of German foot soldiers riding on trucks, wagons, and horses. It was this congestion that had forced the tanks to take to the smaller roads through fields and forests.

We had not eaten since the previous day. The tension was wearing on us. We began to move out from our positions through the high grasses and swamps on the margins of a meadow, trying to find a break in the German encirclement.

See Rather Die Fighting: A Memoir of World War II

A group of suspected Partisans are led off by German troops in 1942.
A group of suspected Partisans are led off by German troops in 1942.
The results of an anti partisan operation earlier in 1943. Such exhibitions were intended to have a deterrent effect.
The results of an anti partisan operation earlier in 1943. Such exhibitions were intended to have a deterrent effect.

A dangerous act of defiance in Poland


3 May 1944: A dangerous act of defiance in Poland

The door was closed behind me, and I approached the organist who was just ending one of the melodies specially intended for the May service. While the organ sheltered me from the sight of the congregation, I again showed my pistol and asked the organist in honor of our great day to play the hymn “God, Who Hath Poland Saved,” which had been our national hymn since the Uprising of 1830.

An Avro Lancaster of No. 300 Polish Bomber Squadron RAF flying over the smoke-covered target area during a daylight attack on the oil refinery and storage depot of Deutsche Vacuum AG at Bremen, Germany, by 133 Lancasters of No. 1 Group and 6 De Havilland Mosquitos of No. 8 Group.
An Avro Lancaster of No. 300 Polish Bomber Squadron RAF flying over the smoke-covered target area during a daylight attack on the oil refinery and storage depot of Deutsche Vacuum AG at Bremen, Germany, by 133 Lancasters of No. 1 Group and 6 De Havilland Mosquitos of No. 8 Group.
Troops of the 1st Polish Corps man an armoured train on a line at North Berwick in Scotland. The train was armed with a 6-pdr gun, two Boys anti-tank rifles and six Bren guns.
Troops of the 1st Polish Corps man an armoured train on a line at North Berwick in Scotland. The train was armed with a 6-pdr gun, two Boys anti-tank rifles and six Bren guns.

It had been a long and bitter war for Poland. Its Jewish population had been all but destroyed while ordinary Poles endured all manner of persecution under the German occupation. The Polish Armed forces had suffered at the hands of Stalin. Those that had escaped to Britain had played a prominent part in the fighting from the very beginning, in Norway and in the Battle of Britain. Polish troops now found themselves in the middle of the struggle for Cassino, while many more were in Britain awaiting D-Day.

In Poland hopes were being raised as the Red Army approached from the east. The Polish underground was becoming more active and was preparing to break out into open warfare with Germans when the time was right.

It was not just resentment of the Germans that drove them but a deep patriotism. Among the many young men involved was 16 year old Julian Kulski, whose youth perhaps made him a little reckless. The 3rd of May was the Polish National Day and he wanted to mark it appropriately:

The Germans have marked the day by placing three times as many police patrols as usual on the streets, filling the city streets with open trucks loaded with SS police, and installing machine-gun emplacements in front of every German military building. The Germans are more jittery now because of the huge Russian offensive opening up on the Eastern Front.

Even on this special day the Germans will not permit people to attend the May Mass in church after curfew in the evening. This service is held throughout the month in honor of the Virgin Mary, but has to take place before the curfew hour. Moreover, both the singing of patriotic hymns in church and the preaching of sermons making reference to politics are strictly forbidden.

This afteroon I decided to attend the service. Saint Stanislaw Kostka Church in Zoliborz was crowded. Shafts of mellow sunlight fell from its tall, narrow windows onto the people below. The sheltered archways were banked with red and white flowers, and soft candlelight cast flickering shadows on the white walls.

I went straight up to the top gallery, which was also full, and stood by the door leading to the organ loft. I had decided that it would be grand if one of the oldest Polish melodies could be played during the holiday service.

So, near the end of the service I knocked on the door, and after a while the violinist opened it and asked what I wanted. I showed him that I had a pistol under my jacket. The pistol was not loaded, of course, and I wouldn’t have used it here anyway, but I hoped he wouldn’t know this.

I was let in at once. The door was closed behind me, and I approached the organist who was just ending one of the melodies specially intended for the May service. While the organ sheltered me from the sight of the congregation, I again showed my pistol and asked the organist in honor of our great day to play the hymn “God, Who Hath Poland Saved,” which had been our national hymn since the Uprising of 1830.

