20 Facts that Brutally Highlight the Warsaw Uprising of 1944

20 Facts that Brutally Highlight the Warsaw Uprising of 1944

Larry Holzwarth - April 14, 2019

Western histories of the Second World War paid scant attention to the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 until late in the twentieth century, mostly due to a lack of primary sources of information. The Ghetto Uprising the previous spring was presented in detail, especially in studies of the Holocaust, but the organized Polish uprising in the summer of 1944, known of and authorized in advance by the Polish Government in Exile in London, as well as by the Soviet supported Provisional Government established in Lublin, was paid little heed. The Polish Uprising was not a locally planned affair limited to Warsaw. It was an organized offensive by the Polish Home Army, supported by civilians, and planned to receive military support from the Red Army and the Allied air forces.

20 Facts that Brutally Highlight the Warsaw Uprising of 1944
Troops of the Polish Home Army in action in the early days of the Warsaw Uprising. Wikimedia

Josef Stalin had no intention of supporting the re-establishment of the pre-war Polish government following the liberation of Poland from the Germans, and ordered his forces not to advance into Warsaw and its environs until the uprising had been crushed by the Germans. As the fighting in Warsaw died down, Stalin finally allowed the advance of Communist leaning Polish forces, trained and equipped by the Soviets, to enter the city. Despite pleas of desperation from Winston Churchill to President Roosevelt (and Stalin) the Poles, who had been led to believe would receive support from the Big Three, instead received very limited aid. The only winner to emerge from the uprising was the Soviet Union, which gained territory and political influence at the expense of the Poles and the western allies. Here are twenty events which help explain how it happened.

20 Facts that Brutally Highlight the Warsaw Uprising of 1944
The Polish Resistance fighters like those seen here were supported by British and American airdrops of supplies throughout the war. Wikimedia

1. Polish resistance was organized and supported by the Western Allies throughout the war

After Poland was partitioned by the Soviets and Germans following the 1939 invasions, the Polish pre-war government established a government in exile in London. It is a commonly held misconception in the west that the Poles were effectively out of the war after the success of the German blitzkrieg. In fact, Polish airmen flew with the RAF and other Commonwealth forces, Polish warships operated with the Royal Navy throughout the war, and Polish commando units fought at and following the Normandy invasion in the western theater of Europe. In Poland itself, the Home Army was formed out of numerous disorganized resistance groups in early 1942, and by 1944 had a total strength of approximately 400,000 fighters, supported by British and American supplies delivered via airdrops.

Planning for an armed uprising across German held Poland was conducted in both London and Warsaw. The primary goal of the operation was the liberation of Warsaw from the Germans and the establishment of the Polish Government in London as the legitimate government in Poland. Planning for the operation had it timed to coincide with the Soviet thrust into eastern Poland as they continued their drive west against the Germans. Support from the Western Allies, via air power, was to be coordinated, among the British, Commonwealth, United States, and Soviet air forces. Stalin’s government did not recognize the Polish Government in Exile as legitimate, supporting instead the communist Polish Committee of Liberation, but he let it be known that the Red Army would support the uprising to the best of its ability.

20 Facts that Brutally Highlight the Warsaw Uprising of 1944
The Polish Home Army launched the uprising when the Soviet Army was just outside Warsaw’s suburban neighborhoods. Wikimedia

2. The Red Army’s approach triggered the Uprising, but Soviet betrayal doomed it to failure

The Soviet offensive disrupted and accelerated the launch date of the Polish uprising, moving it up from the projected date in September to late July or early August. By late July Soviet units, including armored divisions and mechanized infantry, were with a few miles of Warsaw’s eastern suburbs, though engaged in heavy fighting with German units. The Germans were conducting a fighting retreat, determined to hold Warsaw as long as possible, along with other defensive positions along the Vistula. Polish troops in eastern Poland began fighting alongside the Red Army as it moved westward, though the Soviets captured and shot most of their senior officers and forced the junior officers and enlisted men to joint their ranks.

