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Home Army

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The Home Army
Armia Krajowa
Flaga PPP.svg
Polish red-and-white flag with superposed Kotwica ("Anchor") emblem of the Polish Underground State and Home Army
Active14 February 1942 – 19 January 1945
Allegiance Polish government-in-exile
RoleArmed forces of the Polish Underground State and the Polish government-in-exile
Size400,000 (1944)
EngagementsWorld War II
Tadeusz Komorowski
Stefan Rowecki
Leopold Okulicki
Emil August Fieldorf
Antoni Chruściel

The Home Army (Polish: Armia Krajowa, AK; Polish pronunciation: [ˈarmʲa kraˈjɔva]) was the dominant Polish resistance movement in Poland, occupied by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, during World War II. The Home Army was formed in February 1942 from the Związek Walki Zbrojnej (Armed Resistance). Over the next two years, it absorbed most other Polish underground forces. Its allegiance was to the Polish government-in-exile, and it constituted the armed wing of what became known as the "Polish Underground State".

Estimates of the Home Army's 1944 strength range between 200,000 and 600,000, the most commonly cited number being 400,000. This last number would make the Home Army not only the largest Polish underground resistance movement but, along with the Soviet partisans, one of the two largest in Europe during World War II.[a] The Home Army was disbanded on 19 January 1945, after the Soviet Red Army had largely cleared Polish territory of German forces.

The Home Army sabotaged German operations such as transports headed for the Eastern Front in the Soviet Union. It also fought several full-scale battles against the Germans, particularly in 1943 and in Operation Tempest in 1944. The Home Army tied down substantial German forces and destroyed much-needed German supplies.[vague]

The most widely known Home Army operation was the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. The partisans also defended Polish civilians against atrocities perpetrated by other military formations.

Because the Home Army was loyal to the Polish Government-in-Exile, the Soviet Union saw it as an obstacle to Communism in Poland. Consequently, over the course of the war, conflict grew between the Home Army and Soviet forces. During the Soviet occupation of Poland thousands of former Home Army operatives were deported to Gulags and Soviet prisons, while others—including senior commanders like Leopold Okulicki and Emil August Fieldorf—were executed.

Following the war, the official propaganda line in communist Poland was that the Home Army was an oppressive and reactionary force, at least in the 1950s and 1960s. Following the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the image of the Home Army has been more positive.[1][2]

History and operations

World War II

Armband worn by Home Army soldiers

The Home Army originated in the Service for Poland's Victory (Służba Zwycięstwu Polski), which General Michał Karaszewicz-Tokarzewski set up on 27 September 1939, just as the coordinated German and Soviet invasions of Poland neared completion.[3] Seven weeks later, on 17 November 1939, on the orders of General Władysław Sikorski, the Service for Poland's Victory was superseded by the Armed Resistance (Związek Walki Zbrojnej), which in turn, a little over two years later, on 14 February 1942, became the "Home Army".[3][4] All the while, however, many other resistance organizations remained active in Poland.[5] Most of them eventually merged with the Armed Resistance or with its successor, the Home Army, between 1939 and 1944, substantially augmenting the Home Army's numbers.[4][5]

Young Radosław Group soldiers, 2 September 1944, a month into the Warsaw Uprising. They had just marched several hours through Warsaw sewers.

The Polish government-in-exile envisioned the Home Army as an apolitical, nationwide resistance organization.[6] The supreme command defined the Home Army's chief tasks as partisan warfare against the German occupiers, the re-creation of armed forces underground and, near the end of the German occupation, a general armed rising to be prosecuted until victory.[3][4][6] Home Army plans envisioned, at war's end, the seizure of power in Poland by the Government Delegation for Poland (the Delegatura) and by the Government in Exile itself, which expected to return to Poland.

In addition to the Polish government in London, a political organization operated in Poland itself—a deliberative body of the resistance and of the Polish Underground State. The Political Consultative Committee (Polityczny Komitet Porozumiewawczy) formed in 1940 pursuant to an agreement between several major political parties: the Socialist Party, People's Party, National Party and Labor Party. In 1943 it was renamed to Home Political Representation (Krajowa Reprezentacja Polityczna) and in 1944 to Council of National Unity (Rada Jedności Narodowej).[7]:235–236

The Home Army, though in theory subordinate to the civil authorities and to the Government in Exile, often acted somewhat independently, with neither the Home Army's commanders in Poland nor the "London government" fully aware of the others' situation.[7]:235–236

After Germany started its invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, the Soviet Union joined the Allies and signed an Anglo-Soviet Agreement on 12 July 1941. This put the Polish Government in a difficult position since it had previously pursued a policy of "two enemies". Though a Polish–Soviet agreement was signed in August 1941, cooperation continued to be difficult and deteriorated further after 1943 when Nazi Germany publicized the Katyn massacre of 1940.[8]

Until the major rising in 1944, the Home Army concentrated on self-defense (the freeing of prisoners and hostages, defense against German pacification operations) and on attacks against German forces. Home Army units carried out thousands of armed raids and intelligence operations, sabotaged hundreds of railway shipments, and participated in many partisan clashes and battles with German police and Wehrmacht units. The Home Army also assassinated prominent Nazi collaborators and Gestapo officials in retaliation against Nazi terror inflicted on Poland's civilian population; prominent individuals assassinated by the Home Army included Igo Sym (1941) and Franz Kutschera (1944).[3][6]


Der Klabautermann (an Operation N magazine), 3 January 1943 issue, satirizing Third Reich Nazi terror and genocide. From the right, emerging from the "III" (Roman numeral three", of the "Third Reich"): Himmler, Hitler, and Death.

