The outbreak of war on 1 September 1939 interrupted the operation of power plants and transmission and distribution systems, yet owing to the fast advance of the front, the losses were minor. Warsaw suffered the most severe losses – a number of electric grids were destroyed and a fire at the power plant on 16 September devoured the roof of the machine hall.
On 19 September, Major Herbert von Böckmann commanded the 3rd army to destroy public utility facilities, including the power plant, which became the target for continual, heavy artillery fire. All the boilers and equipment were damaged, and the workforce were either killed or seriously wounded. On 23 September around 3 PM the plant stopped generating energy – the fighting Warsaw was deprived of electricity supplies. Still, attempts were made at supplying power to some of the buildings using power generators but the shutdown of the power plant accelerated the capitulation of the city. Total losses were estimated at 19.5 million zlotys, which corresponded to 15.9% of the company’s total assets (122.6 million zlotys).
Mayor Starzyński in his proclamation of 30 September addressed to the municipal employees expressed his appreciation to the personnel of the power plant for their efforts and commitment. Eight people were awarded high national distinctions. Following the seizure of Warsaw, the Germans started reconstructing the facility. The first turbine set with a capacity of 15 MW was put into operation on 4 October and the entire reconstruction was completed on 21 May 1940 when a new power generator with a capacity of 27 MW was integrated with the system. The generator’s installation was nearly finished when the war broke out. The power plant’s capacity was close to 100 MW and did not change until the end of the occupation.
Electrification of the country was interrupted by the outbreak of the World War II. A seventeen-year-long period since passing the electricity act was too short to complete all the necessary and very costly investments in energy production, namely, construction of massive new power plants, high and low voltage lines as well as electric power distribution equipment. Development of electrification was limited due to the absence of large electricity consumers.
Overexploitation conducted in Poland by the Nazi occupants did not spare the energy industry. Western parts of Poland, annexed to the Third Reich, were totally subjected to German legislation – Polish regulations were repealed. The new regulations were legally based on the decree of 6 February 1940 of the occupiers concerning the introduction of Energy management regulations in the eastern lands annexed to the Third Reich (Verordnung über die Einführung des Energiewirtschaftsrechts in den eingegliederten Ostgebieten). The translation of this decree reads:
“Pursuant to Art. 8 of the decree issued by the Leader and Chancellor of the Third Reich on 8 October 1939 concerning the annexation and administration of the Eastern Lands, it is hereby ordered as follows:
Art. 1. The following shall be binding within the area incorporated into the German Reich as of 15 July 1940:
1. The Act of 13 December 1935 on supporting energy management. (Energiewirtschaftsgesetz – R.G.Bl. I, page 1451).
2. The second decree concerning the introduction of the act on supporting energy management dated 31 August 1937 (R.G.BI. I, page 918) subject to the possibility of continuing the production of electrical devices in the eastern lands incorporated into the German Reich from 31 December 1941 according to PNE regulations issued by the Association of Polish Electrical Engineers (SEP).
3. The decree on the security of electricity supplies of 3 September 1939.
4. The decree on the security of gas supplies of 20 September 1939.
Art. 2. Regulations concerning the construction of power distribution works and encouraging electrification, previously in force in the eastern lands incorporated to the German Reich, become null and void as of 15 July 1940”.
Simultaneously, the decree on common tariff prices for electricity and gas (Tarifordnung für elektrische Energie – Tarifordnung für Gas) was introduced by the occupiers on 7 October 1940 within the eastern lands incorporated into the German Reich.
Regulations of the electricity act of 21 March 1922 along with all the executive provisions remained in force in the territory of Poland referred to by the invaders as the General Government. Only part of the tariff regulations covering energy supplies was modified and simultaneously adapted for the new currency introduced in the occupied area. Obviously, it did not imply the occupant’s intention to leave power management in Polish hands. On the contrary, on 20 February 1941 Governor-General Hans Frank issued an order in which Art. 1. and Art. 5. were translated as follows:
”By virtue of Art. 5 par. 1 of the decree issued by the Leader and Chancellor of the Reich on 12 October 1939, I hereby order as follows:
Art. 1. In order to secure electricity supplies, the General Government
administration shall be authorised:
1. to regulate the obligation to supply electric energy for the consumers’ benefit depending on the supply’s priority level, to issue required commands and orders to companies generating electricity as well as power equipment owners which aim at informing the authorities on technical and economic condition of the equipment;
2. to issue orders aiming to limit or completely discontinue electricity supplies to specific consumers;
3. to issue various commands and undertake all types of operations aimed at securing electricity supplies to important consumers as well as at complete use of the existing power equipment for the same purpose.
Art. 5. Whoever undertakes any activities intending to resist the provisions of the present ordinance or refusing its execution shall be imprisoned for an unlimited period of time and punished with a fine, unless a more serious penalty is provided for in separate regulations”.
The ordinance totally subordinated the power economy in the General Government to Germany’s war objectives, granting control of power and management of energy production-related issues as well as energy distribution to the Nazi administration.
