UNDERGROUND ARMY IN BID FOR POLAND’S FREEDOM

Warsaw, Occupied Poland · August 1, 1944

After landing on Normandy’s Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches on D‑Day, June 6, 1944, British soldiers came upon Ger­many’s Leichter Ladungs­traeger (light charge carrier) named “Goliath,” a tank-tread robot demo­lition mine approx­i­mately 4 feet long, 2 feet wide, and 1 foot tall that carried 170–220 lb of high explo­sives. Variously known as the “beetle tank” and “doodle­bug” to the Allies, the expend­able robot was steered by a joy­stick con­trol box via a 700‑yard cable connected to the rear of the vehicle.

Prior to Normandy, Goliaths saw action at Anzio in Italy in April 1944 and most noto­riously in the two‑month-long Polish Warsaw Uprising, which began on this date in 1944 as units of the Wehr­macht (German armed forces) and the ruth­less Waffen-SS (armed wing of the Nazi Party’s Schutz­staffel, or SS for short) rushed to crush fierce Polish resis­tance by the under­ground Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa). Polish insur­gent volun­teers, armed only with light wea­pons and cutters, were cre­dited with success­fully severing the com­mand cables of some of the Goliaths before they reached their intended targets.

The inten­tion of the insurgents was to expel the Ger­mans from the Polish capi­tal and pave the way for the legiti­mate Polish govern­ment to return to Poland from exile in London. The under­equipped Polish Home Army, numbering between 20,000 and 49,000 men, women, teen­agers, and child­ren in the begin­ning, sur­rendered on Octo­ber 2, 1944, but not before killing and wounding 16,000 Ger­mans and their allies. Another 7,000 Ger­mans were listed as missing in action.

Although the exact number of Polish casu­al­ties remains un­known, it is esti­mated that about 16,000 mem­bers of the Polish Resis­tance were killed and some 6,000 badly wounded. Until mid-Septem­ber 1944 the Ger­mans shot all cap­tured insur­gents on the spot, but from the end of Septem­ber some of the cap­tured Polish sol­diers were treated as POWs (roughly 15,000). In addi­tion to insur­gent deaths, between 150,000 and 200,000 Polish civil­ians died, mostly from mass exe­cu­tions carried out by special units of the SS, police, and Wehr­macht that went from house to house, shooting the inhab­i­tants regard­less of age or sex and burning their bodies. Forced to aban­don Warsaw in Janu­ary 1945, the Ger­mans left the Polish capital a “ghost city,” over 85 percent destroyed.





Warsaw Uprising, August 1 to October 2, 1944

Goliath tracked mine, Normandy, France, 1944 Captured German armored SdKfz 251, Warsaw, August 1944

Left: British soldiers with captured German “Goliath” tracked mines during the Nor­mandy in­vasion, 1944. Although over 7,000 Goliaths were pro­duced, the single-use tracked mine was not con­sidered a war­time success story due in part to its high unit cost and low ground clearance. Goliaths were among the 310 tanks and armored cars the Germans lost in the two‑month-long Warsaw Uprising.

Right: A German armored fighting vehicle captured from an SS divi­sion by Polish in­sur­gents on August 14, 1944. The Polish under­ground exploited the Wehr­macht’s dis­trac­tion caused by Oper­a­tion Bagra­tion, the Soviet advance into Eastern Poland, to launch Poland’s bid for freedom.

Warsaw street barricade, 1944 Polish Boy Scout soldiers, Warsaw, September 2, 1944

Left: Polish barricade on Napoleon Square built around a Ger­man tank des­troyer cap­tured by the Polish Home Army. The Home Army was the most signifi­cant resistance movement in occupied Europe.

Right: Teenage Polish Boy Scout soldiers shortly after emerging from a War­saw sewer early in the morning of September 2, 1944.

Warsaw civilians murdered by SS unit, 1944Liberated women, Gęsiówka concentration camp, Warsaw, August 1944

Left: Polish civilians murdered by the in­famous SS penal bri­gade com­manded by Oskar Dirle­wanger, who reported directly to Reichs­fuehrer-SS Hein­rich Himm­ler, August 1944. In the western­most War­saw boroughs of Wola and Ochota, esti­mates of civil­ians killed range from 20,000 to 50,000 (40,000 in Wola alone by August 8, 1944) or as high as 100,000. Dirle­wanger, a psycho­pathic killer and con­victed child molester, died in Allied cus­tody, apparently beaten to death by his guards.

Right: Despite the loss of Wola, Polish insurgents managed to cap­ture the ruins of the War­saw Ghetto and liber­ate the Gęsiówka con­cen­tra­tion camp on Gęsia Street on August 5, 1944, freeing about 350 Jews. This photo shows Jewish women posing with their liberators.

Below: Monument to the gallant but doomed heroes of the Warsaw Uprising, Krasiński Square in Warsaw’s Old Town.

Warsaw Uprising Memorial, Old Town

 

CNN Documentary About the Warsaw Rising, August–October 1944