Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Warsaw Rising (1 August–2 October 1944)

By the summer of 1944, the Red Army had pushed the German army almost completely out of the Soviet Union and continued moving west across German-occupied Poland. The Soviets, however, had split with the London-based Polish government-in-exile and established their own Communist provisional government. As the Soviet troops advanced, they disarmed the Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa, or AK), a branch of the London-based government. On 26 July, the London Poles ordered AK commander General Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski to capture Warsaw from the Germans before the Soviets arrived.

The AK had around 40,000 fighters in Warsaw, and they were desperately short of arms and ammunition. Although they had some clandestine arms factories in the city, their total armament amounted to little more than 2,000 pistols, 1,000 rifles, 25,000 homemade grenades, and a handful of antitank rifles. The German garrison in Warsaw numbered more than 21,000 well-equipped, combat-experienced troops, including three Waffen-SS divisions and two Wehrmacht panzer divisions. Lieutenant General Reiner Stahel had command of German combat units around Warsaw.

Operation burza ( tempest) began on 1 August 1944. The lead units of the Red Army were only some 12 miles away, closing in on the east bank of the Vistula River. On the first day of the rising, the AK gained control of most of the west bank of the Vistula, but the Poles never managed to take the bridges. Fighting back almost immediately, the Germans took Warsaw's Old Town on 2 August. By the next day, German reinforcements were pouring into the battle, and the Luftwaffe had begun round-the-clock bombing of the Polish-controlled areas.

The savage street fighting ground on for weeks, with the Polish insurgents using the city's sewers for lines of communication and as routes of escape. Schutzstaffel (SS) Chief Heinrich Himmler ordered that the entire city should be "razed to the ground" and all its inhabitants killed as an object lesson to all other cities under German occupation.

On 10 September, Red Army units under General Konstantin Rokossovsky finally moved into Warsaw's Praga district on the east bank of the Vistula. After five days of heavy fighting, the Soviets consolidated their positions on the east bank and ceased to advance. Not only did the Soviets provide no further support to AK forces fighting desperately on the other side of the river, they also refused permission for Western Allied aircraft to land on Soviet airfields after making supply drops to the beleaguered insurgents. Under pressure from U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Soviets finally allowed a single wing of 110 U.S. B-17 bombers to refuel at Poltava for a supply drop on 18 September.

On 30 September, as the Germans systematically reduced the pocket of Polish resistance, Bór-Komorowski appointed General Leopold Okulicki as his successor in command of the AK. Bór-Komorowski and his surviving fighters finally surrendered on 2 October, after 63 days of fierce resistance. Some 15,000 insurgents and 150,000 Polish civilians died during the rising. Another 700,000 of Warsaw's inhabitants were sent to concentration or slave labor camps, where 245,000 later died. Approximately 93 percent of the city was a featureless pile of rubble.

The Germans lost about 10,000 killed during the fighting. Shortly after suppressing the rising, the German army withdrew from Warsaw at its own pace, and the Red Army followed it into the city. Soviet commanders later claimed that stiff German resistance and the lack of supplies had prevented them from giving the AK any more support. Many historians, however, have suggested that the Soviet commanders were following specific orders from their leader, Josef Stalin, who wanted the German army to eliminate any Polish opposition to the establishment of a postwar government under Moscow's control.

David T. Zabecki

Further Reading
Ciechanowski, Jan M. The Warsaw Rising of 1944. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.; Garlinski, Jozef. Poland in the Second World War. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1985.; Lukas, Richard C. Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles under German Occupation, 1939–1944. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1986.; Zawodny, J. K. Nothing but Honour: The Story of the Warsaw Uprising, 1944. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1978.

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