Soviet People’s Experience WWII

Defeating the Nazis became the animating force for everything in Soviet society for the next four years. The need to defend Mother Russia became everyone’s duty in the face of Hitler’s barbarism, and the building of socialism, so long trumpeted on the pages of the Soviet press, faded away. The result was the rapid development of a mosaic of moods among the Soviet peoples. Russian historians have recently argued that the events of June 1941 awoke in the Soviet people the ability to think about variants, to critically evaluate a situation, and not to take the existing order as immutable. The effort to repel the Nazis also meant that, at least at the local level of Soviet life, the democratic centralism of Lenin and Stalin’s party was no longer tenable. The key criterion for becoming a Soviet leader was no longer a person’s party loyalty, but rather his or her contributions to the work of the front. Out in the provinces, the Communist leaders were told to train their subordinates in the following fashion: the party is interested in having people think, and stop instructing the masses and learn from them.
That life in the Soviet Union would now be shaped by the real interests of ordinary people was a big change from the 1930s, when life had been shaped by their imaginary desires, and Stalin’s terror squads had made sure the elites worked to meet them. Meanwhile, Hitler’s armies were well on their way toward Leningrad, Moscow, and central Ukraine by July 1941. Leningrad was soon surrounded and would be under siege for the next three and a half years as 1.5 million Leningrad residents starved to death in the process. The main reason Moscow did not suffer the same fate was Hitler’s decision to concentrate his efforts on capturing Ukraine with its fertile fields, coal mines, ferrous metals resources, and strategic access to the oilfields of the Caucasus. Although the Red Army’s successful counterattacks were another major reason for tl1is diversion to the south, there can be little doubt that Ukraine was also the area that Hitler prized most as the perfect lebensraum for the German people. And such strategic and racial motivations also help explain why Hitler did not take advantage of his being greeted as a liberator by the peoples of western Ukraine, Belorussia, and the Baltic states who had suffered so much from the Nazi—Soviet Non-Aggression Pact.
Although the Nazis treated these peoples as “lesser-beings” (untermenschen) from the start and would not allow them any rights whatsoever, what really convinced the Ukrainians and others of 1·litler’s malevolent intentions toward the Soviet people was the German army’s treatment of its Red Army POWs and the occupied Jewish population. ln places such as Kiev, where 650,000 Soviet troops were surrounded in September 1941 after a spirited defense of the Ukrainian capital and the Dnieper River region, perhaps two-thirds of the Soviet POWs died of hunger in Nazi captivity. lt was amid the euphoria of such victories in fall 1941 that the Hitlerites devised their Final Solution to rid these captured areas of their “great misfortune”—the Jews. ln the end, almost half the Jews who died in the Holocaust (some 2.5 million people) were Soviet citizens. Importantly, some of these people died in ways more ghastly than the gas chambers of Poland—mass machine gunning was the most popular method used—as the Nazis, the Wehrmacht (or German army), and a still unknown number of local collaborators experimented with methods of killing to find the most efficient way to achieve genocide. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the surviving Ukrainian and Belorussian civilian populations could only hope for the return of the Stalinists and an authoritarian rule that they understood and might be able to manipulate to their advantage.
ln the face of such calamities, Stalin’s effort to maintain control over the Russian rear certainly did not show any relaxation of his coercive methods. Red Army men who surrendered, for example, were said to be traitors and were liable to court-martial. Meanwhile, Communist Party members who remained behind on occupied territory were automatically suspect, and if for some reason they crossed back into Soviet-held territory, they were subject to a rigorous check of their backgrounds. Workers who violated the 1940 labor legislation on tardiness, absenteeism, or the prohibition of movement from one job to another could be hauled before a military tribunal and the same eventually became true for those civilians who ignored compulsory labor mobilizations, responsibilities that impacted everyone but the elderly and the mothers of young children.
Stalin’s epic mistakes on the battlefield were soon overshadowed by Hitler’s own bungling, and the Soviets found themselves with a second chance. The Nazi leader’s earlier decision not to take Moscow ensured that fighting for the Russian capital would take place in the winter, only after the Soviets had had enough time to prepare their defenses. Nevertheless, it was mainly the desperate resistance and simple patriotism of rapidly enlisted men and rearguard troops that saved Moscow in winter 1941-1942 from the Wehrmacht’s ”Army Group Center”  But the GKO’s incredibly centralized, command-and-administer system also allowed for the Ural and western Siberian economies to be quickly mobilized to meet the needs of the front. This was particularly important in winter 1941-1942 because the strategic Lend-Lease aid from the Soviet Union’s new American ally would not substantively help the Soviet war effort for another year. Even so, Stalin’s refusal to let his more able generals lead the efforts at the front resulted in yet more devastating defeats in spring 1942, with the Nazis now occupying all of Ukraine and moving toward their strategic goal of taking southern Russia and the Caucasus.
Here again, though, the Soviets were saved from themselves by Hitler’s hubris. The Nazi leader’s greatest strategic mistake came with his decision to try to destroy the besieged city of Stalingrad in fall 1942 in order to deal a public relations blow to the “man of steel.” Hitler could have concentrated his efforts on occupying the Caucasus and Kuban (Russia’s own breadbasket) and exploiting their petroleum and agricultural resources in order to solidify his rule over his new eastern empire. But he went after Stalingrad in an effort to inflict a decisive blow against the Kremlin leader’s omnipotent presence in Soviet society. Stalin recognized the stakes too, and after a year of terrible retreat, he finally decided to listen to his generals and make a stand at this city lying along the Volga River The crucial point here is that the Wehrmacht was spread too thin by this time; Hitler did not have the resources necessary to continue his blitzkrieg. The Wehrmacht’s supply lines, for example, were stretched to the breaking point. Thus, the Soviets were eventually able to surround the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad and destroy it after Hitler stubbornly refused to let Field Marshal Friedrich von Paulus retreat. This was the beginning of the end for the Germans—the crucial turning point in the war—where the logistics of what they were doing caught up with them. Hitler’s refusal to fully mobilize his own people and l1is murderous treatment of the untermenschen now meant the fighting initiative went over to the Soviet side.
Meanwhile, Hitler’s refusal to demand sacrifice from his own population resulted in anger and embitterment among the occupied Ukrainians and Belorussians as their sons and daughters were shipped to Germany to become slave laborers (Ostarbeitery). As the Soviets loomed on the eastern horizon, the Germans liberalized their agricultural policy by dissolving Stalin’s hated collective farms; however, at the same time, they were also stripping these areas of anything of value. Not only did the Germans seize raw materials, but they also took tools and macl1ines from factories and valuables from the republics’ museums and private apartments as well. One result of all this was a huge expansion in the forest—based anti—Nazi guerilla movement during 1943. True, many of these partisan fighters were motivated by a desire to curry favor with the advancing Red Army; but in the westernmost regions of the Soviet Union’s post—1939 borders, many partisans were there to fight sincerely for their nation’s political independence as Europe’s two totalitarian empires clashed. These “forest brothers,” many of whom were as hostile to Moscow as they were to Berlin, would eventually be crushed by the NKVD after war’s end. However, their bravery and unhappy end deepened the hostility that many subject peoples felt toward Moscow.

PZL P. 37 Los

The Los (Elk) was a world-class attack bomber and Poland’s most formidable air weapon of World War II. It arrived in only limited quantities but nonetheless performed heroic work throughout a hopelessly lopsided campaign.

The amazing P. 37 Los had its origins in the experimental P.30 civilian transport of 1930, which failed to attract a buyer. That year a design team under Jerzy Dabrowksi conceived a modern bomber version of the same craft and proffered it to the government in 1934. A prototype was then authorized, first flying in 1936. The P. 37 marked a pinnacle in medium bomber development for, in terms of design and performance, it was years ahead of contemporary machines. This was a sleek, all-metal, low-wing monoplane employing stressed skin throughout. Although relatively low-powered, its broad-chord wings permitted amazing lifting abilities, and it could hoist more than 5,000 pounds of bombs aloft-the equivalent of half its own empty weight! No medium bomber in the world-and few heavy bombers for that matter-could approach such performance. The Los entered production in 1937, and the first units became operational the following year. The government originally ordered 150 machines, but resistance from the Polish High Command, which viewed medium bombers as expensive and unnecessary, managed to reduce procurement by a third. Meanwhile, other countries expressed great interest in the P. 37, with Bulgaria, Turkey, Romania, and Yugoslavia placing sizable orders. A total of 103 machines were built.

