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German Invasion of Poland (1939)


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Caleb
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« Reply #15 on: September 03, 2007, 09:39:03 pm »



Motto painted on a German Ju-52 transport plane: "Whether figures, gasoline, bombs or bread, we bring Poland death."
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« Reply #16 on: September 03, 2007, 09:41:14 pm »

Polish plan

The Polish defense plan, Zachód (West), was shaped by political determination to deploy forces directly at the German-Polish border, based upon London's promise to come to Warsaw's military aid in the event of invasion. Moreover, with the nation's most valuable natural resources, industry and highly populated regions near the western border (Silesia region), Polish policy centered on the protection of such regions, especially since many politicians feared that if Poland should retreat from the regions disputed by Germany (like the Polish Corridor, cause of the famous "Danzig or War" ultimatum), Britain and France would sign a separate peace treaty with Germany similar to the Munich Agreement of 1938. In addition, none of those countries specifically guaranteed Polish borders or territorial integrity. On those grounds, Poland disregarded French advice to deploy the bulk of their forces behind the natural barriers of the wide Vistula and San rivers, even though some Polish generals supported it as a better strategy. The Zachód plan did allow the Polish armies to retreat inside the country, but it was supposed to be a slow retreat behind prepared positions near rivers (Narew, Vistula and San), giving the country time to finish its mobilisation, and was to be turned into a general counteroffensive when the Western Allies would launch their own promised offensive.

The Polish Army's most pessimistic fall-back plan involved retreat behind the river San to the southeastern voivodships and their lengthy defence (the Romanian bridgehead plan). The British and French estimated that Poland should be able to defend that region for two to three months, while Poland estimated it could hold it for at least six months. This Polish plan was based around the expectation that the Western Allies would keep their end of the signed alliance treaty and quickly start an offensive of their own. However, neither the French nor the British government made plans to attack Germany while the Polish campaign was fought. In addition, they expected the war to develop into trench warfare much like World War I had, forcing the Germans to sign a peace treaty restoring Poland's borders. The Polish government, however, was not notified of this strategy and based all of its defence plans on promises of a quick relief action by their Western Allies.

The plan to defend the borders contributed vastly to the Polish defeat. Polish forces were stretched thin on the very long border and, lacking compact defence lines and good defence positions along unadvantegeous terrain, mechanized German forces often were able to encircle them. In addition, supply lines, were often poorly protected. Approximately one-third of Poland's forces were concentrated in or near the Polish Corridor (in northwestern Poland), where they were perilously exposed to a double envelopment — from East Prussia and the west combined and isolated in a pocket. In the south, facing the main avenues of a German advance, the Polish forces were thinly spread. At the same time, nearly another one-third of Poland's troops were massed in reserve in the north-central part of the country, between the major cities of Łódź and Warsaw, under commander in chief Marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły. The Poles' forward concentration in general forfeited their chance of fighting a series of delaying actions, since their army, unlike some of Germany's, traveled largely on foot and was unable to retreat to their defensive positions in the rear or to staff them before they were overrun by German mechanized columns.

The political decision to defend the border was not the Polish high command's only strategic mistake. Polish pre-war propaganda stated that any German invasion would be easily repelled, so that the eventual Polish defeats in the September Campaign came as a shock to many civilians, who, unprepared for such news and with no training for such an event, panicked and retreated east, spreading chaos, lowering troop morale and making road transportation for Polish troops very difficult. The propaganda also had some negative consequences for the Polish troops whose communications, disrupted by German mobile units operating in the rear and civilians blocking roads, were further thrown into chaos by bizarre reports from Polish radio stations and newspapers which often reported imaginary victories and other military operations. This led to some Polish troops being encircled or taking a stand against overwhelming odds, when they thought they were actually counterattacking or would soon receive reinforcements from other victorious areas.
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« Reply #17 on: September 03, 2007, 09:42:29 pm »



Deployment of German and Polish divisions, September 1, 1939.
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« Reply #18 on: September 03, 2007, 09:46:06 pm »



Polish infantry during the campaign.
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« Reply #19 on: September 03, 2007, 09:51:53 pm »

Phase 2: Soviet aggression



Invasion of Poland: Germany and its allies from the west (blue), Soviets from the east (red).

