National Armed Forces (pol. Narodowe Sily Zbrojne) Historical Brief - Part 5
Life and Survival In Polish Partisan Units. How nice it is in a little war  (pol. "Jak to na wojence ladnie").
Pt. 1 | Pt. 2 | Pt. 3 | Pt. 4 | Pt.5
Living and surviving as a Polish partisan under Nazi and Soviet Occupation.
Right: A reproduction of a uniform worn by Polish Anti-Communist partisan, Lieutenant Edward Taraszkiewicz, nom de guerre "Zelazny" in 1947. Photo by: Mathiasrex, Maciej Szczepanczyk.
Already 60 years had passed since we took part in the underground partisan operations. Two generations have grown since and know of these events only from the stories told by their parents and grandparents.
Unfortunately, much of what is contained in the published literature has been falsified and politicized with premeditation by the Communists.
Only sporadically, during the last decade books appeared that attempt to portray the true image of events and of individuals who were destined took active part in the partisan operations. Perhaps, we can coin it more accurately as not “partisan operations” but an “everyday partisan life”.
I know empirically that the listeners expect to hear colorful stories embellished with imagery of exploding grenades, melodies played by the machine gun bursts, see rockets flying above the head, to see tracer bullets cutting through the air, fires raging over the horizon, galloping horses, wounded men who "want to die for their country", heads covered with dressings, friendly and attractive nurses tending to the wounded, bonfires at the camp side, and other similar images as if they were taken straight from the 19th century insurrections; or even from the I World War patriotic song "How nice it is in a little war".
I understand both the listeners and the readers, for they have been raised on the deified picture of war where the leading character is indestructible, always wins, he doesn't get dirty, he doesn't have to go to the bathroom, and his weapon can fire for hours without any need to be reloaded.
What did an everyday Polish partisan's life look like? Today, after several dozen years since those days, this period appears to be certainly different than what it really was.
If we were to bring back the true picture of the past without any distortions resulting from the passage of time, we have to be cognizant that certain elements of what we remember will be amplified while others will be erased. We also have to take under consideration the fact that during those times we were young individuals who perceived reality in a very specific fashion, and were full of patriotic romanticism. It is this very type of romanticism which would prompt one having at his disposal only a shotgun to single handedly declare a war against an empire having at its disposal standing professional army.
Our everyday was full of not romantic and heroic dilemmas, but rather those more ordinary ones which we usually don’t remember, because our memories are dominated by those more spectacular images “full of gunfire, and tracers cutting through the air” . What kind of everyday problems did we have then? One doesn't have to be in the underground partisan unit to enumerate them. These problems had to do with an all-year survival of an individual who doesn't have a steady place to stay and the resulting physiological needs of human body arising form such predicament.
Lets begin with the external factors. The underground partisan units are characterized by their continuous movement and frequent changes of location. Partisans units are for the most part infantry, and thus our continuous marches by foot, and only under the most favorable of conditions, via horse and cart or sleighs. The cavalry units are for the most part horseback reconnaissance units. Regardless of the weather conditions we lived under the open skies. It was most difficult during lengthy rainfalls and low temperatures – after all there weren’t any barracks to which we could return. During encampments one had to improvise and employ various means of drying himself at least partially, and getting warm. The most difficult problem was presented by our boots. How can they be dried up and how can they be conserved in order to last as long as possible? Under these conditions the most appropriate footwear were the field boots, the so called “saperki” which didn’t have particularly high upper that widened towards the top. This type of upper had its particular benefits. The field boots were relatively easy to take off and to be put back on. In addition, they didn’t make it difficult for one to scratch his lower calfs covered by the uppers. (I am writing about this below). One also has to remember that we didn’t have any stores with change of clothes or equipment. When for example, someone’s boots fell apart, he had to wait for few days before an opportunity presented itself to get a replacement.
Left: German Officer Field Boots (pol. ("Saperki"). Photo curtesy of The History Bunker
Out of necessity [of continuous movement] our supplies were for the most part very limited and we were unable to store them in larger quantities. Additionally, we were not accompanied by any supply vehicles during our operations. All of this, including wet, cold and skinned-alive feet, and fingers affected by frostbite made it very difficult for unobstructed movement and made it unpleasant and tedious. Having well functioning feet was most important.
