Rising '44: 'The Battle for Warsaw', by Norman Davies
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Solving the Polish conundrum
THE BATTLE FOR WARSAW
Macmillan, £25, pp.660, ISBN:0333905687
The Warsaw uprising of August 1944 was one of the most tragic episodes of the second world war, resulting in the destruction of the city and some 200,000 of its inhabitants. It is also one of the least well known. The fact that the Red Army had stood by while the city was pounded to rubble by the Germans meant that the subject was a touchy one in postwar communist Poland. And it was no less embarrassing to Poland’s wartime allies in the West, who had also failed to help. It was avoided by historians, as it aroused unease in those who liked to see the war as a straight- forward fight against the Nazi evil, and distaste in those with pro-Soviet sympathies.
For Poles, it is the subject of a never-ending conundrum —
was the rising an act of heroic if doomed self-defence, a historical imperative,
or was launching it an act of criminal recklessness, resulting in the death of
hundreds of thousands and the destruction of the capital? The arguments on both
sides are such that no intelligent and honest person can embrace either view
wholeheartedly to the absolute exclusion of the other.
The issue will not go away because it has affected and continues to affect life in Poland. As it took such a toll of the inhabitants of the capital, it effectively decapitated Polish society, robbing it of a huge portion of its intellectual elite. Since the city was levelled in consequence, it also destroyed a vast proportion of the nation’s cultural heritage. Despite the meticulous reconstructions, one cannot walk around Warsaw today without being aware that one is walking over a battlefield.
Norman Davies does not address the question of whether it was right or wrong to launch the rising. He sets out the arguments for and against, but devotes surprisingly little space to the decision, taken by the leadership of the underground in the last days of July 1944, when the Red Army was approaching Warsaw, the German front appeared to be tottering, and news of the bomb plot against Hitler gave the impression that the time had come to take action.
Nor does he chart the progress of the fighting over the 63 days of the rising or attempt to assess it from a military point of view. He describes some key actions and gives an idea of the nature of the fighting. He does justice to the resourcefulness and ingenuity as well as to the extraordinary bravery of the men, women and children who stood up to the overwhelming German onslaught. He peppers his text with vignettes of heroics and tragedy. He describes the unspeakable conditions in fascinating detail and does not spare us the horrors that confronted combatants and civilians alike as they struggled for survival in the ruins and the sewers. But the events are treated in an impressionistic way, and those looking for an overall synthesis will be disappointed.
In fact, Davies is concerned not so much with the rising itself as with its deeper significance in the context of the war. He ranges far and wide (and it says a great deal about his skill as a writer that he can do so without losing his reader completely) to bring together the various elements involved. These include not only Poland’s politics and alliances, German and Soviet policies, British and American priorities, but also ideological trends within the Foreign Office and the American State Department, and the rivalries of agencies such as SOE and MI6.
He takes us back some years before the war, and through its aftermath right up to the present day. And this provides some of the most uncomfortable passages in the book. The persecution of the heroes of the rising by the communist regime in Poland in the late 1940s and early 1950s makes particularly sickening reading, as much by its sheer injustice as by its brutality. But he is right to bring it out into the open, as it helps to explain much about what is happening in Poland today, as well as revealing some of the darker aspects of the war. And his coverage of postwar reactions in the West makes one wonder at the boundless ability of human society to avoid confronting the truth.
It is an extraordinary story, and it is fairly and honestly told here. Davies is an intelligent and balanced guide through its intricacies, and he is always entertaining. There are bound to be inaccuracies in a book of this scope, and experts will quibble. My own gripe is that in an attempt to assuage the usual panic felt by the English-speaking reader when confronted by a Polish name, Davies has created a nomenclatural dog’s breakfast. But such things cannot obscure the essential importance of this book.
Its real merit is that it lifts the question of the Warsaw rising out of the parochial Polish conundrum of whether it was justified or not and places it firmly at the centre of Allied policy and planning, where it belongs. Since it was ‘the big three’ — Great Britain, the United States and Soviet Russia — who took decisions on behalf of the other allies with respect to every single operation, why, Davies asks, did they wash their hands of this one?
The Polish underground had been an element of the Allied war effort since September 1939, providing invaluable intelligence and operational possibilities at the heart of Nazi-occupied Europe — only a couple of weeks before the rising, it captured and sent to London a prototype V-2 rocket. The underground army, the AK, co-operated with SOE and MI6, which channelled a vast amount of effort into arming it for the moment when, in conjunction with an Allied advance, it would come out into the open and assist the liberating forces by stabbing the Germans in the back. The timing of such a rising was discussed at the highest level in London and Washington. Yet when the time came, the Allies distanced themselves from the whole issue and told the Poles they could do as they liked. It was as though Montgomery had been instructed that he could either fight in the desert, or, if he preferred, go to Palestine, or cross over to Italy, or just surrender, without consulting London.
The answer to Davies’s question lies in the murky compromise at the heart of the grand alliance. The liberal democracies which had stood up to Nazi Germany in 1939 had been obliged to enlist the aid of Soviet Russia. But Soviet Russia was not interested in liberal democracy; it despised the other allies and pursued its own agenda, which was no more edifying than that of Nazi Germany. Churchill was dimly aware of this, but most people in positions of power and influence in the Allied camp, including Roosevelt, refused even to contemplate such a possibility — it would have been tantamount to admitting that they were backing one evil against another. They willed themselves into believing that their ally of convenience was as morally upright as they held themselves to be, and did everything to bury anything that might contradict this — hence the taboo on any talk of the Gulag, the cover-up of the Katyn massacre, and so on.
As the Red Army began liberating Poland from the Germans, Stalin incorporated part of the territory into the Soviet Union and set up a puppet government for the rest, making it quite clear that he was taking over the country. He was letting his mask slip, but neither Churchill nor Roosevelt wanted to see what was behind it. That is why they did not get around to co-ordinating action over Warsaw. Had they done so, they would have had either to formally agree to Stalin’s demands or defy him outright, which they felt themselves in no position to do. Worse, they would have had to confront the true nature of their ally.
Some historians have seen this as the beginning of the Cold War. That may be to accord the episode too much significance. But it was certainly the moment when, realising that he had duped the Allies, Stalin began to feel his strength. And their reaction confirmed him in his conviction that they would rather acquiesce in his crimes than complicate things by denouncing them. As one delves deeper into it, one comes to realise that this powerful book is not so much about the Warsaw uprising as about the defeat of liberal democracy in the second world war.
Max Hastings reviews Rising '44: The Battle for Warsaw by Norman Davies
Churchill's majestic phrase "the Grand Alliance" masked the reality that the three wartime partners were linked only by the necessity to destroy the Nazis. America entered the war reluctantly, when attacked by the Japanese, rather than from any great enthusiasm to save the Jews or make a new world. Britain, which had gone to war on principle, in support of Polish freedom, was obliged to jettison this cause in 1945, amid its own exhaustion and impotence.