From the beginning of the Polish campaign, the German government repeatedly asked Joseph Stalin and Molotov to act upon the August agreement and attack Poland from the east. Worried by an unexpectedly rapid German advance and eager to grab their allotted share of the country, Soviet forces attacked Poland on September 17. It was agreed that the USSR would relinquish its interest in the territories between the new border and Warsaw in exchange for inclusion of Lithuania in the Soviet "zone of interest." The USSR had openly supported German aggression, and Molotov stated after the Polish defeat: Germany, which has lately united 80 million Germans, has submitted certain neighboring countries to her supremacy and gained military strength in many aspects, and thus has become, as clearly can be seen, a dangerous rival to principal imperialistic powers in Europe - England and France. That is why they declared war on Germany on a pretext of fulfilling the obligations given to Poland. It is now clearer than ever, how remote the real aims of the cabinets in these countries were from the interests of defending the now disintegrated Poland or Czechoslovakia.

By September 17, 1939, the Polish defense was already broken, and their only hope was to retreat and reorganize along the Romanian bridgehead. However, these plans were rendered obsolete nearly overnight, when the over 800,000 strong Soviet Union Red Army entered and created the Belarussian and Ukrainian fronts after invading the eastern regions of Poland. This was in violation of the Riga Peace Treaty, the Soviet-Polish Non-Aggression Pact, and other international treaties, both bilateral and multilateral. Soviet diplomacy claimed that they were "protecting the Ukrainian and Belarusian minorities of eastern Poland in view of Polish imminent collapse. Vyacheslav Molotov delivered a speech on September 17, 1939:

Events arising out of the Polish‑German War has revealed the internal insolvency and obvious impotence of the Polish state. Polish ruling circles have suffered bankruptcy. . . . Warsaw as the capital of the Polish state no longer exists. No one knows the whereabouts of the Polish Government. The population of Poland have been abandoned by their ill‑starred leaders to their fate. The Polish state and its government have virtually ceased to exist. In view of this‑state of affairs, treaties concluded between the Soviet Union and Poland have ceased to operate. A situation has arisen in Poland which demands of the Soviet‑Government especial concern for the security of its state. Poland has become a fertile field for any accidental and unexpected contingency that may create a menace to the Soviet Union. . . . Nor can it be demanded of the Soviet Government that it remain indifferent to the fate of its blood brothers, the Ukrainians and Byelorussians [White Russians] inhabiting Poland, who even formerly were without rights and who now have been abandoned entirely to their fate. The Soviet Government deems it its sacred duty to extend the hand of assistance to its brother Ukrainians and brother Byelorussians inhabiting Poland.

Polish border defence forces in the east, known as the Korpus Ochrony Pogranicza, consisted of about 25 battalions. Edward Rydz-Śmigły ordered them to fall back and not engage the Soviets. This, however, did not prevent some clashes and small battles, like the Battle of Grodno, as soldiers and local population attempted to defend the city. The Soviets murdered numerous Poles, including prisoners of war like General Józef Olszyna-Wilczyński. Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists rose against the Poles, and communist partisans organised local revolts, robbing and murdering Poles. Those movements were quickly disciplined by the NKVD. The Soviet invasion was one of the decisive factors that convinced the Polish government that the war in Poland was lost. Prior to the Soviet attack from the east, the Polish military's fall-back plan had called for long-term defence against Germany in the southern-eastern part of Poland, while awaiting relief from a Western Allies attack on Germany's western border. However, the Polish government refused to surrender or negotiate a peace with Germany and ordered all units to evacuate Poland and reorganize in France.

