«Winchester, UK Washington, USA First published by Zero Books, 2012 Zero Books is an imprint of John Hunt Publishing Ltd., Laurel House, Station ...»
Since Russia is the decisive factor in the war, she must be given every assistance and every effort must be made to obtain her friendship. Since without question she will dominate Europe on the defeat of the Axis, it is even more essential to develop and maintain the most friendly relations with Russia.46 The War Department’s realism rested on a hope that the Soviets could be relied upon to act as a power in the region. The Americans understood that they were not in a position to rule in the east, so they looked forward to seeing a power installed that would cooperate with them. This was what Harold Macmillan meant when he said after the war ‘some day, a generation or two on, we may be able to persuade the Russians that they are Europeans, not Asiatics’.47 Averell Harriman, Roosevelt’s envoy in Moscow thought of it as ‘the job of getting the Soviet Government to play a decent role in international affairs’, and wrote that ‘it is our problem to strengthen the hand of those around Stalin who want to play the game along our lines’.48 Certainly, the US State Department were pleased to note that Molotov ‘clearly confessed Soviet assumption of the “White Man’s Burden” in the Balkans’.49 That was good news to the State Department, but not so great for the British, who had much to lose in the region.
Poland’s resistance movement developed along different lines from those of western Europe. With the entire nation extinguished there were little prospects of collaboration. The greater part of Poland’s military and political leadership were forced out of the country under threat of summary execution. Poland had been invaded not only by Germany, but also by the Soviet Union. The Polish émigrés were more conservative, established older men with military experience than other resistance organisations. From 1939 to 1944 the Polish government in exile was based in Paris, and then in London, where many of the men had fled, and led at first by seasoned military officer Władysław Sikorski.
Two Polish divisions fought during the invasion of France and after 1940 regrouped in Britain. The Polish Air Force of around 20,000 fought under RAF command, while the Polish Armed Forces added divisions to the British Army. In 1941 Stalin agreed to release Polish prisoners to form an army in the east to fight from Soviet territory, under Władysław Anders.
In the Spring of 1942 Marshal Zhukov asked Anders to prepare a division for the front, but Anders said no, and that the whole army must fight together. Stalin sought to discipline the Poles by halving their food allocation. After some arguments, the Russians agree to let the Poles re-locate, and by September 1942 70,939 had left to re-form under the British Command, mostly in the Middle East. By 1944 there were around 190,000 Poles fighting alongside the British, with great courage and commitment. The Polish government in exile claimed that a further 300,000 were organised as the secret Home Army in Poland, keeping their powder dry until the call came for a general uprising.53 The Poles problems came as they were sacrificed to Great Power politics. The Soviet Union had a history of hostility to Polish independence, and the other Allies needed the Russians to fight the war in the east. In the summer of 1938 the Soviet leadership had dissolved the Polish Communist Party, and killed or jailed many of its leading militants. But in 1942, as a rival to the London government in exile, a new Polish Workers Party was formed. A radio station, Kosciuszko, broadcast that the Soviet Union was the ‘only saviour of the Polish people’ and that the London exiles were aiding Germany by preaching ‘passivity’.54 Toward the end of 1942 it was clearer that the Red Army was in a position to push west towards Germany. The Polish Government in Exile had good reason to fear the coming ‘liberation’ as it remembered the Soviet invasions of 1920 and 1939. Sikorski told the Home Army officers in Poland that ‘the essential aim of the ultimate insurrection was the forestalling of the Russians in the liberation of Poland by the assumption of political power by the resistance.’ Publicly though, and mindful of its Allies concerns the Home Army should present ‘a positive attitude towards the Soviet Union’.55 Trouble flared between Moscow and the London Poles, though, over the USSR’s territorial ambitions. On 1 March 1943 the news agency Tass reported that Soviets would take Polish territory up to the Curzon line, taking back the territory they had lost in the settlement of the 1920 war – some 52,000 square miles, including the city of Lvov. ‘Whilst Poland will want her original boundaries’ British minister Eden and US president Roosevelt agreed in secret talks, ‘the Big Powers would have to decide what Poland would have’. In London Soviet ambassador Maisky told Eden that the Soviet government would not accept an unfriendly government in Poland, especially not the London Government in Exile.56 Knowing of these rifts in the Alliance the German government announced the discovery of the bodies of thousands of Polish officers in mass graves in Katyn, the Berlin Radio reporting ‘the Bolsheviks had secretly perpetrated mass executions’ (13 April 1943). Two days later the Polish General Kukiel asked for an investigation into German claims. It was the excuse that Stalin had been looking for. He telegrammed Churchill attacking the Sikorski government for repeating the ‘infamous fascist slander against the USSR’ – except that it was not slander. According to Stalin, this was ‘indubitable evidence of contact and collusion between Hitler and the Sikorski Government’, which brought relations between them to an end.57 London did try to mitigate Stalin’s moves to isolate the London Poles but their reliance on the Red Army to take the east meant that they were not willing to push the matter. For the Americans Cordell Hull made it clear to Molotov that he would not intervene on the London Poles’ behalf. At the Allied conference in Teheran at the end of November 1943 Churchill said that ‘Poland might move westwards’ – compensating the loss of territory to the Soviet Union with a gain at the expense of Germany. Stalin asked whether the changes could be made without talking to the Poles about it, and Churchill said yes. Roosevelt agreed, but asked that the decision be kept secret because of the presidential elections to be held in 1944.58 Churchill’s support for the exile Poles was abandoned in favour of the Grand Alliance.