Polish language radio stations operating in Moscow began broadcasting calls for the Polish Home Army to strike against the Germans, joining the Poles who were fighting alongside of the Red Army. The Polish Government in Exile, concerned about losing legitimacy if it did not initiate action, approved the operation, though local commanders in Warsaw were concerned that it was too early for the attack to begin. On July 31, 1944, with it clearly evident that it would be the Soviets rather than the Western Allies who drove the Germans out of Poland, the time of the attack in Warsaw was set for 5:00 PM on August 1. The German garrison in Warsaw of about 11,000 battle hardened troops were in strong defensive positions, and anticipated an uprising by the resistance.

20 Facts that Brutally Highlight the Warsaw Uprising of 1944
The German garrison received support of Russian Cossacks in rebellion against the Soviets in Warsaw against the Poles. Wikimedia

3. At the beginning the Home Army outnumbered the German garrison by as much as four to one

In addition to the German garrison troops, another up to six thousand men of the SS and the Waffen SS were available to the German commanders, and additional troops stationed around the city began to reinforce the German positions after the attack was launched. They were also supported by Russians rebelling against the Soviet Union. They were able to reinforce the garrison because the anticipated supporting attacks by the Red Army did not materialize. Decades later declassified documents provided unimpeachable evidence that the Red Army advance was ordered to a halt by the Kremlin. During the first four days the Poles were successful in some areas of Warsaw and its suburbs, less successful in others, and the areas which were placed under control of the resistance fighters were isolated districts, not connected to each other on surface streets.

The Polish plan was to hold the areas which they had seized from the Germans and await the Soviet columns. Over the first week of the uprising the Home Army established radio contact with the Red Army and Moscow, but their pleas to the Soviets were simply ignored. Contact was also established with the government in London, which informed Churchill of the situation in Warsaw. On August 5, retreating German units counterattacked the resistance in the western districts of Wola and Ochota, pushing the Polish fighters back. As parts of the city’s boroughs were overrun by the advancing Germans, reprisals against the civilian population began. Within three days at least 40,000 civilian non-combatants were executed by the Germans in Wola alone, with some estimates as high as 100,000.

20 Facts that Brutally Highlight the Warsaw Uprising of 1944
Street fighting house to house was grueling, deadly, and slow as the Germans fought to contain the Poles. Wikimedia

4. Heinrich Himmler compared the fighting in Warsaw to that of Stalingrad

The German policy of reprisals was aimed at ending the Poles’ will to resist and thus avoiding heavy street fighting in the center and industrial areas of the city. The German superiority in artillery and tanks was partially neutralized in a battle which advanced house to house or along narrow streets flanked by factories and tall buildings. It was a lesson they had learned bitterly in Stalingrad. Despite the German atrocities the Polish resistance to their counterattacks stiffened and they even managed to extend some of the areas of the city under their control. While the Germans received almost daily reinforcements, the Poles stood on their own, and what had been a superiority in numbers at the beginning was reduced to parity, and then to inferiority.

To shift troops around the pockets of resistance without exposing them to German fire, the Poles resorted to using the interconnected sewers and other subterranean channels in the city. By August 9 the German advances into the city had been halted, and the two forces faced each other in a bloody stalemate. “This is the fiercest of our battles since the start of the war”, said Himmler, comparing it to Stalingrad. For nine days, August 9 – 18, German attacks gained ground, only to be driven back by Polish counterattacks, with heavy casualties on both sides. Neither side took prisoners, the Germans executed surrendering Polish fighters on the spot, the Poles refused to allow German soldiers to surrender.