Neither my words nor my pistol would persuade the organist. He said he could not do it, for if he did, the priest and he and all his family would be executed. While talking to me he did not stop playing.

I explained to the organist that he would have witnesses — the violinist and the vocalist — to the fact that he had had to play the hymn at gunpoint. To my delight, when he had finished the one he was playing, he struck the chords of our national hymn, and to everyone’s surprise and joy we heard the stanzas of the melody that touches the heart of every Pole.

They were all so taken aback that nobody even moved. The people in the gallery were the first to begin singing, and they were soon followed by everyone else. The whole church then reverberated with the melody and words of the hymn:

God, who held Poland for so many ages,
In Your protection, glory, and great power;
Who gave Your wisdom to her bards and sages,
And gave Your own shield as her rightful dower.
Before Your altars, we in supplication
Kneeling, implore You, free our land and nation.
Bring back to Poland ancient mights and splendor,
And fruitful blessings bring to fields and meadows;
Be once again our Father, just, tender,
Deliver us from our dire shadows.

As the chorus repeated the refrain, the church was filled with the heartrending phrase:

Before Your altars, we in supplication
Kneeling, implore You, free our land and nation.

I did not wait any longer. I vanished from the church into the twilight, the last emotional words of the hymm resounding in my ears.

The people realized, of course, what might happen to them. In five minutes not a living soul remained in the church.

See Julian Engeniusz Kulski: Dying, we live: The personal chronicle of a young freedom fighter in Warsaw (1939-1945). For more on Julian Kulski see Warsaw Uprising.

Gun drill on a BL 4.7 inch /45 naval gun on board the Polish destroyer ORP Piorun, formerly HMS Nerissa. She was handed over to the Polish Navy by the British government to replace ORP Grom another Polish destroyer which was bombed and sunk off Norway.
Gun drill on a BL 4.7 inch /45 naval gun on board the Polish destroyer ORP Piorun, formerly HMS Nerissa. She was handed over to the Polish Navy by the British government to replace ORP Grom another Polish destroyer which was bombed and sunk off Norway.
A group of pilots of No. 303 Polish Fighter Squadron walking toward the camera from a Hawker Hurricane after, purportedly, returning from a fighter sortie. Left to right, in the front row are; Pilot Officer Mirosław Ferić; Flight Lieutenant John A Kent (Commander of 'A' Flight); Flying Officer Bogdan Grzeszczak; Pilot Officer Jerzy Radomski; Pilot Officer Witold Łokuciewski; Pilot Officer Bogusław Mierzwa (obscured by Łokuciewski); Flying Officer Zdzisław Henneberg; Sergeant Jan Rogowski; and Sergeant Eugeniusz Szaposznikow. In the centre, to the rear of this group, wearing helmet and goggles is Pilot Officer Jan Zumbach.
A group of pilots of No. 303 Polish Fighter Squadron walking toward the camera from a Hawker Hurricane after, purportedly, returning from a fighter sortie. Left to right, in the front row are; Pilot Officer Mirosław Ferić; Flight Lieutenant John A Kent (Commander of ‘A’ Flight); Flying Officer Bogdan Grzeszczak; Pilot Officer Jerzy Radomski; Pilot Officer Witold Łokuciewski; Pilot Officer Bogusław Mierzwa (obscured by Łokuciewski); Flying Officer Zdzisław Henneberg; Sergeant Jan Rogowski; and Sergeant Eugeniusz Szaposznikow. In the centre, to the rear of this group, wearing helmet and goggles is Pilot Officer Jan Zumbach.

Death of an innocent man in Italy


26 April 1944: Death of an innocent man in Italy

I drive in to Chianciano, to try and make arrangements for the funeral — and find the streets entirely empty, and on the walls a notice stating that, while the German authorities deplore what had occurred, they consider it to be the fault of the local population, owing to their unco-operativeness and general hostility. In consequence, there will be a curfew at eight-thirty p.m., and the population is warned that any further attempt at sabotage will be followed by the arrest of ten hostages.

