September 23, 2011

Warsaw Uprising 1944: September 23 Nazi SS Execute Over 200 Polish Insurgents

Reverend Jozef Stanek "Rudy"
The Czerniakow beachhead falls. Upper Czerniakow has been captured by the Germans during the night.  Polish defenders have made an attempt to fight their way through to Srodmiescie but only a small group get through. Five men under the command of Captain Ryszard Bialous "Jerzy" got through and made it to the YMCA building on Konopnieckiej Street, which is still held by the insurgents.  The rest of the Polish unit was captured by the Germans. SS officers have executed by firing squad and hanging over 200 injured Polish insurgents, messengers and nurses. A Pallotine priest, Reverend Jozef Stanek “Rudy”, chaplain of the “Kryska” group was also executed on Solec Street by the Germans by hanging. 

Germans have stepped up the pressure on the district of Mokotow, which is now the chief target of General von dem Bach. They have also prepared to attack Zoliborz.  Hermann Göring  has selected additional division units to join the campaign.  Artillery fire and air raids grow stronger. The area of Aleje Niepodleglosci Street is particularly hard hit.

Polish insurgents are besieged in three areas of the city: Srodmiescie, Zoliborz and Mokotow. The Uprising is now a one-sided war of attrition, or rather a struggle for acceptable terms of surrender.

For the past several days, German attacks near the Vistula have been escalating as they attempt to prevent further landings.  But Polish troops continue to hold their positions on the eastern shore in preparation for the expected wave of Soviet landings. Other Polish troops have been making attempts to land since the 15th of September, but with very heavy casualties to men and materiel.  Throughout the onslaught, Red Army support was all but non-existent except for intermittent and sporadic artillery fire and air support.  Despite attempts by the 1st Polish Army, they were unable to link up with the insurgents.

On the 19th of September, Home Army soldiers and landed elements of the 1st Polish Army had to retreat from their positions on the bank of the river.  Of about 900 men who made it ashore, only a handful were able to return to the eastern shore of the Vistula. Berling's Polish Army suffered enormous losses in their attempt to aid the Uprising. Casualties were 5,660 killed, missing or wounded.  There were no further attempts at river crossing, and the promised evacuation of the wounded did not take place.

Zygmunt Berling and troops of the LWP
The failure for either side to make significant advances has led to a suspension of further attempts in crossing the river for at least four months. At that point, operations against the 9th Army's five panzer divisions were problematic. Moreover, Soviet Command has dismissed General Berling, Commander of the 1st Polish Army.

During the Invasion of Poland in 1939, Berling did not fight the German invaders. After his town Wilno was occupied by Soviet armies, he was arrested along with many other Polish officers by the notorious NKVD, the Soviet Union's secret police.  Berling remained in prison until 1940 initially at Starobielsk and then in Moscow. He agreed to co-operate with the Soviets and thus avoided execution in the Katyn Massacre. After the Sikorski-Maisky Pact,Berling was released from prison on August 17, and appointed Chief of Staff of the newly created 5th Infantry Division. He later became the commander of a temporary camp for Polish soldiers in Krasnowodsk.

Berlings' troops crossing the Vistula River - 1944
The Sikorski-Maisky Pact signed on July 30, 1941 led to the release of thousands of Polish soldiers and civilians from Soviet prisons, as well as and the creation of the 2nd Polish Corps under the command of General Wladyslaw Anders. During the evacuation, Berling deserted Anders' army along with two other officers to join the Red Army. On April 20, 1943, Anders degraded the three and expelled them from the army. On July 25th, the field court sentenced them to death in absentia. The Polish Military Court stated that "the accused deserted from the Polish Army, in Court's opinion in order to join the Soviet Army, ie. to serve the country which has as one of its goals the end of existence of the independent Polish state by means of incorporating its territory."

Stalin created the Polish People's Army in 1943 (Ludowe Wojsko Polskie) and appointed  Berling as the commander of its first unit, the 1st Tadeusz Kosciuszko Infantry Division. He was later promoted to General by Stalin himself.

1st Polish (Peoples) Army January 19, 1944 parade

When the Uprising broke out on August 1st, 1944, Berling's army had advanced towards Warsaw and without consulting Soviet Command may have issued his own orders to engage the German forces and aid Polish resistance. The landing received no tactical support from Berling or other Soviet units, and therefore made no significant contribution in helping the Uprising. However, Soviet Command noticed Berling's behaviour and  dismissed him from his command. He was transferred to the War Academy in Moscow where he remained until 1947.

The first major engagement of Berling's army was the Battle of Lenino in October 1943. By the following spring Soviet command had increased and strengthened its armor and materiel support and soldiers numbered over 30,000 men strong. The unit was then reorganized into the Polish First Army led by Soviet commanders appointed by Soviet Command. The LWP was later integrated into the 1st Belorussian Front.  

Lt. John Ward
Lt. John Ward, a British soldier and member of Armia Krajowa, has been dispatching secret radio reports of the Uprising to London authorities, always in the hope that the allies would provide assistance and intervention. In almost two months of battle, Polish insurgents have been left virtually alone and abandoned.  Nevertheless Ward continues sending reports, if only to testify to the horrendous conditions dealt to the people of Warsaw.

The inhabitants of Warsaw are now literally living only in ruins. Whole central part of city completely destroyed. In some cases by fires started by Poles to drive out enemy and in others by shell fire, mines and air bombs. Water very difficult to get. I personally today had first wash after six days and am considered lucky. To get one bucket of reasonably clean water it is necessary to stand in queues under fire four or five hours. Food even more scarce. Even front line soldiers get quite inadequate rations, usually about four ounces of boiled barley daily. Bread practically unheard of. Civilians mostly in even worse plight. Private stocks largely burnt or buried under ruins. Hospitals are in what were coal cellars a few weeks ago. Many thousands of wounded there, perhaps more civilians than military. Conditions in which they lie really terrible.

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