Warsaw Uprising

Warsaw Uprising

The Warsaw Uprising was a valiant attempt in 1944 by the Home Army of Warsaw to defeat the German army in their city. For two months, the people of Warsaw fought the Germans in an uprising that should have received the support of the Allies. The aid they received was patchy at best and non-existant at worst at times. As the Poles, the Russians and the Allies had the same concern - the overthrow of Hitler - why was this?

The Russia of Joseph Stalin has received frequent criticism for failing to aid those in Warsaw. By mid-rebellion (September), the Russians had got to the east bank of the Vistula and one of the reasons the Poles kept going in Warsaw was the belief that they would receive help. Many believe that the Russians did nothing - this is not so.

The Soviet-formed Polish 1st Army crossed the Vistula to aid the Poles on the west bank. On September 16th and 17th, detachments from the Polish 6th Infantry Division, armed and equipped by the Russians, crossed to the Zoliborz part of the city, just north of the citadel. Unknown to them, the Germans had beaten off the Poles on the west bank and pushed them further inland. When the men from the 6th Army Division landed, they were met by German forces and decimated.

Nearly at the same time, men from the 9th Infantry Regiment, the 8th Infantry Regiment and the 1st Cavalry Brigade tried to cross the Vistula to aid those in the city - all of these failed, such was the ferocity of the German defences on the west bank of the river. However, none of these attempts could have taken place unless they had been sanctioned by the Russians.

However, most military historians believe that the Red Army based just east of Warsaw had the resources to do a huge amount more. The Red Army stood at 1.25 million in Poland with 28,000 artillery guns, 4,000 tanks and 5,300 planes. In terms of manpower, they were only slightly larger than the German army that stood at 1.20 million men. But in terms of military hardware, they dwarfed the Germans in all areas. At any one time, the Russians had vast amounts of weaponry less than 100 miles from Warsaw, at a time when the Red Army was making strident advances across Poland. So why was there no major help for the Home Army? The answer has to be Joseph Stalin. His grip on Russia was total and his status as the man who had successfully led Russia during its darkest hour was massive.

Stalin was asked on two occasions (August 4th and August 12th) by Churchill to help Warsaw. He refused. On August 20th, when it was obvious that the early days of success in the uprising were not being sustained, Churchill and Roosevelt made a joint appeal to Stalin to help the Home Army. Again, he refused. As both the Poles and Stalin had the same goal, this was seemingly an odd move. To the joint appeal, Stalin did reply. He claimed that the Home Army had started its operations without consulting the Red Army. By inference, if this consultation had occurred, then the end result may have been different.

In fact, Stalin knew full well that the Poles would not be willing to see Nazi control of Poland replaced by Soviet control. Therefore, a Poland that was on its knees militarily (which was likely if only from a morale point of view with the collapse of the Home Army) suited Stalin as it would be easier for him to install a Moscow-friendly government in Warsaw. With the Polish government in exile in London and with the might of the Red Army needed to defeat Hitler in eastern Europe, little could stop him. From Stalin's viewpoint, there was little need to aid the Warsaw Home Army. 

What of Britain and America? After D-Day, the military power of both nations was concentrated in western Europe within the European sphere of the war. There was little that either nation could do on the ground except pressurise Stalin to assist the Poles. However, Britain and America did assist the uprising from the air. Flying out of Brindisi in Italy, 186 flights were made to supply 'Bor' Komorowski's Home Army. The flight was 1,400 miles there and back and full of danger. Only 83 planes successfully delivered their load and 33 were lost with their crew, including 13 planes with a Polish crew. Such a rate of attrition was too high. 

Stalin was asked that Allied air crews be allowed to use Russian air bases. On September 10th, against all indications, Stalin gave permission for Russian airfields to be used by Allied planes. On September 18th, 110 planes of the US 8th Air Force made a daylight drop on Warsaw and flew on to Russian air bases. Only nine planes were lost. Ironically, it was a strong wind that ruined this flight as only 30% of the equipment dropped got to Komorowski's forces - other equipment dropped into the hands of the Germans.

The relationship between America and Britain on the one hand and Russia on the other reached such depths over the Warsaw Uprising that on one occasion, on September 4th 1944, the British discussed at cabinet level the possibility of stopping the Artic convoys which aided the Russian war effort. This was only dropped after it was agreed that such a move would be of an advantage to Hitler and would not helped the ultimate war aim - to remove Hitler from power. 

MLA Citation/Reference

"Warsaw Uprising". HistoryLearningSite.co.uk. 2014. Web.

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