Polish Submarines

WILK CLASS (1929)

Wilk (12 April 1929)

Builder: Normand

Rys (22 April 1929)

Builder: Loire

Zbik (14 June 1931)

Builder: CNF

Displacement: 980 tons (surfaced), 1250 tons (submerged)

Dimensions: 257960 x 19940 x 13990

Machinery: 2 Normand-Vickers diesel engines, 2 electric motors, 2 shafts. 1800 bhp/1200 shp = 14/9 knots

Range: 7000 nm at 7.5 knots surfaced, 80 nm at 4 knots submerged

Armament: 6 x 550mm torpedo tubes (4 bow, 1 twin trainable external mount), total 10 torpedoes, 40 mines, 1 x 100mm gun, 1 x 40mm AA gun

Complement: 54

Notes: These submarines were larger versions of the French Saphir class. The Rys and the Zbik were interned in Sweden in September 1939, returned to Poland at the war’s end, and were scrapped in 1951 and 1954. The Wilk escaped to Britain in September 1939, became a training vessel a year later, and returned to Poland after World War II. It was scrapped in 1951.

ORZEL CLASS (1938)

Orzel (15 January 1938)

Builder: De Schelde

Sept (17 October 1938)

Builder: Rotterdamse

Displacement: 1100 tons (surfaced), 1650 tons (submerged)

Dimensions: 275970 x 22900 x 13940

Machinery: 2 Sulzer diesel engines, 2 electric motors, 2 shafts. 4740 bhp/1100 shp = 20/9 knots

Range: 7000 nm at 10 knots surfaced, 100 nm at 3 knots submerged

Armament: 12 x 550mm torpedo tubes (4 b o w, 4 stern, 1 x quadruple external trainable mount), total 20 torpedoes, 1 x 105mm gun, 1 x twin 40mm AA gun

Complement: 60

Notes: These submarines were designed by the Nederlandsche Verenigde Scheepsbouw Bureaux in `s-Gravenhage, in cooperation with a team from the Polish Navy. They incorporated many features of the earlier Dutch O. 16, including the external trainable mount. The hulls were entirely welded, and all controls were hydraulically operated. The Orzel escaped the German invasion of Poland to the United Kingdom and was mined in the North Sea on 8 June 1940. The Sept escaped and was interned in Sweden until the war’s end, when it returned to Polish service until it decommissioned on 15 September 1969

The Polish Navy two U-class submarines:
ORP Dzik – (ex HMS P52)

ORP Dzik (Boar) was a U-class submarine built by Vickers-Armstrong at Barrow-in-Furness. She was laid down on 30 December 1941 as P-52 for the Royal Navy, but was transferred to the Polish Navy during construction. Launched on November 11, 1942, ORP Dzik was commissioned into the Polish Navy on December 12, 1942. Her name meant “Wild Boar” in Polish.
24 May 1943 Near Cape Spartivento, ORP Dzik fired a 4 torpedo salvo and damaged the Italian oil tanker Carnaro (8357 Brutto Register Tonnage). After the attack, two Italian corvettes dropped over 60 depth charges.
21 Sep 1943 ORP Dzik fired torpedoes in Bastia harbour, Corsica, France and sank the German tanker Nikolaus (6397, former Greek Nicolaou Ourania) and the German tug Kraft (333 Brutto Register Tonnage).
8 Jan 1944 ORP Dzik sank the Greek sailing vessel Elleni (200 Brutto Register Tonnage) with gunfire off Lesbos Island, Greece in position 39.37N, 25.43E.
ORP Dzik destroyed or damaged 18 surface ships both German and Italian with a total tonnage of 45,080 tons. She participated in Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily, and also engaged enemy surface ships with her 76 mm cannon three times and the crew boarded two enemy ships. The ORP Dzik earned the Jolly Roger.
In July 1946, the Polish Navy decommissioned her and returned her to the Royal Navy.
In 1947, the ship was transferred to the Royal Danish Navy. She sailed as HDMS U-1 and was later renamed to HDMS Springeren. She was returned to the Royal Navy in April 1958 and scrapped.
ORP Sokół – (ex HMS Urchin)

ORP Sokół (Polish: Falcon) was a U-class submarine (formerly HMS Urchin) built by Vickers-Armstrong at Barrow-in-Furness. Shortly after launching in September 1940 she was to be commissioned by the Royal Navy as HMS Urchin, but instead was leased to the Polish Navy due to a lack of experienced submarine crews. A sister boat to Dzik, both boats operated in the Mediterranean from Malta, where they became known as the “Terrible Twins”.

Shortly after her trials, the boat was handed to her Polish crew, in accordance with the Polish-British Military Alliance and amendments of 18 November 1939 and 3 December 1940. On 19 January 1941 the Polish banner was raised and the boat, commanded by Commander Borys Karnicki, was moved to Portsmouth. There she spent half a year patrolling the Bay of Biscay off the French port of Brest. In September she was moved to Malta, where she was attached to the 10th Submarine Flotilla. She took part in the naval runs on the Italian ports of Taranto and Naples. She also escorted numerous convoys in the Mediterranean. On 28 October of that year, Sokół achieved her first victory by heavily damaging the Italian auxiliary cruiser Città di Palermo. On 2 November in the Gulf of Naples she sank the 2,469-ton transport ship Balilla, with her sister HMS Utmost. On 19 November of the same year, she forced the anti-submarine nets and entered the port of Navarino, where she damaged the Italian destroyer Aviere. She was attacked by Italian torpedo boats and destroyers, but all of the depth charges missed and Sokół managed to escape from the harbour, sinking an additional transport steamer (5,600 tons) with three torpedoes. On 12 February 1942 she boarded and then sank the Italian wooden merchant schooner Giuseppina (362 tons) in the Gulf of Gabes.
On 17 April while in the port of Malta, she was heavily damaged by a German air raid and was forced to return to the shipyard in Blyth to receive repairs. By mid-1943 she had returned to the Mediterranean, where she continued to harass enemy shipment off the coasts of Italy, Northern Africa and in the Adriatic. On 12 September she rammed and sank the fishing vessel Meattini (36 tons). She took part in the allied blockade of the naval bases in Naples and Pula. Off the coast of the latter port, transferred by the Italians to Nazi Germany, Sokół sank a munitions transport (probably the 7,095-ton SS Eridania) and three days afterwards on 11 November the Italian schooner Argentina (64 tons). Between 4 November 1943 and 25 February 1944 she operated in the Aegean from the naval base in Beirut. Among the ships sunk in that period were two transport ships, four schooners and one cutter. In March 1944 both of the “Terrible Twins” left Malta for Great Britain where they were attached to the Dundee-based 9th submarine flotilla. After an additional four patrols off the coast of Norway, in the spring of 1945 she was designated as a training ship and was used by the Royal Air Force for training naval bomber pilots.

Altogether, during her wartime service Sokół sank or damaged 19 enemy vessels of about 55,000 tons in total. All of the commanding officers of the boat, (Lieutenant Commander Karnicki, Lieutenant Commander Koziołkowski and Captain Bernas) were awarded the Virtuti Militari. The full patrol records of the ORP Sokół are stored at the National Record Office, Kew, England.

