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The death of Captain Zdzisław Broński, nom de guerre "Uskok" (Pol. Śmierć kapitana „Uskoka”)

The above article has been prepared specifically to commemorate the 59th death anniversary of Captain Zdzisław Broński, nom de guerre ‘Uskok’. The author of this article is Artur Piekarz, a historian of the Lublin branch of the Institute of National Remembrance [Pol. acr. IPN], to whom we are extremely grateful for making the text available to us and for permission to have it published.

The death of Captain ‘Uskok’ – Part 1

Captain Zdzislaw Bronski, nom de guerre ‘Uskok’ was one of the most active and one of the least compromising commandants of the anti-communist partisan units in the province of Lublin. During 1944-47 his military unit carried out several famous missions against the Communist Regime, undoubtedly becoming the most dangerous opponent to the ‘New People's Power’ enthusiasts within the borders of the districts of Lubartow and Lublin.

The role of Bronski as a leader grew immensely after 1947. The amnesty announced by the communists brought about a lot of damage to the ‘resistance structures’ of the province of Lublin and in general, caused the efflux of soldiers from partisan units. However, ‘Uskok’ was one of those military leaders who was firmly against coming out of hiding. His views were widely shared by his soldiers and so out of his 40-men squad only 5 decided to take advantage of the "privilege".

A group of soldiers from the ‘Uskok’ unit during mobilisation gathering in the forests of Kozlow (stary Tartak), July 1944. Standing in the first row: fourth from the left – Second Lieutenant Zdzislaw Bronski, nom de guerre ‘Uskok’, fifth from the left – Sergeant Kocyla, nom de guerre ‘Jastrzab’ [Eng.tr.Hawk], sixth from the left – Zygmunt Libera, nom de guerre ‘Babinicz’; sitting: first from the right – Jan Mendel, nom de guerre ‘Czarny’ [Eng.tr.Black].  
Left: A group of soldiers from the ‘Uskok’ unit during mobilisation gathering in the forests of Kozlow (stary Tartak), July 1944. Standing in the first row: fourth from the left – Second Lieutenant Zdzislaw Bronski, nom de guerre ‘Uskok’, fifth from the left – Sergeant Kocyla, nom de guerre ‘Jastrzab’ [Eng.tr.Hawk], sixth from the left – Zygmunt Libera, nom de guerre ‘Babinicz’; sitting: first from the right – Jan Mendel, nom de guerre ‘Czarny’ [Eng.tr.Black].

Following the order of the Freedom and Independence [Pol.acr. WiN] District Headquarters for the city of Lublin of 12th September 1947, Captain Zdzislaw Bronski, nom de guerre ‘Uskok’ was appointed Commandant of the partisan units spanning the region of the former Lublin Inspectorate. In the absence of the Inspector, the order was sent to ‘Uskok’ by Major Hieronim Dekutowski, nom de guerre ‘Zapora’ [Eng. tr. "Firewall"], up till then Commandant of the partisan units in the Inspectorate Region. In addition to determining subordination of the armed troops, the guidelines from the District Headquarters would also regulate the terms of practical leading of the units in the field. The area of the former inspectorate was divided into two parts: the command of the combat groups based in the north of the city of Lublin became directly ‘Uskok’s responsibility; whereas Second Lieutenant / Lieutenant Mieczyslaw Pruszkiewicz, nom de guerre ‘Kedziorek’ [Eng. tr. "Lock of Hair"] up to then the leader of the few remaining soldiers from the unit of ‘Renek’ (Jan Szalilow) would take over the combat groups based in the south of the city. The order also specified that the District Headquarters were clear as to what task would face the new commander. ‘Uskok’ was to prohibit any offensive actions in the region of his authority and thus he was limited only to self – defence. This was understandable as after the Amnesty and the spring/summer Ministry [of Public Security] formations’ attacks in the armed forces operating in the province of Lublin (patrolling squads which suffered in particular were: ‘Strzala’ [Eng. tr. "Arrow"] and ‘Wiktor’ reporting directly to ‘Uskok’), the headcount of groups reporting to Major ‘Zapora’ decreased to only a few dozen men and so at that stage there was absolutely no point even considering any large-scale, offensive missions.

In these new, post-April 1947 conditions, the few still remaining in hiding partisans in principle had but two choices: to remain in hiding and await the outbreak of a new conflict, or try to get to the West. Major ‘Zapora’ was one of those who decided to use the latter option and it was his plan to try and, in a few rounds, get the most compromised soldiers from the old unit across the Western border as well. However, the vast majority of those ‘Irreconcilables’ decided to remain in place.

