Invasion of Poland

gigatos | November 3, 2021


September Campaign (other names used: Polish Campaign 1939, Polish War 1939, Defensive War of Poland 1939) – the defense of Polish territory against military aggression (without a defined in international law declaration of war) of the Third Reich (the first stage of World War II. Since September 3, 1939 the coalition war of Poland, France and Great Britain against the German Reich.

It was the first campaign of World War II, lasting from September 1 (armed aggression of Germany) to October 6, 1939, when the surrender of SGO Polesie near Kock ended the fights of regular units of the Polish Army with the aggressors. Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Army in the campaign was Marshal Edward Rydz-Smigly, and the Chief of Staff was Brigadier General Waclaw Stachiewicz. On September 2, 1939, the President appointed Colonel Waclaw Kostek-Biernacki as the Chief Civilian Commissioner with the rank of Minister, who had the authority of Prime Minister in the operational area.

As a result of the aggression of the Third Reich and the USSR against Poland, the national territory of the Republic of Poland was completely occupied and, in violation of international law, divided by the Treaty of September 28, 1939. In the face of these facts, the Government of the Republic of Poland in exile, on September 30, 1939, officially protested against the violation of the rights of the state and Polish people and the disposal of the territory of the Republic of Poland, declaring that it would never recognize this act of violence and would not give up the struggle for the complete liberation of the country from the invaders. On 30 November 1939, President Władysław Raczkiewicz issued a decree on the invalidity of legal acts of the occupying authorities, stating that all legal acts and orders of the authorities occupying the territory of the Polish State, if they exceed the limits of temporary administration of the occupied territory, are, in accordance with the provisions of the Fourth Hague Convention of 1907 on the Laws and Customs of War on Land, null and void.

The USSR ceded part of the Polish territory occupied by the Red Army (Vilnius with the district) to Lithuania on October 10, 1939, while Germany ceded part of the Polish territory (Spisz and Orava) to Slovakia on November 21, 1939, also contrary to international law (Hague Convention IV (1907)).

Political situation

The new set of borders in Central and Eastern Europe created by the Treaty of Versailles after World War I was a constant object of territorial claims of Germany against the neighboring countries. Dissatisfied with the treaty”s provisions (which left outside the borders of the Weimar Republic the territories inhabited densely by German speakers – the Sudetenland, Klaipeda, and the Free City of Danzig), and invoking the principle of national self-determination (adopted during the Paris Conference (1919) as a principle of international law), Germany sought to revise the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, demanding the application of equal rights in the application of treaty clauses to Germany. This concerned both the disarmament clauses and the abolition of the treaty prohibition on the unification (Anschluss) of Austria with Germany, as well as the demand to revise the borders with Czechoslovakia and Poland by invoking the principle of self-determination with regard to the populations of these countries declaring German nationality. The strategic goal of Weimar Germany, regardless of its political leadership, was the overthrow of the “Versailles order.” After the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Reich Chancellor by President Paul von Hindenburg and the consequent seizure of power in Germany by the NSDAP with the support of German conservatives, the revision of the Versailles provisions was accelerated in view of Hitler”s openly declared political program to revise the entire Versailles provisions. As a consequence of this, in the following years Germany unilaterally violated the Versailles treaty provisions concerning the armaments restrictions imposed on Germany by launching massive armaments rearmament – including aviation armaments, introduction of troops to the treaty demilitarized areas in the west of Germany, i.e. The remilitarization of the Rhineland in March 1936 and the Anschluss in March 1938, which was a violation of the Treaty of Versailles and the Locarno Treaty, did not meet with any reaction from Great Britain and France, the signatory powers of both treaties.

A major flashpoint in German-Polish relations was the existence of Polish Pomerania, part of Polish territory with the Baltic coast. The Germans referred to Polish Pomerania as the “Polish Corridor” (German: Polnischer Korridor), an area separating East Prussia from the rest of Germany. The questioning of Poland”s rights to Gdansk Pomerania caused, among other things, that German railroads did not systematically pay transit fees to the Polish State Railways for the transport of goods through Pomerania. This caused Poland to temporarily limit German transit through Polish territory in February 1936, until the transit liabilities were settled.

Since the beginning of the 1920s Germany also made systematic attempts to undermine the rights guaranteed to Poland by treaty in Freie Stadt Danzig. A manifestation of this was the attempt of the Free City Senate to remove the mixed port police (1932), or the attempt to prevent Poland from exercising sovereign rights of Danzig to foreign countries (Danzig Crisis 1932). NSDAP activists Albert Forster and Artur Greiser organized anti-Polish speeches and aimed at annexing Danzig to the Third Reich already in 1933.

Politicians of the Weimar Republic (Gustav Stresemann) sought to revise the Polish-German border established in 1919 by the Treaty of Versailles through international arbitration with the participation of the League of Nations. At the same time, the Weimar Republic”s military circles (Hans von Seeckt, Kurt von Schleicher) maintained close ties with the RKKA.

After Hitler”s seizure of power and France”s rejection of Józef Piłsudski”s proposal of a preventive war in 1933, Józef Piłsudski decided to sign in January 1934 a bilateral Polish-German declaration of non-violence in mutual relations. At that time, Hitler still seemed to be a moderate politician, even sympathetic to Poland, while his main antagonist seemed to be the USSR, which was further confirmed by the Anti-Komintern Pact signed in 1936. On November 5, 1937, a joint declaration was published by the two governments, Polish and German, on the treatment of their national minorities.

In view of the armed occupation of the Rhineland by two Wehrmacht battalions in March 1936 – an open violation of both the Treaty of Versailles and the Treaty of Locarno – Poland declared to France its readiness to fulfill its alliance obligations without delay, should French troops enter the treaty-demilitarized zone of the Rhineland violated by Germany. France, as the guarantor of the Locarno Treaty, allowed unilateral violation of the treaty by Germany. The consequence was that Belgium (a signatory of the Locarno Pact) and France”s previous ally declared neutrality. It had important consequences for the strategic position of the democratic powers (France and Great Britain) in relation to the Third Reich, and a fundamental and decisive military significance for the events of the 1940 campaign – the German aggression against neutral Belgium and Holland and the attack on France. The consequence of the Rhine crisis was at the same time enabling the Third Reich to fortify the border zone with France and – due to Belgium”s resignation from the military alliance with France through its declaration of neutrality – significantly limiting France”s offensive capabilities against Germany (as the section of the border from which the French army could launch an offensive was shortened by the section of the Belgian-German border). In practice, this opened the way for Germany”s territorial expansion in Central Europe against France”s allies Czechoslovakia and Poland, and in the first place for the Anschluss of Austria, which was last successfully blocked by Britain and France in 1931, under the threat of economic and military sanctions against Germany.

In November 1937, Edward Halifax, then speaker of the British House of Lords, during a visit to Berlin proposed to Hitler, breaking the Versailles rules, negotiations on four issues: Austria, the Sudetenland, Danzig and the former German colonies. This was interpreted by Germany as Britain”s assent to the program of German territorial expansion in Central Europe. Consequently, the Reich”s demands on the government of Austria and its subsequent Anschluss, as well as parallel territorial demands on Czechoslovakia, were not met with resistance by British diplomacy (which played a key role in the British-French alliance). The policy of the British Conservative cabinet of this period is referred to as the appeasement of the Third Reich. This policy culminated in the Munich Conference and the resulting treaty between Britain, France, Germany and Italy.

After the conclusion of the Munich Conference on September 30, 1938 and recognition by the Czechoslovak government of the territorial cessions to Germany guaranteed by France, Germany, Great Britain and Italy, Poland demanded that the Czechoslovak government on September 30, 1938 at 23.45 hours correct the Polish-Czechoslovak border in Zaolzie on the basis of ethnic demarcation. After the Czechoslovak government agreed, Poland took over the districts occupied in 1919 and taken over without a plebiscite by Czechoslovakia (as a consequence of the conference in Spa and the decision of the Council of Ambassadors): the Tøinecko-Karvinské district, the Zaolzie part of the Cieszyn district and the Frýdek part of the Cieszyn Silesia district.

Poland”s recapture of the ethnically Polish lands of Cieszyn Silesia was then, and remains today, considered to be in keeping with the Third Reich”s policy of territorial claims, even though it was a consequence of Czechoslovakia”s territorial cessions to Germany, accepted by the Czechoslovak government and accepted by the Western powers at the Munich Conference.