The Home Army supplied valuable intelligence to the Allies; 48% of all reports received by the British secret services from continental Europe in between 1939 and 1945 came from Polish sources.[9] The total number of those reports is estimated at about 80,000, and 85% of them were deemed of high quality or better.[10] The Polish intelligence network grew rapidly; near the end of the war, it had over 1,600 registered agents.[9]

The Western Allies had limited intelligence assets in Central and Eastern Europe; the extensive Polish intelligence network in place proved to be a major resource, even described as "the only [A]llied intelligence assets on the Continent" following the French capitulation.[11][12][9] According to Marek Ney-Krwawicz [pl], for the Western Allies, the intelligence provided by the Home Army was considered to be the best source of information on the Eastern Front.[13]

Home Army intelligence provided the Allies with information on German concentration camps and the Holocaust in Poland (including the first reports on this subject received by the Allies[14][15]), on German submarine operations, and, most famously, on the V-1 flying bomb and V-2 rocket.[3][13] In one Project Big Ben mission (Operation Wildhorn III;[16] Polish cryptonym, Most III, "Bridge III"), a stripped-for-lightness RAF twin-engine Dakota flew from Brindisi in Italy to an abandoned German airfield in Poland to pick up intelligence prepared by Polish aircraft-designer Antoni Kocjan, including 100 lb (45 kg) of V-2 rocket wreckage from a Peenemünde launch, a Special Report 1/R, no. 242, photographs, eight key V-2 parts, and drawings of the wreckage.[17] Polish agents also provided reports on the German war production, morale, and troop movements.[9] The Polish intelligence network extended beyond Poland and even beyond Europe: for example, the intelligence network organized by Mieczysław Zygfryd Słowikowski in North Africa has been described as "the only [A]llied ... network in North Africa".[9] The Polish network even had two agents in the German high command itself.[9]

The researchers who produced the first Polish-British in-depth monograph on Home Army intelligence (Intelligence Co-operation Between Poland and Great Britain During World War II: Report of the Anglo-Polish Historical Committee, 2005) described contributions of Polish intelligence to the Allied victory as "disproportionally large"[18] and argued that "the work performed by Home Army intelligence undoubtedly supported the Allied armed effort much more effectively than subversive and guerilla activities."[19]

Subversive activities and propaganda

The Home Army also conducted psychological warfare. Its "Operation N" created the illusion of a German movement of opposition to Hitler within Germany itself.[3]

The Home Army published a weekly Biuletyn Informacyjny (Information Bulletin), with a top circulation (in November 1943) of 50,000.[20][21]

Major operations

Home Army 26th Infantry Regiment marching from Kielce-Radom area in an attempt to join the Warsaw Uprising

Sabotage was coordinated by the Union of Retaliation and later by Wachlarz and Kedyw units.[4]

Major Home Army military and sabotage operations included:

"To arms!" Home Army poster during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising

The largest and best-known of the Operation Tempest battles, the Warsaw Uprising, constituted an attempt, beginning on 1 August 1944, to liberate Poland's capital. Polish forces took control of substantial parts of the city and resisted the German-led forces until 2 October (a total of 63 days). With the Poles receiving no aid from the approaching Red Army, the Germans eventually defeated the insurrectionists and burned the city, finally quelling the Uprising on 2 October 1944.[3] Other major Home Army city risings included Operation Ostra Brama, in Wilno, and the Lwów Uprising. The Home Army also prepared for a rising in Kraków, but due to various circumstances, it was cancelled. While the Home Army managed to liberate a number of places from German control—for example in the Lublin area, where regional structures were able to set up a functioning government—ultimately, due to Soviet hostility, the Home Army failed to secure sufficient territory to enable the Government in Exile to return to Poland.[3][4][22]

The Home Army also carried out sabotage of German rail- and road-transports to the Eastern Front in the Soviet Union.[23] Richard J. Crampton estimated that an eighth of all German transports to the Eastern Front were destroyed or substantially delayed due to Home Army operations.[23]

Confirmed sabotage and covert operations of the Armed Resistance (ZWZ) and Home Army (AK)
from 1 January 1941 to 30 June 1944, listed by type[24][25]
Sabotage / covert-operation type Total numbers
Damaged locomotives 6,930
Damaged railway wagons 19,058
Delayed repairs to locomotives 803
Derailed transports 732
Transports set on fire 443
Blown-up railway bridges 38
Disruptions to electricity supply in the Warsaw grid 638
Damaged or destroyed army vehicles 4,326
Damaged aeroplanes 28
Destroyed fuel-tanks 1,167
Destroyed fuel (in tonnes) 4,674
Blocked oil wells 5
Destroyed wood wool wagons 150
Burned down military stores 130
Disruptions in factory production 7
Built-in flaws in aircraft engines parts 4,710
Built-in flaws in cannon muzzles 203
Built-in flaws in artillery projectiles 92,000
Built-in flaws in air-traffic radio stations 107
Built-in flaws in condensers 70,000
Built-in flaws in electro-industrial lathes 1,700
Damage to important factory machinery 2,872
Acts of sabotage 25,145
Assassinations of Nazi Germans 5,733

Assassinations of Nazi leaders

German poster listing 100 Polish hostages executed in reprisal for assassinations of German police and SS by a Polish "terrorist organization in the service of the English", Warsaw, 2 October 1943

The Polish resistance executed dozens of attacks on German commanders in Poland, the largest being a series of assassinations codenamed Operation Heads. Dozens more assassination attempts were carried out, the best-known being:


June 1945 Moscow show trial of 16 Polish civil and Home Army leaders. They were convicted of "planning military action against the U.S.S.R." In March 1945 they had been invited to help organize a Polish Government of National Unity and were arrested by the Soviet NKVD. Despite the court's lenience, 6 years later only two of the men were alive.

The Home Army was officially disbanded on 19 January 1945 to avoid civil war and armed conflict with the Soviets. However, many former Home Army units decided to continue operations. The Soviet Union, and the Polish Communist Government that it controlled, viewed the underground, still loyal to the Polish government-in-exile, as a force to be extirpated before they could gain complete control of Poland. Future Secretary General of the Polish United Workers' Party, Władysław Gomułka, is quoted as saying: "Soldiers of the AK are a hostile element which must be removed without mercy." Another prominent Polish communist, Roman Zambrowski, said that the Home Army had to be "exterminated."[29][better source needed]

The first Home Army structure designed primarily to deal with the Soviet threat had been NIE, formed in mid-1943. Its aim was not to engage Soviet forces in combat, but to observe them and to gather intelligence while the Polish Government-in-Exile decided how to deal with the Soviets; at that time, the exiled government still believed in the possibility of constructive negotiations with the Soviets. On 7 May 1945 NIE ("NO") was disbanded and transformed into an Armed Forces Delegation for Poland (Delegatura Sił Zbrojnych na Kraj); but this organization lasted only until 8 August 1945, when it was decided to disband it and to stop partisan resistance.[29][better source needed]

