Poland, commemorates the fact that Nazi Germany invaded the country exactly 72 years ago. The invasion marked the beginning of World War II. One of the places where the German troops attacked Poland was the Westerplatte near Gdansk. At the ceremony gun salutes were fired and part of the battle in 1939 was re-enacted . The Polish Prime Minister Tusk attended the memorial and laid a wreath at the monument to the fallen of World War II. (Translation from the Dutch original text)
It was my great uncle, Dabrowski, who took over when this started, and the officer in charge fliped out, he took over. This in Polish history. I found this out, on one of my visit to Gdansk. Do you have any more information on this? Please pass it along, if you would.
Yes, history could have been differant. Unfortunately Germany was to strong and the French and English weren't that prepared. They could not assist Poland. The First World War had caused great losses to Europe, after that the economical crisis of 1929 occured, and in many parts of Europe and the USA that continued in the thirtees. During the 1930s Winston Churchill took the lead in warning about the danger from Hitler and in campaigning for rearmament. I know his role later in the war is disputed, but it is sad that England did not follow Churchills course in the thirties but instaid followed Neville Chamberlain in his appeasement policies.
The Polish soldiers were brave, had a high morale, were dedicated to their country as petriots and were very good fighters. They fought hard, and were attacked from the West (first) and the East (Second) by the Nazi's and the Sovjets. Fortunately hundreds of thousands managed to escape to the West via Rumania, Hungary and France. Many of them fought at the French side when Germany invaded France in 1940 via Belgium. Luckily most of them escaped via the English Channel, together with a lot of British soldiers. Others had to face humiliation, execution, torture and imprisonment in the Siberian Gulach and Kazachstan. 20 thousand Polish officers were assasinated by the Russian NKVD (the KGB of that time), and the rest of the soldiers fortunately managed to escape in the Anders army or fought in Polish units alongside the Red Army.
It is strange how life can go. My grandparents and mother and aunt (the sister of my mother) luckily experianced "good Russians" at the end of the war, because after the Nazi's that fled to the West and who commited attrocities (massacres) in their final weeks and days in Poland, the Poles were fearful of the Russians too. Because they did not know what to expect in Western-Poland. In Eastern-Poland they knew the brutality of the Sovjets and their Polish (Stalinist), Ukrainian (Pro-Sovjet) and *jewish (Pro-Sovjet) henchmen.
* Part of the jews were collaborators with the Sovjet NKVD, other jews were victims, because they were Polonist (Polish Patriots), Bund members or simply religious. There is a lot known about the Nazi occupation in Europe, but less know about the brutality of the Sovjet occupation of Eastern-Poland in the period 1939-1941. I know that several family members were sent to the Gulach, that an uncle of my mother died in Katyn and friends/colleage officers too. I am so glad that there were hundreds of thousands of Poles in Great Britain, which fought on the Western and Southern fronts as brave pilots (The Spitfire squadron), soldiers in Polish brigades and platoons. In the Arnhem region we will never forget the attempt of the brave Polish soldiers to liberate us in September 1944.
Soldiers dressed in uniforms of Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade during a Polish Independence Day Parade, Warsaw, 11 November 2007
Waves of paratroops land in Holland during Market Garden. My uncle Kwasieborski was one of the Polish soldiers at Arnhem.
On 21 September 1944, Driel was the drop zone of the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade which participated in Operation Market Garden. The brigade was under the command of Major General Sosabowski. After World War II, in the 1960s, the Polish monument was placed at the 'Polish Square' (Dutch: Polenplein, Polish: Plac Polski). A nearby plaque commemorates the ninety-four Polish soldiers who fell nearby. There are several other plaques, including one in honour of the 1st Airborne Division, along the d**e between Heteren, Driel and Arnhem. On 19 September 2009 the Dutch premier Jan Peter Balkenende and the Polish premier Donald Tusk visited Driel to commemorate the 65th anniversary of Operation Market Garden.
Stanisław Franciszek Sosabowski CBE (8 May 1892 - 25 September 1967) was a Polish general in World War II. He fought in the Battle of Arnhem (Netherlands) in 1944 as commander of the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade.
Volunteer fire-fighters watching an air duel over Warsaw. Propaganda poster reads "To Arms - United, we will defeat the enemy"
The 1939 Battle of Warsaw was fought between the Polish Warsaw Army (Armia Warszawa) garrisoned and entrenched in the capital of Poland (Warsaw) and the German Army. It started with huge aerial bombardments by the Luftwaffe starting on September 1, 1939. Land fighting started on September 8, when the first German armored units reached the Wola area and south-western suburbs of the city. Despite German radio broadcasts claiming to have captured Warsaw, the attack was stopped and soon afterwards Warsaw was under siege. The siege lasted until September 28, when the Polish garrison under Gen. Walerian Czuma capitulated. The following day approximately 100,000 Polish soldiers left the city and were taken POW. On October 1 the Wehrmacht entered Warsaw, which started a period of German occupation that lasted until the Warsaw Uprising and later until January 17, 1945.
