Invasion of Poland
Contributor: John Radzilowski
Poland had been reborn as an independent nation after World War I and the collapse of Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Germany. Polish borders had been partly re-established by the Versailles Treaty but a series of armed conflicts with Germany, Czechoslovakia, Lithuania, and Ukrainian nationalists, as well as a major war with the Soviet Union, gave the borders their final shape.
During the course of the Polish-Soviet War (1919-20), Poland had been forced to rely on her own resources as help from the Western Allies had been slow in coming or had actively blocked by pro-communist unions in Europe. Because of the Polish-Soviet war and continuing Soviet efforts at infiltration thereafter, Polish military and political planning focused primarily on a future conflict with the Soviets. To this end, the Poles developed alliances with Rumania and Latvia. Polandís policy toward Germany was based on her alliance with France, but Polish-Czech relations remained cool. The problem with the French alliance, as far as the Poles were concerned, was the instability in French politics which resulted in constant indecision about the eastern alliances. As governments rose and fell in regular succession, French policies toward Poland and other allies changed.
German military leaders had begun planning for war with Poland as early as the mid 1920s. Recovering the ethnically Polish territory of Pomerania, Poznan, and Silesia, as well as the largely German Free City of Danzig were the major objectives. Nevertheless, the restrictions of Versailles and Germanyís internal weakness made such plans impossible to realize. Hitlerís rise to power in 1933 capitalized on Germanís desire to regain lost territories, to which Nazi leaders added the goal of destroying an independent Poland. According to author Alexander Rossino, prior to the war Hitler was at least as anti-Polish as anti-Semitic in his opinions. That same year, Polandís Marshal Jozef Pilsudski proposed to the French a plan for a joint invasion to remove Hitler from power, which the French vetoed as mad warmongering.
In 1934, however, the Germans signed a non-aggression pact with Poland, providing a kind of breathing space for both countries. German efforts to woo Poland into an anti-Soviet alliance were politely deferred as Poland attempted to keep her distance from both powerful neighbors. As German power began to grow, however, and Hitler increasingly threatened his neighbors, the Poles and French began to revitalize their alliance.
The Munich Pact dramatically increased Polandís danger. At the last minute, the Poles and Czechs had attempted to patch up their differences. The Czechs would give up disputed territory taken in 1919 and half ownership in the Skoda arms works in exchange for Polish military intervention in the case of German attack. The Munich Pact, however, closed this option and Poland sent its troops to forcibly occupy the territory of Teschen and the nearby Bohumin rail junction to keep it out of German hands.
After Hitler violated the Munich treaty, Poland was able to extract guarantees of military assistance from France, and significantly, Britain. In March 1939, Hitler began to make demands on Poland for the return of territory in the Polish Corridor, cessation of Polish rights in Danzig, and annexation of the Free City to Germany. These Poland categorically rejected. As negotiations continued, both sides prepared for war.
Editor's addition: German demands sent to Poland on 25 Aug 1939 were the following.
- The return of Danzig to Germany
- Rail and road access across the corridor between Germany and East Prussia
- The cession to Germany any Polish territory formerly of pre-WW1 Germany that hosted 75% or more ethnic Germans
- An international board to discuss the cession of the Polish Corridor to Germany
Hitler, however, again altered the strategic landscape again in August 1939 when Germany and the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact which contained secret protocols designed to partition Poland and divide up most of eastern Europe between the two dictators.
Polandís strategic position in 1939 was weak, but not hopeless. German control over Slovakia added significantly to Polandís already overly long frontier. German forces could attack Poland from virtually any direction.
Polandís major weakness, however, was its lack of a modernized military. In the 1920s, Poland had had the worldís first all-metal air force, but had since fallen behind other powers. Poland was a poor, agrarian nation without significant industry. While Polish weapons design was often equal or superior to German and Soviet design, it simply lacked the capacity to produce equipment in the needed quantities. One example was the P-37 Łos bomber, which at start of the war was the worldís best medium bomber. Another example was the "Ur" anti-tank rifle which was the first weapon to use tungsten-core ammunition.
