Commanding officers of the collaborationist Freiwillige (the Waffen-SS volunteers) brigade R.O.N.A. during the Warsaw Uprising, August 1944
A unit of the Direlewanger Regiment during Warsaw Uprising 1944
1 August–2 October 1944
From the moment Poland was captured in 1939, the Germans used mass murder to terrorize the Polish population. The Nazi plan first intended to exploit Poland for forced labour and economic resources, and then envisioned the reduction of the ethnic Polish population down to 3 to 4 million within a decade and total extermination within a few decades. In the Soviet-held east, all people in the occupied area were now declared Soviet citizens, and over 1.4 million people from eastern Poland were deported to serve as forced labour in the Soviet Union.
Yet even before Poland was overrun, the Polish Army’s General Staff had begun planning to form an underground resistance movement. In early 1940, the Polish Government-in-exile ordered Stefan Rowecki, former commander of the Warsaw Mechanized Brigade, to form a new resistance group, which evolved into the Home Army in February 1942. However, there was never a single Polish resistance movement during World War II, mainly owing to political disunity. Initially, Polish resistance activities were focused on conducting sabotage against German rail traffic, propaganda activities to undermine German morale, clandestine weapons production and intelligence collection.
The brutal German occupation of Poland took its toll on the population. The system whereby 100 Polish hostages were executed for each German killed by the Home Army dissuaded the Polish resistance from overt confrontations with German occupation forces in 1942–44. The Germans used between 50,000 and 80,000 SS-Police and Gestapo to fight a five-year cat and mouse game with the Polish resistance, but failed to destroy it.
One of the early German goals in Warsaw was the eradication of the 400,000 Polish Jews in the city. The Germans created the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto in the autumn of 1940, and in the summer of 1942, the SS began mass deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto to the newly built extermination camps. However, a small group of residents established the Jewish Fighting Organization in order to make a last‑ditch stand against the SS. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising began on 19 April 1943 and initially succeeded in evicting the SS troops from the ghetto, but after 28 days the SS finally crushed the last Jewish resistance.
On 23 June 1944 the Soviets launched Operation Bagration and quickly shattered the German Army Group Centre. Its remnants fell back into Poland and East Prussia, hotly pursued by the Soviets. Stalin moved rapidly to set up a communist alternative to the Polish Government-in-exile: the Polish Committee of National Liberation, based in the city of Chelm. As Soviet troops drove deeper into Poland and German resistance continued to crumble, the attitude of the Red Army towards the Home Army units it encountered changed from cooperation to overt hostility.
On 27 July, the Soviet 2nd Tank Army routed the German 73rd Infantry Division at Garwolin, driving it back towards Warsaw. Four days later, the 2nd Tank Army was on the outskirts of Warsaw. German support units in the area quickly withdrew across the Vistula River and streamed through Warsaw, reinforcing the Polish impression that the Germans were in full retreat. The hour of liberation seemed at hand.
Although Soviet propaganda normally referred to the Home Army as an ‘illegal force’, on the night of 29 July, Soviet radio broadcasts urged the Home Army to rise up and overthrow the German garrison in Warsaw. The decision was taken immediately to launch a citywide uprising at 5.00pm on 1 August. Unfortunately, the Polish decision-making was based upon the assumptions that the Germans were about to abandon Warsaw, that the Allies would provide vigorous support to an uprising and that the Soviet offensive would continue. All three assumptions were mistaken.
On 1 August, sporadic clashes began earlier than the planned time, and fighting broke out across the city of Warsaw. On 4 August, the first German reinforcements under SS-Gruppenführer Heinz Reinefarth appeared in the districts of Wola and Ochota. The brutal SS unit led by the notorious SS-Standartenfuhrer Oskar Dirlewanger entered Warsaw on the 5th and took part in the Wola Massacre, rounding up and shooting tens of thousands of civilians over the course of two days. On 6 August, Dirlewanger’s troops linked up with the encircled German forces in the Bruhl Palace.
German forces began major attacks on the Old Town in Warsaw on 8 August. On 16 August, they captured the water filtration plant, interdicting the city’s water supply. The Germans had failed to appreciate the value of denying water and electricity to the city until now, and also failed to realize that the Home Army used the city’s sewers to escape German encirclements.
A major Home Army attack from Zoliborz and the Old Town against Gdansk railway station took place on 21 August, but was repulsed with heavy losses. A final Polish attempt to break through to the Old Town from the city centre on 31 August also failed, and on 1–2 September the Home Army units evacuated the Old Town.
Further German attacks and clearances took place from 3 September. On that day, Soviet forces finally resumed their offensive against German forces east of the Vistula, which led the Germans to destroy the bridges over the river. From 16 September, Soviet and US air forces commenced a major resupply operation to the resistance units. However, the German attacks on the Home Army were intensifying, with the capture of the districts of Czerniaków, Mokotów and Zoliborz. On 30 September, Home Army envoys arrived at the German headquarters in the city to begin surrender talks, and the capitulation document was signed on 2 October. The surviving Home Army troops marched out of Warsaw on 4 October, and into captivity.
The terms of surrender stipulated that all civilians would be removed from the city. Out of about 650,000 civilians who were forcibly evicted from Warsaw, about 20 per cent were sent as forced labour to Germany, 15 per cent were sent to concentration camps, and the rest were released to become homeless refugees.
The SS then set about the systematic destruction of Warsaw. Hitler’s intent was that the city would simply disappear from the face of Europe – the only time in World War II that the Germans actually tried this on a major city.
List of combat units, German Army, Warsaw, 1 August 1944.
