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WARSAW UPRISING OF 1944

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PART 6 - "WARSAW AFLAME"

Though the Germans’ slow advance continued, they were still not able to free any of the main thoroughfares--let alone keep control of them. All the same, Dirlewanger’s first assault detachment did hack its way through to the edge of the Saxon Gardens and set up a makeshift bridgehead. From here Reinefarth broke out and, aided by two tanks, made one extremely risky advance--he wanted to speak in person to General Stahel, still locked up in the Bruehl Palace. In fact, the two solitary tanks did fight their way through as far as the palace and Reinefarth was able, as he wished, to discuss with Stahel the confused command situation. Bach-Zelewski had official command, while Reinefarth was still in temporary (but official) command of all Police and SS units. As commandant, Stahel himself had to accept the final responsibility for any action in the city. Wehrmacht units came under Ninth Army and therefore General Vormann. Understandably enough, this led to endless misunderstandings and mishaps. Finally they reached agreement: all troops posted into the city would be commanded by Bach-Zelewski; Stahel would command all those actually stationed in Warsaw.

Reinefarth only just managed to battle his way back. Disorganized and muddled groups belonging to the Polish "Kedyw" Regiment held the roadway under intense covering fire. The general even had to borrow one of the "Hermann Goring" Panthers to support his self-propelled guns. In fact, since the night of August 5-6, the Poles had had excellent PIAT anti-tank equipment at their disposal. This was of English origin and came from the first Allied supply drop, performed by two planes whose courageous pilots had braved all the dangers, and managed to reach Warsaw from England. Theirs was a lone effort, however, until at least mid-August.

Damaged German armor The Germans felt even this single supply sorely. Between August 6-7 they lost several tanks and self propelled guns. Molotov cocktails manufactured in primitive workshops remained the Poles’ main anti-tank weapon. The simple ingredients necessary were available from any chemist. One needed only to fill a bottle with petrol or diesel oil, add a couple of spoons of sulfuric acid and stick a small amount of calcium chloride onto the side of the bottle with a strip of paper. The bottle shattered on impact and the mixture inside, reacting with the chloride, exploded instantaneously.

The rebels used Molotov Cocktails with deadly effect, especially against tanks. These neat weapons rained down directly on to the tanks from the rooftops, the burning mixture running through the ventilation slits and setting the interiors on fire. The crews were forced to leap out, becoming easy prey for the Polish snipers.

As a result, even Reinefarth had to admit that tanks helped only in the suburbs, not in the densely built up city areas: "Even in this short time our tanks have shown themselves to be unsuited for city warfare. Tanks cannot reverse and turn in the streets which are already covered in rubble and debris. Apart from this, they are too wide and difficult to maneuver."

The Poles noticed this, too. They had successfully captured two Panther tanks, which were still in working order. Flying the Polish flag, one of them lumbered its way to the outskirts of the Ghetto quarter. A couple of units fled headlong at the mere sight of them, leaving hundreds of prisoners behind, who the Poles now freed. But the Poles, because of the practical considerations mentioned, did not dare to use their two tanks along the actual battle line. The German commanders therefore could disbelieve the story of the captured tanks and thus register them as "gutted." Despite minor successes on both sides, therefore, the general position in Wola remained basically the same as evening fell.

Youthful defenderTheir heavy losses only made the Kedyw unit fight all the more intensely, but really they were fighting a losing battle. These elite soldiers fought in and around the cemeteries and open squares of Wola, holding on like grim death to a tactically unimportant position. They suffered fearful losses, especially among the officers, and all caused simply by the fact that the Polish leaders misunderstood the attitude of Allied Command about use of the London-based Polish Paratroop Brigade. The Allies had no intention of sending this vital unit into action in Warsaw and to have them sacrificed there--they believed that they needed every man they could get along the invasion front which was pushing forwards in France and Italy. Even if this unit had been released for action in Warsaw, as the Polish leadership expected, its members could not possibly have jumped as an integrated unit over Warsaw’s suburbs, or even over the outskirts of the city. When these facts began to dawn on the Polish leaders, they unwittingly made matters worse by delaying the breakout, which had been suggested for the well-equipped Kedyw unit into the forests of Puscza Kampinoska. They hesitated in confusion for so long that any subsequent maneuver of value became impossible.

Left without any unifying direction, the force, though it was not completely wiped out, was broken up into small groups, and lost much of its value as a fighting unit. Despite the basic error, the tough resistance put up did, however, delay the German advance further and they had to be satisfied with partial successes. They only achieved their declared aim of "freeing" all Warsaw’s suburbs in the middle of the month, on August 14-15.