TYPE 207 (1962)

These boats were very slightly modified versions of the earlier Type 201 class with upgraded sensors. To protect against the corrosion problems of the earlier boats, the first five vessels hulls received a coating of special zinc paint; the next four used a different, corrosion-resistant steel; and the U-1 and U-2 were new hulls built from magnetic steel incorporating all of the original machinery and basic equipment of the original U-1 and U-2. The U-4 through the U-8 were broken up between 1975 and 1977 and the U-1 and U-2 in 1993. The U-9 and U-10 became museum ships in 1993; the U-11 was modified as a target vessel that same year and became a museum ship in 2003; and the U-12 became a sonar trials b o a t in 1993 and was stricken in 2005. The Danish boats had small changes to suit local requirements and were decommissioned in 2003-2004. The Norwegian boats were classed as Type 207 and were built of magnetic high-tensile steel to endow them with deeper diving limits, and they had other minor variations from the German boats. The Stadt was scrapped in 1989; the Kinn was sunk as a target in 1990; the Ula was renamed the Kinn in 1988 and scrapped with the Utsira in 1998; the Utstein became a museum ship the same year; the Sklinna was scrapped in 2001. The Uthaug, the Utvaer, and the Kya were transferred to Denmark between 1989 and 1991 as the Tumleren, the Saelen , and the Springeren , and Denmark also received the Kaura for spare parts. They were decommissioned in 2004. The Skolpen, the Stord, the Svenner, and the Kunna were transferred between 2002 and 2004 to Poland as the Sep, the Sokol, the Bielek , and the Kondor, and Poland also received the Kobben for spare parts. The Polish boats remain in service.

PROJECT 613 [NATO WHISKEY] (1951)

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.

PROJECT 641 [NATO FOXTROT] (1958)

This class of long-range submarines was developed to replace the earlier Project 611 type. Like the Project 633 type, they were equipped with a substantially more advanced sonar outfit and could dive deeper than their precursors. In addition to the 17 boats built for export, 2 submarines were transferred to Poland in 1987 and 1988 as the Wilk and the Dzik . All the boats, both Soviet and foreign, were discarded in the 1990s.
ORIGINAL KILO (PROJECT 877)

ORP Orzeł (291) is a Polish Navy ‘Project 877E’ (Kilo-class) submarine. She is the third Polish submarine to bear the name Orzeł.
The boat was built by the Shipyard Krasnoe Sormovo in Gorky and was commissioned on 29 April 1986 at Riga. On 13 June of the same year Orzeł was transferred to Gdynia where she was named on 21 June. The submarine was assigned to the 3rd Flotilla based in Gdynia.

 

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Tanks Against Forts at Różan

Captain Collin received the attack order just before noon on September 5. It was quite brief. His company was instructed to capture two old forts dating from World War I on the western outskirts of the small town of Różan in northern Poland. The mission was clear and did not require much elaboration. Instead, Collin could instruct his platoon commanders. In addition to Lieutenants Parow and Schnelle, who both were platoon commanders in Collin’s company, two more platoons, commanded by Lieutenants Friese and Stöhr, were attached for the mission.

From positions northwest of Sielun, situated approximately 5 km from Różan, Collin’s company and the battalion it formed part of would attack. The attack would unfold along the road to the west of Sielun and Różan. After crossing a creek, the battalion would advance to a point west of Różan, where Collin’s company would turn left and attack two forts numbered 2 and 3 by the Germans.

After instructing his subordinates, Collin mounted a tank. The regiment had been in action from the very first day of the war and had suffered losses; several tanks had either been knocked out by enemy fire or suffered breakdowns. Usually, Collin commanded from a specifically designed command tank based on the Panzer I chassis. A fixed super-structure had replaced the revolving turret to accommodate a radio operator and sets for receiving and transmitting radio messages. In the original Panzer I, the interior was so crammed that only a receiving set could be accommodated. Such a limitation was, of course, wholly unacceptable to a commander, but it had sufficed for basic training and the Panzer I had been envisaged for such purposes. However, Collin’s command tank had been damaged and taken to a workshop. He thus chose to lead from a Panzer II, whose vexed commander had to climb into a Panzer I.

Like Collin’s normal command tank, the Panzer II had a crew of three, including the commander. The driver was positioned forward in the hull in both vehicles, but the tasks to be performed in the turret differed. In the Panzer II, the commander had to aim the gun in addition to his other duties. The radio operator doubled as loader of the 2-cm gun. This was far from ideal, but the small size of the Panzer I and Panzer II precluded better solutions.

Favorable fall weather had characterized the previous days. Except for some mist at dawn, visibility had been very good and the ground remained dry. Good weather reigned on September 5 too, when Collin’s company began to move south. The commanders saw the sun ahead as they moved with their heads up through the turret hatches. They proceeded somewhat cautiously, perhaps remembering the debacle near Mława on the first day of the war.

After advancing slightly more than 1 km, Collin’s company reached higher ground, where a halt was ordered. He observed the terrain closely through his field glasses. No sign of the enemy was seen, but fires were evidently raging in Różan. The church had been spared up to now, but Collin saw the flames reach it. Some of the villages closer to Collin’s company were also ablaze.

While Collin considered what might lie ahead, he also glanced at the flanks. To the right, he could see tanks from Captain Hoheisel’s company move forward into positions in line with his. Hoheisel’s unit was also mainly equipped with Panzer Is and IIs, supplemented by a few heavier tanks. Crackling voices in the headphones interrupted Collin’s thoughts. The battalion commander, Major von Gersdorff, had called for Hoheisel, but as all the company commanders used the same frequency, Collin overheard the conversation. The problem discussed was the poor reconnaissance, which meant that it was not clear where the creek ahead could be crossed. After a brief conversation, von Gersdorff decided to send the heavy tanks—Panzer IIIs and IVs—forward to reconnoiter the creek, which was difficult to see due to its wooded banks.

Perhaps the Germans had hoped to reach the creek undetected, but the large dust clouds created by the tanks would almost certainly arouse the suspicion of the Poles. No fire was directed at the Germans, but the dust must have been visible from a great distance. To make matters worse, the German commander began to despair as no ford had been found, and thus the entire attack might stall.

It was too early to call off the attack. As they were not fired upon, the German commanders dismounted from their tanks and reconnoitered the creek on foot. Collin instructed Second Lieutenant Stöhr to guard the flank with his platoon while the search for a ford proceeded. Despite their efforts, the Germans could not find a suitable ford, but there was perhaps still one chance. Collin believed the creek could be crossed at a particular spot provided the muddy banks were reinforced. The tankers quickly had to stand in as lumberjacks. Armed with axes, they attacked the trees along the creek. The heat and sunshine made them sweat as the strenuous work proceeded, but after one hour they had reinforced the banks sufficiently to allow the tanks to cross the water barrier.

The men were allowed a rest before the tanks crossed, while some of the officers crossed the creek on foot and approached a haystack to observe the terrain ahead. Major von Gersdorff, Captain Hoheisel and Captain Collin could clearly see the landscape in front of them. They saw the two windmills that marked the entrance to the town on their maps, thus concluding that they were on the right track. Forts number 1 and 2 were supposed to be located close to the windmills, according to the information available to the German officers. When looking to the left, they could also see infantry from the SS-Regiment Deutschland advancing towards Różan. Artillery shells began to explode around the windmills.

Major von Gersdorff issued attack orders. Collin’s company would attack on the left wing. There was still time for Collin to personally instruct his platoon commanders, except Stöhr, whose flanking mission had taken him too far away. At the haystack, Collin gave the necessary orders and pointed out the targets that could be seen from there.

Supported by the tree trunks, Collin’s tanks negotiated the muddy banks and took up positions south of the creek, waiting for the final attack order. They did not have to wait for long. At around 2 p.m., the order “Forward!” was heard in the headsets. The drivers revved the engines, which roared loudly. The squeaking sound from the tracks indicated that the attack had begun. The terrain ahead was rather open, but undulating. The tankers had to navigate carefully to avoid exposing their vehicles unnecessarily.