To motorize a single division to German standards would have required use of all the civilian cars and trucks in the country. This occurred despite heroic efforts by Polish society to create a modern military which included fundraising among civilians and the Polish communities in the USA to buy modern equipment. As a percentage of GNP, Polish defense spending in the 1930s was second in Europe, behind the Soviet Union but ahead of Germany. Yet, in real dollar terms, the budget of the Luftwaffe alone in 1939 was ten times greater than the entire Polish defense budget. Yet even this did not give the full picture, since the Polish defense budget included money to upgrade roads and bridges and to build arms factories.
The Polish leadership was also hamstrung by political rifts and by the legacy of Pilsudskiís authoritarian rule which had retarded the development of modern strategic thinking and command. The top leadership was held by Marshal Edward Smigly-Rydz, who had been an able corps commander in 1920 but lacked the ability to command a complex modern army. Yet there were many able officers, such as Gen. Tadeusz Kutrzeba and Gen. Kazimierz Sosnkowski. Although overburdened by military brass, Poland had a solid corps of junior officers. The Polish Air Force, by contrast, was a very strong service.
Polandís one major advantage was in intelligence, beginning in the early 1930s, a group of young mathematicians had managed to break the German military codes of the supposedly unbreakable Enigma encoding machine. Until 1938, virtually all German radio traffic could be read by Polish intelligence. Thereafter, the Germans began to add new wrinkles to their systems, complicating the task. On the eve of the war, the Poles could read about ten percent of Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe traffic and nothing from the Kriegsmarine. However, the German military police frequencies continued to use the older system and were fully readable. This was augmented by human intelligence efforts. By September 1, 1939, the Polish high command knew the location and disposition of 90 percent of German combat units on the eastern front.
Polish doctrine had developed during the Polish-Soviet War and emphasized maneuver with little reliance placed on static defenses, aside from a few key points. Unfortunately, the Polish armyís ability to maneuver was far less than the more mechanized German army.
Much mythology surrounds Polandís use of cavalry, mostly due to Nazi propaganda absorbed by Western historians. About 10 percent of the Polish army was horse cavalry, a smaller percentage than the U.S. army in 1939. Poland had more tanks than Italy, a country with a well developed automotive industry. Polish cavalry were used as form of mobile infantry and rarely fought mounted, and never with lances. The cavalry attracted high-caliber recruits and the forces trained alongside tanks and possessed greater tank-fighting ability than comparable infantry units. Their use was also envisioned in any conflict with the USSR in eastern Poland where the terrain was mainly forest, swamp, and mountain.
Polandís primary strategic goal was to draw France and Britain into the war on her side in the event of an attack by Germany. Polandís defense strategy in 1939, developed by Gen. Kutrzeba, envisioned a fighting withdrawal to the southeastern part of the country, the "Rumanian bridgehead." There, the high command stockpiled reserve supplies of equipment and fuel. In the rougher terrain north of the Rumanian and Hungarian borders, the army would make its stand. If all went well, an Anglo-French counterattack in the west would reduce German pressure and Polish forces could be re-supplied by the allies through friendly Rumania.
Hitlerís political tactics, however, forced a modification of this plan. Fearing the Germans might attempt to seize the Polish Corridor or Danzig and then declare the war over, Polish forces were ordered closer to the border to ensure that any German attack would be immediately engaged in major combat. In so doing they would ensure that Polandís allies could not wriggle out of their treaty obligations.
For its part, Germanyís planners sought to deliver a rapid knock out blow to Poland within the first two weeks. German forces would launch deep armored attacks into Poland along two main routes: Lodz-Piotrkow-Warsaw and from Prussia across the Narew River into eastern Mazovia. There would be secondary attacks in the south and against the Polish coastal defenses in the north. The primary objective would be to cut off Polish forces in northern and western Poland and seize the capital. [Editor's addition: To further deter France from entering the soon-to-begin German-Polish conflict, Hitler made several public visits to the West Wall on the German-French border beginning from Aug 1938 to survey the construction of bunkers, blockhouses, and other fortifications. The Nazi propaganda machine elaborated on these visits to form a picture of an invincible defensive line to deter French attacks when Germany invades Poland.]
