One of the major tasks of the Underground
was preparing for the day of open warfare against the enemy and procuring
arms was the number one priority. There were many ways
of doing it.Some arms were abandoned in the aftermath of the campaign in 1939; securing them was sometimes a matter of who got there first. Once having received the information that a case of new factory issue pistols was hidden in a certain burial crypt in the local cemetery, a few friends and I went there at night and dug a hole in the ground at the foot of the grave.Some bricks had been removed from the wall of the crypt which tended to indicate that our information may have been true, but when I managed to squeeze part of my torso through the narrow opening in the masonry and survey the inside of the grave it only contained a sealed metal coffin. Rather an unpleasant experience and all for nothing. Incidentally in the neighboring "grave" was buried one of the bells of our parish church, just in case Germans, who always had white metal shortages, should want it for ammunition. Burying it had not been an easy task to accomplish at night and in secrecy.
A considerable number of firearms were captured from various German police forces and in the raids on military depots. However in the early years of the war this usually happened only in chance encounters because killing every German in one's gun sight was forbidden by our command because of the terrible revenge the enemy would take on the civilian population.
Later on came the airdrops... Day after day we monitored the afternoon BBC Polish language broadcast simultaneously using our few clandestine short wave receivers scattered at different locations.19 Such a precaution was necessary not only in case of being discovered but also because of German radio interference. The enemy would, as we called it, run the steam engine on all BBC frequencies. However their counter intelligence had also to listen to what London had to say to the "verfluchten polnishe Banditten" * and for that reason they had to always leave one frequency undisturbed. Since they changed it daily - and there were about five alternatives - we, with our not-always-state-of-the-art receivers, ran the risk of missing the vital parts of the broadcast, hence multiple monitoring stations.
At the end of every newscast a Polish song was played, often followed by some mysterious figures and letters. Some of the songs with the addition of the figures and letters meant that during the following night there would be airdrops at some of the code designated sites. When the right "music" came from far away England there followed a breakneck bicycle ride to raise the platoon to secure the drop site, arm them, procure transportation to get everybody on site between dusk and 22 hrs, deploy the platoon and people with flashlights, and...wait. Oh! How many times we had to return empty handed.
And then at last.... from the depth of
the summer night... barely recognizable at first, and then rapidly gaining
in strength, came the all-encompassing roar of the engines of a low flying
"Liberator".... Something painfully gripped the heart... the line of flashlights
gave direction... the plane made a half circle ... and then, for an unforgettable
moment, the huge, fire spitting
shape was upon us... and gone... leaving the dark shadows of descending parachutes and the dull bumps of the containers againstour native soil.
There was feverish movement on the ground.
With the exception of men securing the perimeter, everyone rushed to load
the containers on horse drawn wagons. The cases with red
parachutes held ready-to-use submachine guns and hand grenades wrapped in British "battle dresses" to soften the landing shock - just in case. What followed was the most critical
phase of this operation. By now the German air traffic monitoring stations would have managed to roughly establish where the airdrop took place. Before dawn the containers had to be hidden far from there in a temporary shelter and all the traces obliterated. Only after about a fortnight, when the intensity of the German search had diminished, the difficult work of delivering the priceless gifts to the more permanent locations would be accomplished.20 The fabric from the parachutes was used for shirts and blouses for girls and the straps and cords were a heaven sent provision for making the currently fashionable ladies' wooden sandals.
There were also allocations of weaponry
from the Territorial Command, known under the cryptonym of "Bialowieza"
(White Tower), located in Warsaw and covering the territory east of the
Vistula and enclosed by the curve of Bug river. The "merchandise" originated
on a clandestine free market. The suppliers were for the most part local
gangs who stole from German military supply trains on the huge Warsaw railroad
yards, bicycle rickshaw drivers and often pre-teen boys who managed to
relieve a German officer of his side arm in a crowded streetcar by slicing
the holster off with a razor blade.21 The problem
with these allocations was that they had to be collected from all over
the City and somehow transported to their destination without the carriers
being arrested or killed in the process.
On one occasion, in the period when street raids and intense patrolling were probably at their worst, I reported at the contact point in Warsaw early in the morning. In a few minutes the fellow from our neighboring District of Siedlce also arrived. Both of the storekeeper and us went by streetcar to the part of town called Wola. The number of green uniforms of the German gendarmes and "feldgrau" of the SSpatrolling thestreets was frightening.One half of the patrol walked along one side of the street on the sidewalkand the second half on the opposite side and a little to the rear.
A large fenced yard in the industrial part of the City was lined on three sides by single story rows of storage buildings or garages. Our guide opened one of them and started issuing us our assigned stuff. I engaged two passing freight rickshaws and together with the storekeeper we were loading hurriedly while the other fellow watched for gendarmes at the yard gate. 22 We were almost done when our friend reported an approaching patrol; they might have entered the yard. Without wasting a word we unloaded everything back into the store. Both rickshaw drivers gave us a helping hand without expressing any surprise or fear. It now seems unbelievable that I could so fully trust my life and freedom to a stranger with a rickshaw for hire. But then the rickshaw drivers in Warsaw in the years of German terror were not just ordinary young men with strong muscles; they were a kind of brotherhood. No one who was not trustworthy would last a day among them. We returned to loading and again a patrol approached. When it happened for the third time my friend from Siedlce wanted to call it a day. There was no time to lose. Quickly we piled all his stuff on my rickshaw, I climbed on top and we were on the way. My driver slipped between the patrols which sporadically stopped and searched the pedestrians and vehicles. I drew on one cigarette after another; it helped me maintain a poker face. Somehow we arrived downtown, the intensity of the patrols diminished; the Germans as always were systematic - they worked one part of the City at a time.
