Third Panzer Division: From the Spree to the Bug 1939 Part II

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1706466603 264 Third Panzer Division From the Spree to the Bug 1939

By early afternoon, the division had reached its day’s
objective. The commander went to the corps headquarters to make his report.
Everything seemed to be going according to plan.

The commanding general was not satisfied. Guderian ordered
the crossing of the Braha that very afternoon. He wanted to remain on the
enemy’s heels—just as he had always preached.

It was directed that the motorcycle battalion move first
across the Brahe with all of its available companies. The 2nd Company, together
with support from the engineers, succeeded in crossing the river on rubber
boats and floats about three kilometers south of the railway line. The 3rd
Company followed shortly thereafter. That same night, the 1st Company
established a bridgehead on the east bank of the Kamionka. The bridgehead was
held until the arrival of the rifle platoons.

The reconnaissance battalion forced the river in a surprise
attack directly outside of Hammermühle. The bridge was taken. The tanks that
followed took a Polish bicycle company that was hastily arriving to defend the
bridge prisoner.

By then, it had turned midnight. Hammermühle and the
farmsteads all around it were blazing like torches. To both sides and the rear,
pyrotechnic flares were being shot skyward, a sure sign that the division was
well ahead of the remaining forces of the corps. Oberleutnant von Manteuffel
did not allow his motorcycle infantry any rest. His men were able to reach
Swiekatowo. That was as far as they got; the battalion set up an all-round
defense in the woods. That same night, there was a wild firefight. A large
Mercedes suddenly showed up with headlights on, driving right into the
encampment of the 1st Company. The German guards were just as surprised as the
two Polish officers in the car. The Poles entered captivity with glowering
faces. A few minutes later, they received company in the form of a mounted
patrol that also rode into the bivouac site without a clue.

Major Freiherr von Wechmar’s reconnaissance battalion
received orders during the night to continue advancing east, along with the
attached 2nd Battery of the artillery regiment and some tanks from the
Panzer-Lehr-Abteilung. The next objective for the newly formed advance guard
was the Vistula.

As it started to dawn on the second day of the war, the
reconnaissance and motorcycle battalions continued their advance east. They
knew that the armored brigade and the rifle regiment would close up behind
them. The division had created a strong second wave in the form of a
Kampfgruppe under Generalmajor Stumpff. It consisted of the II./Panzer-Regiment
5, the II./Panzer-Regiment 6, the II./Artillerie-Regiment 75, and the remaining
elements of Kradschützen-Bataillon 3. The elements of the rifle regiment that
remained behind in Kamionka moved out and into the Tuchel Heath around 0800
hours. The gigantic expanses of woods had an eerie quality to them. No one knew
what could be hiding in them.

The Poles then upset the apple cart a bit with regard to the
German plans. Strong elements from the Polish 9th and 27th Infantry Divisions,
as well as the Pomeranian Cavalry Brigade, conducted a surprise attack on the
German bridgehead at Hammermühle early in the morning and established
themselves along the road to Swiekatowo. That meant that the advanced elements
of the division were threatened with being cut off. Even worse, a loss of the
bridgehead would have negative effects on the continued attack of the entire

That morning, only Hauptmann Beigel’s 1st Company of the
engineer battalion was arrayed along the Hammermühle. The division commander,
unaware of what was happening, continued toward the front in order to receive
the reports from the formation commanders. All of a sudden, heavy machine-gun
fire flared up from the nearby woods. The enemy fires increased in intensity by
the minute. Generalleutnant von Schweppenburg; his adjutant, Major von
Wietersheim; and an assistant operations officer, Oberleutnant von Levetzow,
had to take cover immediately. The headquarters of the division and of the
divisional artillery, which arrived a short while later, also got caught in the
fire. The division’s command-and-control ability was lost for a short while on
that day. The two headquarters and the accompanying radio operators from the
divisional signals battalion suffered their first casualties. The officers had
no choice but to bound back across the 100 meters of open meadowland to get to
a steep downward slope to the rear. They were received there by the combat outposts
of the rifle regiment.

That did not accomplish much, since Polish fires started to
impact there as well and stymied every attempt to pull back and occupy better
positions. Although the engineers attempted an immediate counterattack into the
thick woods, they were unable to dislodge the well-entrenched enemy.

