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Lt. John Ward, British ex-POW, a member of the Polish Home Army between 1941-1945. Ward's coded radio messages were dispatched from Warsaw to London between Aug 7-Sept 29, 1944.
September 1944, August 1944
Despite lack of ammunition and weapons the troops of AK. continue to hold all their positions intact with the exception of the Old Town. Here the enemy attacks have been so fierce, air bombing, artillery and ground fire, that it has been impossible for the Polish troops to hold on. In some places they have been forced to surrender some ruins to the enemy. There is now not a single undamaged house in the whole of the Old Town. Nothing now remains but ruins and debris among which here and there rear up fragments of walls not yet levelled to the ground. Streets no longer exist. The Old Town covered a small area and had narrow winding streets. The density of population was very high, about 100,000 people, and became still denser owing to the thousands of refugees who came from other districts. About half of this population have been wounded or killed. Practically every soldier if not killed has received a wound of some sort. The population that is still in the Old Town have sought shelter in cellars under the ruins which offer practically no protection against enemy attacks. Hence it is that these cellars often become collective graves for the hundreds who sought shelter there.
Warsaw is for the second time during the past five years fighting for its freedom. Almost exactly five years ago Warsaw was besieged by the Germans. For a month they hammered the city with heavy artillery and air bombs. In 1939 before the German invaders succeeded in taking Warsaw they destroyed 15 per cent. of buildings and damaged 75 per cent. Today it is a different story. Practically the whole city is damaged, and I think it is no exaggeration to say that 50 per cent. is completely destroyed and possibly even more. There is not a single house in the whole of Warsaw that is not damaged. There is no question of surrender in this second battle for the Polish capital. During five years of bitter occupation the people of Poland have learnt that it is better to suffer death in battle than to surrender again to Nazi brutality and murder.
I myself have been in Warsaw for over three years and can be a witness to many acts of savagery which would scarcely be credited by any civilized people. Man-hunts in the streets of Warsaw were a daily occurrence. The usual method was for S.S. troops to block a street and take all men and women between the ages of 14 and 50 years to special concentration camps. Here they were sorted-people who showed any sign of intelligence were then, sent to permanent concentration camps where mostly they died after a few months. The rest were sent to forced labour in Germany. Any people who tried to escape were shot in the street.
The situation in Warsaw is critical. The only thing that drives the population to suffer the terrible bombardment and slaughter being carried out by the enemy is the bitter memory of those five years of occupation.
Today is the 35th day of the battle for the Polish capital – a city with a population of 1,300,000 people. During those 35 days there has been no communication with the provinces. Therefore no food has reached Warsaw. Rations are already very short, in many places people are starving. The greatest tragedy is for the small children who receive no milk or special nourishment that they need. The people here hear with hungry envy of the liberation of Paris after four days of fighting. They heard that the British Army rushed thousands of tons of food and medical supplies to the French population. Warsaw during the first few days of the uprising received some much needed help in form of ammunition dropped by the R.A.F., but for the past two or three weeks has received no relief whatever.
Poland is our oldest ally in this war. Despite all she has suffered at the hands of the German invaders, she has remained always an active power against the enemy. Polish troops fought in France in 1940; later Polish pilots took part in the battle of Britain, her troops fought at Tobruk, and are still fighting in Italy and France. The Home Army in Poland itself has now risen and is also fighting openly as it has fought under cover during the whole war. Poland is a country which I, as an Englishman, am proud to call an ally. She produced no government to co-operate with the Germans. The only government she has acknowledged is the one in exile in London. To end I would like to make an appeal to the British Nation. It is short: HELP FOR WARSAW.
Addressed to Colonel P…
Sir, I have seen a radiogram in which it is stated that from four to seven machines daily drop supplies over Warsaw.
Sir, I can state that these supplies are not dropped in the centre of the city where they are most needed. And I have not heard that there have been any dropped near the city. I have agreed to accept the proposition to act as correspondent to The Times – as communicated to me by E…, subject to your agreement.
The situation in the City Centre is still in Polish hands. After the fall of the Old Town the enemy turned all his artillery and air force against the centre of the city. The attacks are now practically without any break. Many of the streets have been systematically destroyed house by house. The enemy aircraft fly at roof-top height. Electric works which have been in the hands of the Home Army since the first day of the uprising were damaged 47 hours ago. It is doubtful whether the damage will be repairable.