The Soviet Union did most of the Allies' dirty work - or rather accepted the huge blood sacrifice - necessary to defeat the Nazis. In consequence, Stalin was able to exact his own price - hegemony over Eastern Europe. To this day, many Westerners do not grasp the full horrors of Soviet behaviour, which compromised the moral basis of the Anglo-American struggle against Nazism in the most grievous fashion. Stalin could pride himself upon having killed far more people than Hitler.
It is a ghastly story. The only episode relatively well-known in the West is that of the Warsaw Rising, which is the subject of this book. In August 1944 some 40,000 anti-communist Poles rose in revolt against Nazi occupation. This was one of history's most disastrous attempts to have it both ways. The Poles acted in order to pre-empt a Soviet political takeover of their country. Yet they relied upon the arrival of the Red Army within days, to save them from military extinction by the Germans.
In the event, the Russians lingered beyond the Vistula 15 miles away, while the SS spent two months recapturing the city block by block amid unspeakable cruelties. "From a historical point of view," Himmler told Hitler, "the revolt of the Poles is a blessing. We shall finish them off. Warsaw will be liquidated." So, indeed, it was. Some 250,000 civilians were massacred by the Germans before the last shot of the struggle was fired on October 2, 1944.
Norman Davies knows more about Poland than any other historian in the West, and possesses a deep romantic love for the Polish people. Both his knowledge and his passion - reflected in rage towards the Allies who betrayed the Rising - are displayed in this notable book. His research among Polish and Soviet sources is exhaustive. It is unlikely that the questions Davies cannot answer conclusively - especially about Stalin's thought processes - will ever finally be resolved.
Initially, the Russians seem to have been merely indifferent to the Rising. They faced serious problems east of the Vistula, resupplying their armies after their huge summer advances, and then dealing with an energetic German counter-attack. In the first weeks after the Poles rose, there were genuine military reasons for Soviet inability to help.
Yet Stalin, of course, went much further. He refused landing rights for Allied planes attempting to resupply the insurgents. Vyshinsky, Stalin's Deputy Commissar for Foreign Affairs, told the US Ambassador icily: "The Soviet government do not wish to associate themselves either directly or indirectly with the adventure in Warsaw."
Roosevelt was brutally careless in his own attitude, as Stalin noted. The American President seemed to care more for amicable relations with Moscow than for the wretched Poles. Churchill fought desperately for Polish self-determination, but nothing could alter the fact that the Russians were at hand, while the Anglo-American armies were far away.
The Western Allied chiefs-of-staff bear substantial responsibility, because they recklessly armed the Poles. Norman Davies would not agree with me, but it seems criminal that the British never seriously attempted to stop the Polish revolt, any more than they later held back the Czechs in Prague, or the Italian partisans.
The British Joint Intelligence Committee concluded in April 1944 that any Polish uprising would be doomed to failure in the absence of close co-operation with the Russians, which was unlikely to be forthcoming. Churchill's romantic enthusiasm for "setting Europe alight" by encouraging armed civilian resistance ignored the fact that headlong assaults on well-armed German forces were bound to fail, and to provoke ghastly reprisals.
If Stalin was indeed callous towards Warsaw, what of the Anglo-Americans? In September 1944, Eisenhower encouraged the Dutch to expect imminent liberation, thus inciting a dramatic increase of Resistance activity and consequent atrocities. The Allies made no attempt to liberate Holland during its ghastly "hunger winter" when thousands starved to death, because they said that humanitarian considerations must not be allowed to interfere with grand strategy. Snap - Stalin could have said.
The Allies might have recalled the Duke of Wellington's wise words, reflecting on the guerrilla war in Spain: "I always had a horror of revolutionising any country . . . I always said, if they rise of themselves, well and good, but do not stir them up; it is a fearful responsibility."
Norman Davies has produced a moving elegy for those doomed romantics who fought so nobly, and to such tragic purpose, in Warsaw in the autumn of 1944. It was the Poles' misfortune to be loathed both by the Russians and the Germans, and to be regarded with indifference by most of the western Allies.
The subordinate villains of Davies's story are the Western intellectuals who licked Stalin's boots in the British press. It is an extraordinary reflection upon British academic standards, that such a man as Christopher Hill, whom Davies reminds us was one of Stalin's principal apologists, is still regarded as a serious historian. If he lied prodigiously about the Soviet Union, why should we believe a word he wrote about anything else?
Max Hastings's 'Editor' has just been published in paperback by Pan Macmillan. His new book, 'Armageddon: The Battle for Germany 1944-45', will be published in 2004.
Betrayed by the
Daniel Johnson reviews Rising '44: The Battle for Warsaw by Norman Davies
In the seamless transition from the Second World War to the Cold War, the Warsaw Rising of 1944 occupies a unique place. The fate that befell the Polish capital was one of the worst human catastrophes of the most catastrophic period in modern history.
Outside Poland, however, the memory of Warsaw's agony is blurred – partly because it is often confused with the Ghetto Uprising of 1943; partly because of a sustained and for many years successful Communist propaganda campaign to denigrate the "reactionaries" who led the insurrection; and partly because for the Allies this was one of the most shameful episodes of the war, one which almost everyone except the Poles preferred to consign to oblivion.
From August to October 1944, the Polish resistance (or "Home Army") fought a desperate street-by-street battle against the Wehrmacht, while the Red Army watched from across the river. Hitler's revenge was terrible, even by his standards: a great city of a million and a quarter people was wholly depopulated and razed to the ground by the Germans, the survivors despatched either to concentration camps or forced labour in the Reich.
Of the Home Army, those who escaped the Nazi terror mostly succumbed to the Soviet one that followed in its wake. The destruction of Warsaw was even more complete than that of Stalingrad and Leningrad, or cities destroyed by aerial bombing. It was more reminiscent of the Punic wars or the Mongol invasions than of modern warfare.
The historical significance of the Rising, though, goes far beyond the suffering of the Varsovians. For Warsaw was the crucible in the heat of which the wartime alliance began to come apart. For the first time it became clear for all who cared to see that Poland, for whose sake Britain had gone to war with Germany, would be left to the mercy of Stalin once Hitler had been defeated.
Neither Britain nor America felt strong enough to prevent yet another partition of Poland by the very man who had carved the country in half in 1939. After Warsaw, however, Yalta was inevitable; and there, for central and eastern Europe, the die was cast for the next half-century.
Poland was thrice betrayed, by each of the Big Three in turn. For much of the war, Stalin maintained ostensibly cordial relations with the London-based Polish government in exile. During the summer of 1944, Soviet diplomacy and propaganda encouraged the Home Army to believe that, by striking in the rear of the Wehrmacht, it would hasten the victory of the seemingly unstoppable Red Army which, in barely a month, had already marched from the heart of Russia to the gates of the Reich.