The following were extended throughout Poland: the ordinance of 3 October 1939 on securing electricity supplies (Verordnung zur Sicherstellung der Elektrizitätsversorgung – R.G.Bl.I 1939, p. 1607) and decree of 29 July 1941 on establishing the office of general inspectorate for power and water management (Erlass des Führers Und Reichskanzlers über den Generalinspektor für Wasser und Energie R.G.Bl.I, p. 467).
By way of a decree of 29 July 1941 the office of the general inspector for power and water management was established. One of its tasks was to introduce uniform planning in matters related to energy management. Both the Polish electricity act of 1922 and the German act on supporting energy management of 1935 constituted the most innovative legal acts related to energy in Europe.
During the Nazi occupation Germans continued electrification of Poland for the needs of the army and the war industry. Construction of power plants in the Central Industrial Region and transmission lines supplying energy to selected rural areas was completed. Preparations to build a coal power plant in the vicinity of Jaworzno, and the construction of a 220 kV transmission line to Vienna were commenced. In 1940 the Przysieka Hydroelectric Power Plant on the Nysa Łużycka was put into operation. The first unit at the Rożnów Hydroelectric Power Plant was commissioned in 1941.
The pre-war management and personnel of facilities and plants were kept during the occupation in some places (e.g. Zgierz Power Plant, Szpotański Factory). As a result, many power industry workers were saved from repressive measures, arrests and deportation. Professor Alfons Hoffmann was one of the persons in hiding employed as a regular labourer in Kazimierz Szpotański’s works. Occupation was a time when the patriotic attitude of citizens was tested. In such a difficult time for the nation, power industry workers proved their patriotic attitude at all levels of the hierarchy. SEP was an active member of the conspiracy, as regards both material aspects (supporting the destitute SEP members) and education (lectures, training). An electrification plan for Poland, prepared during the occupation, was the starting point for developing the nationwide project after the war. Professor Czesław Matejko describes how it was achieved: ”After my arrival in Warsaw I returned to Szpotanski’s. The factory, supervised by a German Treuhander, officially worked for the Germans, but unofficially – as in most facilities in the General Government – it was a place where occupation-conspiracy life was thriving. The factory documents enabled one to travel safely, the materials needed by the conspiracy passed through the facility, and production was carried on aside. The underground needed procurement. From mid-1941 I took part in the preparation of radio equipment for their needs. Production of short-wave radio stations proceeded in batches of 20-25 units. S. Gajecki and Cz. Bełkowski (GAD engines) produced diesel – electric assemblies while current generators were produced by K. Pustoła’s company. In early 1941 Kazimierz Szpotański, whose primary function was President of the Association of Polish Electrical Engineers in conspiracy, introduced me to Professor Jan Obrąpalski – the most outstanding power engineer and one of the most noble-minded people I have met in my entire life. The Professor invited me to collaborate in preparing the electrification programme for post-war Poland with – which was shocking at that time – the western border on the Oder and the Nysa Łużycka. I accepted the offer without hesitation. In the team, also consisting of: J. Kryński, K. Przanowski, T. Kahl, S. Kwiatkowski, R. Kontkiewicz and K. Herniczek, I was a secretary, or rather chief clerk. Therefore, I had a chance to work with the Professor several hours a day, which taught me how to perform scientific work. It supports the argument that apprenticeship with a distinguished master provides the best training. The third edition of the country’s electrification plan was nearly finished when the Warsaw Uprising started. This edition later served as the basis while designing assumptions for the three-year plan.”
In 1943 the “Memorandum on the Electrification of Poland” was announced in Great Britain summarizing a number of projects prepared by the British branch of the Association of Polish Electrical Engineers. Due to the efforts and sacrifices of power industry workers both in 1939 and during the liberation period in 1944 – 1945, many units supplying electricity to inhabitants maintained their operational efficiency. In the period of occupation, power industry workers organised actions aiming to dismantle and hide copper elements (Germans were taking the raw material away to armaments works), but also they took up sabotage. In Warsaw Germans managed to remove only 4 tons of copper wire out of the 170 tons installed in the grid. Actions consisting in providing people with coal and cooking stoves were organised. “Shunting” of electricity meters was a common practice. Many Jews express their gratitude for the support of power industry workers who, by means of the passes they held, could access the Ghetto and provide supplies of bread, medicines and other products to the starving. After liquidation of the Ghetto, they hid dismantled transformers and switching devices.
Irrespective of those activities, there were widespread underground activities with organised armed units operating within the power engineering sector. Establishing the “Elektrownia” group at the Warsaw Power Plant was one of their effects. The group became famous not only for armed struggle but also for a number of actions organised for the benefit of the local population, including, for example, repairs of water filters or the sewage disposal system. The Warsaw Uprising was a dramatic end to the occupation. The power plant in Powiole became one of the main points of resistance. Powiole was attacked by German air forces on 4 September at about 9 AM. The power plant was the main target. The damage inflicted on the factory was serious enough to stop its operation completely. Germans captured the plant on 5 September and commenced its devastation. Some buildings were blown up and machinery was broken by disassembling copper elements and taking them away from the plant. Numerous plaques commemorating those who lost their lives during the war were unveiled in a number of electrical power engineering organisational units after the war.