Germany invades Poland, September 1939

September1, 1939. 6 am. German troops start moving into Poland


The Invasion of Poland was the German Poland Campaign, which began on September 1, 1939. It was codenamed "Operation Case White", Unterrnehmen Fall Weiss in German. The German invasion of Poland started World War II. It was also carried out by the Soviet Union, with whom Hitler had signed a non-aggression pact which contained a secret clause that divided Poland in two halves, a German zone and a Soviet zone.

The German plan for the invasion of Poland had been devised by General Franz Halder, chief of the general staff, and was to be executed by General Walther von Brauchitsch. It called for a mass encirclement and destruction of enemy forces. German units would penetrate Poland from three directions; 1) a main attack on the western Polish border would be carried out by Army Group South; 2) Army Group North would start a second route of attack from Prussia; 3) a third assault would be carried by allied Slovak units from Slovakia. The infantry would be supported by German tanks and small numbers of truck-mounted infantry to assist the rapid movement of troops and concentrate on localized parts of the enemy front to isolate segments of the Polish army, surrounding, and annihilating them.

The Invasion of Poland was initiated at 08:00 hours, on September 1, 1939, when German troops poured over the Polish border near the town of Mokra, starting the Battle of the Border as 62 German divisions supported by 1,300 aircraft broke loose into Poland. It had been preceded by German air and naval attacks; at 04:40 hours on September 1, the Luftwaffe had bombed the Polish town of Wielun and the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein opened fire on the Polish garrison of the Westerplatte Fort, Danzig. These attacks were the first military engagement of World War Two.

The Luftwaffe destroyed all road and rail junctions, as well as concentrations of Polish troops. Towns and villages were heavily bombed, too. Fleeing mass of terror-stricken civilians came out onto the roads which were blocked by people who tried to run away from the bombing, hampering the flow of Polish military reinforcements to the front.

On September 3, General Günther von Kluge reached the Vistula river in the north penetrating 10 kilometers of Polish territory while Georg von Küchler approached the Narew River. On September 5, after crossing the Warta river, Walther von Reichenau’s armored division took the town of Kielce, and by September 8, one of his armored corps had reached the outskirts of Warsaw. In the first week of war the Germans had advanced 145 miles. On September 9, Heinz Guderian led his 3rd Army tanks across the Narew, attacked the line of the Bug River, and encircled Warsaw. All the German armies made progress in fulfilling their parts of the Fall Weiss plan. The Polish armies broke up into loose fragments incapable of launching coordinated counterattacks. Some Polish units began to retreat while others were launching isolated attacks on the nearest German columns.

Polish units withdrew from Pomerania, Greater Poland and Silesia in the first week of the invasion. On September 9, the Germans launched an assault on Warsaw, which had been bombed since the beginning of the war, laying siege to the city. On September 10, the Germans were tightening their encirclement of the Polish Army west of the Vistula. Then, the Polish commander-in-chief, Marshal Edward Rydz-Smigly, ordered a retreat to the southeast.

Near the Bzura river west of Warsaw, the largest and fiercest battle of the Poland campaign was fought from September 9 to September 19, 1939. Polish armies that retreated from the border area of the Polish Corridor, attacked the advancing German 8th Army flank, but these attacks failed. German air power played a key role during the battle. The Luftwaffe’s air raids destroyed what remained of Polish resistance in an awesome demonstration of air power. German Stukas destroyed the bridges across the Bzura River. Then, the Polish forces were scattered fragments out in the open, isolated from one another, as wave after wave of German planes hit them hard.

Eager to grab their allotted share of the country, Soviet forces attacked Poland on September 17. The Soviet invasion convinced the Polish government that the war in Poland had been lost. Nevertheless, the Polish government refused to negotiate a peace with Germany, ordering all units to evacuate Poland and reorganize in France. Warsaw held out until September 28. The Modlin Fortress north of Warsaw surrendered on September 29 after an intense battle.


 German invasion of Poland. Click to enlarge Map (Source)


Curious German soldiers examine an abandoned Polish tank


From the BBC. September 1, 1939

German forces have invaded Poland and its planes have bombed Polish cities, including the capital, Warsaw.

The attack comes without any warning or declaration of war.

Britain and France have mobilised their forces and are preparing to wage war on Germany for the second time this century.

Just before dawn today, German tanks, infantry and cavalry penetrated Polish territory on several fronts with five armies, a total of 1.5 million troops.