The close personal relationship with General Sikorski, who lost his life in a plane crash off Gibraltar did not carry over into his dealings with the new leader Stanisław Mikołajczyk. His attempts to put the Poles’ case to Moscow gave way to an attempt to get the Poles to accept the Russians’ demands. So it was that the London Poles were strong-armed into accepting first that the Curzon Line would be the de facto boundary between the Soviet Union and Poland; and second that the Polish Government-in-exile should ‘include among themselves none but persons fully determined to cooperate with the Soviet Union’. These concessions were ignored by Moscow where the founding of a Polish Committee of National Liberation was announced on 22 January 1944.59 Troops of the Polish Home Army took part in the liberation of Vilno in July, and of Lvov.
On both occasions the victory celebrations were followed by the arrest of the officers and the forcible induction of the troops into the Red Army. The 27th Volnyhian Division of around 25,000, retreating after a tough engagement with the Wehrmacht to Lublin, was surrounded and disarmed by the Soviets. Stalin instructed the Moscow Radio to refer not to the Home Army, but to ‘White Poles’, or ‘bandits.60 Knowing that they faced a second invasion, the Polish Home Army planned the General Uprising, called ‘Tempest’ The Home Army Commanding Officer Bar-Komorowski knew that military help to the Soviets against the Germans would also mean ‘creating maximum political difficulties for them’. General Okulici said that ‘an effort was needed which would stir up the conscience of the world’.61 At the end of July Soviet troops had advanced to gather on the Vistula River overlooking Warsaw. On 29 July Soviet aircraft dropped leaflets calling the people to arms in the name of the Polish Committee of National Liberation.62 The Home Guard launched its uprising on 1 August 1944, and the city was plunged into the most desperate war. The Home Army led the fighting, but it was joined by the pro-Soviet Polish People’s Army (PPA) – ‘we overcame whatever our differences were’ remembered Krzystyna Kulpinska, a Home Army supporter.63 The Moscow-based Polish Radio service on 3rd August proclaimed that ‘The People’s Army has taken to arms in Warsaw’ and ‘German blood is flowing in the streets’. From their point of view ‘Soldiers of the Home Army have joined up with the action of the People’s Army’. One Russian Captain Konstanty Kalugy who had been a prisoner of the Germans but escaped in the fighting sent a message to Stalin ‘I have established personal contact with the commander of the Warsaw garrison, who is conducting the nation’s heroic battle against the Hitlerite bandits’. The Moscow Radio promised that ‘the Red Army is approaching Warsaw’.64 But the Red Army halted. Poles Janek Karniewicz and Michal Miecielica were with the Polish First Army of General Berling – a Soviet-organised force with the Red Army – on the east side of the Vistula. ‘We could hear the uprising’ recalled Miecielica ‘we could hear
shells killing our people’:
It was clear to everyone, including the Russians, that the obvious military strategy was to proceed to Warsaw – only fourteen days into the Uprising.
‘And for the Russians to cross the river once we had reached it,’ adds Karniewicz.65 In September, Berling did take four infantry battalions over the river, after begging permission from the Russians, and even held a shallow bridgehead on the West Bank, though he failed to contact the insurgents.66 But the Russians did not cross the river. They were of course under no obligation to help the Home Army, though they had led all the Varsarvians, including their own Polish People’s Army, to believe that they were going to carry on into Warsaw. While it was true that the Werhmacht had put up a strong defence in the first two weeks of the Uprising, they could have fought on after that.67 The paralysis of the Red Army on the Vistula was not down to a German counteroffensive but was a ploy to let the Germans do the work of pacifying Warsaw before the Soviets took control. Himmler’s reaction to the uprising showed that he was motivated more by revenge than any real war aim. He said that Warsaw would be liquidated and the ‘Poles themselves will cease to be a problem for our children and for all who will follow us’ – except that it was the Red Army who followed, not Germany.68 Stalin’s denunciations of the Home Army as ‘Whites’ or ‘Black Hundreds’ showed that they were the enemy as far as he was concerned. Asked by Mikołajczyk to make arms-drops to the insurgents on 9 August Stalin agreed, but then did not. When the Western Allies offered to drop supplies to beleaguered Warsaw, Vyshinsky explained to the US Ambassador on 18 August that they could but that the Soviets ‘decidedly object to British or American aircraft, after dropping arms in the region of Warsaw landing on Soviet territory, since the Soviet Government do not wish to associate themselves either directly or indirectly with the adventure in Warsaw’.69 There it was. The Soviet reason for not supplying the Uprising was that they were opposed to it. Without being able to land behind Soviet lines, Allied planes flying from Italy would not be able to reach Warsaw. The rising went on till October, costing 250,000 lives as the city centre was reduced to dust. A further 630,000 people were deported from the ruined city. The Home Army lost 15,000 dead, but the fighting also cost the Germans 10,000 dead, 9,000 wounded and 7,000 missing.70 A week after the surrender of the Home Army Stalin met Churchill along with Averell Harriman and Anthony Eden in Moscow. The Allies fell over themselves to exonerate
Stalin’s betrayal of the Poles, as Eden recorded up the discussion on 11 October 1944:
Stalin was at great pains to assure the Prime Minister that failure to relieve Warsaw had not been due to any lack of effort by the Red Army. The failure had been due entirely to the enemy’s strength and difficulties of terrain. Marshal Stalin could not admit this failure before the world… The Prime Minister accept this view absolutely and he assured Marshal Stalin that no serious persons in the UK had credited report that the failures had been deliberate … Mr Harriman … said the same was true of the people in America.71 Moscow’s press campaign painted the Home Army as dangerous and deluded adventurists who had cost the people of Warsaw their lives. The attacks on the Polish resistance were repeated in the Western press, by the popular cartoonist David Low in the Daily Mirror, for example. The Russians did not enter Warsaw till mid-January of 1945.