The German formation successfully reached a position west of the forts they were to capture. They stopped here as buildings, haystacks and vegetation might have been concealing Polish defenders. There were no friendly forces ahead of the German tanks and so there was no risk of fratricide as they opened fire against suspected targets. Collin tried to observe the effectiveness of the fire, but it was difficult to judge if it had had the intended effect. Unfortunately, Collin’s gun malfunctioned. Evidently dust had caused some part of the mechanism to jam.

Suddenly Collin was ordered to attack immediately. The intractable gun had not yet been attended to; armed only with a machine gun, Collin moved forward with the other tanks in his company. Very soon, a Polish antitank gun opened fire on the German left flank. Lieutenant Schelle immediately ordered his gunner to return fire. The dull and yet sharp sound from the gun revealed that a 7.5-cm shell left the barrel. The exploding shell threw up earth, stones and debris, but, as is common in war, it was difficult to know with certainty what effect the bursting shell had resulted in. Schelle remained stationary and continued to fire while the other tanks thrust forward.

Soon, von Gersdorff countermanded the attack order. Instead, Collin was to disengage and attack further south. Such a maneuver was not uncomplicated, but Collin managed to assemble his company and set it in motion southwards. The tanks crossed the northernmost of the two roads that ran west from Różan. At that moment, they took fire from Polish positions closer to the town.

Lieutenant Parow drove past Collin and took up a firing position. Collin watched as Parow fired three or four rounds before ordering his driver to continue forward. With the malfunctioning gun pointing straight forward, Collin’s tank began to move, but almost immediately Collin saw a shell hit the turret of Parow’s tank. Collin had hardly grasped what had happened before four men bailed out of the stricken tank and took cover. Another shell hit Parow’s tank within a second. Collin drove closer to the damaged tank to identify the men who had abandoned it. He first saw the loader, then the radio operator. Slightly later, he saw Private Köhler bandaging a bleeding man who Collin recognized as Private Boehlke. At this moment, Collin realized that Parow had been killed.

The sight of Parow’s damaged tank, as well as the men who had abandoned it, paralyzed Collin. Köhler, who attended the wounded Boehlke, had the presence of mind to wave Collin forward as his tank was in the line of fire of the Polish antitank weapons. Despite this, Collin remained numb until he had somehow absorbed the sight of Parow’s tank and the four crewmen. Not until then could he bring himself to order the driver forward, thereby continuing the attack past the second of the two roads from Różan.

Suddenly, an NCO from the SS-Regiment Deutschland and a few of his men jumped aboard the tank. Collin warned them against this, but they took no notice of his advice; instead, the NCO asked Collin to close the hatch so he could obtain an unobstructed field of fire. “Madmen but brave,” Collin and the radio operator, Guhl, said to each other.

An extended period of firing and short movements followed. Collin cursed the machine gun that malfunctioned. Guhl provided some consolation by handing Collin a lit cigarette, and the driver, Dörfle, offered him schnapps from his hip flask. Subsequently, Collin realized that the SS-NCO had disappeared. Guhl believed that he had been hit.

Collins finally passed fort 3 and approached fort 4, which meant that he and several other German tankers reached a point where they could look down into the depression where the river Narew flowed. They could see the road bridge and the open terrain on the eastern side of the river. Collin opened the turret hatch and found an SS-lieutenant on his tank. Except for four other SS-men on board a Panzer IV, no other infantry seemed to have accompanied Collin’s tanks.

Collin’s thoughts were abruptly interrupted by Polish fire. Despite the crammed interior of the tank, Collin ensured that the SS-officer came into the protection afforded by the thin armor of the Panzer III. The exhausted infantry officer was offered a cigarette and some schnapps. Unfortunately, he became entangled in the cable to Collin’s headset and pulled it off. Collin had hardly managed to get his equipment in order before another order crackled in the headphones; his company was ordered to attack towards Różan, northward along the river—a mission he deemed unsuitable.

It was quite late, and the sun had begun to set. It was so low that Collin was blinded when he turned his face west. Despite the poor visibility, the attack would continue. Collin’s company proceeded, passing an obstacle, but then Polish antitank weapons opened up at long range. Fortunately for Collin, the Polish fire was short. He turned the turret clockwise, but suddenly he heard the SS-officer behind him moan. The officer was being squeezed by the revolving turret basket. At that same moment, the engine coughed and died. Collin was nearly overwhelmed by his rising fears, but he and his crew managed to connect the reserve fuel.

The battalion commander, Major von Gersdorff, drove along side Collin’s stationary tank and shouted, “Why don’t you move?” A moment later, Collin’s driver started the engine and received orders from Collin to drive towards the dust cloud surrounding the other tanks. He objected as the dust made visibility very poor; at most, the driver would accept moving forward at a very slow pace. Collin urged him on and said that he would give the driver ample warning of obstacles as he could see more easily from his position in the turret. The tank resembled a drunken elephant staggering forward, but the attack was effectively aborted. Collin had to drive hard to catch up with his platoons, which headed east. Thus the German unit passed along the Polish forts, which began to fire at the flank of the tanks.

Collin finally caught up with one of his light platoons, but he had no idea where to find the rest of his company. He saw a few heavy tanks, but he did not know whether they belonged to his company or another. There was also a risk of friendly fire as the dust accumulated on the tanks to such an extent that the white crosses of the German tanks were hard to see. Collin’s fears were soon realized, but not as he had anticipated; one of the heavy German tanks opened fire on German infantry, but the shell did not hit. Collin raised his fist and drove in front of the muzzle of the other tank to stop it from firing.

At this stage, Collin and his company had again reached the two roads running west from Różan, which clearly showed that they were heading back. The dust made it impossible to see Parow’s damaged tank, but Collin could at least see the battalion commander’s tank driving down into a depression and disappearing. Collin ordered one of his platoon commanders, Lieutenant Stöhr, to follow the battalion commander. One moment later, the ground shuddered as artillery shells exploded around the tanks. The tanks increased their speed in an attempt to escape north.

When Collin let his eyes drift to the right, he suddenly saw something that made him doubt the accuracy of his senses—German tanks formed up as if they were on a peacetime parade. Collin tried to make them move by using the radio, but this was met without any apparent success. The tanks finally assumed a formation better-suited to the realities of war and proceeded to the area where the creek could be forded.

As the evening became ever darker, Collin reached the creek and realized how exhausted he was after more than five hours of uninterrupted action. Gradually, he came to realize that the battalion had suffered dearly. Some of the light tanks were towed by their heavy brothers, but eleven tanks that had been hit were left behind. Additionally, some that had suffered mechanical breakdowns or had become stuck in difficult terrain remained behind. Those still capable of moving forded the creek in the light from burning houses. Some exhausted SS-infantry rode on the tanks.

After crossing the creek, the battalion created a hedgehog defense, but it soon received orders to move to the area west of Sielun, from where the attack had begun. Collin found the path to the staging area far too winding—his tank was very low on fuel—but eventually they reached it. When the arduous journey had been completed, the officers gathered and discussed the casualties and the pointlessness of the attack while the men bivouacked. Food was offered, but few of the officers and soldiers had much of an appetite after the depressing experience. The exhausted tankers were sent to some barns to sleep, while the baggage men defended the area during the night.

The Battle of Różan featured but one of the many examples of a German army that went into war without being properly prepared. At Różan, light tanks attacked fortifications, while the coordination between tanks, infantry and artillery was very poor. In this particular case, the Panzer division had been formed at very short notice by putting together components from the Army as well as the SS. This did not facilitate coordination, but Army divisions also suffered from shortcomings.

