The Warsaw Uprising was one of the largest battles of the Second World War. The two-month long battle of the forlorn capital with the military power of the Third Reich - including the indifference of the Red Army, which stood at the entrance of the city, and the scant help provided by the western allies - became an unprecedented event, not only in Polish but in European history.
On July 31, 1944, the commander of the Home Army, General Tadeusz Komorowski "Bór" ("Forest"), as well as the commanding officer of the Warsaw District of the Home Army (Okręg Warszawa AK) Colonel Antoni Chruściel "Monter" ("Fitter"), with the support of the delegate of the Government of the Polish Republic in Exile Stanisław Jankowski, set the date of the outbreak of the uprising for August 1 at 5 pm.
The spectacular success of "W" hour was the capture of the tallest building in Warsaw - Prudential. A white and red flag fluttered on the roof of this building. Unfortunately, most of the assaults of August 1 did not go well. The attempt to capture the police district on Szucha Avenue and the airport in Okęcie ended in bloodshed and casualties. The bridges were not controlled, and the uprising in Praga collapsed quickly.
Even so, during the following days, the Home Army achieved a good deal of success. The Main Post Office on Napoleon Plaza (presently called the Plaza of the Participants of the Warsaw Uprising (pl. Powstańców Warszawy) was captured; the Mail Railway Station on Jerozolimskie Avenue and the entire power plant grounds on Powiśle were captured; and on Old Town the building of the National Paper Mill was captured. The Directorate of Sabotage and Diversion units (Kierownictwo Dywersji (Kedyw)) - which were concentrated on Wola and were under the command of lieutenant-colonel Jan Mazurkiewicz "Radosław" - were most successful. On August 5 the "Zośka" battalion captured the concentration camp on "Gęsiówka" (Polish informal name for the prison on Gęsia Street), thus freeing 350 Jews.
The Germans quickly mobilized additional forces to suppress the uprising. A special corps under the command of the SS General Erich von dem Bacha was created. Having been directed to pacify the city, the criminal brigade of Oskar Dirlewanger carried out a slaughter on Wola. Over 40 thousand people died in the executions in this district during several days only. Bestial manslaughter was committed against the people of Ochota by units of the Russian National Liberation Army (RONA, Russkaja Oswoboditielnaja Narodnaja Armia), under the command of SS General Kamiński. In accordance with the order of Adolf Hitler as well as the commander of the SS and the Police, Heinrich Himmler, every inhabitant was to be killed. Until August 11 Wola and Ochota were entirely controlled by the enemy.
Meanwhile in liberated neighborhoods, the structures of a free Poland were being created, despite extreme conditions. On August 2 the first issue of the uprising periodical called "Information Bulletin" ("Biuletyn Informacyjny") appeared; it was of the Home Army press. During the uprising over 150 publications came out, including two pamphlets for children.
Underground civilian authorities appeared, advising on makeshift funerals, as well as securing formerly German property and forbidding private execution of justice. Special courts and security authorities began to function openly. As in September 1939, representatives of the Anti-Aircraft Defense (Obrona Przeciwlotnicza (OPL)) and the City Guard (Straż Porządkowa) were on duty in individual buildings. Unbelievable enthusiasm reigned; the people of Warsaw began to build barricades and underground pathways to neighboring buildings. People shared their supplies in solidarity, organized care for children and for refugees from neighborhoods which were occupied by Germans and for people who had lost their property as a result of fire.
From August 1 the Scouting Post Office (Harcerska Poczta Polowa) was functioning. The postmen were members of Zawisza; they were boys from the youngest scout formation, mostly between the ages of 12 and 15. They reached not only the civilian population, but also units on the front, even the most removed outposts. Despite extreme conditions, the rule was that a letter sent from Śródmieście (City Center) was delivered on the same day. On August 2 the first uprising postal stamps appeared on letters.
The uprising radio station "Błyskawica" ("Lightning Bolt") and Polish Radio began broadcasting programs. Teams of filmmakers and photo reporters who were trained in conspiring began working for these programs. Newsreels, which were screened three times in Palladium Cinema on Złota Street, received ovations from audiences. The capital in uprising was recorded on film by: Sylwester "Kris" Braun, Joachim Joachimczyk, Jerzy Chojnacki and the famous athlete and olympian, Eugeniusz Lokajski, who died on September 25.