20 Facts that Brutally Highlight the Warsaw Uprising of 1944
Home Army fighters retreat into the former Jewish Ghetto, marked by the wall in the back of the photograph. Wikimedia

5. The Germans tried to avoid street fighting by bombing from the air and heavy artillery bombardment

During the blitzkrieg into Poland at the onset of World War II the Luftwaffe’s most feared weapon was the Ju-87 dive bomber, known as the Stuka. The Stuka emitted a fearsome sound as it dove down on its targets, a banshee wail which terrorized those below who heard it. By 1940, over the skies of Great Britain, the weaknesses of the Stuka were evident and by 1944 the aircraft was no longer a viable front line weapon, too vulnerable to enemy aircraft. But against ground forces with no anti-aircraft capability, and no air support, it could still provide its role of precision dive-bombing and strafing of personnel on the ground. It did so against the Polish positions in Warsaw, and against civilian occupied structures.

Artillery on the outskirts of the city, safe from the threat of counterattack, also bombarded the areas of the city which were not in German hands, regardless of the absence of resistance fighters in the area. Any building which had the potential to be fortified was bombed, strafed, or bombarded, even those which were demonstrably medical facilities. The German air and artillery attacks were uncontested by the Poles. Less than five minutes flight time to the east of the city were Soviet established forward air bases, equipped with fighters and interceptors which could have easily seized control of the air over the city and bombed artillery positions in support of the Poles. They did not, instead focusing their air assets in support of the Soviet strategy of seizing bridgeheads over the Vistula outside of Warsaw.

20 Facts that Brutally Highlight the Warsaw Uprising of 1944
Polish fighters were gradually pushed back by the Germans into small enclaves within the city. Wikimedia

6. The steady pressure applied by the Germans forced the Poles to abandon some areas by September

Some of the fiercest fighting during the Warsaw Uprising occurred in August in the section of the city known as Old Town. Old Town and City Center were part of the section of the city which had been designated as Area 1 by the planners of the attack, which was never fully secured during the early days of the fighting. Fortified pockets of German defenders remained throughout August, and the areas held by the Poles were subjected to some of the heaviest German artillery fire and aerial bombing. At the end of September the Polish leadership decided to abandon Old Town, and the district was evacuated via the sewers over the course of two days, with the Home Army units withdrawing at night. They took with them as many of the civilians remaining in the area as they could, though some elected to remain in their homes.

Those who remained were taken by the Germans, with any suspected of having supported the resistance fighters shot by the SS. Those that were not, including children, were sent to concentration camps in the aftermath of the fighting, most of them to Mauthausen and Sachsenhausen. Meanwhile the Red Army, which had been concentrating on seizing bridgeheads on either side of Warsaw, finally determined that the Germans had destroyed most of them and were preparing to withdraw all of their forces in the region to the western side of the Vistula, making Warsaw once again of some importance to the advance of the Soviets. The Polish 1st Army, under Soviet command and equipped with largely Soviet weapons, was dispatched to establish contact with the Home Army.

20 Facts that Brutally Highlight the Warsaw Uprising of 1944
Polish fighters equipped with stolen German uniforms and weapons during the height of the fighting would be shot immediately upon capture. Wikimedia

7. The Communist Polish troops were provided with limited and ineffective Soviet support

On the night of September 14, and carrying over into the early morning of the following day, patrols from the Polish 1st Army crossed the Vistula by water and established contact with elements of the Home Army in the region of Praga. The Soviets provided artillery and aerial support of the operation as the Poles crossed the river, but the bombardments and strafing attacks failed to have much impact on the Germans dug in across the river. The Polish units took heavy casualties during the operation, which resulted in the only contact between the Home Army and allied units during the entire uprising, which by then had been underway for more than six weeks.

The areas where the crossing had occurred and other areas where similar attempts could be undertaken came under heavy German attacks in the following days, with the Poles fighting back to retain the areas, emboldened by the belief that further support from the Red Army was forthcoming. The Poles suffered heavy casualties during these attacks, and additional support from the Red Army was insufficient to relieve them. The Soviets limited their activity to occasional artillery bombardments, which as often as not struck positions held by the Poles, along with a few aerial sorties which were equally ineffective. Instead the Red Army decided that it would be at least four months before additional crossings could be effected, relieved the commander of the Polish 1st Army, and refused to evacuate Polish wounded.