By the advent of World War II in September 1939, the Polish air force could muster only 36 fully equipped P. 37s. Several score sat available in waiting but lacked bombsights and other essential equipment. Nonetheless, the Los roared into action, inflicting considerable damage upon advancing German columns. When the outcome of the fight became helpless, around 40 surviving machines fled to neutral Romania and were absorbed into its air force. Within two years these fugitives were reconditioned and flown with good effect against the Soviet Union.

Dimensions: wingspan, 58 feet, 8 inches; length, 42 feet, 4 inches; height, 16 feet, 8 inches Weights: empty, 9,293 pounds; gross, 19,577 pounds Power plant: 2 x 925-horsepower Bristol Pegasus radial engines Performance: maximum speed, 273 miles per hour; ceiling, 19,685 feet; range, 1,616 miles Armament: 3 x 7.7mm machine guns; up to 5,688 pounds of bombs Service dates: 1938-1939

Brygada Bombowa

In the spring of 1939 a new concept for the application of aviation into a conflict was established. Within this plan it was determined that a large force of bomber aircraft should be formed. Specific guidelines, which modified this plan, were not published until July 1939. The bomber group (later named Brygada Bombowa) was given the following tasks, in accordance with the guidelines as they then stood.

# intervening operations at the battlefield and close rear, against human forces of the enemy # attacking enemy aviation, most of all bombers and fighters, at airfields

# attacking railway and road transport of the enemy

# reconnaissance of the targets of bomber aviation operations will be generally carried out by the discretionary aviation of the Wodz Naczelny, using mostly army reconnaissance aviation.

Brygada Bombowa was formed virtually at the outbreak of war and included the following air units:

# X (210) Dywizjon Bombowy with:

# 11 (previously 211) Eskadra Bombowa – 9 PZL P. 37B Los

# 12 (previously 212) Eskadra Bombowa – 9 PZL P. 37B Los

# XV (215) Dywizjon Bombowy with: # 16 (previously 216) Eskadra Bombowa – 9 PZL P. 37B Los

# 17 (previously 217) Eskadra Bombowa – 9 PZL P. 37 Los

# II (112) Dywizjon Bombowy Lekki with:

# 1 (previously 21) Eskadra Bombowa – 10 PZL P. 23B Karas

# 2 (previously 22) Eskadra Bombowa – 10 PZL P. 23B Karas

# VI (11/6) Dywizjon Bombowy Lekki with:

# 4 (previously 64) Eskadra Bombowa – 10 PZL P. 23B Karas

# 5 (previously 65) Eskadra Bombowa – 10 PZL P. 23B Karas

# 55 Samodzielna Eskadra Bombowa – 10 PZL P. 23B Karas

Final evacuation of the Brygada Bombowa to Rumania took place on 17-18 September 1939. During the operations Karas crews dropped some 61 tonnes of bombs, and shot down at least 7 Bf 109s, while Los crews dropped 119 tonnes of bombs, and shot down three Bf 109s and an He 111.

PZL Aircraft (Panstwowe Zaklady Lotnicze)

Polish aircraft manufacturer; founded in 1928 as the Polish National Aircraft Establishment, it was chartered to manufacture both airframes and engines. Its airframes were PZLdesigned, but most of its engines were license-built Bristol designs. Several PZL (Polish Skoda) engine designs were run, but it is not known that any were put into production.

The chief designer of PZL airframes, Zygmunt Pulawski, produced a series of fighters from 1929 to 1936 that were world-class in their early years, partly because they were high-wing monoplanes when much of the world’s air forces still used biplanes. Designated P. 1 through P. 24-the P. 1 being the first fighter of indigenous Polish design-they featured gull wings and all-metal construction. The P. 24 was the first with an enclosed cockpit. Pulawski continued to refine the aerodynamics of his aircraft, but these fixed-gear fighters were not competitive with the new generation of German fighters they faced in 1939.

The P. 1 first flew on 29 September 1929, the P. 6 in August 1930, the P. 7 in October 1930, the P. 11 in August 1931, and the P. 24 in May 1933. The P. 24F had a 297 mph maximum speed at 13,945 feet and was the last of the series.

The differences between them were minor except that each made use of the most powerful engine then available, the largest being the Gnome-Rhone 14N 07 of 970 shp. Armament was two small-bore machine guns throughout production until the P. 24, which added two 20mm cannons in the wings. The P. 7 was still in service with the Polish air force when the Germans invaded in 1939. Other users were the Romanian (license-built by IAR), Albanian, Bulgarian, Greek, and Turkish air forces. Total production of the fighter series comprised approximately 500, about 200 for foreign customers.

The P. 38 Wilk, a twin-engine low-wing two-place multirole fighter powered by inverted air-cooled V-8 engines of PZL manufacture, first flew in May 1938 with the Ranger SGV-770B engine and in January 1939 with the intended PZL engines. Maximum speed was 289 mph. PZL built several advanced prototypes, including the P. 43, a single-engine low-wing all-metal three-place reconnaissance and attack fixed-gear monoplane; the P. 27, a twin-engine midwing all-metal three-place bomber; and the P. 44, a twin-engine low-wing all-metal 14-passenger transport with a twin-fin tail, designed to replace the DC-2 and Lockheed 10 and 14 airliners in Polish service.

Battle of Westerplatte




The Westerplatte was a low, mostly wooded, long peninsula with a length of around 2,000m and a maximum width of 600m.

At the beginning of the 19th Century, the Poles and French secured the Westerplatte for defence against the advancing Russians. Shortly before World War I, Germany built a defence position on the seaward side. The rest of these defence works were used in 1939 by the Poles in the newly created defence system.

The Westerplatte was a favoured bathing and outing place before World War I because of its excellent beaches. When the Poles took over the Westerplatte in the 20s, the Danzig population was denied access. By the decision of the League of Nations on 14th March 1924, referred to in Para. 2 of the Province Agreement between Danzig and Poland on 4th August 1924, the Westerplatte was provided to the Polish government exclusively as a storage place for war equipment. Through this it developed into a military transit camp with a guard detachment established by the League of Nations at 88 men (2 officers, 20 NCOs and 66 men). In a bilateral agreement between Danzig and Poland, it was ruled that Danzig could maintain two policemen for general surveillance at the entrance to the Westerplatte.

After Hitler’s take-over of power the Poles began to work on a defence plan and preparations in the case that Germany tried to take the Westerplatte by surprise from Danzig or East Prussia. They began to reinforce the already secure Westerplatte for military defence. The Poles considered an attack carried out from the promontory as especially dangerous. An all-round defence of the peninsula was planned, with the emphasis on the promontory. Three guard houses formed a semicircular defence line to the south. To the north the ring was closed with a further guard house and another building which was already there, the NCO quarters. The four reinforced guard houses were barns made of brick and cement with the dimensions seven by seven metres. The walls and floors [were] between 45 and 60 cm thick, with the thickest at the cellar levels. In the cellars were between one and three machine gun positions, the embrasures of which were at ground level. The NCO quarters were just like the barracks, reinforced with cement for defence. Since the Westerplatte officially could not be militarily reinforced, heavy weapons were certainly lacking. These were brought onto the peninsula by Polish railway officials under hay and other materials in goods trains. It was more difficult for Poland to strengthen the 88-man garrison. They had already tried it once, but were persuaded by the League of Nations to reduce it to the lawful strength. They carried out the strengthening of the regular garrison in this way: if the Polish soldiers had an outing, they would be taken in uniform by tug to Gdingen. The head count would be noted by both German policemen. In the evening they would return again and have their number checked by the policemen. Now however there were some civilian workers in uniform mixed in with the regular soldiers who were exchanged for further soldiers in Gdingen. From Gdingen the officials from the Westerplatte, again in civvies, drove back to their private flats in Danzig, and went to work the next morning on the Westerplatte as usual, while the regular soldiers returned with the reinforcements. The head count had not changed. So the total strength of the garrison slowly increased to 210 soldiers, without Danzig noticing a thing. The civil workers were, like the public employees of the Polish Post Office in Danzig, specially trained and reliable reserve NCOs of the Polish army. The field gun stood in a protected position in the garage of the barracks. West of there, on the edge of the forest, a camouflaged defence post had been prepared, from where above all the harbour canal could be shelled. The initial position of the four mortars was to the north east of the barracks. Both anti-tank guns were to cover the promontory. Both guns were brought rather far back, one to the north by the railway line, the other south with a field of fire which covered the road to the Westerplatte. A brick protective wall was erected to the west and south.