After the annexation of the Sudetenland in October 1938, as a consequence of the Munich Agreement, the question of German-Polish relations returned to the forefront of German foreign policy.

On October 24, 1938, the Foreign Minister of the Third Reich Joachim von Ribbentrop, in a conversation with the Polish Ambassador in Berlin Józef Lipski, which took place in Berchtesgaden, put forward the following proposals (they remained secret until the end of March 1939):

In return, the Third Reich offered:

On January 6, 1939, Ribbentrop, in a conversation with Józef Beck, during Beck”s visit to Berchtesgaden, had already clearly demanded a definite agreement on an extraterritorial highway and railroad line through Polish Pomerania and the incorporation of Danzig into the Third Reich. In view of the fact that a parallel meeting between Beck and Hitler took place, it became obvious that this was not an independent diplomatic initiative of Ribbentrop (as the Polish side had so far assumed), but an official position of the dictator of the Third Reich. As a result, after Minister Beck”s return from Germany, a meeting was held at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, attended by President Ignacy Moscicki and Edward Rydz-Smigly, during which the German demands were considered unacceptable, as they were only a prelude to Hitler”s further anti-Polish steps. The participants of the meeting stated then in unison that the acceptance of the German demands would bring Poland: “in an inevitable downward spiral, ending with loss of independence and the role of Germany”s vassal”. These fears were confirmed after Ribbentrop”s next visit to Warsaw, on 25-27 January 1939. It was then recognised in the decision-making centers of the Second Republic that Poland had become the new target of the German offensive. In January 1939, Edward Rydz-Smigly issued the first instructions ordering the acceleration of staff work on a Polish defence plan in case of an armed conflict. At the same time the concept of a German-Polish alliance was very unpopular in Germany, and in a private conversation with Commander-in-Chief Brauchitsch on March 25, 1939 Hitler admitted that it was only to be a tactical alliance to protect the German rear during the first planned attack on France, Hitler”s further plans were to crush Poland, to annex to the Third Reich territory along a straight line between the eastern border of East Prussia and the eastern border of Upper Silesia, and to create a Ukrainian state with a maximally western border.

On March 15, 1939 Czechoslovakia fell apart, Slovakia declared independence and submitted to a German protectorate, and the Wehrmacht occupied Czechoslovakia militarily, creating the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, which weakened Poland strategically and worsened its chances in a possible military conflict. The occupation of Bohemia and Moravia was a violation of the Munich Agreement of 1938 and caused a change in the attitude of Britain and France towards Germany, as they recognized that the Third Reich”s intentions towards Europe went beyond Hitler”s previously declared goal of unifying all ethnically German territories within the Reich, and aimed to establish German hegemony on the continent.

On March 21, 1939, Adolf Hitler, as “Commander and Chancellor of the Reich”, sent an official written memorandum to the Polish government reiterating the Reich”s oral demands for the annexation of Danzig and extraterritorial transit through Polish Pomerania. In response, the Polish side proposed a joint Polish-German guarantee of the status of the Free City of Danzig (cf. condominium) in place of the existing League of Nations control, which was rejected by the German side. On March 23, Poland ordered a secret emergency mobilization of four divisions over the Polish-German border and the Free City of Danzig (the so-called Intervention Corps). Polish-German negotiations lasted five months, from 24 October 1938, and finally ended on 26 March 1939 with Poland”s official refusal to accept the demands of Hitler”s memorandum.

On March 31, 1939, Britain unilaterally granted Poland a guarantee of independence (but not territorial integrity), promising military aid in case of danger. Determined to resist further expansion of German influence on the continent, the British also gave similar guarantees to Romania and, in April 1939, to Greece, which appeared to be under threat from Italy after its annexation of Albania. In reaction to the information about Jozef Beck”s decision to suddenly visit London (in order to transform the British declaration into a bilateral declaration), Adolf Hitler on April 11, 1939 ordered to start working on plans to attack Poland (Fall Weiss) and to finish them by the end of August that year. On April 6, 1939, Minister Jozef Beck signed the Treaty of Bilateral Polish-British Guarantees in London, which became the basis for negotiations for a formal treaty of alliance between Poland and Great Britain (finally concluded on August 25 as the British answer to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact). The Polish-British treaty became a pretext for Hitler to denounce the 1934 German-Polish non-aggression treaty in a public speech in the Reichstag on April 28. In response to Hitler, Jozef Beck delivered an exposé in the Polish Sejm on May 5, in which he publicly announced for the first time the Reich”s demands on Poland, recognizing the German denunciation of the Non-Aggression Pact as unjustified, declaring Poland”s readiness to negotiate the status of the Free City of Danzig and facilitating the Reich”s transit to East Prussia, provided that Germany respected Poland”s treaty rights of access to the Baltic Sea. Beck”s exposé included the words: Poland will not be pushed away from the Baltic.

On May 23, 1939, Adolf Hitler told a meeting of high-ranking military officers that Germany”s task would be to isolate Poland. On August 22, 1939, in front of the Wehrmacht high command, he clearly set the goal – the destruction of Poland: the talk was not about gaining a specific territory or a new border, but about destroying the enemy.

The conclusion of the German-Soviet Pact was the USSR”s consent to German aggression against Poland and its declaration of military participation in this aggression. The strategic goal of USSR policy – to bring the “capitalist countries” in Europe to World War II among themselves – but already without the element of neutrality of the USSR – was thus achieved. Immediately after receiving information about Stalin”s agreement to the pact, Hitler set the date of the attack on Poland for August 26, 1939, after convening a meeting of senior Wehrmacht commanders in Obersalzberg on August 22, where in his speech he stated, among other things

On August 28, 1939, as part of the war economy, the Third Reich introduced an unannounced food rationing card system. After receiving information on August 25th about Polish-British alliance and parallel dispatch from Mussolini about Italy”s refusal to participate in war on Germany”s side, Hitler cancelled decision to attack on the same day, only to repeat it finally on August 30th. He also set the date of the attack for September 1 (the final detailed decision was signed on August 31 at 0.30 at night). Hitler”s goal was to limit the armed conflict to Poland only, while the pact with Stalin was intended to intimidate Britain and prevent it from intervening in the German-Polish armed conflict and turning it into an all-European war. Hitler”s calculations (based on information and analyses of Ribbentrop, former Reich ambassador in London), turned out to be groundless in this respect in the long run.

Just before the 1939 attack, when asked by the German side about the possibility of invading Poland from Hungarian territory, Prime Minister Pál Teleki replied: “On the part of Hungary it is a matter of national honor not to take part in any military action against Poland.” In a letter sent to Adolf Hitler on July 24, 1939, Teleki argued that Hungary “cannot take any military action against Poland for moral reasons. The letter infuriated the Third Reich chancellor. Fragments of diplomatic correspondence disclosed after the war prove, however, that the Hungarians had foreseen such a development as early as the beginning of 1939. In April 1939, István Csáky, the head of Hungarian diplomacy, wrote in a letter to MP Villani: “we are not inclined to take part either directly or indirectly in armed action against Poland. By ”indirectly” I mean here that we will reject every demand which would lead to the transportation of German troops on foot, by motor vehicles or by rail through Hungarian territory for the purpose of attacking Poland. If the Germans threaten to use force, I declare categorically that we will answer to arms with arms.” The Hungarian Prime Minister, in consultation with Regent Miklos Horthy, ordered the tunnels along the railroad to be mined and blown up if the Germans attempted to force their way through.

During the night from August 31 to September 1, the Polish security authorities interned throughout the country several thousand Ukrainians enjoying the greatest prestige in their communities.

A warning from the intelligence community

In Paris there was an intelligence post Lecomte, headed by Michał Baliński of the East Department, subordinated organizationally to the West Department. On 22 August 1939, at 15:00, it sent information that the Soviet-German talks had entered a new phase.

Casus belli

The pretext for aggression was the protection of the German minority of the Second Polish Republic and the Free City of Danzig. During the 1930s, revisionist views undermining the treaty of Versailles, especially on the question of borders, were propagated by structures linked to the Nazis. One of the most active was Bund Deutscher Osten (German East Alliance), created with the participation of NSDAP. At the same time, anti-Polish propaganda campaigns were carried out, including the 1934 Berlin Exhibition in Germany, which was protested by Polish diplomacy.