20 Facts that Brutally Highlight the Warsaw Uprising of 1944
The flag of Poland flew over the areas controlled by the Home Army as they gradually shrank through September. Wikimedia

8. The Poles were forced to evacuate their positions along the river in late September

In the absence of effective Soviet support and with casualties mounting daily the Home Army and 1st Polish Army units along the Vistula were force to abandon their positions by September 19. The 1st Polish army withdrew back across the river, having suffered casualties of more than 5,600 men. Only a small handful of the 900 men who had established contact with the Home Army made it back across the river. The Home Army survivors withdrew to pockets of resistance still held by their comrades, which by then had been reduced to three areas of the city. All three were surrounded by German troops, and the uprising was by then clearly destined to be a failure in the absence of timely intervention from the Allies.

During the month of August, and through most of September, the Germans continued their policy of harsh reprisals against captured resistance fighters and civilians. Rather than cowing the Poles into surrender, the German policy increased their spirit of resistance, since surrender meant death at the hands of the German Army, the SS, or in the death camps. By the time of the abandonment of the defenses along the river the means of resistance were dwindling as men, ammunition, and other supplies were running out, and the ability to obtain more was being choked off by the German units surrounding the Home Army enclaves in Warsaw. Meanwhile the Germans continued to bomb, strafe, and bombard the city with near impunity.

20 Facts that Brutally Highlight the Warsaw Uprising of 1944
Soup made from ground barley supplied by a captured brewery fed much of the population during the fighting. Wikimedia

9. Feeding the Home Army and the remaining civilian population

Logistics had not been a major consideration for the officers of the Home Army when planning the uprising, since it was believed that the Soviet Army would relieve the garrisons of the city in five or six days following the initial assault. Soviet supplies and those captured from the Germans were believed to be sufficient to sustain the city, supplemented by supplies flown into the area by the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Forces. On August 6, the day the planners believed the Soviets would relieve the city, Home Army units captured a large brewery, which contained a warehouse complex stocked with barley. Barley became the mainstay of the diet of those remaining in the city for the next several weeks.

Barley was ground into a paste using coffee grinders, and distributed throughout the city via the sewer system. Mixed with boiling water it formed a gruel-like soup. When water became scarce due to the distribution system being clogged and the main pumping stations falling into German hands, the redoubtable Poles dug wells in the areas of the city still under their control, and distributed well water by buckets, again through the sewer system. By the end of the uprising in Warsaw over 90 functioning water wells were in place throughout the city, and all of them were given full access to the public, who resorted to the nearest well in order to obtain drinking water, often while under fire from the Germans.

20 Facts that Brutally Highlight the Warsaw Uprising of 1944
Boy Scouts delivering insurgent newspapers on Warsaw’s streets during the uprising were a daily sight. Wikimedia

10. The people of Warsaw attempted to live normal lives as their city was slowly destroyed

Before the Warsaw uprising was two weeks old, citizens of Warsaw in the areas not yet directly affected by the fierce fighting could visit local cinemas and view newsreel footage of what was happening in other neighborhoods of their city. Newspapers in Poland (and throughout occupied Europe) had been provided only by the Nazis; within days of the beginning of the uprising newspapers appeared all over Warsaw, documenting the fighting and exhorting Poles to resist. When the Germans captured those printing the newspapers they were invariably executed. Many of the papers pointed out the close proximity of the Soviets, but not for weeks were there reports of Red Army perfidy.

By August 9 Polish Radio was back on the air from Warsaw, broadcasting news reports, Polish traditional and patriotic music, and repeated appeals to the governments of the Soviet Union, Great Britain, France, and the United States for immediate aid. The British Broadcasting Corporation picked up the broadcasts and repeated them. As the Germans gradually ground down the Polish resistance the broadcasts became less frequent, the appeals for help more strident, and eventually the radio station was forced into silence. The BBC had a war correspondent in Warsaw who also served with the Home Army. His broadcasts included direct appeals to Churchill until he attempted to flee Warsaw as the uprising collapsed.