Polish Insurgency

The battle of Grochow, fought on 25 February 1831. Painted in 1887, and improved in 1928, by Wojciech Kossak (1856–1942), the scene depicts the 4th regiment of the line of the Polish army in action. General Chłopicki, the overall Polish commander, can be seen on horseback in civilian dress. Observing the battle on the Russian side was Grand Duke Constantine, who had commanded the Polish army in 1815–30 with brutal discipline. He expressed perverse but understandable delight at seeing ‘his’ soldiers perform so well.

The well-trained Polish army, which reached 80,000 effectives, gave a good account of itself. On 25 February, popular Napoleonic veteran General Józef Chłopicki halted the Russian advance on Warsaw at Grochόw, the largest land battle fought in Europe between Waterloo and the Crimean War. A string of subsequent Polish successes in the spring alarmed St Petersburg, but the defeat of the indecisive General Skrzynecki at Ostrołęka on 26 May turned the scales of the war against the Poles. Commanded by the experienced campaigner Paskevich, the Russian army was able to cross the Vistula near the Prussian border and approached Warsaw from the west. The prospect of defeat led to vicious street unrest in Warsaw in mid-August and to recriminations within the National Government. Czartoryski’s suggestion that the Poles should seek Austrian protection infuriated Lelewel and the radicals who now pressed for the creation of an egalitarian republic. The government resigned and full power was finally conferred on one man, General Jan Krukowiecki, who restored order. But by then it was all too late. Conscious of the ignominious behaviour of the Targowica Confederacy in 1792, the Polish civilian and military leadership refused to capitulate to the tsar and went into exile.

On the night of 29 November 1830 a group of officer cadets broke into the Belvedere Palace to assassinate Grand Duke Constantine while another attacked a nearby Russian cavalry barracks. Everything went wrong. The Russians were alerted in time and the Grand Duke escaped the knives of the assassins. An attack on the Arsenal was more successful, with fatal consequences. Armed gangs roamed the streets lynching Russians and Polish collaborators, and, by mistake, two of the best Polish generals.

The Polish authorities moved swiftly to bring the situation under control and avoid confrontation with Russia. Prince Franciszek Ksawery Drucki-Lubecki, the Minister of Finance, took the initiative of coopting Czartoryski and other figures of standing to join him in a National Council. In an attempt to keep the army together and restore order the popular General Chłopicki was proclaimed Dictator on 5 December. He hoped to be able to deal with the whole matter as an internal Polish problem. He granted Constantine safe-conduct out of Warsaw, along with his court, his troops, even his police spies and political prisoners, and he despatched Lubecki to St Petersburg to negotiate.

But the Tsar refused to receive the Prince, and on 7 January 1831 sent him a note demanding unconditional surrender as a precondition to any negotiations. This inflamed patriotic fervour throughout the country. Talk of accommodation was branded as defeatist, and, seeing no other way out, Chłopicki resigned. The Sejm acknowledged a state of insurrection, and under pressure from below, on 25 January 1831 burnt its bridges by voting the dethronement of Nicholas as King of Poland. A new government was formed under Czartoryski with Michał Radziwiłł as commander-in-chief. The Kingdom of Poland had seceded from Russia.

In February a force of 115,000 Russian troops under General Diebitsch marched into Poland. The Polish army, consisting of 30,000 men, blocked his advance successfully at Grochów [Olszynka Grochowska] on 25 February. At the end of March General Jan Skrzynecki sallied forth and routed the Russian corps separately in the three battles of Wawer, Dębe Wielkie and Iganie, obliging Diebitsch to withdraw eastwards. The position of the Russian forces was parlous, with Diebitsch isolated and the Guard Corps on its way to reinforce him easy for the Poles to intercept. General Dwernicki had been sent with a small force to Volhynia to raise a revolt there, while Generals Chłapowski and Giełgud marched into Lithuania with the same intention. The Poles were well set to win the campaign. They called up reserves of 80,000, and with the Lithuanian and other contingents, they could count on up to 200,000 in total. The Russian forces in Poland numbered some 250,000, but the Polish soldier was more motivated and the officer corps more experienced. The insurrection also attracted valuable volunteers from abroad. Hundreds of Napoleonic officers took part, including General Ramorino, the son of Marshal Lannes (Marshal Grouchy wanted to come, but insisted on too high a rank). The next largest contingent were Germans, who also supplied over a hundred military surgeons, and there were volunteers from Hungary, Italy and Britain.

But none of those standing at the helm approved of the rising or believed in its chances of success. Czartoryski was convinced that the only solution was a diplomatic one. He sent missions to London, Paris and Vienna in order to secure support and finance, and to offer the throne of Poland to a Habsburg archduke or a member of the British royal family in return for assistance. The commander-in-chief, General Jan Skrzynecki, felt that the less blood was spilled before negotiations were resumed the better. He therefore dragged his heels and failed to intercept the Guard Corps. When this joined up with Diebitsch’s army, he was attacked and defeated on 26 May at Ostrołęka. Diebitsch died of the cholera epidemic raging in the Russian army, but Skrzynecki failed to exploit the situation. General Paskevich took over command of the Russian forces and prepared for a new advance.

In Paris, King Louis-Philippe made sonorous speeches hinting at French military support, and there was a moment when it looked as though Czartoryski’s diplomatic efforts might yield fruit. Events in Poland aroused strong international sympathy and engaged the poetic fancy. In Germany, this gave rise to a genre of Polenlieder. In America, Nathan Parker Willis wrote odes to Poland, while in England the young Tennyson wrote what he termed ‘a beautiful poem on Poland, hundreds of lines long’ (which was used by his housemaid to light the fire). In France, Delavigne, Béranger, Musset, Vigny, Lamartine and Hugo glorified the Poles’ struggle in verse. On 23 May 1831 the Aldermen and Council of New York made a strong declaration of support, while Boston offered standards for the Polish regiments. In Paris, James Fenimore Cooper started a Polish-American Committee to gather funds for the rising.

Given time, some of this feeling might have been brought to bear. But the lack of political determination at the top allowed Paskevich to seize the initiative. He marched westwards, bypassing Warsaw to the north, and swept round to attack it from its least defensible western side. Instead of delivering a flank attack on the moving Russian columns, Skrzynecki sent two army corps off in different directions to create diversions. On 6 September 1831 Paskevich attacked Warsaw. After two days of determined but costly fighting, the new commander General Krukowiecki capitulated and withdrew with the rest of his forces. The Poles still had some 70,000 troops in the field but these were dispersed around the country, and continued resistance seemed pointless. On 5 October the main army crossed the border into Prussia to avoid capture by the Russians, while other units sought refuge behind the Austrian cordon, followed by most of the political leadership.

Nicholas abolished the constitution of the Kingdom and closed down the universities of Wilno and Warsaw, along with the Warsaw Polytechnic, the Krzemieniec High School, the Society of Friends of Learning and other educational establishments. In exchange, Warsaw was endowed with a citadel from which Nicholas promised to bombard the city to rubble if there was any more trouble. General Paskevich was named Prince of Warsaw, and Russian generals and officials were given estates confiscated from Polish families.

Ten people, with Adam Czartoryski at the head of the list, were condemned to death by decapitation, and a further 350 to hanging (most of them had already left the country). While a generous amnesty was trumpeted to the world, 10,000 officers were sent off to hard labour or service as simple soldiers in Russian regiments in the Caucasus. Over eight hundred ‘orphans’ (children whose fathers had been killed or gone into exile) were taken from their mothers and given to Russian infantry regiments to bring up. In the Kingdom, countless families of minor szlachta were degraded and 3,176 had their estates confiscated. In the province of Podolia, 5,000 families of minor szlachta were dispossessed of everything, reduced to peasant status and transported to the Caucasus. A few years later 40,000 families of szlachta from Lithuania and Volhynia were conveyed to Siberia. Prince Roman Sanguszko, who was of Rurik’s royal blood and might have qualified for some respect, was sentenced to hard labour for life in Siberia and made to walk there chained to a gang of convicts. When his mother, a friend and former lady-in-waiting to the Empress, begged for leniency, she was told she could go too.

