world war 2: warsaw uprising 1944

Andrzej Rafal Ulankiewicz 'Warski II'. Wawelska Street Redoubt.

Reprinted with author's permission from unpublished manuscript.

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  ulankiewicz[...] Finally, Tuesday, August 1, 1944, arrived. Though a halcyon summer day, our long-frustrated will for open and decisive battle filled the air. Our quarters were in the large apartment of platoon leader officer cadet Zdzislaw ‘Maecenas’ Sanecki, which was located within a five-story high interconnected apartment complex. This complex formed a huge quadrangle along the streets Uniwersytecka, Mianowskiego, Pluga, and Wawelska. Opposite to this apartment complex bearing the address 60 Wawelska Street lay the massive but now burned out Polish Navy Ministry, Mokotow Field (a mixed-use but largely open parkland area), several two-story apartment buildings, and the gardens located in front of the Maria Curie Sklodowska Radium Institute, a cancer treatment center. On the opposite side of Uniwersytecka Street lay an uninterrupted row of four-story high apartment buildings. At the point of intersection of Wawelska, Raszynska, and Uniwersytecka Streets, the School of Political Science was manned by a strong SS garrison, fortified with concrete bunkers and barbed wire entanglements. On the Mianowskiego and Pluga Streets side were densely spaced five-story apartment buildings. One street away, at Mochnacki Street and Narutowicz Square, lay a huge ten-story high former student dormitory, now occupied by a force of several hundred German police. This edifice, by virtue of its height and magnitude, dominated the entire Ochota district, which included the previously described streets and buildings. Anti-aircraft artillery batteries were deployed on Mokotow Field near allotment gardens, which were secured by strong German forces. This then was, roughly speaking, our location amidst the various enemy detachments.

Our small group, belonging to the 'Parasol' battalion, consisted of ‘Maecenas’ (officer cadet Zdzislaw Sanecki), ’Zaruta’ (officer cadet Janusz Kwiatkowski), ‘Januszek’ (name unknown), messenger nurses ‘Janka’ (Janina Staniewicz), ‘Black Danka’ (Danuta Witkowska), ‘Aba’ (name unknown), and myself. At about 1 o'clock in the afternoon we went out onto the street with 'Black Danka' and ‘Zaruta’ to try out our incendiary bottles, which were filled with gasoline and bagged in a chemically saturated ‘thick sleeve’ of paper. Uniwersytecka and Raszynska Streets were devoid of traffic and empty except for a few pedestrians. We were walking along Raszynska Street, past the fortified School of Political Science manned by SS, when ‘Zaruta’ got the idea of trying out our Molotov cocktail bottles close to the German positions to "frighten" them. He threw the first one-liter bottle, which crashed against a streetlight post and exploded into high flames. We gazed at the fire as if hypnotized. I threw the next one, which exploded at the street curb. Our experiment had succeeded. The Germans failed to react at all as we ran back toward Filtrowa Street.

Having come back to Wawelska Street, we were waiting impatiently for the truck which was supposed to take us and our incendiary bottles to the Wola district. The afternoon dragged on toward ‘W-hour’ (code for ‘wybuch’ – Polish for outbreak), the 5:00 p.m. designated onset of our uprising. Suddenly, heavy machine gun fire erupted all around us. From our windows we could see groups of insurgents, recognizable by their red and white armbands, shooting at the former students' dormitory complex, which was now the fortress of the German police. The SS forces close to us at Raszynska Street were also under fire. We were looking at each other, full of rage, thinking, "Damn, they have started without us. Our people from Wola district have failed us!" After a short 'council of war', our group decided to wait through the evening and night and then to contact the local command, unless first contacted by our people from the Wola district. Gunfire and grenade explosions abated through the evening. Mostly heard were German machine guns, which the poorly armed uprising fighters from Ochota district did not have. We assessed the situation as hopeless, in regards to the relative strength of our forces as opposed to those of the Germans.

Lieutenants ‘Janusz' and ‘Rarancza’ were in overall command of the previously described quadrangle ‘fortress’. Their subordinate officers in command of the sector in which we now found ourselves situated, 60 Wawelska, were then in a cellar near to us. Early in the morning we contacted those officers, who then included us in the local action. Suddenly, an intense rainstorm began. Our attacks on the dormitory complex and on the School of Political Science broke down completely, with high losses in killed and wounded sustained by our side. The Germans did not counterattack, though they were able to destroy us by their great fire power while still under cover of their fortified buildings. The proverbial ‘wild goose chase’ would have been a dramatic understatement of our situation.