The act of thinking belongs to the commanding officer while the private has to have comfortable boots, accurate aim, and confidence in his leadership and in his friends. Yes, it is true, every soldier, and particularly the partisan, can quote number of examples where comfortable boots were very important. There were instances, some of them comical, particularly from the distance of time, often accompanied by memories of pain, and often of drama. Good comfortable boots and accurate rifle are the most important equipment of a soldier.
I will take the liberty of quoting a short excerpt from the memoirs written by Jozef Poray-Wybranowski, nom de guerre “Swider” about the dramatic battle against Germans near Borowo. “Swider” remembered the drama of the death of his colleagues; in fact, he remembers the death of practically every man in unit lead by “Step”. He also remembered his boots.
The 23 of February  arrived. The weather changed for the better, it was beautiful, sunny and cold with sparkling snow and excellent visibility. The half of us returned at dusk from the patrol the night before, and after grabbing something to eat we intended to get some well-deserved rest. […]
All of a sudden in front the forester’s house we heard loud footsteps of somebody running. Our sentry nom de guerre “Most” (Mostrong from Borowo) ran out screaming: “A group of men approaching – Germans”. Before he was able to finish the sentence everyone ran outside […], that is everyone except me! I grabbed my soaked boots and along with equally wet square sheets of cloth [pol. onuce] used instead of socks I was trying to put them on, but to no avail. I was pulling on them with all my strength to the point where they ripped to pieces; I was trying to get the boots alone on my bare feet but also without any success. I understood that in order to survive I’ll have to enter the fight barefoot! At the same moment the machine guns and grenade launchers started to sing at a short distance. We responded with our RKM [rkm wz. 1928, Polish light machine gun modeled on the BAR, but chambered for 7.92x57mm Mauser ammunition]  and rifles […] I threw the boots to the ground, grabbed my rifle, a belt with magazines, and my handgun. After breaking the window […] I jumped onto the backyard. […] [Both Swider and Jarek Gnat who was already wounded were able to retreat to the Sana river]. We walked to the edge the water. My feet were already so frozen that I really don’t know if I could even feel them anymore. […]
The Germans didn’t show themselves in the open field, but the gunfire continued and Motyl was still stubbornly firing short bursts from his RKM [in that direction]! […] the branches of alder threes sparingly growing along the Sana river were falling on our heads; […] We made it to the part of the Borowo known as Gasory. Not even a single building survived this inferno. […] I wanted as quickly as possible to move through this place; a proof of Polish martyrdom. As a result, while jumping over this burned curtilage I stepped several times on the protruding nails which almost entirely punctured through my feet. Not thinking too much about it, I sat down on the snow and began to extract these rusted nails.
It was more and more difficult for us to move. Our frozen and injured feet were getting even more injured by protruding sharp stubs; our feet began to refuse being obedient. […] In the mean time we noticed that the gunfire almost entirely died out. We knew what that meant – “Lord, may they rest in peace”. 
[Translator's Note: The Nazi pacification operation in and around the village of Borowo, and several neighboring villages, resulted in the execution of about 1,400 individuals sympathetic to the NSZ and AK partisans. Nearly 800 individuals were shot to death by the Nazi expeditionary forces in the Borowo itself]. The quote above came from the “Swider’s” memoirs pertaining to the engagements around Borowo, which took place during German pacification of this area on 2 February 1944. That’s all on this subject which we could easily broaden and entitle, for example, “Partisans and boots”.
Aside from his boots, the second important element of partisan’s equipment is appropriate external clothing. Considerable percentage of us wore military coats, and during winter short or long sheepskin coats girdled with a main ammunition belt with a holster for our side arm and magazines.
From the time of the incident that I will describe below, we were prohibited from wearing these main ammunition belts on the outside of our regular military or sheepskin coats. We were required that these belts be worn atop our uniform jacket (jacket or sweater). Here is how it happened.
One day we found ourselves in a situation from which we could get out only by taking up defensive positions behind a small slope, but only, if we made as quick as possible jump over nearly a kilometer long stretch in deep and loose snow. If we didn’t manage to take up positions behind this sloap we would have been exposed to the enemy's fire, who, unlike us, also had protective units. After several hundred meters, our outside coats and sheepskin coats became our main obstacle to make this leap. Thus, while some began to take them off, it also required that the belts be taken off, and there was not enough time to put them back on again. During this maneuver, considerable number of partisans lost their ammunition belts. During those critical moments I was on the verge of physical exhaustion. In such situation one easily looses sense of reality and of the danger awaiting him. The overriding feeling is one of sitting down [to rest], and then the hell with everything else. Some of those laying in snow held grenades in their hands with their safety pins out.
