Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The Warsaw Uprising of 1944 by Wlodzimierz Borodziej

I'm just now starting to get into the details of this uprising and will hopefully try to publish an article with a friend on it, at some point. This has always been a contested issue with the Poles and from a subjective stand point it should be an emotional issue. Yet, today, like with Katyn, the real issue is not what happened and why but rather how can we use this against the Soviet Union.

The first thing you'll notice when reading this book is that it is relatively new, published in 2001. It uses a variety of primary and secondary sources, but almost none are Russian or former Soviet archives, at least none that I could see. The author apparently doesn't know Russian but there some of the books he lists could definitely have been translated into Polish from their original Russian. The book, overall, is quite small, around 150 pages, and easy enough to read through. The names might be a pain to pronounce, but that comes with the territory.

Overall the author's historical comments about what Poland and the underground were going through provided an interesting context to the uprising itself. The AK, that is Polish Home Army, helped liberate various cities with the Red Army, including Lublin and Lvov, and hoped for a type of co-existence after it was over. But, due to an order issued by Stalin they were disarmed, although they were given the choice to come and join the 1st Polish Army which was fighting with the Red Army. An important point to make is that the uprisings which occurred before, as test trials for what the AK thought would happen in Warsaw, all proved to have been failures. There were many advocating that it shouldn't happen while others voted for the opposite. An interesting event took place in Praga, located on the Eastern side of the Vistula river, the uprising there from the beginning didn't go as planned and was called off with the men disbanding and going their separate ways, there were no reprisals against the civilian population, one could only wonder what would have happened if the rest of the uprising went through the same steps.

So, on to the uprising. The AK was composed of tens of thousands, including women, but its weapons were not even close to what they needed to arm everyone. The US and England did not drop enough supplies for them, a drop in the bucket compared to how much they dropped on France and in Yugoslavia. An interesting detail is that when the AK helped the Red Army earlier, they negotiated and received supplies from the Red Army without any questions. So, the Red Army is closing in and on August 1st the Uprising begins. What the author doesn't mention is that the Red Army had no clue that any such uprising started. The London Poles, recognized by the AK, gave the AK commander carte blanch on when to start the uprising. Thus even the London Poles didn't know until a day later what had happened. This is important because the first day witnessed many defeats and few successes. Thus in effect the uprising was a failure to begin with. The Red Army didn't know and was too busy fighting into Praga and creating bridgeheads to join in the fighting inside of Warsaw, which the author mentions sporadically. The 2nd Tank Army lost half its tanks fighting into Praga and was then forced onto the defensive as more German troops came up to help in the defense and stragglers from the East were forced back into the line.

To juxtapose this situation with another, eventually when the 1st Polish Army, fighting with the Red Army, did cross the river to help 2 of its battalions landed in an area not controlled by the AK. This area was less than a kilometer away from where the AK were in fact located. For two days the two Polish battalions fought the Germans without the AK even knowing where they were! Less than a kilometer and the AK didn't know? Now compare this with the Red Army, which was much further than a sole kilometer and had NO contact with any AK representatives, how were they to know what was going on? Add to this the fact that Operation Bagration was coming to an end and their supply lines were stretched out too far for them to continue large scale operations.

The author suggests that localized attacks with tactical and operational reserves could have helped the situation, since the strategic reserves were being forced south in order to prepare for operations which would liberate Romania. But this simply wasn't possible, divisions and other formations had no tactical or operational reserves, they were used up during operation bagration. The author presents no evidence or statistics to show any of this, thinking that these men and equipment would just magically show up to save the day. It has to be noted when various armies did pull up to the battlefield, they were engaging the enemy! They were doing all they could! Including crossing the Vistula into Warsaw to fight alongside the Poles! But, this took time to occur, thus the delay in August. In fact it's very hard to understand what Stalin was thinking since so few Soviet or Russian sources are used, no orders are quoted, aside from one which had Rokossovsky and Zhukov planning an offensive to help liberate Warsaw, but what the author leaves out is that the conditions for that offensive were never met, thus it was never undertaken. Overall, 60+ years later there are more questions than there are answers.

If you know nothing about the uprising, this book will surely make you biased against the Red Army, I was tempted to curse them myself. As the author shows how something was impossible, on behalf of the Red Army, the next thing you know, they could have still done this and that. Explanation given? None.

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