Szare Szeregi: Wikis


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Postmen during the Warsaw Uprising.
A Kotwica painted on one of Warsaw's monuments by the Szare Szeregi.

Grey Ranks (Polish: Szare Szeregi) was a codename for the underground Polish Scouting Association (Związek Harcerstwa Polskiego) during World War II. The organisation was created on September 27, 1939, actively resisted and fought German occupation until January 18, 1945 in Warsaw and largely contributed to all resistance actions of the Polish Underground State and some of its members (Grupy Szturmowe) were among the best trained troops of the Home Army. Among groups belonging to the Grey Ranks, there were the White Couriers, who between late fall of 1939 and mid-1940 helped to smuggle numerous persons from Soviet-occupied southeastern Poland to Hungary.

Though formally independent, the Szare Szeregi cooperated closely with the Government Delegation for Poland and the Headquarters of the Home Army. The Grey Ranks were headed by their own headquarters, the Naczelnictwo, manned by 5 or 6 members.


Code name

The code name Szare Szeregi was not adopted until 1940. Initially it was used by the underground scouting in Poznań. The name was coined after one of the early actions of the ZHP, in which the Boy Scouts distributed large amounts of propaganda leaflets among the German settlers from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, settled in the homes of Poles expelled to the General Government. For greater confusion, the leaflets were signed with the acronym SS, which was later expanded to Szare Szeregi and adopted by the whole organization.


The Szare Szeregi followed the prewar principles of the ZHP: service to the people and country, and education and improvement of their skills. In addition to the prewar oath, the following line was added:

"I pledge to you that I shall serve with the Szare Szeregi, safeguard the secrets of the organization, obey orders, and not hesitate to sacrifice my life."

In addition to the Scouting moral code, the Szare Szeregi also followed a basic three-step path of actions. The program was nick-named "Dziś - jutro - pojutrze" (Today - tomorrow - the day after):

  • Today - struggle for the independence of Poland
  • Tomorrow - preparations for the all-national uprising and liberation of Poland
  • The Day After - preparations for reconstruction of Poland after the war


The structure of the Szare Szeregi was based on the prewar structure of the ZHP, modified to suit the new circumstances of occupation and persecution. The basic unit of ZHP was a drużyna (troop), consisting of approximately 20 boys or girls. Each drużyna is formed by several groups named zastęp consisting of 7 people. Several troops from a specified area (borough, village, town) form a hufiec (district) which in turn is a part of one of the regions called chorągiew (literally banner, flag or standart). During World War II each of the units was referred to by its own code-name:

  • chorągiew (banner) - ul (beehive)
  • hufiec (district) - rój (hive)
  • drużyna (troop) - rodzina (family)
  • zastęp (squad) - pszczoły (bees)

The Commander's office and the Headquarters of the Szare Szeregi were code-named Pasieka (apiary). The Commanders of the Szare Szeregi were:

At the greatest extent of its strength, the Headquarters commanded 20 banners. To control the movement, the area of pre-war Poland was divided onto departments, each supervising several banners in which the ZHP operated in similar circumstances.

An additional banner was formed in the General Government and commanded all the scouts from Greater Poland expelled from their homes by the Germans (ul "Chrobry" - beehive Chrobry).

An additional banner was formed for all the scouts expelled from their homes to the General Gouvernment (ul "Złoty" - beehive Golden).

  • Central Poland Department (Wydział Polski Centralnej, C)

The communication between the departments and beehives was commanded by inspectors, subordinate to the Headquarters: Eugeniusz Stasiecki, Edward Zurn and Kazimierz Grenda.

Internal structure

On May 1, 1944, the Szare Szeregi had 8 359 members. Initially only the elder scouts (Senior Scouts, Senior Guides, Rovers and Rangers) 17 and up were admitted. However, soon the number of younger children admitted grew and in 1942 the new structure was adopted, based mostly on the pre-war structure of the ZHP.


