David WILLIAMSON: The Polish Underground provided valuable intelligence to the Allies

The Polish Underground provided valuable intelligence to the Allies

Photo of David WILLIAMSON


Author of the book "The Polish Underground 1939–1947".

other articles by this author

.The defeat of Poland in October 1939 destroyed the Polish state which had been created in 1919. It was partitioned between Germany and the USSR, 94,000 square kilometres in the west and North-west were annexed by Germany, while eastern Poland was annexed by the USSR. The remaining territory was named the General Government and placed under direct German control where every effort was made to repress Polish national identity. In December, to provide a rallying point against the occupiers, the Underground formed the Union of Armed Struggle (ZWZ), which in February 1942 became the AK. An underground Polish administration, which consisted of several departments, was also created. Its Department of Education, for example, organised secret school and university courses, while the Department of Labour and Social Welfare assisted the families of political prisoners. Together with its military operations the spreading of Allied propaganda was a key task of the Underground. The BBC’s daily Polish broadcasts were circulated widely by the underground Polish press. The Underground with its programme of sabotage and assassination was certainly a force to be reckoned with, but the sheer severity of German rule led to a widespread passive resistance against the General Government, which strengthened Polish nationalism and created the environment where the ZWZ/AK could survive.

The role of Polish underground army during war steadily gained in importance. Before the fall of France in June 1940 Britain and France encouraged the efforts of Polish agents to sabotage river and rail traffic in transit through Hungary and Romania to Germany. When the Polish Government in exile in Angers moved in July to London after the French armistice with Germany and the British evacuation of Dunkirk, Britain’s only weapons against the Nazis were sabotage, bombing and blockade. To encourage and direct sabotage in Nazi occupied territory the Special Operations Executive (SOE) was created under Colin Gubbins. The Polish section of the SOE liaised closely with the Polish VI Bureau, which was a department of the Polish Government, and responsible for communicating with the Underground in Poland. In a Continental Europe shell shocked by Germany’s conquests, the Polish Underground rapidly became an important arm of the SOE’s strategy. It carried out sabotage operations and communicated to London vital intelligence about German economic and military activities. The USSR, on the other hand, viewed the role of the London backed Home Army (Armia Krajowa -AK) as an agent of anti-Communism, and in January 1944 created its own underground organisation (Armia Ludowa– AL) which targeted not only the German occupying forces, but also the AK in preparation for setting up a Communist Poland.

The defining factor concerning the Polish Underground state was that Poland faced two enemies: Nazi Germany and the USSR. In France and Western Europe, the Communists were a political force, but they lacked the direct backing of the Red Army. Essentially there was ‘only’ Germany to contend with. Poland, like Yugoslavia and the other eastern European states, was liberated by the USSR and its non-Communist resistance groups liquidated. In defeat the Poland of 1919 was dismantled, but a cohesive structure still existed within the frontiers of the General-Government. Unlike France or Norway there were no Polish Quislings or Petains . Until the formation of the AL there was a united resistance movement which the population supported and which took its orders from the legitimate Polish Government in London. Unlike General de Gaulle, Sikorski was not a rebel rallying his country against a defeatist government.

From 1940 to the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 the Underground (mainly AK) conducted a series of sabotage operation which grew in scope. In October 1942, for instance, using some of the railway specialists and equipment parachuted in from Britain, it simultaneously attacked the six railway lines running east from Warsaw and put them out of action. The repeated attack on German communications both interrupted German supplies and forced the German High Command to increase the number of troops guarding the railway lines. The Underground also fed London with valuable intelligence both through clandestine radio stations and couriers. The Allies were informed of preparations for the German Spring offensive in Russia in 1942, as well as the liquidation of the Jews and the development of ballistic rocket projects. Through contacts with the million Polish workers drafted to Germany valuable information was passed on to London about German morale, the impact of the bombing raids and its war industries. Tragically the Warsaw Uprising , which  should have been the culmination of the AK’s resistance plans was finally defeated in October 1944. To have succeeded it needed support from the Red Army, but Stalin was hardly going to encourage an operation which would strengthen the London Poles. Although the AK struggled on until January 1945, the defeat of the Warsaw Uprising effectively broke its back. Before that, however, the Polish Undeground had achieved much: First of all it showed sheer courage and tenacity in defeat. One could also single out the brilliant programme to produce weapons and armaments in secret workshops, which supplemented the supplies parachuted in from London. Viewed from the Allied perspective the provision of intelligence was the greatest achievement of the Underground. Germany was covered with a dense network of clandestine ‘report centres’, which picked up information from Polish workers. It was Jan Kozielewski, who provided the Allies with evidence of the Holocaust (not that they did anything to prevent it). Polish information sent to London on the V-1 and V-2 rocket projects was invaluable. Two conscript Polish workers at Peenemunde managed to provide the Ak with detailed information about the V-1 in March 1944, and in May an AK unit salvaged a V-2 which fell in the marshland near the Bug and hid it in a barn where photos and drawings could be made and sent to London. Perhaps the greatest contribution was the Enigma or code breaking machine, which the Polish Government took to London in 1940 for the use of the British war effort.

David Williamson

This content is protected by copyright. Any further distribution without the authors permission is forbidden. 10/02/2022