The preparations for a lightning conquest of the Westerplatte were made by the Kriegsmarine, although really the seizure was to be achieved by the Danzig units. In a conversation between the Captain of the Schleswig-Holstein and the Commander of the Danzig units, the latter made clear that he had never planned to take the Westerplatte. He was only to have blockaded the garrison there and prevented them from getting onto the land. They agreed on this, that the shock company specially trained for landing operations in the III Marine Artillery Detachment should take the Westerplatte by surprise. This shows how lacking in co-ordination were the attempts at collaboration of the individual branches of the Wehrmacht even at the beginning of the war.

It consisted of four officers, one doctor (two others followed later) and 225 men. The garrison was Swinemünde, then shortly before deployment, Memel. They had the task of securing the Schleswig-Holstein against Polish attack in Danzig harbour and being ready for possible special missions.

On 23rd August 1939 the 1st Minesweeper Flotilla received the order to pick up the unit from Memel on 24th August 1939 at 0300 hrs and to transport them to the Schleswig- Holstein at sea by 2000 hrs. On 25th August 1939 the Schleswig-Holstein arrived in Danzig at 1044 hrs. The Marine shock company was below deck. At 1700 hrs the order came to be ready for action from 2100 hrs. At 2120 hrs, the report came in that the attack on Poland was postponed. This postponement had the advantage that the attack could be worked through again, since they had had only a little time to work on the first attack plan after the misunderstandings. The leader of the Marine shock company, Oberleutnant Henningsen, reconnoitred the Westerplatte daily, but got little information on the current defence positions. On 28th August 1939 Kleikamp revealed the tactical orders and missions of the ship as Captain of the Schleswig-Holstein.

  1. Engage the Polish naval forces
  2. Engage the Polish 150 mm battery on the south point of Hela
  3. Bombardment of the Polish naval harbour at Gdingen with the aim of cutting it off as a strong point for the Polish naval forces
  4. Destruction of the artillery positions at the Oxhöfter Kämpe and Gdingen
  5. Defence of the Danzig harbour and Neufahrwasser against attacks by Polish naval forces and possible blockade operations.

It was made clear however that the taking of the Westerplatte was a precondition for the achievement of the mission.

On the next day a radio message came to the Schleswig-Holstein at 1835 hrs that the attack on the Poles should begin at 0445 hrs on 1st September 1939. At 2330 hrs the Marine unit and an additional MG platoon formed from members of the garrison began to disembark. At 0447 the order for the Schleswig-Holstein to fire was given: the Second World War had begun! After shells had blasted holes in the wall which surrounded the Westerplatte, the shock company attacked at 0456 hrs disposed as follows: From left to right, from the south of the promontory: The 1st infantry platoon, the 2nd sapper platoon, the 2nd infantry platoon. At a distance of 100 m a heavy machine gun followed the 1st infantry platoon and a c/30 machine gun followed the sapper platoon (total of 150 men). Both infantry platoons were to storm through the breaches, the sapper platoon was to storm the railway gate in the Westerplatte [that] they were to blow up.

These three groups did not, however, succeed in penetrating far into this sector. The attack stalled with heavy losses in dead and wounded. At 0622 hrs, the company announced that the losses were too great; therefore they would retreat. Meanwhile, the 3rd Platoon of the 13th Coy., SS-Heimwehr Danzig was added as a reinforcement. Its initial position was on the far right next to the 2nd Infantry platoon. At 0855 hrs the second attack began. The already heavily decimated platoons advanced under heavy defensive fire. The platoon of SS-Heimwehr Danzig lost contact with the others and retreated at 1040 hrs. Even here the Germans were involved in battles with Polish snipers in the trees. At around 1230 hrs, the leader of the Marine unit, Henningsen was wounded and died the next day. Oberleutnant Schug took over the company. Since the Poles had let the Germans advance so far that they were able to shoot at them from all sides, the shock troop retreated again at 1235 hrs. Kleikamp believed now that occupation of the Westerplatte would not be accomplished in this way, and demanded Luftwaffe support. Although at the start Hitler had ordered that the Westerplatte be taken by the 2nd of September at the latest, for prestige reasons, he ordered more careful planning from the unit, to avoid even more losses. The shock company had suffered 50% losses already. On 2nd September 1939, the II and III Wings of the Sturzkampfgeschwader Immelmann made several attacks on the Westerplatte. During this they destroyed the Polish communications network, both among the Poles on the Westerplatte and all contact with the other units. Since almost all of the shock company’s machine guns were lost, an MG troop consisting of 45 men from the crew of the Schleswig-Holstein was put into service. Kleikamp and Schug were of the opinion that a new attack must be better prepared, because the strength and weaponry of the Poles were not known. One tended to exaggerate their strength and come to the view that a storming of the Westerplatte would only be possible with tanks and heavy field howitzers. After a few attempts at recce patrols and the burial of the fallen on 5th September 1939, the sapper unit tried to set fire to the Westerplatte wood on the next day. A train carriage filled with benzol was put on the Westerplatte. However, the railway officials uncoupled too early, so the carriage soon came to a standstill and did not reach the wood. The SS-Heimwehr bombarded the Westerplatte on 6th September 1939 from 0900 hrs until 1100 hrs with Minenwerfers and in the afternoon with infantry guns. At 1545 hrs, a new attempt was made to set the wood alight. This failed too. After just 20 minutes, the fire was extinguished again. On 7th September 1939 the Marine shock company made a new attack with the aid of one platoon of SS-Heimwehr Danzig and three platoons of the Danzig Landespolizei. The soldiers advanced without meeting any real resistance and at 0945 hrs saw the first white flags. After their capture, the Poles all stated that they had been demoralised by the shelling from the Schleswig-Holstein on 1st September 1939 and the bombardment by the Luftwaffe on 2nd September 1939. There was even talk on those days of capitulation. Since the next attack only followed on 5th September 1939, they had time to recover and reorganise. A decisive German attack on 3rd September 1939 would surely have forced them to surrender.

On Friday, 8th September 1939, the OKW reported: “Yesterday, the operations in Poland took the form of a pursuit in many areas; serious battles only happened in isolated places… The garrison of the Westerplatte in Danzig has surrendered, its resistance broken by sapper and Marine shock companies and SS-Heimwehr with the co-operation of the Schleswig-Holstein.

Order of battle


Kriegsmarine ships:

Pre-Dreadnought Battleship Schleswig-Holstein

Two torpedo boats: T-196 and T-963

Eberhardt group:

  1. Marine-Stoßtrupp-Kompanie (elite naval infantry company, later renamed Marine-Artillerie-Abteilung 531) and an attached Pioneer platoon from Dessau-Roßlau

An independent howitzer battalion (Haubitzen-Abt.)

