September 17, 2018




Soviet Union invaded Poland.   On September 17, 1939,  16 days after Germany invaded Poland from the west, the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east.  The joint German-Soviet invasion of Poland was secretly agreed to in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which was signed on August 23,  1939. An overpowering number of Russian troops crossed Polish borders, approximately 466,000 to 800,000 soldiers in over 33 divisions, armed with 4,959 guns, 4,736 tanks, and 3,300 aircraft. Initially Polish forces clashed with the invading Russian armies resulting in heavy casualties.  Polish General Rydz-Śmigły ordered the Polish troops to fall back, and engage Russian troops in defence only.  The Red Army captured 230,000 Polish prisoners of war, and annexed the Poland's entire eastern region. From 1939 to 1941, in a wave of four phases, the Soviet regime deported over one million Poles to Russian gulags. The notorious NKVD secret police embarked on a reign of terror and murder of Polish military and civilians.  Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov told the Polish ambassador that "since the Polish Republic is no longer in existence" the Soviet would protect inhabitants of Byelorussia and the western Ukraine, whose territories were annexed and renamed the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, and the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic.  Poland's President Ignacy Mościck and Prime Minister Felicjan Składkowski evacuated to Romania, with the general staff of the Polish government, and many of the Polish armed forces.  They refused to surrender or negotiate peace terms with either the Germans or the Soviets.

Royal Castle in Warsaw Bombed by Nazis.  On September 17, 1939, Warsaw's famed Royal Castle (Zamek Krolewski) was bombed by Nazi German artillery. The roof and the turrets were destroyed by fire, the ceiling of the Ballroom collapsed, resulting in the complete destruction of the priceless Bacciarelli's ceiling fresco, The Creation of the World.  However, other rooms were slightly damaged  After Warsaw was occupied by the Germans, Hitler ordered the castle to be demolished, but not before looting everything in sight - priceless masterpieces of art and sculpture, furniture, the marbled floors,  fireplaces, decorative moulds, and even the central heating and ventilation systems, which were all dismantled and shipped to Germany. After the defeat of the Polish insurgents during the Warsaw Uprising, the Germans blew up the Castle's walls.   Immediately after the end of the war, restoration of the Royal Castle began.  Every fragment was collected and assembled according to blueprints of the framework and rooms, and the painstaking restoration began.. (In 1980, the Royal Castle, as well as the Old Town were registered as a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.)

The Battle of Brześć Litewski ended in German victory.  On September 14, 1939,  77 German tanks of the 2nd Battalion of the 8th Panzer Regiment, part of 10th Panzer Division, reached the area of Brześć and attempted to capture the fortress but were repelled by Polish infantry and the 113th company of light tanks, consisting of 12 obsolete Renault FT tanks.  Though the Germans destroyed all the Polish tanks, the Poles succeeded in forcing them to retreat to their initial positions.  Later on the same day,  German artillery reinforcements arrived and launched very heavy bombing of both the fortress and the town.  By dawn about half of the town was captured by the Germans, while the other half was fiercely defended by the Polish infantry.  On September 16, the Germans launched their main assault in the early morning. Though the Polish troops had an ample supply of small arms ammunition and light arms, they were in very short supply of anti-tank weapons, and woefully insufficient artillery cover.  Even so, they succeeded again in repelling the German infantry, and the assault of German tanks was stopped by two Polish FT-17 tanks, successfully sealing the northern gate of the fortress. Despite heavy losses, the German 20th Motorized Division and 10th Armoured Division captured the northern part of the citadel. Meanwhile, the combined 3rd Armoured Division and 2nd Armoured Division comprising the XXII Armoured Corps entered the area.  Polish General Plisowski ordered part of the Polish forces to retreat and regroup to the other side of the river and southwards.  By the morning of September 17, the evacuation was completed when the last Polish unit crossed the bridge, and blew it up to hinder the Germans. An hour later elements of the German 76th infantry regiment entered the fortress. The Brest Fortress was then handed over to the Soviets by German troops, in accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

