World War II began on September 1st, 1939 at 04:45 hours when the Schleswig-Holstein attacked Polish garrisons at Westerplatte. The German attack was a formidable one which has since been referred to as the Blitzkrieg, " Lightning War". It was unlike any warfare ever seen in the world and one for which no nation was prepared to meet.
The Wehrmacht consisting of 1.5 million soldiers, 9,000 guns, 2,750 tanks and 2,300 aircraft tore through Poland with terrifying speed and force. Almost two weeks later the Red Army invaded Poland from the east with over 620,000 soldiers, 4,900 guns, 4,700 tanks and 3,300 aircraft.
Poland mobilized about one million of its army divisions, 4,300 guns, 880 tanks and about 500 aircraft. They were greatly outnumbered and their equipment outclassed by German and Soviet war machinery. Despite these impossible odds, Poland did not fall in a week as was expected. Numerous battles were waged in which the Polish Armies inflicted significant casualties on the enemy. The Polish Armed Forces fought for 35 days before capitulating. It was not surrender. Many Polish troops had escaped in order to re-group and re-arm from outside the country to continue fighting against the enemy.
The number of Polish casualties was staggering: Losses to the Germans were about 66,000 soldiers KIA, 133,700 WIA, and 420,000 were taken as POWs. Losses to the Red Army were 6,000 to 7,000 soldiers KIA and MIA, and 250,000 taken as POWs. Of these prisoners, all the Polish officers (15,000 of them) were executed by the Soviet NKVD in 1940 in Katyn in the Soviet Union. Stalin had ordered the massacre.
The Polish Armies were able to inflict losses on the Germans even with the disproportionate number of men and materiel. It is a testament to their bravery and power of the Polish Armed Forces, and the Polish people to have fought against the enemy against all odds.
German losses were 16,343 soldiers KIA, 30,300 WIA, and 3,500 MIA, 674 tanks and 319 armored vehicules were destroyed or badly damaged, and 230 aircraft shot down (including Stuka Dive Bombers and Messerschmidts). The losses suffered by the Red Army were: 2,500 soldiers KIA and MIA, 150 combat vehicules and 20 aircraft destroyed.
Poland was the first to fight and she fought two enemies without intervention by England or France.
Polish soldiers are among the best trained in the world. History can also attest to that. (Napolean Bonaparte was quoted to have said that the power of 800 Polish soldiers is equal to that of that of 8,000 soldiers) The stories of Polish heroism in WW2 battles are numerous and well documented by British, French and Polish sources. Here are but a few stories.
Corporal Leonard Żłób was a gun commander in the 3rd battery of the 2nd Horse Artillery. With a 75mm type 02/26 gun he destroyed 14 German tanks on September 1st, 1939 in the Battles of Mokra. German tanks numbered over 80. Leonard Żłób was awarded Poland's highest honour for his victory, the Virtuti Militari cross.
Coroporal Jan Suski of the AT platoon of 2nd Horse Rifle Regiment 2. psk, made 8 kills (tanks and AFVs) by direct fire of 37mm type 36 AT gun in the Battle of Mokra, repulsing the German attack.
Jan Kawiak of the AT platoon of 12th Uhlan Regiment made several victories and destroyed German tanks from a 37mm type 36 AT gun. He attacked the Germans from a well-hidden position under the railway viaduct. He repulsed the German attack and was promoted to a higher Uhlan rank.
Corporal Stefan Wojcieszak, commander of the Polish platoon of Ursus type 29 armoured cars from the 11th Dywizjon Pancerny destroyed 4 German Kfz 13 armoured cars, captured machine guns and several wounded German infantrymen. In the process, unfortunately the Polish platoon lost two of its armoured cars and a few Polish soldiers were wounded.
On September 16, 1939, the 6th battery of 17 pal (light AR) with an arsenal of only a total of 4 x 100n mm howitzers completely destroyed 22 tanks from Panzer-Regiment No.35 and 30 motorcycles from SS “Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler”. The Polish battery fired a total of 250 rounds at the enemy near the Manor Ruszki, situated near Adamowa Góra. Among other soldiers serving in this battery were Stn.Ogn Stanisław Kunikowski and major Alojzy Krannerwetter. The Panzer Regiment suffered casualties: 16 KIA, 19 WIA and 14 MIA. The German motorized Regiment also suffered high casualties while the Polish battery losses were only five slightly wounded and one officer.
|Soldiers of 6th battery of 17 pal (st. ogn. Stanisław Kunikowski stands 6th from the left)|
On 1st of September Karol Szumiński, Commander of the 2nd Platoon of AT Company of 16th Infantry Regiment (3 AT guns x 37mm), the aimer of one of the guns Cholewa, and an NCO Zdzisław Korol destroyed 14 German tanks of the 5th Panzer-Division. Cholewa was mortally wounded lying in the trench. But before he died he fired on the German tank from a distance of 15 metres and destroyed it. This was the last and 14th tank destroyed by the Polish regiment. The German gunner, Joachim von Stunzner managed to survive the attack. He climbed out of the tank and attacked Zdzislaw Korol who had been shot in the neck by one of the German troops. The shot had been fired from a pistol from the open turret of the tank moments before it was destroyed by Cholewa. A desperate hand to hand combat ensued between Korol and von Stunzner which ended when Korol killed von Stunzer with three shots from his rifle. Soonafter, the Germans destroyed all three of the Polish AT guns and the rest of the platoon was killed.
In the battle for the bridgehead at Rozan on September 5th, 1939 Corporal Michalak and plutonowy Józef Bień with two ATguns at the ready destroyed 5 German tanks from the "Kempf" Panzer Division and immobilized one more by breaking its Caterpillars. In the morning of the same day, Corporal Michalak, supported by the infantry platoon of corporal pchor. Sypniewski obliterated several German motorcycles and one all-terrain vehicle of the SS Motorized Reconnaissance Detachment commanded by Major Wim Brandt.
On September 14, 1939, Plutonowy podchorąży rez. Roman Edmund Orlik, of the 71st Armoured dyon of Wielkopolska Cavalry Brigade and his driver, Corporal Bronisław Zakrzewski destroyed 3 tanks from Panzer-Regiment 36. from 4th Panzer-Division. On September 18th, at Pociecha they destroyed another 3 tanks from Panzer-Regiment 11. from 1. Leichte-Division, as well as several motorized vehicles and captured 2 German (tank) soldiers. On September 19th, during the Battle of Sierakow, they destroyed 7 German tanks (from Panzer-Abteilung 65. or from I. battalion of Panzer-Regiment 11.) Most of the tanks were Pz-35(t) tanks. The Polish regiment were the first "tankette" aces scoring a total of 13 kills.
|Roman Orlik and Bronisław Zakrzewski.|
In the Battle of Brochów on September 14th, Col. Groniowski of the 7th Horse Rifle Regiment (7psk) shot at one of the German tanks with his AT rifle disabling it, and podchorąży Stanisław Taylor from the same Regiment immobilized a German tank of the Panzer-Regiment 36th by suddenly throwing a grenade inside the tank through the open turret.. Two days later Taylor was killed in action.
|Podchorazy Stanislaw Taylor|