Improvised Weapons used in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising

 
 
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The invasion of Poland on September 1st, 1939 marked the beginning of the Second World War. Polish people had a long history of occupation and had only formed their Republic shortly after WWI. After Hitler invaded Poland and the Soviet Union occupied the eastern part of the country, following the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement, the Polish Army was disbanded, but a resistance movement was formed in 1942 which gathered a lot of popular support. It was called the Polish Home Army.

It was an armed wing of the Polish Underground State, an umbrella organization for all resistance movements in Poland during the war. The Home Army used partisan and urban guerrilla warfare to fight the occupation with sabotage and small scale skirmishes with German forces in the countryside. At the height of its power, in 1944, it was estimated that the Home Army had more than 400,000 members, but many of them weren’t properly armed.

The escalation of the conflict came in 1944 when the Soviets were at the gates of Warsaw. A full-scale uprising began on 1st of August, 1944 and was extinguished on October 20th that same year. Aside from the huge number of casualties and a German campaign in which estimated 200,000 civilians died, the event is remembered for the lack of support given by Soviet troops on the outskirts of the city. This is cited as the main historical reason for the failure of the insurrection.

The lack of equipment forced the resistance to produce their own, in clandestine conditions, while the country was governed by the Germans.  This list contains three essential weapons originally produced by the Polish Home Army.

1. Blyskawica Submachine Gun

Błyskawica was the backbone of the Polish underground weapons industry, along with the Polish version of the Sten submachine gun. Originally produced in Britain, the Błyskawica was the only weapon covertly manufactured in mass numbers during WWII. It was designed by two Polish engineers,  Wacław Zawrotny and Seweryn Wielanier, and it combined the exterior of a German MP-40 sub-machine gun and the interior mechanism of the British Sten. All parts of the weapon were joined with screws and threads, rather than bolts and welding.

This allowed easier production for less capable engineers since it used a system dating back to the 17th century. The similarity with the German sub-machine gun enabled the use of captured ammunition, as it used the same caliber and the magazine was identical. It fitted the needs of the Home Army high command since it was easy to construct and it could be made out of different improvised materials that were available. In 1943, after series of tests, the Błyskawica was adopted as the official weapon of the Home Army.

Polish soldier firing a Błyskawica during the Warsaw Uprising.
Polish soldier firing a Błyskawica during the Warsaw Uprising.

The name, which in Polish means “Lightning”, came from the three lightning bolts that were carved on the prototypes by the workers who, before the war, owned the Electric company with the same logo. The production started in a workshop officially producing metal fence nets in Warsaw.  The High Command ordered 1,000 pieces, but only 600 were produced before the Warsaw uprising.

During the rebellion, 40 more were introduced into battle. The gun was produced in small quantities outside of Warsaw, but the majority of the production was happening in the city. After the failed insurrection the Home Army ordered another 300, but by that time, the Soviets were already advancing through Poland, and the Germans were being pushed back.

2. Filipinka and Sidolowka Hand Grenade

Filipinka – right; Sidolowka – Left. By Halibutt – CC BY-SA 3.0

Filipinka, also known as Perelka, was an unofficial name for ET wz. 40 hand grenade, manufactured in the Home Army underground facilities in 1940. It was designed by a former worker of the Rembertow Polish Army ammunition factory and based on a pre-war anti-tank grenade, model ET wz. 38. The designer was Edward Tymoszak, hence the ET abbreviation.

The Filipinka was cylindrical in shape and used a fuse located on the upper part of the shell. It was an offensive impact grenade, which means it exploded when hitting the target. Roughly 4,000 were produced in the first series alone. First, they were made out of Bakelite, which shattered after explosion without producing fragments like a metal-bodied grenade.

Various types of Sidolówka coatings along with two satchel charges and a single anti-tank bottle. Photo Credit.
Various types of Sidolówka coatings along with two satchel charges and a single anti-tank bottle. By Halibutt – CC BY-SA 3.0

Later, Tymoszak introduced a shell with a metal impress. Filipinka used a variety of home-made explosives. Sometimes the engineers extracted the explosives from German air bombs and artillery shell and sometimes they used plastic explosive delivered via air drops by the British RAF.

The improved version of the Filipinka hand grenade had an improved version manufactured in 1942, ET wz.42, commonly called Sidolowka. It was named after Sidol, a metal-cleaning agent from Henkel, packed in bottles suitable for grenade use. Besides from being an easily-available improvised shell, it was also a good camouflage, for the grenade resembled the Sidol pack. It was first produced in Warsaw by the professors of the Warsaw University of Technology, under the guidance of a chemist, Jan Czochralski. The primer and the detonator were designed by pre-war experts from the Polish ammunition factory in Warsaw.

3. K-Pattern Flamethrower

A Home Army fighter wielding a K-pattern flamethrower on the streets of Warsaw, 1944
A Home Army fighter wielding a K-pattern flamethrower on the streets of Warsaw, 1944.

A flamethrower is a vicious and effective weapon, which functions very well in urban areas as a tool for eliminating enemies who are using buildings for cover. The Home Army saw the potential of an improvised flamethrower to catch the advantage against a better equipped and a better-trained enemy. The production started in 1942, but the weapon wasn’t used until the uprising in 1944 since the rebels didn’t want to reveal their ingenuity in improvised weapons.

It’s the main purpose was to serve as an anti-tank weapon. It was suitable for production in workshops and used readily available materials.

It consisted of two tanks, one for fuel, the other for compressed air. The mixture was 75% diesel fuel, 25% gasoline. A metal pipe was attached to the canisters with a rubber gasoline hose. After pulling opening the handle on the pipe, the fuel mixed with compressed air was ignited by a simple cloth drenched in gasoline, on fire.

The fuel tanks could permit up to 30 firings, before refueling. About 400 of these were used during the Warsaw uprising, but the exact number is difficult to estimate. The K-pattern flamethrower was, in general, a very successful weapon, considering the easy means of production. Its only flaw was the fact that its range deteriorated progressively after successive bursts of fire. It was refueled in a procedure that took no more than 4 minutes.

4. Kubuś, the Armored Car

Kubuś, the Polish Armored car.

Kubus, a Polish nickname derived from Jacob, was an armored car once produced by the Polish Home Army, used in the early stages of the Warsaw uprising. It was built on a chassis of a Chevrolet 157 truck, and it took part in the Warsaw battles. It was originally produced within 13 days and handed out to fighters without previous testing. The designer of the vehicle was an engineer, Walerian Bielecki, nom de guerre Jan, who constructed the chassis without previous plans on paper and installed it on site.

It was named after a partisan woman, codenamed Kubus, who was the wife of one of the engineers, codenamed Globius. Since she died a few days before the construction, the name was given as an honoring act. An interesting fact – Kubus is also the Polish name for the famous book and cartoon character, Winnie the Pooh.

Photo Credit.
By Halibutt – CC BY-SA 3.0

The chassis was mounted on the base with steel plates for protection of the crew. The car could carry between eight and twelve soldiers. It was armed with a Soviet DP machine gun and a K pattern flamethrower. Kubus took part in an attempt to capture the Warsaw University Campus, which had been turned into a German stronghold. The attempt failed twice; Kubus was lightly damaged and the insurgents retreated to a Home Army held area. It was abandoned on September 6th, 1944.

The damaged Kubuś survived the war and in 1945 was towed to the Polish Army Museum as one of the first exhibits after it was looted by the Germans. It was restored and is currently on exhibition there. A full-scale operational replica was created in 2004 and is, as of 2009, on exhibition at the Warsaw Uprising Museum.