This whole episode had happy ending. Two RKMs had enough time to take up positions behind some sort of cover and showered Germans approaching from below and behind the trees with fire. This stopped the enemy from pursuing us further and gave our boys enough time to retreat safely. After several dozen hours we returned to this unfortunate slope and nearly all found their equipment and coats. After this incident an order requiring that ammunition belts be worn under the coats was issued. It became apparent that in certain situations an ordinary coat can decide about ones life or death.
Most susceptible to being lost in the partisan environment were our side arms. All sorts of hand guns and revolvers were worn under the belt; some in holsters, and the smaller ones inside pockets. In order to prevent side arms from being accidentally lost, a line was affixed to the grip of the gun and the other end with a loop was worn around the neck of one carrying it. The size of the loop was adjusted with moving, at times decorative, metal or leather ban [pol. tulejka]. The length of the line was such that it didn’t impede operating the firearm. These types of safety gizmos were most often made of leather or of decorated textile. The most sought after lines were painstakingly woven from soft pieces of leather into cylindrical shape of pencil-size diameter. They were home-made and most usually made by girls. Receiving such line from a girl as a souvenir had a meaning similar to that of receiving a handkerchief by a knight. Some carried several of such lines.
Napoleon is believed to have said that "an army marches on its stomach". The issue of feeding soldiers, even in standing armies having at their disposal auxiliary and technical units, is difficult and tasking. In this respect two primary issues come to mind: first – provisioning, and the second – preparing the meals. These issues were resolved in variety of ways, but primarily based on the size of the unit. Thus, provisioning for a reconnaissance unit having in its ranks a dozen or so men was handled differently from one having dozens or hundreds of soldiers. It was also important if that particular unit had sojourned for a longer time, or if it was continuously on the move. The fashion in which the meals for the unit were prepared was usually responsibility of the cook, while the commanding officer of the unit was also involved in provisioning. It stemmed from the fact that procuring food required organizational contacts between various units in the area, or required prior approval to commandeer food, and as such was at the discretion of the commanding officer.
A human being cannot survive without food. Thus, this issue was of primary concern, and depending on many variables, was resolved in variety of ways. It was as important, or perhaps even more important than procuring weapons or ammunition. The rations had to be prepared at least three times per day, while liquids had to be available all the time. The issue of feeding partisan units deserves its own and all-encompassing study. In this article I am only signaling existence of this problem, because for the most part the texts of memoirs and other writings about partisans completely omit this important everyday problem.
In time, the units of the 1 Regiment of the Legia Nadwislanska Ziemi Lubelskiej acquired professional cooks and provisions’ vehicles equipped with appropriate boxes covered on the inside with tin sheets to store and transport food. An important part of the equipment were kettles and other kitchen accessories. A cook had at his disposal squads which would rotate daily. Many units also had field kitchens. The problem of feeding was resolved the best when several people were quartered at on of the farms. At that time a nice hostess would provide ingredients such as meat, and grease and would prepare meals. Taking advantage of such opportunity had to be cleared in advance with the commanding officer and to be approved by him.
I mentioned above that some of the units had full-time cooks. I personally knew three of them. They were in the “Zeb’s”, “Juhas’s’” units and in the training company; if I remember correctly, they were also in the “Cichy’s” unit as well. They were Armenians, soldiers in the Soviet Army who became German prisoners of war. The Germans had often established auxiliary and police units consisting of Ukrainians, Asians, and inhabitants of the Caucasus region. On 30 Jun 1995 I was visiting with Mieczyslaw (Miecio) Orzel, nom de guerre “Oset” in the village Kolonia Kepa. During war we had a strong outpost there, and I often stayed there. Miecio reminded me where these cooks came from. This event is worthy of being reminded because it is characteristic of the dynamics that existed between Polish underground and some units serving in the German army. This is “Oset’s” narrative which I recorded on tape.
