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National Armed Forces (pol. Narodowe Sily Zbrojne) Historical Brief - Part 4

Lies, Lies by Omission, and Obfuscations - History likes to play jokes ...

Pt. 1 | Pt. 2 | Pt. 3 | Pt. 4 | Pt.5

"If a book be false in its facts, disprove them; if false in its reasoning, refute it. But for God's sake, let us freely hear both sides if we choose." Thomas Jefferson

History likes to play jokes. Despite the negative position of the command of the Home Army concerning broader participation of the NSZ units in the Operation Tempest, it is most likely that it were exactly the NSZ units that fought the last battle against Germans around Lublin; ironically, they fought this battle against Germans in direct cooperation with the front-line units of the Soviet Red Army. Fate has it that I participated in those events.

This battle took place at the outskirts of the Kepa and Kolonia Kempa, on the fields located in the directions of the village Klodnica. Several of us, a pretty strong unit consisting of members from the “Cichy’s” partisan unit, and others from the County Command of NSZ under command of now deceased Stefan Kwiatkowski were stationed there.

I have few words of explanation here. Because of the approaching Soviet occupation at this period many partisan units and other underground organizations were being restructured. It was predicted that in the initial phase of this occupation, its first phase will be particularly important and will require preparing new tactical approaches to meet these Soviet activities. At this time we had only superficial understanding of plans that the Polish communists catering to their Soviet masters had. We anticipated that they will be creating new administration under the Soviet control, and this was the reason for our temporary presence in the area. Our underground structures were particularly well developed in this area.

While trying to reconstruct the course of the armed engagement at Kepa I didn’t trust my memory. The account which follow is a result of both the site inspection, of lengthy conversations I had with Mieczyslaw Orzel nom deguerre “Oset”, and of subsequent conversations with Leon Bartkiewicz, nom de guerre “Marynarz”. My conversation with “Oset” are recorded nearly in their entirety on a cassette tape. Unfortunately both of them are deceased now, but fortunately for several years after establishing the Ex-Servicement Association of Soliders of National Armed Forces we were lucky to have met many times and to reminisce.

On June 30, 1995, on invitation from Mieczyslaw (Miecio) Orzel and his wife, along with my wife Hania we took a trip to Kolonia Kepa. I was very happy to be invited, because I haven’t been there for over 50 years, and during Nazi occupation I was often stationed in Kep or in Kolonia Kepa. Apart from that, I wanted to compare notes with “Oset”, who being an inhabitant of this area, would have certainly remembered these local events. When in the beginning of 1990’s ads appeared that an Ex-Servicemen Organization of Soldiers of the National Armed Forces was being established, I was visited by an older gentleman in our house in Lublin. This older man (older means that he was someone of our own age), was accompanied by a teenage girl, whom I found out later was his granddaughter. She was accompanying her grandpa on this trip. Despite the fact that 50 years had passed I knew that we had to be acquainted. After few short explanations we hugged each other. He was “Oset” from our outpost in Kolonia Kepa.

What then precipitated our armed engagement against Germans near Kepa village? In fact it took place in no man’s land. The regular front-line German units along with their artillery already retreated, and the roads were congested with retreating various auxiliary units or disorganized motley of soldiers from units that were destroyed. If met by regular military units, these groups didn’t present any significant fighting power; but because they were demoralized, undisciplined, and were not under unified command; they were however, very dangerous to the local civilian population. The main route of retreat west of Lublin was the main road linking Lublin and Krasnik and side roads leading further towards the Vistula river crossing in Annopol. This no man’s land was ventured into by Soviet reconnaissance patrols. Some of the German units decided not to move through the congested roads leading to Krosnik and Annopol and took shortcuts moving via country roads to the west into direction of Vistula river.

One such German unit of about 30 men, consisting primarily of police and military field police members, and armed mostly with machine guns, decided to move through the Lublin-Krasnik road south of the Niedrzwica village. They marched via road through Majdan Sobieszczanski and Klodnica into direction of Jozefow near Vistula hoping to find a place to cross the river. During this maneuver the Germans stumbled upon horseback reconnaissance unit of slowly approaching regular Soviet Army. This reconnaissance unit consisted of several dozen men and was lead by a Senior Lieutenant [rus. Starshyi Leytenant - Junior Officer, Company Grade Officer in Soviet Army] native to Siberia. The soldiers of this unit were for the most part from the Asian republics atop of small shaggy horses. They were ambushed by the German unit retreating towards Vistula and suffered significant losses in dead and wounded.

