You can contact me at rogercdavies(atsquiggle)

This blog has evolved into a review of historical and modern explosive devices, and responses to them. Links are drawn between historical activity and similar activity in the world today. Mostly I focus on what are now called IEDs but I have a loose personal definition of that and wilingly stray into discussions of more traditional munitions, the science and technology behind them, tactical employment and EOD responses. Sometimes it's just about interesting people in one form or another. Comment is welcome and encouraged but I do monitor it and reserve the right to delete inappropriate stuff. Guest posts are always welcome. Avoid any stuff that makes the enemy's job easier for them.


Entries in Poland (2)


The Nazis and Copernicus

One of the nice things about this blog is that I don't have to stick rigourously to its stated subject.  In the previous post I examined some of the explosive devices used by the Polish Resistance in Warsaw.  During that research I came across this story which is simply worth retelling.

The Polish resistance was not without its sense of humour, and the occupying German forces... well lets just say they were German and not renowned for the perspective humour offers.   In the heart of Warsaw stood a large statue of the astronomer Copernicus. Copernicus lived when the Kingdom of Poland was part of Prussia so both the Poles and the Germans had claims to him.  At the base of the monument was a plaque with the inscription " To Copernicus, from his countrymen".  The German authorities, on occupying Warsaw, removed the plaque and replaced it with another that read "To the Great German Astronomer".  The statue was in a square right outside a German police station.

One day a group of workmen, seemingly from the city council, arrived and began to work on the base of the statue, unnoticed. They removed the German plaque. It was actualy a group led by Polish resistance fighter Maciej Aleksy Dawidowski.   It was 10 days before the authorities noticed their plaque had gone missing. The German commander, Governor Fischer was outraged.  This is his picture - he looks pretty much like the proto-typical nazi war criminal that he was doesn't he?

Fischer issued a proclamation below:

A translation is something like this:

"On 11th or 12th February 1942 criminal elements removed the tablet from the Copernicus Monument for political reasons. As a reprisal, I order the removal of the Kilinski monument. At the same time I give full warning that should similar acts be perpetrated I shall order the suspension of all food rations for the Polish population of Warsaw for the term of one week"

Now, Jan Kilinski was another popular historical figure in Warsaw, a shoemaker who led the fight against the Russians in a seige of Warsaw in 1794.  His statue was indeed removed by the Nazis and stored in the vaults of the National Museum.   By the following morning someone had painted in very large letters on the side of the Museum


"People of Warsaw, I am in here! Signed Jan Kilinski"

A week later, all of Fischer's proclamations were over pasted with another announcement, printed in the same style. This proclamation read:

"Recently criminal elements removed the Kilinski monument for political reasons. As a reprisal, I order the prolongation of winter on the Eastern Front front for the term of two months.  

Signed Nicholas Copernicus"

Now as it happend the winter of 1942 was indeed long and hard for the Germans on the Eastern Front.   Fischer was tried for war crimes and hung in 1947. Dawidowski died very bravely in 1943 in an attempt to rescue fellow partisans from jail.




Warsaw IEDs

I’ve been researching the improvised explosives used by the Polish resistance in WW2.  One can’t but help notice some parallels between the Warsaw uprising and the ongoing tragedies in Syria - the devastation of Warsaw looks pretty similar to that being seen in Aleppo and other Syrian cities.  The Nazi destruction of the ghetto is scarily similar to the Assad regime’s destruction of areas of Syrian cities.  Compare the effect of the use of the seige mortar “Thor” (Karl-Gerat) against the Warsaw ghetto with the user of barrel bombs in Aleppo.   
Here's two interesting images - the black and white one shows a Warsaw resistance fighter examing a "blind" Karl-Gerat munition. The colour image below it shows a Syrian resistance fighter with a "blind" barrel bomb. I'm not suggesting the munitions are identical, but in terms of explosive effect they will have been pretty similar, and it's spooky how similar the images are, some 70 years apart.
Consider the similarity of effects:

There are other similarities too - the Polish resistance had a very significant production of ingenious improvised weapons - and some of their techniques appear similar too to those seen in Poland. Look at this image of a spring-loaded Molotov cocktail projector - I’ve seen similar from Syria
The boundaries between improvised weapons and production weapons can get a bit vague here - for example its is thought that tens of thousands of Sidolowka and Filipinka grandes were produced by the resistance.
These improvised grenades had a variety of fills, but most commonly “cheddite”, a chlorate/nitrobenzene mix I have discussed in earlier posts (used by many including Irish revolutionaries circa 1920.) Not much difference in design , of course with the Irish grenades seen here...with the same explosive fill.  All aspects of the grenade including the fuse and the detionators were produced by the Polish resistance. Largely they obtained the potassium chlorate component of the explosive by theft from the Germans.
An improvised Filipinka grenade. The Cyrillic marking is an attempt by the Polish resistance to obfuscate indigenous manufacture
Improvised Sidolowka grenade.
The Polish resistance also made significant use of command wires devices and other IEDs to attack trains and other targets.    Here’s a picture of the explosive unit of the Warsaw resistance on route to attacks the Warsaw telephone exchange on 18th/20th August 1944 with a command wire initiated device.

Hundreds of German military trains were attacked with IEDs too. During one six month period the British SOE assessed that the Polish resistance ahd wrecked 1,268 railway engines and damaged 3,318 carriages. This report describes the operationally sophisticated use of multiple IEDs along a railway line:
An ordinary railway mine, which exploded when the first train passed over it would cause an interruption in traffic for only about four hours. At one time we were anxious to interrupt traffic on the main Warsaw-Malkinia sector of the Eastern front for a minimum period of 10 days. Our experts solved the problem, and the resulting interruption lasted as long as two weeks.  It was done by specially devised mines which could be automatically blown up. A chain of these mines was laid across the tracks. The first, which was placed in the middle of the chain, went off as the first train was passing over it. Two more placed on the tracks on either side of the first when the rescue train arrived from one side or the other. The remaining mines on both sides of the wrecked trains exploded successively when the repair trains arived from both directions. Result: Ten miles of track effectively mined. After ther first train has been blown up four repair and relief trains sent in to deal with it had been effectively destroyed.

Other sophisticated IEDs were also created by the Poles. I have found one report that 18 Luftwaffe aircraft were destoyed by the use of an explosive device in an elongated cylinder which was hidden in the rear of German aircraft and initiated on a reduction of atmospheric pressure once the aircraft reached a certain height.