The Third Reich first made political demands to Poland for annexation of the Free City of Danzig and extraterritorial transit through the Polish Corridor, publicly rejected by Minister Jozef Beck in his Sejm speech of May 5, 1939. On the night of August 29-30, Joachim von Ribbentrop handed over to the British Ambassador Sir Neville Henderson the already ultimatum German demands. Poland was to agree to the unconditional occupation of Danzig by Germany, and to a plebiscite in Polish Pomerania, but on terms favoring Germany. Ribbentrop refused to give Henderson the German demands in written form. Ambassador Józef Lipski, after consultations with Warsaw, asked for an audience with Ribbentrop. On 31 August 1939, at 0.30 a.m., Adolf Hitler signed an order definitively setting the date for the attack on Poland at 4.45 a.m. on 1 September. On 31 August 1939, at 6.30 p.m., Ribbentrop received Ambassador Lipski for the last time, who was only told that he had no authority for such far-reaching concessions.

In the late evening hours of August 31, Deutschlandsender radio station read out the text of German ultimatum (so-called “16 points”), never formally presented to Poland, informing of its “rejection” by Poland. This took place in parallel with the Sicherheitsdienst”s provocation in Gliwice, code-named “Himmler”, which was intended as a propaganda pretext for Germany to initiate military action against Poland without formally declaring war, to which both Germany and Poland were parties.

Since September 1 under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact USSR was a silent ally of the Reich, since September 17 – an open ally. The Red Army was preparing for the invasion of Poland, the Soviet authorities ordered mobilization, and on September 17 they carried out the aggression on the eastern territories of the Second Polish Republic. Since September 3 the Soviet radio station in Minsk provided the Luftwaffe with location coordinates for air raids on Poland.

The text of the secret protocol to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was given to American (Charles Bohlen) and French diplomats in Moscow on August 24, 1939 by Hans von Herwarth, Secretary of the Reich Embassy in Moscow. US Secretary of State Cordell Hull also informed the British. However, the information about the decided partition of Poland was not communicated to Warsaw, and Jozef Beck was persuaded by the Polish ambassador Waclaw Grzybowski, who was unaware of the situation, that the USSR would maintain friendly neutrality in a possible German-Polish conflict.

German diversion

The political goal of the Third Reich (in summer and especially at the end of August) was to limit the armed conflict to Poland and to prevent the western allies of the Republic of Poland from declaring war on Germany, which should be done in response to the armed aggression of Germany against Poland. The German state intended to achieve this goal by instrumentally appealing to the pacifist moods of societies in democratic countries (especially in France, but also in Great Britain). As a consequence, these actions were to put tangible pressure on the governments of these countries and cause them to maintain neutrality and not keep their allied commitments towards Poland. However, even Poland”s rejection of the German demands would not justify the necessity of war in the eyes of international public opinion. That is why the Germans had been preparing for a long time a series of provocations (Operation Himmler), which were supposed to show Poland as the aggressor, and the German operation as a campaign of retaliation against a series of aggressions from the Polish side. Between March and August 1939, the military intelligence of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces (German: Oberkommando Der Wehrmacht), the Abwehr, and the SD under the direction of Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler, organized a series of provocations aimed at destabilizing the Polish state.

Throughout the summer of 1939, diversionary bands attacked Polish border posts, railroad stations, and factories in the border zone (including Rybnik, Katowice, Koscierzyna, and Mlawa). Groups of saboteurs sent from Germany started fights in restaurants and cafes, placed time bombs in German schools and establishments, and set fire to German properties – the German press presented these events as examples of “Polish terror”. Terrorist acts also took place in the interior of Polish territory – in the last week of August 1939, a bomb planted by German saboteurs exploded in the baggage hall of the train station in Tarnow, killing 18 Poles on the spot. As a result, an order was issued to liquidate the baggage room.

As part of diversionary actions, operations to seize industrial facilities, roads and bridges were also planned. Between August 25th and 26th, a group of German saboteurs from Wroclaw Abwehr, under the command of lieutenant Hans-Albrecht Herzner, made a diversionary attack (originally the beginning of the war was planned for 4.15 am on August 26th) on Jablonkowska Pass, in order to capture the tunnel and the railroad station. The German unit went into action because the order to postpone the start of the invasion of Poland to September 1, 1939, had not been received, and was stopped by the Polish crew of the railroad station, after which it had to retreat. On the same days, German saboteurs intended to capture a bridge over the Vistula River in Tczew, but were defeated in a clash with the Polish Border Guards (the bridge was blown up on September 1 by Polish sappers when the saboteurs again attempted to take it). Similar incidents took place on September 1, 1939 – in Grudziądz units of German saboteurs attempted to take over the bridge. In the first days of September 1939, Polish civilians were also shot at and murdered by the detachments of German saboteurs in the front zone, including in Orlowo, Grudziądz, Lasin, and Sepolno.

Some Germans – citizens of the Republic of Poland (as well as parachuted agents), organized a diversionary structure colloquially referred to as the fifth column, which organized diversionary actions against the fighting units of the Polish Army. The most spectacular diversionary actions of the German minority were the attempts to capture the Upper Silesian mines on the morning of September 1, 1939, thwarted by the Polish army and self-defense, and the German diversion in Bydgoszcz, in the rear of the 9th, 15th, and 27th Infantry Divisions of the Polish Army retreating from the Vistula Pomerania. On September 1, 1939, Freikorps Ebbinghaus units made an armed attempt to capture Chorzow and other Upper Silesian cities. Cutting of telephone lines, disinformation, and the appearance of saboteurs in Polish uniforms were the standard. The location of both the Polish government and the High Command was systematically reported to the Luftwaffe.

The area of Poland was not favorable for a defensive war: Except the marshes of Polesie in the east and the Carpathian Mountains in the south, Poland had no natural borders. Out of about 5400 kilometers of land borders, the border with Germany was over 2700 kilometers, with the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia 120 kilometers, with USSR over 1400 kilometers. The border with Germany was practically open, because due to a lack of resources and the Polish military doctrine assuming as the main method of fighting movement, counter-attacks and local offensive turns, no major fortifications were built there. Poland had only fragments of permanent fortifications and a few fortified areas, the strongest of which protected the key industrial region of Upper Silesia (Warring Area “Silesia”, Węgierska Górka) and partly Cieszyn Silesia. On the Hel Spit there was the fortified Hel Fortified Region. The northern front had fortifications in the area of the Narew River, and a protruding fortified bastion over the border with East Prussia – near Mława and Rzęgnow.

A significant influence on this state of affairs was the fact that from the dawn of the Second Polish Republic”s independence, preparations were made for war in the East. At the beginning of 1939, there were no military plans for war with Germany. It was only when the threat from the west became real that a defense project was prepared. It had two premises: it was assumed that in case of a conflict between Poland and Germany, the USSR would remain neutral (a guarantee of the Polish-Soviet non-aggression pact of 1932, valid until the end of 1945, and the so-called Litvinov Protocol on renouncing war as a means of settling disputes of 1929), and France would fulfill its alliance obligations of 1921, i.e., strike at the aggressor. According to the West Plan, the goal of the Polish forces was to inflict the heaviest possible losses on the invader and to maintain operational combat effectiveness until France launched offensive operations against the Siegfried Line. From the moment the war began, Great Britain was to launch a naval blockade of the Reich and an RAF bombing offensive over Germany, with particular emphasis on communication hubs, in order to draw the Luftwaffe away from the Polish front and make it more difficult to move the Wehrmacht to the Western Front. After the start of the French offensive on land, the Polish Army was to undertake actions depending on the situation on the German-Polish front. The eastern border was to be protected only by KOP – Border Protection Corps (subordinate to the Ministry of Internal Affairs).

Taking into account the expected numerical and tactical superiority of German groups, Marshal Edward Rydz-Smigly decided to carry out defensive actions in three stages:

Rydz-Smigly hoped that in the course of the defensive battle on the Vistula River the allied forces of Great Britain and France would start offensive actions against Germany, which would cause the regrouping of a considerable number of German troops to the western front, and then a strategic opportunity would arise for the Polish army to move to offensive actions against the weakened German forces.