On paper, Polandís full mobilized army would have numbered about 2.5 million. Due to allied pressure and mismanagement, however, only about 600,000 Polish troops were in place to meet the German invasion on September 1, 1939. These forces were organized into 7 armies and 5 independent operational groups. The typical Polish infantry division was roughly equal in numbers to its German counterpart, but weaker in terms of anti-tank guns, artillery support, and transport. Poland had 30 active and 7 reserve divisions. In addition there were 12 cavalry brigades and one mechanized cavalry brigade. These forces were supplemented by units of the Border Defense Corps (KOP), an elite force designed to secure the frontiers from infiltration and engage in small unit actions, diversion, sabotage, and intelligence gathering. There was also a National Guard used for local defense and equipped with older model weapons. Armored train groups and river flotillas operated under army command.
German forces were organized in two Army Groups, with a total of 5 armies. The Germans fielded about 1.8 million troops. The Germans had 2600 tanks against the Polish 180, and over 2,000 aircraft against the Polish 420. German forces were supplemented by a Slovak brigade.
Armed clashes along the border became increasingly frequent in August 1939 as Abwehr operations worked to penetrate Polish forward areas and were opposed by the Polish Border Defense Corps, an elite unit originally designed to halt Soviet penetration of the eastern frontier. These clashes alarmed the French who urged the Poles to avoid "provoking" Hitler.
Polish forces had been partly mobilized in secret in the summer of 1939. Full mobilization was to be declared in late August, but was halted at French insistence. Mobilization was again declared on August 30, but halted to French threats to withhold assistance, and then re-issued the following day. As a result of this, only about a third of Polish forces were equipped and in place on Sept. 1.
On August 31, operational Polish air units were dispersed to secret airfields. The navyís three most modern destroyers executed Operation Peking and slipped out of the Baltic Sea to join the Royal Navy. Polish submarines dispersed to commence minelaying operations.
As Hitler gathered his generals, he ordered them to "kill without pity or mercy all men, women, and children of Polish descent or language... only in this way can we achieve the living space we need." Mobile killing squads Einsatzgruppen would follow the main body of troops, shooting POWs and any Poles who might organize resistance. On the night of August 31, Nazi agents staged a mock Polish attack on a German radio station in Silesia, dressing concentration camp prisoners in Polish uniforms and then shooting them. Hitler declared that Germany would respond to "Polish aggression."
The invasion began at 4.45 A.M. The battleship Schleswig-Holstein was moored at the port of the Free City of Danzig on a "courtesy visit" near the Polish military transit station of Westerplatte. The station was on a sandy, narrow peninsula in the harbor, garrisoned by a small force of 182 men. At quarter to five on September 1, 1939, the giant guns of the battleship opened up on the Polish outpost at point-blank range. As dawn broke, Danzig SS men advanced on Westerplatte expecting to find only the pulverized remains of the Polish garrison. Instead, they found the defenders very much alive. In moments the German attack was cut to pieces. Further attacks followed. Polish defenders dueled the mighty battleship with a small field gun. At the Polish Post Office in Danzig, postal workers and Polish boy scouts held off Nazi forces for most of the day before surrendering. The post office defenders were summarily executed. A similar fate awaited Polish railway workers south of the city after they foiled an attempt to use an armored train to seize a bridge over the Vistula.
Battle for the Borders
German forces and their Danzig and Slovak allies attacked Poland across most sectors of the border. In the north, they attacked the Polish Corridor. In southern and central Poland, Nazi armored spearheads attacked toward Łůdź and Krakůw. In the skies, German planes commenced terror bombing of cities and villages. Nazi armies massacred civilians and used women and children as human shields. Everywhere were scenes of savage fighting and unbelievable carnage. Polish forces defending the borders gave a good account of themselves. At Mokra, near Częstochowa, the Nazi 4th Panzer Division attacked two regiments of the Wolynska Cavalry Brigade. The Polish defenders drew the Germans into a tank trap and destroyed over 50 tanks and armored cars.
The battle in the Polish Corridor was especially intense. It was here that the myth of the Polish cavalry charging German tanks was born. As Gen. Heinz Guderianís panzer and motorized forces pressed the weaker Polish forces back, a unit of Pomorska Cavalry Brigade slipped through German lines late in the day on Sept. 1 in an effort to counterattack and slow the German advance. The unit happened on a German infantry battalion making camp. The Polish cavalry mounted a saber charge, sending the Germans fleeing at that moment, a group of German armored cars arrived on the scene and opened fire on the cavalry, killing several troopers and forcing the rest to retreat. Nazi propagandists made this into "cavalry charging tanks" and even made a movie to embellish their claims. While historians remembered the propaganda, they forgot that on September 1, Gen. Guderian had to personally intervene to stop the German 20th motorized division from retreating under what it described as "intense cavalry pressure." This pressure was being applied by the Polish 18th Lancer Regiment, a unit one tenth its size.