The situation in the City Centre is still in Polish hands. After the fall of the Old Town the enemy turned all his artillery and air force against the centre of the city. The attacks are now practically without any break. Many of the streets have been systematically destroyed house by house. The enemy aircraft fly at roof-top height. Electric works which have been in the hands of the Home Army since the first day of the uprising were damaged 47 hours ago. It is doubtful whether the damage will be repairable
Many women, children and old men, taking the enemy at his word that they would be well treated and that any private property which they brought would not be taken from them, left the city yesterday and today. Already the staff of the Home Army has received reports that all valuables were taken from them. Afterwards women, children and old men, all weakened by hunger, were forced to march nearly 20 miles in the pelting rain. They were then driven into an open compound like so many sheep and left under a guard of S.S. men.
In the Old Town the enemy had made no attempt to give any relief to the suffering civil population. About half of these people are more or less badly wounded. All food that they had is buried under the ruins of their houses. There are between 80 and 100 thousand people still in the old town. An unconfirmed report says that all the heavily wounded soldiers of the Home Army who were left behind when the Army evacuated this quarter were shot by the Germans when they entered.
Addressed to Colonel P…
Sir, I think that if supplies of ammunition and bandages do not reach us within 48 hours, the city will be unable to fight much longer. Sir, I am your obedient servant.
During the past 24 hours I have made a tour of all the front lines and most bombed areas in the centre of Warsaw: I have seen many houses of five and six floors which have been bombed out. The people who had taken shelter in the cellars were either killed or hopelessly trapped under hundreds of tons of debris. This, of course, is not always the case. Often only one or two are blown away. I heard from one cellar, for instance, sounds of knocking. It was impossible however to do anything to help. Hundreds of tons of loose bricks lay over the entrance and the district was under heavy enemy fire.
On every conceivable little piece of open ground are graves of civilians and soldiers. Worst of all, however, is the smell of rotting bodies which pervades the whole centre of the city. Thousands of people are buried under ruins; it is at the moment impossible to evacuate them and give a normal burial. Soldiers fighting to defend their battered barricades are an awful sight. Mostly they are dirty, hungry, and ragged. There are very few who have not received some sort of wound. And on and on, through a city of ruins, suffering and dead. The morale of the soldiers is also going down in most cases.
The enemy is making determined attempts to cut off the northern part of the city from the southern as divided by Sikorski Avenue. The fight goes on day and night. Huge fires are burning the whole time. A large number of the civil population, about 50 per cent., from the northern part of the city, have been evacuated to a comparatively small area in the southern part. The southern part is now day and night under heavy bombing and artillery fire. Losses are very high. About 300,000 people are concentrated in this area.
During the past 24 hours the enemy in his attempt to cut off the north part of the city from the south sustained a loss of nine tanks, seven of which were destroyed in Sikorski Avenue.
Addressed to Colonel P…
Sir, last night a small number of containers were dropped on Warsaw at widely scattered points. As far as I have been able to check, five were found of which three contained surgical supplies. Have not found out contents of other two.
Today I had an interview with the Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Home Army, General Bor. He is a middle-aged, quiet, tired-looking man, but he gives one the impression of being efficient and capable. I am sending a copy of the questions I asked and the answers given by General Bor.
Interview with General Bor, Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Home Army, Warsaw.
How do you estimate the present military situation in Warsaw and the losses suffered by the city, the civil population and the Home Army forces?
The military situation in Warsaw is serious. The preponderance of the Germans, chiefly of their technical equipment, is overwhelming. We are holding out only thanks to the heroism of the front line soldiers and the inflexible will to resist shown by the whole population in spite of the great shortages encountered at every step. Effective and very urgent help from the Allies is essential for us. For some days past the approach of the Soviet front and air combats over the city have to some extent contributed to a weakening of German air raids on Warsaw. The losses suffered by the city are enormous. A large part of Warsaw with its historic buildings and monuments simply does not exist but lies in ruins. All the public utility institutions in the city have been destroyed by bombardments. The civil population has sustained enormous losses, which it is not yet possible to estimate in figures. The losses of the Home Army formations depend on the sector on which they fight; in one of the sectors where bitter fighting had lasted for many days the casualties come to 70 per cent. Where a life and death struggle is going on painful and very large losses are unavoidable.