The first Polish communist government, the Polish Committee of National Liberation, formed in July 1944, declined to accept jurisdiction over Home Army soldiers, therefore for over a year Soviet agencies such as the NKVD took responsibility for disarming the Home Army. By war's end, some 60,000 Home Army soldiers had been arrested, 50,000 of whom were deported to Soviet Gulags and prisons; most of these soldiers had been taken captive by the Soviets during, or in the aftermath of, Operation Tempest, when many Home Army units tried to work together with the Soviets in a nationwide uprising against the Germans. Other Home Army veterans were arrested when they approached Polish communist government officials after having been promised amnesty. After a number of such broken promises during the first few years of communist control, Home Army soldiers stopped trusting the government.[29][better source needed]

The third post-Home Army organization was Wolność i Niezawisłość (WiN: Freedom and Independence). Its primary goal was not fighting, either. Rather, it was designed to help Home Army soldiers transition from partisan to civilian life; while secrecy was necessary in light of increasing persecution of Home Army veterans by the communist government.[30] WiN was, however, in great need of funds, necessary to pay for false documents and to provide resources for the partisans, many of whom had lost their homes and life's savings in the war. Viewed as enemies of the state, starved of resources, and with a vocal faction advocating armed resistance against the Soviets and their Polish proxies, WiN was far from efficient. A major victory for the Soviet NKVD and the newly created Polish secret police, Urząd Bezpieczeństwa (UB), came in the second half of 1945 when they managed to convince several Home Army and WiN leaders that they truly wanted to offer amnesty to Home Army members. Over a few months they gained information about great numbers of Home Army and WiN people and resources. By the time the (imprisoned) Home Army and WiN leaders realized their mistake, the organizations had been crippled, with thousands of their members arrested. WiN was finally disbanded in 1952. By 1947 a colonel of the communist forces declared that "The terrorist and political underground has ceased to be a threatening force, though there are still men of the forests" to be dealt with.[29][better source needed]

Home Army Cross, awarded to Home Army veterans by the Polish Government-in-Exile

The persecution of the Home Army was only part of the Stalinist repressions in Poland. In the period 1944–56, some 2 million people were arrested, over 20,000, including the hero of Auschwitz, Witold Pilecki, were executed in communist prisons, and 6 million Polish citizens (every third adult Pole) were classified as "reactionary" or "criminal elements" and subjected to spying by state agencies.[29][better source needed]

Most Home Army soldiers were captured by the NKVD or by Poland's UB political police. They were interrogated and imprisoned on various charges such as "fascism".[31][32] Many were sent to Gulags, executed or "disappeared."[31] Thus, between 1944 and 1956 all the members of Batalion Zośka, which had fought in the Warsaw Uprising, were locked up in communist prisons.[33] In 1956 an amnesty released 35,000 former Home Army soldiers from prisons.[34]

Even then, however, some partisans remained in the countryside, unwilling or unable to rejoin the community; they became known as the cursed soldiers. Stanisław Marchewka "Ryba" was killed in 1957, and the last AK partisan, Józef Franczak "Lalek," was killed in 1963 – almost 2 decades after World War II had ended. It was only four years later, in 1967, that Adam Boryczka, a soldier of AK and a member of the elite, Britain-trained Cichociemny ("Silent Unseen") intelligence and support group, was released from prison. Until the end of the People's Republic of Poland, Home Army soldiers remained under investigation by the secret police, and it was only in 1989, after the fall of communism, that the sentences of Home Army soldiers were finally declared null and void by Polish courts.[29][better source needed]

Many monuments to the Home Army have since been erected in Poland, including the Polish Underground State and Home Army Monument near the Sejm building in Warsaw, unveiled in 1999.[35][36] The Home Army is also commemorated in the Home Army Museum in Kraków[37] and in the Warsaw Uprising Museum in Warsaw.[38]


Soldiers of 1st Company of Sambor Command of Drohobycz Home Army (Obwód Sambor AK) inspectorate, armed with German-, Soviet-, and British-made arms and wearing captured German field uniforms. Soldier at lower left appears to be holding a Soviet-made PPSh-41, or some derivative thereof.

In February 1942, when the Home Army was formed from the Armed Resistance, it numbered some 100,000 members.[6] Less than a year later, at the start of 1943, it had reached a strength of some 200,000.[6] In the summer of 1944, when Operation Tempest began, the Home Army reached its highest membership.[6] Estimates of membership in the first half and summer of 1944 range from 200,000,[7]:234 through 300,000,[39] 380,000[6] and 400,000[40] to 450,000–500,000.[41] Most estimates average at about 400,000. The strength estimates vary due to the constantly ongoing integration of other resistance organizations into the Home Army; and due to the fact that, while the number of members was high and that of sympathizers was much higher still, the number of armed members participating in operations at any given time was smaller—as little as one percent in 1943, and as many as 5–10% in 1944[40]—due to insufficient number of weapons.[6][42][7]:234

Home Army numbers in 1944 included a cadre of over 10,000–11,000 officers, 7,500 officers-in-training (singular: podchorąży) and 88,000 non-commissioned officers (NCOs).[6] The officer cadre was formed from prewar officers and NCOs, graduates of underground courses, and elite operatives usually parachuted in from the West (the Silent Unseen).[6] The basic organizational unit was the platoon, numbering 35–50 people, with a skeleton unmobilized version of 16–25; in February 1944 the Home Army had 6,287 regular and 2,613 skeleton platoons operational.[6] Such numbers made the Home Army not only the largest Polish resistance movement, but one of the two largest in World War II Europe.[a] Casualties during the war are estimated at about 34,000[39]–100,000,[6] plus some 20,000[39]–50,000[6] after the war (casualties and imprisonment).