The division commander had the Kampfgruppe of Oberst
Kleemann, which was still relatively far back, brought forward to relieve the
beleaguered force. Unfortunately, that battle group had changed its direction
of march just a few minutes previously and had not turned its radios back on to
receive. As a result, hours passed. The division commander had no idea at that
point where his individual battalions and regiments were.

Finally, German soldiers appeared from the west. They were
not formations from the 3. Panzer-Division, however. Instead, it was the
reconnaissance troop of Rittmeister von Götz from the divisional reconnaissance
battalion of the 23. Infanterie-Division, which was in the second wave.

The Polish attack not only cut off the command-and-control
elements of the division that morning, it also hit the elements of the division
that had already ranged well to the east. During the night, the 2nd Battalion
of Panzer-Regiment 6 had assumed the mission of screening the bottleneck
between the lakes at Swiekatowo. The enemy thrust early that morning slammed
right into that area with full force. The 5th and 6th Companies were able to
turn back the first attack effort until 0900 hours. Two platoons from the 6th
Company particularly distinguished themselves in the engagement. They were the
platoons of Leutnant Graf von Kageneck and Leutnant von Diest-Koerber. Also
worthy of note were the achievements of Unteroffizier Wehrmeister and Gefreiter
Deuter, who were in the thick of things with their fighting vehicles.
Nonetheless, that company suffered its first five dead in that fighting:
Feldwebel Fiedler, Unteroffizier Fleher, Gefreiter Schreiber, Oberschütze
Feldhahn, and Panzerschütze Bischoff.

By noon, the enemy had pulled back to his original line of
departure. Due to a lack of fuel, the friendly vehicles were not able to attack
him. When the commander of Panzer-Regiment 6 brought up reinforcements in the
afternoon, the 2nd Battalion attacked to the north and was able to drive the
enemy back. At the same time, the 5th and 8th Companies screened the flank to
the east. The 6th Company attacked identified enemy antitank-gun positions and
put the guns out of commission. The 5th Company was also able to eliminate some
antitank guns—three in all. In the process, it rescued a platoon from the 4th
Company, which had advanced the farthest north but had also shot off all of its
ammunition. By late afternoon, all threats had been eliminated and the
battalion moved out to continue east after rearming.

The 1st Company of the motorcycle battalion was immediately
ordered back to Hammermühle, as was the 1st Company of the rifle regiment. The
2nd Battery of the divisional artillery turned its guns around 180 degrees and
fired with everything it was capable of.

Hauptmann Boehm’s riflemen moved as quickly as they could to
Hammermühle. Along the way were ammunition vehicles and baggage trains that had
been overrun by the tanks, as well as the corpses of horses and of Poles killed
in action. General Guderian appeared and encouraged the soldiers, waving them
on. After moving four kilometers through woods, a halt was ordered. Polish
artillery held up any further movement and was raking the road with heavy fire.
The company’s vehicles were brought forward, and the march continued through
Johannisberg and Stansilawa to Koritowo.

All of a sudden, General von Schweppenburg was standing in
front of the men. He personally directed the 3rd Platoon of Feldwebel Hillinger
against the enemy battery.

Panzer-Regiment 5 then moved out to attack Gross Lonk. On
the far side of Koritow, the fighting vehicles ran into the artillery positions
of the enemy. Disregarding the intense fires and brave resistance, the tanks
plunged into the Polish lines and individually took out the guns. That did not
occur without perceptible losses, however.

The 1st Company of Kradschützen-Bataillon 3 assumed the
mission of protecting the division command post with one of its platoons. The
remaining two platoons advanced into the woods north of Hammermühle. Two Polish
infantry companies were wiped out in tough fighting. The two platoons lost two
dead and four wounded in that engagement and only had thirty men altogether by
the end of the evening. The batteries that were brought forward fired over open
sights. The 3rd Battery lost Hauptwachtmeister Hippe in the process, the first
Spieß of the division to be killed, an indicator of the toughness of the
fighting and also the bravery of the enemy. By evening, the division had mastered
the dangerous situation with its own forces. It was then able to rapidly move
its elements to the east across the Brahe.