General Walerian Czuma, the militairy commander of the Polish capital
Capitulation of the Polish army
From the very first hours of World War II, Warsaw, the capital of Poland, was a target of an unrestricted aerial bombardment campaign by the German Luftwaffe. Apart from the military facilities such as infantry barracks and the Okęcie airport and aircraft factory, the German pilots also targeted civilian facilities such as water works, hospitals, market places and schools. In addition, civilians were strafed from the air with machine gun fire in what became known as a terror bombing campaign. The Anti-Air defence of the city was divided into active and passive parts. The former was composed mostly of units of the Pursuit Brigade (Brygada Pościgowa) under colonel Stefan Pawlikowski, and anti-aircraft artillery and anti-aircraft machine guns detachments under colonel Kazimierz Baran. The Pursuit Brigade was equipped with 54 fighter aircraft, mostly the PZL P.7 and PZL P.11 types. The AA artillery had 86 pieces of anti-aircraft artillery, as well as an unknown number of anti-aircraft machine guns. The latter was composed mostly of fire-fighter brigades and volunteers and was supervised by colonel Tadeusz Bogdanowicz and Julian Kulski, the deputy president of Warsaw. Initially the air defence of Warsaw was fairly successful. By September 6, 1939, the Pursuit Brigade had managed to shoot down 43 enemy aircraft, while anti-aircraft artillery had shot down a similar number of enemy bombers. In addition, there were also 9 unconfirmed victories and 20 damaged planes. However, the brigade also suffered losses, and by September 7 it had lost 38 machines, or approximately 70% of its initial strength. The AA defence started to crumble when on September 5 by order of the military authorities 11 AA batteries were withdrawn from Warsaw towards Lublin, Brześć and Lwów. Also, as the war progressed, the German high command redirected more bombers to attack the city. At the peak of the initial bombing campaign on September 10, there were more than 70 German bombers above Warsaw. During that day, nicknamed "Bloody Sunday", there were 17 consecutive bombing raids.
Burning Warsaw, september 1939
Eve of the battle
On September 3 the forces of German 4th Panzer Division under major general Georg-Hans Reinhardt managed to break through positions of the Polish Łódź Army near Częstochowa and started their march towards the river Vistula and Warsaw. The same day Polish Commander in Chief, Marshal of Poland Edward Śmigły-Rydz ordered the creation of an improvised Command of the Defence of Warsaw (Dowództwo Obrony Warszawy). General Walerian Czuma, the head of the Border Guard (Straż Graniczna), became its commander and colonel Tadeusz Tomaszewski its chief of staff. Initially the forces under command of General Czuma were very limited. Most of the city authorities withdrew together with a large part of the police forces, fire fighters and military garrison. Warsaw was left with only 4 battalions of infantry and one battery. Also, the spokesman of the garrison of Warsaw issued a communique in which he ordered all young men to leave Warsaw. To coordinate civilian efforts and counter the panic that started in Warsaw, Czuma appointed the president of Warsaw Stefan Starzyński as the Civilian Commissar of Warsaw. Starzyński started to organize the Civil Guard to replace the evacuated police forces and the fire fighters. He also ordered all members of the city's administration to retake their posts. In his daily radio releases he asked all civilians to construct barricades and anti-tank barriers at the outskirts of Warsaw. On September 7 the 40th Infantry Regiment "Children of Lwów" (commanded by Lt.Col. Józef Kalandyk) - transiting through Warsaw towards previously assigned positions with Army Pomorze - was stopped and joined the defense of Warsaw.
Initial clashes The field fortifications were constructed mostly to the west of the city limits. Gradually, the forces of General Czuma were reinforced with volunteers, as well as rearguard troops and units withdrawing from the front. On the morning of September 8, the suburbs of Grójec, Radziejowice, Nadarzyn, Raszyn and Piaseczno were captured by forces of German XVI Panzer Corps. At 5pm the forces of German 4th Panzer Division attempted an assault on Warsaw's western borough of Ochota. The assault was repulsed and the German forces suffered heavy casualties with many Panzer I and Panzer II tanks lost. The following day, the 4th Panzer Division was reinforced with artillery and motorised infantry, and started another assault towards Ochota and Wola. The well-placed Polish 75 mm anti-tank guns firing at point-blank range, and the barricades erected on main streets managed to repel this assault as well. One of the barricades erected at the crossing of Opaczewska and Grójecka streets was defended by 4th company of the 40th "Children of Lwów" Regiment. After the war a monument was built on the spot to commemorate the battle. On several occasions lack of armament had to be made up by ingenuity. One of the streets leading towards the city centre was covered with turpentine from a nearby factory. When the German tanks approached, the liquid was set in flames and the tanks were destroyed without a single shot. The German forces suffered heavy casualties and had to retreat westward to help thwart the Bzura River counter offensive. The 4th Panzer Division alone lost approximately 80 tanks out of approximately 220 that took part in the assault.
Survivor of bombing of Warsaw
By then Gen. Czuma had gathered an equivalent of 2 infantry divisions under his command. His forces were supported by 64 pieces of artillery and 33 tanks (27 of Vickers E, 7-TP and R-35 and 6 TK-3 and TKS tankettes). On September 8 the Commander-in-Chief, Marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły ordered the creation of an improvised Warsaw Army (Armia Warszawa) under General Juliusz Rómmel. The newly-created force was composed of the forces defending Warsaw and Modlin Fortress, as well as all Polish units defending the Narew and the Vistula between Warsaw and Pilica river lines. Gen. Czuma continued to be the commander of the Warsaw Defence Force, which he split into two sectors: East (Praga) under Lt.Col. Julian Janowski and West under colonel Porwit. The Army Poznań under General Tadeusz Kutrzeba, and Army Pomorze under General Władysław Bortnowski started an offensive on the left flank of the German forces advancing towards Warsaw. As a result of this offensive that later became known as the Battle of Bzura, German commanders withdrew the 4th Panzer Division and sent it to counter the Polish threat near Kutno. Its positions were replaced by forces of a weakened German 31st Infantry Division. In this sense the desperate attempt to buy time for organisation of defence of Warsaw was a success. The defenders of the city were joined by various units of the routed Prusy Army. In addition, several new units were created in Warsaw out of reserve centres of Warsaw-based 8th Polish Infantry Division and 36th "Academic Legion" Infantry Regiment. On September 11 the Polish Commander in Chief ordered that Warsaw was to be defended at all costs. The following day the forces of German 3rd Army (under General Georg von Küchler) broke through Polish lines along the Narew river and started its march southwards to cut Warsaw from the east. It was assaulted by cavalry units under Władysław Anders, but after heavy fights the Polish counter-offensive failed and the forces were withdrawn to the south. Other Polish units fighting under Gen. Juliusz Zulauf in the Narew River area retreated and reached Warsaw on September 14. They were incorporated as the core of the defence forces of the borough of Praga. On September 15 the German forces reached Warsaw from the east and the capital of Poland was under siege. Only a strip of land along the Vistula leading towards the Kampinos Forest and Modlin Fortress was still in Polish hands. The defence of Modlin fortress was an important relief to the defenders of Warsaw.