The British and French declarations made in May 1939 to the delegation headed by General Tadeusz Kasprzycki were intentionally empty declarations. Already on April 24, 1939, i.e. before the French-Polish and English-Polish military talks, the French and British General Staffs jointly agreed that “in the first phase of the war, the only offensive weapon that the Allies can use effectively is the economic one”. They also agreed that their “main strategy would be a defensive strategy.” Shortly thereafter, in July, at a conference of the French and British Chiefs of Staff, the Allied Chiefs of Staff decided that Poland”s fate would depend on the final outcome of the war…and not on whether France and Britain could relieve Poland at the outset of the war. The Western powers anticipated that, in the event of war, they would avoid an early total confrontation with Germany to buy time to build up their own military forces. Instead, they intended to use the naval blockade that had proven so effective in 1914-1918. The Poles were unaware of these fateful decisions. Internal military arrangements of the British and French staffs ruled out the possibility of the Allies” involvement on the declared scale, which was not communicated to the Polish side. In the meantime, as part of the allied cooperation, on 25 July 1939 the Polish side handed over to the representatives of the military intelligence of France and Great Britain the copies of the replica of the German cipher machine Enigma made by the Cipher Bureau of the Second Section of the Main Staff of the Polish Army together with a set of documentation developed by the Polish cryptologists which made it possible for the allies of the Republic of Poland to decipher the cipher codes of the Third Reich on their own.

As a part of war preparations, bridges over the Vistula were built until the end of June 1939 (two-way bridges under Swidry Maly, Maciejowice, Solec Sandomierski and Mogila and one-way bridges under Brzumin and Modlin). Later sappers built bridges near Baranow and Nowy Korczyn. These bridges were necessary due to the fact that from the mouth of the Narew River to the mouth of the San there were only 7 fixed road bridges (including 3 in Warsaw), and from the San River to Krakow also 7 (including 4 in Krakow).

Mobilization of the army was accompanied by mobilization of the rest of society: In the last days of August, the population began to dig anti-aircraft ditches – places of refuge for passersby in case of air raids. On August 30, the Minister of Agriculture issued a decree prohibiting the raising of prices of necessities. During the night from August 31 to September 1, a new railroad timetable was introduced, which significantly reduced the number of long-distance trains. The start of the school year was postponed indefinitely from September 4 (Monday). In the last days of August, some people from Silesia and the National Museum in Kraków were evacuated. A week before September 1, some companies and institutions paid salaries up to 3 months in advance.

The quantitative differences were accompanied by differences in the quality of equipment and war doctrine. Polish Air Force was equipped with equipment that was only 3-4 years older (PZL P.11) than Luftwaffe planes (Bf109), but it was already outdated as the previous generation equipment due to the technological revolution of the mid-thirties. It made it impossible to effectively defend Polish airspace against massive attacks of bombers and short-range dive bombers (Stukas), implementing Göring”s air war doctrine. Modern Polish medium-lift bombers “Los” (120 planes, out of which only 36 fully equipped and armed in service in the Bomb Brigade at the disposal of the Commander-in-Chief) were used contrary to their purpose as attack planes without fighter cover against German armored groupings (1st and 4th Panzer Divisions of the Wehrmacht) on September 2-5, 1939 in the area of Klobuck – Radomsko – Tomaszow Mazowiecki. However, Luftwaffe did not succeed in planned destruction of Polish air force on the first day of war – it was successfully redeployed to secret, unknown to German intelligence, field airfields on August 30.

But it was unable to change the geostrategic situation resulting from the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Germany”s earlier seizure of Austria, and the actual breakup of Czechoslovakia.

In Jan Karski”s analysis:

The attack on Poland was preceded by numerous incidents and provocations, including a provocation in Gliwice, where German soldiers dressed in civilian clothes attacked the local German radio station, posing as Poles. The incident became an official pretext for Germany to start military actions against Poland.

The Germans concentrated against Poland 1.8 million soldiers armed with 2800 tanks, about 3000 aircraft and 10 000 guns. Slovakia deployed the Field Army “Bernolak” and a sparse air force. Poland mobilized about one million soldiers (out of 2.5 million militarily trained reservists), 880 tanks, 400 aircraft and 4300 guns.

Quick breaking of the enemy in view of the vastness of Polish territory and the possibility of partisan war was to be guaranteed by the participation of the Red Army in the aggression, as soon as possible. Quick seizure of Warsaw as the capital of Poland was important – treated as a political pretext for the USSR armed action.

The beginning of the war

On September 1, 1939 (Friday) at 4.45 a.m., without declaring war or announcing mobilization, the German army, in accordance with the Fall Weiss plan, attacked Poland along the entire length of the Polish-German border and from the territory of Moravia and Slovakia, which resulted in the total length of the front line amounting to about 1600 km, putting Poland in a disadvantageous strategic position. President of the Republic of Poland Ignacy Moscicki issued a proclamation, in which, after declaring the unprovoked German aggression against Poland, he called on the nation to defend the freedom and independence of the country.

The assumption of “Fall Weiss” was to encircle and destroy the Polish Army west of the Vistula line no later than on the fourteenth day after the Wehrmacht strike. Due to the resistance of the Polish army the assumptions of the OKH plan of war against Poland were not realized, and due to the regrouping of the Polish units beyond the flanking blows of the German armored and motorized units, the decisive for the outcome of the campaign was the Red Army”s blow from the east into Polish territory.

The attack was supported by organized Luftwaffe bombing raids on most Polish cities, railroad junctions and factory settlements. At the same time, on September 3, 1939, the government of the USSR gave permission for the radio station in Minsk to broadcast a special signal allowing the Luftwaffe to radio in the eastern regions of Poland. Probably the first Polish town which was hit by German bombs was Wieluń.

However, the symbol of the German attack became the attack on the Polish military depot Westerplatte in the Free City of Gdansk, which began at 4.45 am with the shots of the battleship “Schleswig-Holstein”, which with a courtesy visit sailed into the port of Gdansk a few days earlier.

205 Polish soldiers from the Westerplatte outpost, under the command of Major Henryk Sucharski and his deputy Captain Franciszek Dabrowski, occupying the area equipped with 5 concrete guardhouses and military barracks and fortified field facilities, defended themselves for seven days against a force of 3,400 German soldiers. Dabrowski, occupying the area equipped with 5 concrete guardhouses and military barracks as well as fortified field facilities, defended themselves for seven days against a force of 3.4 thousand German soldiers from SS-Heimwehr Danzig company, an assault company of marines from battleship “Schleswig-Holstein”, Selbstschutz units and a battalion of sappers, under simultaneous fire of German artillery from the area of Wisloujscie, Brzezno, Nowy Port, from battleship “Schleswig-Holstein”, and air attacks of a Stuka aircraft squadron.

Westerplatte capitulated on September 7 at 10.15 a.m. During this time it was an example of heroism and encouraged the whole country to continue fighting.

A symbolic event from the first days of the war was the defense of the Polish Post in Gdansk. The Post Office was captured after 14 hours of fierce fighting, and its defenders were shot. At the same time Albert Forster, proclaimed “head” of Freie Stadt Danzig by a decree of Senate of Freie Stadt Danzig from 23 August 1939, announced joining of Freie Stadt Danzig to III Reich on 1 September 1939. On the same day, High Commissioner of the League of Nations, Carl Jakob Burckhardt left the territory of Freie Stadt Danzig together with the staff of the League of Nations Commissariat in Freie Stadt Danzig on demand of Albert Forster. On September 1, 1939, the Germans arrested the first 250 Poles in Danzig and placed them in the Stutthof concentration camp, which was established on September 2, 1939.

Slovakia, although officially a sovereign state, remained under the protectorate of the Third Reich. The country, along with German forces, attacked Poland at approximately 5:00 a.m. with an assault from the south (although the first skirmishes took place on August 26, 1939). The attack involved approximately 50,000 Slovak soldiers of the “Bernolák” Field Army under General Ferdinand Čatloš, 4 divisions, and an air force of three squadrons. The Slovak army reached the vicinity of Nowy Targ, Krynica and Sanok, losing a total of 29 killed or missing and taking about 1350 Polish prisoners of war. This attack, although it lasted 15 days (until September 16, 1939), ended in a victory for Slovakia and Germany, and one of its results was the incorporation into Slovakia”s borders of about 770 km² of Polish territory lost by Czechoslovakia in 1920-1923 and in 1938.

The so-called Border Battle took place on September 1-3, 1939 in northern Mazovia, Pomerania, the Warta River, Silesia, and Podhale. Applying the doctrine of blitzkrieg (instant warfare), German forces concentrated their armored and motorized units on the main attack directions. Taking advantage of the element of surprise and huge technical superiority, they destroyed some Polish units, and forced the rest to withdraw.