Where the Poles were in position, they usually got the better of the fight, but due to the delay in mobilization, their forces were too few to defend all sectors. The effectiveness of German mechanized forces proved to be their ability to bypass Polish strong points, cutting them off and isolating them. By September 3, although the country was cheered by the news that France and Britain had declared war on Germany, the Poles were unable to contain the Nazi breakthroughs. Army Łůdź, despite furious resistance, was pushed back and lost contact with its neighboring armies. German tanks drove through the gap directly toward Warsaw. In the Polish Corridor, Polish forces tried to stage a fighting withdrawal but suffered heavy losses to German tanks and divebombers. In the air, the outnumbered Polish fighter command fought with skill and courage, especially around Warsaw. Nevertheless, Nazi aircraft systematically targeted Polish civilians, especially refugees. Bombing and shelling sent tens of thousands of people fleeing for their lives, crowding the roads, hindering military traffic.
Editor's addition: Realizing that escaping civilians crowded up important transportation routes and disrupted Polish military movement, the Germans began to broadcast fake Polish news programs that either falsely reported the position of German armies or to encourage civilians of certain areas to evacuate. With both methods, the Germans were able to exploit the fear of the Polish civilians and render Polish transportation systems nearly useless.
The effects of the Polesí lack of mobility and the fateful decision to position forces closer to the border now began to tell. On September 5, the Polish High Command, fearing Warsaw was threatened, decided to relocate to southeastern Poland. This proved a huge mistake as the commanders soon lost contact with their major field armies. Warsaw itself was thrown into panic at the news.
Although the situation was grim, it was not yet hopeless. Following the High Commandís departure, the mayor of Warsaw Stefan Starzyński and General Walerian Czuma rallied the cityís defenders. Citizen volunteers built barricades and trenches. An initial German attack on the cityís outskirts was repulsed.
The fast German advance took little account of Army Poznań under the command of Gen. Kutrzeba which had been bypassed on the Nazisí quick drive toward Warsaw. On September 8-9, Army Poznań counterattacked from the north against the flank of the German forces moving on Warsaw. The Nazi advance halted in the face of the initial Polish success on the River Bzura. The Nazisí superiority in tanks and aircraft, however, allowed them to regroup and stop Army Poznańís southward push. The counterattack turned into a battle of encirclement. Although some forces managed to escape to Warsaw, by September 13, the Battle of Bzura was over and Polish forces destroyed. The delay, however, had allowed Warsaw to marshal its defenses, turning the perimeter of the city into a series of makeshift forts. In the south, German forces had captured Krakůw early in the campaign but their advance slowed down as they approached Lwůw. The defenders of Westerplatte had surrendered after seven days of fighting against overwhelming odds, but the city of Gdynia and the Hel Peninsula still held as Polish coastal batteries kept German warships at bay.
By the middle of September, Polish losses had been severe and the German advance had captured half of the country. The high commandís fateful decision to leave Warsaw had resulted in more than a week of confusion, rescued only by the courage of Army Poznańís doomed counterattack. By the middle of September, however, Polish defenses were stiffening. Local commanders and army-level generals now directed defenses around the key bastions of Warsaw, the Seacoast, and Lwůw. German losses began to rise (reaching their peak during the third week of the campaign). Small Polish units isolated by the rapid advance regrouped and struck at vulnerable rear-area forces.
This thin ray of hope, however, was extinguished on September 17 when Red Army forces crossed Polandís eastern border as Stalin moved to assist his Nazi ally and to seize his share of Polish territory. Nearly all Polish troops had been withdrawn from the eastern border to fight the Nazi onslaught. Only a few units of the Border Defense Corps aided by local volunteers stood in the way of Stalinís might. Although often outnumbered 100 to 1, these forces refused to surrender.
