world war 2: warsaw uprising 1944



Prof. Jerzy R. Krzyzanowski. The Unseen and Silent. Special Operation Paratroops in

the Warsaw Uprising.

  Prof. Krzyzanowski, a member of the underground Home Army in the German occupied Poland. In 1944, with the Red Army entering pre-WWII Poland's territory, he enlisted into the Soviet-controlled Polish Army. However, shortly afterwards he had been arrested by NKVD and incarcerated in an internment camp for the Home Army soldiers. Deported to the Soviet Union in 1945, spent more than two years in a number of gulags. He emigrated to the United States in 1959, where he taught Polish literature at various universities. Currently he is a Professor Emeritus of the Ohio State University.

The idea of sending specially trained commando type paratroops to the occupied Poland was conceived very early in World War II. Soon after the end of the September 1939 campaign in Poland, two young officers, Capt. Jan Górski and Capt. Maciej Kalenkiewicz serving in the Polish Army in France, as early as in December 1939 submitted to their superiors a project of making direct flights to Poland with couriers carrying orders and dispatches to the underground resistance organization Służba Zwycięstwu Polski (SZP), later re-named first Związek Walki Zbrojnej (ZWZ), and in 1942 – Armia Krajowa (AK). In February 1940 they renewed their efforts to interest the high command of the Polish Army in their idea, and in May they were transferred to the office of General Kazimierz Sosnkowski, at that time in charge of the resistance movement. At the same time the C.-i.-C. of ZWZ in Poland, General 'Grot' Stefan Rowecki, urged Sosnkowski to speed up efforts to establish a regular air communication between the Army in France and Poland as a method faster and more secure than overland routes taken by couriers. After the collapse of France, the Polish Army in Great Britain resurrected the project in July 1940, and organized the first parachute training course in October 1940, this time enlisting not only candidates for courier duty but also soldiers trained as paratroops. Three months later, on the night of February 15/16, 1941 two first SO paratroopers landed in Poland.

The technical support was provided by the British Special Operations Executive ( SOE ). Its Polish Section worked closely with the Polish General Staff, Department VI (Homeland Affairs). Their cooperation resulted in a secret enlistment of volunteers to the newly organized group of Special Operations Paratroops known under its Polish name cichociemni ('The Unseen and Silent'), trained for parachuting into central part of Poland occupied by the Germans, as instructors and specialists in clandestine operations, especially in sabotage. By the end of 1944 SOE and Department VI successfully trained 606 paratroops, and dispatched to Poland 315 men, 1 woman, and 28 civilian couriers. Out of their ranks, 284 men and 1 woman landed there prior to August 1, 1944 , the day of the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising.

Although SO Paratroops were to be distributed among all AK Districts, Warsaw , as a capital and center of the underground movement, gathered unproportionately high number of SO officers. Jędrzej Tucholski, the author of a monographic study Cichociemni, thus states: "On August 1, 1944 , the day of the Uprising outbreak, there were approximately one hundred of cichociemni in Warsaw and in the nearby Kampinos Forest. Some of them were serving in the local units, some had not yet received any assignments to Districts, some were in town on business. On top of that, two complete crews from recent drop zones near Tarnów and Grodzisk Mazowiecki reported in. The Uprising caught a large number of those men unprepared, and not all of them received orders appropriate to their military qualifications. Hence, in the first half of August, we have a General fighting in the first line with a rifle in his hand, a Captain who hunts tanks in Aleje Jerozolimskie instead of commanding a battalion, or a Lieutenant attacking a bunker near the Parliament with a flamethrower. Only gradually, particularly in the City Center where most of the SO Paratroops without combat assignments had been located, those matters were iron out” (Cichociemni, Warsaw, 1988, pp. 271-272).

It is difficult therefore to provide an exact list – or even number – of SO Paratroops and their individual assignments during the Uprising. Tucholski in his study lists them by locations and regions, such as AK Headquarters, 'Radosław' units, Old Town, City Center, City Center South, Districts of Ochota, Mokotów, Żoliborz, and Kampinos Forest, giving the military rank, code name (pseudonym), first and family name, function in a given unit respectively, plus additional information where available.

Two general staff officers took an active part in the fighting. The oldest, 56-years old, and the highest ranking from among the SO officers in the Uprising, Major General 'Krystynek' Tadeusz Kossakowski initially served indeed as a volunteer-private and fought with a rifle in his hand until he was put in charge of the weapon production on August 23. Brigadier General 'Kobra 2' Leopold Okulicki, first in reserves, later on had been made the AK Chief of Staff after September 6, and after the capitulation he was promoted to the become the C-i-C of AK, replacing General 'Bór' Tadeusz Komorowski who was taken by the Germans to a POW camp.

Among senior rank SO officers there were 2 Colonels and 3 Majors in the AK HQ, while in the first line units there served 3 Majors in 'Radosław' units, 1 General ('Krystynek'), 1 Colonel and 2 Majors in City Center South, 1 Major in Mokotów; 1 Colonel and 1 Major have been missing in action, 1 Colonel forced out of action on August 1. It was indeed a high percentage of those officers (approximately 17%) taking an active part in the Uprising where most of the actual combat was conducted by SO commissioned officers of lower ranks, and NCOs. Serving as company or platoon commanders those SO officers suffered heavy loses: 11 of them died in combat, 16 were wounded, in some cases more than once, several were listed as missing in action, captured by the Germans, imprisoned, or executed.