At the inner yard of the small company
producing wooden boxes, with the help of the rickshaw driver and the fellow
from the neighboring district who arrived by streetcar, we got busy
properly packaging our " merchandise" to withstand the strains of further travel. It was too late in the day to catch the afternoon truck to my destination, so again with the same rickshaw I went to the address onTwarda street where my cousin Capt. Z.Barbasiewicz (a career officer hiding from Gestapo under another name and a good disguise of an inspector of the local Hydro) had a place beside a small factory of soft drinks belonging to his friend. Nobody asked any questions; my two large boxes spent the night beside innocent cases of mineral water. I paid the rickshaw driver; we shook hands.
Next morning I took my load to the depot
at the Iron Gate Square and had it placed on the truck about to leave for
my hometown. A few more items purchased close by and I climbed on top of
the loaded truck with the other people traveling in the same direction.The
driver stuffed some coke into the furnace of the gas generator and we were
on our way. Problems could be expected on the outer City limits where the
German gendarmes usually stopped all trucks to spot-check the passengers'
travel documents and occasionally the bills of loading of the freight.
There were never more than two men on this post at one time. I had on my
person a few pistols from the last minute purchase that I had had no chance
to pack - two of them were loaded and ready to use - but hopefully the
gendarmes would follow their usual routine... They did... everyone had
to show their "Kennkarte" and a travel permit. I had my permit provided
by our people in the "Kreishauptman" office with the stamp bearing the
"Hackenkreutz" and permission to travel to Warsaw for a visit "zum Laringologen".23
All the passengers also had their documents in order so we were
permitted to go. A few more hours, and we arrived at Wegrow. We transferred
my wooden crates to the horse drawn wagon. "Carefully boys, don't tip it",
I warned. All the way from Warsaw I had been troubled by what could happen
if sulfuric acid in two wet batteries in one of the crates spilled on a
paper bag containing over a hundred kg. of explosives for manufacture of
hand grenades. Luckily there was no spill ... so I have never found out.
19 The famous BBC victory signal: bum, bum, bum....bum; a Morse code for the letter "V" was known in all occupied Europe and was often used as a recognition sign when for instance knocking on somebody's doorin the middle of the night.
20 The arms were for us indeed a priceless gift. We prayed for it in our churches; some compatriots lost their lives or were tortured in Gestapo cells for their attempts to obtain arms; the air crews flying the planes that parachuted arms for us flew unarmed to save weight and any encounter with enemy fighters almost always spelled death. There is a plaque on Confederation Square in Ottawa commemorating the sacrifice of Canadians who died flying armaments to us, all of them volunteers because only volunteers were allowed on those almost suicidal missions, especially during the Warsaw Uprising. And there were many others: Australians, British, New Zealanders, South Africans, and Americans. And most of the arms parachuted by them were of German origin, captured in Africa and other places, in some cases by Polish soldiers fighting on all fronts, so we would have no problem in using German ammunition. At both ends the arms were paid for in blood and it made them priceless.
21 Every large town has its underworld to a larger or lesser degree and Warsaw was no exception. These people live by their own moral code, which they themselves strictly enforce. They may have been thieves, highly skilled pickpockets, or streetwalkers, but they all were children of their beloved City and many of them gave their lives fighting for it in the Uprising. During the years of German occupation they would not resort to robbing the starving population of Warsaw but Germans and their war machine wasfair game, unofficially approved by the Resistance. Obtaining the arms by the skill of a thief rather than by force did not cause punitive executions and thus saved lives. They were paid a fair market value for their efforts, but as an added bonus, strictly in the service of their Motherland, they would engage in switching the dispatch papers and freight car numbers, which often resulted in empty railway cars traveling to the front and the ones with military supplies ending up in strange places.
22 Because of strict rationing of automotive fuels there were very few cars licensed to the Polish population and most of the trucks in commercial use had to run on gas generated from cokor in Warsaw. To supplement the cumbersome services of horsedrawn cabs the local industry produced a kind of tricycle with a fairly comfortable cab type seat in front and the bicycle type rear for the driver.They were called "rickshaw", and like the Japanese originals were human-powered. There were also the freight type rickshaws; the front seat replaced by a large wooden platform with foot high sides. The passenger rickshaws were often used by the German officers on leave, having a good time in some "nur fur Deutche" (only for Germans) restaurants like the notorious Café Club. When such a well drunk customer deposited himself in the waiting rickshaw, barely able to give his address, he would be driven to some out of the way dark street, tapped, from behind, on his head with the steel bicycle pump by the driver and thus persuaded to hand over his service handgun and left to get to his lodgings on his own. No officer in his right mind would risk a court martial by reporting his misfortune to the authorities.
23 Kennkarte: identification.
Kreishauptman: a German administration officer in charge of a territorial district.
Hackenkreutz: swastika, a symbol of a Nazi Germany.
Zum Laringologen: to the throat and nose doctor.