September 1, 2011

Warsaw Uprising 1944: September 1 - Warsaw Fights Alone and Abandoned

The battle for Warsaw has entered its second month. The Old Town sector has been abandoned but within its ruins German troops have been patrolling the area and executing any civilian survivors and wounded insurgents who were left behind in the hospitals. No one has been spared. At the start of the Uprising, it was Himmler's express order that German troops take no prisoners - that every Polish man, woman, and child be shot on sight for the purpose of teaching the rest of the world what the Reich is capable of doing. While Paris has been celebrating its' liberation Warsaw is being targeted for annihilation.

Evacuation continued today as hundreds of insurgents have traveled through the sewers through to City Centre Sector - a passage taking almost five hours. Insurgents have escaped the area and have emerged from a manhole situated on Nowy Swiat Street. After four weeks of heavy fighting insurgents refuse to surrender, and the death toll continues to rise every day.

Jerzy Zapadko
Jerzy Zapadko "Mirski", 2nd Lt. and Commander of the "Radoslow" regiment recounted the events of the evacuation in horrifying detail. Zapadko and his men were among the last to evacuate the Mokotow area after many others had escaped or surrendered to the enemy. As darkness fell, nerves were frayed as Zapadko and his battalion, code named "Parasol" were supposed to act as rear guard. At precisely 9:00 pm they left their positions and cautiously made their way towards the designated manhole at the intersection of Pulawska and Szustra Streets. Unexpectedly they came across several elderly civilians who had been standing there waiting for help. For the longest time, the insurgents slowly lowered them into the sewer one at a time. Finally they all descended and in pitch darkness made their way through the sewers, trudging in the oozing stinking muck, and holding on to one another for fear of losing contact. After about an hour and a half the line came to a abrupt halt and Zapadko sent a message forward. An answer came back - the Germans had set up barbed wire in the main sewer.

In an effort to re-gain their bearings, one of the soldiers struck a match, but the flame was immediately extinguished. A second strike, and again the flame went out. The third time, again. The lack of oxygen made it impossible to sustain a light. Despite the desperate situation, Zapadko and his men rested for what seemed like a long time. He had a loaf of bread inside his jacket and after wiping the sludge off his hands with a handkerchief, took the bread, cut it into slices and passed them up the line to his soldiers. His hunger obliterated any feelings of revulsion. After much time the line was still not moving and having sent another message up the line, they waited for an answer. None came, so Zapadko gave the order for his men to advance. When they arrived at the wide main storm sewer, it was apparent what was holding up the line. The Germans had seeded the sewer system with carbide grains which exuded poisonous gas when wet. Ahead of the line were several old people who had succumbed to the fumes and had passed out or were begging for help. The attempt to rescue them severely impacted any progress because with every step, the water was deeper, the atmosphere more putrid and their charges heavier.

As the made their way forward, Zapadko stepped on something soft and to his horror discovered a second, third and more bodies underwater, some of whom were still moving. He froze in terror and for a moment did not know what to do. Save them and die buried underneath the sludge? Because of the lack of oxygen and the gaseous vapour, their strength was waning. Two members of his battalion had fainted. That was it. His order was to move on.

Map of the Sewer Network used by Insurgents travelling from Old Town to Srodmiescie

Emblem of the Parasol Battalion
For the next several hundred yards it was sheer terror as Zapadko and his troops had to literally climb over a mass of slithering bodies some of whom were still alive and were grasping at his feet and clothes. When they finally reached the first barricade the going was much easier getting to the second barricade. There were fewer obstacles and the water was not as deep. At the next barricade there was some light seeping through the manhole cover; it meant that German troops were there. In complete silence, Zapadko and his troops found the cuts in the barbed wire (that had been made previously by his men), and lifting the wire each person swam through one at a time.

Past the point of exhaustion they had to plow forward not knowing where the branch sewer was that would lead them to Centre City sector. It caused a panic. Despite Zapadkos' commands, the line broke up. On the way they encountered insurgents from other battalions who were lost and were going to and fro not being able to find a way out. More than one succumbed to hysterical screaming that there was no more oxygen.

Zapadko had almost fainted but at that moment a stream of fresh air hit his face. That meant that there was an opening somewhere along the sewer wall. When he turned on his flashlight its faint glow just barely illuminated a chalked sign on the wall - the large letter "S" indicating the exit to City Centre. He ordered everyone to rally around him but several people pressed on ahead. They were quickly stopped by soldiers of the Parasol Battalion however Zapadko's wife, Scarlet was missing. Within moments several insurgents returned including Scarlet - their presence announced by the sound of loud splashing. They had investigated the opening and upon lifting the manhole cover on Zagoma Street one of them saw a German guard standing right there, grabbed him by the boots and both tumbled down into the sewer. The German did not survive the fall and died in the water. None of the other German guards did anything though the Poles could hear them shouting and cursing.

Manhole cover on Miodowa Street Warsaw
Zapadko sent a man ahead to scout the area who eventually returned with a liaision man from City Centre. They proceeded to crawl the remaining distance on hands and knees through the horrible stinking muck, and upon reaching the manhole climbed a ladder to come within reach of the manhole, and shimmed up a rope the rest of the way.

When they emerged on Ujazdowa Blvd,the sunshine was bright and blinded them. It was 2:00 pm They had spent 16 hours traveling through the sewers. Zapadko is 20 years old.

Churchill met with Polish PM Mikolajczyk today and had little comfort to offer him. Mikolajczyk stated that Churchill told him that he was prepared to propose a "political settlement" with the Stalin-backed Lublin Committee and offered Mikolajczyk 14 seats in a combined government. These conditions were hotly debated by the Polish Government in Exile as well as by the Delegatura of the Polish Underground in Warsaw but the Soviet proposal was accepted unanimously. (Some of those who took part in these decisions were tried a year later before a Soviet court in Moscow.)  

General Kazimerz Sosnkowski
Polish Commander in Chief General Sosnkowski has issued an order to the soldiers of the Armia Krajowa (Polish Home Army). In his order No. 19, Sosnkowski openly blamed the British for their insufficient assistance to the Warsaw insurgents. He stated that Poland, with British encouragement, had undertaken a solitary struggle against German might during the invasion of Poland of 1939 and that exiled Polish armed forces had fought beside their allies throughout the past five years at sea, on land, and in the air - whenever and wherever the German threat existed. Now that the people of Warsaw are desperate for Allied assistance, they have been left to fight the Germans “alone and abandoned”. In his message to the Allies General Sosnkowski had this to say:  

 “Warsaw is waiting. Not for empty words of recognition, not for words of appreciation, not for assurances of compassion and solitude. Warsaw waits for weapons and ammunition. Warsaw does not beg, like an impoverished member of a family, for crumbs off the table, but demands the means to fight, in recognition of the duties of the Allies and our agreement with them......For the past five years the Armia Krajowa has been systematically charged with passivity and feigned fighting against the Germans. Today, the Armia Krajowa is being blamed for fighting too intensely and too well. Perfidy, and lies. I know it, I know it, I know it too well. Signed PCC Sosnkowski."  

Throughout the day German troops in Old Town launched a continuous barrage of assaults on insurgent positions. It was particularly heaviest between the hours of 5:00 and 6:00 pm when German tanks began to fire at point blank range. During the battle for one building over 100 Germans were killed but the death toll for AK soldiers was just as high. One AK barricade was stormed by 7 German tanks. There were onslaughts in all directions as German troops are trying desperately to quash the Uprising.  


No comments:

Post a Comment