Civilian refugees in Warsaw
On September 16 the forces of Gen. Blaskowitz tried to capture Praga on the march, but the assault was repulsed. After heavy fights for the Grochów area the German 23rd Infantry Regiment was annihilated by the Polish defenders of the 21st "Children of Warsaw" Infantry Regiment under colonel (later promoted to general) Stanisław Sosabowski. After the Battle of Bzura ended, the remnants of the Poznań Army and the Pomorze Army broke through German encirclement and arrived in Warsaw and Modlin. After that the forces of the defenders amounted to approximately 120,000 soldiers. The German forces preparing for an all-out assault numbered some 175,000 soldiers. On September 22 the last lines of communication between Warsaw and Modlin were cut by German forces reaching the Vistula. As a preparation for the storming, the city was shelled day and night with artillery and aerial bombardment. Among the guns used were heavy railway guns and mortars. Two entire air fleets took part in the air raids against both civilian and military targets. Since September 20 the forces on the eastern bank of the Vistula started attacks on Praga on a daily basis. All were successfully counter-attacked by the Polish forces. On September 24 all German units concentrated around Warsaw were put under command of general Johannes Blaskowitz.
On September 25 the final preparations commenced and the following day in the early morning the general assault was started on all fronts of surrounded Warsaw. Western parts of the city were attacked by 5 German divisions (10th, 18th, 19th, 31st and 46th) while the eastern part was attacked by 4 divisions (11th, 32nd, 61st and 217th). The attack was supported by approximately 70 batteries of field artillery, 80 batteries of heavy artillery and two entire air fleets (1st and 4th), which bombarded the city continuously causing heavy losses in the civilian population. The attack was repelled and the German forces had to retreat to their initial positions. The following night the Polish forces managed to successfully counter-attack and destroyed several German outposts, especially the Polish positions in boroughs of Mokotów and Praga. On September 27 the German High Command organised yet another all-out assault that was yet again repelled with heavy casualties on both sides.
Polish garrison of Warsaw marching out of city after the surrender.
The military situation of Warsaw was relatively good. General Czuma managed to gather enough forces and war material to successfully defend the city for several weeks longer. However, the situation of the civilian inhabitants of Warsaw became increasingly tragic. Constant bombardment of civilian facilities, lack of food and medical supplies resulted in heavy casualties among the civilians. The water works were destroyed by German bombers and all boroughs of Warsaw experienced a lack of both potable water and water with which to extinguish the fires caused by the constant bombardment. Also, the strategic situation became very difficult. The Soviet Union's entry into the war and lack of support from the Western Allies made further defence of the city pointless. On September 26 General Tadeusz Kutrzeba, deputy commander of Warsaw, started capitulation talks with the German commander. On September 27, at 12.00 a cease fire agreement was signed and all fighting halted. Soon afterwards Warsaw capitulated. Several units declined to put down their weapons and cease fire, and their commanding officers had to be visited by generals Czuma and Rómmel personally. On September 29 the garrison of Warsaw started to hide or destroy their heavy armament. Some of the hidden war material was later used during the Warsaw Uprising. On September 30 the evacuation of Polish forces to German POW camps started and the following day German units entered the city.
Place: Warsaw, Poland, September 1939 Links: Description: 01:03:45 Men digging in the aftermath of the German military air raids on Warsaw. Several refugees with bundles walk down the street, past where the ditches are being dug. Polish soldiers stand guard; civilians come up to them and question them. Scenes of the chaos in the streets after the German air attack. Two young men are recruited by a Polish soldier to help with the digging. They are all in suits and ties, some in trench coats and hats, and they keep digging.
01:04:18 Railway underpass, a train stuck on the tracks that are now covered with debris, women and men climb out of the railcar and over the debris. Polish soldiers with guns walking through the streets. Many civilians are milling about. Quick shot of a bridge over the Vistula River.
01:04:33 A shanty town that some survivors have set up where their homes once stood: families are trying to gather together their belongings; a young girl cleans her feet in a basin; young girl fixing her hair in a small mirror that she has propped up on a broken door. Refugees line up for bread outside a building, a soldier guards the door trying to keep things orderly.
01:04:57 CU of a wall riddled with bullet holes. Other buildings destroyed by bombs. HAS of church clocktower. People praying on their knees in the dirt outside of the wood frame church, the church has been damaged. A priest walks through the rubble outside the church.
Biography / History: Julien Hequembourg Bryan (1899-1974) was an American documentarian and filmmaker. In the 1930s, he conducted extensive lecture tours, during which he showed film footage he shot in the former USSR. Between 1935 and 1938, he captured unique records of ordinary people and life in Nazi Germany and in Poland. He was in Warsaw within days of Germany's invasion of Poland in September 1939 and remained throughout the German siege of the city, filming and photographing what would become America's first cinematic glimpse of the start of WWII.