In the meantime, the motorcycle battalion had taken Klonowo
with its remaining two companies and a few tanks from the Panzer-Lehr-Abteilung.
Unconcerned about the sounds of fighting to their rear, the motorcycle infantry
and reconnaissance troopers continued their advance east. The sun blazed
mercilessly that day, with rain following in the afternoon. The tanks and
riflemen moved, marched, and advanced. The roads were poor and frequently only
had a single lane. All of the traffic had to work its way around that. The
roads became clogged and there were unpleasant stops. The reconnaissance
battalion was far ahead of the division and moved right through the middle of
enemy detachments, which were equally shocked and surprised and incapable of
offering a defense. Major von Wechmar intended to reach the Vistula before the
onset of darkness. But intertwined enemy columns or vehicles and trees that had
fallen victim to Stukas blocked the way. The enemy was not falling back
uniformly. Resistance around Rozana was especially hard.

The reconnaissance battalion was unable to advance any
farther. The armored car crews, supported by the 1st Battery of the artillery
regiment (Leutnant Hoffmann), had a hard fight on their hands at the Poledno
Estate, which was being defended by Polish cavalry. The advance guard suffered
its first officer casualties. The commander of the 2./Aufklärungs-Abteilung 3,
Rittmeister von Prittwitz und Gaffron, the former adjutant to Generaloberst von
Fritsch, was wounded in the stomach. The brave officer refused to be operated
on at the main clearing station, insisting that the surgeons operate on the
more severely wounded first. Leutnant Adam died on the battlefield at the head
of his reconnaissance platoon. Once stopped, the battalion “circled the wagons”
with its vehicles, the village of Rozana, set alight by air attacks and
artillery, forming a backdrop.

The motorcycle battalion pivoted from its movement east to
head south in order to help the reconnaissance battalion. But the motorcycle
infantry were not able to get beyond the line reached by the armored cars. In
contrast, the divisional engineers had more success in the effort to take
Rozana. They had been directed there by the division commander. Major von
Mertens led his engineers in the assault on the shot-up and burning town and
took possession of it that night.

The 2nd Battalion of Panzer-Regiment 6 also moved out in the
evening (around 2000 hours). Hauptmann Bernewitz’s 8th Company advanced as far
as Polskie-Lakie. At that point, the tanks encountered a surprisingly strong
antitank defense. Three friendly tanks were knocked out. The battalion then
pulled back 1,000 meters, set the village alight, and then set up an all-round
defense for the night.

The division could be satisfied with its achievements that
day. Its formations had not only stymied the efforts of the Poles to break
through, but they had also broken into the front of the Corridor Army. The
corps brought the 23. Infanterie-Division across the Brahe and employed it to
the left of the division.

The 1st Battalion of the rifle regiment assumed the flank
guard mission for the division during the night. The plucky riflemen succeeded
in orienting themselves in the dark woods and fields and taking up good
positions. They throttled all attempts by the Poles to find a gap in the German
lines. The division discovered with certainty that its tanks had advanced so
far into the corridor that elements of the Polish forces had been bypassed.

The night was very cool. That was especially noticeable
after a humid summer’s day, as the past one had been. Something else had a
negative impact on the soldiers as well: hunger and thirst. The supply elements
were still far to the rear as a result of the rapid advance and the poor road
network. They had barely gotten beyond Hammermühle. Some of the men found the
courage to sneak across the fields in an effort to milk some cows that had gone
astray. Among artillery circles within the division, that night was always
referred to as “the hour of the Ortsbauernführer.”

The advance started all over again at 0400 hours across the
entire frontage of the division. The march route ran parallel to the Vistula
along the Poledno–Drozdowo road. The reconnaissance and motorcycle battalions
were the first to move out, followed by the armored brigade (at least those
elements that had been refueled). The 2nd Company of the motorcycle battalion,
which was in the lead, received heavy fire from Drozdowo shortly after moving
out and bogged down. The battalion commander quickly brought his 3rd Company
forward and employed it north of the road, along with the 1st Company, which
was still exhausted from the previous day. The 1st Company approached the
railway embankment behind Belno. Oberleutnant von Cochenhausen intended to let
his men rest after that. It remained an intent. A transport train steamed in.
The motorcycle infantry forced it to halt; 4 officers and 128 enlisted
personnel were taken prisoner.

All of the remaining elements of the division also advanced
against numerically superior Polish forces. The enemy field army command had
recognized the situation it was in—the rapidly growing threat of
encirclement—and was doing everything in its power to pull its division across
the Vistula on the road leading to Kulm.

