world war 2: warsaw uprising 1944

Witold J. Kiezun 'Wypad', Gustaw-Harnas Battalion. Virtuti Militari.

Reprinted with author's permission.

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witold kiezun 1944On August 2, 1944, the Kiliński Battalion launched a frontal attack upon the Main Post building on Napoleon Square (now Warsaw Insurgents Square). Our special unit together with a team from Grażyna Company was told to storm the building through its backyard, which neighbored on Number 17, Świętokrzyska Street.

After female mine teams had blasted through the wall surrounding the yard, three men from Harnaś Battalion – 2nd Lt. Władysław "Kaszuba" Wojewódzki from Grażyna Company, Corp. Franciszek "Frycek" Pies from the Harnaś Special Unit (a deserter from the German army, into which he had been drafted in Cieszyn) and I rushed across the yard and scaled a ramp, despite heavy German machine gun fire.

Robert Bielecki describes this assault in his book Gustaw and Harnaś – Two Warsaw Uprising Battalions (“Gustaw" “Harnaś": Dwa Powstańcze Bataliony):

"Running into a side gate of the Post building “Wypad” noticed a sign which read "Guardroom". Kicking the door open he came upon several armed Germans. Both sides were surprised. “Wypad” pulled the trigger of his Schmeisser, but the expected round of fire never came – although according to all logic this should have been the brave Nazi troopers' last breathing moment. Seeing this “Wypad”, who was always extremely lucky in seemingly hopeless situations, roared "Haende hoch!” – and took 14 prisoners together with their arms. Among Wypad's guardhouse booty was a light Dreyse machine gun with six extra muzzles, the guards' 14 rifles and 2,000 rounds of ammunition".

gustaw-harnasAnother mission took us to Wola. We were in position on the premises of the Haberbusch and Schiele brewery in Żelazna Street. I had prepared a "mine" – a German handle-held grenade and a Polish egg-shaped one glued together with plastic and placed in a large metal tin. Spotting a tank rolling down Żelazna on the corner of Grzybowska, I positioned myself in the corner of a building entrance. I let the tank approach and then threw my "mine". Its caterpillar damaged, the tank drew back in a zig-zag line.

On August 23 our mission was to seize the Police Headquarters at 1 Krakowskie Przedmieście Avenue:

"The two first shots fired from the building's attic brought no effect – Ali-Baba simply missed the bunker. But the third one sat. The shell went in through the bunker's embrasure and exploded inside. The German machine gun (we later saw it was Polish, made in Radom) went silent immediately, the Germans either dead or unfit for further action. The bunker's seizure was the attack signal for units positioned along Czackiego street and in houses in Traugutta Street.

The Special Unit under Witold "Wypad" Kieżun sent out a five-strong assault troop through a tenement window in Traugutta No. 3, from which sandbags had been removed. As Special Unit trooper Andrzej "Cowboy" Ligęza recounts: 'we ran towards the left-hand corner of the bunker entrance. When we got to the building's last window we saw it was quite high. I crouched underneath the window while Witek (Witold Kieżun) stood on my shoulders and waved a cap in front of it. Seeing no response, he smashed the pane, opened the window and crawled inside. He stretched out his hand to help me climb in, then we pulled Cichy and the others inside. We were in rooms which were separated from the rest by a locked door. “Debicz" (Zbigniew Czajkowski) had a rifle and hit the lock a couple of times with the butt. The lock gave and we were in a corridor which ran the length of the building Following it we reached a point with a staircase on the left and the bunker entrance to the right. There stood a Maxim 08 with a bullet hole through its radiator".

The Germans fled in panic, abandoning the gun, ammunition, even their coats. We could hear constant fire launched at the presbytery from the direction of Czackiego Street. The Germans were still up there. In a moment a large group of our people stormed it from Czackiego, hurling grenades at the staircase. I quickly took the machine gun over to our quarters at 17, Świętokrzyska. We fixed the hole in the radiator and it served us well.

