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1944: Uprising to free Warsaw begins

The Polish Home Army has begun a battle to liberate Warsaw, the first European capital to fall to the Germans nearly five years ago.

At 1700 local time, the code signal "Tempest" was given and there was a wave of explosions and rifle fire throughout the city.

Reports from Poland say the timing of the uprising was chosen for maximum effect as the Germans appeared to be about to withdraw from Warsaw.

The German frontline has been forced to retreat over the past few months in the face of a sustained attack from the Red Army, forcing them out of the Baltic States, Belorussia and western Poland.


"Today I have issued the order you have been waiting for"

General Bor

Soviet troops are now said to be fighting within 10-12 miles of Praga, the suburb on Warsaw's right bank.

To the north of the city, Soviet troops are advancing north-westward to Warsaw, with the River Vistula on their left flank.

General Tadeusz 'Bor' Komorowski, commander-in-chief of the Home Army, or Armia Krajowa, wanted to take the Germans by surprise and seized his opportunity in late afternoon.

He sent out a rallying call to his troops: "Today I have issued the order you have been waiting for, the order to begin open battle against Poland's age-old enemy, the German invader.

"After nearly five years of uninterrupted and heavy fighting underground, today you will carry your arms in the open in order to free your country again and to render exemplary punishment to the German criminals for the terror and crimes committed on Polish soil."

He has an estimated 40,000 troops, including 4,000 women, but they have only enough arms for about 2,500 - and most of those are rifles and tommy guns.

During the first day's fighting significant areas of the city's left bank have been captured, including the main post office and mint. Gas, electricity and water services have all been returned to Polish hands.

A network of street barricades has been erected blocking the flow of traffic in and out of the city.

Reports speak of a great pall of smoke hanging over the city - though to have been caused by the Germans setting fire to buildings.

Casualty reports suggest 2,000 Poles and 500 Germans may have been killed.

In Context
The battle for control of Warsaw lasted 63 days and ended with surrender by the Poles on 3 October 1944.

A German counter-offensive began on 5 August 1944. Orders were given to round up civilians and shoot them. Women were used as human shields for the German tanks.

During the uprising, the civilian population of Warsaw was kept in touch with newspapers published mostly by the Home Army and a local radio station. The final paper was printed on 5 October 1944 and the radio broadcast its last programme on 4 October.

General Bor had planned for the liberation of Warsaw to take about a week. But he received no help from the Soviets, who ceased their offensive towards the capital.

They also refused to allow the Allies to use Soviet bases to take-off and land. So the pilots were forced, instead, to fly up from Italy. Without fighter escorts many were lost and many of their supplies ended up in the wrong hands.

Final casualties were over 15,000 dead or missing, 5,000 wounded, and 200,000 Polish civilians dead. On the German side there were an estimated 16,000 dead and 9,000 wounded.


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