Julien Bryan in Warsaw
Bryant learned about German invasion of Poland on September 3 while traveling by train to Warsaw. He arrived in Warsaw on September 7 carrying his Leica still camera, Bell & Howell movie camera and 6000 feet of film, just as all foreigners, diplomats and government official were fleeing the capitol. He contacted mayor of Warsaw Stefan Starzynski who provided him with a car, guide and interpreter Stefan Radlinski and permit to travel and photograph across Warsaw. In two weeks between September 7 and September 21he managed to take hundreds of still photographs and 5000 feet of motion picture film documenting the Siege of Warsaw and the terror bombing of the city by German Luftwaffe. He is credited as the only foreign journalist in Warsaw at that time. Through Polish Radio he also made an appeal to the American president Franklin Delano Roosevelt to help the Warsaw's civilians targeted by enemy bombers.
Julien Bryan in 1939 in Warsaw filming Siege
During his stay in Warsaw he lived in the abandoned Consulate of the United States. He left Warsaw on September 21 after Germans declared a cease-fire to allow citizens of neutral countries to depart by train through East Prussia. In Koenigsberg fearing confiscation of his material he decided to smuggle out his already developed films. He managed to hide some of his films in souvenir gas mask containers collected by fellow traveler from US, by one account he hid some movies by wrapping them around his torso. After arriving in New York in fall of 1939 Bryan published some of his photographs. Life magazine magazine printed 15 of his images in the October 23 issue and Look Magazine published another 26 in the December 5 issue. Bryant produced in 1940 as a short documentary film Siege, released by RKO Radio Pictures. and wrote a book with the same title. The film was nominated for Academy Award the following year for Best Short Subject, One-reel. In 1940 Bryan was hired by the Office of Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (CIAA) to make to make a series of 23 educational movies on Latin American culture and customs. Afterwards State Department hired him to create another five movies about US.
Franciszek Dąbrowski (17 April 1904 in Budapest - 24 April 1962 in Kraków) – was an officer of the Polish Navy during the Polish Defensive War against the Nazi German aggression in 1939. In September 1939 he served at Westerplatte military transit depot which took part in the Battle of Westerplatte. The Polish garrison fought against overwhelming odds and repulsed all German attacks from 1 to 7 September. After the surrender he was imprisoned in several German POW camps.
Plaque commemorating Franciszek Dąbrowski in Chopin street in Krakow
Franciszek Dąbrowski wrote two books about his experiences during the Battle of Westerplatte - Dziennik Bojowy załogi Westerplatte (1945) and Wspomnienia z obrony Westerplatte (1957). Dąbrowski was awarded the Order of Virtuti Militari V class, the Gold Cross of Merit, the Medal for Odra, Nysa and the Baltic and the Grunwaldzka Badge.
Monument to Franciszek Dąbrowski in Nowa Huta, Kraków
The Battle of Westerplatte was the very first battle that took place after Germany invaded Poland and World War II began in Europe. During the first week of September 1939, a Military Transit Depot (Wojskowy Skład Transportowy, WST) on the peninsula of Westerplatte, manned by fewer than 200 Polish soldiers, held out for seven days in the face of an overwhelming German attack. The defense of Westerplatte served as an inspiration for the Polish Army and people as the successful German advances continued elsewhere and today is still regarded as a symbol of resistance to the invasion.
In 1925 the Council of the League of Nations allowed Poland to keep only 88 soldiers on Westerplatte, but secretly the garrison was gradually expanded to 176 men and six officers. The WST was separated from Free City of Danzig (Gdańsk) city by the harbour channel, with only a small pier connecting them to the mainland; the Polish-held part of the Westerplatte was separated from the territory of Danzig by a brick wall. Fortifications built at Westerplatte were in fact not very impressive: there were no real bunkers or underground tunnels, there were only five small concrete outposts (guardhouses) hidden in the peninsula's forest and the large barracks prepared for defense, supported by a network of field fortifications such as trenches and barricades. In case of war, the defenders were expected to withstand a sustained attack for 12 hours.
At the end of August 1939, the German pre-dreadnought battleship Schleswig-Holstein sailed to Danzig (Gdańsk) under the pretext of a courtesy visit and anchored in the channel 164 yards (150m) from Westerplatte. On board was a Shock troop (Stoßtruppen) assault company with orders to launch an attack against the Westerplatte on the morning of August 26. However, shortly before disembarkation, the order to attack was rescinded. As a result of Britain and Poland having signed the Polish-British Common Defence Pact on August 25, and also being informed that Italy was hesitant in fulfilling its obligations regarding the Pact of Steel, Adolf Hitler postponed the opening of hostilities. The Germans had an SS-Heimwehr force of 1500 men led by Police General Friedrich-Georg Eberhardt and 225 Marines under Lieutenant Wilhelm Henningsen to attack the depot. Overall command was handed to Rear-Admiral Gustav Kleikamp aboard the Schleswig-Holstein. He moved his ship farther upstream on August 26. Major Henryk Sucharski put his garrison on heightened alert.