One such force commanded by Lt. Jan Bolbot was attacked by tens of thousands of Red Army troops in their bunkers near Sarny. Bolbotís surrounded men mowed down thousands of Soviet attackers who advanced in human waves. Finally, communist forces piled debris around the bunkers and set them on fire. Lt. Bolbot, who remained in telephone contact with his commander, reported that the neighboring bunker had been breached and he could see hand to hand fighting there. He told his commander that his own bunker was on fire and filling with thick smoke but all his men were still at their posts and shooting back. Then the line went dead. The entire Sarny garrison fought to the last man. Bolbot was posthumously awarded the Virtuti Militari, Polandís highest military decoration.
Polish defenses in the southeast fell apart as formations were ordered to fall back across the relatively friendly Rumanian and Hungarian borders to avoid capture. Fighting raged around Warsaw, the fortress of Modlin, and on the seacoast. On September 28, Warsaw capitulated. Polish forces on the Hel Peninsula staved off surrender until October 1. In the marshes of east central Poland, Group Polesie continued to mount effective resistance until October 5. When this final organized force gave up, its ammunition was gone and its active duty soldiers were outnumbered by the prisoners it had taken.
Throughout the first two and half weeks of September 1939, Germany threw its entire air force, all of panzer forces, and all of its frontline infantry and artillery against Poland. Its border with France was held by a relatively thin force of second and third string divisions. The French army, from its secure base behind the Maginot Line, had overwhelming superiority in men, tanks, aircraft, and artillery. A concerted push into western Germany would have been a disaster for Hitler. Yet the French stood aside and did nothing. The British were equally inactive, sending their bombers to drop propaganda leaflets over a few German cities. Had the Allies acted, the bloodiest and most terrible war in human history could have been averted.
Managing Editor C. Peter Chen's Addition
The Western Betrayal
Since Britain and France had given Germany a freehand in annexing Czechoslovakia, some people of Central and Eastern Europe placed a distrust on the democratic nations of Western Europe. They used the word "betrayal" to describe their western allies who failed to fulfill their treaty responsibilities to stand by the countries they swore to protect. Britain and France's lack of initial response to the German invasion convinced them that their western allies had indeed betrayed them.
Britain simply did not wish to give up the notion that Germany could be courted as a powerful ally. After a note was sent from London to Berlin regarding to the invasion of her ally, Lord Halifax followed up by sending British Ambassador in Berlin Nevile Henderson a note stating that the note was "in the nature of a warning and is not to be considered as an ultimatum." Deep in its pacifist fantasies, Britain did not consider the violation of her allies borders a valid cause for war. France's response to the invasion was similar, expressing a willingness to negotiate though refusing to send any deadline for a German response. At 1930 London time on 1 Sep 1939, the British parliament gathered for a statement from Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, expecting a declaration of war as dictated by the terms of the pact between Britain and Poland, or minimally the announcement of an ultimatum for Berlin. Instead, Chamberlain noted that Hitler was a busy man and might not had the time to review the note from Berlin yet. When he sat down after his speech, there were no cheers; even the parliament characterized by its support for appeasement was stunned by Chamberlain's lack of action.
As Britain and France idled, the German Luftwaffe bombed Polish cities. They submitted messages to Berlin noting that if German troops were withdrawn, they were willing to forget the whole ordeal and return things to the status quo. It was a clear violation of the military pacts that they had signed with Poland. Finally, on 3 Sep, after thousands of Polish military and civilian personnel had already perished, Britain declared war on Germany at 1115. France followed suit at 1700 on the same day. Even after they had declared war, however, the sentiment did not steer far from that of appeasement. The two western Allies remained mostly idle. While Poland desperately requested the French Army to advance into Germany to tie down German divisions and requested Britain to bomb German industrial centers, Britain and especially France did nothing in fear of German reprisals. In one of the biggest "what-if" scenarios of WW2, even Wilhelm Keitel noted that had France reacted by conducting a full-scale invasion of Germany, Germany would have fallen immediately. "We soldiers always expected an attack by France during the Polish campaign, and were very surprised that nothing happened.... A French attack would have encountered only a German military screen, not a real defense", he said. The invasion was not mounted; instead, token advances were made under the order of Maurice Gamelin of France, where a few divisions marched into SaarbrŁcken and immediately withdrawn. The minor French expedition was embellished in Gamelin's communique as an invasion, and falsely gave the impression that France was fully committed and was meeting stiff German resistance. While the Polish ambassy in London reported several times that Polish civilians were being targeted by German aerial attacks, Britain continued to insist that the German military had been attacking only military targets.
