Thoughts about D-day (8)


It is Poland's geographical destiny to exist between Russia and Germany.  In the game of Powers it had the opportunity to become one of the Great Powers, but its refusal to allow its aristocratic libertarian political system to develop into a State prevented it from becoming a Great Power—or from consolidating itself as the major power that it once was—while Moscow and Berlin developed into major States.

The Polish state was dismantled in the 1790s in the famous Partition between Russia, Germany and Austria.  It became customary to condemn the Partition as one of the great atrocities of European history, but an English statesman of the mid-19th century commented realistically that a state behaving as Poland did was a nuisance.

The restoration of the Polish state began in 1914 when the Polish national socialist, Pilsudski, went to war against Russia in alliance with Germany, with an army raised in Germany and Austria.  (Pilsudski’s Polish Socialist Party was the only European party praised by James Connolly in both runs of his Workers' Republic, 1898 and 1915.)

In 1920 Pilsudski beat off an attempt by Lenin to set off a European socialist revolution by going through Poland, and he captured a large tract of Russian territory.  In the mid 1920s Pilsudski took more or less dictatorial power in Poland and governed more or less as a Fascist.  In 1934 he made a Treaty with Hitler which ended the German/Polish border dispute.  The Treaty recognised the Polish Corridor (a tract of territory giving Poland access to the sea but separating East Prussia from the rest of Germany) as part of the Polish state, leaving aside the question of the city of Danzig for future resolution.

Following the Munich Settlement of October 1938, in which Britain broke the national will of the Czechoslovak State, Poland joined with Germany and Hungary in taking parts of it.  Hitler then suggested that the time had come to tidy up the Danzig issue.

Danzig was a German city under national Polish sovereignty and League of Nations administration, on which Polish politics had failed to gain any purchase.  Its transfer to adjacent East Prussia would have been a very slight alteration of the situation, compared to the alterations in which Britain facilitated by Hitler.  But Britain chose that moment to offer Poland a military guarantee such as it had never given to any other state.  And Poland, under post-Pilsudski leadership, accepted the offer—thus ending its 1934 Treaty with Germany, and began to dream of a march on Berlin as Britain and France attacked from the West.

Britain, keeping its cards close to its chest, half-heartedly suggested an agreement with Moscow.  But the Polish Government wouldn't hear of it.  It refused to choose between Russia and Germany.  In the false confidence raised by the Anglo/French Guarantees it treated both as enemies.

There was an understanding that there would be French action three day after the start of hostilities and a general offensive within 15 days.  No hostile Anglo/French action against Germany was undertaken during those 16 days.  By the end of them the Polish armies had been defeated, French action had not begun, and, the Polish State having ceased to exist as an organised force in Poland, the Soviet Union occupied the territory it had surrendered to Pilsudski in 1920.

During the period of the German/Polish Treaty, Poland acquired a copy of the German Enigma coding machine.  When the Treaty gave way to the British Guarantee, the Enigma machine was given to Britain along with work done on it by the Poles.  Polish émigrés joined the British Army.  And a Polish Government-in-exile was maintained by the British Government.

After June 1941 a Polish Army was formed in Russia from Prisoners-of-War taken in the occupation of September 1939, and a Polish Government consisting of Polish Communists was formed.

Which Government-in-Exile became the Government in Poland obviously depended on which Army—the British or the Russian—drove the German Army out of Poland.  By the end of 1943 it was clear that it was going to be the Russians:  Britain had not yet crossed the Channel.

The Polish Government which had refused to choose between Germany and Russia lived in London and contributed to a British War that had nothing to do with Poland.  This War was bringing the Red Army onto Polish soil in 1944.  Britain had contributed nothing to the defence of Poland, but the rubble of the Polish State was integrated into the British army and Air Force, and the Polish gift of the Enigma machine had opened the secrets of the German High Command to Churchill.

On 4th January 1944, Russian troops commanded by a Polish General, Rokossovski, crossed the Polish frontier.  That is, it crossed the Polish frontier of August 1939.  But, unknown to London's Polish Government, that was no longer the Polish frontier.  By a secret agreement made at the Tehran Conference by Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill a month earlier, the Polish territory occupied and annexed by Russia in the second half of September 1939, and denounced at the time by the West, was now agreed to be Russian territory.

London's Polish Government had no diplomatic relations with Russia, and London only told it as much as was good fir it at any given moment.

About six months later, in mid-July, the Red Army had advanced to the new Polish frontier and crossed it, set up its Polish Government in the city of Lublin, and headed towards Warsaw.

