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Lack of outside support in the Warsaw Uprising
The Warsaw Uprising, in 1944 ended in the capitulation of the city and its near total destruction. According to many historians, a major cause of this was the almost complete lack of outside support and the late arrival of the support which did arrive. The only support operation which ran for a long period was one run by the RAF which had to use distant airfields and so had very limited effect.
One explanation which has been given for the lack of outside support is that the uprising began too early and so the nearby Soviet forces were not ready to support. This explanation, however, appears to be contradicted by the fact that, at times during the uprising the NKVD was actively arresting Home Army forces in the East of Warsaw and that a large proportion of RAF losses were caused by Soviet anti-aircraft fire. Two further explanations have been given for the failure of Allied support. The first is that the Soviets misunderstood the circumstances of the uprising, though, again this cannot easily explain their attacks on their own allies, the British without some further complication. The second is that the Soviet forces deliberately blocked the Western Allies from providing support to the Polish forces to support their desire to have Warsaw and any independent-minded Polish forces destroyed before their arrival.
From August 4 the Western Allies begun supporting the Warsaw Uprising with airdrops of munitions and other supplies. Initially the air raids were carried out mostly by 1568 Polish Flight of the PAF stationed in Bari and Brindisi in Italy. Later on at the insistence of the Polish government-in-exile they were joined by the Liberators of 2 Wing - 31 and 34 Squadrons of the SAAF based at Foggia in Southern Italy, and Halifaxes, flown by 148 and 178 Squadrons of the RAF. The drops continued September 21. The total weight of allied drops was 104 tons.
The Soviet Union did not give permission to the Allies for use of its airports for those supply operations and thus the planes were forced to use bases in United Kingdom and Italy which reduced their carrying weight and number of sorties. The Allies specific request for the use of landing strips made on 20 August was denied by Stalin on 22 August (he referred to the insurgents as 'a handful of criminals').
United States planes did not join the operation. After Stalin's objections to support for the uprising, Churchill telegrammed Roosevelt on August 25 and proposed sending planes in defiance of Stalin and to 'see what happens'. Roosevelt replied on August 26: 'I do not consider it advantageous to the long-range general war prospect for me to join you in the proposed message to Uncle Joe'.
Although German air defence over the Warsaw area itself was almost non-existent about 12% of the 296 planes taking part in that operations were lost because they had to fly 1600 km out over heavily defended enemy territory and then back over the same route. Most of the drops were made during night, and poor accuracy left many parachuted packages stranded behind German-controlled territory.
From September 13 on the Soviets began their own airdrop raids with supplies, and dropped about 55 tons in total. The drops continued until September 28. Since the Soviet airmen did not equip the containers with parachutes, the majority of recovered packages were damaged. Finally on September 18 the Soviets allowed one USAAF flight of 110 B-17s of 3 divison Eighth Air Force to re-fuel at Soviet airfields used in Operation Frantic , but it was too little too late.
Soviet 'help': Berling landings on Powiśle
In September the eastern part of Warsaw had been captured by the Soviets. In the Praga area Polish units under command of General Zygmunt Berling (thus sometimes known as 'berlingowcy' - 'the Berling men'), the 1st Polish Army (1 Armia Wojska Polskiego) were in position. On the night of 14/15th of September three patrols from landed on the shore of Czerniaków and Powiśle areas and made contacts with Home Army forces. Under heavy German fire only small elements of main units made it ashore (I and III battalions of 9th infantry regiment, 3rd Infantry Division). At the same time the commanders of the Red Army declined to support the Polish troops with artillery, tanks or bombers.
The Germans intensified their attacks on the Home Army positions near the river to prevent any further landings, which could seriously compromise their line of defence, but weren't able to made any significant advances for several days, while Polish forces held those vital positions in preparation for new expected wave of Soviet landings. Polish units from the eastern shore attempted several more landings, and during the next few days sustained heavy losses (including destruction of all landing boats and most of other river crossing equipment). Other Soviet units limited their assistance to sporadic and insignificant artillery and air support.
- Contrary to our expectations, the enemy has halted all of their offensive actions alongside the entire front of the 9th Army. - from the operations journal of German 9th Army on 16 August 1944, entry shows the German amazement with Russian response to the Warsaw Uprising
Shortly after the Berling landings, the Soviets decide to postpone all plans for a river crossing in Warsaw "for at least 4 months" and soon afterwards general Berling was relieved of his command. On the night of September 19, after no further attempts from the other side of the river were made and the promised evacuation of wounded did not take place, Home Army soldiers and landed elements of Wojsko Polskie were forced to begin a retreat from their positions on the bank of the river.
Out of approximately 3,000 men who made it ashore only around 900 made it back to the eastern shores of Vistula, approximately 600 of them seriously wounded.
Closed or destroyed military archives
Research into the lack of support of the Warsaw Uprising is (according to historians such as Norman Davies) currently very difficult due to lack of access to archives. For records related to the period, currently both the United Kingdom archives and Russian archives (where the majority of Soviet archives are kept) remain mostly closed to the public. Further the United Kingdom claims to have accidentally destroyed the archives of the Polish Government in Exile.
- Warsaw Uprising the main page of this series
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