July 12, 2013

Ukrainian-Polish Relations: the Truth and Myths. "Zakerzonia". Part 3

Zakerzonia. Part 3.

Counterinsurgency operations

The forces, attracted by the Polish regime for operations against the UPA in Zakerzonia, consisted of regular Army units, corps of Internal Security, Border Guards, Railway Security, regular Police units and detachments of volunteer Community Police reserve. Most of these operations were carried out by regular military forces.

In the period from 1945 to 1948, Communists held "commanding heights" in organs of Internal Security which at the time consisted of the Ministry of Internal Security (MIS) and Ministry of National Defence (MND). MIS was a state structure and a formidable weapon in the hands of Communist leaders. All state and local governments, acting in the field of Internal Security, were subordinate to it. All armed forces of the state were subordinate to MND. Thus, heading the national Security Forces, Communists of the Temporary Government could fight against the Polish underground and the Ukrainian armed rebels as they wished, while their temporary coalition partners — the legal opposition — had practically no effect on this process, and actually did not interfere.

Mossor’s plan. In the first year of combat operations against the rebels (1945) in Poland, Internal Security Forces had no single coordination center for planning. Army and government forces acted independently and each reported to its own Ministry (the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Internal Security, respectively), although they had been carrying out large-scale operations against the rebels. But having analyzed the acquired in 1945 experience, and having estimated victories and defeats, the General Staff of the Polish Army in 1946 developed a unique plan of military actions against the UPA. It was called “Mossor’s Plan"(by the name of its author, Brigade General Stefan Mossor, Deputy Chief of the Headquarters of the Polish Army, who later headed the “Visla” operation, successfully carried out against the UPA).

The commander of Operational Group “WISLA”, Division General Stefan MOSSOR who commanded the Polish Army units during battles against Ukrainian Insurgent Army
The commander of Operational Group “WISLA”, Division General Stefan MOSSOR who commanded the Polish Army units during battles against Ukrainian Insurgent Army
http://www.kuzmicz.pl/

In Mossor’s plan the number of both, Polish and Ukrainian insurgents, was about 15,000, although the exact number was not known, as is usually the case during insurgency. It was pointed out that most of them were concentrated in a 150 km wide stripe in Eastern provinces of Poland along the Polish-Soviet border.

A failure in the operation of suppressing the uprising by government troops in 1945 was explained in Mossor’s plan by the following reasons: lack of a single common plan of military operations against the rebels; lack of a single active leadership, both in the center and locally, which would have had sufficient authority to coordinate and allocate the necessary for internal security resources; low coordination of actions of military and non-military services because which led to formation of so-called "lands without a government" (that is, under the leadership of insurgents); non-traditional nature of actions of the insurgency.

Therefore, to suppress the insurgency, Mossor’s plan suggested the following:

  • carrying out simultaneous mass operations throughout the country;
  • use of a special combat tactics, which would meet the special nature, structure and tactics of guerrilla groups;
  • carrying out simultaneous and similar operations by the Soviet Secret Services along the Polish-Soviet border, in the Soviet Union to prevent the transition of rebel forces across the border;
  • establishing an effective intelligence and communications network locally;
  • use of small but mobile military units.

Mossor’s plan was approved by the Temporary Government of Poland and began to get implemented in April 1946. There was established a sole planning and coordinating body — the Committee for State Security (KGB) — Polish version of the National Coordinating Committee of Internal Security, reminiscent of the British and American ones during counter-insurgency operations (in Malaysia and Vietnam respectively). The Committee had fully assumed the responsibility for the operations and internal security in the country. Its responsibilities included:

  • setting tasks for each area of combat operations;
  • coordination and rearrangement of links of Security Services, Army and Special Services, involved in counter-insurgency operations;
  • coordination of plans of the Temporary Committee on Security locally;
  • coordination of all Intelligence Activities.

The Committee of State Security included: the Minister of Defense (The Head of the Committee), Minister of Security, Deputy Minister of Defense for Policy and Education, Chief of the General Staff, the Commander of the State Security troops, and the Chief Commander of the Police.