Now, lets take a look at the topography of the area on which these events took place. The Kolonia Kepa and Kepa villages are located about 30 km south-west of Lublin. There is a road leading to them from Belzyce in south (through Borzechow) which near Radlin bears north-west to Chodel. At this time there was an unpaved road leading south towards Popkowice and from there to Krasnik Fabryczny. To the east of Kepy and Kolonia Kepa located are villages Klodnica and Sobieszczany. The Sobieszczany village is located near the Lublin-Krasnik road. While traveling from Niedrzwica Koscielna one can arrive to Kepy and Kolonia Kepa via road leading into west to Borzechow, and later via route leading south-west. The Borzechow is also connected (at that time) via country road with Klodnica Dolna and Klodnica Gorna, from where the road leads to west to Kepy. I am writing about these roads in some detail to make it easier for the reader to better picture the events that were to take place.

This is the way “Oset” remembered beginning of these events. In the morning a currier ran to Klodnica that Germans are traveling into our direction, and that they set ablaze a house near a church, and commandeered a horse and cart along with the wagoners. Our entire outpost, along with our unit stationed on the property of Mr. and Mrs. Kempski was immediately mobilized. (Up to this point I thought that we were stationed on “Oset’s” property). After a dozen of minutes or so, we all reported at the outskirts of the Kepa village, near road leading towards Klodnica.

Our order: Don’t allow Germans into the village. They can burn it to the ground and murder the villagers. How many of us, the defenders took part in the first phase of this battle? “Oset” logically suggested that – our outpost had 14 machine guns and one LKM machine guns, so that that would be all of us. So there had to be sixteen of us. How many men from the “Cichy’s” unit were there – “Oset” doesn’t remember. However, I remember that Capt. “Niebieski”, 2nd Lt. “Lechita”, and Officer Cadet “Artur” (that is myself) were there for sure; and maybe somebody else from the “Cichy’s” unit, and two women – my sister Wanda and her girlfriend who came from Warsaw to take care of some organizational issues, and who now were not able go back. They were lucky, because they were spared the tragedy that befell Warsaw. Our group was not very well armed at this time, because by then the core of our unit was already partially reorganized. Our automatic and heavy machine guns were already stored and hidden. We carried only side arms and grenades. For some reason I kept with me the Mouser rifle which I commandeered year earlier at the Wilkolaz railroad station. I was about to find out what it was capable of.

None of my interlocutors was able to give me the exact date of these events. Miecio Orzel told me at one time that it was 23rd or 24th of July (naturally, in 1944). One would think that shooting up people traveling via horse carriage should not present too much of a problem. In practice however, and in our situation in particular, this column of horse carriages span for several hundred meters. If we opened up too early it may have not be effective; if we were too late, some of these carriages carrying Germans can pierce through our defense line, and we can be attacked from the side or from the rear.

One who took part in these types of ambushes knows that NSZ had strict orders to spare the wagoners, guides, those kidnapped, and horses which belonged to the farmers, who for the most part, were actively participating in the underground. It is understood how important horses were to the farmers, and in particular during the period of intensified work in the fields.

The ambush will provide the most favorable outcome when the defense line is spread in parallel to the road through which the enemy column travels. It makes it possible to simultaneous attack of the front and rear of the column. In the instance of defending the Kep village neither the terrain nor our armament made it possible for us to employ this tactic. Our small defense line which spread up at the entry to the village was almost parallel with the road leading from Klodnica to Kep. Behind our backs we had few farm buildings, and little further a small park, and small chateau on the property belonging to Janiszewska sisters. The two of them were not involved in managing the property; it was leased to Mr. Lakutowicz. They were all very sympathetic, cultured individuals linked with our underground activities. After the war, this small chateau was barbarically destroyed and in its place a small multi-family unit (pol. blok) also housing a school was built. In the new political system, there was no place for a chateau.

Near the road we were to defend, in front of us, was a small make-shift cellar built to store potatoes. Jozef Kociak, nom de guerre “Bialy”, LKM gunner and his magazine loader took up their position behind this cellar. Unfortunately, both of them already passed away. “Bialy” died in Szczecin where he moved after the war, and his magazine loader died on the last day of September 1994 at the Bielzyce hospital.

