in the autumn of 1939 Poland was subjected to German and Soviet
occupation Poles resorted to clandestine work not only in the
realms of politics and military affairs but also in all other
matters concerning their nation and state. Every effort was made
to keep the nation’s spirit alive.
the first nationwide organisations to go underground was the
Polish Scouting Union (Związek Harcerstwa Polskiego – ZHP),
which in February 1940 assumed the cryptonym ‘Grey Ranks’ (Szare
Szeregi). The ZHP headquarters was now called the ‘Apiary’ (Pasieka)
and the whole country was divided into 20 ‘hives’ (ule),
i.e. the 20 pre-war standards, each of which was further
subdivided into ‘swarms’ (roje), meaning pre-war scout
troops. Finally there were the ‘families’ (rodziny) –
the occupation the Grey Ranks had two leaders: Fr. Lt. Col. Jan
Mauesrsberger (1939-1942) and Piotr Kupczyński (1942-1945). The
wartime leaders of the Scouts’ Organisation (Organizacja
Harcerzy) were Florian Marciniak (1939-1943), Stanisław
Broniewski (1943-1944) and Leon Marszałek (1944-1945). Like all
of the ZHP, the Scouts’ Organisation’s cryptonym was Grey Ranks.
mission of Grey Ranks was to educate young people through
participation in the ongoing struggle. In carrying out this
mission, the Grey Ranks became one of the elements of the Polish
scouts’ programme, entitled ‘Today – Tomorrow – The Day After
Tomorrow’ stressed participating in the struggle on frontline.
‘The fundamental idea was for every scout to take part in the
clandestine struggle (Today), whilst simultaneously preparing
for open struggle when the time came to rise (Tomorrow) and for
work in an eventually free Poland (The Day After Tomorrow),
living life to the full in all three stages.’
October 1942 the Scouts’ Organisation was divided into three age
Grey Ranks ran the Polish Home Army’s Officer Cadets’ School
code-named ‘Agricola’ (Agrykola).
of Grey Ranks activities:
sabotage – included regularly painting resistance signs on
walls: ‘Anchors’ (the symbol of Fighting Poland), ‘tortoises’
(the sign to work slowly) and ‘Vs’ (for victory) as well as the
slogans ‘Poland lives’ and ‘Pawiak shall be avenged’. German
flags were pulled down and Polish ones raised. The windows of
photographers’ shops displaying pictures of Germans were
smashed, the German plaques beneath the Warsaw statue of
Copernicus were removed and fake magazine supplements were
distributed. Similar actions were carried out in the whole
Intelligence Service – known as WISS (Grey Ranks
Intelligence and Information – Wywiad, Informacja Szarych
Szeregów), gathered and reported information about the
location and movement of German military units within occupied
Poland. Among other things, it provided the first information
about the research centre at Peenemünde as well as about various
German air force and navy equipment. It also monitored traffic
on the highways and railway junctions.
‘N’ – involved the distribution of literature aimed at
demoralising the German occupant and their families. The
standards received ready prepared Action ‘N’ materials, which
they then put into circulation in their particular zones. The
magazines were slipped into coat pockets in places such as the
cloakrooms of German cafes and tossed into train carriages or
the German sections of tramcars.
Struggle – was conducted by Storm Groups acting ‘under the
direct command of assigned AK commanders or participating in
other AK detachments.’ Their operations included: attacks on
trains and the rescuing of prisoners, for example, in Biała
Podlaska, Pruszków and Warsaw; the production of firearms and
explosive materials; ‘Bridge’ protection III; assassinations of
‘particularly burdensome functionaries of the occupying forces’,
including the Warsaw Gestapo chief Gen. Kutschera as well as
participation in the liberation of ‘Republic of Pinczów’
territories. Their contributions during the Warsaw Rising form a
Action outside the Arsenal – became legendary as the Grey
Ranks’ first major operation. It took place on 23rd
March 1943 in Warsaw on the junction of Bielańska and Długa
Street. The objective was to free troop leader Jan Bytnar alias
‘Rudy’ (Ginger). Taking part were 28 scouts led by Warsaw
Standard Commander Stanisław Broniewski. The successfully
conducted operation led to the release of Ginger and 24 other
prisoners, including another Storm Group troop leader, Henryk
Ostrowski. It was an attack on the prison van that was taking
the inmates from Pawiak Prison to Szucha Avenue (where the
Gestapo were based). The initiator and one of the participants
of the operation was Tadeusz Zawadzki alias ‘Zośka’
(Sophie). Ginger unfortunately died four days later on account
of injuries sustained due to German maltreatment.
Ostrabrama (the liberation of Wilno) – from 6th
to 13th July 1944 a platoon of Lt. ‘Turbacz’s’ Storm
Group took part in the fighting to liberate Wilno.
Rising – Participating in the fighting were two scouts’
battalions, ‘Zośka’ (Sophie) and ‘Parasol’ (Umbrella), as well
as several Storm Groups and Fighting Schools. The Grey Ranks
teaching staff fought in the ‘Wigry’ Battalion, while the
youngsters of Zawisza served as runners, go-betweens and as the
renowned post boys of the ‘Scouts’ Field Postal Service’. Polish
girl guides contributed as field nurses, messengers and in
social auxiliary services that were a part of every
insurrectionary detachment. The losses were great. Three hundred
scouts, including 48 instructors, of the Zośka Battalion
Polish Girl Guide organisation first used the cryptonym ‘Clover
Union’ (1940-1943) and then ‘Be Prepared’. Throughout the
occupation the Polish Girl Guide Leader was Maria Krynicka. The
work of the girl guides involved ‘either training for or
actually carrying out; Samaritan services, liaising services,
domestic duties such as the running of army canteens, secret
classes… for children, care of POWs and other prisoners, help
for Jews and generally prepared themselves work in the future
Recovered Lands.’ At 18, girl guides entered the AK Women’s
Military Service (Wojskowa Służba Kobiet – WSK). Service
for the children concerned their upbringing in order to save the
nation from biological extinction. During the occupation the
girl guides provided lodgings for homeless children, organised
rescue operations to save the children of Zamojszczna
(the Zamość region) and also ran nurseries and summer camps.
During the Rising they set up a shelter for abandoned children,
ran nurseries and took up various spontaneous humanitarian
actions. The older guides who were already in WSK served as
messengers, nurses or general helpers. The deputy WSK commander,
Girl Guide Instructress Jadwiga Falkowska, died in the Rising on
7th August 1944.
was noted by the Polish President’s, Władysław Raczkiewicz’s
adjutants, when Emissary ‘Jur’ (Jerzy Lerski) submitted his
report on the situation in occupied Poland, he mention ‘the
youth movement…’ and ‘spoke enthusiastically about so-called
Grey troops fulfilling their duties with exceptional courage and
quotes apart from the last are from: Stanisław Broniewski,
Szare Szeregi, London, 1988. The last quote is from J.
Piotrowski’s Dziennik Czynności Prezydent RP Władysława
Raczkiewicza, which is due to be printed.
article on the Grey Ranks is based on Stanisław Broniewski’s
above-mentioned book and was written for AK website on the
initiative of W. Szablewski.
Broniewski, Szare Szeregi, London, 1988.
Kamieński: Kamienie na Szaniec, (many editions).
Kamieński: Wielka Gra, (many editions).
Translation from Polish: W. Zbirohowski-Koscia