In the meantime the attacking Groups Center and North did score at least localized successes on which to base their eventual victory. Attacking Group South on the other hand, with Kaminski’s marauders as their main contingent, kept its reputation for conspicuous inefficiency, as the army’s radio log concluded on August 10: "Warsaw is slowly turning in our favor. Great advances. City now divided into three. Rebels split up. Will last a few weeks yet. Kaminski the biggest wash-out."

The Germans now deeply regretted having given the go-ahead for looting, which had merely hamstrung their operations, and high military circles were becoming more and more convinced that the AK rebels they faced were not irregulars but combatants under the full protection of the Hague Land-Warfare Convention. Increasing numbers of senior officers spread this view, and more and more regret was felt at having passed on Himmler’s command, which permitted the plunder in the first place. On August 10 General Rohr, one of the Germans’ most skilful tacticians, who endeavored to put an end to the atrocities, took over command of the southern section of the attack. He now also commanded Kaminski’s mob. The general was described as "somewhat cautious in attack," but "all the more thorough" for that, a splendid officer of the old Prussian school, tactful, upstanding and adverse to any breach of regulations. He punished his soldiers severely and consequently brought even the biggest storm under control."

Polish Paratroopers never arrived from EnglandIt can easily be imagined how an officer of traditional outlook like Rohr would react to Kaminski’s methods. First of all, Rohr demanded the withdrawal of Dirlewanger, Kaminski and their brigands from the Warsaw front and their replacement by regular troops. When this did not happen, Rohr, a small and slim figure, took matters into his own hands. He published an order emphasizing the ban on looting that had already been issued. Simultaneously he ordered that all AK prisoners should be treated as regular prisoners of war. To stress these orders. Rohr organized several tanks, which he sent into action specifically to protect the Polish civilian populace. By doing this he landed himself in many a tricky situation. Once, when speaking to two of Kaminski’s soldiers who were bothering two Polish girls, he was threatened with a gun. The general was saved only by the appearance of one of his tanks, whose commander took in the whole situation at a glance and fired a warning volley into the air. Only then did the two marauders disappear leaving the general and the Polish girls unmolested.

Rohr continued to repeat his demand for the discharge of Kaminski. Guderian also took a hand in the affair again. Finally, toward the end of August, Himmler dropped his protégé. The latter had long since lost any military importance he ever had. His later fate is of interest, as it shows clearly how the SS treated a man who had become an embarrassment to them or as Guderian put it, who "did not have a completely clean record." No one dared to arrest Kaminski in Warsaw, because he was surrounded night and day by an armed bodyguard, so he was ordered to Lodz under false pretences, abruptly put before an SS military court and shot immediately after the hearing. Sentence was passed on two counts: because of his unit’s persistent refusal to obey orders connected with specified war crimes in Warsaw and because of his personal enrichment during the looting. One pro-Kaminski version tries to limit the extent of this "enrichment," maintaining that Kaminski himself had only come to Warsaw for ten days to secure a part of the booty, mainly jewels and gold for his brigade’s war chest.

The execution was declared a Reich secret: no one dared tell the Russian soldiers the truth and the rumor was spread that he had been shot by Polish partisans on the journey. However, this explanation did not satisfy Kaminski’s officers who posed more and more embarrassing questions. Above all, they wanted to examine the spot where the incident occurred for themselves and carry out a punitive expedition against the Poles. An SS command therefore set up a decoy. They drove the car Kaminski had been traveling in into a ditch, peppered it with bullets and smeared it with goose blood. Then Bach-Zelewski expressed his condolences to the officers of the Rona Brigade on the death of their "courageous commander." This strengthened Hitler’s conviction that "This Bach-Zelewski chap is a mighty skilful fellow." The brigade itself was finally posted out of Warsaw and disbanded soon afterwards.

Dirlewanger caught wind of the whole affair and obviously feared a similar fate. In his headquarters he arranged for a permanent bodyguard and used them to constantly terrorize his superior officers, even having Colonel Grez, Bach-Zelewski’s Chief of Staff, driven out of headquarters at gun point. But, however much the Wehrmacht agitated against Dirlewanger, he remained unscathed. He still had powerful connections among the leaders of the SS, but, above all, his brigade could function, if coerced, as a military formation. Bach did not command any units he could use to replace Dirlewanger’s and, had he discharged them, it would have meant giving up any sort of offensive operations.

In the meantime, while the western suburbs were being "cleaned" of Polish troops, the tug of war about the supreme command of the German forces in Warsaw calmly continued between the Wehrmacht and SS. Bach-Zelewski eventually won on August 14 and the "Bach Corps Group" was formed. Next day he wrote in his diary: "The Reichsfuehrer SS has promised me the Knights" Order of the Iron Cross when Warsaw is captured."

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