Once our attacks had broken down, the Germans suddenly began a drumfire from their anti-aircraft artillery in the Mokotow Field against our building at the corner of Wawelska and Uniwersytecka Streets. The foundation of the edifice literally shook under shell explosions. All of our anti-tank bottles had been stored in the 'Maecenas' apartment on the fourth floor, just at the side of Uniwersytecka Street. ‘Januszek’, ‘Zaruta’, and I ran quickly upstairs and started to carry the bottles down to the basement level. I'll never forget the moment. While carrying a few bottles loosely cradled in my forearms in front of me, suddenly I was literally lifted into the air by the power of a shell explosion within an apartment above. Luckily I did not let the bottles fall, and the incident ended without catastrophe. In spite of artillery fire, we succeeded in moving the whole load of incendiary bottles into the basement. We had secured our only weapons with which we could effectively fight tanks and set adjacent building blocks occupied by the Germans on fire. The artillery fire badly damaged our positions, but the solidly constructed building survived the shelling after all.

In the meantime, the ring of siege by the German forces tightened around us. The notorious RONA (self-proclaimed Russian Liberation Army) detachments of General Wlasow's Russian soldiers, being in German service, tried to take the buildings adjacent to us at Mianowski, Pluga, and Wawelska Streets. They took the Maria Curie Sklodowska Radium Institute, the Navy House, and the adjacent apartment buildings on the other side of Wawelska Street. Ominously we noted crowds of civilians, driven by the RONA men, passing next to us. Warsaw was fighting and was now ablaze.

In the evening we saw a sea of fire in the directions of the Wola, Mokotow, and Center City districts. Unfortunately, we were cut off and devoid of news of the situation of the uprising detachments in other parts of the city. It was known that the uprising in Ochota district had broken down. We and another center of defense at Kaliska Street were the only remaining forces fighting in the entire district. The Wlasow men now started persistent infantry attacks on our positions. All windows at ground level had been barricaded with sand bags or barred to prevent access. However, some drunken RONA men decided to get to us by climbing up iron downspouts. When they got to the second floor, they were of course liquidated by our sentries. The enemy, true to its usual patterns, never attacked that evening or that night. We only heard sounds caused by the Wlasow soldiers' debauchery – screams of raped women and the wailing of the murdered. We witnessed people being doused with gasoline and burned alive in the park of the Radium Institute at Wawelska Street. We realized that we must fight to the very end because otherwise we would all be killed without mercy by this vicious band of thugs.

We began to feel the results of the hard fire of mortars and machine guns coming from the direction of the SS bunkers in the edifice of the School of Political Science at the corner of Wawelska and Raszynska Streets. In the evening, our 'Parasol' group met again in the cellar of the ‘Maecenas’ apartment for a ‘council of war’. In short words ‘Maecenas’ formulated the situation as hopeless from the military point of view. Continuation of our isolated defensive fight, with our paucity of ammunition and of weapons, held no chance of success. Our only chance of survival and of continued effective military resistance was to move to the downtown area from which we would always be able to hear and to localize the sounds of the ongoing battle. We could then attempt to join up with larger fighting insurgent units.

However, it was not now possible to escape from the besieged complex. The only feasible remaining evacuation route was through the storm drainage system, though its exact routing was unknown to us. Furthermore, the tunnel from our cellar positions, running underground to the vertical manhole shaft accessing the storm drains, was not yet completed. We decided to establish communications with those in the part of the complex on the side of Wawelska and Pluga Streets, where the underground passage to the storm drain system was being driven. We parted in a foul mood. Janusz ‘Zaruta’ tossed out a pessimistic remark: "It will surely be a God-sent miracle if we are able to escape from this predicament." The diminutive but plucky ‘Januszek’ countered: “Things are never so bad that they could not be worse!"