Yet this was all a snare and a delusion. Stalin had no intention of allowing Poland to re-emerge as anything other than a satellite; he was determined to annex its eastern marches, including the historic city of Lvov; and he would not permit the Home Army to reconquer Warsaw, as the Free French had just reconquered Paris. So Marshal Rokossovsky's legions halted on the eastern banks of the shallow Vistula, while in their rear the secret police, the NKVD, deported and murdered those loyal to the London exiles.
While the carnage went on for nearly three months, the Lublin Committee of Polish Communists poured out propaganda accusing the Home Army of collaborating with the Nazis and threatening civilians who supported them with death. The Polish people knew who the real quislings were, but until the Communist regime collapsed in 1989, the next generations could only be told the truth about the Rising by word of mouth.
No less disgraceful was the betrayal of Poland by Roosevelt and Churchill. It is true that they were warned of the Rising only shortly before it began. It is also true that Anglo-American assistance by air was bound to be limited and was heavily dependent on Soviet co-operation, which was not forthcoming. Even so, the long record of broken promises, excuses and evasions before, during and after the Rising is hard to stomach.
That the Rising was a tragic mistake was recognised at the time, not least by the Poles themselves. It was a military mistake, although the fact that a mere 40,000 Poles were able to tie down a much larger, better-equipped German force for so long is a tribute to their professionalism as well as their courage. It was also a political mistake, both because it led to the annihilation of the next generation of Polish leaders and because the increasingly bitter and desperate tone adopted by the Home Army and the exile government confirmed the anti-Polish prejudices of the Anglo-American press and establishment.
Though Churchill had an uneasy conscience about his own part, Roosevelt did not, and many people in the West gained the impression that the Poles were unreasonable, if not disloyal, allies and extreme nationalists to boot. This impression, which endured until quite recently, was nurtured by the Soviet spies and fellow travellers who occupied so many influential positions in the British hierarchy. Only a few (Orwell notable among them) saw Stalin's betrayal for what it was and denounced the apologists.
Norman Davies tells this darkly magnificent story with his customary skill and controlled passion. He peppers his narrative with the evidence of eyewitnesses, and ingeniously contrasts the cold-blooded decisions of the great powers with their consequences for ordinary Poles. This is a splendid book, long overdue, and a worthy memorial to its noble subject.
IMAGINE, if you can, a post-war London in which the pilots of the Battle of Britain were not recognised as heroes, and a post-war Britain in which they were arrested, jailed, denied their medals and written out of the history books. The result would have been disorientation and a generation's worth of confusion about what actually happened during the war.
But that, in essence, is precisely what happened to the heroes of the Warsaw Uprising - or the Battle of Warsaw, as it was called at the time.
The uprising was launched in the summer of 1944, when German troops were retreating from eastern Europe, and the Soviet Red Army was already waiting on the eastern bank of the Vistula river, which divides the city of Warsaw.
The battle had political rather than purely military goals: the Home Army, Poland's powerful underground force, wanted to take control of the city before the Germans left, in order to be able to greet Soviet forces from a position of strength.
The plan failed. Underground troops, poorly armed, never stood a chance against German forces. The Red Army, which had been expected to join the battle, never did. Help from Britain, also expected, never arrived. Instead, the Germans defeated the insurgents, murdered hundreds of thousands of Warsovians in the process and destroyed the old city forever. In the wake of the Communist takeover of the country a few months later, the entire story of the rising was suppressed, and would remain suppressed for the subsequent half-century. No monument was built until the end of the 1980s, and the survivors were denied the medals and honours awarded to their compatriots who had fought alongside the Russians in the East. To this day, most foreign visitors to Warsaw mix up the Warsaw uprising of 1944 with the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943. But even in Poland, the uprising became part of underground history, or rather legend. Following the Communist regime's declaration of martial law in 1981, the anti-Communist political underground thought of the wartime resistance leaders as role models, even as official history books downplayed the story or ignored it altogether.
All of this, of course, also makes the subject compelling to historians, who have not, until now, been able to write about this subject using documents - and why it is particularly compelling to Norman Davies, who has long been obsessed with the forgotten history of Poland and eastern Europe.
He has decided not to begin the book with the uprising itself, instead starting in an apparently roundabout way, first telling the separate histories of Poland's position within the Allied coalition, of the Red Army's march through eastern Europe, of the German occupation and of the Polish underground. The insurgency is not actually launched until well past page 200.
Before it is possible to understand why the uprising's leaders took the seemingly irrational decision to launch the battle when they did, it is also necessary to understand just how terrible the joint Soviet and German occupations of Poland had been, and just how desperate the citizens of Warsaw had become.
Davies is at his best when he focuses on issues such as everyday life during the uprising and the terrible deprivations of life in a city that was slowly being turned to rubble. At the end, there were only a tiny number of inhabitants left, and they survived by drinking rainwater that had collected in bathtubs left open to the sky, and scraping around bombed-out cellars looking for food.
Following "liberation" at the hands of the Red Army, things didn't get much better, however. The end of the book is so tragic as to be almost unreadable: the arrest, imprisonment and trials of Home Army members - on the grounds that they supported a free, not a Sovietoccupied Poland - and the exile of the uprising's leadership. The stories of their new lives in Australia or in distant London suburbs are sometimes surprisingly upbeat, but often merely sad.
The almost complete indifference of the outside world to this story continues to bother Davies, as it continues to bother Poles. Polish soldiers were not allowed to participate in Allied victory parades - and anyway, they didn't feel much like celebrating "victory" in 1945, when their country appeared destined to remain occupied. Fifty years on, it is too late to reward them - and too late for them to help rebuild their country, which has, in the meantime, changed almost beyond recognition.
Gulag, by Anne Applebaum, has been shortlisted for the National Book Awards in America.
How the Allies betrayed Warsaw
By DIANA KUPREL
Saturday, February 7, 2004
Rising '44: 'The Battle for Warsaw'
By Norman Davies
Macmillan, 752 pages
'Capital cities awaiting liberation were dangerous places," historian Norman Davies says. In the summer of 1944, Warsaw appeared to be the last major obstacle to the Soviet army's triumphant march from Moscow to Berlin. After victories at Stalingrad and Kursk, it had forced the Wehrmacht back to the Vistula. On the Western front, the Allies had established a beachhead in Normandy, Paris was liberated and the Allies were strengthening their hold on Italy. With Germany facing a war of attrition on two fronts, the people of Warsaw believed that five years of brutal occupation were coming to an end. The Resistance informed London of its intention to rise. On Aug. 1, 40,000 armed fighters took to the streets to drive the Germans out and reclaim their capital and their independence. Polish soldiers abroad, who had fought in the battles of Britain, Narvik, Falaise and Monte Cassino, waited for the Allies to assist their beleaguered homeland.