The German military police unit in Hodel had also in its ranks a unit recruited from among former Soviet prisoners of war. During a leave on 8 September, 1943 I convinced three Armenians to desert their unit and to join our Polish partisan unit. I gave them one condition: they have to bring at least on machine gun with them. We set the place to meet at the nearby forest at 7 p.m. Five of us from this outpost armed with guns went to this meeting place. We had a plan that if more than three of them came we’ll retreat deeper into the forest. If only three of them come, we will take them with us and will turn them over the same night to the “Zab’s” unit stationed nearby. Three of them came, they brought with them one Soviet RKM  with a cylindrical magazine, two rifles, grenades, and considerable amount of ammunition. In this fashion, they became partisans in the NSZ.
I am quoting this account because not many know about this incident, and after all it has some sort of historical significance. I became friends with one these cooks name Arkadyi. No doubt it had some significance that we were not separated by a language barrier, and after all they loved to chat. What became of them after the Soviets entered and our unit was reorganized – I don’t know. If they got into the hands of the NKVD, they were done. The NKVD was ruthless in such situations.
The most ordinary everyday activities would become major problems. One such problem was for example, the issue of basic personal hygiene. If we had access to a river or pond (and the water was not polluted yet), cleaning oneself was not much of a problem. In villages were also wells and thus, the water. Some sort of dish or a wooden kit could always be had, but more effective was the “running water” method, that is one of us would poured water on the other. We would shave mostly with old-style razors [pol. brzytwa]. During winter we would, most of the time, clean up with snow from mid-section of the body up. Warm water received from friendly homes would mostly serve to soak our feet. The most difficult were the transition periods when it was both cold and raining.
The other issue were the parasites. The most common were lice in our clothes. Fighting them was as effective as tilting at windmills. There were variety of ways (the DDT was not known to us yet) and methods of dealing with them – unfortunately all of them failed. Holding clothes over the smoke and warming it up over the bonfire had only temporary effect. While catching them by hand reduced their population temporarily, immediately, new generations of these bloodthirsty creatures were born.
One would basically have to become used to it. Those of us being part of horseback reconnaissance units were allegedly privileged; when the time came, one would put his shirt or pants underneath of blanket under the saddle of the most sweaty horse you could find. Sweating horses were also covered with sheepskin or regular coats. Allegedly lice don’t like horse sweat. I practiced these methods continuously, but always had lice anyhow. It did miracles to one’s predisposition as you can imagine. These unsympathetic creatures would most often nest in recesses of clothes, in stitches, folds, etc. Their feeding caused itching that was often worrisome. It caused one to scratch. Scratching calfs was impeded by high uppers of boots. It was remedied with sticks, and most often with a rifle cleaning rod, and this is where the wide uppers of field boots [pol. saperki] would prove superior partisan footware.
Another considerably wide-spread plague were scabies. This very worrisome chronic condition was difficult to remedy in the underground. During this period, the scabies was most commonly treated with somewhat strong sulfur ointment. The unwelcomed side-effect of this treatment were painful skin irritations. In winter 1944 we received vials of Novoscabin – which was a new medication that appeared at that time. This considerably effective medication didn’t cause painful skin irritations.
Taking care of one’s physiological needs, particularly during winter and rain was particularly embarrassing and unpleasant. During the sojourn of a larger unit, latrine pits would be dug up, which at the time of departure were covered with dirt. Because of the intimacy of this act, this serious problem is omitted from memoirs and compilations dealing with the life in partisan units.
The human central nervous system requires cyclical rest. Under normal conditions this resting usually takes place during night-time – and people go to sleep at night. How did these sleeping arrangements in the realities of partisan life looked like? Perhaps the term “sleep arrangements” is not accurate in this context, because the night was the most active part in our 24-hours. So, how were the sleeping arrangements made then? It depended primarily on the size of the unit and the place of encampment. Preparing sleeping quarters for a patrol unit of several or dozen men would be different from that of several dozen men. In villages, the traditional place where we would sleep were barns in which stored was hay or straw. In friendly villages we were welcomed into homes where the straw was spread on the floor on which we slept. Because of our lice infestation, as a rule, we refused to sleep in beds. If it was possible, I would prepare myself a place in the attic over stables or byre. Such attic often warehoused hay and one could make himself a comfortable place to sleep. The attics and byres were also warmer than cold barns.