Home Army veterans' parade, Sanok, Poland, 11 November 2008

Within the framework of the entire enemy intelligence operations directed against Germany, the intelligence service of the Polish resistance movement assumed major significance. The scope and importance of the operations of the Polish resistance movement, which was ramified down to the smallest splinter group and brilliantly organized, have been in [various sources] disclosed in connection with carrying out of major police security operations. Heinrich Himmler, 31 December 1942[43]

The Home Army was intended as a mass organization, founded by a core of prewar officers.[6] Home Army soldiers fell into three groups. The first two consisted of "full-time members": undercover operatives, living mostly in urban settings under false identities (most senior Home Army officers belonged to this group); and uniformed (to a certain extent) partisans, living in forested regions (see "forest people"), who openly fought the Germans (the forest people are estimated at some 40 groups, numbering 1,200–4,000 persons in early 1943, but their numbers grew substantially during Operation Tempest).[7]:234–235 The third, largest group were "part-time members": sympathizers who led "double lives" under their real names in their real homes, received no payment for their services, stayed in touch with their undercover unit commanders but were seldom mustered for operations, as the Home Army planned to use them only during a planned nationwide rising.[7]:234–235

The Home Army was intended to be representative of the Polish nation, its members being recruited from all parties and social classes (the only notable exception being communists sent by the Soviets, and the Soviet-created People's Army).[7]:235–236 The Home Army's growth was largely based on integrating, into its ranks, scores of smaller resistance organizations. Most other Polish underground armed organizations were incorporated into the Home Army (though they retained varying degrees of autonomy).[4] The largest organization merged into the Home Army was the leftist Bataliony Chłopskie (Peasants' Battalions), about 1943–44.[44] Parts of the Narodowe Siły Zbrojne (National Armed Forces) also came to be subordinated to the Home Army.[45] As a result, individual Home Army units varied substantially in their political outlooks (notably in their attitudes toward ethnic minorities and toward the Soviets).[7]:235-236 The largest group that completely refused to join the Home Army was the pro-Soviet, communist People's Army, which at its height in 1944 numbered 30,000 people.[46]

Soldiers of Kedyw Kolegium A on Stawki Street in Warsaw's Wola district, Warsaw Uprising, 1944
Regional organization, 1944

Women in the Home Army

Dysk ("Discus") was a female sabotage unit which killed female Gestapo informants.[47]

Elżbieta Zawacka was the only female Cichociemna.[48]

Grażyna Lipińska organised an intelligence network in German-occupied Belarus in 1942–1944.[49]

Female couriers transported guns and explosives, illegal printings, and messages. The service was very dangerous; hardly any of the female couriers survived longer than three months.[50]

Many female nurses died in the Warsaw Uprising.[51]


Home Army Headquarters was divided into five sections, two bureaus and several other specialized units:[3][6]

  • Section I: Organization – personnel, justice, religion
  • Section II: Intelligence and Counterintelligence
  • Section III: Operations and Training – coordination, planning, preparation for a nationwide uprising
  • Section IV: Logistics
  • Section V: Communication – including with the Western Allies; air drops
  • Bureau of Information and Propaganda (sometimes called "Section VI") – information and propaganda
  • Bureau of Finances (sometimes called "Section VII") – finances
  • Kedyw (acronym for Kierownictwo Dywersji, Polish for "Directorate of Diversion") – special operations
  • Directorate of Underground Resistance

The Home Army's commander was subordinate in the military chain of command to the Polish Commander-in-Chief (General Inspector of the Armed Forces) of the Polish Government in Exile[6] and answered in the civilian chain of command to the Government Delegation for Poland.

The Home Army's first commander, until his arrest by the Germans in 1943, was Stefan Rowecki (nom de guerre "Grot", "Spearhead").

Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski (Tadeusz Komorowski, nom de guerre "Bór", "Forest") commanded from July 1943 until his surrender to the Germans, upon the suppression of the Warsaw Uprising, in October 1944.

Leopold Okulicki, nom de guerre "Niedzwiadek" ("Bear"), led the Home Army in its final days.[3]


The Home Army was divided geographically into regional branches or areas (obszar).[3] Below the branches or areas were subregions or subareas (podokręg) or independent areas (okręgi samodzielne). Smaller organizational units were 89 inspectorates (inspektorat) and 280 (as of early 1944) districts (obwód).[6] Overall, the Home Army regional structure largely resembled Poland's interwar administration division, with an okręg being similar to a voivodeship (see Administrative division of Second Polish Republic).[6]

There were three to five areas: Warsaw (Obszar Warszawski, with some sources differentiating between left- and right-bank areas – Obszar Warszawski prawo- i lewobrzeżny), Western (Obszar Zachodni, in the Pomerania and Poznań regions), Southeastern (Obszar Południowo-Wschodni, in the Lwów area); sources vary on whether there was a Northeastern Area (centered in BiałystokObszar Białystocki) or whether Białystok was classified as an independent area (Okręg samodzielny Białystok).

In 1943 the Home Army began recreating the organization of the prewar Polish Army, its various units now being designated as platoons, battalions, regiments, brigades, divisions, and operational groups.[6]

Weapons and equipment

Kubuś, armored car used by the resistance during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising

As a clandestine army operating in an enemy-occupied country, and separated by over a thousand kilometers from any friendly territory, the Home Army faced unique challenges in acquiring arms and equipment.[52] It was able to overcome these difficulties to some extent and to field tens of thousands of armed soldiers. Nevertheless, the difficult conditions meant that only infantry forces armed with light weapons could be fielded. Any use of artillery, armor or aircraft was impossible (except for a few instances during the Warsaw Uprising, such as the Kubuś armored car).[52] Even these light-infantry units were as a rule armed with a mixture of weapons of various types, usually in quantities sufficient to arm only a fraction of a unit's soldiers.[42][7]:234[52]

Home Army arms and equipment came mostly from four sources: arms that had been buried by the Polish armies on battlefields after the 1939 invasion of Poland; arms purchased or captured from the Germans and their allies; arms clandestinely manufactured by the Home Army itself; and arms received from Allied air drops.[52]

Captured German Panther tank, operated by Batalion Zośka armored platoon commanded by Wacław Micuta

