Page 5, 23rd February 1945

23rd February 1945
Page 5
Page 5, 23rd February 1945 — "Warsaw Was Crouched To Spring"

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Locations: Moscow, Warsaw, London


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"Warsaw Was Crouched To Spring"


With Moscow, Poland's nearest Ally, silent, and as the radios of the Western Allies rang with praise of their heroism, the people of Poland rose against the Germans in Warsaw last year. How they fought in their Cathedral and in the streets and sewers of their ancient city Wks told last week by Lieut. Jan Novak, Courier to General Bor, Commander in the Field of the Polish Home and Underground Armies. Lieut. Novak was addressing a meeting of the League of European Freedom.

13y MARIAN CURD Lieut. Novak joined the Underground movement in 1941, and in December, 1943, he came to London as General Bor's envoy. The advancing Russian Army was then just entering Poland, In July, 1944, he returned to Warsaw, reaching the capital a few days before the rising. Up to this time the Poles had assisted in the liberation of Vilno, Lwow, and Lublin, and papers in Warsaw had the headlines— openly —" Hitler's Firm is Closing Down," people were overjoyed. Then General Bor received the report that the Russians had reached the Vistula and were within thirty miles of Warsaw to the south, entry seemed to be a matter of days. The Underground Army then received the order to rise, small groups of people were ordered to man houses from basements to attics and to be at their posts by 3 p.m. the same day. At 4.30 everything was ready—" Warsaw was crouched ready to spring." At 5 p.m.—zero hour—military objectives were charged, the Germans were taken by surprise, the attacks were too sudden and spread about for them.


1 here was a heavy fight for the railway station and other public utilities, and then German tanks appeared. Some of these were effectively dealt with by bottles of oil thrown flaming from windows, about a dozen armoured cars were destroyed by various makeshift means and at least two Tiger tanks wele "appropriated " and put to good use. By nightfall the railway station, G.P.O. and waterworks had been taken, although many sheds and dumps at the station were burnt during the night. The doorkeeper of the great I6-storey Prudential building in the centre of the city managed to hoist the Polish flag but unfortunately was shot in the attempt. So night fell.

On the second day whole areas were liberated, the Germans brought up heavy guns, but at that time the impetus of the attack was too great for them and they were forced to withdraw a little and practically the whole of Warsaw fell into the hands of the Polish Home Army. But then the tide began to turn, the Poles could not keep Lip the impetus of the first attack owing to lack of ammunition and also they had no planes. Lieut. Novak , commented that Warsaw was only five minutes' flying time from Soviet air

fields. The Russians did once drop some supplies hut they were not much good as the Poles. were using many types of arms, including some captured from the Germans and also homemade weapons manufactured from lengths of piping filled with 11.E.. etc., for grenades. also the Russian supplies were dropped without parachutes and were damaged.

At 5.45 p.m. in the evening of Augost 7, the B.B.C. in London broadcast the news of the rising and it was taken up by stations all over the world, but Moscow was silent. The city was then shelled from the air by German Manes flying at roof level, great fires were started and then more tanks appeared; a small boy of 12 years earned the name of " Tiger " for destroying, unaided, at least three Tiger tanks. The Poles tried every kind of ruse to keep the Germans at bay—even empty petrol bottles hung across the street on a string was sometimes enough to make a tank turn round I And also large notices were placed at street corners warning people to keep away from nonexistent minefields; the Germans weren't taking any chances, but then they began to employ more devilish methods• to make the people give in. Polish men, women and children were forced to walk iin front of the German tanks as. they advanced, and many others were burned to death in their houses. The. Germans set fire to the houses and then set guards at the entrances to stop anyone escaping.


So the tight went on, food and the transport of food became more and more difficult. At first all food was pooled and cooked in a communal kitchen, but as things got worse those who had no arms went round on foot with huge haversacks and distributed what little food there was to houses and strongpoints, etc. Many were killed in the act. Members of the Gestapo who were caught were tried and usually shot. Members of the Wehrmacht were tried and even in the stress of those times were often not shot but imprisoned. Some daily newspapers came out and Boy Scouts started a • postal service.


An old wireless which had been hidden in the earth for live years was dug up and after frantic efforts and days of patient experimenting, to their great joy they heard the B.B.C. announce " We have picked up Free Warsaw." Lieut. Novak said that this was one of the most excising moments of the whole siege; at last they had been heard, now perhaps help would come. The bombardment increased, day by day and then came the news that Allied planes were flying from Britain to drop supplies. People waited expectantly scanning the akies, Patiting, At last the planes came battling through a terrific barrage of German A.A. tire, many were shot down, people rushed to gather up the precious. stores, some of which fell in " No Man's Land," and heroic rushes were made to secure the ammunition. One container lay for four days in an extremely exposed position. and a Pole volunteered and successfully brought it in. These supplies were dropped for a few subsequent nights but then stopped, one reason being the great losses in aircraft. Great Britain applied to Russia to ho.allowed to use Soviet airfields, but was refused.

THE CATHEDRAL German attacks got heavier, each .gbruaivIdesin.g they came to they burned to the ground, and many cellars became For three days a bitter fight went on in the Gothic Cathedral of St. John in the old town. At length the burning walls collapsed and Poles and Germans were killed. The fight now went on--not for houses—but for ruins. In the old town over 80 per ceni of the defenders lost their lives.

The fight then went underground— into the sewers—some of which were only 25 inches in diameter. General Bur and his staff used one of them their escape from the city. The air was so bad in the sewers that people emerging very often could not stand up' for some time, and their eyesight was affected. Unfortunately, the Germans discovered what was going on. They were digging trenches and heard talk coming from inside the casing of a sewer that they had unearthed. Mines and grenades were put down the entrances and the occupants forced out. Several times they were asked to surrender' but always came the answer " No !"


It was at this time that Lama Novak and his fiancee—who was also at the Caxton Hall inecting—decided to get married. They were married in a little chapel about 100 yards from a German strongpoint and a little boy of 11 gave the bride a bouquet which bad been obtained in exchange for a tin of food.

Soviet tanks began to move forward again and at one time they could actually be seen from the top of the Prudential building in thc centre of Warsaw. The Poles tried desperately to hold the bridgeheads across the Vistula to aid the Russians when they should come. For the sixth time Warsaw was asked to surrender. General for sent a message to General Rokossovsky saying that they would have to capitulate if help did not arrive soon. He waited twenty-four hours, but received no reply. Warsaw then capitulated to the terman commander. General Bor ordered Lieut. Novak to come to London so that a true and first-hand story could be told to the world. The Germans ordered that all people were to leave the capital within three days; anyone found in the city 'after that time would be shot. 700,000 people set out on an aimless wander. Lieut. Novak and his wife managed to escape. ' I shall never forget the scenes," he said. "There wore terrible sights along the roads, people fell in exhaustion by the roadside from lack of food." All babies which had been born during 'the rising had died.

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