world war 2: warsaw uprising 1944

Andrzej Rafal Ulankiewicz 'Warski II'. Sewers: from Ochota to City Center.

Reprinted with author's permission from unpublished manuscript.

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  Outdoors the unrelenting and indescribably intense fusillade from all types of enemy weapons made clear to us that our only possible salvation lay through gaining access to the storm drainage system. I then began my race against death ! I first had to run across a small garden courtyard at 60 Wawelska Street to get to the wing of the apartment building at 15 Mianowskiego and Pluga Streets. Through a hole cut in a chain link fence, I gained access to an adjacent courtyard covered with rubble from mortar fire. Finally, I reached a stairway entrance to the section of basement leading toward the tunnel that had been completed literally at the last minute. At that moment, while I ran through the doorway, I could see and feel upon my face white splinters of plaster, having been broken loose by spurts of automatic weapon fire aimed at me. I could then hear voices of Wlasow troopers and German soldiers who had already traversed the courtyard and entered the building. Racing through this basement corridor, I could hear women's cries, and the desperate prayers for the dying. A large group of civilians gathered there, awaiting their tragic fate. In the light of burning candles, I could see the faces of deathly scared people. Such must have been the vision of 'Dante's hell', as encountered by the condemned ones. I pressed onward through the crowd to get to second lieutenant ‘Rarancza's’ group, as they made their way toward the tunnel.

Only after the war did I learn the tragic fate of the two groups which had preceded us into the storm drains. The group of lieutenant 'Stach' emerged from the manholes in front of a German police stronghold and were all murdered. (The Germans refused to recognize the Home Army insurgents as Geneva Convention protected combatants.) The second group perished, having never found exits from the drainage systems that were outside of enemy control.

The manhole on Wawelska Street was open, and the Wlasow soldiers threw hand grenades down into it. We had to wait for the grenades to explode and then immediately rush forward. After several minutes, no further unsealed manholes lay ahead of us. Though no longer obstructed by dead bodies caused by the dropped grenades, our progress was still painstakingly slow, as we conformed our bodies to the 90 cm (3-foot) diameter of the storm drains. After the hellish thunder of exploding 'Goliaths' and relentless shellfire and machine gun fire, the silence in the drains felt like that of the grave. Talking was still strictly prohibited, as it could give away the position of our group to the enemy above, listening through potentially open manholes. One could only hear the movements of those ahead, splashing through water and sludge.

Suddenly, I heard a tremendous echoing explosion, the shock wave of which threw me flat onto my face. The explosion was that of a special concussion hand grenade, thrown through the only open manhole which we had passed, at Wawelska Street, now some 70 meters behind us. We immediately pressed forward with renewed urgency, following our torch-bearing guide, officer cadet 'Daberko'. We hesitated briefly as we reached a branch point in the storm drainage system, uncertain of which direction to take. I had been crawling forward as the last soldier in our group, but now, dreadfully, I could neither hear nor see anyone ahead of myself. I was left utterly alone. Apparently the group had rushed forward suddenly in a direction unknown to me. I quickly – if arbitrarily, or instinctively – dashed straight ahead, avoiding the leftward branch. My decision proved correct, for after a few minutes I caught up with the last member of the group. This time I grasped his trouser belt as I proceeded.

We had entered the drains in late afternoon, and our march 'on knees' had taken many hours. At last, as dawn approached, we reached an access shaft which had a manhole cover that we finally succeeded in opening, after many unsuccessful efforts. After the stink of sewage waste, fresh air finally entered the storm drains. I climbed up the steel rungs of the shaft into the blissfully fresh air, leaving behind the fetid atmosphere of the storm drains.
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