The fate of the exiles was less lurid but no more enviable. Some 8,000 senior officers, political figures, writers and artists found themselves consigned to a life of hopeless anticipation. Theirs was supposed to be a tactical withdrawal. To keep themselves in shape, many of the soldiers took service in the new Belgian army, and the French tried to pack as many as they could into a Foreign Legion created for the purpose. Others converged on Paris, which became a focal point of Polish political and cultural life. It was there, amid bitterness and mutual recrimination, that the next moves in the struggle to recapture Poland were planned and discussed.

Two principal groupings emerged: the Czartoryski party and the Polish Democratic Society. The first pinned its hopes on diplomacy. Adam Czartoryski, referred to even by his political opponents as the de facto king of Poland, lobbied British Members of Parliament and French Deputies, wrote memoranda and petitions, and maintained unofficial diplomatic relations with the Vatican and the Porte. He set up a network with offices in several capitals which sprang into frenetic activity whenever a crisis loomed in Europe.

The Democratic Society, whose nerve centre, the Centralizacja, was based at Versailles, was committed to starting a mass rising in Poland at the earliest possible moment. It also built up strong links with similar movements in other countries, such as Giuseppe Mazzini’s Young Italy; like the French in the 1790s, the Poles had begun to see themselves as universal champions of freedom, obliged to assist sister nations in their struggles, and thousands of them conspired, fought and died for the causes of others.

In 1837 the Russians uncovered the network the Centralizacja had carefully organised throughout the Kingdom and Lithuania, and cut a swathe through it with shootings, hangings and deportations to Siberia. The Democrats then shifted their activities to the less perilous Austrian and Prussian sectors, where they agitated throughout the 1840s, often playing on anti-manor sentiments in order to gain support among the politically passive peasantry.

A peasant rising was planned in both Galicia and Poznania for 22 February 1846. But premature action alerted the Austrian authorities, which reacted with speed and perfidy. They appealed to the Galician peasantry, explaining that the Polish lords were plotting a rising which would enslave them and offering cash for every ‘conspirator’ brought in dead or alive. There followed three days of mob violence in which bands of peasants attacked some seven hundred country houses, killing about a thousand people, few of them conspirators. On 4 March Austrian and Russian troops crushed the Socialist Republic which had meanwhile been proclaimed in Kraków and abolished the free status of the city, which was incorporated into the Austrian Empire. In Poznania the Prussian authorities arrested the entire leadership before the planned local rising had time to break out.

Koprulu and Vienna II

Battle of Vienna 1683

News of the Turkish advance reached Vienna in garbled bulletins. Early reports of what was in fact a skirmish at the rear of the retreating Austrian army which had required the intervention of its commander, the Duke of Lorraine, came out as news of a ghastly rout. People began packing. The Emperor Leopold was very prone to take the advice of the last person he had spoken to; he now tried to determine whether his imperial duty was to remain in the city and risk the enemy, or to retire. When he was finally pressed to leave with the imperial family on 7 July, the royal party found itself sneaking along between the night-fires of Tartar encampments.

The city’s fortifications had been improved over the years, but not urgently; now stocks of grain in the city were examined, the crown jewels were removed for safe keeping, and the fortifications were reinforced by teams of city burghers and labourers. Money to pay the troops and men in the city was raised partly from loans made by departing grandees, partly by sequestering the assets of the Primate of Hungary, who was living safely elsewhere. On 13 July the city commander, Stahremberg, had the glacis, or outer wall, cleared of houses which had grown up around it over the years, in defiance of the law, in order to give the attackers no cover.

He was just in time. By the next day, Kara Mustafa was encamped before the city. Behind the glorious order of the camp, the magnificence of the tents themselves, and the quiet industry of the men, lay a brilliant feat of organisation, perfected over centuries; established now with such finality that to the men on Vienna’s walls it seemed as if the Turks meant to erect another city beside it. Vienna had taken a thousand years to grow; the Ottomans eclipsed it in two days. Kara Mustafa had a garden planted in front of his own quarters – a succession of tents, of silk and cotton, strewn with rich carpets, with lobby tents and sleeping tents and latrines and public meeting rooms, as gorgeous as any palace.

Immediately, the Turks began digging towards deep trenches, often roofed in timber and earth, which allowed them to approach the walls under cover. This digging made the siege memorable: the methodical extension, inch by inch, of a network of tunnels and trenches. The besieging army had very little artillery, and none heavy enough to penetrate the defensive walls: because the walls would have to be breached for an assault to succeed, all depended on laying mines. Meanwhile the Turks’ light cannon fired on the city. Stahremberg escaped serious injury when he was hit on the head by a piece of stone. The paving stones inside the city were dug up, partly to soften the effect of cannon balls falling in the street, and partly to help repair the walls. Yet even in these desperate circumstances, when it seemed the fate of Christendom hung in the balance, the commander found himself having to warn Viennese women from stealing out of the city and trading bread for vegetables with the Turkish soldiers.

To deal with the Turkish mines, the defenders resorted to furious sallies, in which a group of soldiers would rush out and attempt to damage as much of the enemy earthworks as possible. The classic response, though, was to countermine, and the defenders in this case had to invent the science for themselves, taking warfare away from noise and light and into the quiet bowels of the earth: listening for the sound of digging; making their own tunnels, hoping to break into the enemy tunnels – ghastly hand-to-hand fights in tight little holes underground. It was then, according to legend, that the city bakers saved Vienna: for early one morning, standing beside their bread ovens, they heard the tell-tale noise of Turkish tunnellers, and alerted the defence in the nick of time; which feat they commemorated by baking little crescent buns, or croissants.

And for those above ground, the waiting. On 12 August an eerie hush fell over the city and the camp; both sides waiting, listening. Early that afternoon there was a huge uprush of earth and stone as a Turkish mine silently laid beneath the outer moat threw up a huge causeway against the ravelin wall, up which fifty men could march abreast. Soon Turkish standards were planted on the wall. The fall of Vienna could not be long in coming.

Away from the city, Tartar and Turkish horsemen harried the countryside. The Austrians sent frantic pleas to the Polish king, Jan Sobieski, and to the German princes. Some of the princes struck good bargains – the Habsburgs, in effect, bought their troops, and saved them the expense of keeping standing armies at home. The Elector of Saxony made the mistake of promising aid before negotiating terms, and never forgave himself. In Poland, Jan Sobieski began a weary round of bargaining with his overmighty nobility, many of whom were in the pay of France, which viewed the storm breaking around its old Habsburg enemy with profound and scarcely Christian satisfaction.

As summer turned to autumn, the Christian coalition slowly came together: agonisingly slowly for the people of Vienna, who had been left with no means of communicating with the outside world – no system of flags or fires had been established before the Turks cut the lines of communication with the court and the army. But meanwhile the inaction of the Grand Vizier became curiously apparent. The outer walls were breached; the inner walls were crumbling; now, if ever, was the time for the blood-curdling general assault that Ottoman troops were accustomed to make as soon as a breach appeared: when eager volunteers would fling themselves forward, wear down the enemy’s defences, and, martyring themselves in their hundreds, provide a slippery footing for the fresh professional troops who closed in for the kill. Nothing of the sort was happening now; always the eerie, slow, methodical trenching and mining.