From arms caches hidden in 1939, the Home Army obtained: 614 heavy machine guns, 1,193 light machine guns, 33,052 rifles, 6,732 pistols, 28 antitank light field guns, 25 antitank rifles, and 43,154 hand grenades.[53] However, due to their inadequate preservation, which had had to be improvised in the chaos of the September Campaign, most of the guns were in poor condition. Of those that had been buried in the ground and had been dug up in 1944 during preparations for Operation Tempest, only 30% were usable.[citation needed]

Sometimes arms were purchased on the black market from German soldiers or their allies, or stolen from German supply depots or transports.[52] Purchases were made by individual units and sometimes by individual soldiers. As Germany's prospects for victory diminished and the morale in German units dropped, the number of soldiers willing to sell their weapons correspondingly increased and thus made this source more important.[citation needed] All such purchases were highly risky, as the Gestapo was well aware of this black market in arms and tried to check it by setting up sting operations. For the most part, this trade was limited to personal weapons, but occasionally light and heavy machine guns could also be purchased. It was much easier to trade with Italian and Hungarian units stationed in Poland, which more willingly sold their arms to the Polish underground as long as they could conceal this trade from the Germans.[citation needed]

Efforts to capture weapons from the Germans also proved highly successful. Raids were conducted on trains carrying equipment to the front, as well as on guardhouses and gendarmerie posts. Sometimes weapons were taken from individual German soldiers accosted in the street. During the Warsaw Uprising, the Home Army even managed to capture several German armored vehicles.[citation needed]

Polish weapons, including (top) Błyskawica ("Lightning") submachine gun, one of very few weapons designed and mass-produced covertly in occupied Europe
Home Army-made Sidolówka (left) and Filipinka (right) grenades, Museum of the Warsaw Rising

Arms were clandestinely manufactured by the Home Army in its own secret workshops, and also by Home Army members working in German armaments factories.[52][citation needed] In this way the Home Army was able to procure submachine guns (copies of British Stens, indigenous Błyskawicas and KIS), pistols (Vis), flamethrowers, explosive devices, road mines, and Filipinka and Sidolówka hand grenades.[52] Hundreds of people were involved in the manufacturing effort. The Home Army did not produce its own ammunition, but relied on supplies stolen by Polish workers from German-run factories.[52]

The final source of supply was Allied air drops. This was the only way to obtain more exotic, highly useful equipment such as plastic explosives and antitank weapons such as the British PIAT. During the war, 485 air-drop missions from the West (about half of them flown by Polish airmen) delivered some 600 tons of supplies for the Polish resistance.[54] Besides equipment, the planes also parachuted in highly qualified instructors (Silent Unseen), 316 of whom[39] were inserted into Poland during the war.[53]

But the air drops were too little, too late. Air deliveries from the west were limited by Stalin's refusal to let the planes land on Soviet territory; by the low priority placed by the British on flights to Poland; and by extremely heavy losses sustained by Polish Special Duties Flight personnel. Especially after Hitler attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941 and the Soviets joined the Western Allies in the war against Germany, Britain and the United States attached more importance to not antagonizing Stalin than they did to the aspirations of the Poles to regain their national sovereignty.[55]

In the end, despite all the efforts, most Home Army forces had inadequate weaponry. In 1944, when the Home Army was at its peak strength (200,000–600,000, according to various estimates), the Home Army had enough weaponry for only some 32,000 soldiers."[7]:234 On 1 August 1944, when the Warsaw Uprising began, only a sixth of Home Army fighters in Warsaw were armed.[7]:234

Relations with other factions

Relations with Jews

Home Army members' attitudes toward Jews varied widely from unit to unit, and the topic remains controversial.[56][57][58] The Home Army answered to the National Council of the Polish Government in Exile, where some Jews served in leadership positions (e.g. Ignacy Schwarzbart and Szmul Zygielbojm)[59] (though there were no Jewish representatives in the Government Delegation for Poland).[60]:110–114 Traditionally, Polish historiography has presented the Home Army interactions with Jews in a positive light, while Jewish historiography has been mostly negative. More recent scholarship has presented a mixed, ambivalent view of Home Army–Jewish relations. Both "profoundly disturbing acts of violence as well as extraordinary acts of aid and compassion" have been reported, although the majority of Holocaust survivors in an analysis by Joshua D. Zimmerman reported negative interactions with the Home Army.[61][58]

Daily operations

Gęsiówka-liberation memorial plaque in Polish, Hebrew, and English

A Jewish partisan detachment served in the Warsaw Uprising,[62][63] and another one in Hanaczów [pl].[64][65] Home Army provided training and supplies to Warsaw Ghetto's Jewish Combat Organization.[64] Thousands of Jews joined or claimed they joined the Home Army in order to survive while hiding, but it was the exception rather than the rule that Jews served openly in the Home Army. Most could not pass themselves off as ethnic Poles and had to fear the potentially deadly consequences of being discovered.[66][67]:275

In February 1942, the Home Army Operational Command's Office of Information and Propaganda set up a Section for Jewish Affairs, directed by Henryk Woliński.[68] This section collected data about the situation of the Jewish population, drafted reports, and sent information to London. It also centralized contacts between Polish and Jewish military organizations. The Home Army also supported the Relief Council for Jews in Poland (Żegota) as well as the formation of Jewish resistance organizations.[69][70]

The Holocaust

From 1940 onward the Home Army courier Jan Karski delivered the first eyewitness account of the Holocaust to the Western powers, after having personally visited the Warsaw Ghetto and a Nazi concentration camp.[60]:110–114[71][15][14] Another crucial role was played by Witold Pilecki who was the only person to volunteer to be imprisoned at Auschwitz (where he would spend three and a half years) to organize a resistance on the inside and to gather information on the atrocities occurring there to inform the Western Allies about the fate of the Jewish population.[72] Home Army reports from March 1943 described crimes committed by the Germans against the Jewish populace. General Rowecki estimated that 640,000 people had perished in Auschwitz between 1940 and March 1943, including 66,000 ethnic Poles and 540,000 Jews from various countries (this figure was revised later to 500,000).[73] Starting summer of 1943 the Home Army started carrying out death sentences for szmalcowniks in Warsaw.[74]

