Commemoration ‘2003: Brig. Gen. Kriegler

I am privileged to be able to address you all today on behalf of the Chief of the SA Air Force, Lt Gen Roelf Beukes, who extends his apologies for not being able to be here in person.

We are gathered here to commemorate the 59th anniversary of the Warsaw Airlift and to pay tribute to those members of the Allied Air Forces and Polish Home Army who paid the ultimate sacrifice during the attempt to liberate Warsaw in August 1944.

HISTORY OF THE WARSAW AIRLIFT

Warsaw became the capital of the Polish Kingdom as early as 1596. Throughout its history Warsaw was occupied several times by Sweden, Russia and Prussia. From 1813 until its occupation by Germany in 1915, Warsaw was under Russian control. In 1918 it became the capital of the newly restored Polish state.

On September 1, 1939, with the commencement of World War, Warsaw was the first major city to receive air attacks from the Germans. After countless bombing and artillery attacks, the German armies captured the city on 27 September 1939. Throughout the war, the Polish capital was not only the headquarters of the German occupation authorities but also the center of the Polish underground. In the next four years, the Germans carried out a calculated plan to annihilate the city. Some 500,000 Jews were the first victims. They were herded into a walled ghetto of less than 2.6 sq km (1 sq mi). Between 22 July and 3 October 1942, more than 300,000 inhabitants of the ghetto were sent to concentration camps and killed. In April 1943, German troops attacked the ghetto, and the 60,000 remaining Jews were killed after a heroic resistance that lasted for three weeks.

By 1 August 1944, the Russians had advanced to the Vistula River 15 miles east of Warsaw. General “Bor” Komorowski and other leaders of the Polish underground resistance, known as the “Home Army”, judged the time right for rebellion against Nazi occupying forces and started what was known as the Warsaw Uprising.

The Polish government-in-exile in Britain was convinced that, if the necessary supplies of arms, ammunition, and medical supplies could be obtained, early success could be exploited and liberation of the city expedited. On 3 August it approached the three major Allied powers to request that additional supplies be air-dropped to the Polish resistance. The Russians were in the best position to assist, but Stalin was however not prepared to do so, not even allowing Allied aircraft to land in Russian-held territory to refuel.

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In desperation, the Home Army appealed to Britain and America for much needed arms, amunition, and medical supplies. These could only be delivered by air-drops. Again Stalin said “Nyet”. This time to the reasonable suggestion that aircraft might land in Russian-held territory to re-fuel. The Liberators of SAAF 2 Wing — 31 and 34 Squadrons — based at Foggia in Southern Italy, and Halifaxes, flown by the RAF, whose 148 and 178 Squadrons, as well as 1568 Polish Flight, also took part. The proposed supply drops meant a journey of 1600 km out over heavily defended occupied territory; roof-top height approach to the dropping zones in flames of the burning city; and another 1600 km back to base — if they were lucky.

The Polish Flight undertook flights on the nights of 7 and 8 August. The supplies were dropped in the right places and this success led to a request for further assistance.

For the British Air Force planners the envisaged operation was not a fair risk in war and they felt that only a small portion of the supplies would fall into the hands of the patriots, even with marked dropped zones.

Britains Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, insisted that the operation be executed, if only for reasons of propaganda and boosting morale.

The insurgents, who were loyal to the anti-Communist exile government in London, disrupted the Germans for several days. The Soviet forces held fast on the east side of the Wisla, however, and Stalin refused to let U.S. planes use Soviet airfields for making supply flights for the insurgents. He did, finally, allow one flight by 110 B-17s, which was made on September 18. By then it was too late; the Germans had the upper hand; and Komorowski surrendered on October 2. Stalin insisted that his forces could not have crossed into Warsaw because they were too weak, which was probably not true. came out into the open on 1 August 1944 and attacked German troops in the streets of Warsaw.

On August 1, 1944, as Soviet armies neared the city, the citizens of Warsaw rose against the Germans and fought for 63 days before they were finally defeated (see World War II: The Warsaw Uprising). After the uprising, German troops killed or deported most of the remaining population. Then special forces carried out a systematic destruction of the city. Warsaw was liberated by Soviet and Polish troops in January 1945. After the war, the city was rebuilt, with the aid of gifts from other countries. Where possible, the original plans were followed in the reconstruction of historic buildings and districts. Of the city’s prewar population of more than 1 million, only some 162,000 survived the war, living in Praga east of the river and in the western suburbs. The new Communist-controlled government of Poland established itself in Warsaw soon after the war.

The Soviet offensive had spread to the flanks of Army Group Center in July. On July 29 a spearhead reached the Baltic coast near Riga and severed Army Group North’s land contact with the German main front. Powerful thrusts past Army Group Center’s south flank reached the line of the Wisla (Vistula) River upstream from Warsaw by the end of the month. In Warsaw on July 31 the Polish underground Home Army commanded by General Tadeusz Komorowski (known as General Bor) staged an uprising. The insurgents, who were loyal to the anti-Communist exile government in London, disrupted the Germans for several days. The Soviet forces held fast on the east side of the Wisla, however, and Stalin refused to let U.S. planes use Soviet airfields for making supply flights for the insurgents. He did, finally, allow one flight by 110 B-17s, which was made on September 18. By then it was too late; the Germans had the upper hand; and Komorowski surrendered on October 2. Stalin insisted that his forces could not have crossed into Warsaw because they were too weak, which was probably not true. On the other hand, the line of the Wisla was as far as the Soviet armies could go on a broad front without pausing to replenish their supplies.

Brig. Gen. Kriegler

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