The armored brigade attacked at first light from Swiekatowo
in the direction of Heinrichsdorf and Biechowoko toward the northwest in an
effort to interdict the retreat routes. Both of the division’s armored
regiments and the attached Panzer-Lehr-Abteilung moved at “full speed ahead.”
But it was soon discovered that the Poles had placed very strong antitank
defenses at the entrance to every village. As a result, there was hard fighting
that was not without casualties.

Panzer-Regiment 6, moving on the right, crossed the
Terespol–Tuchel road, with Hauptmann Schneider-Kostalski’s 2nd Company
eliminating three Polish machine-gun tanks in the process. Defiles then held up
further advance. The regiment pivoted to the left and ran into elements of the
advancing Panzer-Regiment 5. Enemy infantry continued defending everywhere
after being bypassed by the tanks and made life difficult for the riflemen

The tanks reached the Terespol–Oslowo area and then pressed
on to the east, but the following formations ran into strong enemy forces. Only
the 4th Battery of the artillery regiment was able to successfully stay on the
heels of the enemy. The remaining battery received considerable fire from the
village of Heinrichsdorf. Hauptmann Haselbach assumed command of the forces in
the area and had the 5th and 6th Batteries unlimber in a depression. Patrols
were sent out in all directions. Sections under Wachtmeister Rademacher and
Unteroffizier Himmel searched the nearby farmsteads, while Leutnant Grotewald
occupied the industrial area of Heinrichsdorf with the ammunition section of
the 4th Battery, which had been left behind.

The Poles tried to open the road to Terespol with all the
means at their disposal. But it was already too late at noon on that hot summer
day to accomplish that, even though elements of the Polish 9th Infantry
Division—especially elements of the 16th Cavalry Regiment, as well as the 25th
and 35th Infantry Regiments—fought bravely. By then, the rifle regiment was
able to join the developing fray by moving via Poledno and Drozdowo.

At 1240 hours, the artillery took the Poles attempting to
break out under heavy fire. The effect along the road was horrific. Horses
bolted, soldiers ran head over heels into the fields, and limbers and trains
vehicles flipped over. They were followed by fires from Hauptmann Haselbach’s
5th Battery and Leutnant Jaschke’s 6th Battery (Jaschke was acting battery
commander). Hauptwachtmeister Reinig of the 6th Battery identified a Polish
battery going into position along the northern edge of Heinrichsdorf. He
brought up the spotting gun of the battery. The gunner, Wenzel, had the target
in range with his second shell. A few minutes later, the enemy battery was
silenced. For his efforts, Hauptwachtmeister Reinig later became the first
soldier of the artillery regiment to receive the Iron Cross, Second Class.

The rifle regiment attacked at just the right time to
interdict the hard-fighting enemy. Heavy fighting ensued; it was conducted by
the Poles with the courage of desperation. The 1st and 3rd Rifle Companies
assaulted along the road in the direction of Polskie. Hauptmann von Lany, the
commander of the 3rd Company, and Leutnant von Heydebreck, his platoon leader,
were killed. The 1st Company lost its first man with Schütze Krämer.

By then, the Poles had had enough. There was no way to get
out. In addition to twenty artillery pieces and six antitank guns being
destroyed, there were vehicles, ammunition wagons, machine guns, horses, and
articles of equipment scattered everywhere. The rifle regiment took 36 officers
and 800 men prisoner that afternoon; fifteen artillery pieces were among the
spoils of war.

The division did not allow itself to be distracted from its
objective by the fighting to encircle the enemy forces. The reconnaissance
battalion received orders to take Schwetz, while the motorcycle battalion was
sent in the direction of Liepo–Biala–Taszarko. Fortunately, the advance of
Infanterie-Regiment 96 of the 32. Infanterie-Division on the right side of the
division was starting to make its presence felt. Despite that, Polish cavalry
sections continued to surface across the front and created temporary
disruptions here and there. There no longer appeared to be unified command
among the Poles; operations seemed to be left up to the individual unit and
formation commanders.