Source: The Last Lion
Occupation and Escape
Both German and Soviet occupations began with murder and brutality. Many prisoners of war were executed on the spot or later during the war. Countless civilians were also shot or sent to concentration camps, including political leaders, clergy, boy scouts, professors, teachers, government officials, doctors, and professional athletes. Among them was Mayor Starzynski of Warsaw who had rallied his city to resist the Nazi onslaught. In the German sector, Jews were singled out for special brutality.
Many small army units continued to fight from remote forests. Among the most famous was the legendary "Major Hubal," the pseudonym of Major Henryk Dobrzański. Major Hubal and his band of 70-100 men waged unrelenting guerilla warfare on both occupiers until they were cornered by German forces in April 1940 and wiped out. Hubalís body was burned by the Germans and buried in secret so he would not become a martyr, but others soon took his place.
POWs captured by the Germans were to be sent to labor and prison camps. Many soldiers escaped and disappeared into the local population. Those who remained in German custody were frequently abused, used for slave labor, or shot. POWs captured by the Soviets suffered an even worse fate. Officers were separated from the enlisted men and an estimated 22,000 were massacred by the Soviets. Enlisted men were often sent to Siberian gulags where many died.
Large numbers of Polish soldiers had fled into neighboring Hungary and Rumania where they were interned. While both countries were officially allied to Germany, both had strong sympathy for the Poles. This was especially true in Hungary. Polish soldiers began to disappear from internment camps as bribable or sympathetic guards and officials pretended to look the other way. Individually and in small groups, they made their way to France and Britain. German diplomats raged at their Hungarian and Rumanian counterparts, but officials in neither country had much interest in enforcing Berlinís decrees. As a result, within months a new Polish army had begun to form in the West.
Sources: Steven Zaloga and Victor Madej, The Polish Campaign, 1939 (1985); John Radzilowski, Travellerís History of Poland (2006); E. Kozlowski, Wojna Obronna Polski, 1939 (1979); Jan Gross, Revolution from Abroad (1988).
Invasion of Poland Timeline
|3 Apr 1939||Hitler, on his own authority, ordered the armed forces to prepare "Case White" for the invasion and occupation of the whole of Poland later in the summer.|
|7 May 1939||German Generals Rundstedt, Manstein, and other General Staff members presented to Hitler an invasion plan for Danzig and Poland.|
|15 Jun 1939||The German Army presented a plan to Adolf Hitler for the invasion of Poland, with much of the strategy focusing on concentrated surprise attacks to quickly eliminate Polish opposition.|
|10 Aug 1939||Reinhard Heydrich ordered SS Officer Alfred Naujocks to fake an attack on a radio station near Gleiwitz, Germany, which was on the border with Poland. "Practical proof is needed for these attacks of the Poles for the foreign press as well as German propaganda", said Heydrich, according to Naujocks.|
|14 Aug 1939||Adolf Hitler announced to his top military commanders that Germany was to enter in a war with Poland at the end of Aug 1939, and that the United Kingdom and France would not enter the fray, especially if Poland could be decisively wiped out in a week or two.|
|17 Aug 1939||The Germany military was ordered to supply the SS organization with 150 Polish Army uniforms.|
|22 Aug 1939||With a non-aggression pact nearly secured with the Soviet Union, German leader Adolf Hitler ordered the Polish invasion to commence on 26 Aug 1939. He told his top military commanders to be brutal and show no compassion in the upcoming war.|
|24 Aug 1939||The United Kingdom enacted emergency powers and partially mobilized the British military in preparation of war with Germany. Among the forces mobilized was the troops of General Pile's Air Defence of Great Britain (ADGB). In Berlin, Germany, journalist William Shirer noted in his diary "it looks like war" based on his observations throughout the day.|
|25 Aug 1939||In the morning, Adolf Hitler sent a message to Benito Mussolini, noting that the reason why Italy was not informed of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was because Hitler had not imagined the negotiations would conclude so quickly. He also revealed to him that war was to commence soon, but failed to let him know that the planned invasion date was on the following day. Later on the same day, however, Hitler hesitated in the face of the Anglo-Polish mutual defense agreement; he would quickly decide to postpone the invasion date. Meanwhile, in Berlin, Germany, journalist William Shirer noted in his diary that war seems to be imminent.|