German submarine sank British aircraft carrier.  The German submarine U-29 under the command of Captain Schuhart, attacked and sunk the British aircraft carrier HMS Courageous.During the night of September 17, 1939,  the Courageous was on patrol as part of a "hunter-killer" group, off the coast of Ireland. Two of her four escorting destroyers had been deployed to assist a merchant ship which was under attack. During this period of time, Courageous had been stalked for more than two hours by the German sub. When the Courageous turned into the wind to launch her aircraft, it exposed the ship right across the bow of the submarine, and at that moment, the U-29 fired three torpedoes. Before any aircraft could take off, two torpedoes struck the ship on her port side and knocked out all electrical power.  The aircraft carrier capsized and sank in 20 minutes  with the loss of 519 of her crew, including the captain.  The survivors were rescued by the Dutch ocean liner Veendam and the British freighter Collingworth.  For the next four hours, two escorting destroyers counterattacked the U-29, but the submarine escaped. Karl Donitz, Admiral of the Kriegsmarine, later remarked that the sinking of the Courageous was a "wonderful success" and the news spread throughout the Kriegsmarine with celebration.  Three days earlier an attempt was made by U-29 to sink the Ark Royal, but without success.


The supreme political body of the Polish underground government in Nazi-occupied Poland, was the Delegatura which financed and sponsored Polish underground activities, including that of Zegota. Since 1942, the Delegatura granted Zegota close to 29 million zlotys (over $5 million in todays funds) for relief payments to thousands of Jewish families seeking refuge from Nazi concentration camps in Poland. On this day, the Delegatura (Civil Directorate of the Polish Underground)  published a leaflet with the following declaration:   " For nearly a year now, in addition to the tragedy of the Polish people, which is being slaughtered by the enemy, our country has been the scene of a terrible,  planned massacre of the Jews. This mass murder has no parallel in the annals of mankind; compared to it, the most infamous atrocities known to history pale into insignificance. Unable to act against this situation, we, in the name of the entire Polish people, protest the crime being perpetrated against the Jews; all political and public organizations join in this protest. "  The head of the Delegatura was a government representative who in 1944 was appointed deputy prime minister. Assisting him were three deputies, who were appointed ministers.  In order of succession the Delegatura were Cyril Ratajski, Jan Piekalkiewicz, Jan Jankowski, Stefan Korbonski, and Jerzy Braun.  In addition there were committees consisting of representatives of the four political parties on following the structure of the Polish Government In Exile in London.   (see June 12, 1980 and July 26, 1942)


Operation Market Garden was an Allied military operation in the Netherlands and Germany. Allied air and land forces had succeeded in liberating the Dutch cities of Eindhoven and Nijmegen, but failed to maintain their positions in and around the city of Arnhem and its strategically important bridge.   The Operation was the largest airborne operation in history; it delivered over 34,600 men of the 101st, 82nd and 1st Airborne Divisions and the Polish Brigade; 14,589 troops landed by glider;  20,011 by parachute; and a massive deployment of 1,736 vehicles,  263 artillery pieces, 3,342 tons of ammunition, and other supplies were brought in by glider and parachute drop.


Solidarnosc (Solidarity) movement was born. Solidarity was founded on September 17, 1980 by Lech Walesa, at the Lenin Shipyard, at Gdansk, Poland. It was the first independent trade union that challenged the Soviet led communist regime. The movement used civil resistance to advance the causes of workers' rights and democratic rights and freedoms.  In the attempt to extinguish the rising power of Solidarity, General Jaruzelski imposed  martial law which lasted from December 1981 to July 1983, and was followed by years of political repression.  By 1981  the membership of Solidarity had swelled to over 10 million people (which constituted one third of the total working-age population of Poland).  Throughout the years of struggle, Solidarity received significant financial support from Pope John Paul II and the United States totaling 50 million U.S. dollars.  Needless to say, the most powerful force behind Solidarity was the Pope's visits to Poland, which galvanized an entire nation to have faith, and to persevere towards the realization of freedom and independence.

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