On September 1, 1939, at 0448 local time, Germany began its invasion of Poland, starting World War II; the Schleswig-Holstein suddenly opened broadside salvo fire on the Polish garrison held by 182 soldiers and 27 civilian reservists. Major Sucharski radioed Hel Peninsula "SOS: I'm under fire". Three holes were made in the perimeter wall and oil warehouses were blazing in the southeastern sector. Eight minutes later, Lieutenant Wilhelm Henningsen's crack marines storm unit from the Schleswig-Holstein advanced in three platoons while the Wehrmacht's Pioneers blew up the railroad gate going on the land-bridge, expecting an easy victory over the surprised Poles. Staff Sergeant Wojciech Najsarek, a Polish soldier, was killed by machine-gun fire, the first victim of both the battle and war. However, soon after crossing the artillery-breached brick wall, the attackers suddenly came into a well-prepared ambush. German soldiers found themselves caught in a kill zone of Polish crossfire from concealed firing points (the Germans believed they were also fired on by snipers hidden in the trees, but in reality that was not the case), while barbed wire entanglements effectively blocked quick movements. The Poles knocked out a machine gun nest at the German Schupo and Lt. Leon Pajak opened intense howitzer fire on the advancing Germans who faltered and stopped their attack. The Field gun knocked out sniper machine-gun nests on top of the warehouses across the canal and almost knocked out the Schleswig-Holstein's command post but was destroyed by the ship's guns.: "The tactics of outpost commanders, who lured the Germans into a fire trap, letting them advance into the line of fire, contributed to these heavy losses. The Polish mortar fire, guided precisely by observers from protruding positions, added to the destruction. The system of barriers secretly prepared by the WST soldiers in the spring and summer of 1939 made it difficult for the Germans to move around the park that was Westerplatte (once a popular spa)." At 0622, the Marines frantically radioed the ship they had heavy losses and were withdrawing, Danzig Police had tried to seize control of the harbor on the other side of Westerplatte but were defeated. Casualties were 50 Germans and 8 Poles. The Germans tried again at 0855 but met mines, fallen trees, barbed wire and intense fire. By noon the SS men fled and Henningsen was mortally wounded. The initial assault was crushed and a second attack that morning (after an artillery barrage of 90 280 mm shells, 407 170 mm shells and 366 88 mm shells) was repelled as well, the Germans suffering unexpectedly high losses. The Poles eventually retreated from the Wał and Prom outposts (and for a time also from Fort), tightening the ring of defence around the New Barracks in the centre of the peninsula. On the first day of combat, the Polish side lost one man killed and seven wounded (three died later, including two of them who were captured and died in a German hospital). On the other side, the German naval infantry lost 16 killed in action and some 120 wounded (injuries of various gravity), the majority out of the 225 men deployed. The German losses would have been even greater if not for the order by the Polish commander, Major Henryk Sucharski, for the mortar crews to cease fire in order to conserve ammunition, issued after firing just a few salvos (because of this order only 104 out of their 860 shells were spent when the mortars were destroyed on the next day).
Schleswig-Holstein firing at Westerplatte
On the following days, the Germans bombarded the peninsula with naval and heavy field artillery, including a 210 mm howitzer, turning it into World War I-style moonscape. Eberhardt convinced General Fedor von Bock a ground attack was not possible. A devastating two-wave air raid by 60 Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive-bombers on September 2 (the total of 26.5 tons of bombs) took out the Polish mortars, directly hit guardhouse 5 (destroying it completely with a 500 kg bomb) and killed at least eight Polish soldiers; the air raid covered the whole area of Westerplatte in enormous clouds of smoke and destroyed their only radio and all their food supplies; German observers believed that no one could possibly have survived such bombing. On the night of 3–4 September more German attacks were repelled. On September 4 a German torpedo boat (T-196) made a surprise attack from the seaside. The "Wal" post had been abandoned and now only "Fort" position prevented an attack from the north side. On September 5, a shell-shocked Sucharski held a war council which urged Westerplatte to surrender; his deputy, Captain Franciszek Dąbrowski, briefly took over command. Several cautious probing attacks by the German naval infantry, Danzig SS and police and Wehrmacht were again repulsed by the Poles; at 0300, during one of these attacks, they sent a burning train against the land bridge, but this failed when the terrified driver decoupled too early. It failed to reach the oil cistern and set ablaze the forest, valuable for cover. The flaming wagons gave a perfect field of fire and the Germans suffered heavy losses. A second fire-train attack came in the afternoon but it too failed. In the meantime, Polskie Radio continuously broadcast the message "Westerplatte still fights on" each morning of the battle. A second war council was held and the Major was set to surrender; the German Army was now outside Warsaw and gangrene had started to appear among the wounded. At 0430 September 7, the Germans opened intense fire on Westerplatte which lasted to 0700. Flamethrowers destroyed Guardhouse 2 and damaged 1 and 4. The besieged garrison lacked sufficient water and medical supplies; Cpt. Mieczysław Słaby, the WST medical officer, was unable to maintain basic care of wounded soldiers. At 0945 the white flag appeared; the Polish defense had impressed the Germans so much that the German commander, General Friedrich-Georg Eberhardt, allowed Sucharski to retain his ceremonial szabla (Polish sabre) in captivity (it was apparently confiscated later). At the same time Polish wireless operator Kazimierz Rasiński was murdered by Germans after the capitulation; after brutal interrogation, he had refused to hand over radio codes and was shot. Sucharski surrendered the post to Kleikamp and the Germans paraded in full order when the Polish garrison marched out, still proud and erect. In all, approximately 3,400 Germans were tied up by being engaged in the week-long action against the small Polish garrison.
The exact figures of German losses remain unknown, but are now often estimated to be in range of 200 to 300 killed and wounded or sometimes more. Some of them might actually have been hit by friendly fire, in particular from the battleship, which was initially anchored too close to its target. Polish casualties were much lower, including 15 to 20 killed and 53 wounded. There is a controversy regarding the burial site discovered in 1940, containing the bodies of five unidentified Polish soldiers who were possibly executed by their comrades for attempted desertion. Eight of the prisoners of war are also said to have been tortured, and did not survive German captivity.
