The September Polish Defensive Campaign of 1939

“The destruction of Poland is our first task. The aim must be not to reach some marked line, but the destruction of manpower. Even if the west goes to war, the destruction of Poland must be our first task. The decision must be immediate because of the time of year. For the purposes of propaganda give a reason for the outbreak of war.  Never mind whether it will be reliable.  Nobody asks whether you’re telling the truth or not if you’re a winner. In matters relating to the commencement and conduct of the war is not determined by law, but by victory.  Be without mercy, be brutal.”  These words are uttered on August 22 by Adolf Hitler at a conference of senior commanders in Berchtesgaden, on the eve of the signing of the non-aggression pact with the Stalin.

Invasion of Poland

There was no Declaration of War.

Hostilities were to start at first on Saturday, August 26. The day before, the Anglo-Polish military alliance was signed, where the United Kingdom was to offer assistance in the case of an attack on Poland specifically by Germany.  Because of the pact’s signing and Mussolini’s declaration that Italy was not ready to go to war forced Hitler to postpone his planned invasion until September 1.  Then at 6 a.m. on the 1st, Warsaw was hit by bombing raids and German troops invading from Prussia on the north, Germany from the west and Slovakia from the south.  To create civilian panic in the streets, towns and villages were deliberately bombed, which hampered Polish troop movement on roads crowded with fleeing masses.

My dad was a reservist in the Polish Cavalry and was called up before the invasion.  I have no definitive information in which unit he fought, but from my research, I have surmised that my dad was in the Podolska Cavalry Brigade, Podolska Brygada Kawalerii, in Polish, a cavalry unit of the Polish Army established in 1937, headquartered in Stanislawow.  I don’t have any documentation at this time to determine if my supposition is correct but since my dad hailed from that area, he was in the cavalry, and that unit was able to retreat out of Poland and escape capture, this is my theory.   I also believe that he was in the 6th General Soltyk’s Mounted Artillary Regimen of the cavalry Brigade, stationed in Stanislawow.  To further support my theory, I do know that my dad had light artillery training.

Tatus and horse

The story I heard growing up was that he was able to escape into Lithuania as the Germans and Soviets were closing in.  I can document that the Podolska and Wielopolksa brigades managed to break out of the German encirclement culminating one of the single largest battles of the 1939 September campaign, called the Battle of the Bzura, which lasted from September 9 through the 20th.  On the morning of September 17, 1939 the Germans started a drive toward both banks of the Bzura river, with aerial support from 300 aircraft and heavy artillery cover.  German howitzers shelled Polish positions until the heavy fighting ended with the Poles having no food rations left and escaping seemed impossible.

However a few units did manage to break out into the Kampinos Forest including my dad’s cavalry unit where they combined efforts with remnants of other units and fought their way into besieged Warsaw.  The Soviet Red Army invaded from the east on September 17, 1939, fulfilling the Nazi-Soviet Pact, better known as th Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, signed on August 23, 1939.  This meant that capitulation was imminent.  Warsaw bravely fought until September 27 and Poland formally surrendered on October 8, 1939.

Because the Polish Army units were being squeezed by both enemies, many units were captured while a few others were able to escape to the north and were welcomed by the Lithuanian government and interned.  That was my father’s fate.


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