Soon afterwards German planes bombarded the cities. They have been making swift progress in penetrating Polish defences which are heavily outnumbered in artillery, infantry and air power.

The cities of Katowice, Krakow, Tczew and Tunel were attacked with incendiary bombs. Air raids on Warsaw began at 0900 local time.

Communications to Katowice have been broken but earlier reports said German planes were coming over in squadrons of 50, every half-hour, and there have been many casualties.

The German Army struck from Slovakia, East Prussia and from Pomerania into the Polish Corridor and the port Danzig, which has declared itself part of the Reich.

The 4th Army came in from East Prussia at Deutsch-Eylau supported by air raids on cities north of Warsaw. There is heavy fighting reported along the whole of the East Prussian border.

Poznan was attacked from the main body of the German Reich and border towns occupied.

The 8th and 10th armies are moving north-east from Silesia towards Warsaw; and the 14th Army struck from Slovakia towards Krakow.

The Times newspaper reports that when the air raid sirens in the capital first sounded at 0600 inhabitants reacted calmly and some even ran out onto the streets to look up at the sky and had be driven back inside by air raid wardens.

The unprovoked attack follows yesterday's report on German radio that the border town of Gliwice had been raided by a group of Polish soldiers, who had all been shot dead.

German radio broadcast a list of "demands" never submitted to the Polish Government.


German soldiers with Polish POWs

This is how New York Times reported the event
(To enlarge image right click on it and then click on "Open link in a new tab")


The German invasion of Poland was a primer on how Hitler intended to wage war--what would become the "blitzkrieg" strategy. This was characterized by extensive bombing early on to destroy the enemy's air capacity, railroads, communication lines, and munitions dumps, followed by a massive land invasion with overwhelming numbers of troops, tanks, and artillery. Once the German forces had plowed their way through, devastating a swath of territory, infantry moved in, picking off any remaining resistance.

The Polish army made several severe strategic miscalculations early on. Although 1 million strong, the Polish forces were severely under-equipped and attempted to take the Germans head-on with horsed cavaliers in a forward concentration, rather than falling back to more natural defensive positions. The outmoded thinking of the Polish commanders coupled with the antiquated state of its military was simply no match for the overwhelming and modern mechanized German forces. And, of course, any hope the Poles might have had of a Soviet counter-response was dashed with the signing of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Nonaggression Pact.

The Luftwaffe demolished this Polish armored train


Then the unthinkable happened. Joaquim von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s Foreign Minister, went to Moscow the last week of August to secure a Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact. Stalin, perhaps trying to buy time with Hitler himself, ordered his Foreign Minister, Molotov, to sign on August 21, 1939. When this agreement was announced to the world, it left out some key terms: the dismemberment of Poland.

Anyone reading Mein Kampf could see what Hitler thought of Poland. A former province of Czarist Russia, Poland had been guaranteed access to the sea — the “Free Corridor” of Danzig — by the League of Nations. This agreement separated Prussia from Greater Germany by cutting a path through to the seaport of Danzig. This angered Hitler and many Germans, who saw the land as the birthright of Germans everywhere.

Moreover, Poland was not an Aryan land. Poles were untermensch, “inferior people,” only good as slaves or corpses. After the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, Hitler ordered his general staff to draw up plans for the invasion of Poland. The Germans would invade from the West, the Soviets from the East, and divide the country along previously agreed upon lines.

The SS took twelve prisoners out of Buchenwald, drove them to the Polish border and forced them to take poison after putting on Polish uniforms. The corpses were shot. An SS Officer yelled in Polish into a radio that they had come to invade Germany, and then the SS fled.

On September 1, 1939, Hitler told the Nazi Reichstag that Poland had tried to invade Germany, and the Wehrmacht was returning fire since 5:45 AM. Actually, in a carefully planned and highly mobile attack codenamed Fall Weiss (Case White) planned by Generalfeldmarschall Walther von Brauchitsch, German land, sea, and air forces were moving rapidly into Poland.

Poland’s army in 1939 was totally unprepared for the new warfare it found itself in. Poland, like many armies, had large cavalry forces. What modern aircraft the Polish Air Force had were caught on the ground.

England and France wearily knew that they could not sacrifice Poland the way Czechoslovakia had been. On September 3, 1939, the Allies declared war against National Socialist Germany. The declaration did not save Poland. Lodz was about to fall, and Krakow fell on September 6. The fort at Danzig fell on September 7, after a week of direct fire from German battleships.