But Stalin condemned the uprising as criminal and declared the insurgents bandits. He would not co-operate. The Wehrmacht had time to regroup and Hitler, seeking revenge against the upstart Varsovians, ordered the city and its inhabitants destroyed.
For 63 days, the Resistance battled the SS and Wehrmacht on the narrow streets of the Old Town, in the cellars and in the sewers. Defenceless civilians were slaughtered in the tens of thousands every week. As Soviet troops watched from across the river, the city was reduced to rubble. Still the insurgents held firm. Yet, apart from a few perilous attempts to parachute in supplies and ammunition, the Allies did nothing.
With neither side gaining the upper hand, and losses heavy on both, the respective leaders decided to end the fighting. "Since we have not received the assistance expected," the Polish chief government delegate said, "we should save what is most dear to us, namely, the biological substance of the nation. This is all the more important because the whole cultural and scientific elite of society is concentrated in Warsaw." They negotiated an agreement -- a political blow for the Nazis -- which guaranteed "combatant status for the soldiers and humane treatment for the civilian population." The city was evacuated and razed.
German defences held out until the New Year. When the Soviets finally entered the snowbound ghost capital on Jan. 17, 1945, not a single shot was fired. Poland was occupied yet again, by the very power that had promised liberation.
Why were the Resistance's communiqués to England about the impending uprising set aside in the critical moments? Why did Stalin refuse to send in reinforcements or, minimally, grant U.S. and British planes permission to refuel in Soviet territory? Why did Roosevelt and Churchill decline to come to Warsaw's assistance, and accede to Stalin's territorial demands? Why, after the war, were the Poles alone among the Allied nations not represented in the V-E Day parade?
These are some of the questions that eminent British historian and East European specialist Norman Davies sets out to answer in his monumental work, Rising '44: 'The Battle for Warsaw'. Using recently released Stalin-era and British archives, proceedings of parliamentary sessions, media reports, and participants' journals, correspondence and memoirs, he systematically uncovers the misperceptions, obfuscations and misrepresentations that culminated in the betrayal of an ally, and the erasure of an event that was pivotal for the outcome of the Second World War and the start of the Cold War.
Davies -- whose previous work includes God's Playground, a history of Poland -- divides this book into three parts. The first part is composed of four parallel chapters presenting different routes to the outbreak on Aug. 1, and introducing the major players: the evolving allied coalition, and the cooling relations between Britain and Poland once the Grand Alliance was formed; the German occupation; the Soviet advances; and the activities of the Polish Resistance.
Key to understanding and judging the uprising, Davies rightly argues in this section of his project of historical redress, is the region's history: "Events cast their shadows before them" (Euripides). For centuries, Poland had been a contested playground for the surrounding powers: Prussia before Germany, Russia before the Soviet Union, and, until the First World War, Austro-Hungary. Partitioned thrice, and regaining independence only in the interwar period, Poland had cultivated a long tradition of resistance. Then, at the start of the Second World War, it was faced, on its eastern front, with Soviet pretensions to its borderlands and the mass deportations of its citizenry to the gulags.
On the other side, annexed by the Nazis, Warsaw found itself turned into the central city of the German Lebensraum, and its citizenry destined for annihilation in the nearby concentration and death camps. This experience influenced the decision to rise, and was disregarded by the Allies once political expediency raised its head.
In the second part, Davies moves to a riveting play-by-play of the rising itself, from the outbreak through to capitulation.
The final part deals with the shadows cast by the uprising: the imprisonment of Polish Home Army (AK) soldiers, who formed the core of the Resistance; a civil war; the installation of a Communist puppet government; the dilemma faced by Polish soldiers abroad, many of whom had first-hand experience with Stalinism. Davies also sheds light on the long-term reverberations, through the years of Stalinist repression up to the Solidarity movement. Of note is the lesson the uprising taught the Soviets. Knowing Poles will fight for their independence, the Soviets did not send in the troops when martial law was declared in 1981.
Davies is scrupulously detailed and even-handed in his depiction of the cultural, political, technical and military complexities of the situation. He reveals the differences of opinion, in all camps, about the wisdom of the uprising and the appropriate response. He discusses the conflicting pulls of honour and survival, of morality and self-interest (Churchill's position had weakened considerably, and Roosevelt, who had an election at home and a war in the Pacific to win, played his cards perfectly with the Polish government-in-exile, his electorate and Stalin). He lays out the consequences of geopolitical ignorance which led to irreversible tactical blunders, and the annexing of the Polish borderlands along -- give or take a city or two -- the Peace Boundary that Stalin and Hitler established in 1939. He tackles the issue of wartime co-operation and collaboration in a nation with two sets of occupiers, including the Soviet view that the AK, because it was anti-Communist, actually collaborated with the Germans. He also addresses the perpetual thorn of anti-Semitism and anti-Polishness, and how these prejudices -- and perceptions thereof -- were exploited for political purposes.
Ultimately, Davies's book is about the politics of forgetting, symbolized by the Communist government's destruction of Warsaw's Institute of Memory in 1949, practised by the burning of potentially damning British archives, and realized by the conflation and confusion, in the public mind, of the uprising of '44 with the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of '43. When Hitler first gave the order to invade Poland, he declared: "I have sent my Death's Head units to the East with the order to kill without mercy men, women and children of the Polish race or language. Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?" Indeed, for decades, no one spoke of the Warsaw rising. It was an episode that covered up one crime (the betrayal of the insurgents) with another (non-inclusion in V-E Day parade) and another (the failure to defend the territorial integrity of an ally).
Given his mission to redress historical omissions, Davies's decision not to use Polish names, except in an appendix, is mystifying. In an effort not to jeopardize the narrative flow by burdening the reader with unpronounceable Polish names, he uses titles, anglicizes first names and conspiratorial pseudonyms, or simply refers to occupations. This is problematic on any number of counts. After all, several Poles mentioned are familiar to Western audiences, such as Czeslaw Milosz, Andrzej Wajda, Tadeusz Borowski and Wladyslaw Szpilman.
But more important, to give German and Russian names but not their Polish counterparts inadvertently puts Davies in the same camp as those who would suppress the Resistance, and leads to some perverse situations. Soviet puppets Boleslaw Bierut and Wladyslaw Gomulka are named, but Tadeusz Komorowski, the courageous commander of the insurgents, and his second-in-command, Leopold Okulicki, are referred to by their anglicized conspiratorial nicknames, Boor and Bear Cub respectively.
After the war, planners set about the monumental task of reconstructing the city, stone by stone, street by street, district by district, according to blueprints that had been hoarded away. A statue of Chopin, whose Polonaise had rung through the streets during the uprising, was recovered from a German scrap yard -- on its dais a citation by Poland's national poet, Adam Mickiewicz, composed during one of the partitions: "Fire may consume the colourful relics of the past/ And thieves may plunder the prizes of the sword./ But the melody will survive intact."