When it comes to Bronski, this decision was taken probably a few months earlier. The evidence of this could be certain steps taken by him involving change the style of commanding of his own unit. First of all, he decided to choose permanent quarters for himself and his staff, and consequently gave up the direct command of the armed groups in the field. He then divided the unit into three patrolling squads, led by: Second Lieutenant Stanislaw Kuchcewicz, nom de guerre ‘Wiktor’; Sergeant Major Walenty Waskowicz, nom de guerre ‘Strzala’ [Eng. tr. "Arrow"]; Sergeant Jozef Franczak, nom de guerre ‘Lalek’/’Lalus’. These groups, usually consisting of no more than a few men would operate in the south-eastern part of the province of Lubartow, north-eastern part of the province of Lublin and the western part of the province of Wlodawa, Chelm and Krasnystaw. Every now and then Bronski would arrange organisational meetings with the leaders of those squads (contact was often limited due to the continued presence of several secret police formations in the area). Such leadership style meant that commanders subordinated to him had a lot of freedom in conducting the partisan warfare.

A group of soldiers from the ‘Uskok’ unit during mobilisation gathering in the forests of Kozlow (stary Tartak), July 1944. Standing in the first row: fourth from the left – Second Lieutenant Zdzislaw Bronski, nom de guerre ‘Uskok’, fifth from the left – Sergeant Kocyla, nom de guerre ‘Jastrzab’ [Eng.tr.Hawk], sixth from the left – Zygmunt Libera, nom de guerre ‘Babinicz’; sitting: first from the right – Jan Mendel, nom de guerre ‘Czarny’ [Eng.tr.Black].  
Left: : Zdzislaw Bronski, nom de guerre ‘Uskok’ (left), Stanislaw Kuchcewicz, nom de guerre ‘Wiktor’ (right).

Either still in autumn 1946 or no later than early spring 1947 ‘Uskok’ with ‘Wiktor’ and the chief of his unit Second Lieutenant Zygmunt Libera, nom de guerre ‘Babinicz’, started building an underground bunker in a barn belonging to Wiktor and Mieczyslaw Lisowski in the village of Dabrowka, near Leczna. From now on this was going to be Bronski’s main quarters. The choice of location was not accidental. The farm was located remotely, off the beaten track, situated on the hilly slope full of trees and shrubs. There were probably around 100 metres to the nearest buildings. At the foot of the hill, stretched a vast valley of the river ‘Wieprz’ which could be accessed through the nearby ravine. Such a location would make it difficult to be watched from the outside and at the same time it gave a real chance of escape in case of a raid. However, the main factor which sealed the choice of the location of the bunker was the fact that the owners – Wiktor and Katarzyna Lisowscy and their son Mieczyslaw (nom de guerre ‘Zagiel’ [Eng. tr. "Sail"]) – were old and trusted colleagues and their farm had already served as the hiding place for the soldiers of ‘Uskok’.

Having arrested Major ‘Zapora’ (16th September 1947), the WUBP in Lublin commenced the mission of breaking down the armed units still remaining in hiding. In the first instance action has been taken to eradicate ‘Zapora’s successor.

Bronski was considered a much more dangerous leader than other ‘Irreconcilables’ as, having a massive experience of resistance and combat going back to 1939, he was enjoying the widespread respect and support of the vast majority of rural inhabitants of the provinces of Lublin and Lubartow. His authority and charisma were also acknowledged by the leaders of other partisan units, including cooperating with him Edward Taraszkiewicz, nom de guerre ‘Zelazny [Eng. tr. "Iron Man"] and Jozef Strug, nom de guerre ‘Ordon’.

Actions taken by officers of the WUBP in Lublin and the PUBP in Lubartow did not however bring the expected results for nearly two years. Although the losses to the groups directly reporting to ‘Uskok’ were quite severe, Bronski himself remained elusive until spring 1949. The grand finale of the long-term battle between the UB and ‘Uskok’ took place only on 19-21st May 1949. It was as a result of getting one of the former soldier of ‘Uskok’ – Franciszek Kasperek, ps. ‘Hardy’ [Eng. tr. "Arrogant"] who revealed himself in 1947, to cooperate with the Ministry [of Public Security]. The methodical cooperation with the informant ‘Janek’ – because this was the pseudonym he was given by the UB – resulted in the ultimate detection of the hideout of ‘Uskok’.