Each province in the area covered by the uprisings, was called a "provincial area of operations" and had its own coordination center — provincial Security Committee, which would plan and coordinate operations on the lands of the province. Voevodskii (province) Security Committee usually consisted of representatives of Security Forces operating in the area of operations: Army, Paramilitary Forces, police, and local departments of Safety Management (FSM — Secret Police). Each province, in turn, was divided into "zones of responsibility”, basically coinciding with the areas of activity of one or more insurgent groups. Depending on the intensity of insurgent activity in the "zone of responsibility", there were sent an appropriate number of Security Forces men. Being aware of the fact that the insurgency in the country at that time (spring 1946) was so widely spread that neither Military Services nor regular Police Forces could effectively counter act it, the Polish government put the main responsibility for fighting it on the Amy.

Operation "Rzeszow"

In the spring of 1946 the Polish authorities sped up evictions of Ukrainians from Zakerzonia. This triggered a new powerful response from the UPA, which was now fighting not only for the historical Ukrainian territory, but also for its very existence. In Rzeszow province the situation was extremely complicated, there was maturing anarchy. Local management was dismissed; the Police was disarmed and disbanded. OUN taxed the population, and in many communities had been established its own management and had been created "insurgent areas". The situation had changed a little during Phase III (May 1946 — February 1947).

April 5, 1946 Polish Military Commandment launched a special operation codenamed "Operation Rzeszow", having planned the main blow to Rzeszow province, where the forces of the UPA were the most powerful, and where, apart from this, also operated strong groups of Polish rebels.

The newly created special detachment "Rzeszow" was given the following task:

  1. to actively fight and eliminate groups of UPA in Rzeszow province;
  2. to provide armed cover to the plan of resettlement in Rzeszow area of operations.

It was envisaged that the operation "Rzeszow" will last at least three months. In fact, it lasted seven months, to 31 October, 1946. By the beginning of the operation the UPA forces had been estimated at 18-25 units, numbering 60-120 rebels each. Besides, in the area at the same time were about ten individual units of Polish rebels.

The High Commandment of the Polish Army had relocated four "operational groups" of up to 200 people each. They were supported by a light artillery regiment. In the province had been also acting subunits of troops of Internal Security, Border Guards and Police. Unlike previous operations, coordination of actions of Security Services and Army units was very well established.

Simultaneously with the operation in Rzeszow province, the Army and Security Forces conducted offensive operations against the units of UPA and Polish underground in other Eastern provinces. The troops, already having had an experience in conducting combat operations against insurgents, made intense artillery shelling of villages and carried out repeated military operations. The consequences were not long in coming:

  1. UPA units had to be in constant motion. They kept breaking into small autonomous subunits and were virtually cut off from the local population;
  2. increased losses in the ranks of the guerrillas;
  3. Government forces had been destroying camping areas and bunkers;
  4. recruitment in villages and resupplying was becoming more dangerous;
  5. getting intelligence information kept becoming more difficult due to the fact that peasants, being under pressure of government Security Forces, were reluctant to cooperate with insurgents.

Some insurgency units crossed the border into the Soviet Union (hiding in Western Ukraine or joining the UPA units there) or Czechoslovakia, temporarily avoiding clashes with Polish Security Forces.

The Main Headquarters of the UPA of Zakerzonia faced the necessity to radically change the tactics of warfare. A decision was taken to go underground: each unit or subunit had to equip a bunker for its fighters, to create a stock of food and to establish command posts. This period of the UPA’s activity (from the second half of 1946 on) is known as the “bunker period”. One of the veterans of operations against insurgents of the period, the Regimental Commander of the Polish Army pays tribute to the UPA for the development and successful use during certain time of the new guerrilla tactics "unknown in a guerrilla war before: everything was hidden literally underground, in bunkers— people, horses, hospitals, food supplies, weapons arsenals. "

The decision of the UPA Main Headquarters to go underground, under the ground, was a milestone of the insurgency of the UPA, which meant the loss of freedom of movement and rural bases of supply, difficulties with communication and getting intelligence, enhanced demands to security measures within the insurgency forces and elements of their infrastructure. Also more frequently had been used coercion in relation to the civilian population.