Decades would pass before the uprising could be officially commemorated. With this scrupulously documented, judicious and grippingly related book, an event which stands as a model of urban guerrilla warfare, a warning about coalitions of convenience and a moral that there are some things worth fighting for, has been given its due in the annals of history.
Diana Kuprel is the translator of Zofia Nalkowska's Medallions, fact-based short stories about Nazi war crimes committed in Poland.
Lest we forget
Britain's failure to recognise Poland's wartime sacrifices is shameful, argues Norman Davies
Saturday November 8, 2003
In Britain, we continue to honour Remembrance Day every eleventh of November and we think that we remember all those who gave their lives in two world wars for our peace and freedom. It is a sentimental occasion when we eagerly remember our own and rarely stop to think who "all those" actually were. For we did not win alone. We were fortunate to have many allies, some of whom were called on to make sacrifices considerably greater than our own.
November 11 also marks the day in 1918 when Poland regained its independence after 127 years of foreign rule, that independence which, in 1939, Britain formally agreed to uphold and which provided the occasion for our declaration of war on Nazi Gemany. For six years, Poland was Britain's "first ally". Polish squadrons tipped the balance in the Battle of Britain. Polish cryptographers were first to break the Enigma code. Polish divisions fought alongside us at Narvik, Tobruk, Monte Cassino, Arnhem and in Normandy. Poland's underground resistance movement, the Home Army (AK), was the first and largest client of our Special Operations Executive.
By 1945, our Polish allies had lost at least six million of their people - half Jewish and half Catholic. But their sacrificies were largely ignored. No place was found for them in our grand post-war victory parade. And the Imperial War Museum has ignored requests to organise a display to mark a key event in Poland's contribution to the allied effort, although commemorative exhibitions are planned in Paris, Berlin and Warsaw.
The critical moment in this tragic story was August 1, 1944 - the outbreak of the Warsaw rising. The Varsovians, who had already endured five years of Nazi savagery, including the brutal suppression of the Ghetto uprising of 1943, decided to co-ordinate their insurgency with the advance of an allied army: 40,000-50,000 half-armed men and woman answered the call to attack the Wehrmacht and SS. They included a more numerous contingent of Jewish fighters than had fought in the Ghetto uprising. Their hopes were boosted by promises that Stalin would settle all differences with the Soviets and by the activity of SOE, which was flying in men and supplies to the very last day and which, in the face of Foreign Office opposition, urged Churchill to provide all assistance.
They expected to hold out for two to six days, and their calculations were not far out. Marshal Rokossovskys's original orders were to put the Soviet Army into Warsaw by August 2. When repelled by the fierce counter-atack of four German Panzer divisions, he submitted a revised plan dated August 8 that proposed the early relief of Warsaw and a colossal drive towards Berlin.
At this point, the rising began to unravel. The SS drafted in heavy reinforcements. Stalin ignored the Polish premier's pleas for a compromise solution; rejected Rokossovsky's revised plan; transferred Soviet reserves to the Balkan Front; described the rising as a "criminal adventure"; and refused landing rights to the RAF Squadron which Churchill had ordered to supply Warsaw from southern Italy.
Warsaw, in consequence, bled to death. With brilliant ingenuity and daring, the Home Army held off the SS for weeks. Germans talked of a second Stalingrad. But civilians were dying at the rate of 2,000 a day. Incessant bombardments reduced the city to rubble. Western aid was woefully inadequate, scores of British, South African, Canadian and Polish aircrews died in vain and the Soviets stood still, eventually watching the battle from across the river. After 66 days, the insurgents capitulated and Warsaw's ruins were razed to the ground.
The Polish commander-in-chief, General Sosnkowski, who had personally advised against the rising, was left to beg his British counterparts for a greater sense of urgency. He was not allowed to take control of the Pol ish Parachute Brigade which had been trained in England for service in Warsaw.
Not for the first or last time, the Poles were left alone with their poetry:
The blood has soaked the sand, but your spirit survives.
It isn't true. The spirit can die as well.
Serpents slither between the marbles of your House
And the wind blows spirals of sand about the ruins of Hellas
Next year the Imperial War Museum is launching an exhibition on "Women at War". Nothing would be more suitable than a tribute to the heroines of Warsaw - to Elizabeth "Zo", who was parachuted in by SOE, to Krystyna K, the model for Warsaw's Syren statue, who was shot dead whilst rescuing a wounded comrade or to the thousands of underground nurses and couriers.
After the war, all public memory of the Warsaw rising was suppressed in the Soviet bloc. The last commander of the AK, General Okulicki, who had been flown into occupied Poland by the RAF, ended up in a show trial in Moscow for "illegal activities". Thousands of colleagues perished in the Gulag or in communist jails. Though a fine monument was raised to the Heroes of the Ghetto in 1947, no memorial to the Warsaw rising was permitted until 1989. When Chancellor Brandt travelled to Warsaw in 1970 to pay Germany's penance to Poland, there was still no memorial.
The Warsaw rising did not feature in the Nuremburg tribunals. It would have outraged the Soviets and embarrassed the western powers. Instead, SS General Erich Von dem Bach, the butcher of Warsaw and a notorious murderer in the campaign against Soviet partisans, was used as a witness for the prosecution. He escaped scot free.
The exclusion of the Poles from Britain's 1945 victory parade in contrast, may charitably be attributed to muddle. Though the Polish government, our exiled wartime ally, was still in London, invitations were sent to the communist regime in Warsaw. When no response was forthcoming, Ernest Bevin saw the mistake and sent a last-minute apology to Poland's General Anders, living in exile in England. There was no chance to form a contingent. In any case, the Poles knew that for them the war had ended in unmistakable defeat. In Poland, the communists had abolished Independence Day, and replaced it by a so called National Day that celebrated their own accession to power in 1944. In Britain, meanwhile, the survivors of the Warsaw rising who had made their way to our shores after release from German camps, were being refused war pensions.
So, yes we should remember every one of those who died.
November 28, 2004
The erasure of Warsaw
RISING '44: The Battle for Warsaw
By Norman Davies
Pan paperback BP9.95
The Mystery of Olga Chekhova: Was Hitler's Favorite Actress a Russian Spy?
By Antony Beevor
Read this article here
Rising '44: the battle for Warsaw, by Norman Davies
A monument to 200,000 lost lives
Peter J Conradi
26 February 2004
Poles idolise Norman Davies for giving them back their own history: Communism had cheated them of this. There was no monument to the Warsaw Rising until 1956, and no free discussion until after the Berlin Wall fell. Davies has also tried - in Heart of Europe and God's Playground - to teach Polish history to the wider world.
In December 1970, West German Chancellor Willie Brandt fell to his knees - in unforgettable expiation - at the Warsaw Ghetto memorial, provoking worldwide comment. During the 27-day ghetto rising of spring 1943, tens of thousands had died. They inspired Warsaw's freedom fighters the following year.