Meanwhile, Polish forces tried to move towards the Romanian bridgehead area, still actively resisting the German invasion. From September 17 to September 20, the Polish Armies Kraków and Lublin were crippled at the Battle of Tomaszów Lubelski, the second largest battle of the campaign. The city of Lwów capitulated on September 22 because of Soviet intervention; the city had been attacked by the Germans over a week earlier, and in the middle of the siege, the German troops handed operations over to their Soviet allies. Despite a series of intensifying German attacks, Warsaw—defended by quickly reorganised retreating units, civilian volunteers and militia—held out until its capitulation on September 28. The Modlin Fortress north of Warsaw capitulated on September 29 after an intense 16-day battle. Some isolated Polish garrisons managed to hold their positions long after being surrounded by German forces. Westerplatte enclave's tiny garrison capitulated on September 7, and Oksywie garrison held until September 19; Hel was defended until October 2.

Despite a Polish victory at the battle of Szack, after which the Soviets executed all the NCOs and officers they had managed to capture, the Red Army reached the line of rivers Narew, Western Bug, Vistula and San by September 28, in many cases meeting German units advancing from the other side. Polish defenders on the Hel peninsula on the shore of the Baltic Sea held out until October 2. The last operational unit of the Polish Army, General Franciszek Kleeberg's Samodzielna Grupa Operacyjna "Polesie", capitulated after the 4-day Battle of Kock near Lublin on October 6, marking the end of the September Campaign.

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« Reply #20 on: September 03, 2007, 09:55:56 pm »



A Soviet propaganda poster. "Our army is the army of working people liberation. - J. Stalin"
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« Reply #21 on: September 03, 2007, 10:00:30 pm »

Battle of Krojanty

The Battle of Krojanty was part of the Invasion of Poland of the Second World War. The battle took place near the village of Krojanty in Pomerania (7 kilometres from the town of Chojnice) on September 1, 1939. It was one of the first battles of the war, and part of the larger Battle of Bory Tucholskie. Elements of Polish 18th Uhlans Regiment attacked a German infantry battalion and delayed the German attack thus completing their mission. After the attack the cavalry received machine gun fire from German Armoured personnel carriers stationed nearby and were forced to retreat.

Before the battle

Polish units were engaged in battle from 0500 against elements of German 76th Infantry Regiment of 20th Motorised Division under Lt.Gen. Mauritz von Wiktorin, which operated on the left (northern) flank of XIX Panzer Corps under Gen. Heinz Guderian. Early in the battle Polish cavalry had intercepted German infantry moving towards Danzig and slowed their progress.

At 0800 the Germans broke through Polish Border Guard units south of the Polish cavalry, which forced the Polish units in the area to start a retreat towards a secondary defence line at the Brda river. 18th Pomeranian Uhlans Regiment (18. Pułk Ułanów Pomorskich) was ordered to cover the retreat.

The Battle of Krojanty

During the action the Polish cavalry units met a large group of German infantry resting in the woods near Krojanty. Colonel Mastalerz decided to take the enemy by surprise and immediately ordered a cavalry charge, a tactic the Polish cavalry did not use as their main weapon.

The charge was successful: the German infantry unit was dispersed, and the Poles occupied the woods. Moreover, the German advance was stopped for enough time to allow the withdrawal of Polish 1st Rifle battalion and National Defence battalion Czersk from the area of Chojnice (see Battle of Chojnice). However, the sounds of the battle notified the crews of the APCs stationed nearby, and soon the Polish unit came under heavy machine gun fire.

According to Heinz Guderian's memoirs, the Polish cavalry charge impressed the Germans and caused a widespread panic among the soldiers and the staff of German 20th Motorised Infantry Division, which delayed their offensive and forced them to consider a tactical retreat. This was however prevented by personal intervention of Gen. Guderian.

Aftermath and the myth

The Polish cavalry charge stopped the German pursuit and the units of Czersk Operational Group were able to withdraw southwards unopposed. Also, it took the enemy several hours to reorganise and continue the advance. On September 2, 1939, the 18th Pomeranian Uhlans Regiment was decorated by Gen. Grzmot-Skotnicki, the commander of the Operational Group, with his own Virtuti Militari medal for valour shown in this combat.

