Polish Campaign of 1939

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Polish Campaign of 1939


the aggression of fascist Germany against Poland that launched World War II (1939–45). Germany’s aim was to quickly rout and occupy Poland and to create a staging area for an attack on the USSR. It hoped that Poland’s allies—Great Britain and France—would not help Poland and would come to an agreement with Germany after the destruction of the Polish state.

Poland was economically and militarily much weaker than fascist Germany. The Polish Army was insufficiently equipped with tanks, aircraft, and antitank and antiaircraft artillery. The great length of the Polish-German border (1,900 km) made defense difficult, and there were not many prepared defense lines. Fascist Germany deployed on the Polish border Army Group North, consisting of the Third and Fourth armies under Colonel General F. von Bock, composed of two brigades and 20 divisions, including two panzer divisions. Also deployed there was Army Group South made up of the Fourteenth, Tenth, and Eighth armies under Colonel General G. von Runstedt, composed of about 33 divisions, including four panzer divisions. After the outbreak of the war, eight more divisions, including one panzer division, were brought up from the reserve. The total German forces deployed there were 1.6 million men, 6,000 guns and mortars, 2,800 tanks, and 2,000 aircraft. For actions in the Baltic Sea, Germany deployed Group East of Admiral Z. Albrecht, composed of two battleships, nine destroyers, seven submarines, and naval aviation. The plan of attack was to deliver converging strikes from Pomerania (Pomorze) in the west, from East Prussia in the north, and from Silesia in the south in order to surround and destroy the main groupings of the Polish Army west of the Vistula River.

The Polish strategic West Plan was to offer stiff resistance along the whole frontier and to retreat to the interior of the country, while continuously fighting, until the Allies launched aggressive operations on the Western Front. The plan provided for the deployment of 39 infantry divisions, 11 cavalry brigades, two armored motorized brigades, and three mountain rifle brigades, totaling 1.5 million men, with 220 light tanks, 650 tan-kettes, 407 combat planes, and 4,300 guns. Because of the suddenness of the attack, however, Poland could deploy only 70 percent of the planned men and matériel. Its armed forces (commander in chief Marshal E. Śmigly-Rydz) were deployed on a wide front of about 1,500 km. The first echelon was made up of the Carpathian, Kraków, Łódź, Poznań, Pomerania, and Mo-dlin armies and the Narew Operational Group—a total of 21 infantry divisions, three mountain rifle brigades, nine cavalry brigades, and one armored motorized brigade. The reserve groupings of the second echelon were in the process of concentration. The navy had four destroyers, five submarines, one minelayer, and 1½ naval infantry divisions.

At 4:45 A.M. on September 1 the fascist German forces invaded Poland. In the very first days, the Luftwaffe broke the heroic resistance of the Polish Air Force and disrupted railroad transportation. On September 3, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany but did not extend any help to Poland, although they possessed great superiority of forces in the West.

From September 1 to 8, fierce fighting broke out along the whole defensive front of the Polish forces—in northern Mazovia, in Pomerania, on the Warta River, and in Silesia. The small garrison on the Westerplatte Peninsula (Gdańsk) fought heroically and held out until September 7. By September 5, the German Fourth and Third armies had already made contact in the region of Grudziądz, thus cutting off the Polish troops in Pomerania. The encircled garrison of Gdynia held out until September 14, and the naval base in Oksywie near Gdynia until September 19.

On September 7 the German Tenth Army, after breaking through the front at the junction of the Łódź and Kraków armies, reached the Pilica River, while the German Eighth Army reached the Warta River, the German Fourteenth Army the Dunajec River, and the German Third Army the Narew River in the region of Puttusk. On September 8, the Fourth Panzer Division of the XVI Panzer Corps of the German Tenth Army broke through to the outskirts of Warsaw but was repulsed. On September 9–10, fascist German mobile units reached the Vistula and San lines. A battle was fought on the Bzura from September 9 to 20. At first the partially encircled Pomeranian and Poznań armies, commanded by General T. Kutrzeba, delivered a sudden successful strike at the flank of the German Eighth Army; but then the fascist German troops, having concentrated large forces, routed the Polish troops. Only remnants of the troops headed by General Kutrzeba could make their way to Warsaw.

On September 16, units of the German Tenth Army made contact with units of Army Group North in the region of Włodawa and encircled a big grouping of Polish troops. Fierce fighting in the region of Tomaszów Lubelski from September 18 to 26 ended in defeat for the Poles. The remnants of the troops of the southern armies were routed on September 20.

On September 16 the Polish bourgeois government, whose anti-Soviet and antipopular policy had led the country to the catastrophe, and the Supreme Command, which had lost control of the troops, fled to Rumania. On September 17, as the Polish state of bourgeoisie and landlords was crumbling, the Red Army entered Western Byelorussia and the Western Ukraine, which had been part of Poland, in order to protect their population from the fascist aggression. The fascist German troops began the assault on Warsaw on September 20. The Warsaw garrison fought heroically, jointly with workers’ battalions, until September 28. The Modlin garrison ceased resistance on September 28, and the Hel garrison on October 2. The last grouping to hold out was General F. Kleeberg’s operational group, which fought near Kock from October 2 to 5 and laid down arms on October 6.

During the Polish campaign of 1939, Germany lost about 45,000 men in killed and wounded, 1,000 tanks and armored vehicles, and 400 aircraft. Poland lost 200,000 men in killed and wounded and 420,000 men in prisoners. The country was occupied by fascist Germany, but the Polish people continued the struggle against the fascist German aggressors in Poland and abroad.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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