We opened up on the German column before it reached the village while atop of small hill. The Germans immediately jumped off the carriages and spread up into line formation in the direction of their right flank. As the German line was spreading longer, we were forced to regroup to the left and at the end we partially took up positions in the orchard located atop small hill (small elevation). This orchard partially survived to this day. This was the second phase of the battle.

While we were protected by the trees and ruggedness of the terrain, the Germans hid behind whisks of grain piled atop one another that were lined up in a row, (pol. mendel) and were parallel to our defensive positions. Hidden behind these whisks they covered our positions with intense fire while at the same time small groups would run from one pile to the other. In the beginning our fire wasn’t very effective and the German line was getting longer. After firing two unsuccessful shots, where I was late, I remembered how one shoots at a wild boar jumping over a small ditch. You are to aim at it when it is hiding and not when it sticks its head up. It gives you a second, or split of a second, to aim more precisely. I lined up the rifle horizontally at about one meter above the ground and vertical baring was one provided by the right edge of the whisk. When a bowing German ran to the edge of the lined up whisks, I pulled the trigger having my target all the time in my sights. The results were immediate. The fourth German didn’t dare to jump from one pile of whisks to the other. They began to take up positions behind whisks located further from our defense line, and thus, were practically retreating. My small rifle was apparently very accurate. All three shots fired into visible targets were accurate. Naturally, it wasn’t only me who had to first get the excitement of combat under control. My friends also began to shoot at the Germans rather than at the whisks.

Suddenly our situation with ammunition improved; there was never enough ammunition in partisan units. During the first phase of the ambush we covered the approaching horse carriages carrying Germans with two long burst of fire from our LKM. It had to make an impression on Germans. Later they didn’t dare to attack in this direction. They remembered until the end that the defenders have heavier machine guns. But not even the defenders knew that these first bursts [from the LKM] were their last. The LKM jammed and those manning it were unable to fix it. They were given orders to distribute ammunition to those with rifles. As a result of our shelling the Germans lost horse carriages commandeered earlier in Klodnica, didn’t make it into Kempa and Kolonia Kempa villages, and were bogged down on the field covered with scattered whisks. Neither side was anxious to attack and both adversaries waited for the move from the other. Several of our soldiers crawled to the nearest positions vacated by the Germans and brought with them several machine guns and ammunition. In this situation we were patiently manning our positions and waited for a possible German attack.

We need to explain to our contemporary reader that one of the tactics of partisan warfare was guided by the rule that if we heard sounds of fire being exchanged, we were to ascertain the reasons for the exchange taking place and then to aid the Polish side in the exchange. The exchange of fire between the Soviet reconnaissance unit and the Germans conducted earlier caused mobilization of our outposts under the command of Boleslaw Skulimowski, nom de guerre “Sokol” in Marianowka, and outposts from the area of Sobieszczany under command of an experienced partisan named Leon Bartkiewicz, nom de guerre “Marynarz”. They were later joined by our boys from Klodnica and Brzechow. At the time the Germans set fire in Klodnica and attacked defended by us Kepa village, our units which were already on the move from these outposts began to move towards the sounds of fire, and took positions in the rear of attacking us Germans; they made their presence known by discharging their guns. In addition, not very long after that arrived 20 men of the earlier destroyed Soviet reconnaissance unit from the direction of Niedrzwica who wanted to take part in the battle under our command. In this situation, the fate of the German unit was sealed. White handkerchiefs began to appear over the whisks and than appeared the Germans with raised hands. Our boys from the outpost ran to gather abandoned German weapons. “Sokol” and “Marynarz” tried to maintain discipline and not allow disorganization of their troops. Our soldiers from the Kepa outpost were given orders to remain in their positions. I reported to Captain “Niebieski” that I’ll go to see what the situation is and help with maintaining order. At that time we didn’t know yet that it was “Sokol” and “Marynarz” who came to our aid.

Without taking cover, I ran towards the former German line. On the way I picked up two MP [machine pistol, from Ger. Maschinenpistole, likely MP-38/40, 9x19mm Parabellum] and shortly after greeted warmly with “Marynarz” and “Sokol”. The three of us were somewhat of a staff here. First we gathered all prisoners and checked if they didn’t have any hidden weapons. Then we assigned our men to guard the prisoners, and then sent three patrols into north-eastern direction. This situation created serious problem as to what is to be done with German prisoners. After all they surrendered. Only three of them tried to make a run for it into direction of Brzechow, but they were apprehended by a partisan unit in that area, disarmed, and brought back to us.