Major Sucharski (with a sabre) surrendering Westerplatte to General Eberhardt (saluting)
Further controversy surrounds the Polish garrison's commanding officer, Major Henryk Sucharski, and the executive officer, Captain Franciszek Dąbrowski. Major Sucharski, who survived the war but died in 1946, was promoted to the rank of generał brygady and given the highest Polish military award of Virtuti Militari, although he became a very controversial figure more recently as the previously-unknown account about his role in the battle were uncovered in the 1990s (after the death of Captain Dąbrowski, as the other Polish officers vowed among themselves for their honor to not disclose in their lifetimes that their nominal commander was shell-shocked for the most of the battle). The Westerplatte became the subject of a quasi-historical dispute, which Dr. Janusz Marszalec from the Institute of National Remembrance summarized with the following: "It (the dispute) centres on the question of who commanded the defence of Westerplatte, Maj. Henryk Sucharski or Cpt. Dąbrowski. Interestingly, this dispute does not involve historians since it is not taking place as an academic debate. It is the domain of disputes of people passionate about history on the internet and in the press, in an atmosphere of gradual and consistent repetition of various unconfirmed sources. They tend to fall into emotional states of elevation and passion, during which it is difficult to apply the principles of sine ira et studio. This dispute has gone so far beyond its narrow circle of fans of the internet, moving into the mass media as a dispute over a film script and the spending of public money on a film which aims to show the new 'truth' about the defence of Westerplatte. Without a detailed analysis of this project, one can only stress that it has nothing in common with the confirmed state of knowledge about the history of the defence of the WST Westerplatte in September 1939....Regardless of the disputes, Sucharski and the two hundred other defenders of the WST will remain in the circle of good memory, regardless of whether they wanted to defend it to their last bullet, or whether they contemplated putting down arms already after 12 hours of the first shot of the Schleswig-Holstein on 1 September 1939." Already during the war the defense of Westerplatte served as an inspiration for the Polish Army and people as the successful German advances continued elsewhere and even today is still regarded as a symbol of resistance to the invasion; a Polish Thermopylae. The Polish poet Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński wrote a widely known poem about this battle, Pieśń o żołnierzach Westerplatte ("A Song of the Soldiers of Westerplatte"). The poem reflected a widespread Polish myth of the later years of the WWII that all of defenders died in the battle, fighting to the last man. A Polish People's Army military unit was named in 1943 in memory of the soldiers (Polish 1st Armoured Brigade of the defenders of Westerplatte). In the years after war, several dozen schools and several ships in Poland were also named after the "Heroes of Westerplatte" or "Defenders of Westerplatte". The ruins of the peninsula's barracks and guardhouses still survive today. After the war one of the guardhouses, which had actually been moved several hundred yards inland, was converted into a museum; two shells from the Schleswig-Holstein's 280 mm guns prop up its entrance.
Battle of Mikołów (Polish: Bitwa pod Mikolowem) refers to the border battle on September 1 and 2, 1939, that took place in the area of the town of Mikołów, located in Polish part of Upper Silesia, during the early stages of the Invasion of Poland.
Second World War in Polish part of Upper Silesia began with attacks of aircraft of the German 4th Air Fleet (Luftflotte), which bombed several places, including an airport in Katowice. Soon afterwards, early in the morning on September 1, 1939, units of the Wehrmacht crossed the Polish-German border. The aggressors were helped by members of the German minority in Poland, whose paramilitary organization Freikorps attacked Polish units from the rear. Several skirmishes took place, most of them in densely populated industrial areas of the cities of Ruda Śląska, Chorzów and Katowice. However, main German attack was concentrated in the south of the industrial region, around the border towns of Mikołów and Pszczyna. There, units of the Polish Operational Group Silesia (part of Army Kraków) faced German 8th Infantry Division (General Erwin Koch), 28th Infantry Division (General Hans von Oberstfelder) and German 5th Armored Division. The mentioned German units were part of the VIII Corps.
Polish soldiers of the Operational Group Silesia in 1939
General Hans von Oberstfelder
September 1, 1939
In the morning hours, German 5th Armored Division, attacking towards Rybnik and Żory, managed to annihilate Polish defense. The units destroyed by the attackers were located in the Pszczyna Forest, and their task was to provide connection between Operational Groups Silesia and Bielsko. Their loss created a gap in Polish defense, and the Germans took advantage of it on the following day. Even though Polish 55th Infantry Division (under General Jan Jagmin-Sadowski) was desperately fighting, it was unable to keep off the attackers.
September 2, 1939
At around 5 a.m. the Germans started an artillery shelling, which precipitated the main attack. Later on that day, two German battalions (49th and 83rd) moved towards Tychy, and on their way they were faced by Polish units, in the area of the village of Zwakow. The battle that followed was one of the most ferocious of all that took place in September 1939 in Upper Silesia. Polish units managed to halt the aggressors, preventing them from capturing the town of Wyry. However, in the afternoon of September 2, even though the frontline was stabilized, the headquarters of the Armia Kraków ordered all units to leave Upper Silesia and withdraw towards Kraków and the Vistula river. This decision was undertaken because the Germans, attacking in the area of Woźniki, broke defense of the Kraków Cavalry Brigade. Also in the south the Germans broke Polish positions, and the Polish 6th Infantry Division was hastily retreating towards Oświęcim. Thus, units in the area of Pszczyna and Mikołów were threatened with encirclement.
