All about Invasion of Poland – (02)…
Prelude to the campaign…
In addition to Soviet territory, the National-Socialists were also interested in establishing a new border with Poland because the German exclave of East Prussia was separated from the rest of the Reich by the „Polish Corridor”. The Corridor constituted land long disputed by Poland and Germany, and inhabited by both groups. The Corridor became a part of Poland after the Treaty of Versailles. Many Germans also wanted the city of Danzig and its environs (together the Free City of Danzig) to be reincorporated into Germany. Danzig was an important port city with more than 95% of the population German speakers. It had been separated from Germany after Versailles and made into a nominally independent Free City of Danzig. Hitler sought to reverse these territorial losses, and on many occasions made an appeal to German nationalism, promising to „liberate” theGerman minority still in the Corridor, as well as Danzig.
Poland participated in the partition of Czechoslovakia that followed the Munich Agreement, although they were not part of the agreement. It coerced Czechoslovakia to surrender the city of Český Těšín by issuing an ultimatum to that effect on 30 September 1938, which was accepted by Czechoslovakia on 1 October.
By 1937, Germany began to increase its demands for Danzig, while proposing that a roadway be built in order to connect East Prussia with Germany proper, running through the Polish Corridor. Poland rejected this proposal, fearing that after accepting these demands, it would become increasingly subject to the will of Germany and eventually lose its independence as the Czechs had. Polish leaders also distrusted Hitler Furthermore, Germany’s collaboration with anti-Polish Ukrainian nationalists from the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, which was seen as an effort to isolate and weaken Poland, weakened Hitler’s credibility from the Polish point of view. The British were also aware of the situation between Germany and Poland. On 31 March, Poland was backed by a guarantee from Britain and France which stated that Polish territorial integrity would be defended with their support. On the other hand, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and his Foreign Secretary,Lord Halifax, still hoped to strike a deal with Hitler regarding Danzig (and possibly the Polish Corridor), and Hitler hoped for the same. Chamberlain and his supporters believed war could be avoided and hoped Germany would agree to leave the rest of Poland alone. German hegemony over Central Europe was also at stake.
With tensions mounting, Germany turned to aggressive diplomacy as well. On 28 April 1939, it unilaterally withdrew from both the German-Polish Non-Aggression Pact of 1934 and the London Naval Agreement of 1935. Nevertheless, talks over Danzig and the Corridor broke down and months passed without diplomatic interaction between Germany and Poland. During this interim, the Germans learned that France and Britain had failed to secure an alliance with the Soviet Union against Germany and the Soviet Union was interested in an alliance with Germany against Poland. Hitler had already issued orders to prepare for a possible „solution of the Polish problem by military means” – a Case White scenario.
However, with the surprise signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact on 23 August, the denouement of secret Nazi-Soviet talks held in Moscow, Germany neutralized the possibility of Soviet opposition to a campaign against Poland and war became imminent. In fact, the Soviets agreed to aid Germany in the event of France or the United Kingdom going to war with Germany over Poland and, in a secret protocol of the pact, the Germans and the Soviets agreed to divide Eastern Europe, including Poland, into two spheres of influence; the western third of the country was to go to Germany and the eastern two-thirds to the Soviet Union.
According to the Armenian quote, on 22 August 1939, the day before the signing of the pact, Hitler gathered the Wehrmacht generals and explained his view of the upcoming war:
Our strength is our speed and our brutality. Genghis Khan chased millions of women and children to death, consciously and with a happy heart. History sees him only as a great founder of states. It is of no concern, what the weak Western European civilisation is saying about me. I issued the command – and I will have everybody executed, who will only utter a single word of criticism – that it is not the aim of the war to reach particular lines, but to physically annihilate the enemy. Therefore I have mobilised my Skull Squads, for the time being only in the East, with the command to unpityingly and mercilessly send men, women and children of Polish descent and language to death. This is the only way to gain the Lebensraum, which we need. Who is still talking today about theextinction of the Armenians?”
The German assault was originally scheduled to begin at 04:00 on 26 August. However, on 25 August the Polish-British Common Defence Pact was signed as an annex to the Franco-Polish Military Alliance. In this accord, Britain committed itself to the defence of Poland, guaranteeing to preserve Polish independence. At the same time, the British and the Poles were hinting to Berlin that they were willing to resume discussions – not at all how Hitler hoped to frame the conflict. Thus, he wavered and postponed his attack until 1 September, managing to in effect halt the entire invasion „in mid-leap”.
However, there was one exception: in the night of 25/26 August, a German sabotage group which had not heard anything about a delay of the invasion made an attack on the Jablunkov Pass and Mosty railway station in Silesia. In the morning of 26 August this group was repelled by Polish troops. The German side described all this as an incident „caused by an insane individual”.(see Jabłonków Incident)
On 26 August Hitler tried to dissuade the British and the French from interfering in the upcoming conflict, even pledging that the Wehrmacht forces would be made available to Britain’s empire in the future. The negotiations convinced Hitler that there was little chance the Western Allies would declare war on Germany, and even if they did, because of the lack of territorial guarantees to Poland, they would be willing to negotiate a compromise favourable to Germany after its conquest of Poland. Meanwhile, the number of increased overflights by high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft and cross border troop movements signalled that war was imminent.
On 29 August prompted by the British, Germany issued one last diplomatic offer, with Case White yet to be rescheduled. On the evening of August 29 the German government responded in a communication that it aimed not only for the restoration of Danzig but also the Polish Corridor (which had not previously been part of Hitler’s demands) in addition to the safeguarding of the German minority in Poland. It said that they were willing to commence negotiations, but indicated that a Polish representative with the power to sign an agreement had to arrive in Berlin the next day while in the meantime it would draw up a set of proposals. The British Cabinet was pleased that negotiations had been agreed to but, mindful of how Emil Hacha had been forced to sign his country away under similar circumstances just months earlier, regarded the requirement for an immediate arrival of a Polish representative with full signing powers as an unacceptable ultimatum. On the night of August 30/31 German Foreign MinisterJoachim von Ribbentrop read a 16 point German proposal to the British ambassador. When the ambassador requested a copy of the proposals for transmission to the Polish government Ribbentrop refused on the grounds that the requested Polish representative had failed to arrive by midnight. When Polish Ambassador Lipski went to see Ribbentrop later on 31 August to indicate that Poland was favorably disposed to negotiations, he announced that he did not have the full power to sign, and Ribbentrop dismissed him. It was then broadcast that Poland had rejected Germany’s offer, and negotiations with Poland came to an end. Hitler issued orders for the invasion to commence soon afterwards.
On 29 August German saboteurs planted a bomb at the railway station in Tarnów and killed 21 passengers, leaving 35 wounded.
On 30 August the Polish Navy sent its destroyer flotilla to Britain, executing Operation Peking. On the same day, Marshal of Poland Edward Rydz-Śmigły announced the mobilization of Polish troops. However, he was pressured into revoking the order by the French, who apparently still hoped for a diplomatic settlement, failing to realize that the Germans were fully mobilized and concentrated at the Polish border. During the night of 31 August the Gleiwitz incident, a false flag attack on the radio station, was staged near the border city of Gleiwitzby German units posing as Polish troops, in Upper Silesia as part of the wider Operation Himmler. On 31 August 1939, Hitler ordered hostilities against Poland to start at 4:45 the next morning. Because of the prior stoppage, Poland managed to mobilize only 70% of its planned forces, and many units were still forming or moving to their designated frontline positions.