A group of soldiers from the ‘Uskok’ unit during mobilisation gathering in the forests of Kozlow (stary Tartak), July 1944. Standing in the first row: fourth from the left – Second Lieutenant Zdzislaw Bronski, nom de guerre ‘Uskok’, fifth from the left – Sergeant Kocyla, nom de guerre ‘Jastrzab’ [Eng.tr.Hawk], sixth from the left – Zygmunt Libera, nom de guerre ‘Babinicz’; sitting: first from the right – Jan Mendel, nom de guerre ‘Czarny’ [Eng.tr.Black].  
Left: : Franciszek Kasperek, nom de guerre ‘Hardy’ - Polish secret police informant ‘Janek’

On 28th December 1948 a clerk of the PUBP in Lubartow, Boleslaw Gol, received an official report from Franciszek Kasperek in which, of his own accord, he gave the presumed location of bunkers and names of those who helped the hiding partisans. This information proved to be interesting enough for the UB to start using him as an informant. Kasperek was officially asked to cooperate on 7th January 1949 by a senior clerk of the PUBP in Lubartow – Marian Radomski in the presence of the Head of the PUBP – Lucjan Lykus. Informant ‘Janek’ became a key figure in the operation against ‘Uskok’. Until 14th May 1949 ‘Janek’ submitted 14 reports which admittedly did not initially produce the expected information on the whereabouts of ‘Uskok’ but just two days later everything changed drastically.

On 16th May 1949 a senior clerk of the PUBP in Lubartow, Marian Radomski received another report from ‘Janek’: "On 13th May 1949 ‘Babinicz’ sent Jozef Gasior, residing in the village of Ziolkow, to Lublin to charge the radio station batteries. Gasior did not return from Lublin until 14th May 1949 which was Saturday.

In the evening of 14th May 1949 I went to see Gasior to find out where he had been and why. On my arrival at Gasior’s he told me that he went to Lublin from where he brought acids, photographic materials and the battery. After approximately one hour Gasior’s older brother came in with Zygmunt Libera, nom de guerre ‘Babinicz,’ wearing civilian clothes and boots, and armed with two guns [...] Then we had a drink and I gave ‘Babinicz’ four pieces of ammunition for his ‘pepesha’ when ‘Babinicz’ told me that they were suffering from the lack of ammunition and grenades. At these words I offered that as long as he collects them, I can give him a grenade and some ammunition. I said I didn’t want to bring them to him because I was afraid, to which ‘Babinicz’ agreed and declared that he would pick them up, he just needed to contact ‘Uskok’ first. He told me that he would see ‘Uskok’ on Sunday night and if that’s the case he would come alone or with ‘Uskok’ around Thursday or Friday, i.e. 19-20th May 1949. Then they asked me which was the safest way, I explained it and then with small amendments he decided that the best would be to walk from Gasior’s farm between the forest and the village of Janoszowka, through the field to the borders of Wolka Nowa – Radzic I and my balk. Then he requested that my dog is indoors on those days and not barking [...]." [1]

Head of PUBP in Lubartow, Lieutenant Lucjan Lykus didn’t receive this data (or didn’t decide to use it) probably until 19th May 1949. He informed the Commander of the ‘W’ Operational Group about it, who passed the message on to the staff of the 3rd KBW Brigade. The Head of the Operations-Reconnaissance Section left for Lubartow immediately, in order to develop a joint plan of action.

During the talks with Head of the PUBP and Commander of the Operational Group ‘W’, it was decided that two separate ambushes would be set up in the village of Wolka-Nowa Kijanska, with the arrangements as follows:

1. The first one, in the strength of 1 + 5 and one UB officer, under the command of Lieutenant Superczynski in a meadow by the stream

2. The second one, in the strength of 1 + 4 and two UB officers, under the command of Sergeant Major Dryla in a barn on the premises of Franciszek Kasperek.

The commander reserves in the strength of 6 men with the radio station were deployed at the Wolka-Nowa Kijanska village-edge of the forest. On 19th May at 10pm the above subgroups defined their positions and were ready to attack.

Part 2

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Notes: [1] IPN Lu 020/48, The Object Case of Stanislaw Kuchcewicz, The Report of the Informant ‘Janek’, 16th May 1949, k.56-57.

 

 

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