Withdrawal order reached all Polish units by 9 p.m., September 2. Most soldiers did not believe it, however they obeyed and the whole operation was carried out in order. Polish troops left Upper Silesia by September 3, heading towards Kraków. Most of these units found themselves in the area of Lublin, where they took part in the Battle of Tomaszów Lubelski. Among Polish units that distinguished themselves in the Battle of Mikołów, there was the 73rd Infantry Regiment from Katowice. Consisting of soldiers from Silesia, it was regarded as one of the best organized and toughest of the whole Polish Army.
Battle of Tomaszów Lubelski took place from 17 September to 26 September 1939 near the town of Tomaszów Lubelski. It was the second largest battle of the Invasion of Poland (Battle of Bzura was the largest) and also the largest tank battle of the campaign. It resulted in the destruction of the Polish forces. The battle can be divided into two phases - from 17 to 20 September and from 21 to 26 September. In the first phase (also known as the First Battle of Tomaszów Lubelski), Polish forces were composed of Army Lublin and Army Kraków under general Tadeusz Piskor attempted to break through the German positions around Tomaszów towards the Romanian Bridgehead area. The Polish forces included one of the largest Polish armored units of that time, the Warsaw Armoured Motorized Brigade. This phase ended with the capitulation of the Army Lublin on 20 September.
General Tadeusz Piskor (1889-1951).
The second phase (also known as the Second Battle of Tomaszów Lubelski) involved Polish units from the so-called Northern Front - remaining elements of Army Lublin, Army Modlin and Operational Groups Wyszków, Narew and Anders Cavalry under generals Emil Krukowicz-Przedrzymirski and Stefan Dąb-Biernacki. Similarly, those Polish units attempted to break through the German positions towards the south. Only the cavalry group under general Władysław Anders was successful; most of the remaining Polish forces failed to break through and capitulated around 26 September.
The Battle of the Bzura (or Kutno or Battle of Kutno — German name) was a battle in the opening campaign of World War II during the 1939 German Invasion of Poland, fought between 9 and 19 September, 1939, between Polish and German forces. Finally, the Germans outflanked the Polish forces and took all of western Poland. It was the single largest battle in the 1939 September campaign and took place to the west of Warsaw, near the Bzura River. In it, a Polish breakout attack gained initial success but eventually faltered after a concentrated German counterattack. It is also noted as one of the last major military actions ever to have been conducted on horseback and was a major battle in the German campaign of Poland.
Battle of the Bzura: Polish cavalry in Sochaczew in 1939
The Polish plan for defense against the German invasion, Plan West, called for the defense of the borders. This was dictated more by political than military concerns, as Poles feared that the Germans, after taking over territories they lost in the Treaty of Versailles, would try to end the war and keep those territories. While defending the borders was more risky, the Poles were counting on the British and French counteroffensive (which never came). Due to this, Army Pomorze under general Władysław Bortnowski found itself in the Polish Corridor, surrounded by German forces on two fronts, and Army Poznań under general Tadeusz Kutrzeba was pushed to the westernmost fringes of the Second Polish Republic, separated both from its primary defensive positions, and from other Polish Armies.
Major general Władysław Bortnowski (1891 – 1966)
General Tadeusz Kutrzeba (15 April 1885 - 8 January 1947)
The German offensive proved the folly of the border defense plan in the first days of the war. Army Pomorze was defeated in the battle of Bory Tucholskie, and forced to retreat towards the south-east. Army Poznań, meanwhile, although not facing heavy German assaults, was forced to retreat east due to defeats of its neighbours (Army Pomorze in the north and Army Łódź in the south); both of them were retreating, meaning that Army Poznań was in danger of being flanked and surrounded by the German forces. On 4 September, Army Poznań moved through the city it was named after, Poznań, and abandoned it to the enemy, even through at this point it was not in contact with any significant German forces. By 6 September, Armies Pomorze and Poznań had linked up, forming the strongest Polish operational unit in the campaign, and general Bortkowski accepted the command of general Kutrzeba. On 7 September, Polish forces became aware of the German push towards Łęczyca, which if successful could cut off the retreat route of Polish forces. By 8 September, advanced German troops reached Warsaw, marking the beginning of the siege of the Polish capital. At the same time, German forces had lost contact with Army Poznań, and German command assumed that the army must have been transported by rail to aid Warsaw's defense; they were unaware that in fact Army Poznań had merged forces with Army Pomorze, which they considered, since its defeat at Bory Tucholskie, no longer a significant threat. On 8 September the Germans were certain that they had eliminated major Polish resistance west of Vistula and were preparing to cross it and engage the Polish forces on the other side. Meanwhile, general Kutrzeba and his staff officers had suspected, even before the German invasion, that it would be the neighbouring Armies that would bear the German attack, and had developed plans at an offensive towards the south, to relieve Army Łódź. In the first week of the campaign, those plans, however, were rejected by the Polish commander-in-chief, Marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły. By 8 September Kutrzeba had lost contact with Rydz-Śmigły, who had relocated his command center from Warsaw to Brest; due to these factors, Kutrzeba decided to go forward with his plan. His situation was dire, as German forces were close to surrounding his units: the German 8th Army had secured the southern bank of the Bzura river, and the German 4th Army had secured the northern bank of Vistula, from Włocławek to Wyszogród, and its elements were attacking the rear of the Armies Pomorze and Poznań from the direction of Inowrocław and crossing the Vistula river near Płock.
Polish forces consisted of Army Poznań and Army Pomorze. German forces included the 8th Army under Johannes Blaskowitz and 10th Army under Walther von Reichenau of Army Group South (Heeresgruppe Süd), elements of the 4th Army under Günther von Kluge of the Army Group North (Heeresgruppe Nord) and air support (Luftflotte 1 and Luftflotte 4).