In the partisan conditions there was always a problem with prisoners. Most often after they were disarmed, and eventually stripped of their uniforms, they were released at some appropriate location. We intended to keep the Germans until the night, take them towards the road and then let them go. At this time the Soviet reconnaissance unit arrived bringing with them about dozen of horses without men. These were horses of soldiers who either died or were wounded during their first engagement with the German unit. Leading them Soviet Lieutenant proposed that we release prisoners to them. Because I spoke Russian I was the main negotiator and interpreter. This proposition was very good for us, but “Marynarz” gave them few conditions: we will let them have prisoners, and the earlier commandeered German weapons, in exchange for horses, 10 PP [machine guns], and three cases of ammunition. The Lieutenant agreed eagerly, but we had to travel to Niedrzwica with him to get the ammunition. Near the church, in the porter-house , he organized a makeshift hospital for his wounded and also had his ammunition cache there. After a short conversation we accepted his proposition. Boys from the “Sokol’s” and “Marynarz’s” units got their PPs and horses. I also chose a good looking mare for myself.

The Russians resolved the issue of prisoners very simply. They lined them up at the edge of the forest, pulled the safety off on the PPs and were ready for the execution. Seeing this, one of the Germans (actually an Austrian), kneeled and began to pray. With an authoritative voice I stopped the execution, pulled this German from the line and gave him under the care of “Sokol”. I jumped on my new horse and rode to Klodnica where the majority of men from “Marynarz” and “Sokol’s” units where gathering. After few moments we heard long bursts from the machine guns. The Russians resolved the issue with prisoners of war. One was just like the other … I know that “my” Austrian lived until the regular Soviet units arrived and was taken prisoner. Did he survive?

In Klodnica we lost a young boy from our outpost whose PP discharged accidently while he was carelessly handling it. The bullet entered under his chin and went through his skull. This was the only casualty on our side received in this skirmish (battle) on that day.

The “Marynarz” took one of the loose horses [pol. luzak] and the two of us left via country road to Niedrzwica for the ammunition that we were promised. “Sokol” stayed in Klodnica. The Lieutenant who reached Niedrzwica before we did gave orders to give us three cases of ammunition for the PPs, and perhaps to excuse himself, showed us his dying men with bullet wounds to the chest and stomach. They were dying with some strange determination, and resignation. They didn’t have any dressings on their wounds, nor doctors.

During our trip to Niedrzwica we were under impression of an unnecessary death of our boy from the outpost and the way the Soviets resolved their problem with the prisoners of war. At one point “Marynarz” began to get off his chest some fears he had: - These were the regular Soviet front-line soldiers. But, in Niedrzwica there could already be Political Commissars [pol. Politruk] and their military police, the NKVD. We have to remove our emblems identifying us as the NSZ Soldiers and to hide our medallions [pol. Ryngraf – a medallion baring image of the Holy Mother]. Yes, he was right. We tore off emblems sewn onto right sleeves of our uniforms and hid our medallions in the inside pockets. We became Polish partisans of unspecified affiliation. When we were saying goodbye to the Lieutenant, he warmly thanked us for the weapons taken from the Germans and for the prisoners, from whom as it became apparent, he took all the ID papers. - These will be attached to the repot I have to write. See, after all we destroyed in battle the entire German unit. After a moment he added: I know life, and this may help you. On few pages in his notebook he wrote two identical statements which stated that he – Lieutenant this and that states that citizen … Polish partisan, on the day … collaborated as a combatant with unit of the Red Army and helped to rout German fascists. Then the number of his unit, and a field seal.

This Soviet Senior Lieutenant knew life in the communist nation. I am certain that this written statement saved my life, or at least saved me from many years of imprisonment. I saw the impression this document made on the UB-men (pol. Urzad Bezpieczenstwa – Polish Secret Police) who were interrogating me in January 1945.

In this fashion, at the end of July 1944 I ended war against Germans with a weapon in may hand.

