Polish seamen wrote a splendid chapter in the history of warfare from the first shots of WWII fired on the coast until the last battles of the Atlantic Campaign in the spring of 1945. However, not much is said about their participation in the Warsaw Uprising.
Navy officers who managed to avoid German or Soviet captivity in the fall of 1939, quickly joined in the organization of the Polish Underground State structures. Moreover, the efforts of Lt Cdr Antoni Gniewecki “Witold” helped to create (in September 1941) Alfa – an organization that associated seamen of the navy, the merchant navy, specialists in various areas of maritime industry, as well as young people who wanted to put on a navy uniform in the future. The main tasks of Alfa were conducting reconnaissance tasks at Kriegsmarine bases and training naval personnel.
Alfa also created operational plans for the upcoming general uprising, since one of its variants assumed that Poland would be liberated by an assault of allied naval forces from the Baltic coast. Planners also presumed that after the end of the war, the Polish coast would stretch from Königsberg (Królewiec, now Kaliningrad) to Kołobrzeg, so we would need a much stronger navy than before 1939.
Cdr Mikołaj Berens “Wróblewski,” Eng, and Lt (N) Witold Bublewski “Wybicki” worked at Alfa’s Staff. The heads of its naval intelligence were Benedykt Krzywiec “Jakub” and Capt (N) Jan Woźnicki, Eng. The head of the industrial intelligence department was Aleksander Potyrała “Tarnowski”. In April 1942, the unit was officially incorporated in the structure of the Home Army, and its head was promoted on November 11 to Lieutenant Commander by Gen Stefan Rowecki.
“Witold” became the maritime affairs adviser of the Home Army’s Commander-in-chief, and Alfa was renamed the Naval Department of the Supreme Command of the Home Army. In 1944, it was given the code-name “Ostryga.” The organizational structure of the department was built mainly in Warsaw, but in 1943 the Sea Coast Command (code name “Polana”) was successfully established, and operated directly on the Gdańsk coast. According to data from the fall of 1944, “Ostryga” had a personnel of 230 people: 51 officers, 153 petty officers and seamen, and 26 civil workers and auxiliary service workers.
The scale of activity of the Home Army’s Naval Department may be confirmed by the fact that in the spring of 1943, the underground Warsaw University of Technology organized a shipbuilding course for its specialists, and the Hospital of the Holy Spirit conducted training for naval doctors. An officer cadet school was also organized there.
The most important thing in the ongoing fight, though, was the intelligence work of underground seamen. “Polana” put its agents and observers in the biggest ports of the 3rd Reich. Reports were taken in, i. a., Königsberg, Gdańsk, Hamburg, Kiel and Wilhelmshaven. Reconnaissance missions were also conducted at the shipyard in Gotenhafen (German name for Gdynia). They led to seizing and later transferring to the West plans of Graf Zeppelin, the only German aircraft carrier, as well as reports on building the Seydlitz heavy cruiser. Apart from intelligence activities, there were sabotage and diversion attempts, but it is hard to evaluate their effects today. According to undocumented accounts, saboteurs managed to damage several German ships at ports in Gdynia and Gdańsk.
The Naval Department of the Home Army also had its “cichociemny” (eng. The Dark and Silent). On June 1, 1943, 2nd Lt (N) Norbert Gołuński “Bombram” was dropped by parachute into Poland. This Kashubian citizen of the Free City of Danzig became an inspector of the naval intelligence network at the department. After the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising, he took a post that was typical for a naval officer – head of intelligence and counter-intelligence of the Śródmieście Południe (City Center – South) sub-district command.
After the “W” hour
There was also a tight formation of seamen in the Warsaw Uprising. Code-named “Szczupak,” the detachment numbered about 50 people commanded by 2nd Lt Cdr Władysław Macioch “Mizio.” They were mainly the so-called “wodniacy” (eng. water people), i. e. mechanics, navigators and other river shipping specialists, and a dozen or so naval officers and petty officers, mainly from the pre-war riverine flotilla. The weak side of the formation were armament shortages, particularly in relation to the tasks it was assigned after the “W” hour.
The main task of “Szczupak” was taking the Czerniakowski port together with ships anchored there, and organizing a crossing over the Vistula River in case the bridges got destroyed by Germans. The most important vessel there was the German “Pionier” gunboat, adapted from the heavy armed cutter “Nieuchwytny” seized by Germans in 1939. Before the operation aiming at capturing her, “Szczupak” managed to get in contact with an officer mechanic, a Volksdeutscher Jan Kalus, who was a boatswain on “Nieuchwytny” before the war.
The gathering area of the detachment was determined on August 1, 1944 in the vicinity of Waterways Administration offices at No. 4 Solec street. Unfortunately, one hour before the outbreak of the uprising, Germans announced an alarm for the whole garrison and took all combat-ready vessels out of the port. “Pionier” sailed away from the shore, escorting the ship “Halka” (called “Polska” before the war), and went towards Żoliborz. For the next few days, the insurgents were under constant fire of Pionier’s guns.
However, the seamen under Cdr “Mizio” did not have too much time to analyze their defeat with the gunboat, because there was another dangerous adversary at the walls of the Czerniakowski port – a German tank covered by a motorcycle patrol and about ten motorized military policemen. There were too many of them for “Szczupak,” so Cdr Macioch decided that after the fall of darkness the unit would retreat towards Siekierki. However, also that task proved to be unfeasible, due to enemy fire coming from the direction of the River Pump Station. The unit was broken up and the seamen joined other insurgent groups. The 2nd Platoon under Capt (N) Piotr Szawernowski “Ignacy” strengthened, i. a., the Company under 2nd Lt Eugeniusz Kozłowski “Łazarz” of the Battalion “Tur” of the Group “Kryśka.”
An attempt to continue the operation started by “Szczupak” was made by the 1st Platoon under Lt (Res) Władysław Mączka “Władek,” Eng.. It managed to return to the waterfront of the Czerniakowski port early in the morning of August 2. As it turned out, Germans had not had enough time to take all their ships out of the port. Thanks to that, the insurgents seized the dredger “Smok” and the ships “Bajka” and “Faust” (called “Łokietek” before the war). Until August 12, it was relatively quiet for Władek’s seamen, because Germans deployed most of their forces in the Old Town. On that day, however, after clearing Powiśle of insurgent units, German soldiers came up very close to the port. Using anti-aircraft guns, machine guns located on Poniatowski Bridge, and fire support from “Pionier,” they managed to sink “Bajka” and “Faust.” Nevertheless, the seamen, together with other defenders of the port, kept their positions. Unfortunately, the following day, August 13, proved to be ill-fated. Germans attacked once again and took over the port. SS men massacred wounded insurgents lying in the wreck of “Bajka” and around it. Those of “Szczupak” soldiers who survived and were able to move without help, retreated together with the survivors from the Group “Radosław” to Mokotów.
“Szczupak” seamen were very poorly armed, even in comparison to other insurgent units, also heavily underarmed. However, they proved to be an extraordinarily tough adversary – as befits real seamen.
autor zdjęć: NAC