The same day the German war correspondents were brought to the battlefield together with two journalists from Italy. They were shown the battlefield, the corpses of Polish cavalrymen and their horses, as well as German tanks that had arrived at the place after the battle. One of the Italian correspondents sent home an article, in which he described the bravery and heroism of Polish soldiers, who charged German tanks with sabres and lances. Although such a charge did not happen and there were no tanks used during the combat, the myth was used by German propaganda during the war. After the end of World War II it was still used by Soviet propaganda as an example of stupidity of pre-war Polish commanders, who allegedly did not prepare their country for the war and instead wasted the blood of their soldiers.

According to George Parada in Invasion of Poland (Fall Weiss): "Contrary to German propaganda, Polish cavalry brigades never charged tanks with their sabres or lances as they were equipped with anti-tank weapons such as 37 mm Bofors wz.36 (exported to UK as Ordnance Q.F. 37 mm Mk I) antitank guns, that could penetrate 26 mm of armour at 600 m at 30 degrees. The cavalry brigades were in the process of being reorganized into motorized brigades". Another weapon was anti-tank rifle model 1935 (karabin przeciwpancerny wz. 35). Its calibre was 7.92 mm and it could penetrate 15 mm of armour at 300 m at 30 degrees.


Kazimierz Mastalerz         Eugeniusz Świeściak, commander of the 1st squadron
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« Reply #22 on: September 03, 2007, 10:01:40 pm »

Civilian losses

The Polish September Campaign was an instance of total war that was repeated continuously throughout World War II. Consequently, civilian casualties were high during and after combat. From the start of the campaign, the Luftwaffe attacked civilian targets and columns of refugees along the roads to wreak havoc, disrupt communications and target Polish morale. Apart from the victims of the battles, the German forces (both SS and the regular Wehrmacht) are credited with the mass murder of several thousands of Polish POWs and civilians. Also, during a planned Operation Tannenberg, nearly 20,000 Poles were shot in 760 mass execution sites by special units, the Einsatzgruppen, in addition to regular Wehrmacht, SS and Selbstschutz.

Altogether, the civilian losses of Polish population amounted to 150,000 while German civilian losses amounted to roughly 5,000.
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« Reply #23 on: September 03, 2007, 10:03:19 pm »



October 5, 1939: Wehrmacht soldiers hold a victory parade on Warsaw's Aleje Ujazdowskie, which was watched by Adolf Hitler.
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« Reply #24 on: September 03, 2007, 10:04:40 pm »

At the end of the September Campaign, Poland was divided among Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Lithuania and Slovakia. Nazi Germany annexed parts of Poland, while the rest was governed by the so-called General Government. On September 28, another secret German-Soviet protocol modified the arrangements of August: all Lithuania was to be a Soviet sphere of influence, not a German one; but the dividing line in Poland was moved in Germany's favor, to the Bug River. Even though water barriers separated most of the spheres of interest, the Soviet and German troops met each other on numerous occasions. The most remarkable event of this kind happened in Brest-Litovsk on September 22. The German 19th panzer corps under the command of Heinz Guderian had occupied Brest-Litovsk, which lay within the Soviet sphere of interest. When the Soviet 29th Tank Brigade under the command of S. M. Krivoshein approached Brest-Litovsk, the commanders negotiated that the German troops would withdraw and the Soviet troops would enter the city saluting each other. Just three days earlier, however, the parties had a more damaging encounter near Lviv, when the German 137th Gebirgsjägerregimenter (mountain infantry regiment) attacked a reconnaissance detachment of the Soviet 24th Tank Brigade; after a few casualties on both sides, the parties turned to negotiations. The German troops left the area, and the Red Army troops entered L'viv on September 22. At Brest-Litovsk, Soviet and German commanders held a joint victory parade before German forces withdrew westward behind a new demarcation line.