Yet the rising of August 1944 was an event of an entirely different scale. The city held out for 63 days, with the loss of 200,000 lives. Germans then destroyed Warsaw street by street. These two events were confused as recently as the rising's 50th anniversary in 1994 by Germany's President Herzog, by advisers to the British prime minister, by NBC News and Reuters. Even Polanski's film The Pianist telescopes events of the two risings.
One reason is Communist censorship. Moscow required the failure of the rising for its puppets to take power, which then blackened the rising as ultra-nationalist, reckless, even criminal. They persecuted its surviving heroes.
Davies is well equipped to chronicle this black episode. His first Polish father-in-law was tortured by invading Russians in 1945 on the same table where he had been tortured by invading Germans in 1939. Poles were fighting throughout for freedom from two cruel tyrannies. The Russo-German pact of 1939 heralded the "fourth" partition, the country devoured as of old by both neighbours, who vied in killing and deportation. And the 1944 rising was a tragic preamble to the fifth partition, agreed at Yalta, when Polish freedom was sold to the USSR.
Poland's home army belonged within an Allied coalition nominally fighting a common enemy in unison: 10 per cent of all Battle of Britain fliers were Polish. Davies' originality is to insist upon this international context throughout, and expose its contradictions.
The Soviets first encouraged the Poles, then stalled on the far side of the Vistula, watching the Germans do their own dirty work. America under Roosevelt was compliant to Stalin's wishes. When Churchill - first to fathom Stalin's malevolence - ordered air-drops from Brindisi, the Soviets refused the planes landing-rights, or even shot at them.
Davies' evocation of this seminal moment is timely. It marks a brave, defiant and resourceful country of approaching 40 million, the largest of the states joining the EU in May. Eye-witness capsules lend his exhaustive, chastening book its air of documentary intimacy. But Macmillan's editing out of most Polish surnames shows a bizarre loss of nerve. To discover who "Dr S" is, you turn to an appendix at the end. That makes Poles, once again, seem marginal.
The reviewer's latest book is 'Going Buddhist' (Short Books)
for site of massacre
Nick Paton Walsh in Moscow
Friday January 23, 2004
It was one of the last acts of slaughter of the Holocaust. As the Red Army advanced into Poland, more than 7,000 Jews were lined up on the shores of the Baltic Sea and shot in the back, many by teenagers in the Hitler Youth.
But now a local Russian entrepreneur has hired the site to build a holiday resort, to the fury of victims' relatives.
Early in 1945, Jewish prisoners were taken by the Nazis from the Stutthof concentration camp on a lengthy "death march" eastwards, in a part of east Prussia which was holding out bitterly against advancing Soviet troops. More than 700 prisoners died en route.
On the night of January 30, a group of Hitler Youth, together with local militiamen and SS assassins, herded 6,000 women and 1,000 men towards the shores of the Baltic, stopping at the coastal town of Palmnicken.
Here they were lined up along the coastal cliff and shot, their bodies falling into the sea. The massacre lasted all night. Only 13 are known to have survived.
The bodies washed ashore throughout the summer of 1945. The corpses were buried where they were found, making the coast a burial ground. The slaughter is considered the last atrocity of the Holocaust, and marked every year on January 31 by a memorial ceremony at Yantarni, the site of the massacre, now in the Russian Federation.
In December last year, the head of the local administration, Igor Kazakov, signed an order permitting a local firm to build a holiday camp on the site. Viktor Shapiro, head of the Jewish community of the Kaliningrad region, said: "The decision is unprecedented and absurd, and has caused indignation in the whole Jewish community."
Local people had written letters of protest and "expect that in the near future the scandalous decision will be reversed". The campaigners said they had secured the support of the governor of Kaliningrad, Vladimir Yegorov, on Monday, and now believed they could soon formally reverse the holiday camp decision.
Verlassen von der ganzen Welt
Der britische Historiker Norman Davies hat ein monumentales und sehr lesbares Werk über den gescheiterten Warschauer Aufstand vorgelegt
Norman Davies: Aufstand der Verlorenen
Der Kampf um Warschau 1944; aus dem Englischen von Thomas Bertram; Droemer Knaur Verlag, München 2004; 816 S., 29,90 ¤
Um den Warschauer Aufstand, dessen Beginn sich am 1. August zum 60. Mal jährt, ranken sich zahlreiche Missverständnisse, Lügen und Irrtümer. »Dieser Tag wird in Polen immer ein schwieriges Datum bleiben«, schrieb der polnische Historiker Wodzimierz Borodziej in seiner vor ein paar Jahren erschienenen Untersuchung Der Warschauer Aufstand 1944 (Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt a. M. 2004; 252 S., 12,90 ¤), die sich vor allem mit dessen Wirkung auf die polnische Nachkriegsgesellschaft beschäftigt. Weil die Sowjetunion eine unrühmliche Rolle beim Scheitern des Aufstandes spielte, verwundert es nicht, dass erst nach dem Zusammenbruch des Ostblocksystems am Rande der Warschauer Altstadt ein Denkmal errichtet wurde. Und als 1994 der 50. Jahrestag begangen werden sollte, schlug nicht nur Russland die Einladung aus, auch gegen die Anwesenheit des damaligen deutschen Bundespräsidenten Roman Herzog regte sich heftiger Protest.
Schwierig ist dieses Datum bis heute auch deshalb, weil keiner der Beteiligten in einem guten Licht erscheint: weder die Sowjetunion, deren Rote Armee vor den Toren der Stadt stand und nichts unternahm, um die Aufständischen zu unterstützen, noch die polnische Exilregierung und die westlichen Alliierten, die der Untätigkeit ihres Verbündeten nichts entgegensetzten. Über 180000 Warschauer, die meisten Zivilisten, kostete dieses Zögern das Leben, und die Altstadt mit ihren unschätzbaren Kulturgütern wurde dem Erdboden gleichgemacht, nachdem die Einwohner in Massen geflohen waren.
Gesamtdarstellungen des Aufstandes sind rar, und auch die wissenschaftliche Forschung hat dieses für Polen so traumatische Ereignis jahrzehntelang nahezu ignoriert. Der britische Historiker und Osteuropaexperte Norman Davies setzt sich nun in einem monumentalen Buch mit den Vorbedingungen, dem Ablauf und den Nachwirkungen des Aufstandes auseinander und hat in bester angelsächsischer Tradition ein erstaunlich lesbares Ergebnis vorgelegt. Seine Sympathie gilt eindeutig den Aufständischen, die das Unmögliche wagten und von der ganzen Welt verlassen wurden. Ein Grund für das mangelnde Forschungsinteresse liegt für ihn auch darin, dass zahlreiche Quellen bis heute kaum zugänglich sind, beispielsweise die britischen Geheimdienstarchive, die Aufschluss über das Verhalten der Alliierten geben könnten.