Küstenschutz der Danziger Polizei (a coast guard unit of the Danzig police) and Ordnungspolizei’s Landespolizei Regiment

SS Heimwehr Danzig (the local SS militia force), including SS Wachsturmbann Eimann (already part of the forming 3rd SS Division Totenkopf)

Other forces


II & III Gruppe StG 2 Immelmann

4.(St)/TrGr 186

In all, some 40-60 Junkers Ju 87 Stuka bombers and seven other aircraft (Heinkel He 51 and Junkers Ju 52) were involved in the siege of Westerplatte.

German land forces were armed with several ADGZ heavy armoured cars, about 65 artillery pieces (2 cm FlaK 30 anti-aircraft guns, 3.7 cm PaK 36 anti-tank guns, 10.5 cm leFH 18 light howitzers and 21 cm Mörser 18 heavy howitzers), over 100 machine guns, an unknown number of medium mortars and Flammenwerfer 35 flamethrowers.


By August 1939, the garrison of Westerplatte had increased to 182 soldiers and 27 civilian reservists conscripted into service after the breakout of hostilities.

The WST was armed with one 76.2 mm wz. 02 field gun, two Bofors 37 mm wz. 36 anti-tank guns, and four Stokes-Brandt 81 mm wz. 31 medium mortars. The strong side of the garrison was a disproportionately large number of machine guns at their disposal (41 machine guns, including 16 heavy machine guns). They had also 160 rifles, 40 pistols and over 1,000 hand grenades.

1st Polish Armoured Division

1st Polish Armoured Division-August 1944 Sherman tank


Some 100,000 Polish soldiers managed to evade capture and escaped through Romania, Hungary, and the Baltic states. Many eventually made their way to France and joined the Polish government-in-exile, which was headed by General Władysław Sikorski. Meanwhile, as early as May 1939, Polish and French officials had discussed the feasibility of forming military units manned by some of the half million Polish immigrants then living in France. By May 1940, the reconstituted Polish army in France had some 84,500 troops organized into two infantry divisions and a mechanized brigade. In addition, the Podhale Rifle Brigade fought in Norway and at Narvik, and the independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade was formed in the Middle East.

During the 1940 France Campaign, the Polish 1st Grenadier Division was destroyed fighting in Lorraine. The 2nd Rifle Division escaped into Switzerland, and its soldiers were interned there for the remainder of the war. Only some 30 percent of the Polish army managed to escape to Britain, where it again reconstituted and formed the Polish I Corps. That unit eventually consisted of the 1st Armored Division, the 4th Infantry Division, and the 1st Independent Parachute Brigade. The parachute brigade’s most celebrated battle was its doomed jump into Arnhem to support the British there in Operation MARKET-GARDEN in September 1944.

1st Armored Division
The Polish 1st Armoured Division (Polish 1 Dywizja Pancerna) was an Allied military unit during World War II, created in February 1942 at Duns in Scotland. At its peak it numbered approximately 16,000 soldiers. It was commanded by General Stanisław Maczek.

The division was formed as part of the I Polish Corps In the early stages the division was stationed in Scotland and guarded approximately 200 kilometres of British coast.
Normandy. By the end of July 1944 the division had been transferred to Normandy. The final elements arrived on August 1 and the unit was attached to the First Canadian Army. It entered combat on August 8 during Operation Totalize. The division twice suffered serious bombings by Allied aircraft which accidentally bombed friendly troops, but yet it achieved a victory against the Wehrmacht in the battles for Mont Ormel, and the town of Chambois. This series of offensive and defensive operations came to be known as the Battle of Falaise in which a large number of German Wehrmacht and SS divisions were trapped in the Falaise pocket and subsequently destroyed. Maczek’s division had the crucial role of closing the pocket at the escape route of those German divisions, hence the fighting was absolutely desperate and the 2nd Polish Armoured Regiment, 24th Polish Lancers and 10th Dragoons supported by the 8th and 9th Infantry Battalions took the brunt of German attacks trying to break free from the pocket. Surrounded and running out of ammunition they withstood incessant attacks from multiple fleeing panzer divisions for 48 hours until they were relieved.

Belgium and the Netherlands
After the Allied armies broke out from Normandy, the Polish 1st Armoured Division pursued the Germans along the coast of the English Channel. It liberated, among others, the towns of Saint-Omer, Ypres, Ghent and Passchendaele. A successful outflanking manoeuvre planned and performed by General Maczek allowed the liberation of the city of Breda without any civilian casualties (October 29, 1944). The Division spent the winter of 1944-1945 on the south bank of the river Rhine, guarding a sector around Moerdijk, Netherlands. In early 1945 it was transferred to the province of Overijssel and started to push along with the Allies along the Dutch-German border, liberating the eastern parts of the provinces of Drenthe and Groningen with towns such as Emmen, Coevorden and Stadskanaal.

In April 1945 the 1st Armoured entered Germany in the area of Emsland. On May 6 the division seized the Kriegsmarine naval base in Wilhelmshaven, where General Maczek accepted the capitulation of the fortress, naval base, East Frisian Fleet and more than 10 infantry divisions. There the Division ended the war and was joined by the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade. It undertook occupation duties until 1947, when the division was disbanded, it and the many Polish displaced persons in the Western occupied territories forming a Polish enclave at Haren in Germany which was for a while known as “Maczków”. The majority of its soldiers opted not to return to now Soviet occupied Poland and stayed in exile.

Organization during 1944-45
10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade (10 Brygada Kawalerii Pancernej) – Col. T. Majewski
1st Polish Armoured Regiment (1 pułk pancerny) – Lt.Col. Aleksander Stefanowicz
2nd Polish Armoured Regiment (2 pułk pancerny) – Lt.Col. S. Koszustki
24th Polish Lancers Regiment (Armoured; 24 pułk ułanów im. Hetmana Żółkiewskiego) – Lt.Col. J. Kański
10th Polish Dragoons Regiment (10 pułk dragonów zmotoryzowanych) – Lt.Col. Władysław Zgorzelski
3rd Polish Infantry Brigade (3 Brygada Strzelców) – Col. Marian Wieroński
1st Polish Highland Battalion (1 battalion Strzelców Podhalańskich) – Lt.Col. K. Complak
8th Polish Rifle Battalion (8 battalion strzelców) – Lt.Col. Aleksander Nowaczyński
9th Polish Rifle Battalion (9 battalion strzelców flandryjskich) – Lt.Col. Zygmunt Szydłowski
1st Polish Independent HMG Squadron (samodzielna kompania ckm.) – Maj. M. Kochanowski
Divisional Artillery (Artyleria dywizyjna) – Col. B. Noel
1st Polish Motorized Artillery Regiment (1 pułk artylerii motorowej) – Lt.Col. J. Krautwald
2nd Polish Motorized Artillery Regiment (2 pułk artylerii motorowej) – Lt.Col. K. Meresch
1st Polish Anti-Tank Regiment (formed in 1945 from smaller units) (1 pułk artylerii przeciwpancernej) – Major R. Dowbór
1st Polish Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment (1 pułk artylerii przeciwlotniczej) – Lt.Col. O. Eminowicz, later Maj. W. Berendt
Other Units
10th Polish Mounted Rifle Regiment (10 pułk strzelców konnych) (amoured reconnaissance equipped with Cromwell tanks) – Maj. J. Maciejowski
HQ, Military Police,
engineers (saperzy dywizyjni) – Lt.Col. J. Dorantt
signals (1 batalion łączności) – Lt.Col. J. Grajkowski
administration, military court, chaplaincy, reserve squadrons, medical services.
885 – officers and NCOs
15,210 – soldiers
381 – tanks (mostly M4 Shermans)
473 – artillery pieces (mostly motorized)
4,050 – motor cars, trucks, utility vehicles, artillery carriers.

Boleslaw Chrobry (the Brave)

992-1025 Reign of Boleslaw I ‘the Brave’

Boleslaw Chrobry (the Brave), whose brilliant reign started in 992 with a strengthening of Poland’s unity and which had as its main objective the securing of a fully independent and even leading position in East Central Europe.

