Monday 1 August 2022

I./SG 1 and the Warsaw uprising (Warschauer Aufstand) - August-September 1944


Today marks 78 years since the Polish Resistance Movement started their uprising in Warsaw on August 1, 1944. The Uprising divides opinion, even among Polish historians. For some, it was a heroic battle for the honour of the nation. For others, it was irresponsible and self-destructive. According to "Germany and the Second World War " "..the uprising seems very ambivalent. It was directed militarily against the Germans, while politically it was an attempt to quash the USSR's attempt to 'sovietise' Poland...". The Polish underground army, Armia Krajowa, was strictly 'anti-Bolshevik', rejecting both Hitler’s regime and Stalin’s rule. Its leaders aimed to liberate the capital with their own hands and so light a beacon for a future sovereign Poland..In the event, the Russian summer offensive had already come to a halt on the outskirts of Warsaw -  the Soviets had out-run their supply lines and exhausted their ground forces. It was at this same moment that the Germans launched a wholly unexpected counter-attack in front of Warsaw. This  turn of events led to disaster for the Polish capital. 

 The Poles began the uprising without any significant logistic reserves, assuming that the fighting would last only about three days (in fact it lasted 63 days), and that on the fourth day the Red Army would march in. At first their calculation seemed to make sense, for on 31 July the seemingly unstoppable Soviet troops had reached Praga, the eastern suburb of Warsaw.  At this the leaders of the uprising decided to start fighting the next day, 1 August. They could not know that the Germans, who seemed already beaten, would then be launching a counter-attack  - the city along with the railyards were of major importance for the Germans. The tank battle before Warsaw, which resulted in the encirclement and destruction of large parts of the Soviet 2nd Armoured Army, began at exactly the same time as the uprising. However, after several Soviet armies had arrived as reinforcements, something happened which the insurgents had expected even less: the Red Army units waited—as the Poles see it—at the gates of Warsaw, without doing anything, until the Germans had defeated the uprising.

Very few air assets from Gen. der Flieger Ritter von Greim's Luftflotte 6 were at hand to help crush the uprising. While some sources describe the resistance as being suppressed by the "might of the Luftwaffe" in reality only a comparative handful of Luftwaffe bombers -elements of one Stuka Gruppe, I./SG 1, and perhaps a second, III./SG 77 - operated over the smoke-shrouded city.  Experience from the Stalingrad disaster in particular had shown that fighting in urban terrain required air elements capable of pin-pointing and knocking out enemy strongpoints. As in Stalingrad though the Stukas were in almost constant action and inflicted great destruction to the city - according to some sources over 1400 sorties were flown and 1500 tons of bombs dropped. Warsaw also saw the combat debut of the hastily-established Sturm-Mörser-Batterie 1000 - their assault mortars (based on the Tiger chassis) fired four 350 kg rocket-projectile type shells an hour, each capable of bringing down a three-storey house. 

  Warsaw Uprising stuka ju-87 bombing Old Town

From mid-August 1944 only a handul of Ju 87s, detached from I./SG 1 and commanded by future RK-winner Oblt. Klussman, stayed in Warsaw flying from Okecie airfield. Lt Heinz Jakubowski of 3./SG 1 flew a number of sorties over the city;

"..The airmen were given copies of city maps on which the targets had to be found. The city was burning everywhere, dense smoke obstructed visibility. Attacks were carried out 'kettenweise' (Kette formation) - no bombs were allowed to fall on our own positions. If this happened the pilot was immediately relieved. These missions were pure madness..."

In the south of the city stood a factory chimney, which the insurgents used as an observation post for their artillery. German guns would be unable to ‘knock out’ the chimney, so knocking it down fell to the Stukas as Jakubowski recalled;

 " making my way to my dispersal I saw a small tracked vehicle pulling a crude wooden sledge with a 1000-kg bomb. 'The 1000 kg bomb is going under the belly of Jaku's Ju,' they said. I turned around and went to the command post...and got confirmation there. Schornstein ‘umlegen’ -"knock down" the chimney. From all sides I received advice on how to proceed. I rummaged in my memory of Stuka school knowledge ('Stuka-Schulekenntnisse') and had tables at hand from somewhere; ..'..the SC 1000 is 2800 mm long, has a diameter of 654 mm and contains 530 kilos of explosives. The circle of destruction is 35 metres, the splinter circle is 360 metres, the depth of the crater is ten metres and the volume of debris ejected is 1000 cubic metres. Then it was time to do the maths: The approach against the wind was possible. The target for the bomb impact was five metres in front of the foot of the chimney, so that the chimney itself would collapse into the bomb crater. So it could work.. I had the fabric cover of the floor window in my Ju removed and the glass pane cleaned. The bomb was loaded in the Junkers (mit Schloss 2000) carrier rack and then myself and the accompanying machines set off. Would I find the chimney at all in all the smoke? Slowly the target came into the ground window ('Bodenfenster'), the chimney stood there like a match! After several small course corrections ...Now! ... with a jerk, the now-lightened machine veered upwards and the bomb fell! A sharp right-left turn to get the smokestack back into view. Where did the bomb go? Straight to Moscow?"

Finally 'Jaku' saw the bomb going down. Would it fall too short? ... A cloud of dirt and debris billowed up from below, a huge cloud of dust that was slowly turning  red. It had to be the bricks of the chimney! In the FT a voice croaked in confirmation: Gratuliere!  -  "Congratulations!"

(to be continued..)