The Kampinos Group



I'd like to get you all more acquainted with the history of the Kampinos Group - the biggest partisan group formation acting on the Masovian territory and having fought the biggest partisan battle during the II World War.
I'm surprised by the fact that the Kampinos Group activity is almost forgotten, and even in Wikipedia one will find only a couple of words on this topic.

The beginning of the underground in the Kampinos forest started after the defeat in the September Campaign.
The population of the villages lying on the territory of the Kampinos forest witnessed the unequal struggle of the Polish soldiers with the German invaders.

The remainders of the troops defeated under the Bzura worked their way through the forest to defend Warsaw. Still, lots of them never got to the destination place as frequent German ambushes and aviation decimated already exhausted detachments.
One of the worth mentioning episodes of those days was the cavalry charge of the Jazłowiec Uhlan Regiment under the Wólka Węglowa which was described by a war correspondent in the following way:
"Suddenly, a heroic cavalry brigade amounting about two hundred horses galloped out of the bushes. They charged holding an unfurled banner in the center; All the German machineguns stopped firing, and only cannons were shooting. Their shots created a barrage fire on the territory of 300 meters in front of the German boundaries. Polish cavalry rushed forward and charged in the way it is depicted on the Mediaeval canvases! The brigade was led by the galloping command officer with a saber held high above. It was seen how the distance between the Polish cavalry brigade and German barrage fire grew shorter. It was a crazy idea to continue that charge towards the death. Still, Polish people managed to stand it."

After the defeat of the Polish army in 1939, lots of soldiers came back home as civilians. It was them who started the underground. Everything began with the search of weapon. Polish soldiers in view of capitulation were hiding weapon for it not to fell into enemy hands and to be of use in more opportune moment. Thus, people searched for weapon in forests, soil-reclamation trenches, as well as in lakes and ponds. Every found rifle was exciting joy. Sometimes German soldiers were also being disarmed, still, it was very dangerous. Explosive materials from the bombed ammunition depots under Palmiry were also gathered.
During one of such actions the first rebel Józef Niegodzisz, pseudonym "Józef II", had been killed. He was securing the cart carrying trotyl to Izabelin. He was bicycling about 100 meters at the head of the cart and had a hidden weapon with him. Already in Izabelin, when everything seemed to be all right, he stumbled on the gendarmery patrol. In order to cover the transport, he rushed to escape in the forest, dragging the gendarmes along. Unfortunately, he was caught up with the submachine gun burst. The transport reached the destination point safely. Gendarmes massacred the body of "Józef II"; and threw it into the well. At night his colleagues from the detachment got the body out of the well and buried on the military cemetery in Laski. It was the first partisan funeral.
In this initial period of partisan activity, the underground organization consisted of small groups, the participants of which called together for actions and took weapons from the hidden stock. Actions were of subversive character. Also they eliminated snitchers or whipped volks in public (not only Polish people who signed volkslist, but also German colonists were called as "volks"), especially, those who extremely complicated the life of local people. It wasn't easy. One should know that in those times the Germans considered that territory to be their property. German gendarmery had posts in each municipality and possessed automatic weapon. Moreover, lots of villages were full of volks. They had permission for long-barreled guns and in the face of danger they were mobilized as militia. The border of the General Province passed on the north-west edge of the forest, and many settlements on that territory had been colonized by the Germans. Reminders of those times are names of settlements - for example, nowadays we have Dziekanów Polski (Polish Dziekanów) and Dziekanów Leśny (Forest Dziekanów), in those times Dziekanów Leśny was named as Dziekanów Niemiecki (German Dziekanów).
Thus, first armed operations were very dangerous, as it often happened that partisans had to walk many kilometers under cover of night (as curfew was imposed) and repeatedly the return was attempted already at dawn; therefore, people took mainly short-barreled guns, as it was impossible to hide rifles under the coat.
Best of all, the courage of those people can be proven by the fact that took place during attempt to destroy the milk plant in Dziekanów Niemiecki where the Germans took away milk from the local peasants. Small detachment started for the action, unfortunately, the first group which already came out of the forest stumbled on the Germans in the region of Dziekanów. One German man was shot, still the rest raised an alarm and the group of volks started to chase the partisans. It was too far to run to the forest, and in the open plain the short-barreled guns against the long-barreled ones were out of the running. One of the partisans, pseudonym "Kot", separated from the group and shooting back drew the pursuit after him. His colleagues survived, but the surrounded "Kot" reserved the last bullet for himself...
The following months were getting more and more difficult. Traitors appeared in the ranks of partisans and arrests started. The post of Gestapo was situated in the nearby Zaborów, and those who got there never returned alive...
The traitor Antoni Zych led Gestapo to the house of the commander of platoon "Dąb II" where the armory was kept. The platoon commander wasn't at home, so, the Germans beat his sister and mother. When they failed to find out anything, the mother of "Dąb II" - Jadwiga Sznajder was burnt alive in the house and his sister Helena, pseudonym "Pokrzywa", was taken to Zaborów. The situation got to be very serious as "Pokrzywa" was a communication agent, and if she blabbed out something, the region would turn out to be in dispersion. However, the brave woman kept silent even though she was tortured more than others. The Germans beat her as long as broke her spine... She was awarded with the Cross of Valour (Krzyż Walecznych) posthumously.
Meanwhile, partisans got a grip on the situation. They executed the sentences on the traitors. Unfortunately, wounded Zych escaped to Zaborów. Gendarmes inspired fear on the territory awhile, several houses with the people locked inside were burnt, but the partisans who could be betrayed by the traitors moved to the forest where they lived in the dug-outs (when a child, when playing in the forest, I still found such dug-outs). Still the arrests were in progress. Also the main gun store was found in Opaleń where during the ambush the corporal Jerzy Zawadski, pseudonym "Zapora", was killed. The rest: "Zadziora", "Pustelnik; and "Wit" were taken to Zaborów, where after several days they were hanged on the balcony of one of the houses in Leszno.
However, the front from the east approached faster and faster, the Germans did not feel so confident on the territory already, and volks bit by bit started to escape when noticed that nothing good was waiting for them here any more.
In spring the detachment of the "foresters" was already rather big.
The commander of the subversion, the second lieutenant "Macher", and the soldiers of the underground: "Pierwotny", "Ezel", "Rydz" and "Dołęga" started on bicycles to meet them. When they were already on the exit road from Sieraków, the team got into the ambush - the group of disguised gendarmes armed with the automatic weapon opened fire at them. The Germans ordered local people to put the dead into the road tracks to be run over by the carts, and after that they hurried to Zaborów fearing to meet "foresters". The funeral was arranged for the dead, and the whole detachment took part in it. The bodies were transported in the carts to nearby cemetery in Laski and were buried there. The next day gendarmes appeared in Sieraków and when heard about the funeral, ordered to dig the dead out and burry them by the road behind the cemetery wall. Nevertheless, these were the last days of gendarmes' impunity as shortly they paid for their deeds. The dead were buried once again on the cemetery after the war in order to avoid another disgrace of the remains.

