The Polish resistance movement was very active in World War Two. Up until the start of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, the Poles had two enemies – Communist Russia and Nazi Germany. Both had attacked Poland in September 1939. Germany’s attack on Russia took one of these enemies out of the equation for now. Poland’s resistance movement could concentrate all its resources on a common enemy.
Poland was the principal focus of military transport for the Germans after June 1941. The country acted as a conduit for the front in Russia. Therefore, there were many targets for the Polish resistance movement and from June 1941 to December 1941, they destroyed 1,935 railway engines, derailed 90 trains, blew up three bridges and set fire to 237 transport lorries. However, such a success came at a cost as the reprisals by the Germans was savage in the extreme. In fact, so extreme was the German reaction, that the Polish resistance all but ended its work for about 10 months in 1942. SOE in London could not effectively assist the Poles because the distance was simply too great for SOE to overcome.
As in Czechoslovakia, the resistance movement in Poland was fragmented by politics. A government in exile existed in London but a “Union of Polish Patriots” was formed in Moscow in direct competition to the London government. During 1942, Polish communists were dropped into Poland to set up the “Worker’s Party”. This was to include a resistance movement called the “People’s Guard”.
The response in London was for Chief-of-Staff General Sikorski to reorganise the resistance movement in Poland that was loyal to the exiled government. It was inevitable that both would clash. Matters were not improved when the Germans found the bodies of 4,500 Polish officers at Katyn Wood. The Russians were held responsible for this and their refusal to allow an enquiry by the International Red Cross only confirmed to non-communists in Poland that Stalin’s government was responsible for these murders.
However, the non-communist Polish resistance force had to accept the inevitable – Russia would get to Poland before the Allies. The AK (Armia Krajowa) was led by General Bor-Komorowski after June 1943 (its previous leader, Rowecki was arrested in that month) and he drew up a plan to accommodate Russia’s advance. His plan was that the AK should continue with its policy of sabotage and intelligence gathering. This intelligence would go to both the Russians and to Britain. In January 1944, the AK actually got hold of parts of a V1 and sent them to London. While Russia and the Allies continued to launch major attacks on the retreating Wehrmacht, the AK used diversionary guerrilla attacks to split the Germans military resources. The final part of Bor-Komorowski’s plan was called “Rising”. It was for a general uprising throughout Poland led by the AK. The final part of the plan was never fully implemented primarily due to the speed of the Russian advance. However, whenever, the Red Army came across units of the AK movement, it disarmed them. For the Russians, it was of much greater value for the ‘People’s Guard’ to have the upper hand within Poland.
By the spring of 1944, the Polish resistance was thought to number 400,000. The government in exile played a key part in running the non-communist resistance in Poland – far more freedom than any other government in exile within Britain was allowed. The Polish resistance was very well organised and at one time there were over 100 radio stations broadcasting in occupied Poland.