|26 Aug 1939||Some German units ordered to lead the invasion of Poland, originally planned for this date, did not receive the message that the invasion had been postponed in the previous evening and crossed the borders, attacking Polish defenses with rifles, machine guns, and grenades; they would be withdrawn back into Germany within hours. Because Poland had experienced so much German provocation in the past few days, Polish leadership brushed off the attacks as another series of provocation, despite having reports that the attacks wore regular uniforms. In the late afternoon, Adolf Hitler set the new invasion date at 1 Sep 1939.|
|28 Aug 1939||Citizens in Berlin, Germany observed troops moving toward the east.|
|31 Aug 1939||The formal order for the German invasion of Poland was given; specific instructions were made for German troops on the western border to avoid conflict with the United Kingdom, France, and the Low Countries.|
|1 Sep 1939||Using the staged Gleiwitz radio station attack as an excuse, Germany declared war on Poland. Meanwhile, the radio station in Minsk, Byelorussia increased the frequency of station identification and extended its playing time in an attempt to help German aviators navigate. Among the opening acts of the European War, the German Luftwaffe bombed the town of Wielu in Poland, causing 1,200 civilian casualties.|
|2 Sep 1939||During the day, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Prime Minister …douard Daladier issued a joint ultimatum to Germany, demanding the withdraw of troops from Poland within 12 hours. During the late hours of the night, Chamberlain attempted to convince Dalalier to carry out the threat from the earlier ultimatum by declaring war on Germany early in the next morning.|
|3 Sep 1939||At 0900 hours, British Ambassador in Germany Nevile Henderson delivered the British declaration of war to German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, effective at 1100 hours; British Commonwealth nations of New Zealand and Australia followed suit. France would also declare war later on this day, effective at 1700 hours. In the afternoon, Adolf Hitler issued an order to his generals, again stressing that German troops must not attack British and French positions. Finally, Hitler also sent a message to the Soviet Union, asking the Soviets to jointly invade Poland.|
|5 Sep 1939||German Army units crossed the Vistula River in Poland. Meanwhile, Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov responded to the German invitation to jointly invade Poland in the positive, but noted that the Soviet forces would need several days to prepare; he also warned the Germans not to cross the previously agreed upon line separating German and Soviet spheres of influence.|
|6 Sep 1939||German troops captured the Upper Silesian industrial area.|
|7 Sep 1939||German troops captured Krakůw, Poland.|
|8 Sep 1939||Polish defenders at Westerplatte surrendered. To the south, German troops neared the suburbs of Warsaw, and the Polish government evacuated to Lublin.|
|9 Sep 1939||Battle of the Bzura, also known as Battle of Kutno to the Germans, began; it was to become the largest battle in the Poland campaign. Elsewhere, German forces captured Lodz and Radom. South of Radom, Stuka dive-bombers of Colonel Gunter Schwarzkopff's St.G.77 finished off the great Polish attempt to cross the Vistula River, crushing the last pockets of resistance in conjunction with tanks; "Wherever they went", reported one Stuka pilot after the action, "we came across throngs of Polish troops, against which our 110-lb fragmentation bombs were deadly. After that we went almost down to the deck firing our machine guns. The confusion was indescribable." At Warsaw, German attempts to enter the city were repulsed. In Moscow, Russia, Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov informed the German ambassador that Soviet forces would be ready to attack Poland within a few days.|
|10 Sep 1939||Soviet ambassador to Poland Nikolai Szaranow was recalled from Warsaw. Meanwhile, German troops made a breakthrough near Kutno and Sandomierz in Poland.|
|13 Sep 1939||The 60,000 survivors in the Radom Pocket in Poland surrendered.|
|15 Sep 1939||German troops captured Gdynia, Poland. Meanwhile, Polish troops failed to break out of the Kutno Pocket. At Warsaw, with it surrounded by German troops, the Polish Army was ordered to the Romanian border to hold out until the Allies arrive; the Romanian government offered asylum to all Polish civilians who could make it across the border; Polish military personnel who crossed the border, however, would be interned. In Berlin, Germany, German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop asked the Soviet Union for a definite date and time when Soviet forces would attack Poland.|