Boleslaw first hoped to realize his plans in friendly cooperation with the young Emperor Otto III who had a truly universal, supranational conception of the Roman Empire, uniting on equal terms Italy, Gaul, Germany and Sclavinia. In the latter-the Slavic world-the Emperor was prepared to recognize Boleslaw as his vicar (patricius), whose friendly collaboration would promote the missionary activities in which they were both deeply interested. Their common friend, Adalbert, the former Bishop of Prague, having been killed in 997 on a mission in Prussia, was soon afterwards canonized by Pope Sylvester II. At Easter of the year 1000, Otto III made a pilgrimage to Poland’s capital, Gniezno, where Boleslaw had buried the redeemed body of the martyr. At a solemn convention attended by a papal legate, Poland received a fully independent ecclesiastical organization with an archbishop in Gniezno and new bishops in Cracow, Wroclaw (Breslau in Silesia), and Kolobrzeg (Kolberg in Pomerania).

The political decisions of the congress of Gniezno made Boleslaw -like his father a former tributarius of the Empire-a real dominus, that is, an independent ruler to whom most probably the royal dignity was promised. Some obscure intrigues at the Roman curia delayed the planned coronation, however, and in 1002 the death of Otto III altogether changed the situation. Fully aware of the danger of German imperialism which reappeared under the new emperor, Henry II, the Polish duke decided to oppose his policy by uniting all Western Slavs in some kind of federation under Poland’s leadership.

That project included two different problems. Boleslaw wanted first of all to save from German domination and to include in his realm as much as possible of the Slavic territory between Germany and Poland. Therefore in 1002 he occupied Lusatia and Misnia (Meissen), where a residuum of the Slavic population was to survive until our day. Even more important was the idea of replacing German influence in Bohemia by Polish authority.

Interfering with internal rivalries among the members of the Premyslid dynasty, in the following year Boleslaw entered Prague and the creation of a common Polish-Czech state seemed nearer than in any later period of history.

But Henry II reacted by declaring a war which, twice interrupted by truces, lasted sixteen years. The final peace was concluded in 1018 in Budziszyn (Bautzen), the capital of Lusatia, which definitely remained under Boleslaw’s full sovereignty. He did not, however, succeed in gaining any other Slavic lands between the Oder and Elbe rivers, where the strongest tribe, the Lutitians, even cooperated with the German invaders, thus preparing their final doom. There was also a German party in Bohemia which the Poles had to evacuate in 1004. Boleslaw kept only Moravia, so that the state of the Premyslids was temporarily divided between the Empire and Poland.

In 1013, in the midst of the German war, Poland was for the first time threatened by a joint action of her western and eastern neighbors, the Emperor having resumed earlier German relations with the Kievan State. That was probably one of the reasons why Boleslaw, immediately after the Treaty of Budziszyn, decided to interfere with the internal struggle among the sons of Vladimir of Kiev, supporting the one who had married his daughter. When he occupied Kiev in that same year of 1018 and there established the rule of his son-in-law, Sviatopolk, it seemed that even the Eastern Slavs would be included in Boleslaw’s federal system. The message which he sent from Kiev to both emperors, Henry II of Germany and Basil II of Byzantium, was a clear expression of his aim to keep the whole of East Central Europe free from any imperial authority.

Boleslaw’s influence reached as far as the Lithuanian border, where another missionary whom he supported, his German admirer St. Bruno, was killed in 1009, and also into Hungary, although it is doubtful whether he ever united any Slovak territories with Poland. His coronation as first King of Poland which with papal approval took place shortly before his death in 1025, finally confirmed Poland’s position as an independent member of the European community.

The royal tradition of Boleslaw Chrobry remained alive throughout the whole course of Polish history, although already under his son and successor, Mieszko II (1025-1034), crowned immediately after his father’s death, Poland lost her leading position and entered a serious internal crisis that opened the door to German intervention. Lost were also the first king’s territorial acquisitions, Lusatia and Moravia, the former coming definitely under German control and the latter returning to Bohemia. In spite of a fierce but unorganized resistance, the Slavic tribes west of Poland were absorbed by the Empire, which also continued to include the state of the Premyslids.

ORP Kondor project 613 (Whiskey V)

One of four Polish boats of this class.

ORP Kondor (294) of project 613 (Whiskey V), one of four Polish boats of this class. Between August 5th and 8th, 1967 she passed undetected through Soviet ASW defence line on Barents Sea, while she was en route from Gdynia Naval Base (Poland) around Norway, and surfaced in the roadstead of Murmansk submarine naval base during a huge Polish-Soviet ASW exercises. She repeated the same performance next year, defeating Warsaw Pact air and naval anti-submarine defence line around Murmansk in June 1968, surfacing in the direct proximity of main Northern Fleet naval base.

Design work on this class began immediately after World War II as a medium submarine to replace the earlier S and Shch types. Detailed examination of German Type XXI boats strongly influenced the final design, which incorporated, in a less pronounced form, the figure-eight midsection and distinctive stern contours of these boats. There were many detail variations between different series of these submarines, mainly in the exact number and disposition of the guns. Large numbers of these boats were modified for special missions or experiments. Many also went to fleets within the Soviet sphere of influence: 5 to China (in addition to the 21 assembled there from Soviet-supplied components), 8 to Egypt, 2 to Bulgaria, 14 to Indonesia, 4 to Albania, 4 to Poland, 4 to North Korea, and one each to Cuba and Syria. By the early 1980s about 60 boats of the 215 built in the Soviet Union remained in service, and 18 still existed 10 years later.

Poland (four vessels, 1962–1986, retired)

 ORP Orzeł (292)

 ORP Bielik (295)

 ORP Sokół (293)

 ORP Kondor (294) – 10 June 1965 raising of the banner, 30 October 1985 lowering of the banner.

Many Type XXI characteristics were incorporated in TsKB-18’s Project 613 submarine-known in the West as “Whiskey.”60 This design had been initiated in 1942 as Project 608, but was rejected by the naval high command because it displaced 50 tons more than specified in requirements. The redesign of Project 608 into 613 was begun in 1946 under the supervision of Captain 1st Rank Vladimir N. Peregudov, who incorporated several features derived after studies of Type VIIC and Type XXI U-boats. One of the former, the U-250, had been sunk by the Soviets in the Gulf of Finland on 30 July 1944 and subsequently salvaged and carefully examined.

The hull and fairwater of Project 613 were streamlined, and the stern was given a “knife” configuration, with the large rudder positioned aft of the twin propellers. The propeller shafts were supported outside of the hull by horizontal stabilizers rather than by struts (as used in most U. S. submarines). The stern diving (horizontal) planes were aft of the propellers. The “knife” arrangement provided the possibility of a more maneuverable submarine than the U. S. Fleet/GUPPY configurations.

A small attack center, or conning tower, was fitted in the Project 613 fairwater, a feature deleted from the Type XXI. When retracted, the various periscopes and masts were housed completely within the superstructure.

Propulsion on the surface was provided by two diesel engines with a total output of 4,000 horsepower; submerged propulsion normally was by two main electric motors producing 2,700 horsepower plus two smaller motors that provided 100 horsepower for silent or economical running. This feature-derived from the German “creeping” motors-was the first German feature to be incorporated into Soviet submarine designs. Two large groups of batteries with 112 cells each were installed. Later a snorkel system would be installed for submerged operation of the diesel engines. This propulsion system could drive the Whiskey at 18.25 knots on the surface and 13 knots submerged.

The principal combat capability of the Whiskey was the six torpedo tubes-four bow and two stern, with six reloads in the forward torpedo room- a total of 12 torpedoes. This torpedo loadout was small in comparison to U. S. submarines and the Type XXI, but was comparable to the five tubes and 15 torpedoes in the Type VIIC U-boat. The tubes were fitted with a pneumatic, wakeless firing system that could launch torpedoes from the surface down to almost 100 feet (30 m); in subsequent upgrades firing depth was increased to 230 feet (70 m). Previously the USSR, as other nations, had produced specialized minelaying submarines. Beginning with the Whiskey, Soviet submarines could also lay mines through their torpedo tubes (as could U. S. submarines). In the minelaying role a Whiskey could have a loadout of two torpedoes for self-defense plus 20 tube-launched mines.