After a surprise Polish maneuver inflicted heavy casualties, the Germans rallied and took 100,000 prisoners. By September 16, German artillery ringed Warsaw, and the Nazis gave the Poles an ultimatum: surrender or face bombardment. The Poles demurred, and endured heavy shelling until September 27. German troops occupied Warsaw on October 1.

On September 17, Soviet troops entered Western Poland. They stopped at Brest-Litovsk, where Germans had allowed the Bolsheviks to withdraw from World War I. Again the two nations carved up Poland.

Cheerful German soldiers in Poland. They had reason to be happy. Poland capitulated within a month

Foreign diplomats start leaving Poland after the German invasion


At 4.45 am on 1 September 1939 the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein opened fire on the Polish garrison of the Westerplatte Fort, Danzig (modern-day Gdansk), in what was to become the first military engagement of World War Two. Simultaneously, 62 German divisions supported by 1,300 aircraft commenced the invasion of Poland.

The decision of Adolf Hitler to invade Poland was a gamble. The Wehrmacht (the German Army) was not yet at full strength and the German economy was still locked into peacetime production. As such, the invasion alarmed Hitler's generals and raised opposition to his command - and leaks of his war plans to Britain and France.

Hitler's generals urged caution and asked for more time to complete the defences of the 'West Wall', in order to stem any British and French counter-offensive in the west while the bulk of the Wehrmacht was engaged in the east. Their leader dismissed their concerns, however, and demanded instead their total loyalty.

Hitler was confident that the invasion of Poland would result in a short, victorious war for two important reasons. First, he was convinced that the deployment of the world's first armoured corps would swiftly defeat the Polish armed forces in a blitzkrieg offensive. Secondly, he judged the British and French prime-ministers, Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier, to be weak, indecisive leaders who would opt for a peace settlement rather than war.

Polish anti-aircraft gun waiting for German planes

Hitler's annexation of Czechoslovakia breached the written guarantee he had issued to Chamberlain in Munich in 1938, stating that he had no further territorial demands to make in Europe. Therefore, on 31 March 1939, Chamberlain issued a formal guarantee of Poland's borders and said that he expected Hitler to moderate his demands.
Hitler was not deterred, and on 3 April he ordered the Wehrmacht to prepare for the invasion of Poland on 1 September. Hitler was convinced that Chamberlain would not go to war to defend Poland and that France would lack the will to act alone.

Germans examine a crashed Polish Fighter PZL P.11S. This pic reflects best the state of Polish defence against the German onslaught

Hitler's only real concern was that a sudden German invasion of Poland might alarm Stalin and trigger a war with the Soviet Union. Stalin feared a German invasion and had been seeking an anti-Nazi 'collective security' alliance with the western powers for many years, but by July 1939 Britain and France had still not agreed terms.

Poland had also rejected an alliance with the Soviet Union, and refused permission for the Red Army to cross its territory to engage the Wehrmacht in a future war. Hitler saw his opportunity, and authorised his Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop to enter into secret negotiations with the Soviet Union.

The result was the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact on 23 August 1939. Both Hitler and Stalin set aside their mutual antipathy for national gain and in particular the restoration of their pre-1919 borders.
Knocked down short-range bomber Polish PZL P-23 "Karas" and the German light reconnaissance aircraft Fieseler Fi-156 Storch

A German anti-aircraft gun takes up position in Warsaw's Opera Square


An ecstatic Hitler brought the date of the invasion forward to 26 August to take advantage of the surprise the pact had provoked in the west. However, only hours before the attack Hitler cancelled the invasion when his ally Mussolini declared that Italy was not ready to go to war, and Britain declared a formal military alliance with Poland.

Once reassured of Mussolini's political support, Hitler reset the invasion for 1 September 1939. The invasion was not dependent on Italian military support and Hitler dismissed the Anglo-Polish treaty as an empty gesture.

At 6 am on 1 September Warsaw was struck by the first of a succession of bombing raids, while two major German army groups invaded Poland from Prussia in the north and Slovakia in the south. Air supremacy was achieved on the first day, after most of Poland's airforce was caught on the ground. Panzer spearheads smashed holes in the Polish lines and permitted the slower moving German infantry to pour through into the Polish rear.

In advance of the line of attack the Luftwaffe heavily bombed all road and rail junctions, and concentrations of Polish troops. Towns and villages were deliberately bombed to create a fleeing mass of terror-stricken civilians to block the roads and hamper the flow of reinforcements to the front.

