All about Invasion of Poland – (06)…
Poland’s defeat was the inevitable outcome of the Warsaw government’s illusions about the actions its allies would take, as well as of its over-estimation of the Polish Army’s ability to offer lengthy resistance.
Poland was divided among Germany, the Soviet Union, and Slovakia. Lithuania received the city of Wilno and its environs on 28 October 1939 from the Soviet Union. On 8 and 13 September 1939, the German military districts of „Posen” (Poznan), commanded by general Alfred von Vollard-Bockelberg, and „Westpreußen” (West Prussia), commanded by general Walter Heitz, were established in conquered Greater Poland and Pomerelia, respectively. Based on laws of 21 May 1935 and 1 June 1938, the German military, Wehrmacht, shared its administrative powers with civilian „chief civil administrators” (Chefs der Zivilverwaltung, CdZ). German dictator Adolf Hitler appointed Arthur Greiser to become the CdZ of the Posen military district, and Danzig’s Gauleiter Albert Forster to become the CdZ of the West Prussian military district. On 3 October 1939, the military districts „Lodz” and „Krakau” (Cracow) were set up under command of colonel-generals (generalobersten)Gerd von Rundstedt and Wilhelm List, and Hitler appointed Hans Frank and Arthur Seyß-Inquart as civil heads, respectively. Frank was at the same time appointed „supreme chief administrator” for all occupied territories. On 28 September 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 favour, to the Bug River. On 8 October Germany formally annexed the western parts of Poland with Greiser and Forster as Reichsstatthalter, while the south-central parts were administered as the so-called General Government led by Frank.
Even though water barriers separated most of the spheres of interest, the Soviet and German troops met on numerous occasions. The most remarkable event of this kind occurred at Brest-Litovsk on 22 September. The German 19th Panzer Corps under the command of Heinz Guderian had occupied the city, which lay within the Soviet sphere of interest. When the Soviet 29th Tank Brigade under the command of S. M. Krivoshein approached, the commanders negotiated that the German troops would withdraw and the Soviet troops would enter the city saluting each other. At Brest-Litovsk, Soviet and German commanders held a joint victory parade before German forces withdrew westward behind a new demarcation line. Just three days earlier, however, the parties had a more hostile encounter near Lwow (Lviv, Lemberg), 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 Lviv on 22 September.
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 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 a 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 seen by 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.
The invasion of Poland led to Britain and France to declare war on Germany on 3 September. However, they did little to affect the outcome of the September Campaign. This lack of direct help led many Poles to believe that they had been betrayed by their Western allies.
On 23 May 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 invasion decimated urban residential areas, civilians soon became indistinguishable from combatants, and the forthcoming German occupation (both on the annexed territories and in the General Government) was one of the most brutal episodes of World War II, resulting in between 5.47 million and 5.67 million Polish deaths (about 20 % of the country’stotal population, and over 90 % of its Jewish minority) – including the mass murder of 3 million Poles in extermination camps like Auschwitz, in concentration camps, and in numerous ad hoc massacres, where civilians were rounded up, taken to a nearby forest, machine-gunned, and then buried, whether they were dead or not.
According to the Polish Institute of National Remembrance, Soviet occupation between 1939 and 1941 resulted in the death of 150,000 and deportationof 320,000 of Polish citizens, when all who were deemed dangerous to the Soviet regime were subject to sovietization, forced resettlement, imprisonment in labour camps (the Gulags) or murdered, like the Polish officers in the Katyn massacre.
There are several common misconceptions regarding the Polish September Campaign.
- Myth: The Polish Army fought German tanks with horse-mounted cavalry wielding lances and swords.
- In 1939, 10% of the Polish army was made up of cavalry units.Polish cavalry never charged German tanks or entrenched infantry or artillery, but usually acted as mobile infantry (like dragoons) and reconnaissance units and executed cavalry charges only in rare situations against foot soldiers. Other armies (including German and Soviet) also fielded and extensively used elite horse cavalry units at that time. Polish cavalry consisted of eleven brigades, as emphasized by its military doctrine, equipped with anti tank rifles „UR”and light artillery such as the highly effective Bofors 37 mm antitank gun. The myth originated from war correspondents reports of theBattle of Krojanty, where a Polish cavalry brigade was fired upon in ambush by hidden armored vehicles, after it had mounted a sabre-charge against German infantry.
- Myth: The Polish air force was destroyed on the ground in the first days of the war.
- The Polish Air Force, though numerically inferior, 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. The Polish Air Force, significantly outnumbered and with its fighters outmatched by more advanced German fighters, remained active up to the second week of the campaign, inflicting significant damage on the Luftwaffe.The Luftwaffelost, to all operational causes, 285 aircraft, with 279 more damaged, while the Poles lost 333 aircraft.
- Myth: Poland offered little resistance and surrendered quickly.
- Germany sustained relatively heavy losses, especially in vehicles and planes: Poland cost the Germans approximately the equipment of an entire armored division and 25% of its air strength. As for duration, the September Campaign lasted only about one week less than the Battle of France in 1940, even though the Anglo-French forces were much closer to parity with the Germans in numerical strength and equipment.[Note 8] Furthermore, the Polish Army was preparing the Romanian Bridgehead, which would have prolonged Polish defence, but this plan was cancelled due to the Soviet invasion of Poland on 17 September 1939. Poland also never officially surrendered to the Germans. Under German occupation, the Polish army continued to fight underground, as Armia Krajowa and forest partisans – Leśni. The Polish resistance movement in World War II in German-occupied Poland was one of the largest resistance movements in all of occupied Europe.
- Myth: Blitzkrieg was first used in Poland.
- It is often assumed that blitzkrieg is the strategy that Germany first used in Poland. Many early postwar histories, such as Barrie Pitt’s inThe 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.” This idea has been repudiated by some authors. Matthew Cooper writes: „Throughout the Polish Campaign, the employment of the mechanized 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.”” John Ellis, writing in Brute Force 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 characterize authentic armoured blitzkrieg, and were almost always closely subordinated to the various mass infantry armies.” Zaloga and Madej, in The Polish Campaign 1939, 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.”