Thursday, July 16, 2015

Polish nationalists

Soldiers from Kolegium "A" of Kedyw on Stawki Street in Wola district - Warsaw Uprising 1944

Most Poles acknowledged the legitimacy of their government-in-exile. Except for its extreme right component, the Polish resistance never collaborated with the Germans. It regarded the Nazis as the mortal enemy of the Polish nation. Its position toward the Soviets evolved depending on the situation at the fronts, the policies of the major members of the Grand Alliance, and particular incidents such as the tensions over Wladyslaw Anders’ Army, the revelation of the Katyn massacre, the creation of the Polish Committee of National Liberation, and contacts between the pro-Communist forces and the nationalist guerrillas. Poland and Russia restored relations after Germany attacked the USSR, and they concluded a military alliance on 30 July 1941 that presumed an amnesty of all Polish citizens kept in Soviet jails, labor camps, and exile. However, the two governments broke relations again after the discoveries in the Katyn Forest in April 1943. The major cause of tensions between the Soviet Union and the government-in-exile was not even the fate of the Poles murdered by the NKVD but the status of the disputed territories. The two sides never abrogated the alliance, whose conditions stated: “The government of the USSR regards as invalid [the provisions of] the Soviet-German treaties of 1939 on the territorial changes in Poland.” Accordingly, the government-in-exile demanded the return of the disputed territories, being unaware of the agreement reached by the Allies at the Tehran Conference that ceded them to the Soviet Union. Most members of the government-in-exile were ready to cooperate with the Soviets on certain conditions. The Poles in London believed that a mass anti-Nazi uprising in Poland would secure such international prestige that the Western Allies would force the Soviets to drop their demands.

The largest component of the Polish resistance, AK, viewed itself as a supraparty armed force loyal to the government-in-exile and aimed to unite and control the Polish resistance. It started as a network of urban anti-Nazi cells consisting mainly of former army officers, but it gradually turned into a cross-class underground organization with support from all social groups. Before its mobilization in June 1944, AK had only 6,000 armed guerrillas. The rest of its 370,000 members conducted sabotage actions in cities and collected weapons and intelligence. After the mobilization, the number of AK guerrillas rose to 60,000. AK’s ally, Bataliony Chlopskie (Peasant Battalions), a military wing of the moderate Peasant Party, had 30,000 guerrillas by 1944, most of which eventually merged with AK. The Communists and the extreme right wing of the National Party opposed the government-in-exile but conditionally cooperated with it. They organized their own resistance groups, which were less popular than AK.

AK developed its military strategy by 1944. At its heart was Operation Tempest: Polish guerrillas were to rise in disputed areas against German rearguards demoralized by the approach of the Red Army and seize power in major cities just before of the arrival of the Soviets. The timing of the insurrection was crucial. Tadeusz Bor-Komorowski, the AK commander-in-chief, maintained that the uprisings should occur ideally about 12 hours before the Red Army entered major cities so that the insurgents would have time to take power during the chaotic retreat of the Germans. If AK rises too early, he argued, the Germans would crush the insurrection – poorly armed guerrillas could not resist Germans for more than several days. A wave of urban insurrections would roll in front of the Soviet advance from east to west across Poland, producing Polish administrations loyal to the government-in-exile and setting the Soviets in front of fait accompli. These uprisings were directed militarily against the Germans but politically against the Soviets. AK was to maintain neutrality with the Soviets but oppose their attempts to incorporate Poles into the Red Army or into the 1st Polish Army raised by the Soviets from Poles. This was an extremely risky strategy. The success crucially depended on two factors: AK’s ability to overwhelm the retreating Germans and the prompt arrival of the Red Army after the beginning of the uprisings.

Bor-Komorowski observed bitterly in November 1943 that merely six months after the Katyn scandal “among the masses a tendency to regard the Soviets as [their] rescuers from the German terror has begun to emerge.” 197 He had to prohibit any actions against Red partisans and the Red Army. 198 The Soviet General Staff, in turn, instructed the Red partisans to maintain benevolent neutrality toward AK and, as in case of other nationalist resistance groups, urge the Polish underground to postpone the discussion of political problems until the victory over Germany. The Soviets planned to use Polish guerrilla manpower against Germans without promising AK any political concessions. This attempt was futile. The political goals of the Soviets and the AK, and their means to attain them, were incompatible. The Soviets sought to defeat Germany, regardless of the price, as quickly as possible by all means. AK planned to achieve its goals with a minimum of civilian casualties and rejected the permanent guerrilla warfare practiced by the Soviets, preferring dramatic but short actions aimed primarily at securing international prestige and gaining leverage against the Soviet Union. AK called on Poles to abstain from armed struggle against Germany until a spectacular uprising would bring the most political benefits. Relations between AK and the pro- Communist guerrillas turned on local circumstances and the personalities of field commanders. They more often collaborated than clashed. Their cooperation was particularly fruitful in actions against UPA.

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