Zawisza—ages 12–14

Monument to Little Insurgent, Warsaw

The troops organised for children between 12 and 14 years of age were code-named after Zawisza Czarny, a famous Polish mediæval knight and diplomat. The troops did not take part in active resistance. Instead, the children were prepared for auxiliary service for the upcoming all-national uprising and taught in secret schools for their future duties in liberated Poland. Among the best-known auxiliary troops formed by the Zawiszacy was the Scouting Postal Service organised during the Warsaw Uprising.

Bojowe Szkoły—ages 15–17

The Bojowe Szkoły (Battle Schools, BS) were troops formed by youngsters of 15 to 17 years of age. They took part in various actions of the so-called small sabotage. Such actions included a variety of propaganda actions, aimed both at the Poles, the German civilians and the German military units alike. Among the best-known actions of the BS groups are:

  • Wawer-Palmiry Action - major propaganda campaign, which included painting patriotic and anti-German slogans on the walls (see also kotwica), distribution of leaflets, posters and stickers, as well as fake issues of supposedly German newspapers, intercepting German propaganda megaphones and using them for spreading Polish propaganda, destroying German flags and other symbols, disrupting German events by setting off fire alarms, and, last but not least, gassing the German-held cinemas with stink bombs. Probably the best-known of such actions was the stealing of a German language tablet attached to the monument to Nicolaus Copernicus in Warsaw.
  • "N" Action - distribution of propaganda newspapers and leaflets among the German soldiers stationed in Poland.
  • "WISS" Action (short for Wywiad - Informacja Szarych Szeregów - Intelligence and Information of the Szare Szeregi), an action on behalf of the Home Army intelligence, in which the BS groups carried out surveillance of German troops and their movement. The information gathered was then passed on to the Allies. Thanks to that action, the Allies were provided with a complete list of German units, their markings and approximate composition, including units down to battalion size.
Girl-guide postmen during Warsaw Uprising

Other famous actions included marking the street lamps with the signs Nur für Deutsche ("Only for Germans"), to demonstrate that those who hang people will themselves be hanged. Other such action happened after the German authorities started to destroy most monuments to Polish national heroes and historical personalities. Among them was the monument to Jan Kiliński, a leader of an 18th century uprising in Warsaw against the Russians during the Kościuszko Uprising. His monument was dismantled and placed in the cellars of the former National Museum in Warsaw, waiting to be delivered to one of German steel mills. The scouts were notified of the place where the monument was hidden and overnight marked the walls of the former museum with giant marking People of Warsaw! I'm here. Kiliński.

As part of their secret training, the boys and girls of the BS were prepared for service in the Home Army on lower posts, as members of the commanders' troops, communication units and reconnaissance units. During the Warsaw Uprising the BS units in the borough of Śródmieście formed a separate company, while in other boroughs they formed separate platoons.

Grupy Szturmowe

GS soldiers during Warsaw Uprising
Young soldier

The Grupy Szturmowe (Assault Groups, GS) were composed of youngsters of ages 17 and up, and were directly subordinate to the KeDyw (Directorate of Diversion) of the Home Army. The GS groups were trained in secret NCO schools and officer schools for the commanders of motorised and engineering units. Most GS members were also studying at the Secret Universities, to gain experience necessary to reconstruct Poland after the war. Among the best-known such NCO schools was Warsaw-based Agricola.

The GS groups took part in the so-called major sabotage, which included armed struggle against the occupants. The GS groups formed the backbone of the special troops of the Home Army, which carried out various missions. These included liberating prisoners from German prisons and transports, using explosives on railroad bridges, carrying out executions ordered by the Special Courts and open fighting against German forces.

The GS units in Warsaw were organised into several battalions, among them the famous battalions "Baszta", "Zośka", "Parasol" and "Wigry", that later took part in the Warsaw Uprising and were one of the most notable and successful units on the Polish side. Other units (mainly in the Radom-Kielce area) were joined with the partisan units operating in the forests of the Świętokrzyskie Mountains. [1]

Famous Grupy Szturmowe operations

Rescued Gęsiówka inmates and the GS soldiers from "Zośka" battalion after the liberation of the camp

See also


External links


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