 Italian civilians taking refuge near air raid shelter wait to be fed and sheltered by Allied military government authorities.” African troops, possibly French colonial, can be seen supervising the crowd. Italy. 15 May 1944
Italian civilians taking refuge near air raid shelter wait to be fed and sheltered by Allied military government authorities.” African troops, possibly French colonial, can be seen supervising the crowd. Italy. 15 May 1944

As the stalemate continued in Italy the plight of the civilian population caught in the middle grew worse. In the areas occupied by the Allies they were heavily dependent on aid to prevent starvation.

In the Germans held areas there was much anxiety as the battle approached. Now the civilians were no longer allies of the Germans they were treated with the contempt by the occupying troops. Aggravating these circumstances was the fact that the puppet Italian government, still dominated by fascists, was much more likely to side with the Germans than the local population. They were in a hopeless position.

Still assiduously recording this state of affairs was Iris Origo, an English writer married to an Italian, who remained in Italy throughout the war, doing her best to provide some refuge for refugee children:

April 26th

A German officer comes up, and inspects the Castelluccio. Antonio points out (1) that it has already been reserved to store the goods of the hotel-keeper of Chianciano. (2) That there is insufficient water. (3) That there is no stabling. To which the German — a Prussian of the worst type —- merely replies that he will require the whole of the castle for his three hundred men, stabling for eight hundred horses in the farms, and quarters for his eight officers in our house. As to the refugee children, we must find lodgings for them ‘elsewhere’.

In the afternoon we hear that the man who was killed at Chianciano this morning was one of our workmen, Mencatelli – a quiet, peaceable, hardworking fellow, totally unconcerned with politics, whose murder seems to us inexplicable. His wife rings me up, and implores me to go down to her. I drive down, and find two German sentries barring the road. They let me pass, and, as my car drives up the empty street, terrified faces appear at the windows.

What new danger, they think, is coming now? In the dead man’s little house, which, after thirty years of hard work and self- denial, he had at last succeeded in owning, the widow is hysterically moaning and sobbing beside the bed of her boy of eleven, who saw his father killed. The child is in a queer state of coma, from which he awakes at intervals to a fit of shivering and sobbing, then sinks back again.

His mother and some other women continue moaning and crying, repeating the miserable story over and over again. It appears that, when the German and Fascist troops began to search the houses nearby, poor Mencatelli, terrified of being taken off to a labour camp, hid in his little attic. The boy, hearing that the attics in other houses were being searched, shouted to him to come down, but he was too panic-stricken to do so, and crouched there, in frozen terror, waiting.

Finally the soldiers, a German and a Fascist, came cramping up the stairs and, throwing aside the weeping woman and child, climbed up the attic ladder. As soon as they saw the defenceless little man crouching there, the Fascist fired, hitting him in the head. He was killed instantaneously, before the eyes of his wife and child. When I saw him, already laid in his bed, his head swathed in white bandages, and a few faded stocks scattered on his pillow, his tired, drawn face still had a look of terror.

Of all the Fascist crimes that I myself have seen this is the ugliest, meanest and most purposeless. But we are all guilty. ‘Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.’

I drive in to Chianciano, to try and make arrangements for the funeral — and find the streets entirely empty, and on the walls a notice stating that, while the German authorities deplore what had occurred, they consider it to be the fault of the local population, owing to their unco-operativeness and general hostility. In consequence, there will be a curfew at eight-thirty p.m., and the population is warned that any further attempt at sabotage will be followed by the arrest of ten hostages.

See Iris Origo: War in Val D’Orcia: An Italian War Diary, 1943-1944

Italian woman, like many other civilians, who are to be evacuated from the Nettuno battle area, is issued rations by Allied personnel while awaiting transportation to Naples.
Italian woman, like many other civilians, who are to be evacuated from the Nettuno battle area, is issued rations by Allied personnel while awaiting transportation to Naples.

Chaos as the Germans begin to depart eastern Poland


19 March 1944: Chaos as the Germans begin to depart eastern Poland

Some Poles are fearful of the time between the German pullout and the arrival of Russian troops or the Home Army because they think the Ukrainians will start a massacre. Overall there is a happy feeling here. The days of our slavery are now numbered. We see Germans escaping. This is the day we have been waiting for years to see.