Early Project 608/613 designs had provided for a twin 76-mm gun mount for engaging surface ships. With the plan to conduct most or all of a combat patrol submerged, the gun armament was reduced to a twin 57-mm anti-aircraft mount aft of the conning tower and a twin 25-mm anti-aircraft mount on a forward step of the tower. (Guns were installed in Soviet submarines until 1956.)

With the use of a completely welded pressure hull using SKhL-4 alloy steel coupled with the design of its pressure hull, the Whiskey had a test depth of 655 feet (200 m) and a working depth of 560 feet (170 m).66 This was considerably deeper than the Type XXI as well as the new U. S. K1 class, and almost as deep as the Tang class. Unfortunately, in achieving the greatest feasible operating depth while restricting displacement, the designers excessively constrained the crew accommodations in the Whiskey (as in subsequent diesel-electric classes).

The Project 613/Whiskey introduced a new level of underwater performance to Soviet undersea craft, incorporating many German design features that would be found in future generations of Soviet submarines. The final TsKB-18 contract design was approved by the Navy in 1948, and construction began shortly afterward at the Krasnoye Sormovo shipyard in the inland city of Gor’kiy, some 200 miles (320 km) to the east of Moscow. Submarines built at Gor’kiy would be taken down the Volga River by transporter dock for completion at Caspian and Black Sea yards.

The lead submarine of Project 613-the S-80- was laid down at Gor’kiy on 13 March 1950, followed by additional production at the Baltisky (Baltic) shipyard in Leningrad, the Chernomorskiy yard in Nikolayev on the Black Sea, and the Leninsky Komsomol yard at Komsomol’sk in the Far East. Automatic welding and prefabrication were widely used in Project 613 construction.

The S-80 was put into the water-launched from a horizontal assembly facility-on 21 October 1950 when 70 percent complete. She was immediately transported by barge down the Volga River to the port of Baku on the Caspian Sea, arriving on 1 November. After completion and extensive trials, the S-80 was commissioned on 2 December 1951, a very impressive peacetime accomplishment The massive Project 613/Whiskey program produced 215 submarines for the Soviet Navy through 1958 (i. e., an average of more than 2 1/2 submarines per month of this design).

This was the largest submarine program in Soviet history, exceeding in tonnage the combined programs of the Soviet era up to that time. Indeed, in number of hulls, Project 613 would be the world’s largest submarine program of the Cold War era. (According to available records, a total of 340 submarines of this design were planned.) In 1954 the documentation for Project 613 construction was given to China, and three additional submarines were fabricated in the USSR, dismantled, and shipped to China for assembly at Shanghai’s Jiangnan shipyard. China then built 15 submarines at the inland shipyard at Wuhan on the Yangtze River, initially using Soviet-provided steel plates, sonar, armament, and other equipment. Soviet-built units also were transferred to Bulgaria (2), Egypt (8), Indonesia (14), North Korea (4), Poland (4), and Syria (1); Cuba and Syria each received one unit as a stationary battery charging platform to support other submarines. The Soviet Union transferred two submarines to Albania in 1960 and two additional units were seized in port by the Albanian government when relations with the USSR were broken for ideological reasons in 1961.

Whiskey Class medium range SSK

Units: 236 Displacement: 1,055 tons surfaced / 1350 tons submerged Dimensions: 249 ft, 2 in x 20 ft, 8 in x 15 ft, 1 in Armament: 6 x 21-in bow torpedo tubes (4 bow, 2 stern) Machinery: 2 diesel engines; 4,000 bhp / 2 x electric motors; 2,700 shp / 2 x electric creeping motors; 100 shp / 2 shafts Speed: 18.25 kn surfaced / 7 kn surfaced snorkeling / 13 kn submerged Range: 22,000 nm surfaced at 9 kn / 443 nm submerged at 2 kn Diving Depth: 655 ft Complement: 52 In Service: 1951 – mid 1990s

Poland Pre-WWII

A handshake between Polish Marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły and the German attache, Major General Bogislav von Studnitz, at the “Independence Day” parade in Warsaw, November 11, 1938.

The First World War proved to be the turning-point in modern Polish history. It smashed the three empires which held it captive (Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary) and created a power vacuum which a new state in eastern Europe could fill. The core of independent Poland was the former province removed from Russia by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (1918). To this was added territory from Germany by the Treaty of Versailles (1919) and from Austria and Hungary by the Treaties of St Germain and Trianon (1919 and 1920). The Polish government, however, considered the eastern frontier to be too restrictive; hence, in 1919, Poland launched an attack on the Soviet Union and captured much of the Ukraine, including Kiev. The Soviet army soon recovered and drove the invaders back to Warsaw, which was subsequently besieged. Poland now appeared to be in dire peril but, with French assistance, managed to rout the Russians and reoccupy western Ukraine, possession of which was confirmed by the Treaty of Riga (1921). To this substantial slice of territory was added Vilna, seized from Lithuania, and parts of Upper Silesia. Overall, Poland, with an area of 150,000 square miles and a population of 27 million, was one of Europe’s more important states.

Unfortunately, it was confronted by a series of desperate problems. The first was the mixed composition of its population. Poles comprised only two-thirds of the total; the rest included 4 million Ukrainians, 3 million Jews, 1 million Germans, 1 million Belorussians, and small numbers of Russians, Lithuanians and Tartars. The second problem was political instability. The constitution proved inappropriate to the ethnic structure since it provided for a centralized rather than a federal state. In theory, Poland was an advanced democracy, with guarantees of individual freedoms. Unfortunately, proportional representation encouraged the growth of small parties and prevented the formation of stable governments; altogether, there were fifteen cabinets between November 1918 and May 1926, an average lifespan of only five months. The whole situation was aggravated by a major economic crisis in which inflation led to the Polish mark sinking to a level of 15 million to the dollar. This inevitably hindered the task of reconstruction, promoting shortages and unemployment. This unstable period came to a dramatic end when, in May 1926, General Piłsudski led several regiments of the Polish army into Warsaw. He replaced the democratic government with an authoritarian regime which lasted, beyond his own death in 1935, until the eventual liquidation of Poland in 1939.

Piłsudski was already something of a national hero. He had organized the Polish legions which had fought for the country’s independence in the First World War. He had then become head of state between 1919 and 1922, leading the Polish offensive against Russia and organizing the defence of Warsaw in 1920. He had voluntarily stepped aside in 1922 into semi-retirement. Between 1922 and 1926, however, he watched with disgust the deteriorating political scene. At first he was not disposed to take drastic action because ‘If I were to break the law I would be opening the door to all sorts of adventurers to make coups and putsches.’89 Eventually, however, he became convinced that direct action was unavoidable. His solution was a call for national unity and a common moral sense, to be promoted by a grouping called Sanacja.

Piłsudski’s achievements related mainly to the restoration of the Polish state after a century and a half of foreign rule. He strengthened the executive through his changes of 1926 and the constitution of 1935 (which he did not live to see), and made the administration more professional and efficient. He revived the morale of the army and, through a skilful foreign policy, strengthened Poland’s standing in Europe. On the other hand, his regime witnessed serious financial and economic problems. The Great Depression had a particularly devastating effect on Polish agriculture and, as elsewhere, caused a sudden spurt in industrial unemployment. Piłsudski resorted to an unimaginative policy of financial constraints and drastic deflation. But this only aggravated the problem, and even by 1939 Poland’s per capita output was 15 per cent below that of 1913. ‘Thus,’ observes Aldcroft, ‘Poland had little to show economically for 20 years of independent statehood.’