The Luftwaffe invades Poland, 3 September 1939.
The battle can be divided into 3 phases: Phase I — Polish offensive towards Stryków, aiming at the flank of the German 10th Army (9–12 September) Phase II — Polish offensive towards Łowicz (13–15 September) Phase III — German counterattack and eventual defeat of the Poles, with the latter's withdrawal towards Warsaw and Modlin (16–19 September)
A brigade of Polish cavalry during the battle.
On the night of 9 September, the Polish Poznań Army commenced a counterattack from the south of the Bzura river, its target being the German forces from the 8th Army advancing between Łęczyca and Łowicz, towards Stryków. The commander of Poznań Army, Tadeusz Kutrzeba noticed that the German 8th Army, commanded by general Johannes Blaskowitz, was weakly secured from the north by only the 30th Infantry Division stretched over a 30 kilometre defensive line while the rest of the army was advancing towards Warsaw. The main thrust of the Polish offensive were the units under general Edmund Knoll-Kownacki, known as the Knoll-Kownacki Operational Group (Polish 14th, 17th, 25th and 26th Infantry Divisions). The right wing of the offensive, in the area Łęczyce, included the Podolska Cavalry Brigade under general Stanisław Grzmot-Skotnicki, and on the left, advancing from Łowicz to the area of Głowno, the Wielkopolska Cavalry Brigade under general Roman Abraham. These groups managed to inflict considerable losses on the German defenders from the 30th Infantry Division and the 24th Infantry Division, which included some 1,500 German soldiers killed and wounded in action and 3,000 taken prisoner during the initial push. Cavalry brigades pushed the Germans by advancing towards vulnerable flanks and disorganizing the rear. They also successfully used TKS and TK-3 reconnaissance tanks. The German forces were thrown back approximately 20 kilometres south of their original positions and the Poles recaptured several towns, including Łęczyca and Piątek, and the Góra Świętej Małgorzaty village. On 10 September, the Polish 17th Infantry Division met the German 17th Infantry Division at Małachowicze. On 11 September Polish forces were continuing their offensive, advancing on Modlna, Pludwiny, Osse and Głowno.
Polish 18th Infantry Regiment advancing during the battle
Initially underestimating the Polish advance, on 11 September the Germans soon decided to redirect the main force of the German 10th Army, the German 4th Army, the reserves of the Army Group South, and aircraft from 4th Air Fleet towards the Bzura. The redirected forces included the German 1st Panzer Division, German 4th Panzer Division and the 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. German air superiority became apparent, and Polish movements during the day were significantly hindered. The following day the Poles reached the line Stryków-Ozorków. On the same day General Tadeusz Kutrzeba learned that units of Army Łódź had retreated to the stronghold of Modlin Fortress. Upon hearing this, Kutrzeba decided to stop the offensive and instead tried to break through towards Warsaw, through Sochaczew and Kampinos Forest. This marked the end of the first phase of the battle. On the morning of 14 September, General Władysław Bortnowski's group began the second phase of the battle. The 26th and 16th Infantry Divisions crossed the Bzura near Łowicz and the Polish 4th Infantry Division reached the road linking Łowicz with Głowno. At this point however, Bortnowski was informed that the German 4th Panzer Division was withdrawing from its positions on the outskirts of Warsaw. Fearing that this Panzer division posed an immediate threat to his men, he ordered the 26th Infantry Division to retreat.
The aftermath of a bombing of a Polish column, with Bofors AA gun in the foreground
On 15 and 16 September, Army Pomorze took up defensive positions on the northern bank of the Bzura. General Stanisław Grzmot-Skotnicki's group was located between Kutno and Żychlin, General Michał Karaszewicz-Tokarzewski's units near Gąbin, and parts of Army Poznań by the Bzura near Sochaczew, were ready to commence their drive towards Warsaw. To encircle and destroy the Polish forces, the Germans engaged most of their own 10th Army, including two armoured, one motorized, and three light divisions, equipped with some 800 tanks altogether. The attack from all sides on Polish positions started on 16 September, with the support of the Luftwaffe. On 15 September Poles were forced out of Sochaczew, a town on the Bzura river, and trapped in a triangle of Bzura, Vistula and German forces. The German 1st Panzer Division, after crossing the Bzura between Sochaczew and Brochów and engaging the Polish 25th Infantry Division managed to capture Ruszki, but its advance was then halted. Poles began to cross Bzura near Vistula, north of Sochaczew, and retreat towards Warsaw. Polish forces were forced to abandon most of their heavy equipment while crossing the river. On 17 September, German heavy artillery was shelling the crossing north of Brochów, and the largest air operation of the campaign begun, with Luftwaffe attempted to bomb and paralyze Polish forces. During the night of 17 September, the main forces of Army Poznań attacked the German forces in order to break out of the German encirclement between Witkowice and Sochaczew. The 15th Infantry Division and Podolska Cavalry Brigade again crossed the Bzura in Witkowice. In Brochow, the 25th and 17th Infantry Divisions crossed the Bzura river. The 14th Infantry Division was concentrated in Łaziska. At the same time, Army Pomorze marched towards the villages of Osmolin, Kierozia and Osiek. In the morning the Germans started their drive towards the south along both banks of the Bzura, supported by more than 300 aircraft and heavy artillery. German howitzers, taking advantage of their position on the high ground of the Vistula's right bank, shelled Polish positions for the entire day. And after two days of heavy fighting, with no ammunition or food rations remaining, further attempts at a breakout for the Poles became impossible.