20 Facts that Brutally Highlight the Warsaw Uprising of 1944
Stalin both refused to aid the Home Army and blocked attempts by the Allies to do so during most of the uprising. Wikimedia

11. The Allies failed to gain approval to support the Warsaw Uprising

The most immediate source of aid to the Polish Home Army was the Red Army, just a few miles away from the fighting, and the Soviet Air Force. Churchill exhorted Stalin to use his military forces to break the stalemate in Warsaw, and in return received excuses about why the Soviet army could not intervene in a timely manner. Churchill then requested that the Soviets allow the RAF to use their advanced air bases to aid in the supply of foodstuffs and other necessary supplies to the resistance in Warsaw (and elsewhere in Poland) again meeting with Stalin’s disapproval and refusal, at least until it was obvious that the uprising would be quelled. Stalin then allowed delivery to Soviet bases. Most of the supplies flown in then went to the Red Army.

Churchill appealed to President Roosevelt to either exert his influence with Stalin, or intervene directly with the US Army Air Forces to aid the beleaguered Poles. In a flurry of telegrams, Churchill went so far as to suggest that the United States send aircraft laden with supplies to the Soviet bases without permission, in order to test the Soviet response. Roosevelt demurred. With his eye on the upcoming Yalta Conference, FDR had no desire to antagonize the already intransigent Stalin, and considered the events in Warsaw to be but a small piece of the overall picture when considering post-war Europe. Not until near the end of September did Stalin give grudging approval for limited support via his bases from the Western Allies, but by then the result of the Warsaw uprising was foreordained.

20 Facts that Brutally Highlight the Warsaw Uprising of 1944
The conflicting political considerations of the Big Three, seen here at Yalta months after the Warsaw Uprising was crushed, impeded their ability and desire to aid the Poles. Wikimedia

12. The political considerations of the Big Three doomed the Warsaw Uprising

Following the Soviet invasion of Poland and the collapse of the Polish army in 1939, the Polish Government established itself in exile in London, recognized by the British as the legitimate government of Poland. In the Soviet held Polish territory a separate entity was recognized by the Soviets, which backed a post-war pro-Soviet socialist government. The Polish Home Army, aligned with the government in London, was thus viewed by Stalin as being politically and militarily aligned with an illegitimate government hostile to the Soviet Union. To Stalin, the Polish resistance in Warsaw was an act of criminals. Its actions were nonetheless beneficial to the Soviets since it weakened both the Germans and the Polish government in exile.

Churchill wanted to see the Polish government reinstalled in Warsaw before the end of the war and the opportunity offered for the Soviets to install a puppet government in Poland. Churchill’s appeals to Stalin and FDR fell on deaf ears because in Stalin’s case he had everything to gain by refusing to support the uprising, with the additional advantage of the Poles killing Germans and weakening their forces on his behalf. FDR’s overriding concern was obtaining a definitive commitment from the Soviet leader that following surrender of Germany the Red Army would join the Allies in the Pacific, with the Soviet Union declaring war on Japan. The advent of the atomic bomb made that commitment (which was met) unnecessary, but by then the Home Army in Warsaw had long been destroyed.

20 Facts that Brutally Highlight the Warsaw Uprising of 1944
The long distances the Americans and British had to fly to airdrop supplies severely limited the tonnage they could carry. Wikimedia

13. The British and eventually the Americans provided limited support via airdrops

Throughout the Second World War British and later American air forces supported the resistance groups throughout Europe with airdrops of supplies, weapons, and specially trained agents to work with the resistance to further the goals of the allies. As it became evident that the Red Army was not moving to the aid of the fighters in Warsaw, RAF aircraft were forced to drop supplies to the Polish fighters from long-range aircraft operating out of bases in Italy or Great Britain. The distances of the flights limited the amount of supplies which could be delivered, and the British government made a formal request to use Soviet held airbases to refuel flights bound for Warsaw, and other areas of Poland where the resistance was fighting the German Army. Stalin refused, citing the resistance fighters as enemies of the Soviet Union.