Antony Polonsky observed that "the attitude of the military underground to the genocide is both more complex and more controversial [than its approach towards szmalcowniks]. Throughout the period when it was being carried out, the Home Army was preoccupied with preparing for ... [the moment when] Nazi rule in Poland collapsed. It was determined to avoid premature military action and to conserve its strength (and weapons) for the crucial confrontation that, it was assumed, would determine the fate of Poland... [However] to the Home Army, the Jews were not a part of 'our nation' and ... action to defend them was not to be taken if it endangered [the Home Army's] other objectives." He continues to observe that "it is probably unrealistic to have expected the Home Army—which was neither as well armed nor as well organized as its propaganda claimed—to have been able to do much to aid the Jews. The fact remains that its leadership did not want to do so."[75]:68 General Rowecki's attitudes shifted in the following months as the brutal reality of the Holocaust became more apparent, and the Polish public support for the Jewish resistance increased. Rowecki was willing to provide Jewish fighters with aid and resources when it contributed to "the greater war effort", but had (apparently) concluded that providing large quantities of supplies to the Jewish resistance would be futile. This reasoning was the norm among the Allies, who believed that the Holocaust could only be halted by a significant military action.[60]:110–122

The Warsaw ghetto uprising

The Home Army provided the Warsaw Ghetto with firearms, ammunition and explosives,[76] but only after it was convinced of the Jewish Combat Organization's eagerness to fight,[75]:67 and after intervention by Władysław Sikorski on the organization's behalf.[77] Zimmerman describes the supplies as "limited but real".[60]:121-122 Jewish fighters of the Jewish Military Union received from the Home Army, among other things: 2 heavy machine guns, 4 light machine guns, 21 submachine guns, 30 rifles, 50 pistols, and over 400 grenades.[78] Jewish Combat Organization received from AK: 10 pistols, 3 light machine gun, 10 rifles, 50 pistols with ammunition, 600 grenades, 150 kilograms of explosives as well as potassium and nitrate for their production. For comparison, AK before the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising had in the District of Warsaw some 25 heavy machine guns, 62 lights machine guns, 1,182 rifles, 1,099 pistols, 51 submachine guns, 2 cannons 75, 3 anti-tank cannons, 3 anti-tank guns and 11,007 hand grenades.[79] AK's reasoning in providing limited assistance to the internally divided Jewish resistance organization includes its inability to arm its own troops, the view that any wide-scale uprising in 1943 would be futile, and the pro-Soviet attitude of the ŻOB.[80] During the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Home Army units twice tried to blow up the Ghetto wall, carried out diversionary actions outside the Ghetto walls, and attacked German sentries sporadically near the Ghetto walls.[81][82] According to Marian Fuks, the Ghetto uprising would not have been possible without supplies from the Polish Home Army.[83][better source needed]

A year later, during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, the Zośka Battalion liberated hundreds of Jewish inmates from the Gęsiówka section of the Warsaw Concentration Camp.[67]:275

Attitude towards fugitives

1943 Information Bulletin article on Kedyw execution of szmalcownik Jan Grabiec, who had blackmailed residents of villages that hid Jews

Because it was the largest Polish resistance organization, the Home Army's attitude towards Jewish fugitives often determined their fate.[84] According to Antony Polonsky the AK saw Jewish fugitives as security risks.[75]:66 At the same time, AK's "paper mills" supplied forged identification documents to many Jewish fugitives, enabling them to pass as Poles.[67]:275 Home Army published leaflet in 1943 stating that "Every Pole is obligated to help those in hiding. Those who refuse them aid will be punished on the basis of...treason to the Polish Nation".[85] Nevertheless, Jewish historians have asserted that the main cause for the low survival rates of escaping Jews was the antisemitism of the Polish population.[86]

Attitudes towards Jews in the Home Army were mixed.[58] A few AK units actively hunted down Jews.[87]:238[88] In particular, two district commanders in the northeast of Poland—Władysław Liniarski of Białystok and Janusz Szlaski of Nowogródek—openly and routinely persecuted Jewish partisans and fugitives.[89] The extent of such behaviors in the Home Army overall has been disputed;[90]:88-90[91] for example Tadeusz Piotrowski wrote that the bulk of the Home Army's antisemitic behavior can be ascribed to a small minority of members,[90]:88–90 often affiliated with the far-right National Democracy (N.D., or "endecja") party, whose National Armed Forces organization was mostly integrated into the Home Army in 1944.[92]:17[92]:45 Adam Puławski [pl] has suggested that some of these incidents are better understood in the context of the Polish–Soviet conflict, as some of the Soviet-affiliated partisan units that AK units attacked or was attacked by had a sizable Jewish presence.[64] In general, AK units in the east were more likely to be hostile towards Jewish partisans, who in turn were more closely associated with the Soviet underground, while AK units in the west were more helpful towards the Jews. Further, AK had a more favorable attitude towards Jewish civilians, and was more hesitant or hostile towards independent Jewish partisans, whom it suspected of pro-Soviet sympathies.[93] General Rowecki believed that antisemitic attitudes were related to Jewish involvement with Soviet partisans.[94] Some Home Army units were friendly to Jews,[95] and in Hanaczów Home Army officers hid and protected an entire 250 persons Jewish community, and supplied a Jewish Home Army platoon.[96] The Home Army leadership punished a number of perpetrators of antisemitic violence in its ranks, in some cases sentencing them to death.[90]:88-90

Most of underground press was sympathetic towards Jews,[73] and the Home Army's Bureau of Information and Propaganda was led by operatives who were pro-Jewish and represented the liberal wing of Home Army.[73] However, the bureau's Anti-Communist sub-division[73] ("Antyk"; see also Operation Antyk), created as a response to Communist propaganda,[97] was led by operatives who held strong anti-communist and anti-Jewish views, including the zydokomuna stereotype.[73] The perceived association between Jews and communists was actively reinforced by Antyk, whose initial reports "tended to conflate communists with Jews, dangerously disseminating the notion that Jewish loyalties were to Soviet Russia and communism rather than to Poland," and which repeated the notion that anti-Semitism was a "useful tool in the struggle against Soviet Russia."[98] However, the belief that communism "depended in large part on a Jewish element" was not limited to Antyk.[99]


