During the night of September 26, 1939--a day before the surrender of Warsaw--General Michał Karaszewicz-Tokarzewski received an order from the Commander-in-Chief of the Polish army (at the time interned in Romania) to create an underground home army.
At first, the underground movement was called Służba Zwycięstwu Polski (SZP – Polish Victory Service); later it was renamed to Związek Walki Zbrojnej (ZWZ - Union for Armed Struggle); but beginning in February 1942, it received the name by which it would be forever since known– Armia Krajowa (AK – Home Army). Althought General Michał Karaszewicz-Tokarzewski was the creator of precursor organization to the AK, the creator of the Home Army was Gen. Stefan Rowecki (also known as “Grot”) who at first its chief of staff, but became, from June 1940 to June 1943, its Commanding Officer. After Rowecki was seized by the Gestapo, his post was taken over by Gen. Tadeusz Komorowski (aka Bór). The Home Army, being a voluntary force, was, at the same time, both part of Polskie Siły Zbrojne (PSZ – or PAF – Polish Armed Forces), its high command located in exile, and the most important element of the Polish Underground State. The main goal of the AK was the preparation and conduct of a national uprising in case of advancing frontlines or a general collapse of the German armed forces. Command structures such as staff, the high ommand of arms, services; territorial commands (regional, and on lower level, district commands), were created to carry out those tasks. Weapons were collected, officers and soldiers trained, and information about enemy gathered. However, because of the atrocious nature of the German occupation, and the resultant public feelings and attitudes, it was necessary to undertake active, daily struggle. Therefore the AK activities consisted of two strictly connected to each other parts: the daily conspiratorial struggle, and the national uprising (during which the Home Army was supposed to recreate the full structure of armed forces).
Parallel to the official army there emerged military units of political parties, conspiracies based upon social organizations (e.g. upon the Fire Brigades emerged Skała, or “the Rock”) and youth associations (e.g. Szare Szeregi, or “the Grey Ranks”, based upon the Związek Harcerstwa Polskiego, or the “Polish Scouting Association”). They emerged thanks to the sabotage groups prepared by the General Staff before the war’s outbreak. One of the tasks of the AK Commanding Officer was uniting them into one force. This took quite a lot of time. Eventually, only a part of radical nationalists (NSZ – Narodowe Siły Zbrojne – National Armed Forces) and, emerging up from the summer 1942 – military units of communist party remained out of the AK structures. In the spring of 1944, when the process of unification was ended, the Home Army numbered more than 300 000 sworn soldiers.
Apart from the staff and territorial structures there existed special units dealing among others with subversion and sabotage. In April 1940 the Związek Odwetu emerged (ZO - Retaliation Union), later transformed into the Kierownictwo Dywersji (Kedyw – Subversion Command) which acted on central level and in each region. In September 1941, because of the change in the Polish-Soviet relations the organization “Wachlarz” (or the “Fan”) was created. It dealt with intelligence and sabotage closely behind the German-Soviet frontlines. From January 1, 1941 to June 30, 1944 within the frames of daily struggle the AK and subordinate units ditched 732 trains, set fire to 443 transports, destroyed about 4300 vehicles, burnt 130 magazines of weapons and equipments, damaged 19 000 train carriages and 6900 engines, set fire to 1200 gasoline tanks, blew up 40 railway bridges, destroyed 5 oil shafts, froze 3 blast-furnaces, conducted about 25 000 sabotage acts in war factories, 5700 attempts on officers of different police formations, soldiers and volksdeutschs (Polish citizens of German origin that volunteered to quisle with Germans), set free prisoners of 16 prisons. The partisan troops – active from 1943 – fought more than 170 combats, killing more than 1000 Germans. At the beginning of 1944 there were about 60 active AK partisan troops (some numbered up to a few hundred soldiers) and about 200 sabotage squads. The AK organized a few conspiratorial groups in some of the concentration camp (e.g. in Auschwitz) and among Poles sent to Germany for slave work. The runaway allied prisoners of war were also helped. A contact by radio and couriers with the Polish government in exile and the Commander-in-Chief staff was also maintained. There functioned permanent transfer bases (the most important one in Budapest) and courier routes (e.g. to Sweden). Since February 1942 began to arrive the trained in England Polish sabotage and intelligence officers (the so called “cichociemni” – literally the “silent and dark ones”). In total 316 of them were parachuted in Poland. There also was a subversion propaganda action going on, addressed to German soldiers (the so called Action “N”). The AK conducted some large publishing activities: there were about 250 newspapers edited, including the largest resistance title – “Biuletyn Informacyjny” (Information Bulletin), which was published from November 5, 1939 up to January 1945. Besides the “Biuletyn” there were also issued military books of rules, handbooks and manuals for the cadets of the underground military schools (some 8600 soldiers graduated from them). As it can be seen, there were many various activities going on. Their own contribution to fight against the occupation regime paid the Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa (ŻOB – Jewish Fighting Organization) and the supported directly by the AK Żydowski Związek Wojskowy (ŻZW – Jewish Military Union) – mainly in the form of the heroic and desperate Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (April 19 – May 16, 1943).
To the most spectacular actions of the Home Army belong: paralyzing the railway junction in Warsaw (night from October 7 to 8, 1942), recapturing the prisoners in Pińsk (January 18, 1943), bomb assault in a city railway station in Berlin (February 15, 1943), recapturing the prisoners in downtown Warsaw (the so-called Arsenal action, March 26, 1943), assassination of Franz Kutschera, the SS and Police Commander for the District of Warsaw (February 1, 1994).
It is estimated that until July, 1944 about 34 thousand soldiers of the Home Army and subordinate units were killed– some in combat but mostly they were executed or tortured to death in prisons – more or less 10% of the ranks. Among the “cichociemni” the losses added up to 1/3 of the ranks.