Stalin continued to deny the use of the Soviet bases throughout August and into late September. On several occasions when USAAF and RAF airplanes strayed into Soviet airspace, Red Army anti-aircraft guns fired upon them. Not until September 18 did the Soviets give permission for American B-17s to use bases in Soviet held territory to refuel while on missions to resupply the Poles. By then the areas where the supplies could be dropped were greatly reduced and most of the materiel, though well-intended, never reached the hands of the Poles, much of it going to the Red Army and the Polish units under the control of the Red Army instead. Much of it went to the Germans as well, according to frontline Soviet commanders.

20 Facts that Brutally Highlight the Warsaw Uprising of 1944
Both the Germans and the Poles believed that the Red Army – seen here entering Bucharest – would attack during the Warsaw Uprising. Wikimedia

14. The Germans believed that the Red Army would attack in support of the Warsaw Uprising

German commanders on the Eastern Front believed that the Polish underground resistance movement planned a major uprising to coincide with an attack by the Red Army at Warsaw and along the Vistula. German operational planning was adjusted accordingly. Strong German counterattacks using Panzer divisions occurred against Red Army units in the days immediately preceding and following the start of the uprising. Those counterattacks are cited by defenders of the Soviet Union and the Red Army as the real reason the Soviets did not immediately move to support the Poles, since they were preoccupied with defeating the German attacks and consolidating their gains before continuing their offensive.

Despite the many arguments presented by those who deny the Soviet failure to assist the Home Army was caused by logistics and the then overall battlefield situation, declassified documents established that Stalin’s government did all that it could to prevent the Warsaw uprising from succeeding. Besides ordering the Red Army not to advance, Stalin issued orders that Home Army units in territory already under Soviet control were to be prevented from joining their brethren in Warsaw or elsewhere in German controlled Poland. Those units were to be disarmed by Soviet troops or secret police, and apprehended until further notice. The official Soviet policy towards the uprising was to prevent aid arriving to the Polish Home Army until it was too late, at which time Stalin relented to save face with Churchill and Roosevelt.

20 Facts that Brutally Highlight the Warsaw Uprising of 1944
Polish fighters reading a message from the Germans asking for their surrender in late September, 1944. Wikimedia

15. The Germans and Poles negotiated an end to the uprising during September

As the violence in Warsaw continued into September the Germans recognized that the heavy fighting was adversely affecting morale and depleting already insufficient supplies needed to face the Red Army when it finally did move. The policy of reprisals against civilians was lifted, at least on paper, and negotiations between the German officers and the individual pockets of Polish resistance began. By September 10, 20,000 civilians were released from the areas of fighting and escorted to safety. That same day German commanders agreed to treat captured Home Army fighters as prisoners of war. The following day the Polish 1st Army arrived on the scene, boosting the morale of the resistance, and the Poles suspended further talks with the Germans,

Continuous pleas for aid from the Soviets went out as the Germans drove the Polish 1st Army units back across the Vistula, and the areas held by the Home Army diminished one city block at a time, in heavy, bloody, and costly combat. Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov was by that time on the Vistula front personally, and after receiving reports of the fighting and the situation in Warsaw, he recommended to Stalin that the Red Army continue to wait, though resupplying the resistance fighters would further weaken the Germans. During the last two weeks of September Stalin authorized supplies airdropped to the Home Army, in order to carry on the fighting in Warsaw between what he saw as two forces hostile to him, for as long as possible.

20 Facts that Brutally Highlight the Warsaw Uprising of 1944
German and Polish commanders signing the act of surrender of the Home Army, October 3, 1944. Wikimedia

16. Talks resumed between the Poles and the Germans at the end of September

By September 28 talks over the surrender of the Home Army units still fighting were resumed, and on October 2, 1944, the remaining resistance fighters agreed to lay down their arms in capitulation. The following day German troops assembled the Home Army troops, disarmed them, and prepared them to be sent to POW camps in Germany, rather than the concentration camps. Several thousand resistance fighters discarded their weapons and military paraphernalia, assuming places within the surviving civilian population of the city, many of them planning to continue resisting the Germans through the underground. They did not anticipate the German response to the events in Warsaw.