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"It must have been well after ten when we reached the main police headquarters', "Cowboy" Andrzej Ligęza recalls. 'Luckily here we didn't have to crawl through windows – there was a stairway leading from the yard. "Wypad" and his men – I don't recall how many – passed deeper inside the building, leaving me to cover the staircase, which was the only retreat route. We then went up the stairway, moving upward slowly as we didn't know if there weren't still Germans there. Then we heard shooting . I ran up to the first floor and let loose a round from my Schmeisser, when in an open door I spotted a machine gun with an ammunition belt. Some of its crew were dead, the others had jumped out onto Krakowskie Przedmieście through the windows and were being pelleted by machine gun fire from one of our Special Unit teams in the Staszic Palace under 2nd Lt. Seweryn “Biskup” Krzyżanowski. Through a window looking out on Krakowskie Przedmieście I saw German bodies in the street and a burning German "Tiger" tank. Having assured myself that there were no Germans left in the main building I quickly took the machine gun out into the yard, which by now was full of our men. Underway I ran into a film crew who photographed me with the captured gun. Of course I hid the gun in our 17, Świętokrzyska street quarters as soon as I could, right beside the one from the "Vicarage". Now the Special Unit had two heavy and one light machine gun.

My last major mission was manning the Prudential Tower in Napoleon Square. On September 17, 1944 Cadet Konrad "Konrad" Niklewicz brought me orders to scale the building's roof equipped with an army telephone and wire and report on the targets selected by the Soviet artillery now bombing Warsaw from its right-bank side Praga, which the Red Army had entered already on September 14. A telephone operator carrying the phone and cables, Cadet "Konrad", Cadet Jerzy "Jerzy" Niezgoda and I began to make our way up. It was easy until the 16th floor as some of the stairs had survived, but the route from there to a balcony on the 22nd floor led through the scaffolding of a ruined elevator shaft – what's more, the tower's eastern wall was mostly gone from the 8th or 9th floor upward and we were in full sight of German troops in the ruins of the Post building across the street. We managed to reach the balcony – although scaling iron elevator shaft railings on the 16th floor cost me a lot as I suffer from an inborn fear of heights. We returned to our quarters in the evening unnoticed by the Germans and resumed our mission on the next day, September 18. On the roof we had a very good view of the U. S. planes which on that day flew over Warsaw dropping military gear on parachutes. Unfortunately we could also see that most of the drops landed on German territory. That day our operator brought along a soldier with a telescope-sighted sniper gun. We were ordered not to reveal our presence on the balcony – but the sniper peering through his telescope suddenly spotted two Germans peacefully strolling down Świętokrzyska and fired at them, hitting one. Coming down in the evening we were fired at while crossing the elevator scaffoldings – and were really lucky not to be hit. A round that hit an iron grate missed me by a hair's breadth. We climbed up again quickly, only to find ourselves under grenade fire. We were sprawled out on the balcony floor, protected from above by a small piece of roofing. This went on until nighttime, when we finally climbed down under cover of darkness – we knew the Germans rather wouldn't shoot or attack at night. But we never went up the Prudential again as the Germans now had the opening in its eastern wall under heavy fire' ".

On the morning of September 23 several of my colleagues and I were told to report to the Municipal Gasworks Directorate building in Kredytowa Street. There in a conference room the other delegates from battle units operating in the northern part of downtown Warsaw and I were told that General Bór-Komorowski, General Chruściel and other high commanders would be inspecting us and that Cadet Konrad "Konrad" Niklewicz and I were to be decorated with the Virtuti Militari [ medals ].

General Bór-Komorowski, short, in a dark-green uniform with an open collar looked disappointingly modest, but when he began speaking he moved us all deeply and we realized that we were in the presence of a commanding officer of a very high order. After his initial speech he invited us to ask questions. I asked four. Had the uprising been undertaken in consultation with the London government? What were our relations with the People's Army? Did he know what the Soviet staff in Praga planned? When would the Red Army move to help us liberate Warsaw?

witold kiezun 1944-2004I could see that my questions had stirred the general. He replied that it was too early to reveal all the circumstances behind the decision to launch the uprising but that the uprising was not only a battle for Warsaw but for all of Poland, for the country our fatherland would be in future. He said the People's Army were our comrades in arms who were also under his command, and that in addition to decorating us he also gave Virtuti Militari medals to two courageous People's Army soldiers. As to the last questions, he said that no army in the world revealed its plans and that he too had no idea when the Red Army command planned to attack Warsaw.

The decorations were, of course, symbolic – there were no medals, we were just read formal announcements about our decoration with the Virtuti Militari and given a warm handshake. Still, it was one of the proudest moments of my life.

In 1945, when after escaping German imprisonment I was under arrest in a Soviet-run prison in Montelupich Street in Cracow, I adamantly denied membership in the Home Army.

One of my hours-long interrogations was attended by a Soviet officer who spoke excellent Polish and accused me of lying. He knew that on September 23, 1944 I had received Poland's highest military honor from General Bór-Komorowski, to whom I had asked three questions. He then quoted my questions verbatim.

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