|16 Sep 1939||Polish troops counterattacked, destroying 22 tanks of Leibstandarte SS "Adolf Hitler" regiment. Elsewhere in Poland, German troops captured Brest-Litovsk. In Moscow, Russia, Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov proposed that the Soviet Union would enter the war with the reason of protection of Ukrainians and Byelorussians; Germany complained that it singled out Germany as the lone aggressor.|
|17 Sep 1939||In Poland, German troops captured Kutno west of Warsaw. East of Warsaw, Heinz Guderian's XIX Panzerkorps of Army Group North made contact with XXII Panzerkorps of Army Group South, just to the south of Brest-Litovsk; virtually the whole Polish Army (or what remained of it) was now trapped within a gigantic double pincer. In Russia, Joseph Stalin declared that the government of Poland no longer existed, thus all treaties between the two states were no longer valid; Soviet troops poured across the border to join Germany in the invasion, ostensibly to protect Ukrainian and Byelorussian interests from potential German aggression.|
|18 Sep 1939||A Soviet-German joint victory parade was held in Brest-Litovsk in Eastern Poland.|
|19 Sep 1939||West of Warsaw, Poland, at the bend of the Vistula River, German troops imprisoned 170,000 Polish troops as they surrendered.|
|20 Sep 1939||German General Johannes Blaskowitz noted in his order of the day that, at the Battle of the Bzura in Poland, also known as Battle of Kutno to the Germans, his troops was fighting "in one of the biggest and most destructive battles of all times." Elsewhere, German troops withdrew to the agreed demarcation line in Poland, with Soviet forces moving in behind them. Finally, also on this day, the remaining Polish garrison in Grodno managed to kill 800 Soviet troops and at least 10 tanks.|
|21 Sep 1939||60,000 survivors of the Polish Southern Army surrendered at Tomaszov and Zamosz, Poland.|
|22 Sep 1939||Battle of the Bzura, also known as Battle of Kutno to the Germans, ended in Polish defeat; it was the largest battle of the Polish campaign during which more than 18,000 Polish troops and about 8,000 German troops were killed. At Lvov, over 210,000 Poles surrender to the Soviets, but at the Battle of Kodziowce the Soviets suffered heavy casualties. Also on this day, the Soviet NKVD began gathering Polish officers for deportation.|
|23 Sep 1939||German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop expressed approval for the Soviet proposal on the partition of Poland. Meanwhile, at Krasnobrod, Poland, three squadrons of the Nowgrodek Cavalry Brigade attacked and surprised the German 8th Infantry Division which had entrenched on a hill. The German made a disorderly retreat to a nearby town, hotly pursued by the Polish cavalry. Despite heavy losses from machine-gun fire the Poles secured the town, capturing the German divisional headquarters including General Rudolf Koch-Erpach and about 100 other German soldiers. In addition forty Polish prisoners were freed. During the action Lieutenant Tadeusz Gerlecki, commanding the second squadron, defeated a German cavalry unit - one of the last battles in military history between opposing cavalry.|
|25 Sep 1939||Warsaw, Poland suffered heavy Luftwaffe bombing and artillery bombardment as Adolf Hitler arrived to observe the attack. To the east, Soviet troops captured Bialystok, Poland. Meanwhile, Joseph Stalin proposed to the Germans that the Soviet Union would take Lithuania which was previously within the German sphere of influence; in exchange, the Soviets would give the portions of Poland near Warsaw which were previously within the Soviet sphere of influence but had already been overrun by German troops.|
|27 Sep 1939||Warsaw, Poland fell to the Germans after two weeks of siege. Near Grabowiec, Soviets executed 150 Polish policemen.|
|28 Sep 1939||At Brest-Litovsk, Germans and Soviets signed the agreement denoting their common border in Poland.|
|29 Sep 1939||With the formal surrender of Poland, including the last 35,000 besieged troops in Modlin, the Germany and Soviet Union finished dividing up Poland.|
|6 Oct 1939||Final Polish forces surrendered near Kock and Lublin after fighting both Germans and Soviets.|
|10 Oct 1939||Adolf Hitler announced the victorious end to the Polish campaign and called on France and England to end hostilities, which is ignored by both governments.|
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General Douglas MacArthur at Leyte, 17 Oct 1944