Despite fierce resistance, already in the first days of September the Germans managed to break through the Polish defensive lines and capture Kujawy, part of Greater Poland and Silesia. To the north main Polish forces, concentrated in Mlawa region and Pomerania, were defeated on September 1-3 – Modlin Army, attacked by German 3rd Army during Battle of Mlawa, was forced to retreat from Mlawa region to the Vistula and Narew river line. On the second day of battle, Pomerania Army”s defense was broken by XIX Panzer Corps from 4th Army, commanded by General Heinz Guderian. One of the first clashes of the Pomerania Army with the German forces was the battle of Krojanty, where on September 1, 1939, the 18th Regiment of Pomeranian Lancers crushed a German infantry battalion of the 20th Motorized Division, effectively delaying the advance of the German corps for several hours. Heavy battles against Germans were fought by 9th Infantry Division with three German divisions (one armored and two mechanized), in the section from Chojnice to Bydgoszcz. An attempt to organize a counterattack of 27th Infantry Division, which was advanced on the foregrounds of Tuchola Forest, ended in failure. 27th Infantry Division suffered heavy losses during the withdrawal and retreat fights.

As a result of the lost battle, German 4th Army merged with the 3rd Army, and East Prussia gained territorial connection with the Reich. Immediately after capturing Pomerania, the Germans moved their main forces (XIX KP from 4th Army) to East Prussia, to the Elk region, to attack the Polish Independent Operational Group Narew from there.

At the same time, in southwestern Poland, German forces of the 10th Army broke through with an attack in the area of Klobuck, between the Lodz and Krakow Armies, making a deep breach in the front line that ended on September 1 with a clash in the Battle of Mokra – the Wolyn Cavalry Brigade, commanded by Colonel Julian Filipowicz, destroyed over 100 German motor vehicles in the battle, including at least 30 tanks. At that time the forces of the German 10th Army were effectively resisted by the 7th Infantry Division, which was finally encircled and defeated on September 3 near Janow. The Lodz Army, attacked in the area of Syców and Opatów by the forces of the German 8th Army, which broke the Polish defense line, withdrew its main forces of the 10th ID and 28th ID behind the Warta River line. The withdrawal was hastened by the loss of contact with the neighboring Army of Krakow, attacked at that time by the German 14th Army.

Army “Krakow”, which concentrated on itself the main burden of the German 14th Army attack, occupied defensive positions in Upper Silesia and Krakow. The 14th Army with the forces of VIII Corps encircled Upper Silesia, attacking Rybnik and Bo¿e Gora, and XVII Corps attacked Bielsko-Bia³a at the same time. At the same time a strong strike of the 7th Division of the 14th Army concentrated on Zywiec, where intense battles ensued with the forces of the Polish 2nd Regiment of the Border Protection Corps holding positions in the fortifications around Węgierska Górka. XVIII Corps of German 14th Army made an encirclement maneuver around Krakow Army from south, attacking Spytkowice and Nowy Targ, intending to attack Krakow directly. The increasing superiority of German forces and persistent attacks of German saboteurs in Katowice, Pszczyna, and Bielsko-Biala, finally caused the Commander-in-Chief to obtain permission to retreat from Silesia. This decision was made on September 2 by the commander of the Kraków Army, General Antoni Szylling, who withdrew his troops along the entire length of the front. The Commander-in-Chief”s consent to the withdrawal of the Krakow Army from its fortified positions in Upper Silesia on the second day of the war is criticized by military historians. The “Krakow” Army did not escape the threat of encirclement by German fast units, but exposed the ongoing concentration of the Prussian Reverse Army in the face of the German 10th Army assault.

France and Great Britain declared war on the Third Reich on September 3, as a consequence of German aggression against Poland on September 1 and rejection by the German government of the British and French ultimatums demanding immediate withdrawal of the Wehrmacht from Polish territory and the Free City of Danzig. Consequently, in fulfillment of their Allied commitments to Poland, both Western powers found themselves at war with Germany. Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg remained neutral. France announced general mobilization on September 2 and began concentrating troops.

At the outbreak of the war, 34 divisions were stationed on the French mainland (12 on the German border), and the air force – which numbered about 3,300 aircraft as of this writing – had a minimum of 700 fighters (Morane, Dewoitine, and Bloch MB.151C1), at least 175 Bloch bombers, and about 400 reconnaissance aircraft (Potez). In total, there were a minimum of 1,275 combat aircraft on the Western Front in the first half of September 1939, which meant an independent French air superiority over the Luftwaffe”s 1,186 aircraft. The French Armée de l”Air was joined by some 1,500 aircraft of the allied British Royal Air Force (RAF) (fighters – Spitfire, Hurricane and bombers – Fairey Battle, Bristol Blenheim and Whitley). Although these planes were based in the United Kingdom, and it would take time to get them to France to support the French Army”s offensive against Germany, this was only for the ground attack – the RAF planes could use the logistics of the Armee de l”Air immediately after arriving at French airfields. In total, the Allies had a minimum of 2,775 French and British aircraft on September 3, giving them more than twice the air superiority over Luftwaffe forces on the Western Front. In 1939, France had the world”s third (after the Red Army and the Wehrmacht) land army and the world”s fourth (after the Royal Navy, US Navy, and Japanese Imperial Navy) navy (followed by Italy”s Regia Marina and Germany”s Kriegsmarine).

Western front of Wehrmacht was formed by Army Group “C” of General von Leeb. German forces eventually had 42 infantry divisions, 8 secondary, in the second half of September (after mobilization was completed). German forces were stretched along Germany”s borders with the Netherlands, Belgium and France, with France as the main opponent. The Luftwaffe on the Western Front had 1186 aircraft (including 568 fighters, 343 bombers, 152 reconnaissance aircraft), grouped in two Air Fleets, which was half of the Luftwaffe”s forces in 1939. Wehrmacht also had a system of fortifications of Siegfried Line, built between 1936 and 1939.

The French side on September 3, 1939, in the main section of operations between the Luxembourg border and the Rhine, had 2 Army Group (four armies) with a strength of eleven divisions (eight infantry divisions and one cavalry division). By September 12, French forces in the area had been increased to 36 divisions (including four motorized) and 18 independent tank battalions. On September 12, there were 12 infantry divisions (seven of them full strength, the rest reserve) on the German side in the same section. The Germans at this point did not have an armored or motorized division and not a single tank battalion – all of which were engaged in Poland. As a result, on September 12 the French army outnumbered the Wehrmacht at least three times in the direction of a potential offensive, while the French army was heavily saturated with heavy and heaviest artillery, which was necessary to break through fortified areas.

On September 7th the forces of the French 3rd and 4th Armies, after crossing the French-German border in Saarland, began clearing the foreground and gaining access to the German main defense position, with the actual lack of German resistance and the evacuation of civilians from Saarland by the Germans. The date of the main strike was set – in accordance with the Polish-French military convention – for the fifteenth day after the start of French mobilization, i.e. September 16, 17 at the latest (France announced general mobilization on September 2, 1939). By this time, France had mobilized 70 divisions on the continent, some of which were redeployed over the border.

On 12 September 1939, however, the Franco-British Supreme War Council (see Abbeville Conference) met at Abbeville, with Neville Chamberlain, Edouard Daladier, and General Maurice Gamelin, commander-in-chief of the French army, reporting. The conference decided not to undertake a general ground offensive on the Western Front, and to “mobilize resources to the maximum extent possible before major ground operations are undertaken, and to limit air operations” by the RAF and Armee de l”Air over Germany in order to “minimize German retaliation.” A decision was also made, not realized in practice, to deploy military forces near Thessaloniki and Istanbul, from where the offensive toward Germany and the USSR was to be carried out, and because of the great distance from Italy, so as not to provoke Mussolini.

General Louis Faury, who was appointed head of the French military mission in Poland and arrived in Poland at the end of August 1939, later described his conversation with Generals Gamelin and Georges, which took place on 22 August 1939, i.e. before the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed.

The lack of military intervention by the British and the French enabled the German and (since September 17, 1939) the Soviet forces to defeat the Polish army and partition Poland.

Ian Kershaw:

On September 22, 1939, the second conference of the Supreme War Council, attended by the Prime Ministers of France and Britain, took place in Hove, Britain, in which it was also decided to unload the Allied troops in the area of Greece and Turkey, but action was ultimately not taken.