Members of the Home Army that were named Righteous Among the Nations include Jan Karski, Aleksander Kamiński, Stefan Korboński, Henryk Woliński, Jan Żabiński, Władysław Bartoszewski, Mieczysław Fogg, Henryk Iwański, Witold Bieńkowski and Jan Dobraczyński.[100][101]

Relations with Lithuanians

Aleksander Krzyżanowski, Wilno-region Home Army commander

Though the Lithuanian and Polish resistance movements had common enemies—Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union—they began working together only in 1944–1945, after the Soviet reoccupation, when both fought the Soviet occupiers.[102] The main obstacle to unity was a long-standing territorial dispute over Vilnius.[103]

The Lithuanian Activist Front (Lietuvos Aktyvistų Frontas, or LAF)[90]:163 had cooperated with Nazi operations against Poles during the German occupation. In autumn 1943, the Home Army opened retaliatory operations against the Nazis' Lithuanian supporters, mainly the Lithuanian Schutzmannschaft battalions, the Lithuanian Territorial Defense Force, and the Lithuanian Secret Police,[104] and killed hundreds of mostly Lithuanian policemen and other collaborators during the first half of 1944. In response, the Lithuanian Sonderkommando, who had already killed hundreds of Polish civilians since 1941 (see Ponary massacre),[90]:168–169 intensified their operations against the Poles.

In April 1944, the Home Army in the Vilnius Region attempted to open negotiations with Povilas Plechavičius, commander of the Lithuanian Territorial Defense Force, proposing a non-aggression pact and cooperation against Nazi Germany.[105] The Lithuanian side refused and demanded that the Poles either leave the Vilnius region (disputed between Poles and Lithuanians) or subordinate themselves to the Lithuanians' struggle against the Soviets.[105] In the May 1944 Battle of Murowana Oszmianka, the Home Army dealt a substantial blow to the Nazi-sponsored Lithuanian Territorial Defense Force.[90]:165–166[106] This resulted in a low-level civil war between anti-Nazi Poles and pro-Nazi Lithuanians, encouraged by the German authorities,[104] culminating in June 1944 massacres of Polish and Lithuanian civilians, respectively, in the villages of Glitiškės (Glinciszki) and Dubingiai (Dubinki).[90]:168–169

Postwar assessments of the Home Army's activities in Lithuania have been controversial. In 1993, the Home Army's activities there were investigated by a special Lithuanian government commission. Only in recent years have Polish and Lithuanian historians been able to approach consensus, though still differing in their interpretations of many events.[107][108]

Relations with the Soviets

Soviet and Home Army soldiers patrol together, Wilno, July 1944

Home Army relations with the Soviet Red Army became increasingly poor over the course of the war. Not only had the Soviet Union invaded Poland on 17 September 1939, following the German invasion beginning 1 September 1939, but even after the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941 the latter saw Polish partisans loyal to the Polish Government in Exile more as a potential obstacle to Soviet plans to take control of postwar Poland, than as a potential ally.[109] On orders from the Soviet Stavka (high command), issued on 22 June 1943,[90]:98–99 Soviet partisans engaged Polish partisans in combat, and it has been claimed that they attacked the Poles more often than they did the Germans.[109]

In late 1943 the actions of Soviet partisans, who had been ordered to destroy Home Army forces,[90]:98–99 even resulted in limited uneasy cooperation between some Home Army units and German forces.[90]:88–90 While the Home Army still treated the Germans as the enemy and conducted operations against them,[90]:88–90 when the Germans offered arms and supplies to the Home Army, to be used against the Soviet partisans, some Polish units in the Nowogródek and Wilno areas accepted them. However, such arrangements were purely tactical and indicated no ideological collaboration such as was shown by France's Vichy regime or Norway's Quisling regime.[90]:88–90 The Poles' main motive was to acquire intelligence on the Germans and to obtain much-needed equipment.[56] There were no known joint Polish-German operations, and the Germans were unsuccessful in recruiting the Poles to fight exclusively against the Soviet partisans.[90]:88–90 Furthermore, most such cooperation by local Home Army commanders with the Germans was condemned by Home Army headquarters.[90]:88–90 Tadeusz Piotrowski quotes Joseph Rothschild as saying that "The Polish Home Army was by and large untainted by collaboration", and as adding that "the honor of the AK as a whole is beyond reproach."[90]:88–90

With the Eastern Front entering Polish territories in 1944, the Home Army established an uneasy truce with the Soviets. Even so, the main Red Army and NKVD forces conducted operations against Home Army partisans, including during or directly after Poland's Operation Tempest, which the Poles had envisioned to be a joint Polish–Soviet operation against the retreating Germans which would also establish Polish claims to those territories.[29][better source needed] The Home Army helped Soviet units with scouting assistance, uprisings, and assistance in liberating some cities (e.g., Operation Ostra Brama in Vilnius, and the Lwów Uprising), only to find that immediately afterwards Home Army troops were arrested, imprisoned—even executed.[23] Unknown to the Poles, their Operation Tempest had been fatally flawed from the start due to Joseph Stalin's intention of ensuring that an independent Poland would never re-emerge after the war.[110]

Long after the war, Soviet forces continued engaging elements of the Home Army. Many Home Army soldiers continued their war in an anti-Soviet Polish underground known as the "cursed soldiers".[29][better source needed]

Relations with Ukrainians

Volhynia self-defense centers organized with Home Army help, 1943

The Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), a Ukrainian nationalist force and the military arm of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN),[111] which some historians consider fascist,[112] decided in 1943—while fighting the Germans, Soviets and Poles, who they saw as occupiers of the future ethnically-pure Ukrainian state[113]—to direct most of its attacks against Poles and Jews.[113] One of UPA's leaders, Stepan Bandera, and his followers, concluded that the war would end in the exhaustion of both Germany and the Soviet Union, leaving only the Poles – who laid claim to East Galicia (viewed by the Ukrainians as Western Ukraine, and by the Poles as Eastern Poland)—as a significant force, and therefore had to be weakened before Poland rose again.[114] Poland's plans to restore its prewar borders were opposed by the Ukrainians, and some Ukrainian groups' collaboration with Nazi Germany had discredited their partisans as potential Polish allies.[114]

