Reviewed by Anna Wittmann (Department of English, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta)
Published on H-War (April, 2006)
The Warsaw Rising of 1944: Allied Betrayal or Military Folly?
On August 1, 1944, Polish insurgents of the Home Army (Armia Krajowa, AK, commanded by General Tadeusz Bor-Komorowski) seized major German strong points in Warsaw. By the time the last shot of the rising was fired two months later on October 2, some 200,000 lives, including those of about 150,000 civilians, had been lost, and shortly thereafter, approximately 700,000 Poles were expelled from the city and about 55,000 of these were sent to concentration camps. Over 80 percent of Warsaw would be systematically destroyed by occupying Axis troops. Meanwhile, Soviet forces, mainly of the First Byelorussian Front commanded by Marshall Rokossovsky, had looked on from the west banks of the Vistula, a mere 25 to 40 miles south of Warsaw; other columns were some nine miles east of the city. British and American forces had made sporadic attempts to supply the insurgents by air, but, facing occasional bad weather and generally denied landing and refueling privileges--and indeed, sometimes fired upon--by their Soviet "ally," these missions provided little substantial aid.
According to Norman Davies, the Warsaw Rising of 1944 represents more than the disastrous attempt of an underground army to drive out the Nazi occupiers who had seized Poland in the fall of 1939. Davies contends that the rising was "a three-sided struggle, in which the centrepiece was provided by the duel of two totalitarian monsters, fascism and communism, and in which the Western democracies frequently featured as a third party of only moderate importance" (p. 619). The Western Allies, he claims, had "no coherent strategy for dealing with Stalin" and were thus greatly responsible for the military disaster (p. 616). Concurrently, the Warsaw Rising, marking as it did a breakdown of the Grand Alliance, represents one of the earliest altercations of the Cold War (p. 620).
In Rising '44, Davies writes a polemical analysis of the events leading to the insurgency, the rising itself, and its short- and long-term aftermath. Correspondingly, the book is divided into three parts. Part 1, consisting of a prologue and four parallel chapters, traces Polish relationships with the Western Allies, Germany, and the Soviet Union, beginning well before World War II and continuing to the eve of the rising. He dismisses the Anglo-Polish Treaty of Mutual Assistance of August 25, 1939 as a love affair soon to go sour (p. 27), evidenced by the British claim that "the secret protocol … against an 'attack by a European power' could not be used to refer to the attack by the USSR" (p. 30). The final chapter of part 1 diffusely traces Polish resistance during German occupation, focusing on "Operation Tempest" (Pol. "Burza"), initially planned as a series of consecutive risings to be carried out against retreating Axis troops independently of the Red Army. As it turned out, however, Soviet forces often arrested Home Army fighters (pp. 224, 263).
In view of this evident Soviet hostility, it is startling to consider that the Polish government-in-exile, headed by Premier Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, approved a rising, waited over a week for news of its launching, and only then took measures to organize full Western support and to resume contact with Moscow, which had been broken off over Katyn more than a year earlier. The government-in-exile also ignored the advice of prominent military personnel, such as Lieutenant-General Kazimierz Sosnkowski, Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Armed Forces, General Wladyslaw Anders, Commander of the Second Polish Corps in Italy, and General Marian Kukiel, Minister of National Defense, who all advised strongly against an insurgency. Davies mentions these details only to brush them aside in the claim that Polish leaders were unaware of true Allied intentions.
The five chapters comprising the second part of the book deal with the rising itself and are interspersed with "Snapshots," consisting of firsthand accounts of participants. While these offer vivid glimpses of the insurrection, they are accompanied by little analysis and truncate the core text. What is more, the very "snapshot" nature of Davies's approach precludes any cohesive assessment of urban warfare in Warsaw. In military details, the treatment is limited; readers are forced to look elsewhere for a comprehensive assessment of the fighting capacity of the Home Army or of the approximately 45,000 Reich forces under command of General Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski. Davies does not fully consider that Polish strategists grossly underestimated the residual strength of Axis forces stationed in Warsaw and the reinforcements still at their disposal; indeed, the German perspective is one of the most lightly documented in the study, as when he refers to material from the German Federal Archives in Bonn (?) but provides no source for citations from war diaries of the Ninth Army, and often fails to identify individual Axis units.