Academies and concerts were organized in many parts of the city, and well-known Warsaw actors participated. Songs sung by Mieczysław Fogg and Mira Zimińska were very successful. There was a puppet theater on Powiśle.
On the wave of enthusiasm, volunteers joined the fighting. The ranks of uprising participants were growing, but unfortunately there were not enough weapons for everyone. Allied air raids - despite the dedication of Polish, British and South African pilots - were not enough.
Guerrilla units from the Kampinos Forest (Puszcza Kampinoska) hurried with help, aiding Żoliborz. Meanwhile the "Krawiec" company broke through to Mokotów from the Chojnowskie Forests. In the second half of August, the situation in Śródmieście (City Center) improved, thanks to efficient operations. On August 20 the Polish Telephone Joint-Stock Company building (PAST, Polska Akcyjna Spółka Telefoniczna) on Zielna Street was captured; three days later, the Church of the Holy Cross (Kościół Św. Krzyża) and the Police Headquarters on Krakowskie Przedmieście Street were also captured. In both cases, the uprising participants gained a good deal of weapons and ammunition.
The heroic combat involved in cutting off Old Town turned into a legend. In fierce fighting over every building and every floor, both sides suffered big losses. The uprising fortifications of Polish Security Printing Works (Polska Wytwórnia Papierów Wartościowych (PWPW)) and Bank Polski on Bielańska Street were defending themselves fiercely. St. John's Cathedral (Katedra Św. Jana) passed from hand to hand several times. In the bomb and shell fire, old municipal buildings laid in ruins. Not a single building in this part of the city survived. The defenders of Old Town did not lay down their arms. On September 2 they withdrew through the sewers to Śródmieście (City Center). The fate of wounded uprising participants was tragic; they were left in old municipal hospitals. Germans murdered and burned many of them. The civilian population that was crowed into basements also went through an ordeal. Those who luckily protected themselves from the bombs became victims of robbery and rape.
After Old Town fell, Germans attacked Powiśle, which fell on September 6. The situation became critical. With difficulty the uprising participants restrained the enemy that was charging on the north of Center City (Śródmieście Północne) from New World Street (Nowy Świat). Meanwhile the front on the other bank of the Vistula River began advancing. On September 14 Russian troops, supported by the Polish First Army (Pierwsza Armia Wojska Polskiego), gained control of Praga. The people of Warsaw started to believe that the long awaited support would finally come. Two days later on the order of Marshal Rokossowsky, General Berling's first soldiers pushed through the Vistula River, reaching Czerniaków, which was cut off from Śródmieście (City Center) and was defending itself fiercely. Further crossings through German artillery and automatic firearms fire ended in defeat, as did the attempt at capturing the bridgehead on Żoliborz. In Stalin's eyes this action was solely propagandistic, a demonstration of good will at a moment when the fate of the uprising had already been determined.
Hope again entered the hearts of the Warsaw inhabitants when on September 18, American airplanes appeared over the capital. The containers that were dropped with parachutes were first thought to be a landing operation. Unfortunately, most of the weapons that were dropped from the plane fell onto territories that were occupied by the Germans. The aid was late.
On September 23 the final battles on Czerniaków ended. On September 27, Mokotów gave up. The evacuation through the sewer system to Śródmieście (City Center) was tragic in its effects, taking a heavy toll on human lives. Germans were throwing grenades and carbide into the sewers. As a result of the vapors, many people experienced shock and hallucinations. Many lost their strength and drowned.
Żoliborz defended itself until September 30. The only remaining neighborhood, Śródmieście (City Center), decided to end its fight. On October 2, after a few days of negotiations, the command of the Home Army surrendered. During the course of the fighting, around 18,000 uprising participants died; civilian casualties amounted to at least 150,000 killed. German casualties amounted to 17,000 dead or missing. The remaining participants of the uprising ended up in prisoner-of-war camps, in accordance with the agreement to surrender. The civilian population was forced out of the city and condemned to ill treatment.