At the same time, the French Communist Party, following the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, launched an anti-war campaign, going so far as to call on French soldiers to desert. FPK deputies voted against war credits on September 2. French Communist Party General Secretary Maurice Thorez, who had been drafted into the army, deserted, fled to the USSR, and was sentenced to death for desertion by a French court martial. The consequence of the FPK”s actions was the official banning of the Communist Party in France on 26 September 1939 as an anti-state grouping. However, the FPK propaganda did not remain without effect on the morale of the French army and the attitudes of the soldiers during the Battle of France.

On September 12, 1939, a conference of the highest dignitaries of the Third Reich – Adolf Hitler, Joachim von Ribbentrop, General Wilhelm Keitel, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, and Colonel Erwin Lahousen – was held. At the meeting, decisions were made about the annihilation of the Polish state and the extermination of the Polish leadership. Another problem that was discussed was the possible use of the so-called Ukrainian Legion at the front.

Fights on the main defense line September 3-10

On September 5th the German 10th Army, after breaking through the defenses of Lodz and Krakow Armies, came into fire contact with a part of the Reverse Army of Prussia. The battles fought near Piotrkow Trybunalski and near Tomaszow Mazowiecki ended with the defeat of the units of the Reverse Army. Since September 6th it began the withdrawal of its units to the right bank of the Vistula River. On their way towards the crossing they were defeated in the battle of Ilza. Some of the survivors went into encirclement, tying up serious enemy forces in Swietokrzyskie Mountains, Konecki Forests, and Radom Forests.

After breaking the Army of Prussia, Polish High Command lost the opportunity to execute the planned counter-attack on the main direction of Wehrmacht attack – from Lower Silesia (Wroclaw) towards the north-east – Warsaw. At the same time breaking the resistance of the Polish Army (the northern group of the Army “Prussia” and the southern grouping of the Army “Lodz”) in the battles near Piotrkow and Tomaszow Mazowiecki opened on September 6 the way to Warsaw for the 1st and 4th Wehrmacht Panzer Divisions along the Piotrkow road.

At that time the strategic situation in the south of Poland became complicated. The Army of Krakow, retreating from Silesia and Krakow towards Lublin, was overtaken and threatened with being cut off from the San River crossing by the German XXII Panzer Corps attacking from Slovakia. By September 9th the Polish High Command decided, in order to avoid the planned manoeuvre of encircling the Polish forces with the fast advancing German forces in the area of Lublin and Siedlce, to withdraw the Polish forces to the south-east of the country – with the intention of creating the so-called Romanian forebridge.

In the new strategic situation new fronts were created by the orders of Commander-in-Chief, on September 10 the Southern Front (commanded by general Kazimierz Sosnkowski), on September 11 the Northern Front (commanded by general Stefan Dab-Biernacki) and the Middle Front (commanded by general Tadeusz Piskor), consisting of the units of Army “Lublin”.

In the night from 9th to 10th September, retreating Polish armies “Poznan” and “Pomerania” launched a surprising attack on the wing of German 8th Army marching towards Warsaw, starting the biggest battle of the campaign. The creator and executor of the offensive turn in the Bzura region was General Tadeusz Kutrzeba (during peace time the commander of the Higher School of War). He wanted to take advantage of the strategic factor of the Wehrmacht”s lack of commitment to the Army of Poznan and attack the wing of the German 8th Army, as opposed to the concept of Marshal Smigly (which was defined by the words: withdraw and not be crushed).

On September 9, in the evening, Operational Group Kolo under the command of General Edmund Knoll-Kownacki, together with the 14th ID, 17th ID and the 25th Infantry Division began the attack on Leczyca and Friday. The units of the Operational Group East commanded by General Mikolaj Boltucia, together with the 4th ID, 16th ID, and General Roman Abraham”s Wielkopolska Cavalry Brigade struck the town of Lowicz. At first the attack was successful, the German forces attacking Warsaw were surprised by the attack and stopped their efforts to attack the capital of Poland. However soon additional reinforcements of German forces, including numerous armored units and air force, arrived to the combat zone. German superiority caused the exhaustion of the Polish counterattack between September 12 and 13. Polish army captured Lowicz and fought further battles for Ozorkow and Strykow.

The attack of the Polish grouping forced OKH to revise its offensive plans in central Poland, to recall all available armored and light units and Luftwaffe forces to the Bzura River. This enabled the withdrawal of the Polish forces to the south-eastern part of the Republic of Poland, in accordance with the concept of the General Staff, which envisioned the organization of a new defense area based on the border with the USSR and Romania, the so-called Romanian foreground.

Some isolated points of resistance of Polish units, remaining outside the main directions of operations managed to defend themselves longer: Westerplatte – until September 7, Gdynia – until September 14, Kepa Oksywska – until September 19, Hel – until October 2.

On September 17 the Red Army attacked the eastern frontier of the country with a force of six armies numbering 600-650 thousand soldiers and more than 5000 tanks, divided into two fronts: Belorussian and Ukrainian. Soviet authorities thus fulfilled the arrangements of the secret additional protocol to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

The official reason for the aggression was contained in a diplomatic note sent at 3:00 a.m. on September 17 by Deputy People”s Commissar (Minister) for Foreign Affairs Potemkin to Ambassador Grzybowski: It included an untrue statement about the disintegration of the Polish state, the flight of the Polish government, the need to protect the property and lives of Ukrainians and Byelorussians living in the eastern Polish territories, and the liberation of the Polish people from war. Consequently, the USSR recognized all treaties previously concluded with Poland (including the 1921 Treaty of Riga, the 1932 Non-Aggression Treaty, and international agreements) as invalid – concluded with a non-existent state. Before being presented to the Ambassador of the Republic of Poland, Vyacheslav Molotov consulted with the Ambassador of the Third Reich Friedrich von Schulenburg about the contents of the Soviet Note. The Polish ambassador refused to accept the note and was temporarily interned together with all Polish diplomatic and consular personnel (which was a violation of diplomatic immunity guaranteed by international law).

Warnings coming from the Polish military atas at the end of August and the beginning of September 1939 about the existence of a secret military agreement between the Third Reich and the USSR and preparations of the USSR for aggression against Poland (secret mobilization and concentration of the Red Army on the Polish border) and a report from September 13, 1939, about the cutting of the entanglements on the Soviet side of the Polish border, which meant final preparations for the invasion, were disregarded by Commander-in-Chief Edward Rydz-Smigly.

Since the first days of war the army aviation fought against Luftwaffe planes, covered marches of retreating own troops, and conducted reconnaissance of Wehrmacht forces. The aviation of SGO Narew (commander Lt Col Stanislaw Nazarkiewicz) operated from airfields near Lomza, the aviation of Army Modlin (commander Col Tadeusz Prauss) in the area of Ciechanow, the aviation of Army Pomerania (commander Col Boleslaw Stachon) in the area north of Torun and Bydgoszcz, Poznan Army Aviation (commanded by Col. pilot Stanislaw Kuzynski) in the area of Greater Poland, Lodz Army Aviation (commanded by Col. Waclaw Iwaszkiewicz) in the area of Wieluñ, Czestochowa, Zduñska Wola, Krakow Army Aviation (commanded by Col. observer Stefan Sznuk) in the vicinity of Chorzow and Balice near Krakow, Karpaty Army Aviation (commanded by Lt. Olgierd Tuskiewicz) in the area of Rzeszow, the aviation of the Army of Prussia (commander Colonel Pilot Jerzy Garbinski). The Poznan Army Aviation showed the greatest resilience and compactness.

In the Polish Air Force in the west in the years 1940-1945, the airmen were recruited mainly from the flying and technical staff, which left the country after the September defeat to France and Great Britain.

The fights of Polish airmen in the September campaign were commemorated after 1990 on one of the plaques dedicated to the airmen on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw with the inscription “OBRONA POLSKI WRZESIEŃ 1939”.

Polish voluntary civil defense units and spontaneously created units of a similar character, made up of the local population, took an active part in defending the country”s territory against the forces of the Wehrmacht and the Red Army. Civilian defense units were created under the inspiration of the military authorities, mainly in Silesia, or by the civilian administration, including the Civilian Commissioner of Defense in Warsaw, and also as grassroots initiatives – independently created organizations by former Silesian and Greater Poland insurgents, political parties, scouts, workers and social activists. Such units performed organizational, protective, and military functions (together with Polish Army units or independently). The largest battles were fought during the civil defense of Silesia in September 1939, Klecko near Gniezno (September 8-9, 1939), Bydgoszcz (during events known in Polish historiography as a German diversion in Bydgoszcz) on September 5, Gdynia (volunteer units in the defense of the coastline including Kosynierzy Gdynia), and Warsaw – where the Workers” Brigade of Warsaw Defense was formed. The units of civil defense took part in the defense of Lublin (September 16-18), Lviv (volunteer companies of the so-called “Lvov Petrolmen”), Dzisna (September 17), Vilna (September 18-19) and Grodno (September 20-21).