In nice weather, sleeping in the forest was not much of a problem. The best was to make a makeshift bedding under the branches of a large spruce tree. Such place also protected one from morning dew which was unpleasant in these conditions . Several times during my partisan career I participated in building makeshift dugouts and shacks.
Our Regiment adhered to the precept that a solider has to be busy all the time. If one wasn’t assigned to the guard, auxiliary, or to the patrol duties, he always participated in a variety of activities. The drill and bayonet combat exercised were mastered to perfection, and we almost memorized in its entirety the “Infantry Platoon Leader Manual” [pol. Podrecznik dowodcy plutonu strzeleckiego]. We also participated in discussions and lectures about history and world issues. Our time was also filled with repairing and fixing clothes, and most importantly, cleaning and familiarizing ourselves with our weapons. This particular area was mastered particularly well. After some time we acquired such expertise that for example, we would take apart three different types machine guns, place them on a blanket, mix it all up, place another blanket on the top and without looking and only by touch put these machine guns back together. These competitions were also done with handguns. It required many hours of practice and continuous repetition. In a similarly rigorous fashion, we were required to read maps and be familiar with the topography of the area.
Those of us who had horses had also additional responsibilities. Feeding and cleaning animals and their equipment took up considerable amount of time. Exercises in the field were part of everyday routine. Because of the perpetual danger and the necessity to save ammunition we would perpetually practice the “Triangle Shooting” exercises. We had several gunsmith shops organized in machine shops whose owners belonged to our organization. More than one of them distinguished himself with a mastery of his craft.
It wasn’t my goal to give a detail account of our daily routines, but only to emphasize that we were preoccupied with mastering our partisan’s craft at all times.
What I have written here concerns not only myself but, each and everyone of my friends who were part of the community of the 1st Regiment of Legia Nadwislanska of National Armed Forces who were assigned to the partisan units of “Cichy”, “Step”, “Znicz”, “Juchas” and others, as well as squads and platoons of many outposts. Now I will describe one of the events in which I took part as it is related to the description of every day partisan life above.
What I have written here concerns not only myself but, each and everyone of my friends who were part of the community of the 1 Regiment of Legia Nadwislanska NSZ and assigned to partisan units of "Cichy", "Step", "Znicz", "Juchas" and others, as well as squads and platoons of many outposts. Now I will describe one of the events in which I took part as it is related to the description of every day partisan life above.
January 1944. It was a cold and snowy winter. A staff meeting of the III District [of NSZ] that spaned several days was taking place in on the property at the Radlin estate. Among those present was Lt. "Znicz" who stayed with his unit in located at a distance of over 20 kilometers away in Bystrzyca. I was given the assignment to deliver an urgent verbal message letting "Znicz" know that he was to report to the regiment's commander in Borow. I was to travel via horse in the late afternoon in order to avoid traveling during daytime. I knew the road. The horse was rested. I got on this five-year old gelded horse, with strong front legs, somewhat "strong muzzle", and as such a typical hack well suited for this type of terrain. We knew each other well. I saddled him paying attention as not to tighten up his bellybad too much, as I knew he didn't like it. I was wearing riding breeches and a short sheepskin jacket. Under the belt and in the holster with Nangant and Vis revolver, and also three clips with rifle ammunition; on my back my short Mauser rifle. I didn't take the shortest path. I avoided buildings and groves. I wanted to have as good visibility as possible and to avoid possibility of ambush. Before nightfall, a freezing easterly wind started to blow straight into my face. I knew that my horse didn't like it too much.
I started to make changes in the direction moving my left than right side to the wind. After some time I realized that I am way too cold. I managed to slide down from the saddle. I grabbed the bridle and began to start walking fast to worm up. After several dozen minutes of this march I started to feel little better, and after some difficulties, I managed to get into the saddle. We (that is my horse and I) continued. I didn't have enough strength to repeat this marching exercise again, and only paid attention to the direction. I was starting to freeze. At last, a familiar coppice, orchard, buildings and a loud call to stop. With teeth chattering I gave the guard watchwords and asked to be shown to “Znicz’s” quarters. While walking there I went through two more guard positions. The last one (a friend of mine) lead me to the property where “Znicz” was quartered. I found out that “Znicz” is not there; he left this evening via two sleighs.