Kara Mustafa has been roundly criticised ever since for this slowness to attack. Perhaps he was over-confident of victory; certainly he is said to have disbelieved reports of a meeting between Lorraine and the King of Poland, with their armies a few days’ march away. If Kara Mustafa had been a better general, or Stahremberg less energetic, or Sobieski less chivalrous, or if the French had rattled their sabres on the Rhine with a little more vigour to pin down the German princes, Vienna would have become an Ottoman bridgehead from which to soften and break down the resistance of Central Europe. When the King of Poland did see the Ottoman camp he wrote that ‘the general of an army, who had neither thought of entrenching himself nor concentrating his forces, but lies encamped as if we were hundreds of miles from him, is predestined to be beaten’.

The Grand Vizier seems to have believed that the city was on the point of surrender. A city stormed, according to Muslim law, was to be given over to plunder for three days and nights before authority stepped in – to take possession of the ruins. A city which surrendered, however, was inviolate, and everything in it belonged to the state. The Grand Vizier doubtless hoped to bring the wealth and revenues of Vienna and its dependencies into the service of the sultan, rather than squandering them on the soldiers and inheriting a desert. Meanwhile, however, the Christian allies were moving up, presenting poor Emperor Leopold with yet another difficult decision. Should he head the army? Would it not be better to avoid riding amongst all these warlike princes and remain, instead, imperially aloof? As ever, unable to make either decision, he took both at once, and so dithered on the Danube, halfway between Vienna and his new headquarters at Passau. It didn’t matter: the German armies were already ahead of him. By early September they had begun taking possession of the heights north and west of the city, from which the Christian troops could survey both the spires of Vienna and the gorgeous pavilions of the Turkish encampment.

On 4 September, a mine blew a big hole in the inner wall of the city; whole lengths began crumbling. Belated assaults were launched with increasing ferocity upon these breaches; but overnight the citizens did their best to repair the holes, and fought back with equal ferocity, although the effects of the siege were beginning to tell. Butcher’s meat had run out; vegetables were scarce; families sat down to donkey and cat. The elderly and weak began dying, and disease stalked the unpaved streets. Even Stahremberg fell ill.

Kara Mustafa should never have allowed the enemy to occupy the ridges surrounding his camp virtually unopposed, and he ought to have spared some of his sappers for digging trenches around the camp, to help break a cavalry charge and to give his own musketeers cover. Perhaps he relied on the broken ground, the endless dips and hollows and ravines which broke the hillsides.

On the night of the eleventh, the Germans were in position to the north of the city, with the Danube to their left. In the morning the battle began, the German infantry advancing from one ridge to the next in the wake of their big guns. Co-ordination was difficult. Whole companies of men vanished for hours on end into some ravine, and horsemen and infantry became hopelessly entangled.

The Turks put up an improvised but furious resistance, and the battle raged until noon, when a sort of lull occurred, occasioned partly by the expectation of the Poles’ arrival on the Christian right wing. At one o’clock a shout of triumph – or relief – came from the German wing as they saw the Poles emerge onto the plain through a narrow defile, and make their way forward against stiff Turkish opposition.

There was a brief discussion among the Christian commanders over whether the battle should be pressed today, or not; everyone was for going on. ‘I am an old man,’ said one Saxon general, ‘and I want comfy quarters in Vienna tonight.’

He got them: the Turkish camp, suddenly stormed, collapsed. Kara Mustafa himself fled, with most of his money and the sacred standard of the Prophet. The hapless sappers in the trenches turned to find themselves assailed from the rear. Sobieski at the head of the Polish army broke into the camp while the German regiments strove to catch up: Sobieski and his men secured most of the booty of that day. Never had a Turkish camp been so suddenly overthrown.

The besieging army was routed and chased down the Danube all the way to Belgrade, and the Ottomans suffered their first decisive loss of territory to a Christian foe. Kara Mustafa must have hoped to reach his sovereign in Belgrade, in order to explain the débácle to Sultan Mehmet in person. It was a bitter blow to learn that the Sultan had already departed for Edirne. Less than noble in defeat, Kara Mustafa blamed, and executed, scores of his own officers. It was from Edirne, a few weeks later, that an imperial messenger reached the Grand Vizier. Kara Mustafa did not wait to read the command. ‘Am I to die?’ he asked. ‘It must be so,’ the messengers replied. ‘So be it,’ he said, and washed his hands. Then he bowed his head for the strangler’s bowstring.

Kara Mustafa’s head, as custom required, was delivered to the Sultan in a velvet bag.

The Koprulu family, though, survived the disgrace, and two more scions of the dynasty were to be invested in office. The last to hold the vizierate, Amdjazade Huseyin Pasha, died in 1703, ill and despondent: he had cut unnecessary taxes and drastically reduced the numbers of palace men and janissaries on the payroll, combing the timar registers for irregularities; he had managed to steady the currency; but he left office beset by enemies who gathered around the Grand Mufti himself.

Hereditary rank was no substitute for the stern-minded meritocracy of former years. The Koprulu line had already grown degenerate when the bookish and etiolated Nuuman Koprulu became obsessed with a fly he imagined had settled on the end of his nose, ‘which indeed flew away when he scared it, but returned again immediately to the same place’. All Constantinople’s physicians made efforts to cure him of the delusion, but it was Le Duc, a French physician, who solemnly agreed that he saw the fly, and made the pasha take a few ‘innocent juleps, under the name of purging and opening medicines; at last, he drew a knife gently along his nose, as if he was going to cut off the fly, and then shewed him a dead fly which he had kept in his hand for that purpose: whereupon Nuuman Pasha immediately cried out “this is the very fly which has so long plagued me”: and thus he was perfectly cured.’

An inordinate number of places preserve the memory of the Turkish wars, like bladderwrack left by a receding tide. In Austria you may hear the Türkenglocken, peals which once were rung to warn of an impending akinci raid. In German museums you may find the whips and scourges by which wandering men allayed the Great Fear. In Transylvania, churches are built like fortresses, and it was the custom, well into this century, for every local family to deposit, each year, a flitch of bacon or sack of flour in the storerooms built within the walls, against the possibility of a Tartar raid.

Kosovo was so often a theatre of war that even now it rumbles with discontent, and the Albanians who moved or returned there after the great exodus of Serbs to Austria in the seventeenth century retain a prickly and dangerous hostility to the Serbs who govern them now. Men in the Serbian army that passed through in 1911 stooped to unlace their boots, and crossed it barefoot so not to disturb the souls of their fallen forebears. A huge pile of masonry, approached by 234 steps, now sits atop the pass at Sumla in Bulgaria, to commemorate the passage of Soviet armies in the spring of 1944; but its purpose was to evoke the memory of Russian armies in the autumn of 1779, when Diebitsch avoided the pass and wound his way around almost to Edirne, with a force that everyone supposed, from its martial confidence as much as anything, to amount to 100,000 men, so that the Turks sued for a disastrous peace whose terms gave rise to the Crimean War half a century later, while in fact Diebitsch led an army of perhaps 13,000, wasted by disease.

Often the scene of battle is softly commemorated, by people who have long since forgotten the terror of the day: in St Gotthard, the battle of 1674 is remembered in a café sign; and Vienna 1683, the great lost opportunity for Ottoman arms, is remembered in a croissant: the head of the Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa, who besieged the city, lies somewhere in the vaults of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, where it used to be displayed on a cushion, in a cabinet, before curators in our lily-livered age chose to hide it from the public gaze.