Going underground required time, effort and human resources needed for equipping bunkers, taking security measures and creation of reserves. Also, this decision meant that the transition from the stage of the offensive conduct of the insurgency to the defensive stage.

The resettlement of ethnic Ukrainians (mainly deportation to the Soviet Union) continued, in spite of the resistance of the UPA. As a result, gradually but inexorably, rural resources of supporting insurgents with food, intelligence and recruits, was exhausting. From Rzeszow province alone during the operation "Rzeszow" were deported to the Soviet Union 249,781 people (ethnic Ukrainians). Data from other provinces for this period are not available.

Infrastructure elements were eliminated either by Security Forces, or as a result of relocation. At the same time the Polish armed underground, a potential ally of the UPA, suffered heavy losses and lost power, while the prospect of foreign intervention from the West was becoming more and more elusive.

Operation "Rzeszow" ended October 31, 1946, and fighting against the UPA during the following winter had become less intense. But despite all expectations, the UPA Army in Rzeszow province had not been destroyed. The ratio of those killed during the operation "Rzeszow", was about five to one, and it was significantly lower from that at which you can defeat and destroy rebels. But the UPA fighters had to undergo hard tests in the winter of 1946-1947. No longer able to lodge in supportive to them villages, and pursued by the footsteps in the snow, they were forced to go into hiding, almost imprisoning themselves in damp, poorly ventilated and poorly lit bunkers. Physical sufferings and diseases (especially typhus), killing insurgents, were accompanied with psychological stress from severe depression and falling of morale caused by low activity and lack of information.

In these winter months, "the UPA survived the crisis, which became a prelude to its eventual defeat." On the other hand, the Polish Army and Internal Security Services had acquired an extremely valuable experience while conducting combat operations in 1946, and especially after the operation "Rzeszow." This experience was successfully applied during the next crucial stage of the operation against the UPA.

The restructuring of the UPA forces

During the winter period (November 1946 — March 1947gg.) operations against the UPA were the least active. This can be attributed to three main reasons: firstly, the winter conditions limited the counter-insurgency operations (difficulties with movement, patrol and supply, especially in mountainous areas). Secondly, the Polish government agencies seemed to believe in the fact that before the winter 1946 "the backbone of the insurgency" had been broken, and if further struggle against insurgents was needed, then it was in terms of using safety measures within the framework of paramilitary operations that could be effectively carried out by local subunits of Internal Security and regular Police forces. Thirdly, in December 1946 and January 1947, the Temporary Government distracted large forces from operations against insurgents, to use them in densely populated areas (mainly in big cities), obviously in order to guarantee safety of "election commissions" that were preparing regional elections to the Seim (Parliament). In reality, these forces had been used to provide the "victory" at the polls with the help of propaganda campaign, coercion and terror.

In early 1947, units of the UPA, or rather what was left of them, were able to revive and revitalize their strength, while the OUN tried to save and rebuild the infrastructure. They began to recruit from local Ukrainian population, which, having avoided the last deportation was still on the land, restocked and reconstructed areas of their camps. This process was eased by the expiry in December 1946 of the term of the Agreement between Poland and the Soviet Union on Exchange of Population. There was still a lot of Ukrainian population in the region. Forage had become easier, and the flow of intelligence information for the UPA units increased. In its new Directive the Main Headquarters of the UPA of Zakerzonia ordered to begin an offensive against the governmental Security Forces. The entire structure of the UPA in the region had changed. The complex and traditional military organization of previous years had been replaced by an improvisational joining of undermanned groups in hundreds (companies). Hundreds, in turn, became the four kureni (“kurin -“hovel”), (or Special Purpose Battalions of approximately 400-800 men each, while the region was divided into four main areas of operations.

According to the Polish authorities’ estimates, at the beginning of 1947, the total number of people in the four kurins (battalions) of the UPA was about 2,500 insurgents and several thousand people were involved in the civil infrastructure network of the OUN.