About 65,000 Polish troops were killed in the fighting, with 420,000 others being captured by the Germans and 240,000 more by the Soviets (for a total of 660,000 prisoners). Up to 120,000 Polish troops escaped to neutral Romania (through the Romanian Bridgehead) and Hungary, and another 20,000 escaped to Latvia and Lithuania, with the majority eventually making their way to France or Britain. Most of the Polish Navy succeeded in evacuating to Britain as well. German personnel losses were less than their enemies (~16,000 KIA).

Neither side—Germany, the Western Allies or the Soviet Union—expected that the German invasion of Poland would lead to the war that would surpass World War I in its scale and cost. It would be months before Hitler would see the futility of his peace negotiation attempts with Great Britain and France, but the culmination of combined European and Pacific conflicts would result in what was truly a "world war". Thus, what was not visible to most politicians and generals in 1939 is clear from the historical perspective: The Polish September Campaign marked the beginning of the Second World War in Europe, which combined with the Japanese invasion of China in 1937 and the Pacific War in 1941, formed the cataclysm known as World War II.

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« Reply #25 on: September 03, 2007, 10:06:00 pm »



Soviet (left) and German officers meet after the Soviets' invasion of Poland.
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« Reply #26 on: September 03, 2007, 10:07:41 pm »

The invasion of Poland led to Britain and France to declare war on Germany on September 3; however, they did little to affect the outcome of the September Campaign. This lack of direct help during September 1939 led many Poles to believe that they had been betrayed by their Western allies.

On May 23, 1939, Adolf Hitler explained to his officers that the object of the aggression was not Danzig, but the need to obtain German Lebensraum and details of this concept would be later formulated in the infamous Generalplan Ost.  The blitzkrieg decimated urban residential areas, civilians soon became indistinguishable from combatants, and the forthcoming German occupation (General Government, Reichsgau Wartheland) was one of the most brutal episodes of World War II, resulting in over 6 million Polish deaths (over 20% of the country's total population, and over 90% of its Jewish minority),-including the mass murder of 3 million Poles, regardless of religious beliefs,- in extermination camps like Auschwitz, in concentation camps, and in numerous ad hoc massacres where civilians were rounded up, taken to a nearby forest, machine-gunned, and then buried, regardless of whether they were actually dead or not.

The Red Army occupied the Polish territories with mostly Ukrainian and Belarusian population. Soviets, met at the beginning as liberators by local people, shortly after started to introduce communist ideology in the area. This led to a powerful anti-Soviet resistance in the West Ukraine. Soviet occupation between 1939 and 1941 resulted in the death or deportation of least 1.8 million former Polish citizens, when all who were deemed dangerous to the communist regime were subject to sovietization, forced resettlement, imprisonment in labour camps (the Gulags) or murdered, like the Polish officers in the Katyn massacre. Part of these casualties were retributions for the attacks of the Ukrainian nationalists on the Polish villages in the West Ukraine, where vengeful feeling was particularly strong. Soviet atrocities commenced again after Poland was "liberated" by the Red Army in 1944, with events like the persecution of the Home Army soldiers and execution of its leaders (Trial of the Sixteen).



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« Reply #27 on: September 03, 2007, 10:10:40 pm »



Execution of some 300 Polish POWs at Ciepielów by the German 15th Motorized Regiment.
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« Reply #28 on: September 03, 2007, 10:12:37 pm »


Survivor of German aerial bombardment of Warsaw
Made in 1939, by US photojournalist Julien Bryan, who was present in Poland during the German invasion .