Resistance of the Polish civil defense assumed significant proportions in Silesia, where civil defense formations participated in battles against organized groups of German saboteurs (Fifth Column, Freikorps Ebbinghaus, Selbstschutz), operating in the border zone (from August to September 1939). They were initially organized on the initiative of former Silesian insurgents, and later by the Association of Silesian Insurgents, cooperating in this field with 22 battalions from National Defense Brigades. Since September 1939, these formations defended Polish towns and villages against the Germans together with the Polish Army, voluntary youth groups – mainly scouts and members of the Union of Insurgent Youth. These units participated, among other things, in the defense of the parachute towers in Katowice, Chorzow, Lubliniec, and in the Pszczyna forests – their members who were captured by the Germans were usually shot or imprisoned.

While the fighting was still going on, the Germans were considering the idea of creating a residual state (Reststaat) from part of the conquered territories, with which they could sign a peace treaty and which they could maintain in dependence on the Reich. In a memorandum from the last ambassador of the Third Reich in Poland, Hans von Moltke, dated 25 September 1939, there was even the name of Kazimierz Sosnkowski as a person who, according to the author of the document, could agree to become the Prime Minister of the collaborationist government. However, this idea was abandoned due to Stalin”s categorical opposition. Thus, the USSR denied the idea of preserving Poland in any shape, the Polish state was to be liquidated once and for all, and the Polish territory annexed and incorporated by both aggressors (the Third Reich and the USSR). There are also no data indicating that the concept of creating a residual state was accepted by any Polish political or military circles.

In connection with the above, on September 28, 1939 – immediately after the capitulation of Warsaw – in a pact on borders and friendship, concluded in Moscow, the Third Reich and the USSR, contrary to international law (Hague Convention IV of 1907), delineated the German-Soviet border on the militarily occupied Polish territory. As early as September 1939 the structures of the Underground State began operating, subordinated to the Polish Government in Exile. Despite the declarations of the aggressors and occupants, the state continuity of the Republic of Poland in the international arena was preserved. A conspiratorial administration and an underground Polish Army were recreated in the occupied country.

During the September campaign, Estonia and Latvia liquidated their Polish diplomatic missions on September 20 and 22, respectively. Soviet propaganda accused Estonia of breaking neutrality in connection with alleged cooperation with the Polish fleet (case of escape of ORP “Orzeł” from Tallinn).

In view of the end of regular troop combat in Poland, on October 6, 1939, in a speech in the Reichstag, Adolf Hitler publicly proposed peace to France and the United Kingdom on condition that they recognize the conquest of Poland and the partition of its territory between the Third Reich and the USSR. The proposal contained in Hitler”s speech was rejected in Neville Chamberlain”s speech in the House of Commons on October 12, 1939.

This was the ultimate defeat of Hitler and Ribbentrop”s concept of a short-lived isolated war between Germany (supported in alliance by the USSR) and Poland. Britain was determined to wage a prolonged war against Germany using the reserves of the British Empire, leading diplomatic efforts to create a broad anti-Hitler coalition (analogous to the long-standing anti-Napoleonic coalition that was historic for the British), with the prospective participation of the United States. Despite the breakdown of the Eastern Front after the defeat of the Polish Army, World War II was to continue, in accordance with the will of the British cabinet – until the elimination of the Third Reich as hegemon on the European continent.

According to postwar estimates by the War Compensation Bureau, about 66,000 Polish soldiers and officers (2,000 officers, including 5 generals and several higher commanders) were killed in combat with the Wehrmacht, 134,000 were wounded, and about 420,000 were taken prisoner by the Germans.

Several thousand Polish soldiers were killed or wounded in the battles with the Red Army, and about 250,000 soldiers were taken prisoner by the Soviets (officers captured by the Red Army were mostly murdered by the NKVD). About 1300 soldiers were also taken prisoner by the Slovak Army.

Similar estimates are given by Czesław Grzelak and Wojciech Stańczyk. According to them, about 63,000 soldiers and 3,300 officers were killed in combat, while 133,700 were wounded. About 400,000 were taken prisoner by the Germans and 230,000 by the Soviets.

As part of the evacuation, about 80,000 soldiers made their way to Poland”s neighboring neutral countries of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia (12,000) as well as Romania (32,000) and Hungary (35,000).

Most of the Navy”s large ships escaped destruction. In addition to the three destroyers evacuated to Britain before the outbreak of war, two submarines got through the naval blockade during the campaign. The remaining three submarines escaped destruction and were interned in Sweden (although this eliminated them from further warfare). Only the two remaining large surface ships (ORP “Wicher” and ORP “Gryf”) and six small minesweepers were lost, as well as a number of vessels of lesser combat value or auxiliary. They managed to evacuate 119 airplanes to Romania. The remaining military equipment was lost.

Enemies” losses

Former Polish publications estimated overall German losses at over 100,000 soldiers. More recent German research allowed for a more precise calculation of global personnel losses of the land forces at around 17,000 killed, which, according to Polish authors, are also documented and coincide with the summary of losses resulting from the documents of the majority of German tactical units. According to Burkhart Müller-Hildebrandt, the losses of the land forces themselves (other data, differing slightly, are also encountered.

Many myths have grown up around the events of the September campaign over the years, partly due to the falsification of wartime Nazi propaganda and postwar communist propaganda of the People”s Republic of Poland period, as well as the lack of reliability of some Polish and foreign historians:

During the September campaign, the Wehrmacht, Red Army and NKVD formations committed many war crimes.

Crimes of the Wehrmacht

For 55 days, from September 1 to October 26, when the Wehrmacht command exercised military authority in the occupied Polish territories (on October 27 it was transferred to the German civilian administration), the Wehrmacht participated in 311 mass executions of Polish civilians and Polish Army soldiers. Between September 1 and October 26, various German forces carried out a total of 764 executions of Polish citizens.

A similar crime, where about 300 people were killed (including 150 Polish soldiers), was committed by German forces in Sladow, where Polish soldiers were taken captive. On September 17, 1939, in Terespol, Wehrmacht units shot 100 prisoners of war. On September 20, 42 prisoners of war were killed in Majdan Wielki; another 100 were shot on September 23, 1939 in Trzebinia. On September 22, 50 captured soldiers from ON Battalion “Bydgoszcz” were killed in Boryszew. On September 28, 1939, in Zakroczym, SS-men from “Kempf” Division shot around 600 people, including 500 captured Polish Army soldiers. In Urycz some 73-100 Polish prisoners of war were burned alive. In similar circumstances about 95 prisoners of war and civilians were murdered in Szczucin.

Wehrmacht forces were also a cover for thousands of other mass murders committed by the units of German Selbstschutz and Volksdeutsche militias, as well as police units and SD Operational Groups, assigned before the aggression on Poland to each Wehrmacht army.

Mass murders were committed by the Wehrmacht and other German formations in Wielkopolska (Greater Poland); civilians were executed without trial for armed resistance, possession of weapons or ammunition, and disobeying orders of the German military authorities. On September 1-2 soldiers of the German 10th Infantry Division pacified the village of Torzeniec, murdering 34 inhabitants and three prisoners of war. Some of the victims died in burning and shot-up buildings; 18 men were executed by a verdict of the “summary court”. A sapper company from the same division also burned down the neighboring village of Wyszanow, where 22 people – mostly old men, women and children – died from bullets, flames and grenades thrown into cellars. In nearby Podzamcze 20 inhabitants were murdered and another 18 were shot and stabbed with bayonets in the village of Mączniki. Similar incidents took place in many smaller towns in Wielkopolska.

A particularly large number of murders were carried out in the Greater Poland district of Sieradz, including the burning of 240 buildings in Zloczew on September 4 and the murder of about 200 people, including old men, women, and children. A Polish soldier was also shot without trial. In what was then the county of Turek, especially in the municipality of Niewiesz, on September 3-5 the Wehrmacht shot 300 people from the surrounding villages in revenge for the resistance of the Polish troops and the losses suffered in battle. In retaliation for the defense of Kłeck and Gniezno Wehrmacht soldiers shot 300 people on 9 and 10 September. In Mogilno 117 people were murdered in the same way.