The Germans, with the Red Army still standing nearby, evacuated the remaining civilians from Warsaw, about 350,000 – 550,000 men, women, and children. They were sent to a transit camp. From there about 90,000 were dispatched to forced labor camps if they were deemed to be able bodied and of value to the Reich. All but 60,000 of the remainder were sent to various processing camps and released. The 60,000 retained were sent to various concentration camps, including in some cases the death camps such as Auschwitz, where their fate was determined by the camp officials as they disembarked the trains upon which they arrived. By November 1945 the city of Warsaw was abandoned, other than the German troops stationed there for another purpose.

20 Facts that Brutally Highlight the Warsaw Uprising of 1944
The civilian population of Warsaw was forcibly removed from the city as the Germans prepared to raze it. Bundesarchiv

17. The Germans attempted to raze Warsaw in full view of the Red Army

While the Red Army continued to rest its units near the Vistula and the Germans prepared for their winter assault through the Ardennes on the Western Front, German troops set about leveling the ancient city of Warsaw. The complete destruction of Warsaw had been a part of long-term Nazi planning since before the war began, with one proposal suggesting the creation of a lake by damming the Vistula, and the aftermath of the Warsaw Uprising was the impetus for the destruction of the city. The destruction of the city was carried out by German troops using munitions and flamethrowers, supported by tanks and heavy construction equipment.

The Germans were instructed to ensure that monuments to Polish history and culture were destroyed first, followed by buildings and homes, in effect erasing the city and any evidence of its previous existence from the earth. The Germans destroyed almost 85% of the city through three stages; the 1939 invasion, the Warsaw Uprising itself, and the deliberate destruction in its aftermath. While they were systematically destroying the city the offensive in the Ardennes failed, the Americans and British began their final drive towards Germany’s heartland, and the Red Army began once again to move forward, entering a Warsaw which had for all intents and purposes ceased to exist.

20 Facts that Brutally Highlight the Warsaw Uprising of 1944
The ferocity of the fighting and the atrocities committed meant that the exact number of casualties could only be estimated. Wikimedia

18. Total casualties of the Warsaw Uprising will never be known for a certainty

The number of casualties inflicted on all sides during the Warsaw Uprising have always been based on estimates, which themselves have been based on estimates of the numbers of fighters involved and those of the civilians present in the city when the fighting began. The only certainty is that 360 Allied airmen were killed in action or missing and presumed dead as a result of attempting to airlift supplies to the Polish resistance fighters. The Polish Home Army had over 15,000 killed, and Soviet persecution following their occupation of Poland ensured that many survivors of the fighting died in Soviet prisons. The Germans lost an estimated 17,000 killed and missing, though many of the missing were likely deserters by that stage of the war.

The Polish 1st Army, fighting under the control of the Red Army, suffered about 5,600 casualties. The civilian population of Warsaw, which included a substantial German presence, suffered between 150,000 and 250,000 killed, though the number has never been agreed upon by historians. How many were transported to forced labor camps or concentration camps as a result of the uprising and died there later is one reason for the disparity of numbers. The number of civilian dead is usually estimated without considering the number of Germans who were in the city as bureaucrats and administrators in the service of the Reich. Some of the casualties assigned to the uprising were actually the result of Soviet actions after taking the remains of the city in January, 1945.