Some centres abroad have brought up the point that the Rising began prematurely and that it had not been co-ordinated with the High Command of the Red Army. May I know your views on this matter?
It is no time to discuss whether the Rising was premature or not. I state that if we had not taken up arms on or about August 1st it would have been impossible for us to have done so at all since all our manpower would have been swallowed up by the German system for digging trenches, or sent to factories far from Polish soil. Warsaw would have been a deserted city. We were unfortunately not able to co-ordinate our fighting with the Soviets. A number of attempts launched with this in view yielded negative results. When the Rising broke out we immediately informed the competent Soviet authorities by wireless via London.
The wireless and press of the world has beer, repeating your name for the past six weeks in connection with the Rising in Warsaw. Could I secure some details regarding your person for the editors of The Times and the New York Times?
What can I tell you about myself? I am a soldier. Beginning with the first World War, I have been a front line officer. After the catastrophe of 1939 I began to work from November of that year on the organization of the Home Army in Poland. First in Cracow. and then from 1941 in Warsaw as Assistant Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Home Army. The Commander-in-Chief unfortunately was arrested by the Germans in the summer of 1943 and since then I have taken up command of the Polish Home Army.
What kind of help is necessary now and will be necessary for Warsaw apart from the air deliveries of arms and ammunition? Answer Our Allies are well acquainted with the kind of help we need now and I have no doubt that they will give it to us in time overcoming the various difficulties. That would require the creation of a special expedition, formation of which could be commenced immediately so that its arrival here with its available means should not be delayed a single day. Independently of this the immediate arrival of an Allied mission here would be essential.
The enemy bombing of Warsaw is indiscriminate, mostly the bombs drop on residential houses that are actually playing no part in the fight for the city. The civil population, is suffering horribly from these bombardments. What little food they had is buried in the ruins and they are turned out into bullet swept streets to seek some shelter, however meagre. Yesterday I spoke to the survivors of a family who had been buried in ruins three times. Three of them were wounded and none of them had had any food for three days. Two of the family had been killed. This is only one case of the thousands in Warsaw today. The one question on all people's lips is: "My God, when will it end?"
Polish Home Army men who had captured a house from the Germans on Zulinski Street found some food supplies left behind by the enemy. Five of the men were so famished that they at once ate part of the food. It was poisoned with strychnine and three of them have died; the other two are in a serious state.
The Germans blew up the Central Railway Bridge and the Poniatowski Bridge over the Vistula yesterday afternoon. This leaves only the old and narrow Kierbedz Bridge and the old Northern Railway and foot Bridge. The two bridges blown up by the enemy had been in any case locked by the Polish positions in Warsaw ever since the uprising began and thus record no practical use for movements of troops.
To Colonel P…
Sir, I am unable to carry out my duties as energetically as usual owing to a wound in my leg.
Sir, I am your obedient servant.
A short truce was arranged yesterday between German and Polish forces fighting in the Sejm grounds with the object of clearing away the dead and carrying in the wounded. Home Army soldiers called on them to escape to the Polish lines, but were told that if they did so the Germans would execute Polish hostages imprisoned in the Sejm building. This was no idle threat, as the Germans had some days before executed one hundred and fifty men because one hostage had escaped.
A large formation of Liberators flew over Warsaw yesterday afternoon and dropped many containers with arms, ammunition and food. Unfortunately a large proportion fell outside the Polish lines and fell into German hands. The first direct help that they had seen from the Allies evoked enormous enthusiasm amongst the civil population and the armed forces. Disregarding the shrapnel bursts over the city, people ran out into the streets and courtyards to get their first view of Allied aircraft. It must be borne in mind that previous deliveries had been during the night so that the planes had been invisible.
Addressed to Colonel P…
Sir, owing to loss of personnel due to enemy action and the destruction of the radio station I have been unable to send messages during two days. I believe that from now on work will go forward normally. The food situation in Warsaw is critical. The only water available is from freshly dug wells. Epidemics are beginning to appear. An enormous percentage of the population is wounded, and many killed.