Vinnytsia residents welcome Soviet soldiers-liberators. Vinnitsa city was under German occupation from July 21, 1941. Was released on March 20, 1944 the troops of the 38th Army of the 1st Ukrainian Front during Proskurovo-Chernovtsy operation.
Vinnytsia residents welcome Soviet soldiers-liberators. Vinnitsa city was under German occupation from July 21, 1941. Was released on March 20, 1944 the troops of the 38th Army of the 1st Ukrainian Front during Proskurovo-Chernovtsy operation.

The Red Army advance through the Ukraine was making rapid progress despite the muddy weather. Now they were approaching the borders with Poland. Here German ‘settlers’ who had taken over land and property in the area found themselves on the move again. It was less than three years since Poles had been evicted to make way for them.

In 1942, Zamość County, due to its fertile black soil, had been chosen for further German colonization in the General Government as part of Generalplan Ost. The town of Zamość itself was intended to become Himmlerstadt – Himmler Town. There would have been little room for the Poles. The Nazis planned to limit them to only an elementary education and use them as serfs.

In the town of Szczebrzeszyn the local hospital doctor Dr Klukowski was keeping an eye on events, recording them in his diary:

In Zamosc there is complete chaos. Here our Volksdeutscb and Stammdeutsch face a dilemma: What to do? To escape or stay? Where to go? How to provide for one’s self?

Some Poles are fearful of the time between the German pullout and the arrival of Russian troops or the Home Army because they think the Ukrainians will start a massacre.

Overall there is a happy feeling here. The days of our slavery are now numbered. We see Germans escaping. This is the day we have been waiting for years to see.

March 19

Since early morning the traffic in town has been heavy. From every direction horse-drawn wagons carrying German settlers have been arriving. Here in town Germans are looking for wagons and horses.

To save the hospital horses from being requisitioned, I had the hospital administrator take them to Brody, with the hope that his family can take care of them. But around 6 pm the Dorrfuhrer arrived requesting the horses for German physicians. When he learned that our horses were gone, he told me I had one hour to provide him with horses, otherwise I would be shot.

There was nothing else to do but bring the horses back and give them to the German physician. Now, another problem: who would drive the wagon and horses? Finally hospital foreman Gurski agreed to go. I told him I would pay 1,000 zloty if he would bring the horses back to the hospital.

Loaded wagons were staged on both sides of Zamojska Street and also in the marketplace. Yesterday the Germans were sure that they would go to Zamosc, but earlier today it appeared that Bilgoraj and Zwierzyniec would be their destination.

Now the situation has changed once again. The road to Zamosc and Lublin is cut off, as is the road to Bilgoraj. Mayor Kraus left town this morning, with his family, by train to either Lubaczow or Jaroslaw.

The Germans are burning the files at city hall. The local Volksdeutsch have not yet been ordered to move out. If they decide to escape on their own, they must supply horses and wagons. So far only a few have begun packing.

The Germans are selling their belongings, even cows and pigs, for very low prices. Our own people are busily buying. I am sure the Germans will not survive the road without big surprises.

Now they are to travel to Radom, and later to Lodz.

Today’s picture of German misery makes us all feel good. We have come to the day when we can see Germans escaping from Neue Deutsche Stadt Szczebrzeszyn (new German city of Szczebrzeszyn).

See Zygmunt Klukowski: Diary from the Years of Occupation.

Images courtesy Russian War Albums

Zamość is now a UNESCO world heritage site and well worth visiting if you ever get the chance. Fortunately it escaped the Nazi plans for general destruction under its ‘scorched earth’ retreat. Sadly few traces of the important Jewish community that once thrived there now remain.

Panzers abandoned in the town of Proskurov during the spring of 1944.
Panzers abandoned in the town of Proskurov during the spring of 1944.
Zamosc is a perfect example of a late-16th-century Renaissance town. It has retained its original layout and fortifications and a large number of buildings that combine Italian and central European architectural traditions. Now a UNESCO world heritage site, under the Nazis the Poles would have been evicted and replaced with German settler.
Zamosc is a perfect example of a late-16th-century Renaissance town. It has retained its original layout and fortifications and a large number of buildings that combine Italian and central European architectural traditions.
Now a UNESCO world heritage site, under the Nazis the Poles would have been evicted and replaced with German settlers.

