East European History 0200
University of Pittsburgh
Fall Semester 1998-99
Prof. Irina Livezeanu

Topic Four - Reading One

 
Selection from:
"The Polish Underground State: A Guide to the Underground, 1939-1945" Stefan Korbonski, pages 187-193

 

THE WARSAW UPRISING

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3. The Soviet "Help "

There was no question but that the Soviet Second Armored Army suffered a defeat on August 3, on the approaches to the suburb of

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Praga, which thwarted its advance on Warsaw. The Soviet offensive was renewed only a month later, on September 10, and resulted in the taking of Praga on September 14. Two days later, on September 16 (and the following days), a few battalions from the Polish army of General Berling crossed the Vistula and landed on the western bank, in Warsaw; the First Battalion was commanded by Soviet Major Latishonek.

The question arises whether the Soviets delayed the renewal of their offensive on purpose, in order to have Warsaw and the Home Army destroyed by German hands, or whether they were actually unable to advance before September 10. In considering this question, we should examine the evidence as presented by the three parties involved: the statements of the Soviet marshals Rokossovsky and Zhukov, and of the General of the Army S. Shtemenko; the Log No. 11 of the German 9th Army; and the many Polish publications and statements, of which the most important are certainly the pronouncements of General Bor.

The three Soviet generals agreed that a dangerous and complicated situation had developed at the front, following the successful attack against the Soviet Second Armored Army (and the destruction of its Third Corps) by the German 19th Panzer Division, two SS panzer divisions (Death's-Head and Viking), the Herman Goring airborne and panzer division, and infantry units from the German Second Army. To liquidate this situation required a long time and heavy fighting against large German forces. It was not until the beginning of September that the Soviet reconnaissance discovered that one German panzer division and other units previously in the forefront of Praga had been transferred elsewhere. Taking advantage of the weakened front line, the Soviet 47th Armored Army launched an attack on September 10 and captured Praga. Even so, in his telephone conversation with Stalin on September 13, Marshal Rokossovsky, in answer to Stalin's query, replied that his armies "would not be able at the present time to liberate Warsaw." The Soviets, therefore, limited themselves to ferrying an infantry battalion from General Berling's army across the Vistula, to the Czerniakow section of Warsaw, which at that time was in the hands of the Home Army. The landing party--according to one statement of General Shtemenko-- asserted that "there were no insurgents there"; but in another statement Shtemenko claimed that the landing party found some "insurgent subunits" in Czerniakow, and that they hindered the fighting by withdrawing toward the center of the city. Throughout the Warsaw Rising, according to General Shtemenko, Stalin returned time and again to the problem of the Warsaw Rising in his conversations with

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various Soviet commanders; it was obvious that he was greatly concerned with the fate of Warsaw and its inhabitants.

Stalin's supposed concern is in no way confirmed by German accounts or by the facts cited in the Polish sources. Quite the contrary, in the "Kriegstagebuch" No. 11 of the German 9th Army this period is described as follows " . . . Moscow could have only a seeming interest in the success of the rising. Still, as long as the fighting in Warsaw went on, it constituted a harassment of the Germans that could not but be welcomed by the Soviet command. A successful outcome of the uprising was not in the interest of Moscow, because it was bound to bring demands totally incompatible with Moscow's intended course of action. In order to deflect the charges of passivity and intentional withdrawal of assistance to Warsaw, the Kremlin adopted a special tactic of claiming that a strong German assault east of Warsaw forced the Soviets to limit their operations to defensive."

" . . . For days after the German operations aimed at destroying the Soviet Third Armored Corps had ended in this region, the Moscow broadcasting station continued to report strong German attacks east of Praga and dressed up this news with detailed descriptions of battles that were completely fictitious.''(18)

The bad faith of Stalin and the Soviets is documented by the facts cited in the Polish sources:

On August 14, General Bor ordered the Home Army units outside of Warsaw to come to the rescue of the fighting capital; these units were intercepted by the Soviets on their way to Warsaw, disarmed and interned (e.g., detachments of the 3rd, the 9th, the 10th, and the 30th infantry divisions). The High Command of the Home Army was informed of these developments through dispatches and by the commander of the Lublin district on August 26, September 3 and September 21, 1944.

When the western allies approached the Soviet command with a request that the planes bringing arms for the fighting Warsaw be permitted to land behind Soviet lines after completing the air drops, they met with a refusal. The Soviet command warned that the crew of any plane that would, for any reason whatever, land behind the Soviet lines, would be interned until the end of the war. This prohibition was removed only on September 10th, when the Soviet armies began their attack on Praga--and when Warsaw was already doomed.