In the spring of 1947 the UPA launched a new offensive, arranging ambushes, attacking Police stations, small army subunits and Internal Security troops. The fighting spirit and the power of the offensive of the UPA obviously surprised Polish central authority. But the most shocking was the death of Deputy Defense Minister General Karol Swierczewski, who on the 28th of March 1947 was ambushed by an UPA squad during his on-site inspection of units of the Polish Army, that were carrying out counter-insurgency operations in Rzeszow province.

A few days later, a different squad of the UPA in the same place ambushed and killed a group of 34 Polish border guards. Ambush increased losses of Polish Security Forces. All this together with general revival of the insurgency of the OUN-UPA movements in Zakerzonia, made the Polish Communist authorities “take resolute measures to the final destruction of gangs (!) of the UPA”. The first step was signing in early March of that year, a tripartite agreement between the governments of Poland, the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia on cooperation in the conduct of counter-insurgency operations in border areas. The second major step was to conduct the operation "Wisla."

Operation "Wisla"

Operation "Wisla"
Operation "Wisla"
http://lemky.lviv.ua

In other parts of the country Polish Communists won the elections to the Seim on the 19th of January, 1947, and were taking steps for isolating and liquidating the Polish legal political opposition. At the same time, the Polish armed underground was defeated. It was decimated by members of the underground (in particular, of the Armia Krayova) being happy with the second Warsaw government’s Decree on Amnesty (February 22, 1947). Thus, having neutralized the Polish political and military opposition, the Government Security Forces were able to concentrate on Ukrainian insurgents.

Against the background of the above-mentioned, the Polish Communist Government in April 1947 started against the forces of the OUN-UPA a powerful operation, codenamed “Operation “Wisla”. Compared with all previous operations conducted by the military and security services of Communist Poland, it was a carefully planned, well-executed and coordinated by the center.

Special Purpose Detachments "Wisla" got a double task:

  1. to eliminate the remnants of Ukrainian insurgency forces in the South- East Poland (Zakerzonia).
  2. to support and ensure the safety of the Agency for resettlement in its actions on deportation of the whole Ukrainian population from this region.

In parallel with the operation "Wisla" pro-Communist Czechoslovak Armed Forces began the Operation “Teplice” along the Polish-Czechoslovak border in order to prevent the passage of troops of the UPA to the territory of Czechoslovakia. Soviet troops of Internal Security (NKVD) also blocked the Polish-Soviet border.

Lemkivshchyna, 1947 - Ukrainian insurgents  being escorted by Polish soldiers
Lemkivshchyna, 1947 - Ukrainian insurgents  being escorted by Polish soldiers
http://lemky.lviv.ua/

The region covered by the Operation “Wisla”, was divided into two main areas of operations: the “S” zone (with Headquarters in Syanok) and the "R" zone (with Headquarters in Rzeszow, where there was also the Main Headquarters of special purpose detachments "Wisla"). Security Forces had been divided into 12 Regimental Operational Groups consisting of subunits of 13 Army Divisions.

Each of the division's subunits had its own task (different, depending on the region), which in general can be formulated as follows:

  • to eliminate (specially formed) UPA units operating in the area of responsibility of the Division;
  • to completely deport Ukrainian population from the area of ‚Äč‚Äčoperations of the Division;
  • to close international borders in the area;
  • to coordinate operations with neighboring subunits.

The total number of Special Purpose Detachments "Wisla" reached 17.440 officers and soldiers. In the North-East of the country were acting other units that had not been included in Detachments until the final phase of the Operation “Wisla”. Thus, the government troops dominated by 7 to 1 over the army of the UPA, which numbered at that time about 2,500 armed insurgents and as many members of the infrastructure and supporting links (actually, due to the not regular nature of the uprising, the real number of men in UPA units and infrastructure has never been known exactly).

At the beginning of the operation "Wisla" UPA forces consisted of four “kurins” (battalions), numbering from 300 to 600 men each, while each “kurin” consisted of hundreds (60-120 people each). Given that the Special Purpose Detachments had been carrying out the operation stage by stage, in sequence, zone by zone, the dominance of the government Security Forces over the forces of the UPA in this area was much more significant, than seven to one.

To be continued