The figures in brackets indicate the strength in each unit.
Oberfeldkommandantur 225, Kommandantur
Warschau – Generalleutnant Rainer Stahel
Ostpreussen Grenadier-Regiment 4 (894)
Wachregiment ’Warschau’ (400) – Oberst Lange
Alarmregiment ’Warschau’ (400)
l.andesschutzen Battalion 996 (650)
Landesschutzen Battalion 997 (650)
Landesschutzen Battalion 998 (650)
Armee-Panzerjager-Abteilung 743 (120), 28 x Jagdpanzer 38
Panzer-Zerstorer-Bataillon 743, ett kompani
Pioniere-Bataillon 654 (300)
Sicherungs-Bataillon 944 (200)
7. Genesungs-Kompanie (73)
Feldgendarmerie Kompanie 225
Feldgendarmerie Kompanie (mot.) 914
Kommandantur Polizei – SS-Brigadefuhrer Paul Otto Geibel
SS-Polizei-Regiment 22 (800) – Oberst Wilhelm Rodewald
Reserve-Polizei Kompanie (220)
SA-Standarte ‘Feldherrhalle’ (200)
Gendarmerie (250) – Oberst Gode
Sicherheitspolizei (SD) (150) – SS-Standartenfuhrer Ludwig Hahn
Kosaken Kompanie (150)
2x SS Feldersatz Abteilungen
SS-Panzergrenadier Ersatz-Abteilung 3 – Obersturmfuhrer Martin Patz
SS- Reitersturm 8 (200) – Haupsturmfuhrer Dichtmann
Airport security Okecie (800)
Airport security Bielany (500)
Flak-Regiment 80/Flak-Brigade X (3,000)
TOTAL GARRISON: 16,000 men
Reinforcements for the month of August, 1944.
Pionier-Sturm-Bataillon 500 (604)
Infanterie-Abteilung Arzberger (630)
Grenadier-Abteilung Benthin (545) – Major Benthin
Panzergrenadier-Ersatz-Bataillon 5 (572)
Grenadier-Abteilung z.b.v. 550 (400)
Grenadier-Abteilung z. b.V. 560 (400)
Panzerabteilung (Fkl) 302 (160), 24 x StuG III – Major Reinert
Sturmgeschutz-Ersatz-Abteilung 200 (160) – Major Rupert Gruber
Panzer Sturm-Morser Kompanie 1000 (56)
Sturmpanzer-Kompanie z.b.V. 218 (78) – Hauptmann Kellmann
Panzer Ausbildung Zug 5
Schwere Stellungs-Werfer-Batterie 201 (64)
Artillerie-Abteilung 507 (76), 6 x 105mm 1FH18
Eisb. Panzerzug 75 (49) – Hauptmann Franz Edon
(1 Battery) Schwere Artillerie-Abteilung 154 4 x 150mm s.FH 18
2./ Schwere Artillerie-Abteilung 641 2 x 305mm mortars
1 Battery of 2 x 210mm Mortars
Heeres Artillerie Batterie 638 60cm ’Ziu’ (113)
Eisb. Artillerie Batterie 686 38cm ’Siegfried’
Flammenwerfer-Bataillon Krone (326)
Pionier-Sturm-Regiment ’Herzog’ – Major Herzog
Heeres-Sturmpionier-Bataillon 46 (614) – Major Wollenberg
Pionier-Bataillon 627 (mot.) (737)
Sicherungs-Regiment 608 (618) – Oberst Wilhelm Schmidt
Hilfs. Polizeiabteilung 21 ‘Sarnow’
Polizeiabteilung ‘Burkhardt’ (376)
Eisb. Polizei-Kompanie Walter’ (271)
Polizei Wach Bataillon Warschau’ (166)
Feuerschutz Polizeiabteilung 96 (mot.) (202)
Polizei Geschutze-Battsrls, 4 x 76.2mm Russian guns
Landesschutzen-Battalion 246 (341)
SS-Sonderregiment Dirlewanger (881) – SS-Standartenfuhrer Oskar Dirlewanger
1st Regiment/Waffen-Sturm-Brigade RONA (Kaminski Brigade) (1,585) – Sturmbannfuhrer Ivan Frolov
SS-Jager-Abteilung 501 (461)
Grenadier Kompanie, SS-Junkerschule Treskau
Kampfgruppe der SS-Fuhrerschule Braunschweig
SS-Kompanie (gem.), Warschau
Schwere SS-Kompanie Rontgen-Posen (200)
III/SS- Polizei-Regiment 23
Abwehr-Abteilung D – SD Haupsturmflihrer Spilker
I and III/ Ostmuselmannische 55-Regiment (550)
Aserbeidschanisches Feld-Bataillon 1./III (657) – Hauptmann Werner Scharrenberg
II./Gebirgsjager-Regiment ‘Bergmann’ (Azerbaijani) (556) – Hauptmann Hubert Mertelsmann
Russische Reiter-Abteilung 580
Sicherungs-Regiment 57 (944)
Kosaken-Abteilung 69 (773)
Kosaken-Abteilung 572 (619)
Kosaken-Reiter-Rgt. 3 (660)
Feldersatz-Bataillon (FEB), Fallschirm-Panzer-Division 1 ‘Hermann Goring’ (800)
Reinforcements for the month of September, 1944.
Heeres Artillerie Batterie 428 2x 60cm Rex, Thor
‘Hermann Goring’I./Falischirm-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 2‘Hermann Goring’ I./34. Polizei-Schutzen-Regiment – Major Nachtwey