In drei Teilen verfolgt Davies die Ereignisse: Im ersten wird die Situation vor dem Beginn des Aufstandes ausgelotet. Der zweite Teil beschäftigt sich minutiös mit den 63 Tagen der verzweifelten Erhebung bis zur Kapitulationsunterzeichnung. Im letzten Teil untersucht Davies die Nachkriegsgeschichte bis ins Jahr 2000 hinein. Dabei erzählt er die Geschichte aus verschiedenen Blickwinkeln.
Die Alliierten wollten Stalin nicht verärgern
Davies untersucht die Vorbedingungen bei den westlichen Alliierten, die ihren Verbündeten Stalin nicht düpieren wollten; dann zeigt er den Terror der deutschen Besatzer und seine Auswirkungen auf den Widerstand. Der erste Teil endet mit der Bewertung von Stalins Interessen, welche die Befreiung Polens nicht der Londoner Exilregierung und den Aufständischen überlassen wollten. Aber noch weitere Faktoren haben entscheidend zum Scheitern beigetragen. Die Exilregierung verlor in dem Moment die Kontrolle über die Aufständischen, als diese den Tag der Erhebung früher ansetzten. Die Führer der polnischen »Heimatarmee« (AK) hatten dennoch nur mit einigen Tagen eines alleinigen Kampfes gerechnet und auf die Hilfe der Alliierten vertraut. Darauf warteten sie bekanntlich vergebens. Auch auf weitere Waffenlieferungen, denn in Warschau herrschte eine dramatische Knappheit, weil viele Waffen ins Umland geschmuggelt worden waren. Und nicht nur die Rücksicht auf Stalins Interessen ist den Alliierten anzulasten, sondern auch die mangelnde Koordination untereinander. Alles in allem erwecken diese Versäumnisse den Eindruck, als hätten die potenziellen Verbündeten kein Interesse am Gelingen des Aufstandes gezeigt.
Davies kommt zu dem Schluss, dass der Warschauer Aufstand in einem Gesamturteil über den Zweiten Weltkrieg unbedingt berücksichtigt werden müsse. »Der entscheidende Punkt in Warschau ist … nicht, dass es zu Missverständnissen wegen des alliierten Beistands kam, sondern dass trotz zweier Monate, in denen Hilfsmaßnahmen hätten ergriffen werden können, kein Konsens zwischen den Alliierten erreicht wurde.« Für ihn spielen diese 63 Tage eine entscheidende Rolle beim Entstehen des jahrzehntelang andauernden Kalten Krieges. Militärisch gesehen sei der Aufstand zudem das »archetypische Vorbild des Guerillakrieges« und ein abschreckendes Beispiel für Zweckbündnisse, bei denen sich jeder Beteiligte an seinen eigenen Interessen orientiert. Nicht vergessen hat Davies verdienstvollerweise jene Männer und Frauen, die in Warschau kämpften und nach der Niederlage in Verstecken und Gefangenenlagern verschwanden. Nach dem Ende des Krieges war ihr Leidensweg noch lange nicht zu Ende, waren sie doch eine ständige Mahnung an Versagen und Kalkül im »großen vaterländischen Krieg« der Sowjetunion.
Armed insurrections were designed as the culmination of Allied plans to undermine Nazi rule. In the early years of the war, resistance had been limited to sabotage, anti-Nazi propaganda, small-scale guerrilla actions, and occasional assassinations. The spectacular, and spectacularly avenged, SOE-assisted killing of SS-Ogruf Reinhard Heydrich in Prague in June 1942 demonstrated both the possibilities and the dangers. Yet as the war progressed, and the Allied cause gained strength, both civilian and military subversion were planned on an ever-growing scale. Of course, local circumstances varied enormously. Generally speaking, the Nazi Occupation regimes were far milder in Western Europe than in countries in the East which the Nazis had earmarked for their Lebensraum. Generally speaking, it was less risky to engage in subversive operations in France or Italy than in Poland or Yugoslavia. Even so, the overall trend was unmistakable. As the German forces of occupation came under attack from the Allied armies, they could also expect to come under pressure from organized groups of local patriots and partisans.
Western air power was a crucial consideration in planning risings. For two years past, Bomber Command had been pounding German cities with impunity, and during Overlord tactical air support was the one branch of the battle in which the British and Americans enjoyed marked superiority. By mid-1944, therefore, all would-be insurgents knew that the Allies possessed the capacity to supply them from the air, to bombard airfields, to disrupt enemy troop concentrations, and to deploy reinforcements by parachute. If, as was generally agreed, the resistance were to assist the Allied armies, by the same token the Allies were expected to assist the resistance.
Both sides paid special attention to capital cities. The Germans planned to dig in and to defend the capitals as symbols of their all-conquering supremacy. The resistance planned to seize them in order to emphasize the restoration of national independence. Timing was crucial. If the ill-armed patriots took to the streets too soon, they could not hope to hold out for long against vastly superior German firepower. If they left their rising too late, the chance of striking a blow at the hated Nazis might be missed. The ideal time was the moment when a panicky German garrison came under attack from the advancing Allied armies. With luck, the Underground fighters would only have to hold their capital for two or three days before the Germans surrendered. Rome showed the way on 5 June 1944 - on the eve of Overlord - when the US Army swept into the Eternal City and Ivano Bonomi's anti-fascist Committee of National Liberation fell on the retreating Germans to seize the reins of Italian Government. After Rome, the line-up for further risings was a long one. It included Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Oslo, Copenhagen, Warsaw, Belgrade, Budapest, and Prague. Everything depended on the routes and the rate of the Allied advance. Yet the rest of June and the whole of July passed with no further outbreak.
1 August 1944 was a Tuesday. Anyone reading The Times that morning in London – or on the platform at King’s Langley – would not have found any war news that was particularly sensational. Indeed, one could not have found any war news at all before page 4. Page 1, as always, was taken up by everyday notices of births, marriages, and deaths. Page 2 was given over to Home News. It contained an article about 'Children in Care', and a long letter to the editor pointing out that the Balfour Declaration had not promised support for a Jewish state but for a Jewish national home. The weather forecast stated that the hot sunny spell would continue. Page 3 was reserved for 'Imperial and Foreign'. The largest piece discussed 'Renaissance Art in Rome'. It was accompanied by other items about 'Russian Memories of 1914', the 'Red Army Mission to Greece', a 'Hill-top Affray in Normandy', and ‘Joy in a Liberated French Village'. The only substantial piece of diplomatic comment concerned the Polish Premier's forthcoming mission to Moscow - about which as yet there was nothing substantial to report.