The sixteen years of war which followed the reverse at Vienna were full of military disasters for the Ottoman Empire. The Austrian armies expelled the Ottomans from Hungary. Venetian troops, led by that Morosini who had surrendered nobly at Candia, took the Peloponnese. In 1687 a defeat at the hands of the Austrians at Mohacs, the scene of Suleyman’s great victory in the previous century, rebounded on the pleasure-loving Sultan Mehmet IV, who was deposed in favour of another Suleyman, his brother. On 20 August 1688 the citadel at Belgrade surrendered to the Austrians; Nis a year later; and in this crisis, with the enemy circling for a push into the heart of the Balkans, the Ottomans rallied under a new Grand Vizier, brother to Fazil Ahmet, Fazil Mustafa. He managed to push the Austrians out of Serbia, but he died gloriously (if ineptly), sword in hand, at the battle of Peterwaradin in 1691. Suleyman II had died that year; his successor Ahmet II was to die of grief and shame in 1695; and at last, in 1699, the belligerents accepted a peace, mediated by the English ambassador to the Porte.

The treaty of Karlowitz was signed on the general principle of ‘uti possidetis’: that matters should be fixed as they stood. The Habsburg emperor was recognised as sovereign of Transylvania, and most of Hungary. Poland recovered Podolia and her fortress at Kaminiec. Venice retained the Peloponnese, and made gains in Dalmatia. Russia was a reluctant party to the peace: she kept the Sea of Azov behind the ear of the Crimea, and lands north, which she had seized in 1696. The empire which barely a generation earlier had challenged Vienna lost half its European dominions at a stroke; and what perhaps was worse, her cover was blown, her weakness revealed, and her importance, in the world’s eyes, was now almost wholly diplomatic.

POLISH NAVAL AVIATION IN THE 1939 CAMPAIGN

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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.

Luftwaffe 1939 Poland I

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The Luftwaffe’s first day of air war began in confusion and fog. The thick white stuff blanketed almost the entire length of the thousand-mile front, thinner in some places but lying impenetrable in others. An early reconnaissance plane flew off to Warsaw, the intended victim of Goering’s plans for Operation Seaside, a mass bombing attack by the combined He.111 groups of both air fleets, and reported a ceiling of only six hundred feet over the Polish capital. The mission was scrubbed and the bomber crews stood down. The reconnaissance pilot reported the skies strangely empty of enemy fighters.

An even more critical mission was canceled in the north, where the weather was worst. The huge steel bridges spanning the Vistula at Dirschau had been selected for quick seizure by the secretly trained paratroopers of General Kurt Student’s elite Seventh Air Division. The spearhead of the Third Army needed the bridge at Dirschau in order to funnel its tanks, motorized infantry, and support elements across the river to link up with Fourth Army once the Corridor had been breached and the breakout from East Prussia accomplished. Capture of the bridge before the Poles could blow it was planned to coincide with the general advance at 4:45 A.M., but with the paratroopers already aboard the clammy interiors of the Ju.52s with engines ticking over, it was seen that an air drop was out of the question. The jump was called off, and the contingency plan substituted at the last minute. Fifteen minutes before H-hour, three Stukas were scrambled from Elbing and streaked for Dirschau, less than ten minutes away. Their mission was to bomb the approaches to the bridge on both sides of the river in an attempt to destroy the wires leading to the demolition charges placed beneath the spans. The Stukas were forced down to 150 feet, but even at this low altitude visibility was minimal. The bombs, a total of three 550-pounders and a dozen 110-pounders, would have to be delivered in a dip-and-run maneuver; there would be no repetition of the Neuhammer disaster. The Stukas reached the bridge area without being fired on and dropped their bombs. The attack was followed an hour later by a flight of Dorniers operating at higher altitude that made pinpoint accuracy impossible, and the best the pilots could report was that fires had been started in the town of Dirschau. Polish engineers stumbled through the craters fishing for the torn wires leading to the charges, and an hour after the Dorniers had droned away, the charges were reset and fired. The bridge rose into the air, then plunged into the river. This, the first Luftwaffe attack of the war, had gone for nothing.

As the morning wore on, visibility began to improve in the interior and the Fourth Air Fleet was able to launch its bombers against the major Polish air bases in the south. Reconnaissance pilots reported the fields in the clear, many of them packed with a variety of Polish aircraft. The bombers struck at a dozen fields that morning — Lvov, Katowice, Krosno and nine others. Hardest hit was the airdrome at Krakow, only fifty miles from the border. Sixty He.111s appeared over Krakow and carpet-bombed the field from twelve thousand feet. The Heinkel gunners stared into the sky, expecting an onslaught of fighters, but all they could see were the escorting Me.110s high overhead. The first strike was followed by a classic Stuka attack in group strength that saw thirty-odd JU.87s plunging down to unload thirty tons of bombs on hangars, shops and parked aircraft. Now the slender Do.17s raced across the field, streaming 110-pounders that tore up runways and scattered wreckage left by the others. The field at Krakow was turned into a smoking shambles and the Luftwaffe had not sustained a single casualty. Other strike groups returned from sorties to report similar results. Here and there isolated Polish fighters were seen, but no real opposition was encountered. Was the enemy to allow its air force to be destroyed on the ground without a fight? To air crews and senior commanders alike, the behavior of the Poles was puzzling, and even a little disquieting.

To the Polish army, outnumbered in any case by almost two to one, the absence of fighter cover to keep away the German reconnaissance planes perpetually buzzing overhead, and to drive off what followed, spelled doom. To meet the left wing of the German Tenth Army’s thrust toward the Warta River, the Polish commander in chief, Field Marshal Smigly-Rydz, ordered three thousand men of a cavalry brigade, plus supporting units, to drive westward toward the village of Wielun, twelve miles from the German frontier. A Luftwaffe reconnaissance plane, scouting the terrain for targets of opportunity, spotted the dust raised on Poland’s dry roads and flew back to base with the position marked on his map. Thirty minutes later, shortly before one o’clock in the afternoon, the slaughter began.

The Stukas fell on the struggling, two-mile-long column of men, horses and wagons before it could disperse into the fields and nearby woods. The sky rained bombs and the earth heaved with their heavy detonations. Animals and men were dismembered and wagons blown to splinters. The terrified horses bolted from the road, and many were cut down by machine-gun fire delivered by Stukas strafing at treetop level after they had unloaded their bombs. Dead and dying horses and wrecked vehicles piled up on the narrow road and in the ditches, blocking the way for those who frantically sought escape from the howling Stukas. What had been a tightly disciplined military brigade became a struggling, disorganized mob. The Stukas, bothered only by light flak coming from the town, dive-bombed at leisure, howling down to 2500 feet before pulling out and climbing back up to execute second and third parabolas of destruction. A hundred and twenty bombs were hurled on the defenseless Poles; then the JU.87s formed up and flew away. They were replaced by a fresh group, whose pilots hounded the survivors on the road and in the fields and in the town. When the Stukas had finished their work, thirty Do.17s of K.G.77 appeared over Wielun and unloaded on the fleeing cavalry squadrons. The Polish cavalry brigade had been wiped out, and not one Polish fighter had appeared during the hours of its destruction.

By late afternoon on the first day of war, the Luftwaffe had good reason to believe that the Polish air force had been destroyed on the ground. But this was not the case. The burning wreckage that littered the dozen airfields plastered by German bombers was not that of Poland’s first-line aircraft, but were the remains of old trainers and aircraft that were not immediately serviceable. Forty-eight hours before Poland was invaded, all of the airworthy fighters, bombers and reconnaissance planes had been moved to emergency airstrips and were being saved largely for the defense of Warsaw. Explained Major F. Kalinowski, “It seems quite naive of the Germans to have believed that during the preceding days of high political tension, and with their own obviously aggressive intentions, we would leave our units sitting at their peacetime bases … the Germans’ opening air blast completely failed in its purpose …”

Moreover, German Intelligence grossly overrated the strength of the Polish air force on the day war began; it numbered not 900 aircraft, but only 396, and of these but 160 were fighters. The Polish fighters, most of them PZL P.11s, were gullwinged monoplanes of a design dating back to 1931. Top speed at sea level was only 186 miles per hour, but at 18,000 feet, the P.11 could do 240 miles per hour, which was fast enough to catch German bombers flying at that altitude. The majority of P.11s were armed with only two light machine guns, but later versions carried four. It was not until late that afternoon that the P.11s were committed to battle in force.