Piłsudski also showed serious flaws in his character. His rule became increasingly irksome as he himself became increasingly petty. Rothschild argues that Piłsudski’s best years were behind him and that he had become ‘prematurely cantankerous, embittered and rigid’. Overall, it could be said, he completely lost the will to temper discipline and constraint with progressive reform; his emphasis on continuity therefore precluded any possibility of meaningful change. Piłsudski was one of the few dictators to die before the general upheaval of 1939–40. The authoritarian regime which he had established continued for the next four years, but it became less personal and more ideological. The reason for this was that, cantankerous though he had been, Piłsudski proved irreplaceable; the likes of Slawek, Rydz-Smigly and Beck lacked his popularity and charisma. Faced with ever growing pressure from the right, the Sanacja after Piłsudski was forced to collaborate with Poland’s semi-fascist movements, since it lacked Piłsudski’s confidence to defy them. Whether Poland would eventually have become a fascist state is open to speculation, but it is interesting to note that its movement in that direction was due to the lack of leadership rather than to any personality cult. Polish ‘fascism’ therefore served to conceal mediocrity rather than to project personal power.

Piłsudski and his successors were faced with the problem of upholding the security of the new Polish state. This was given some urgency by the resentment of all her neighbours against Poland’s territorial gains. At first Piłsudski sought safety in an alliance with France and Romania in 1921. Gradually, however, the will of France to assist Poland grew weaker. In 1925 France signed the Locarno Pact which, alongside Britain, Italy, Belgium and Germany, guaranteed the 1919 frontiers in western Europe but not in the east. By the early 1930s Piłsudski felt that he could no longer depend upon France and therefore sought accommodation with the powers which threatened Poland; he formed non-aggression pacts with Russia in 1932 and Germany in 1934. After Piłsudski’s death, however, Poland slid towards destruction. There was a dreadful inevitability about the whole process: given Hitler’s policy of Lebensraum and Stalin’s determination to wipe out the memory of Brest-Litovsk, Poland did not stand a chance. According to Syrop, ‘It is clear now that once Hitler and Stalin had jointly decided to wipe Poland off the map, no Polish policy and no power on earth could avert disaster.’

Foreign Minister Beck showed courage in defying Hitler’s demands for a Polish corridor and was bolstered by the Anglo-French guarantee of March 1939. He clearly felt that Poland stood a chance of holding off Germany, as Piłsudski had fended off Russia in 1920. This time, however, Poland was crushed by Hitler’s Blitzkrieg. The Polish cavalry, which had triumphed over Soviet infantry, was now shot to pieces by German tanks and aircraft. By mid-September the western half of Poland had been conquered by the Nazi war machine. The Polish government transferred to the east, only to be trapped by Soviet troops who were moving into position to take up the territory agreed in the Nazi – Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. Poland was therefore at the mercy of her two historic enemies. Stalin proceeded to impose communist institutions in the east, while the German zone was divided in two. The north-west and Silesia were absorbed directly into the Third Reich and were immediately Germanized; Gauleiter Forster said that his intention was ‘to remove every manifestation of Polonism within the next few years’. The rest was placed under Governor-General Hans Frank, who stated that no Polish state would ever be revived. The German occupation of Poland was to prove more horrifying and destructive than that in any other conquered territory. Six million people died out of a total population of 35 million; many of these were Jews who perished in extermination camps set up at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Maidenek, Sobibor, Belzec and Treblinka. The Polish capital, Warsaw, was the only occupied city to be pulled apart, systematically, by ground demolition squads.

The devastation did not destroy the Polish national spirit and three resistance organizations had come into existence by mid-1941. The first was a government in exile under Sikorski which established an army abroad and integrated Polish servicemen into the American and British forces. The second was the underground Home Army (AK), the third the Polish Workers’ Movement (PPR), a communist organization led by Gomułka. At first there was co-operation between Sikorski and the Soviet Union but, as the Soviet victory over Germany became increasingly likely, Stalin did everything possible to weaken Sikorski and the AK. His task was made easier by the Yalta and Potsdam conferences of 1945. The Western Allies were, of course, unhappy about Poland falling under Soviet influence, but they were unable to prevent it. Hence, when recreated, Poland eventually became one of Stalin’s satellite states, with a regime which was far more systematically pervasive than Piłsudski’s had ever been. It was not until 1989 that the monopoly of the Communist Party was broken.

The Nature of the Polish Right Wing

Poland is rightly seen as the victim of the aggression of Europe’s two leading dictatorships in 1939. At the same time, however, Poland had itself become a dictatorship and had spawned a number of far-right parties. In this respect it followed an experience similar to that of Austria and Portugal. As in these countries, a distinction needs to be made between a conservative authoritarian establishment and semi-fascist minority groups which wanted to radicalize the right.

Authoritarian dictatorship is normally associated with Piłsudski. His assumption of power in 1926 was a reaction to the political chaos of the mid-1920s. He was in no sense a radical. His aim was to reconcile, not to radicalize. According to Rothschild, the purpose of the Sanacja was to form a ‘non-political phalanx of all classes and parties supposedly prepared to elevate general state interests above particular partisan and social ones’. This new order would be kept together by Piłsudski himself. Ironically, he did not resume the presidency in 1926, serving, instead, in the humbler capacity of Foreign Minister with two brief spells as premier. Yet no one doubted that ultimate power lay in his hands: ‘I am a strong man and I like to decide all matters by myself.’ To emphasize this point, he reduced the power of the legislature, arguing that ‘The Chicanes of Parliament retard indispensable solutions.’ He saw Western-style party political manoeuvres as highly destructive in Poland, since they had produced a parliament which was in reality a ‘House of Prostitutes’. He therefore broke the back of the party system and surrounded himself with loyal followers. Yet his dictatorship was never complete; his aim was not to set up a totalitarian state and a new political consciousness, but rather to depoliticize Poland and to create unity through heightened moral awareness. His successors were somewhat less restrained than Piłsudski and, in the words of Payne, ‘accentuated state control and authoritarianism’. Between 1935 and 1939 the authoritarian regime was becoming more involved in regulating the economy and mobilizing popular support behind a new government organization, the Camp of National Unity, or OZN. This took on several outward appearances of proto-fascism.

Even so, the post-Piłsudski governments were less radical than most other non-fascist dictatorships in Europe. More open to far-right influences were the minority movements such as the National Democrat Party; strongest in western Poland, this was violently anti-Semitic, strongly nationalistic and sympathetic to both Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, even though the latter was widely perceived as the national enemy. From this developed the even more extreme National Party (OWP) and Camp of National Radicalism (ONR). But the most explicitly fascist group was the Falanga, which was strongly influenced by the Spanish Falangist movement; it also had similarities to Codreanu’s Legion and Iron Guard in Romania.

As elsewhere, the traditionalist authorities were not prepared to tolerate the excesses of these minority groups and at various stages during the 1930s resorted to banning them. Even though they stood no chance of coming to power they did, nevertheless, provide a core for that section of the Polish population which was prepared to collaborate with the Nazis, especially in implementing their anti-Semitic policies.





Tension between Poland and the Third Reich was already clear from the spring of 1939 and the intensity of flying at the Polish-German border rose on both sides. Poland’s access to the coast was of a special nature (see the map). Its peculiar character lay in the fact that Polish territory divided Germany in effect. The Pomeranian ‘corridor’ that belonged to Poland was located between the bulk of Germany and the territory of East Prussia. In fact the German demand for an ex-territorial motorway through Poland, and the Polish refusal, was one of the direct causes of the war.

