Zygmunt Berling

Zygmunt Berling

Zygmunt Henryk Berling (27 April 1896 - 11 July 1980), Polish general and politician, best known as the commander of the 1st Polish Army during the Second World War.


Early life

Born in Limanowa on 27 April 1896, Berling joined the Polish Legions of Józef Piłsudski in 1914, serving in the 2nd and 4th Legions Infantry Regiment ("Pułk Piechoty Legionów"). Between the "oath crisis" ("kryzys przysięgowy") of June 1917 and October 1918 he served in the Austro-Hungarian Army. At the end of the First World War he joined the reborn Polish Army, becoming the commander of an infantry company in the 4th Infantry Regiment. During the Polish-Bolshevik War he gained fame as an able commander during the defense of Lwów, and received the Virtuti Militari medal for his leadership.

After the war he remained in the military and in 1923 he was promoted to major, first serving on the staff post in the command of 15th Infantry Division of V District Corps Command in Kraków. In 1930 he was promoted to Lt. Colonel and started his service as a commanding officer, first in the 6th Infantry Regiment and then in the 4th Infantry Regiment. Berling initially retired from active duty in June of 1939 because of his ethic problems.

econd World War

Berling did not participate in the Invasion of Poland against the German Wehrmacht in 1939. After his home city of Wilno was occupied by the Soviet Union under the terms dictated by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Berling, along with many other Polish officers, was arrested by the Soviet Union' secret police, the NKVD. Berling remained in prison until 1940, first in Starobielsk and later Moscow, but since he agreed to cooperate with the Soviets, he avoided the fate of many Polish officers murdered by the Soviets in the Katyn Massacre.

After the Sikorski-Maisky Pact of 17 August 1941 Berling was released from prison and nominated to be the Chief of Staff of the recreated 5th Infantry Division, and later the commander of the temporary camp for Polish soldiers in Krasnowodsk. The growing tensions between the Polish government in exile of Władysław Sikorski in London and Joseph Stalin, eventually led to many of the Polish soldiers and over 20,000 Polish civilians in Soviet territory under General Władysław Anders leaving the Soviet Union and forming the 2nd Polish Corps in the Middle East, under British command. Eventually, the relations between the Polish government in exile and the Soviet Union were broken off after Germans publicized the findings on the Katyn Massacre.

At this point a puppet organisation for helping Poles in East (Związek Patriotów Polskich) and such puppet army was formed in the Soviet Union. Berling was nominated to be the commander of the new Polish Armed Forces in the East formation, the Polish People's Army ("Wojsko Ludowe") first unit, the 1 Dywizja Piechoty im. Tadeusza Kościuszki and promoted to general by Stalin himself. He became the deputy commander of the "Wojsko Ludowe" on July 22, 1944.

On August 1, 1944, the (underground) Polish Home Army Armia Krajowa, being in contact with and loyal to the only legal Polish London government in exile, began the 63-day long Warsaw Uprising, in an attempt to free the city from the occupying German forces before the Red Army could secure the capital. With his own army stopped on the Vistula river and facing Warsaw itself, and without first consulting his Soviet superiors, Berling issued orders to engage the German enemy and to come to the aid of the Polish resistance. But it was just a small landing without any tactical support from Berling or other Soviet units that could not do any real difference in the situation of Warsaw. Yet this behaviour may have caused Berlings' soon Fact|date=March 2007 dismissal from his post. He was transferred to the War Academy in Moscow, where he remained until returning to Poland in 1947. By then, Poland had become the Soviet puppet state of the People's Republic of Poland). In this new regime, Berling organized and directed the Academy of General Staff ("Akademia Sztabu Generalnego"). He retired in 1953.

Later life

Between 1953 and 1956 he was the Undersecretary of State in the Ministry of National Agriculture Industries ("Ministerstwo Państwowych Gospodarstw Rolnych"), between 1956 and 1957 he was the Undersecretary of State in the Ministry of Agriculture ("Ministerstwo Rolnictwa") and from 1957 to 1970 he was the General Inspector of Hunting ("Inspektor Generalny Łowiectwa") in the Ministry of Forestry ("Ministerstwo Leśnictwa"). In 1963 he joined the Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR, "Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza").

Berling is sometimes treated sympathetically by modern Polish conservatives, because of his conflicts with Polish Communists.

See also

* Polish contribution to World War II

External links

* [http://www.archiwum.uj.edu.pl/stalinizm/berling.htm Short bio and photo of pre-war Jagiellonian University ID]
* [http://www.ipn.gov.pl/portal.php?serwis=pl&dzial=398&id=4905&search=81883 Biography at the Institute of National Remembrance]

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