The OUN decided to attack Polish civilians, who constituted about a third of the population of the disputed territories.[114] The OUN equated Ukrainian independence with ethnic homogeneity; the Polish presence had to be removed completely.[114] By February 1943 the OUN began a deliberate campaign of killing Polish civilians.[114] OUN forces targeted Polish villages, prompting the formation of Polish self-defense units (e.g., the Przebraże Defence) and fights between the Home Army and the OUN.[114] The Germans encouraged both sides against each other; Erich Koch said: "We have to do everything possible so that a Pole, when meeting a Ukrainian, will be ready to kill him, and conversely, a Ukrainian will be ready to kill the Pole." A German commissioner from Sarny, when local Poles complained about massacres, answered: "You want Sikorski, the Ukrainians want Bandera. Fight each other."[115] In massacres of Poles in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia, beginning in the spring of 1943 100,000 Poles were killed.[116][117][118]

The Polish Government-in-Exile, in London, was taken by surprise; it had not expected Ukrainian anti-Polish actions of such magnitude.[114] There is no evidence that the Polish Government-in-Exile contemplated a general policy of revenge against the Ukrainians, but local Poles, including Home Army commanders, engaged in retaliatory actions.[114] Polish partisans attacked the OUN, assassinated Ukrainian commanders, and carried out operations against Ukrainian villages.[114] The Home Army command tried to limit operations against Ukrainian civilians to a minimum.[119] According to Grzegorz Motyka, the Polish operations resulted in 10,000 to 15,000 Ukrainian deaths in 1943-47,[120] including 8,000-10,000 on territory of post-war Poland.[121][122] By winter 1943 and spring 1944 the Home Army was preparing for Operation Tempest, one of whose goals was strengthening the Polish position in Volhynia. In January 1944 the 27th Home Army Infantry Division was formed, numbering 7,000 men, purposed to defend Polish civilians and engage the OUN and German forces.[114]

By mid-1944, the region was occupied by the Soviet Red Army. Polish partisans disbanded or went underground, as did most Ukrainian partisans. Both the Poles and the Ukrainians would increasingly concentrate on the Soviets as their primary enemy – and both would ultimately fail.[114]


After the first killings, the Polish underground began organizing self-defense.[123] The commander of the Home Army Wołyń District, Col. Kazimierz Bąbiński, "Luboń", forbade reprisals against Ukrainians.[124] On 10 July 1943, Zygmunt Rumel was sent to talk with local Ukrainians, with the goal of ending the massacres. The mission was unsuccessful; the Banderites killed the Polish delegation.[125] On 15 July 1943 the Home Army planned to carry out an operation to assassinate the OUN-B members and thus thwart anti-Polish actions. However, it was incorrectly assumed that the action was planned for 20 July.[126] On 20 July the Home Army command decided to establish partisan units in Volhynia. Nine troops were created, numbering about a thousand soldiers.[127] The Home Army also executed individual Ukrainians who were suspected of sympathizing with the Ukrainian nationalists.[128]

An official oath of soldiers of 27th Home Army Infantry Division, winter 1944

In January 1944 the 27th Home Army Infantry Division was formed in Volhynia. Between January and March 1944, the division fought 16 major battles with the UPA, expanding its operational base and securing Polish forces against the main attack.[129] The district commander forbade the killing of Ukrainian women and children and announced that he would punish such conduct.[130][131] The Ukrainian population was driven out of the overrun villages to avoid diversion.[132]

There were cases of Home Army troops and local self-defense carrying out war crimes on the Ukrainian population. The number of Ukrainians killed in retaliation is estimated at 2,000–3,000.[133][117][134][135] Such actions were criticized by the Home Army commander.[136]

Eastern Galicia

In May 1943 an order was issued stating the principles of creating self-defense.[137] In 1943, Ukrainians suspected of sympathizing with the Ukrainian nationalists were executed.[138] In February 1944, the Home Army Area Command ordered that, in the event of rising killings, pacification operations were to be employed against Ukrainian settlements.[138][139] Retaliatory operations aimed at intimidating the Ukrainian population contributed to increased support for the UPA.[140] Also in eastern Galicia there were cases of crimes against Ukrainians. Leaflets were often disseminated, demanding that the Ukrainians leave these lands.[141] Ukrainian victims of retaliation in eastern Galicia numbered between 1,000 and 2,000.[117]

The real battle between the Home Army and the UPA took place in Hanaczów, where local self-defense managed to fend off two attacks.[142]

Lubelszczyzna and Rzeszowszczyzna

In September, leaflets calling on Poles to leave these lands appeared in the Lublin region. At the beginning of 1944, the Banderites formed two SB militias, which in January attacked Poles.[143] To counteract the escalating terror of the OUN and the UPA, the AK and BCh troops carried out an offensive on March 10, 1944, during which about 1,500 Ukrainians were killed.[144] The aim of AK and BCh was to intimidate and discourage the Banderites to take larger anti-Polish actions in this area.[145] The Lublin district AK command distanced itself from the operation (despite its previous agreement to it). Probably an investigation had been initiated. Captain Marian Gołębiewski, one of the operation's organizers, later complained: "I was threatened with trial over the so-called genocide."[146]

In March 1944, several UPA kurins entered the Lublin area and continued killing Poles. The UPA units came into conflict with Polish partisans, leading to the development of a several-dozen-kilometer-long front. Several thousand partisans were involved in the fighting on the two sides.

From February to April 1945, mainly in Rzeszowszczyzna (the Rzeszów area), Polish units (including affiliates of the Home Army) carried out retaliatory attacks in which about 3,000 Ukrainians were killed.[147]

See also


  1. ^ a b A number of sources note that the Home Army was the largest resistance movement in Nazi-occupied Europe. Norman Davies writes that the "Armia Krajowa (Home Army), the AK,... could fairly claim to be the largest of European resistance [organizations]."[148] Gregor Dallas writes that the "Home Army (Armia Krajowa or AK) in late 1943 numbered around 400,000, making it the largest resistance organization in Europe."[149] Mark Wyman writes that the "Armia Krajowa was considered the largest underground resistance unit in wartime Europe."[150] The numbers of Soviet partisans were very similar to those of the Polish resistance.[151]


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