On the next morning we were burdened, as we had been for each of the past seven days, under the drum beat of heavy enemy fire coming from a multiplicity of weapon types. Now however, came a significant innovation: two tanks started to fire at our corner of the building from the open Mokotow Field. The intensity of fire increased from hour to hour. We were awaiting a German attack at any moment. In fact however, dead silence followed the cessation of enemy fire and groups of SS men and RONA men started carefully approaching our defense lines. We held positions on the second floor and had excellent views of the surrounding areas. However, as the Germans then started to fire at the entire facade of the building from a dozen or so machine guns, it became impossible for us to return fire from our positions. We had to change positions after every few shots. We then resorted to a trick, how effectively to throw the 'filipinki' (hand-grenades of our own production). One of us, quickly glancing toward a window opening, gave directions for the throw to his comrade standing in the corridor of the next apartment. The grenade had to be thrown through the entire depth of the room, which could not be entered because of enemy gunfire. Our defense was very effective and the Germans, seeing our stiff resistance, retreated to avoid further losses.

Eight days of the uprising had already passed. The encirclement by the enemy around 60 Wawelska Street could not be broken. It could now be seen that our remaining days were numbered. The mood of the people, especially of the civilian residents, became gloomy. The wave of enthusiasm that had pervaded the first days of the uprising had passed. The soldiers were now looked upon as those who had brought disaster and death onto Warsaw. We could only await a miracle in the form of liberation by the Soviet Army or by an airborne attack by the Allies. Though our situation seemed dire, we continued our fighting defense and focused our remaining efforts on digging a tunnel from the basement of the building at 15 Mianowski Street (connected to the 60 Wawelska complex) to the storm drain under Wawelska Street. The walls of the cellar were broken through near the corner of Pluga and Wawelska Streets.

We now had entered the next stage of our fight. The Ochota district was entirely in the hands of Germans, or rather of RONA troops, except for our resistance centered on Kaliska Street and on Wawelska Street. The enemy had then felt ready to culminate their siege and started the systematic destruction of our defense complex by continuous fire from tanks, anti-tank guns, and mortars. The strong five-story high complex of edifices just completed in the late 1930's began to crumble under the continuing fire. The thunder of exploding shells was impossible to endure. We could communicate amongst ourselves only through cellars, as a shower of mortar grenades rained on both large courtyards. The Germans attacked usually in the early mornings 'and followed with gunfire through the evenings.

However, they never attacked at night. Only yells of drunken Wlasow soldiers could be heard, as they committed gang rapes and mass murders in neighboring streets.

The last day of our defense fight, August 11, 1944, began. I was with ‘Zaruta’ on the second floor at the corner of Wawelska and Uniwersytecka Streets. As the tanks were coming nearer and nearer, we had a dozen or so of our 'famous incendiary bottles' and ‘filipinki’ stored in a corridor near the staircase. After the routine mortar and machine gun fire targeted at our positions had ceased, tanks positioned on Wawelska Street near the forward edge of Mokotow Field began to pound us. Their fire became so intense that we had to retreat to the ground floor. After some 20 minutes all grew quiet, and we anticipated that infantry assault would soon follow. We ran back to our second floor observation positions. I looked through the embrasure in the barricaded window, and I saw the lead tank roll along Wawelska Street and approach the corner of Uniwersytecka with a small tank in tow. At once I recognized the towed ‘Goliath’, its silhouette known to me from German newspapers. ('Goliath' was a self-propelled tank carrying a deadly payload of TNT.) Suddenly, the lead tank turned back along Wawelska Street, having disconnected its cable to the ‘Goliath’. Ominously, the lone ‘Goliath’ started to slowly roll towards our corner. Simultaneously, the Germans intensified their fire at our positions from the Navy Building. However, I could still discern the 'Goliath' as it crept over the rubble parallel to the walls of our corner. ‘Januszek’, who also watched the ‘Goliath’, shouted, "Throw the bottles; we have got it now." I immediately threw two bottles, one right after the other. As they impacted, the engine of the 'Goliath' suddenly stopped, and a gigantic flame shot upwards. We were all ecstatic, having won the battle against the 'Goliath', but our joy did not last for long. In a few minutes, we could see an entire group of tanks towing 'Goliaths'. Some of them toddled towards our lines of defense. This was our final chance to abandon our positions and to run to the basement. While our group ran through the cellar corridor to the other side of the building, the 'Goliaths' started to explode. The vastness of destruction was indeed unbelievable, as would be strikingly evident to anyone who had the chance to view this corner in the aftermath of the uprising. This corner section of the solidly constructed edifice was reduced to little more than a one-story heap of rubble. Happily, our part of the basement did not cave in, and I managed to get out to the ground floor through the remaining stairway.

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