Around 1000 hours, the II./Panzer-Regiment 6 crossed the
Czerna-Woda at F.W. Dedienke. The lead tanks identified the rapid movement of
trains, one after the other, four kilometers away. Oberstleutnant Rothenburg,
who was up front with his tanks, ordered Hauptmann Schneider-Kostalski to block
the reported rail traffic along the stretch between Derispol–Oslowo. The tanks
moved along the sandy road as far as the rail line without encountering any
resistance. The railway crossing guard shack was locked up and the gate
crossing lowered. Schneider-Kostalski was undeterred. He ordered: “Panzer
marsch!” The gate flew in the air with a crash. A cloud of smoke could be seen
to the south. Schneider-Kostalski had his company take up firing positions on
the far side of the line. The train’s engineer must have noticed the movement,
however, since the train slowed and finally stopped. The company commander
opened fire at 250 meters. With the first round, the locomotive’s boiler
exploded with a monstrous cloud of smoke. The doors to the passenger cars
opened everywhere. Polish soldiers jumped out and attempted to flee into the
nearby woods. The tanks of the 4th and 7th Companies showed up at that moment
and joined in the engagement. Sixty Polish soldiers were sent back as
prisoners. They were the last men of a battalion that had boarded the train.

The three tank companies immediately took up the advance on
Lakowicz. At Krapjewitce, they were able to scatter horse-drawn trains
elements. Once past Polskie-Lakie, they encountered Polish cavalry and antitank
elements. The 2nd Company encountered its first enemy tank on the Rozana–Bledno
road at 1100 hours; it was knocked out at 300 meters with two rounds.

The armored brigade reached the training area at Schwetz in
the afternoon and continued its advance north. Toward 1800 hours, the tanks
took Oslowo. The forces reorganized for the attack on the Grupa Training Area.
The rear areas also had to be secured, since there were still strong Polish
forces in the area around Terespol. Those forces did not remain quiet; they
continued to fight to break free. Leutnant Lange, the adjutant of the artillery’s
2nd Battalion, was captured by the enemy during a patrol. He was stabbed, but
he lived to tell the tale.

Major von Wechmar’s reconnaissance battalion pressed past
Schwetz at the onset of darkness without regard for the scattered enemy groups.
He immediately pressed along the Vistula to the north with all of his troops.
To help keep the movement fluid, the division sent the engineer companies of
Major von Mertens, which had just become available, and Hauptmann Reinke’s 3rd
Battery, after the reconnaissance battalion. The engineers and the artillery
made it into Schwetz, but the Poles then started a stubborn defense there.
There was a danger that the engineer battalion might be encircled. The
engineers had to defend from all directions and lost contact with the remaining
elements of the division. Despite that, it was able to prevail. In the end, the
battalion occupied and held Schwetz. The 3rd Battery captured a war chest in
the city hall.

The Polish command knew what was at stake. Energetic officers
rallied their men again and again to bravely defend. As a result, the German
rifle companies did not advance any farther that night. As a result,
Generalleutnant von Schweppenburg ordered the 1st Battalion of the rifle
regiment pulled back to Poledno. The division operations officer, Major von der
Borne, expressed a contrary opinion. He believed the riflemen should remain
where they were. But the division commander wanted to lead his forces in a
traditional cavalry style: pull the forces back tonight so that they could be
used to conduct a “fencer’s leap” the following morning. As a result, he
ordered the battalion back and directed it to hold Poledno “to the last
bullet,” as the pivot point of the entire division.

Only Panzer-Regiment 5 was able to score a success that
evening. It did not remain in Oslowo; instead, it pushed its companies along
sandy routes through the dark woods as far as Dubielno, which was reached
around 0200 hours.

That meant that the encirclement of the enemy forces
fighting in the corridor was just around the corner. The division could see the
blazing fires and hear the sounds of fighting in the nearby fortress of
Graudenz, which had fallen to the East Prussian 21. Infanterie-Division that
day. The XIX. Armee-Korps (mot.) was only a few kilometers from the borders of
East Prussia.

The Polish Pomeranian Army had been split in two in three
days of fighting. The field army headquarters was located in Thorn at that
point and was attempting to establish contact with the Modlin or Posen Armies
with its remaining regiments.

General Guderian went to the division headquarters during
the night and ordered the advance to continue, irrespective of the condition of
the beleaguered men and vehicles. The Poles could not be given any time to
cross the Vistula west of Graudenz. Correspondingly, orders were sent to all
elements of the division to move out at first light again.

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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