I also remember very well what happened next. During this trip I got so cold that I have reached the state of being nearly frozen to death. In a large, warm kitchen, a fire was lit under oven’s plate; around the table sat a few friends, the hostess was cooking something, and in the bed near the wall, under the duvet lay our medic, nom de guerre “Lu”. “Lu” held a particular position in the unit, because she was “Znicz’s” official fiance (not long after that she became his wife). As such she was an absolute taboo to us, and no one even looked at her like a woman. I am saying that, because – when she saw me – she got up from the bed, threw a sheepskin jacket on her long nightgown, and in commanding tone of voice ordered me to take all of my clothes off (among other things because of the lice). She asked me to get under the covers. I only asked my friends to take care of the horse, but it wasn’t even necessary, it was obvious.
I started to tremble. “Lu” asked me to turn to the side, and slipped under the covers. She hugged my back and started to worm me up by rubbing me. It felt as if I was being touched by a red hot piece of metal and not by a human being. It literally felt as I was getting burned. After dozen minutes I stopped to tremble, “Lu” didn’t fell as scorching hot any more. She got up from bed and with our hostess prepared at least a half-liter cup of hot milk with honey for me to drink. And here we come to most important part, perhaps even tragicomedy of the moment, and the reason I remember this incident so well. My body doesn’t tolerate hot milk. I basically begin to convulse. According to what my mom said, it stared when I as an infant. What could I do, there we no excuses. “Lu” wound’t compromise. I drank the milk and fell to sleep. I woke up in the morning refreshed and full of vigor. Not a single symptom of cold. I never again tried to repeat this experiment with drinking hot milk.
My memoirs probably differ from other accounts of partisan life, and probably depict somewhat different view of operations conducted by partisan units. But what I shared with you is also history. It is history of the partisan units that were making "History" – the real history with a capital letter “H”. This history is often analyzed in a micro scale.
After all, partisan operations are not only ambushes, attacks, retreats, wounds, deaths of friends and others close to us, but also, eating, sleeping, being exhausted, chitchatting while sipping tea or having a shot of alcohol, longing for home and for normal life, longing for clean bedding, pajamas, a bath in a bathtub, going to school or university, a mother’s tenderness. Above all it is longing for stability in life that gives one feeling of safety, but not the type of safety that is provided by a cocked gun.
About the author: Bohdan Szucki – Doctor of toxicology, hunter. Before war attended secondary school in Pinsk. During occupation, soldier in the National Armed Forces. From October 1942 to August 1944 in partisan units of the III District of NSZ (Lublin area), and later in underground in Gdansk. In 1943 promoted to the rank of Officer Cadet (pol. podchorazy). After war, victim of communist repressions. Chairman of the Ex-Servicemen Association of National Armed Soldiers since its inception.
Pt. 1 | Pt. 2 | Pt. 3 | Pt. 4 | Pt.5
 First line of a patriotic military song that was sung by Polish legionaries during World War I. It can also be translated as "Oh! What a lovely war". Source of the English language translation below: "Errata and Addenda to Stefan Themerson Selected Prose Annotated by Nicolaas J.I. Mars"
Jak to na wojence ladnie
Kiedy ulan [cavalry man] z kona spadnie
Koledzy go nie zaluja
Jeszcze konmi go tratuja
Spij, kloego, w ciemnym grobie
Niech sie Polska sni tobie
A za Twoje trudy, znoje
Wystrzelimy trzy naboje
A za Twoje molde lata
Trabka zagra tra-ta ta-ta
Rotmistrz z listy Cie wymaze
Wachmistrz trumne ubic kaze
How nice it is in a little war
Once an uhlan falls of his horse.
His comrades don’t regret him,
Their horses even tread upon him.
Sleep in a dark tomb, our mate,
Dream of Poland in your state.
And for your toil and wounds
We will shoot three rounds.
And for your years of youth
Our trumpet will play troo-too too-too
The rotamaster marks you gone,
The watchmaster has your cof fin done.
2] RKM - pol. abr. Reczny Karabin Maszynowy
 Jozef Poray-Wybranowski, "Battle at Borowo", [pol. "Boj pod Borowem] Publisher "Szczerbiec", Nr. 6, June 1994, pp. 59-61
 Degtyaryov - rus. Ruchnoy Pulemyot Degtyaryova Pekhotny - hand-held infantry machine gun.