Generals Johannes von Blaskowitz, as commander of the 8th Army, and Günther von Kluge, commanding the 4th Army, were primarily responsible for the Wehrmacht crimes in Greater Poland.

In total, various German forces (Wehrmacht, Selbstschutz, Freikorps, Luftwaffe, and German police) burned more than 434 Polish villages during the September Campaign, which in most cases was combined with executions of their inhabitants. These acts were unlawful actions, carried out in violation of international law and obligations, without military necessity and often after the end of combat. Other crimes included the taking and shooting of hostages in occupied localities by Wehrmacht and Einsatzkommandos, setting fire to houses, and driving out the population. Numerous crimes against Polish citizens were also committed by the units of Freikorps, German police, and probably the so-called Citizens” Guards (German Ortswehr, Werkswehr) in the Silesian Voivodeship, where between September 4 and 30, 1939 approximately 1023 people were murdered.

German planes bombed civilian targets, attacked columns of fleeing civilians, roads crowded with thousands of people fleeing from the aggressor became an easy target especially for the air force. The panic was caused by the deliberate strategy of the Luftwaffe to attack civilian targets from the first day of the war, the shelling of all living targets on the roads by German planes. The frequently cited example of unjustified terror is the bombing of Wielun and Frampol.

During the September campaign the Germans committed a number of anti-Semitic crimes and offenses. In the captured towns the Wehrmacht, SS-Verfügungstruppe and Einsatzgruppen repeatedly carried out the so-called instant pogroms, during which synagogues were burned, stores were robbed or smashed, and captured Jews were beaten, humiliated or forced to perform exhausting work. These pogroms sometimes turned into real massacres, during which dozens of Jews were killed. Anti-Semitic massacres took place, among others, in Będzin (several hundred victims), Błonie (about 50 victims), Dynów (at least 150-170 victims), Końskie (22 victims), Krasnosielc (about 50 victims) and Trzebinia (about 50 victims). The greatest massacre took place in Przemyśl, where between September 16 and 19 Einsatzgruppen functionaries murdered at least 500-600 Jews.

Crimes of the Red Army and NKVD formations

Since the beginning of the aggression against Poland, the Red Army and NKVD formations committed numerous war crimes, murdering prisoners of war and massacring the civilian population. It is estimated that about 2500 Polish soldiers and policemen and several hundred civilians fell victim to them. At the same time, military commanders called on the civilian population to murder and violence, the commander of the Ukrainian Front of the Red Army wrote in one of his proclamations: “With guns, scythes, pitchforks and axes, beat your eternal enemies – the Polish masters.” The greatest crimes were committed in Rohatyn, where Polish soldiers and civilians were slaughtered, Grodno, Nowogródek, Sarny, and Tarnopol, as well as in Wolkowysk, Oshmia, and Svisloch. According to some accounts, Polish prisoners of war were tied up in Grodno and dragged by tanks over the cobblestones. Dramatic events also occurred in Chodorow, Zloczow, and Stryj. Near Vilnius the Red Army soldiers were executing the Polish Army soldiers taken captive. In revenge for the resistance in Grodno the surrendering Polish Army soldiers were shot en masse. On September 22, 1939 the commander of Lviv, general Wladyslaw Langner signed with the Soviet command the capitulation, which stipulated, among other things, safe marching of the army, police and officers towards the border with Romania, after laying down their arms. The same happened to the defenders of Brest and the KOP grouping (after they were defeated on October 1, 1939, in the battle of Wolka Wytytska), while all captured soldiers of the 135th KOP regiment were shot by the Red Army on the spot.

The Red Army murdered with machine gun fire unarmed cadets from the Police NCO School in Mosty Wielkie after the cadets gathered on the roll call square and received a report from the school”s commandant.

General Józef Olszyna-Wilczyński, the commander of the defense of the Grodno region, and his adjutant were also premeditatedly murdered by Red Army units near Sopotkinje. In the latter case, contemporary Russian literature (authored mainly by J. Muchin) states that General Olszyn-Wilczynski was killed while fleeing with his baggage in a passenger car, after abandoning his subordinate units that were still fighting. Meanwhile, the witnesses of the execution of the general and his adjutant with a shot in the back of the head were his wife and a dozen or so people accompanying her.

The Red Army troops were followed by NKVD troops and special units, which immediately carried out mass arrests (or executions) of local elites according to previously prepared proscription lists, with the help of local communist agents and organized militias (the so-called people”s militia).

Organized communist militias and units of Spetsnaz and Osnaz also carried out on-the-spot murders of members of the local elite (among them Jadwiga Szeptycka, Roman Skirmunt).

Crimes committed by Ukrainian nationalists and Ukrainian communist militias in Eastern Lesser Poland and Volhynia

In the areas of Eastern Lesser Poland and Volhynia there were crimes committed by OUN militias and communist militias organized by the Soviet special services.

Until September 1112 – the capture of Sambir and arrival of the Wehrmacht motorized convoy to Lvov – the areas of Eastern Lesser Poland were quiet. Since 12 September 1939 mainly Polish military settlers, disarmed soldiers and local peasants were murdered. The murders were carried out by organized OUN groups, consisting partly of armed deserters from the Polish Army, communist militias, part of the local population and the margin. In the villages of Koniuchy and Potutory about 100 Poles were killed in total, and in Kolonia Jakubowice 57 homesteads were burned and about 20 Poles were murdered. In the village of Sławentyn in the Podhajce district, a further 85 people were killed. Ukrainian actions against Poles were particularly intense in Brzeżany and Podhajce districts. It is estimated that in September and October 1939 about 2,000 Poles were killed by Ukrainian nationalist and communist militias in Eastern Lesser Poland and about 1,000 in Volhynia. According to the OUN, its members killed 796 Poles and burned at least four Polish villages in September 1939, with their own losses of 160 killed and 53 wounded.

The first competent critical work on the September campaign was a three-volume work by Colonel Marian Porwit, Diplomat Marian Porwit”s Comments on Polish defensive actions in September 1939, which refers to the synthesis and evaluations contained in the publication: Polskie Siły Zbrojne na Zachodzie, vol. 1, “The September Campaign” (parts 1-5) prepared by the General Sikorski Historical Institute in London (London 1951-1986). Both works contain extensive literature on the subject and sources.

During the September campaign, Polish commanders and staffers at various levels of planning and command committed, according to analysts, many mistakes in the art of war and its execution, taking into account the state of knowledge and capabilities existing at the date of decision-making. These were both decision-making and distributional, personnel, or tactical errors. Among the most pointed are:

General Wladyslaw Sikorski sent then General Maurice Gamelin a synthesis of the German offensive doctrine, recommending the adaptation of their own defense doctrine. Sikorski”s plan included basing the defense on blocking communication lines, defending towns, creating special barrage brigades to fight the enemy”s armored weapons, and preparing improvised and mobile armored domes to protect infantry firepower from German air assault attacks. The Polish Staff in France conducted serious studies in January-February 1940 on the experience of the lost September campaign in Poland, based on over 3,000 collected accounts from participants in the war effort. The results of these studies were submitted in 18 notebooks to the American, French and English General Staffs. An additional synthesis was presented in October 1939 by one of the officers of the French military mission in Poland, in a study of 27 typewritten pages sent to France – the French generals did not pay due attention to this study (among others, General Georges stated directly that: “it will be different with us”). Ignoring the conclusions of the lost September campaign in Poland was one of the reasons for France”s defeat during the French campaign in 1940.

Polish Army Fronts (since September 10, 1939)

Organisation and equipment of the Wehrmacht on 1 September 1939

As a tribute to the participants of the September campaign, the Polish Post introduced two stamps in 2009. The first one (PLN 2.40) features an archival German photo of bombed Wieluń. The second stamp (PLN 1.55) is dedicated to Węgierska Górka, which was nicknamed “Westerplatte of the South” because of its fierce and heroic defense. The stamp depicts Wêgierska Górka from the perspective of the defenders, from a shelter – through the eyes of a Polish soldier.

The National Bank of Poland has introduced coins commemorating the events of September 1939:


  1. Kampania wrześniowa
  2. Invasion of Poland
Ads Blocker Image Powered by Code Help Pro

Ads Blocker Detected!!!

We have detected that you are using extensions to block ads. Please support us by disabling these ads blocker.