Operation Sturmwind

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This was a German pair of operations (‘Sturmwind I’ and ‘Sturmwind II’) against the Polish resistance in the Solska wilderness to the south of Lublin near Osuchy and culminating in what is known to the Poles as the Battle of Osuchy and, less often, the Battle at the Sopot River (25/26 June 1944).

One of the largest battles between the Germans and the Polish resistance, this was an element of the Zamość Uprising.

The German reign of terror, part of the ‘Generalplan Ost’, in the Zamość region of occupied Poland had led to the emergence of many active resistance units. With the aid of a number of Soviet partisans, Polish partisans of the Armia Krajowa, Bataliony Chłopskie and Armia Ludowa had steadily made the region almost ungovernable to the Germans. The German garrison in the key city of Biłgoraj was largely isolated by the severance of its land communications, and the town of Józefów was under resistance control, as were many villages and wilderness regions. The German lines of communication lines vital to the succour and maintenance of formations fighting on the Eastern Front were thereby imperilled, and large number of men had to be diverted from front-line service to deal with the partisans.

Early in June 1944 the Germans carried out a major anti-partisan operation as ‘Sturmwind I’, but this failed to defeat the resistance forces, which broke out of an encirclement in the Janów forest. Some of the resistance forces moved to the Solska wilderness and the Germans decided to undertake their destruction in ‘Sturmwind II’.

By 15 June German troops had surrounded most of the forest was surrounded. The resistance leaders assumed that the Germans would not enter the forest, but were proved wrong on 21 June when, after an artillery and air bombardment, the German forces started to advance. On the following day the Armia Ludowa unit, numbering about 700 persons, broke through the German lines in the area of Górecko Kościelne village, in the process sustaining heavy losses. About 1,900 Soviet partisans under Podpolkovnik Nikolai Prokopiuk tried to break out on the night of 22/23 June around the village of Hamernia: they failed on this first attempt, but succeeded during the following night in the area near the villages of Borowiec and Huta Różaniecka. The Polish and Soviet commanders met but were unable to agree on a common plan. By this time only the combined Armia Krajowa and Bataliony Chłopskie units, some 550 persons under the command of Major Edward Markiewicz, remained within the perimeter the Germans were tightening round them. The exhausted resistance fighters was driven into a swampy area of 9.25 sq miles (24 km˛) between the Tanew and Sopot rivers.

The commander of the remaining partisans, Major Markiewicz, suffered a nervous breakdown, transferred command to Rotmistrz Mieczysław Rakoczy and committed suicide. Rakoczy in turn transferred the command to Lieutenant Konrad Bartoszewski, who decided that the resistance fighters’ only hope was to breakthrough the German perimeter along the Sopot river toward Biłgoraj.

The German forces were elements of Generalleutnant Alfred Thielmann’s 154th Reserve-Division, Generalleutnant Friedrich-Georg Eberhardt’s 174th Reserve-Division and Generalleutnant Alex Göschen’s 213th Sicherungsdivision supported by elements of Generaloberst Joseph Harpe’s 4th Panzerarmee and the 115th Landesschützenregiment. Air support was provided by Generaloberst Otto Dessloch’s Luftflotte IV.

During the night of 24/25 June, the Armia Krajowa irregular unit commanded byLieutenant Jan Kryk and the Bataliony Chłopskie’s irregular unit commanded by Lieutenant Jozef Mazur tried to break through the cordon across road near the villages of Fryszarka and Borowiec, but were stopped by the German forces and dispersed; both commanders died. At about the same time the main resistance force reached the village of Osuchy near the Sopot river and, at dawn on 25 June, launched an assault on the German line. The Germans had fortified their position, however, and the part of the 1/Bataliony Chłopskiete, led by Major Stanisław Basaj, became stuck in a minefield under German machine gun fire. Next the Germans were able to start an artillery bombardment of the resistance fighters, who had no option but to fall back all the while taking heavy losses.

The Bataliony Chłopskie irregulars under Lieutenant Jan Kędra and Lieutenant Antoni Wróbel managed to break through the first German line only to run into a second line 330 yards (300 m) beyond it. The highest-grade resistance unit, the Armia Krajowa’s 1st Kompania Sztabowa Inspektoratu Zamojskiego led by Lieutenant Adam Haniewicz, broke through this second line but was stopped in front of a third line. Effectively out of men and supplies, the resistance fighters were forced to retreat, and then driven back still farther by a German attack.

The Armia Krajowa’s irregular unit commanded by Lieutenant Józef Stegliński broke through all three lines but was then engaged and destroyed by German reinforcements.

Nearby, the Armia Krajowa’s Kurs Młodszych Dowódców Piechoty Obwodu AK Biłgoraj, an irregular unit under the command of Lieutenant Konrad Bartoszewski, managed to break out of the German encirclement in the confusion of the battle. The remaining Polish units were forced back into the encirclement where, eventually, all their men surrendered or were killed. It is estimated that about 400 out of the 1,200-strong partisan force were killed, this comprising about half of the Polish losses during ‘Sturmwind II’. Most of the rest surrendered: some were executed on the spot, many were tortured for additional information about the resistance, and the survivors were sent to concentration camps.

The Germans had certainly weakened the Polish resistance in this area, but had failed to destroy it.

In July the Polish resistance carried out the country-wide ‘Burza’, and in the Zamość region the town of Szczebrzeszyn and Zamość itself were liberated. Soon after this the Soviet ‘Lublin-Brest Offensive Operation’ cleared the Germans from most of the region.