Lt. 'Bryła' Tomasz Kostuch, a SO Paratrooper who fought in the Uprising in City Center South, sums up the total numbers: "There were 11 SO Paratroops in the Headquarters, 12 in the 'Radosław' units, 6 in the Old Town, 53 in the City Center North and South 1 in Żoliborz and 1 in Ochota, 7 in Mokotów, and 4 in the Kampinos Forest. It has not been possible to establish specific assignments of another 7” (Podwójna pętla [A Double Loop], Warsaw, 1988, pp. 283-284), all together 102 active participants in the Uprising.

An earlier survey by Tucholski had given percentage of loses. "Their loses,” he writes, "approached 20% – 18 dead and missing in action” (Jędrzej Tucholski, Powracali nocą [They Returned at Night], Warsaw, 1988, p. 222). Another set of numbers is provided by Jan Szatsznajder in his collection of reports Cichociemni, Z Polski do Polski (The Unseen and Silent. From Poland to Poland, Wrocław, 1985, p. 60). "Out of the 316 SO Paratroops sent to the occupied country 110 had died. Still nothing is know about 22 of them, how they died, where their graves are. Seven of them were executed after receiving court sentences in People’s Poland, 2 died in prison. As far as I can tell only one of them, Bolesław Kontrym, has been vindicated.”

For surviving the combat did not mean the end of the ordeal for many of them. While some became POWs in German camps, quite of few decided to leave Warsaw with civilian population, and continue their clandestine work in AK, either in Western Poland still under the German occupation, or wait until the political situation changes when on January 17, 1945 the Soviet troops entered Warsaw and eventually moved West, toward the German border. Such was the case of General Leopold Okulicki [ okulicki ] who officially relieved AK troops from their duties ordering the organization to disband on January 19, 1945 , but kept his command until the Soviets arrested him on March 27, deported him to Moscow , put on trail and sentenced to 10 years in prison where he died in 1946. Many heroic Uprising fighters shared his fate. Some, like 'Wania' Capt. Alfred Paczkowski, who crossed Vistula during the Uprising carrying a message to the Soviet High Command asking for help, were arrested, imprisoned and eventually interned in special camps for AK soldiers. At least 36 SO Paratroops, 12% of the total number, spent years in the Soviet prisons and camps, returning after 3 to 12 years to Poland. Some managed to cross the border and re-join Polish Army in the West, later on returning to Poland with special missions, determined to continue the work for which they had been trained, this time against the Soviets occupying their native land. Such was the case of Capt. ' Żmudzin' Bolesław Kontrym, four times wounded in the Uprising, decorated with the highest military decoration Virtuti Militari [ medals ], who came back in 1947, was arrested by the Communist police a year later, and executed in 1953 after a prolonged prison ordeal. Almost the same fate befall Capt. 'Garda' Andrzej Czaykowski, also wounded in the Uprising and decorated with the Virtuti Militari, then imprisoned by the Germans in the infamous camps Gross-Rosen and Dora. In 1949 he came back to Poland, two years later had been arrested by Polish secret service, and after serving two years in prison he was executed in 1953. Even Lt. 'Zo' Elżbieta Zawacka, a heroic woman decorated with Virtuti Militari, was arrested in 1951 and spent 4 years in prison. Most of the others, more or less fortunate, survived the Communist oppression, often after serving long years of cruel imprisonment. Jan Szatsznajder in his above quoted book, pursuing individual stories of former SO Paratroops indicates in almost every case "a gap in the curriculum vitae,” meaning of course the imprisonment.

As an interesting example of such procedures one can quote from the memoirs of Capt. 'Agaton' Stanisław Jankowski Z fałszywym Ausweisem w prawdziwej Warszawie (With a Fake German ID in Real Warsaw), Warsaw, 1988, vol. II. Appointed as an aide-de-camp to General 'Bór' Komorowski at the end of the Uprising, he went with the General to a German POW camp, and after the liberation to Great Britain. Having graduated from Civic Design Department at the University of Liverpool in 1946 he decided to return to Warsaw and help with rebuilding the destroyed city. He was summoned to the Interior Ministry, i.e. Polish secret police, several times but thanks to the Security Minister General Mieczysław Moczar with no bad consequences. Listing in his memoirs 16 names of his SO colleagues, all either deported, imprisoned or executed (pp.388-389, 414-418, 441-445), he concludes his memoirs apologetically: "I recall the years of reconstructing Warsaw with satisfaction and joy, but at the same time, as if I trying to justify myself why I was not imprisoned at that time” (p. 452).

That type of persecutions lasted until ca. 1956, when political situation became more favorable for the AK in general, and former SO Paratroops in particular. Political prisoners were released and pardoned, the deportees started returning from the Soviet Union , and a semblance of justice was restored, but only in late the 1980s the whole truth about their ordeals and sufferings has begun to emerge. The end of the Communist regime in Poland meant, among other things, the revival of much deserved fame of the former SO Paratroops, most unfortunately, posthumously in most cases.

Between 1945 and 1949 approximately 80 out of 316 managed to get back to Great Britain. A collection of their stories published first in Polish as Drogi cichociemnych (London, 1954), and later on translated into English, they close with a statement of determination and hope: "But we are deeply convinced that we shall return to a free Poland yet, and if necessary in the Unseen and Silent way” (The Unseen and Silent. Adventures from the Underground Movement Narrated by Paratroops of the Polish Home Army, London and New York , 1954, p. 350).