He captions the image

A BOY'S WEARINESS Ryszard Pajewski was a study in dejection when I saw him sitting on a pile of rubble (below). Only nine, he had suddenly been made the family breadwinner - and there was no bread to be had. Now a truck driver, he remembers that when he saw me last, I was carrying two "boxes"-my cameras.
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« Reply #29 on: September 03, 2007, 10:17:07 pm »

Myths

There are several common misconceptions regarding the Polish September Campaign:
•   The Polish military was so backward they fought tanks with cavalry: Although Poland had 11 cavalry brigades and its doctrine emphasized cavalry units as elite units, other armies of that time (including German and Soviet) also fielded and extensively used horse cavalry units. Polish cavalry (equipped with modern small arms and light artillery like the highly effective Bofors 37 mm antitank gun) never charged German tanks or entrenched infantry or artillery directly but usually acted as mobile infantry (like dragoons) and reconnaissance units and executed cavalry charges only in rare situations, against enemy infantry. The article about the Battle of Krojanty (when Polish cavalry were fired on by hidden armored vehicles, rather than charging them) describes how this myth originated.
•   The Polish air force was destroyed on the ground in the first days of the war: The Polish Air Force, though numerically inferior, was not destroyed on the ground because combat units had been moved from air bases to small camouflaged airfields shortly before the war. Only some trainers and auxiliary aircraft were destroyed on the ground on airfields. The Polish Air Force remained active in the first two weeks of the campaign, causing damage to the Luftwaffe. Many skilled Polish pilots escaped afterwards to the United Kingdom and were deployed by the RAF during the Battle of Britain. Fighting from British bases, Polish pilots were on average the most successful in shooting down German aircraft [36].
•   Poland offered little resistance and surrendered quickly: Germany sustained relatively heavy losses, especially in vehicles and planes: Poland cost Germans approximately the equipment of an entire armored division and 40% of its air strength.[11] As for duration, the September Campaign lasted only about one week less than the Battle of France in 1940, even though the Anglo-French allied forces were much closer to parity with the Germans in numerical strength and equipment[37]. Poland also never officially surrendered to the Germans.
•   The German Army used astonishing new concepts of warfare and used new technology daringly: The myth of Blitzkrieg has been dispelled by some authors, notably Matthew Cooper. Cooper writes (in The German Army 1939–1945: Its Political and Military Failure): "Throughout the Polish Campaign, the employment of the mechanised units revealed the idea that they were intended solely to ease the advance and to support the activities of the infantry…. Thus, any strategic exploitation of the armoured idea was still-born. The paralysis of command and the breakdown of morale were not made the ultimate aim of the … German ground and air forces, and were only incidental by-products of the traditional manoeuvers of rapid encirclement and of the supporting activities of the flying artillery of the Luftwaffe, both of which had as their purpose the physical destruction of the enemy troops. Such was the Vernichtungsgedanke of the Polish campaign." Vernichtungsgedanke was a strategy dating back to Frederick the Great, and was applied in the Polish Campaign little changed from the French campaigns in 1870 or 1914. The use of tanks "left much to be desired...Fear of enemy action against the flanks of the advance, fear which was to prove so disastrous to German prospects in the west in 1940 and in the Soviet Union in 1941, was present from the beginning of the war." Many early postwar histories, such as Barrie Pitt's in The Second World War (BPC Publishing 1966), attribute German victory to "enormous development in military technique which occurred between 1918 and 1940", citing that "Germany, who translated (British inter-war) theories into action… called the result Blitzkrieg." John Ellis, writing in Brute Force (Viking Penguin, 1990) asserted that "…there is considerable justice in Matthew Cooper's assertion that the panzer divisions were not given the kind of strategic (emphasis in original) mission that was to characterise authentic armoured blitzkrieg, and were almost always closely subordinated to the various mass infantry armies." Zaloga and Madej, in The Polish Campaign 1939 (Hippocrene Books, 1985), also address the subject of mythical interpretations of Blitzkrieg and the importance of other arms in the campaign. "Whilst Western accounts of the September campaign have stressed the shock value of the panzers and Stuka attacks, they have tended to underestimate the punishing effect of German artillery (emphasis added) on Polish units. Mobile and available in significant quantity, artillery shattered as many units as any other branch of the Wehrmacht."
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