Flying directly ahead of the Panzers, the Junkers Ju-87 dive-bomber (Stuka) fulfilled the role of artillery, and destroyed any strong points in the German path. The surprise German strategy of blitzkreig was based upon continuous advance and the prevention of a static frontline that would permit Polish forces time to regroup.

Polish machine-gunners grimly fight on near Warsaw

Western military commanders were rooted in the strategies of World War One and entirely unprepared for the rapid invasion of Poland. They expected the Germans to probe and bombard the Polish line with heavy artillery for several weeks before launching a full invasion.

Consequently while the Panzers advanced, French troops confined themselves to scouting and mapping the German 'West Wall', while awaiting the deployment of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and full mobilisation. There was no offensive strategy, because France expected to fight a war of defence, and had invested heavily in the static defences of the Maginot line. The RAF also dropped not bombs but leaflets, urging a peace settlement.

By 6 September the two Wehrmacht army groups had linked up at Lodz in the centre of Poland and cleaved the country in two, trapping the bulk of the Polish army against the German border. Two days later, the Panzers had corralled Polish forces into five isolated pockets centred around Pomerania, Pozan, Lodz, Krakow and Carpathia.

Twelve of Poland's divisions were cavalry, armed with lance and sabre, and they were no match for tanks. Each pocket was relentlessly bombarded and bombed, and once food and ammunition had run out had little choice but to surrender.

By 8 September the leading Panzers were on the outskirts of Warsaw, having covered 140 miles in only eight days. Two days later all Polish forces were ordered to fall back and regroup in Eastern Poland for a last stand. All hope was pinned upon a major French and British offensive in the west to relieve the pressure.

However, despite assurances from Marshal Maurice Gamelin that the French Army was fully engaged in combat, all military action on the western front was ended on 13 September, when French troops were ordered to fall back behind the security of the Maginot line. Warsaw was surrounded on 15 September, and suffered punishing bombing raids without hope of relief.

On 17 September the Red Army crossed the Polish border in the east, in fulfilment of the secret agreement within the Nazi-Soviet Pact, and ended any prospect of Poland's survival. Those Poles who could, fled across the border into Romania, and many subsequently reached the west and continued the war as the Free Polish Forces. Among them were many pilots, who were welcomed into the RAF and took part in the Battle of Britain.

Warsaw bravely held out until 27 September, but after enduring 18 days of continuous bombing finally surrendered at 2.00pm that afternoon. Germany had gained a swift victory, but not the end of the war. Britain and France refused to accept Hitler's peace offer. His gamble had failed, and Poland had become the first battleground of World War Two.

This is a funny photo! It shows a German, a Russian and a Polish soldier sitting together! Why the Polish soldier? There is a war on, remember?

A Polish soldier awaits the German attack

The Royal castle in Warsaw burns, set on fire by the German bombardment.

The much vaunted Polish cavalry was no match for the German mechanised war machine

Warsaw burns as German planes pounds it

Germans executing Polish civilians

The Wehrmacht triumphantly marches in Warsaw. Poland was no more.
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Points To Ponder


It is difficult to distinguish between the quality of both the German and Russian soldiers. Both were motivated by their love for their motherland. But there were others factors that drove the two sides to such desperate fighting.

One, both sides knew that this was a no-holds bar war. Not fighting was thus not an option.

Second, both Hitler and Stalin had squads that killed any deserter. Turning away from fighting was just not possible.

Thus was seen some of the most bitter, brutal and desperate fighting on the WW2 eastern (Russian) Front.
"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
-- George Santayana


"Be polite; write diplomatically; even in a declaration of war one observes the rules of politeness."
--Otto von Bismarck

"When the enemy advances, withdraw; when he stops, harass; when he tires, strike; when he retreats, pursue.'
--Mao Zedong


"The main thing is to make history, not to write it."
--Otto von Bismarck

"When you have to kill a man it costs nothing to be polite."
--Winston Churchill


"In time of war the loudest patriots are the greatest profiteers."
--August Bebel

"God is not on the side of the big battalions, but on the side of those who shoot best."

Quotes about War....

"Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war."
---Otto von Bismarck


"Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."
--Hermann Goering


"To conquer the enemy without resorting to war is the most desirable. The highest form of generalship is to conquer the enemy by strategy."
--Tzu Sun

"All men are brothers, like the seas throughout the world; So why do winds and waves clash so fiercely everywhere?"
--Emperor Hirohito