Morski Dywizjon Lotnicyzy maintained a continuous combat readiness. New recruits were being trained, and then sent on specialist courses. At the same time a new system of long range reconnaissance was developed. It covered the area from the so-called Lawica Siupska in the west, up to the German port of Pilau (Pilawa) in East Prussia. Usually a few flights a day were flown, providing continuous monitoring of German shipping. These missions were flown by Lublin R-XIIIs, which carried out spying missions ‘by the way’. The Germans were not passive, either, frequently violating Polish airspace. In one case the Polish Lublin R-XIII G/hydro no. 714 performed the role of a fighter, successfully chasing away the German LZ-130 airship from Polish territory. In April 1939 the Dywizjon lost a Lublin R-XIII which crashed at Swarzewo. Usually at the beginning of May each year a three-aircraft Pluton Samolotow Towarzyszacych was detached from the unit at Puck, the aircraft being converted to wheeled undercarriage and subsequently moving to Rumia-Zagorze airfield. Another accident occurred during night flying on 19 May 1939 at 23:00 when a crew failed to locate the airfield and crashed into trees. The crew escaped unhurt, but the aircraft was written off. On 7 August 1939 one R-XIII patrolling its assigned sector observed a large passenger ship, identified as Hansesstadt Danzig. The pilot wanted to take a clear picture of the vessel, and approached it at a very low level. During a sharp turn it side-slipped and crashed into the sea. The Dywizjob thus lost the Lublin R-XIII ter/hydro no. 712. The crew was picked up by a boat from the German ship, and subsequently transferred to the police in the Free City of Danzig. Thus the modest inventory of Morski Dywizjon Lotniczy was reduced by two aircraft.

Pilots of the Danzig flying club mobilised on 24 August 1939, formed on the 31st of that month the Pluton Layznikowy Dowodcy L’ldowej Obrony Wybrzeza, led by ppor. rez. pit. Edmund Jereczek. The Pluton took over two civil RWD 13 aircraft, registered as SP-ATB and SP- BML. The Pluton was reinforced by R-XIII G/hydro no. 718 of Morski Dywizjon Lotniczy.

The main base of the naval aviation had been thoroughly reconnoitred by the Germans, so in the event of war it was assumed that the unit would be evacuated to the Hel Peninsula. After 30 August part of the storage facilities and Oddzial Obrony Ladowej moved to HeI. The aircraft stayed at Puck. On the morning of 1 September 1939, about 6:00 a. m., the first German bomber formation arrived over Puck. This consisted of some 20 Heinkel He Ills from KG 1 of Luftflotte 1. They attacked the base of the Dywizjon, the railway station, and a target ship anchored in the Bay of Puck. Four people were killed, and over a dozen wounded in the raid. The Dywizjon commander, kmdr. por. pil. Edward Szystkowski, was among the dead, passing command to kmdr. ppor. pil.. Kazimierz Szalewicz before he died. Immediate evaluation of the flying equipment to Hel was ordered, as there was no anti-aircraft defence left at Puck by that time. The aircraft were anchored along the Peninsula on the Bay side. The aircraft were left in full view, providing an easy target for enemy aircraft. The RWD-17W was an exception, being on land and hidden in woods. The Nikol A-2 amphibian was anchored in the naval port at Hel. The aircraft were only protected by artillery batteries located at the Peninsula. Against total air superiority, in terms of both quantity and quality, operational capabilities of the unit were largely limited even on the first day of the war. The situation grew worse with the death of the commander and the chaos caused by the unit’s evacuation. An idea to bomb the Schleswig Holstein battleship, anchored in Danzig, and shelling the Polish posts at Westerplatte was not put into life as most of the Lublin R-XIIIs were damaged in a raid by two Heinkel He 59s that took place on the evening of 2 September. The following day the Germans resumed raids, and as a result the strafed Lublins were sunk in the coastal shallows. Only the R-XIII G/hydro no. 714 survived the ordeal. The same day the Cant Z 506B left to travel inland, most ground crews of the unit were to fight alongside ground troops that defended the Peninsula. A surviving Lublin R-XIII was used for the first time on the evening of 6 September, when it flew an hour’s reconnaissance flight over the Bay of Gdansk. The crew consisted of por. pil. Jozef Rudzki and por. pil. obs. Zdzislaw Juszczkiewicz. The flight was uneventful, and activity of small enemy naval craft was detected. Following this successful flight the R-XIII no. 714 took off for another the next night. This time the aircraft, flown by the same crew, was armed with six 12.5 kg bombs, with which it would attack the Schleswig Holstein battleship at Danzig. Upon arrival it was found that the ship had left its previous location. The R-XIII crew noticed a night parade organised in Danzig by the Germans to celebrate the victory over the Polish posts at Westerplatte, the Poles attacked, bombing and then strafing the surprised Germans. Subsequently they returned without problem to their temporary base. These were the only combat missions flown by aircraft of Morski Dywizjob Lotniczy in September 1939. The following day the Germans made a revenge attack against Hel with Ju 87s of 4.1186 Tragerstaffel. During the raid the last serviceable R-XIII, no. 714, and the Schreck FBA 17HE2 were destroyed. Thus on 8 September the RWD 17W and Nikol A-2 were the only airworthy machines, with the exception of the aircraft of Pluton Lijcznikowy Dowodcy Lijdowej Obrony Wybrzeza. The above mentioned Pluton was merged into the Kompania Sztabowa on 1 September 1939 by the orders of Dowodca Lijdowej Obrony Wybrzeija, plk. Stanislaw Dijbek. Initially the aircraft of the Pluton were based at the commercial airfield in Rumia. That is where they were caught (together with two ‘Lot’ Polish Airlines aircraft) by the German raid on the first day of the war at 6:00 a. m. After the raid a Lublin R-XIII G/hydro reinforcing the Pluton arrived at Rumia. The raid did not cause major damage, but accelerated departure of the passenger aircraft inland. Another raid carried out by the Germans the same afternoon failed to inflict damage except for bomb craters. After 4 September the anti- aircraft defences left the airfield, so the Pluton commander ordered the observer’s machine gun of the Lublin R-XIII removed and mounted on a fixed base near the hangar. This provisional post shot down a Junkers Ju 87 on one of the following days, its crew becoming prisoners of war. The Pluton still remained unused. On 9 September the situation became difficult, when the airfield area came under direct enemy fire. The Pluton commander, ppor. pil. Edmund Jereczek, unable to contact his HQ decided to evacuate to the reserve airfield at Nowe Obluze north of Gdynia. Using a short- lived counter-attack by the Polish infantry as cover, the pilots started the engines of their aircraft, and took off straight through the open hangar doors (since the first raid on the morning of 1 September 1939 the aircraft were hidden in old flying club hangars at one side of the airfield). On 13 September plk. Dqbek ordered evacuation of both RWD 13s to Sweden. The Lublin R- XIII would fly to Hel with a report. At that time the nearby base at Puck was already in use by German aircraft. Both RWD 13s took off the same day at 12:30. Immediately after take-off the aircraft started to climb through clouds. When passing through these the pilots lost contact. Given this situation each undertook individual attempts to escape. The first RWD 13, SP- BML, flown by ppor. pil. E. Jereczek managed after flying over 450 km landed at Visborglatt on the island of Gotland. The crew was interned, and the aircraft impressed by the Swedes, who used it until 1952. The other RWD 13, SP-ATB, flown by szer. pil. Wadaw Zarudzki was forced to turn back due to problems with the engine. It landed back at Nowe Obluze airfield after an hour’s flight.

The last surviving aircraft. the Lublin R-XIII G/hydro no. 718, was going to fly on 17 September 1939 an evacuation flight and report to Warsaw. Flown by mat Stefan Czerwinski the aircraft took off that day at about 22:00. Soon after take-off the aircraft crashed into the sea for unknown reasons. The pilot was killed, while an unidentified infantry kapitan survived. The RWD 17, SP- BPB, surviving at the Hel Peninsula, was the last aircraft of the Polish aviation at the coast. It crashed on 30 September 1939 in the hands of ppor. pil. Juliusz Bilewicz during an attempt to fly to Sweden.

During the 1939 campaign the Polish naval aviation flew a total of 27 missions, including 3 combat sorties in a combined time of 13 hours 15 minutes. The activity of the naval aircraft was therefore negligible. This was due to several factors. The most important lay in the overwhelming superiority of the German air force, both in quantity and quality. The efforts of the few who continued in their resistance is all the more praiseworthy. Land fighting in defence of the Hel Peninsula involved some 300 soldiers of the Morski Dywizjon Lotniczy at Puck, led by the unit’s officers.