At this point the London Polish Government (LPG) decided to launch an insurrection in Warsaw.  Its underground Army, the Home Army, had been accumulating arms for this moment.  The insurrection succeeded quickly and easily because of its unexpectedness.  But who was it directed against, the Germans who were making preparations to leave?  or the Russians whose guns could be heard?

The Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw had risen the year before.  The rising was beaten down and the Ghetto destroyed, but it was better than waiting.  The Ghetto would have waited for the Red Army but it was still far away in Russia, its dominance not yet decisively established, and the extermination was being undertaken in earnest, so why wait quietly?

The LPG bided its time as the Ghetto Rising was dealt with.  It was not the issue to act on.  There was extensive anti-Semitism in Polish life, as there was in all the other states into which Versailles had broken the Hapsburg Empire, and in the Baltic states.  The Jews were at home in the Empire, but were alien in the prematurely delivered nation-states established by the victorious Empires as punishment of the Hapsburgs.

The LPG waited until the Russian enemy was near before launching its insurrection against the occupying German enemy, which was preparing to retreat.  The object was to present the Russians with the accomplished fact of the pre-War Government in command of Warsaw.

It would have made sense as the opening action of the Third World War that had been latent in the Second ever since Britain recklessly spread to Russia the War which it had declared but had lost the will to fight in earnest.

Churchill was on the lookout for an opportunity to rescue Britain's war from the Communist complication of it which he had brought about.  But in August 1944 he did not back the LPG action.  The situation had not yet ripened for a breach.  The Anglo-American Armies were still in France, making little headway.

And so Britain let the 1944 Battle of Warsaw run its course without interference, just like in 1939.  As did Moscow.

But the political circumstances were not similar.  Britain was under Treaty obligation to fight in support of the Polish Government in 1939, while the LPG was hostile to Moscow.

It was pleaded, in extenuation of British failure to deliver on the Treaty obligations in 1939, that it lacked the means of acting.  But, if so, why the Treaty?

It did have the means of acting, of course.  It had an army in place, alongside the French, on Germany's weakly-defended western border.  It had bombing planes.  It had the strongest Navy in the world.  It chose not to act.

But, it was said, it could not have reached Danzig to defend it.

Tom Wintringham thought otherwise.  He was the only member of the British Communist Party with a military mind—and he was the man Churchill chose to command the Underground Army to wage a campaign of terror against collaborators under a German Occupation.  Wintringham pointed out the obvious:  the Royal Navy still ruled the waves.

Hitler had been authorised by Britain, in breach of Versailles, to construct a Navy a third of the size of Britain's, but he had not bothered to do so.  Wintringham reckoned that the Royal Navy could have forced entry to the Baltic and presented itself at Danzig.  And, if it had lost warships to the extent of the entire (inexperienced) Germany Navy, it would still have been naval top-dog in the world.

We are told insistently that Britain "fought alone" for a year in 1940-41.  Well, it kept the war going alone, while spreading it to others—which is not quite the same thing.  It was the Poles who fought alone.  And the London Poles were left to fight alone again in 1944.

Moscow condemned the Rising as a reckless anti-Soviet adventurism.  Nobody doubted that its purpose was anti-Russian.  The British made a gesture towards supporting it with air drops, but could not make the return journey without landing to refuel, and Moscow would not cooperate.  After the War, much was made of the inhumane conduct of the Red Army in not rushing to the assistance of its enemies in Warsaw—as if such things were ever done in war.  But Churchill at the time refused to say a word in criticism of the Russians.  A separate peace in the East would still have left him with too much war to fight.

The Red Army was systematically pushing the German Army westwards along a very wide Front, concentrating on this or that part of the Front as local military circumstances indicated.  Such a sustained advance on such a wide Front conducted without serious reverses was without precedent in military history.  Whether the Red Army delayed its assault on Warsaw because of the Rising, or took no account of the Rising and simply dealt with military facts as they presented themselves, is an argument that can go on forever.

It seems that Hitler took the Warsaw Rising personally.  He saw the Poles as having acted treacherously in 1939 in breaking the Treaty which recognised Polish sovereignty in the Corridor and making a Treaty with Britain and France on the issue of Danzig, a city which was not under Polish actual government and was never likely to be.

He assembled a special force to deal with the Rising, and took two months, during which there was so much else to be done, to crush it utterly and pulverise the city.  Then he abandoned it, leaving it a ghost town for the Red Army to move into at leisure some time later.

And that is how the War, which Britain started—supposedly over Poland—ended in Poland after five years.