The Warsaw Uprising stands as one of the more tragic events of World War II, exemplifying the extraordinary courage and resilience of the Polish Home Army and civilians under brutal German occupation. Not to be confused with the Jewish-only Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943, the Warsaw Uprising was launched on 1 August 1944, this valiant attempt to liberate Warsaw was both a testament to human spirit and a tragic tale of betrayal and loss.

The Home Army offensive commenced on the afternoon of 1 August 1944. Initially planned as a brief, week-long “mopping-up” operation, this assessment proved to be a significant miscalculation. The German forces opted to mount a robust defense of "fortress" Warsaw, especially as the Soviets paused their advance. Consequently, the uprising extended over nine weeks, becoming the most prolonged and ferocious urban insurgency of the Second World War. Despite initial triumphs in liberating much of the city, the momentum soon shifted against the Home Army. The disparity in military strength was stark: the Home Army fielded approximately 40,000 fighters, including 4,000 women, though only about 10 percent were adequately armed, mostly with light weapons. In contrast, the Germans had a similar number of troops, but they were heavily equipped with tanks, artillery, and aircraft.

For 63 days, the insurgents, supported by civilians, engaged in fierce urban warfare against the well-equipped Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe. Initially, the Polish fighters achieved significant successes, capturing key districts and fortifying their positions. However, the situation rapidly deteriorated as the Soviet Red Army halted its advance, effectively leaving the Polish resistance isolated and without crucial support.

The halt of the Soviet advance remains a subject of intense historical scrutiny. Some historians suggest that Stalin's decision to withhold support was a calculated move to weaken the Polish resistance, thus ensuring Soviet dominance over post-war Poland. The lack of Soviet intervention allowed German forces to regroup and launch a brutal counteroffensive. The insurgents, lacking necessary supplies and reinforcements, were ultimately forced to capitulate.

The civilian populace endured the harshest suffering. On August 5-6 alone, over 40,000 residents of the Wola district—men, women, and children—were massacred. This atrocity was perpetrated by SS units, police forces, penal battalions, and contingents of the Russian People’s Liberation Army, largely composed of Russian collaborators. Overall, Polish losses during the uprising amounted to 150,000 civilians and about 20,000 Home Army members. German casualties numbered around 10,000. Hostilities concluded on October 2 with the formal capitulation of Home Army forces. The remaining 650,000 civilians were deported to a camp south of Warsaw. Over the following three months, German forces systematically demolished much of the already devastated city. By the time Soviet troops "liberated" Warsaw in January 1945, the Polish capital had been reduced to a vast expanse of hollow-shelled buildings and rubble.

The German response to the uprising was marked by unprecedented brutality. Heinrich Himmler and Heinz Guderian, despite advising Adolf Hitler of the potential mass casualties among German troops, were ordered to crush the resistance without mercy. Hitler's directive to "raze Warsaw completely" led to systematic, house-to-house massacres, particularly in the suburb of Wola. On 5 August 1944, known as "Black Saturday," approximately 40,000 civilians were executed in a single day. Halik Kochanski, in her book The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War, writes about these horrific events, documenting the extent of the atrocities committed by the SS units.


Top photo: Warsaw Uprising: German soldiers at Theater Square with the National Theater visible in the back. This image was provided to Wikimedia Commons by the German Federal Archive (Deutsches Bundesarchiv) as part of a cooperation project.  Click to enlarge.

Bottom photo:  Warsaw, Poland, 6 December 2019. Monument to the Warsaw Insurgents. Monument on the square in front of the Supreme Court in Warsaw. Source: War History Network license.


Halik Kochanski writes that upon hearing of the uprising, Hitler issued "an order to 'raze Warsaw completely' from the air, using the Luftwaffe present on the Eastern Front." (Kochanski, 2012, p. 406). Himmler and Guderian advised this would result in mass German casualties and were ordered to kill everyone—no prisoners. "The SS units were responsible for terrible atrocities in the suburb of Wola, where they went from house to house pulling out all inhabitants regardless of age or sex and slaughtering them." The author notes that "on one day alone, 'Black Saturday', 5 August, it is estimated that 40,000 civilians were murdered." (Kochanski, 2012, p. 406).

10667670055?profile=RESIZE_710xThe Warsaw Uprising resulted in staggering losses. Historians estimate that between 15,000 and 16,000 Polish fighters were killed, alongside 150,000 to 200,000 civilians. German losses were also significant, with up to 17,000 soldiers killed or missing. Despite the overwhelming odds, the Polish resistance held out for over two months, showcasing unparalleled bravery and tenacity.

Unfortunately, the Warsaw Uprising ultimately failed in its goal to liberate the city. The Soviet army halted their advance on the outskirts of Warsaw and refused to provide assistance, leading many to believe that Stalin purposely allowed the uprising to fail in order to weaken and destroy the Polish resistance movement. This suspicion was further solidified when Soviet troops entered Warsaw two months later, only after the Germans had crushed the uprising.



"Jews In the Warsaw Uprising." Żydowski Instytut Historyczny. Last modified January . https://www.jhi.pl/en/articles/jews-in-the-warsaw-uprising,28.

Kochanski, Halik. The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012.

"Remembering the Warsaw Uprising." Hoover Institution. https://www.hoover.org/research/remembering-warsaw-uprising.

Roberts, Andrew. The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War. New York: HarperCollins, 2011.

Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

Weinberg, Gerhard L. A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

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