Meanwhile, in Warsaw population more often talked about uprising, recurrent reports about defeats of German army were coming and people started to face the future with hope.
In the eve of uprising a rather strange event happened. A detachment amounting about thousand soldiers in Polish uniforms, perfectly armed and on horseback appeared in Łomianki. At first, they evoked distrust, but they turned out to be the AK soldiers from the Nalibocka Forest. There they fought together with the Soviet partisans against the Germans. However, when Russian soldiers started to shoot them in the back, they bargained with the Germans on the principle of "we do not touch you and you do not see us". Since the destiny of that territory after the first peace conference in Teheran remained shaky, they started for Warsaw in order to resume fighting against the Nazi.
Somebody may wonder how such big detachment in Polish uniforms could pass half of the occupied Polish territory. One should know that in that time the Germans were not so self-confident and chaos prevailed on the roads as many detachments left eastern territories. The morality of the German soldiers wasn't so high and they didn't hurry to fight when it wasn't necessary.
Everybody knows how the Warsaw Uprising was running, and I'll just add that the Kampinos Group sent help to fighting Warsaw twice. The Bielany Airport was neither conquered nor destroyed, so till the end of the war the Germans could not use it. Also, the Gdanski Train Station was attacked where the partisans lost many their members. The territory was defended with bunkers, and the partisans who were successful in the forest, were not so lucky in the city.
I won't describe all the battles of the Kampinos Group. I'll just define several interesting moments.
Starting with spring 1944, the Germans were afraid to go deep into the forest, and after the beginning of the Uprising this fear turned into panic. The Kampinos Group blocked all the main roads leading through the forest, making impossible the enemy's evacuation from the capital under the cover of the forest. The road connecting two important for the Germans localities - Leszno and Modlin, ran through the forest. It's easy to guess that that road turned out to be inaccessible for them. That was the origination of the "Niepodległa Rzeczpospolita Kampinoska" - the territory completely free from the Nazi occupation.
Nowadays, it's even difficult to imagine how such wide territory could be under control without telephone communication, and still... Pickets were located by the entrances to the forest, and if any German detachment was noticed, it was decoyed deep into the forest where the enemy was surrounded and killed in the appropriate place. That was how the valuable weapon was obtained. It's interesting that the captured Germans if they were from Werhmacht were just disarmed and let free. In return for that the Germans did not execute massacres on the civilians but for certain exceptions. If SS soldiers or gendarmes were captured, they remained in the forest forever.
It's also very interesting how the food for more than 2 000 people and 700 horses was obtained.
Partisans intercepted German food stores and cattle driven away from the east; disguised as German gendarmes they also caught complete escorts with ammunition driving from Sochaczew. The mobility of partisan groups and success of their attacks were so high that the Germans were sure that they had to deal with at least 10 000 or even 20 000 people armed with cannons or even tanks.