The war news on page 4 consisted of half a dozen major reports. The first was headed 'Americans Clearing the Normandy Coast'. Its optimism contrasted with the dubious column alongside headed 'More Progress at Caumont'. The third report was headed 'Severe Air Blows'. 'Fighter-bomber activity', it announced, 'was at first handicapped yesterday by what the Americans call "smog" - a mixture of smoke and fog'. The fourth concerned a 'Stiff Fight for Florence'. The fifth, which filled the entire right-hand side of the page, described 'The Red Army's Rapid Drive on East Prussia'. It consisted of two parts - 'Street Fighting in Kaunas' and the 'Ferocious Battle for Warsaw'. The latter was backed up by a 'news snippet' on the following page. 'Russian forces which are in sight of Warsaw', it read, 'are massing on the Vistula, where the line to the south is one of acute danger to the Germans'.
That day The Times carried two main leaders. 'The National Medical Service' debated one of the current domestic issues. 'Nearing Warsaw' debated the latest development on the foreign front. 'According to German reports', it repeated, 'Marshal Rokossovsky's men were fighting within six miles of Warsaw. Thus the first of the martyred cities of Europe to suffer the horrors of German air bombardment and of National Socialist rule, is also the first to see deliverance at hand.' The conclusion drawn from this information was confined to military prognosis. 'The approaching fall of Warsaw,' The Times concluded, 'taken in conjunction with the capture of Kaunas. . . opens up the way for a convergent attack on East Prussia.'
Passing to page 6, the diligent reader could have skimmed the court circular. Businessmen heading for the City could have been most interested in 'Finance and Commerce' on page 7. Photographs were reserved for the top half of page 8. The largest showed troops of Montgomery's Second Army in the shell-shattered town of Caumont. The others showed scenes from 'The King in Italy'; one was subtitled 'The King is seen decorating Sepoy Kamal Ram, 8th Punjab Regiment, with the Victoria Cross ribbon'.
Below the photographs were the daily listings. 'Broadcasting' started with 'Home Service; 7 a.m. News, 7.15 a.m. Physical Exercises': 'Opera and Ballet' was taken up with performances by the two companies at Sadler's Wells. London's theatres were showing Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit at the Duchess, Macbeth at the Lyric, and Arsenic and Old Lace at the Strand. Under 'Non-stop Review', the Windmill invited reviewers to the saucy Revudeville with its proud slogan 'We Never Closed'.
No one from Barnes Lodge travelled up to London or to anywhere else on 1 August. The listeners were on duty round the clock. As one of the operators remembered, 'A feverish atmosphere reigned'. They knew that a crisis was approaching. Strategic orders had gone out, and vital replies were awaited at any moment of the day or night. Relays of telegraphists leaned over their machines, tightened their headsets and prepared to grip their pencils. The duty controller stood by to rush the precious pieces of paper to the teletypists who sat nervously, waiting to forward the messages to Headquarters.
Excitement at Barnes Lodge was all the higher through a sensational but puzzling incident which had occurred a week earlier. On 25 July an irregular unciphered message had been received, in the clear: 'The regiment is surrounded. They are disarming us. They are approaching us.' A most unusual exchange with Headquarters ensued. The general on duty at Upper Belgrave Street ordered Barnes Lodge over the teleprinter, 'Ask them who is disarming them?' When the reply came back, the duty general simply responded: 'It isn't true.' The transmission ended abruptly with the pathetic words 'Good-bye, brothers.'
Nothing could have been more unsettling than apparently important messages sent in the clear. The rulebook stated that they should be ignored. They could easily be the work of enemy agents who had recognized the frequency of an Underground transmitter but did not know the necessary encryption procedures. German intelligence was constantly engaged in misinformation schemes.
It was all the more astonishing, therefore, that in the evening of 1 August, Barnes Lodge again received a second apparently vital message in the clear. On this occasion, the circumstances were especially disconcerting. The transmission had opened as expected at a pre-arranged time from an operator whose 'signature' was well known. It began with a call sign that by agreement had been cunningly altered from the standard 'VW VW VW' to 'VVV VW VWE', thereby eliminating the possibility that the operator had been captured by the enemy and was transmitting under duress. And the message was preceded by the usual sort of heading, '350/ XXX/999 TO8 DEI 0108 2030 W 30'. meaning 'Nr. (1)350, Highest Priority, for HQ. To Station 8, from Station 1. 1 August. 20 hours 30. W 30.' Yet the next group of letters, 'QTCO=', was totally contradictory. 'QTCO' stood for 'I am sending no messages' and = stood for 'start of message'. The receiving operator then recorded thirty words, which, since they were not enciphered, were immediately recognizable.
The message read: 'WE ARE ALREADY FIGHTING… .' The Commanding Officer was immediately called into the Control Room. He ordered that the contents of the message be conveyed to Headquarters. There, the general who had dismissed the previous unciphered message a week earlier decided to dismiss this one likewise. Apparently, he just put it on one side. He did not inform his chief of staff.
During those same hours, Barnes Lodge was unwittingly involved in yet another mysterious incident. Late on 31 July, a telegram had arrived from the staff of the Commander-in-Chief, who was temporarily in Italy. At 2240 it was properly forwarded by teleprinter to HQ.18 The Communications Company would not have understood its coded contents, which, as the post-war records show, were of absolutely crucial importance. Yet, for some reason, it had taken three days to reach London from Italy; it was never given top priority; and it was not deciphered for at least twelve hours after arrival. Even then, it was never passed on to its intended destination. In other words, it was taken out of circulation in much the same way and at almost the same time as the unciphered message number (I)350. Despite the devoted work of the Communications Company, something, somewhere, was amiss.
The military events of 1 August were reported in the British newspapers on 2 August. But Wednesday’s news was much the same as Tuesday’s. In the West, ‘US tanks cross the river into Brittany’. In the East, ‘All Roads from the Baltic to East Prussia Cut' and' Arc Drawn Around Warsaw'. The Fuhrer himself was being forced to evacuate the Wolfs Lair at Rastenburg: 'Hider Seeks New HQ'. The Times leader addressed 'Britain and India'. There was even space to print a letter from Australia announcing the birth of a baby duck-billed platypus.
Just before noon, one of the receivers at Barnes Lodge crackled into action once again. The transmission began '-/xxx/999, Lavina to Martha'. The words of the following text were, as usual, unintelligible. But the staff at Barnes Lodge knew whose cryptonym Lavina was, and they could have little doubt that the long-awaited news had at last arrived. They were right. Deciphered at Headquarters in the early afternoon, and translated for wider consumption, the message was electrifying:
. . . 1 August 1944. To the Premier and the Comrnander-in-Chief: The date for the beginning of a struggle to capture [the capital] was jointly fixed by us for August 1st at 1700 hours. The struggle has begun. (Signed) Home Delegate and Vice-Premier, c.o. Home Army'.
The date was odd. The telegram appeared to be a day old. And the verb 'was' in the English translation struck some people as strange. Otherwise, everything looked genuine enough. The telegram had come through the correct channels and in the correct code. Unlike its predecessor, this one was accepted. Action was urgent. No more time could be lost. The Liberation of an Allied capital was in progress. A Rising had begun.