I am, Sir, your obedient servant…
Am officially informed that Home Army forces captured written orders giving the number of armed forces that were to be used against the Old Town area in Warsaw on the 19th August. Details as follows:
Ten battalions of infantry, two battalions of engineers, one company of nine 'Tiger' tanks, twenty 75 mm. self-propelled guns, fifty 'Goliath' mobile tanks, six 75 mm. guns, two mortars 280 mm. calibre, two 380 mm. guns, one 600 mm, mortar, one platoon of mine-throwers and a number of flame-throwers, one armoured train with eighteen heavy machine guns and a battery of 105 mm. guns.
These forces were used to begin the attack on the Old Town on August 19th and that district was defended until September 2nd. It should also be borne in mind that German planes bombed the district from five to twelve times daily.
The Germans are showing greater activity in the north riverside district end. The German positions in the city have been bombed by Soviet planes as has also the Okecie airfield on the outskirts of the city, where the runway was completely put out of action by heavy Soviet bombs, some German planes destroyed and some hangars set on fire. One Soviet plane was observed to be shot down over Warsaw today by German anti-aircraft artillery. Polish Home Army forces destroyed twenty-four enemy tanks during the period September 13th to 16th.
Warsaw headquarters of the Polish Home Army have established direct contact with the Soviet forces on the east bank of the Vistula. Liaison is carried out by two wireless operators who landed in Warsaw by parachute on the area occupied by Polish troops.
The inhabitants of Warsaw are now literally living only in ruins. Whole central part of city completely destroyed. In some cases by fires started by Poles to drive out enemy and in others by shell fire, mines and air bombs. Water very difficult to get. I personally today had first wash after six days and am considered lucky. To get one bucket of reasonably clean water it is necessary to stand in queues under fire four or five hours. Food even more scarce. Even front line soldiers get quite inadequate rations, usually about four ounces of boiled barley daily. Bread practically unheard of. Civilians mostly in even worse plight. Private stocks largely burnt or buried under ruins. Hospitals are in what were coal cellars a few weeks ago. Many thousands of wounded there, perhaps more civilians than military. Conditions in which they lie really terrible.
The south sector of the Warsaw front of the Polish Home Army has been heavily bombed by the Germans and subjected to heavy artillery fire. This is the first time since last week that German bombers have been in action here. There has been no fundamental change on any of the three Warsaw sectors during the past 24 hours. The Germans are determined to stop the Poles re-occupying the west bank of the Vistula in order to prevent them preparing bridgeheads for Soviet landing in force.
The Polish Staff officially announced the following information received from Cracow: The Germans intend completely to liquidate the internment camps at Oswiecim and Buchenwald. The S.S. commandant of the Oswiecim camp sent out an S.S. Fuhrer asking for an efficient plan to liquidate the camp and the prisoners still living. A certain Moll, Commander of Birkenau camp, a branch of Oswiecim camp, submitted a plan for which he would need several S.S. detachments, six aircraft and some artillery, also a number of workers. Over ruins cremated bodies were to level up the site and it was to be planted with young trees.
There are 16,727 men and 39,125 women prisoners at Birkenau, whilst the figure for Oswiecim and Buchenwald must be near the hundred thousand mark. It is feared the Germans will carry out this massacre and try to throw the blame on Allied bombers. The Polish authorities are issuing an appeal to the whole world in the hope that this new crime will be thereby averted.
Referring to my yesterday's dispatch news has now been received that the tens of thousands of prisoners of many nationalities in Oswiecim and Buchenwald concentration camps have smuggled out messages that they are being threatened by their guards daily that they will be massacred. They appeal for help.
Polish Staff reports growing activity of Ukrainian insurrectionary army in Lvov District against Soviet occupation authorities. Ukrainians there evade conscription to Red Army and join Ukrainian forces in ever greater numbers. They receive arms and ammunition from the Germans by air.
(Received 1st October, 1944.)
The Home Army Staff announced this afternoon that the southern group fighting in Warsaw had been forced to capitulate. This leaves only two Polish islands of resistance in the city, one in the north, the other in the centre. The food situation is most critical and even front line soldiers get next to nothing to eat.