Another brave action was the elimination of the RONA detachment in Truskaw.
The battles with RONA soldiers lasted already for several days. They were sent here with the aim to cut the fighting Warsaw from the forest. Finally, at night a small eighty-member group armed with submachine guns sneaked up to the village. It wasn't easy as partisans had to bypass the weapon emplacements in the open field. However, the action was successful and RONA members taken completely unawares were dying under the partisans' fire. Several hundreds of RONA soldiers were in the village and about 250 of them were killed in that battle. One day later similar action was organized in the village Marianów. After those operations the morality of RONA soldiers was so low that the Germans had to disarm and imprison them; and for the civilians it meant the end of torments, as it's a well-known fact what was the end of all meetings with those "gentlemens" (it's enough to mention that that formation was famous of rapes and plunders). RONA members belonged to the 4th division of the SS grenadiers (1st Ukrainian 14. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS identified as division of SS-Galizien). Present historical sources inform that it wasn't RONA detachment but Ukrainian Legion of Self-defense (31. Schutzmannschafts-Bataillon der SD). I cannot tell what it really was, but I'm inclined to the first theory.
Partisans during the whole period of their activity were protecting the local population. They shared the conquered loots, and if there appeared information that the Germans came to one of the villages to take cows, a cavalry formation started immediately, and such actions had rather unpleasant consequences for the soldiers uniformed in feldgrau colours.
It should be also mentioned about the battles under the village Pociecha.
In that place crossed the roads leading through the forest. That's why the partisans held those positions and the Germans tried to conquer them. The village Pociecha was attacked many times, however, those attacks were always beat off. In spite of the enemy's numerical superiority, armored weapon and aviation, every time the soldiers of the Kampinos Group defeated the attacking detachments and the tanks were destroyed with the help of mines and PIATs obtained in the result of air-drops.
Also, I'd like to mention that someday a big fire happened near the village Pociecha, and people tried to put it out for several days. When the firemen pour the water on the moss and matting, they happened to discover such surprises that sappers were clearing the place for several days. This happened about 20 years ago.
However, those days of glory ended. After all, the Germans decided to finish with the Kampinos Group once and forever, as they were afraid of the possibility of partisans' cooperation with the Soviet Army, and they also needed free way for escape through the forest.
The operation under the title "Sternschnuppe" (the Falling Star) started. With this aim two assault groups were involved -the northern group and the southern group.

The northern group included:
Alarm Batalion of the Division "Herman - Göring",
Alarm Batalion of the Division "Totenkopf",
Alarm Batalion of the Division "Viking",
183rd Security Batalion,
Alarm Formation of the Educational Centre,
Alarm Formation of the 73rd Infantry Division,
Pioneers Assault Batalion,
743rd division of half-armored hunters,
SS Formation of heavy tanks,
Formation of heavy grenadiers,
Motorized battery of heavy howitzers,
6 platoons of light artillery.

The southern group consisted of:
two batalions of the 34th Police regiment,
31st battery "Schuma",
Cossacks Batalion, 7
37th Repair Batalion of Pioneers,
4 observation tank groups from the 19th armored tank division,
Motorized battalion of light howitzers,
6 platoons of the division "Herman - Göring",
Tank formation from the 19th armored tanks division,
23rd and 25th battalion of machineguns.