In short, Davies's contention that the Allies sacrificed the Warsaw insurgents is not convincing from a military-strategic perspective, given the context of Polish-Soviet relations and World War II alliances. From the beginning, it is clear that the plan for a "Battle for Warsaw" was ill advised, stemming from wishful thinking on the Polish side that the Soviets would rapidly advance to take Warsaw and that, to supply the insurgents, the Western Allies would divert focus from the Western Front in the wake of D-Day landings in Normandy and the ongoing Battle of the Falaise Pocket from August 19-21.
A further question that Davies could have addressed more fully is that of Allied airdrops, about which he provides few details, not even specifying the number of flights. Other sources confirm, nevertheless, that starting on the night of August 4-5, the Royal Air Force made 116 sorties throughout the rising, and the Polish Air Force another 97, with respective losses of just over 16 percent and 15 percent. Once the Soviets finally granted the U.S. Air Force landing permission, a further mission with 107 American Flying Fortresses took place on September 18, but by this time the Germans had regained most of Warsaw. Consequently, fewer than 250 of 1284 containers fell to the Home Army. Still, the question emerges whether, even with ideal flying conditions and without the risk of "friendly fire" from the Soviets, more substantial air supply would have made a positive difference, given the fluctuating fronts of urban warfare--an aspect Davies does not fully address.
The third and final part, "After the Rising," expounds on the predictable aftermath of the rising from 1944 to the present. As the Red Army entered Warsaw in January 1945, many insurgents who had escaped arrest by Reich forces found themselves bound for the Soviet Gulag. And, as Davies notes, the Victory Parade in London on June 8, 1946 saw no Polish representation, for the government-in-exile had lost formal recognition shortly after VE-Day. To this day, Davies claims, the rising is largely ignored and its leaders vilified, even though, he reiterates, the brunt of blame should fall on the Allied Coalition. Here, the objective analyst must ask whether the Polish military and political leaders who approved the rising, oblivious to political and military realities, were not equally guilty.
While Rising '44 is a readable book with an encyclopedic approach, its polemicism makes it of limited value to the historian. Also, Davies's condescending claim that foreign readers are unable to deal with Polish names leads him to refer to prominent figures only by position titles (e.g., Minister of Defense) or pseudonyms, as when Premier Mikolajczyk becomes "Premier Mick" or General Bor-Komorowski becomes "General Boor." The tactic sends the reader scrambling to a fourteen-page list of modified names that are not alphabetically cross-referenced. In addition, a bibliography of archival, primary, and secondary sources would have been a substantial aid to researchers. Thus, a number of methodological and documentary limitations tailor Davies's otherwise substantial study more to a popular readership than a scholarly one, even though his contentions may well serve as springboards for academic debate.
. Sources diverge in estimates of losses. Among others, see Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, "The Warsaw Rising 1944: Perception and Reality," http://www.warsawuprising.com/paper/chodakiewicz1.htm (January 10, 2006); Tadeusz Kondracki, "The Warsaw Rising," http://www.polishresistance-ak.org/4 Article.htm (January 10, 2006); Joanna Hanson, The Civilian Population and the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1982); Jozef Garlinski, Poland in the Second World War (London: Macmillan, 1985).
. This contention is, of course, not new. See Hanns von Krannhals, Der Warschauer Aufstand 1944 (Frankfurt: Bernard & Graefe, 1962); Richard Lukas, "The Big Three and the Warsaw Uprising," Military Affairs 39, no. 3 (October 1975): pp. 129-135; and Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, "The Warsaw Rising 1944: Perception and Reality."
. For details on materiel, see Tadeusz Kondracki's "Warsaw Rising" and Jozef Garlinski, Poland in the Second World War.
. There are no German Federal Archives in Bonn itself.
. For details on airdrops, see Tadeusz Kondracki's "Warsaw Rising" and Jozef Garlinski, Poland in the Second World War, as well as Neil D. Orpen, Airlift to Warsaw: The Rising of 1944 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1984).
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Anna Wittmann. Review of Davies, Norman, Rising '44: The Battle for Warsaw.
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