Unfortunately, tragedy befell my little horse, a really nice and friendly mare that I received form the Soviet Lieutenant who commanded the reconnaissance unit during our battle at Kepa. During this time, the area on which we were stationed, was a no man’s land and was often shelled by both Soviet and German artillery. One of the shells hit the stable and had caused fire. Despite our immediate intervention we were unable to lead out two horses. One of them was my mare. The loss of these two innocent and friendly animals was very difficult for me.

After many years one loses clarity of details, and the dates one remembers are not always certain. The “Cichy’s” unit, as it existed during Nazi occupation, was reorganized. While many were to perish, so did many new men arrive. The conspiratorial methods had to change, and so changed the realities of survival in the so called forest. At the end the commanding officer changed as well, but this is an entirely different story in itself. I received few souvenirs from that period from my sister which miraculously survived. Among them was a small picture with a dedication made by our last chaplain, Rev. Edmund Nastrozny. I remember the field mass consecrated for the reorganizing itself unit in some forest clearing. The date shows that even on 10 September 1944 we were an organized unit whose core were still the soldiers from the Nazi occupation period. The dedication reads: "On the day when the Warsaw is bleeding, in memory of our common work for Poland – Rev. Edmund [Nastrozny]. 10/VII.44".

Rev. Edmund Nastozny Dedication: On the day the Warsaw is bleeding, in memory of our common work for Poland - Rev. Edmund Nastrozny, August 10, 1944

We all wanted to march to rescue Warsaw. Many of us did, and some made it as far as Otwock. For many it ended tragically. The Soviet NKVD divisions were ever watchful and active.

The battle at Kepa was even noticed by the communist “historian” Zbigniew Jerzy Hirsz. In his “Places of battles and martyrdom in the Lublin county 1939-1944”, in the passage dealing with the AL unit of Bartosz Glowacki, this “historian” writes:

“Civilian resistance movement in Sobieszczny intensified in July 1944. Before the liberation, the [AL] [pol. abr. Armia Ludowa – People’s Army - Communist paramilitary] partisans attacked group of [German] police who were commandeering peasants’ horse carriages. In this engagement participated also Soviet partisans and peasants under command of Leon Bartkiewicz. During the battle nine Germans died. Additionally, two Ukrainian nationalists wearing Police uniforms were captured". [1]

So in this fashion, Leon Bartkiewicz, nom de guerre “Marynarz”, a distinguished and battle-hardened soldier of the National Armed Forces became a commanding officer of some sort unspecified civilian peasant group collaborating with [communist] AL and Soviet partisans. And myself, one would venture to guess, was in the AL unit of Bartosz Glowacki as well. How unfortunate it was, that I didn’t know anything about it when I was imprisoned [by the Communists] at the WUBP [2] dungeons at the Krotka Street in Lublin.

By now, you are already familiar with Captain “Niebieski”, one of the leaders of the NSZ in the Krasnik County. Well, without any scruples in the same “history” book, our “esteemed historian” Zbigniew Jerzy Hirsz, suggests that on 22 January 1944, “Niebieski” commanding BCh [pol. abr. Bataliony Chlopskie – Peasant’s Battalions] unit fought battle against German police units. [3] Why "Niebieski" was to command the BCh and not the AL unit is known apparently only to Z.J. Hirsz, or perhaps it is known to his handlers. I was with “Niebieski” at Olszanka, but I am absolutely certain, that as a Soldier of the National Armed Forces, the only unit there was that of the NSZ, and not from the BCh. This is the fashion in which the communists falsified, and still falsify the history.

Pt. 1 | Pt. 2 | Pt. 3 | Pt. 4 | Pt.5


[1] Zbigniew Jerzy Hirsz, "Miejsca Walk i Meczenstw w powieciel lubelskim 1939-1944", Zwiazek Bojownikow o Wolnosc i Demokracje, Odzial Powiatowy w Lublinie, Published by Wydawnictwo Lubelskie, Lublin 1974, page 188.

[2] Zbigniew Jerzy Hirsz, "Miejsca Walk i Meczenstw w powieciel lubelskim 1939-1944", Zwiazek Bojownikow o Wolnosc i Demokracje, Odzial Powiatowy w Lublinie, Published by Wydawnictwo Lubelskie, Lublin 1974,page 154.

[3] Interrogations Jail located in the building of the Wojewodzki Urzad Bezpieczenstwa - Voivodeship Office of Public Security - Polish Secret Police.




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