I's clear that the partisans didn't have any chance to withstand such forces.
At the end of September grew the activity of observation flights over the forest and appeared observation airplanes Focke-Wulf Fw 189 called frames due to their shape. That was a bad omen. Soon heavy bombardments of the rebels camp started - it was the territory of villages Wiersze, Brzozówka, Truskawka and Janówek. An offensive began, but the partisans continued to hold the line believing that this time they would also succeed in repulsing the enemy. After a difficult battle day, when the enemy begin firing from heavy cannons and bombers appeared, it became clear that further resistance was meaningless. Nevertheless, several tanks had been destroyed and one plane had been shot down. However, soldiers exhausted by the battle started to leave their positions. Under cover of night the partisan detachments started in the direction of the Mariańska Forest where they had chance to brake off from the chase.
Unfortunately, that plan never came true. Partisans were moving through the bogs together with horses and camp carts and several times they managed to break out of the German encirclement. During that escape confrontations happened as the Germans conquered already all the neighboring villages. Nevertheless, the partisans continued fighting without sleep and food causing serious losses in the enemy's camp.
I want everybody to understand that that wasn't a panic escape but an organized march-past. In one of the villages a picket took aback a motorized detachment of the German infantry, destroying all the trucks and killing the Nazi.
In the region of the villages Wiejca and Kampinos the partisans came out of the forest. The forest that had been protecting them and which they knew the way one knows the back of his hand could not help them any more. However, they kept going ahead and armored divisions of the enemy were pursuing them closely. After passing Baranów the partisans lingered in Budy Zosine not far from Jaktorów and it was just left to cross the rails. And the commanding major "Okoń" is blamed that instead of an immediate crossing the rails he ordered to have some rest. However, it's not so well-defined as that was already the third day of battle and march-past and the soldiers were exhausted. On the other hand, it's a known fact that the major had big problems with the command, especially, in such a difficult situation and didn't enjoy support of the soldiers; and the circumstances of his death remain secret till now. According to the testimonies of former members of the Kampinos Group a sentence was executed on him. In the morning an attempt to cross the rails was made. It turned out to be rather easy to eliminate machine-gun slots and the Germans were beat off from the rails. It seemed to be successful, but at that moment an armored train arrived, then another one... everybody understood that it would be the last battle...
An armored train burst out fire at the soldiers, tanks were coming from the other side, and on the flanks infantry attacked. The situation became hopeless, nevertheless, the partisans joined the battle. They created something in the shape of quadrangle in the amelioration ditches and it was there where the soldiers prepared themselves for the worst. The last triumphal impulse was shooting down one of the planes and on seeing that the rest immediately escaped from the battlefield. However, inevitable end of the Kampinos Group became closer and closer. The ammunition finished, in the process of firing the camp carts were destroyed and the horses ran away. The soldiers got encircled. The partisans still managed to beat off the recurrent attacks but it was only a matter of time. The courage and determination of those people can be proven by the fact that when they already didn't have bullets and were attacked by the SS detachments, the partisans let them come as close as possible and rushed to them with bayonets in order to involve the enemy into close combat which made firing impossible. The SS soldiers - German elite detachments - mentally couldn't bear that and took to their heels leaving the weapon. Nevertheless, that was the end. Several small groups broke out of the encirclement, the rest didn't manage to do that. About 170 rebels died there and about 150 were captured, however, those numbers can be higher as SS soldiers and Gestapo shot the captives on the spot. The captives of the Wehrmacht soldiers recall that SS members and Gestapo tried to intercept the captives and the Wehrmacht commanders were always strongly against it, as they didn't want to shoot the captured people. That was the end of the biggest partisan battle in the records of the World War II.
About 1000 partisans broke out from the encirclement. However, they were not able to establish contact with each other already. Part of them still fought in the other regions of the country and some returned to the forest, still new order and new freedom emerged brought on the tanks with red star. Further resistance did not have any sense and those the strongest never lived that long to receive a call for a new war. The world started to live its own life and forgot about the Polish people fighting on every front, as well as about promises given to general Sikorski.

At present the only reminders of those times are memorial brasses, military cemeteries and separate tombs where more rarely with each day the lampions are lighted. Unfortunately, human memory dies together with the people who witnessed those days. And the old battlefields became overgrown with young forest...
It you happen sometime to be in the forest and come deep into its old part, maybe, you could hear the echo of gunshots and commanders hastily giving the orders, as well as the partisans singing; and maybe you'll be lucky to notice at sunset the silhouettes of the cavalrymen on horseback at the edge of the forest among the fields...

The Germans lost about 1000 soldiers and about 500 soldiers were wounded in the battles with the Kampinos Group.

Those who are interested in more detailed information about the history of the Kampinos Group can search for the following books:
1) "Konspiracja i Powstanie w Kampinosie 1944" Józef Krzyczkowski ps. "Szymon" 1962
2) "Grupa Kampinos. Partyzanckie zgrupowanie Armii Krajowej" Jerzy Koszada ps. "Harcerz" 2007.
Certainly, I'd recommed that first book, even though it's rather difficult to find it, as Józef Krzyczkowski was the commander of the Kampinos Group.