The planes that did bring aid to Warsaw--both Polish and those of the western allies--suffered tremendous losses. Taking off from a base in Italy near Brindisi, they had to fly some 1,200 miles over enemy territory, wending their way through anti-aircraft fire and

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pursued by German fighter planes. At the same time, the Soviet planes were no more than threescore miles away from Warsaw and their flight would have taken them over the Soviet-held territories. According to the log of the German 9th Army, the Soviets had about 100 airfields at their disposal in the area between the front line and the Brest-chelm line. Flying time to Warsaw from any one of these airfields would have been, at the most, one hour. Technically speaking, this would have been an easy operation in view of the tremendous Soviet air supremacy, and involving practically no losses.

There seemed to be no way to reverse the Soviet decision. Mikolajczyk asked for help in the course of his meetings with Stalin on August 3 and 9. General Bor sent a dispatch to Marshal Rokossovsky via London on August 8, and sought in vain to establish direct contact with Rokossovsky; the Polish government in London appealed to Stalin repeatedly through the intermediary of the British government; Prime Minister Churchill and President Roosevelt interceded for the embattled Polish capital. But all this was to no avail. Not only did Stalin refuse all Soviet aid, when it could still have made all the difference in the outcome, but he also did not admit aid from other quarters.

Landing of a few battalions from General Berling's army on the Warsaw side of the Vistula on September 16 (in the Czerniakow section and between the Kierbedz Bridge and the Poniatowski Bridge), and of a small infantry detachment in the Zoliborz section on the following night, was an improvised gesture rather than the beginning of a large-scale military operation along the entire western bank of the Vistula. It should be mentioned here that, contrary to General Shtemenko's statement, the landing party found in Czerniakow was one of the best formations of the Home Army, commanded, despite his wounds, by Lt. Colonel Jan Mazurkiewicz (pseudonym: Radoslaw). Berling's men fought under the Home Army commander, too, until heavy casualties and the lack of support by larger landing parties forced them to withdraw back to the eastern bank of the Vistula. At the same time, an entry in the log of the German 9th Army noted that the Germans were "not strong enough to repel a mass-landing by the enemy," and that "in the event of a large-scale drive, the effectiveness of our counteraction cannot be fully assured." In other words, the Soviet command had dispatched forces that were too small to ensure the success of the landing operation.

In addition to facts cited above, one should also take into account the fact that Stalin viewed the Warsaw Rising as an act of hostility

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toward Russia. Throughout the uprising, the official Soviet TASS agency and other organs of Soviet propaganda deluged the world with mendacious information about the uprising, starting with claims that there was no rising in Warsaw at all and ending with assertions that the High Command of the Home Army wanted no Soviet help whatsoever.

Everything points to the conclusion that the Soviet decision not to undertake the kind of military effort that was needed to render real assistance to the Home Army in Warsaw was intentional. This was in accordance with Stalin's statement that "under the existing circumstances, the Soviet command concluded that it should cut itself off from the Warsaw adventure, since it could not assume either direct or indirect responsibility for the operations in Warsaw."(19)

In this situation, Soviet permission to land (granted to allied planes after September 10), Soviet air drops after September 13, the landing of a Polish battalion on September 16, and of a few small units later must be viewed as propaganda moves calculated to appease and delude the alarmed public opinion in the west, and not as a serious effort to help the Warsaw insurgents. The Soviet "help" did come, but only a few months after the collapse of the uprising, when the Soviet armies began their winter offensive in 1945, advancing from bridgeheads on the Vistula, which the Home Army units from the Radom district had helped to establish. The Soviet encirclement of Warsaw forced the Germans to beat a hasty retreat from the city. On January 17, 1945, after a brief battle with the German rearguard, units of the First Polish Army, under the command of a Soviet general, S. Poplavsky, captured Warsaw--or rather, the ruins of Warsaw.

An analysis of the Soviet policy with regard to the Warsaw Rising invites comparison with the Nazi policy, with one difference: the Soviet policy was more sophisticated. According to the German plans, Warsaw was to be destroyed and replaced with a small, provincial town . According to the Soviet plans from the time of the uprising, Warsaw was to be destroyed, too, but with German hands, which is precisely how it happened. This, however, is not the only similarity. In 1939/40 both the Germans and the Russians initiated their rule with mass expulsions and deportations of the Polish population, and with depolonization of the territories incorporated into the Reich and into the USSR. The Nazis embarked on extermination of the Polish intelligentsia class, and the Soviets followed suit by arresting and deporting thousands, crowning their actions with the murder of 15,000 Polish army officers--mostly from the reserves--whose mass graves, containing 4,253 bodies, were found in the Katyn Forest. The Germans destroyed all traces of Polish culture and history in the western part of Poland; the Soviets did exactly the

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same thing in the eastern Polish territories. A seemingly endless list of such examples could be compiled. Vae victis!


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