Officer’s sacrifice as Japanese march towards India


15 March 1944: Officer’s sacrifice as Japanese march towards India

The Japanese then arrested 270 Karens and tortured and killed many of them but still they continued to support Major Seagrim. To end further suffering to the Karens, Seagrim surrendered himself to the Japanese on 15th March 1944. He was taken to Rangoon and together with eight others he was sentenced to death. He pleaded that the others were following his orders and as such they should be spared, but they were determined to die with him and were all executed.

The Campaign in North and Central Burma February 1944 - August 1945: A well armed patrol of American led Burmese guerillas crossing a river in central Burma.
The Campaign in North and Central Burma February 1944 – August 1945: A well armed patrol of American led Burmese guerillas crossing a river in central Burma.

Major Hugh Seagrim was the leader of a small group of officers, the Special Operations Executive’s Force 136, working behind the lines in Burma. He had been responsible for bringing the Burmese nationalist leader Aung San (father of Aung San Suu Kyi) into talks with the British military. In the jungle of Burma he worked with Karen tribesmen to resist the Japanese occupation, leading sabotage on Japanese communications. The work of Force 136 featured in the fictional ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’.

However the Japanese soon learnt that British officers were involved in these operations and set about hunting them down. The impact of the Japanese hunt on the local people led Major Seagrim to give himself up on 15th March 1944. He was to earn the highest award for bravery for an action not involving direct combat, the George Cross:

Awarded the George Cross for most conspicuous gallantry in carrying out hazardous work in a very brave manner. Major Seagrim was the leader of a party which included two other British and one Karen officer working in the Karen Hills of Burma. By the end of 1943 the Japanese had learned of this party who then commenced a campaign of arrests and torture to determine their whereabouts. In February 1944 the other two British officers were ambushed and killed but Major Seagrim and the Karen officer escaped.

The Japanese then arrested 270 Karens and tortured and killed many of them but still they continued to support Major Seagrim. To end further suffering to the Karens, Seagrim surrendered himself to the Japanese on 15th March 1944. He was taken to Rangoon and together with eight others he was sentenced to death. He pleaded that the others were following his orders and as such they should be spared, but they were determined to die with him and were all executed.

There can hardly be a finer example of self-sacrifice and bravery than that exhibited by this officer who in cold blood deliberately gave himself up to save others, knowing well what his fate was likely to be at the hands of the enemy.

Major Hugh Seagrim, awarded a posthumous GC.
Major Hugh Seagrim, awarded a posthumous GC.

His brother, Major Derek Seagrim, had been awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for his attack on the Mareth Line in Italy just a year before. There is a full account of the Seagrim brothers at britishmilitaryhistory.

Meanwhile the Japanese were marching in force on India. Lieutenant Walton of the Frontier Rifles was out on reconnaissance and was able to make this report on his observations from the banks of the River Chindwin on the 15th March:

At about 18.30 hours I saw men going north up the bank to collect boats, which were spaced at approximately twenty—yard intervals along the bank.They brought them down to the river.

These boats were approximately eight feet long and four feet wide with sharp prows. After darkness fell sections of six boats were brought together, lashed with bamboos and then lengths of decking placed on top.

Various sections were then joined together and one end fixed to the bank on the eastern side.The other end was allowed to swing with the current across the river until it hit the western bank, a distance of approximately 300 yards.

Almost immediately a number of men crossed the bridge with ammunition boxes and these were followed by bullocks, horses, ponies and more bullocks. The ponies were seen to be carrying what looked like dismantled mountain guns.These were followed by approximately 100 men carrying white and green boxes, and each man made at least two journeys.

This traffic continued to my knowledge until approximately 02.00 hours [on the 16th], and almost certainly until daylight. As daylight broke, a motor boat dragged the far end of the bridge up stream back to the far bank, where it was dismantled, the decking removed and the boats taken upstream and dispersed along the river bank. As soon as daylight came all noise and most movement ceased.

See Leslie Edwards: Kohima: The Furthest Battle.

This was the progress of the Japanese 132 Division, marching across Burma carrying all their own supplies through the jungles and over the mountains. The explosive last push of Japanese expansion was about to begin.

A view of the river after the British advance later in the year. A Bailey bridge over the Chindwin River near Kalewa, December 1944.
A view of the river after the British advance later in the year. A Bailey bridge over the Chindwin River near Kalewa, December 1944.