20 Facts that Brutally Highlight the Warsaw Uprising of 1944
The Warsaw Ghetto uprising was a response to the German’s forced deportation of Warsaw’s Jews in 1943. Wikimedia

19. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising preceded the Warsaw Uprising

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is sometimes confused with the Warsaw Uprising, but they were two entirely separate events with the Ghetto Uprising ending more than a year before the Warsaw Uprising began. In April, 1943, Jewish residents of the Warsaw Ghetto, in response to the transports of the year before, refused to surrender to the SS for transportation to the camps in the east. The SS responded by burning the Ghetto. About 13,000 Polish Jews died in the Ghetto Uprising, which received little support from the Polish Home Army and the rest of the Polish resistance. The Jewish resistance fighters established defensive positions within the Ghetto, and fought the Germans as they moved to apprehend the population and destroy the area.

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was suppressed by mid-May, when the Germans detonated explosives to destroy the Great Synagogue of Warsaw. Some sporadic resistance from underground Jewish groups continued for another month. According to the German records, about 63,000 Jews resided in the Ghetto when the operation began, about 50,000 survived the Ghetto Uprising and were captured by the Germans and sent to concentration camps. The Ghetto Uprising, though largely unreported in the west and in the United States at the time, was studied by the Home Army closely, and did much to encourage the idea of a nationwide uprising against the Germans once the Soviet Army was closely enough positioned to provide aid to the resistance fighters.

20 Facts that Brutally Highlight the Warsaw Uprising of 1944
Troops of the Polish Home Army surrender to the Germans in October 1944. Wikimedia

20. The impact of the Warsaw Uprising on the war and the years following

The Warsaw Uprising had little impact on the remainder of the war, and after the war the Polish government and the Soviets did what they could to suppress the facts of the event. Both claimed that the uprising had been of little significance, and that it was an insurrection conducted by criminal elements. By the end of combat operations in Europe, Poland was firmly ensconced within the Soviet sphere of influence and within weeks Churchill was defeated at the polls, and the firmest opponent to Stalin over European affairs was removed from the stage. FDR was by then dead, and the attention of the United States turned to rebuilding Europe and defeating Japan.

Not until the collapse of the Soviet Union and the examination of declassified Soviet documents was the extent of Stalin’s opposition to the Home Army and the Warsaw Uprising revealed to the world. By that time several scholarly and popular works describing what the Russians call the Great Patriotic War supported the view that the Soviets were unable, rather than unwilling, to support the Polish Home Army in the insurrection. The declassified documents established that the Soviets actively worked to ensure that the uprising failed, both to weaken Polish ties to the government in exile in London, and to bleed the German army in Poland before launching their final assault on the Third Reich. Once that assault began the Soviets did all they could to destroy the evidence of the Warsaw Uprising and the courageous Poles who fought in it.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

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“Rising ’44: The Battle for Warsaw”. Norman Davies. 2004

“War and the City”. G. J. Ashworth. 1991

“The Polish Army 1939 – 1945”. Steven J. Zaloga. 1982

“The Second World War Volume 6 Chapter XI, The Martyrdom of Warsaw”. Winston S. Churchill. 1951

“Destroy Warsaw! Hitler’s punishment, Stalin’s revenge”. Andrew Borowiec. 2001

“Story of a Secret State”. Jan Karski. 2014

“The Warsaw Uprising of 1944”. Wlodzimierz Borodziej. 2006

“Stalin’s Wars: From World War to Cold War, 1939 – 1953”. Geoffery Roberts. 2007

“Ostkrieg: Hitler’s War of Extermination in the East”. Stephen G. Fritz. 2011

“Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944 – 1945”. Max Hastings. 2004

“Hitler’s Europe Ablaze: Occupation, Resistance, and Rebellion during World War II. Edited by Philip Cooke & Ben H. Shepherd. 2014

“Warsaw 1944: Poland’s bid for Freedom”. Robert Forczyk. 2009

“The Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles Under German Occupation”. Richard C. Lukas. 1986

“Civil War in Poland 1942 – 1948”. A. Prazmowska. 2004

“Hopeless Odds and Indomitable Spirits: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising”. John Guttman, HistoryNet. March 2000

“Yalta: The Price of Peace”. Serhii Plokhii. 2010