A few minutes past 5:30 P.M. the first German bombers appeared over Warsaw — ninety He.111s of K.G.27, escorted by thirty-six Me.110s. Thirty P.11s climbed up to get at the Heinkels, but were bounced first by the Me.110s, and in the melee that followed, five of the P.11s were shot down. On the second day of battle, the light, maneuverable Polish fighters began to take the measure of the faster but clumsier Me.110s. In a duel over Lodz, sixty miles west of Warsaw, outnumbered P.11s shot down three Messerschmitts and lost only two of their own. Two days later, however, when the P.11s went for a bomber formation, they were bounced by Me.109s, which simply shot them to pieces; eleven Polish fighters were blown out of the sky. Polish survivors of these air battles would limp back home only to find that Stukas and Dorniers had been there first, leaving the runways cratered and the hangars and fuel dumps blazing. After the first forty-eight hours of war, the Luftwaffe hammering of communications rendered impossible any systematic defense. The telephone and teleprinter systems were gone, and interception became a matter of hazard. Spares were unobtainable, grounding one plane after another.

On September 3, with the German assault developing into a pincers movement deep inside the frontier, France and Great Britain declared war on Germany. Now, thought Field Marshal Smigly-Rydz, his allies would move quickly and overwhelmingly against the common enemy to relieve the irresistible pressure against his own beleaguered forces. Poland might yet be saved.

In the House of Commons, debate swayed back and forth over what form the initial strike by the Royal Air Force against Germany should take. It was suggested to Sir Kingsley Wood, the State Secretary for Air, that Bomber Command should be turned loose with masses of incendiary bombs to set ablaze the Black Forest. The suggestion was received with horror. “Are you aware,” Sir Kingsley said archly, “that it is private property? Why, you will be asking me to bomb Essen next!” Instead, ten twin-engine Blenheim bombers of No.107 and No.no Squadrons set off across the North Sea after lunch on September 4 in weather so bad they were flying in and out of clouds between fifty and a hundred feet over the water. The Blenheims reached Wilhelmshaven and attacked German warships lying in Schillig Roads. Three hits were scored on the pocket battleship Admiral Scheer, but all bounced off the armored deck without exploding. Five of the ten Blenheims were shot down by ship-and shore-based antiaircraft guns, one of them plunging in flames on top of the cruiser Emden. Fourteen Vickers Wellingtons from No.9 and No.149 Squadrons managed to reach the port of Brunsbüttel, but the flak was so hot and the visibility so poor that the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau lying there were in little danger. Neither was hit, but one of the Wellingtons was brought down in flames by antiaircraft fire, and another was bagged by one of the Me.109s of J.G.77 sent out from Nordholz to deal with the British incursion. Aside from these abortive — and costly — attempts to deal deathblows to the German fleet, the RAF dispatched bombers over Hamburg, Bremen, and the Ruhr. Not one plane carried bombs; they showered down leaflets instead. Such was the British government’s contribution to Poland during its hour of agony.

Four months prior to the German assault on Poland, the supreme commander of all French ground forces, General Maurice Gamelin, sixty-eight, had assured the Polish government that the French army would launch an offensive against Germany immediately after the war started. It was not until September 7 that the French army moved out of its own country and entered the Saar, using only nine out of the eighty-five divisions that were available. On a narrow front only fifteen miles wide, the French advanced timidly, averaging less than two thousand yards per day against almost no opposition. By September 12, the “offensive” halted after gaining five miles of ground and the capture of twenty deserted villages. The French troops were ordered to dig in where they were, that is, at the approaches to the sketchily built Siegfried Line. A few shots were exchanged, and some French soldiers were killed by mines and booby traps set by the Wehrmacht for looters in the abandoned towns, but that was all. Two weeks later, the French invaders were headed back to the underground security of the Maginot Line, without having drawn off a single soldier, airplane or tank from the battleground that was Poland.

Field Marshal Smigly-Rydz never forgave Gamelin for the lies the French general presented as truth when the Polish General Staff requested information as to what, exactly, France was doing to alleviate their nation’s plight. Wrote Gamelin on September 9: “More than half of our active divisions on the northeast front are engaged in combat … the Germans are opposing us with a vigorous resistance … the Germans are reinforcing their battlefront with large new formations … We know we are holding down before us a considerable portion of the German Air Force …” One wonders where Gamelin summoned the nerve to present all this, over his own signature, to the Polish commander in chief through the military attaché in Paris.

By the end of the first week of fighting, the Polish army no longer existed as an organized combat force. The swift-moving Panzers and motorized infantry sundered entire armies and corps again and again, until all that was left were pockets of stubborn resistance, one isolated from the other and all cut off from supplies or reinforcements. The Luftwaffe bombers had worked over Polish rail lines so thoroughly that no trains could run, and any transport that ventured onto the roads was quickly dealt with by Stukas and strafing fighters. Only once did the Wehrmacht find itself in serious trouble, and when it did, the Luftwaffe’s quick reaction proved decisive.

In its headlong dash to reach the gates of Warsaw by September 8, Reichenau’s Tenth Army Panzers outstripped the Eighth Army’s infantry divisions, trying vainly to maintain contact with the Tenth Army’s northern flank. Now it was a German force, four divisions plus supporting elements, that was in a pocket on the south side of the Bzura River, some sixty miles west of Warsaw.

Here was the opportunity the Polish commander of the Army of Poznan, General Kutrzeba, had been waiting for. When the Germans smashed across the frontier on September 1, Kutrzeba had deployed his infantry and cavalry in a defensive posture and waited to deal with the mechanized invaders as best he could. But the German spearheads bypassed his army on both flanks, leaving Kutrzeba poised to deliver a blow that had nowhere to land. With the heavy combat moving eastward, Kutrzeba began marching his men to the sound of the guns. Experience at such places as Wielun had shown that large formations could not survive under a sky dominated by German planes, so Kutrzeba wisely laid up by day, sheltering his men and horses deep in the woods, and moved only at night. Stragglers from regiments already shattered by the Germans appeared to add their numbers to the Army of Poznan, including a wary handful of cavalrymen whose brigade had been largely wiped out in a charge across the plains to take on a regiment of German tanks. By the time Kutrzeba’s army reached the village of Kutno, sixty-five miles west of Warsaw, its numbers had increased to approximately 170,000 men. Kutrzeba concentrated only his assault forces, dispersing the others between the Vistula and the Bzura in an area covering something like six hundred square miles of plains, forests, and lakes. Kutrzeba sent out cavalry and armored patrols and discovered that the German rear guard, which he greatly outnumbered was deployed just across the Bzura. On September 9, the Poles swarmed across the river and fell on the Germans. Hard fighting went on all during the night and into the next day. Polish cavalry and what few light tanks Kutrzeba had at his disposal cut deep wedges into the German line, and the Eighth Army’s 30th Infantry Division was especially hard hit. The commander of Army Group South, General Gerd von Rundstedt, got on the phone to General Kesselring and demanded immediate and overwhelming air support for the mauled German troops at Kutno. Kesselring knew exactly which call to make first: straight on to Richthofen and his Special Duty Group.

 

Luftwaffe 1939 Poland II

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No other general was more current with the situation on the ground than Richthofen. When duty did not absolutely require him to be inside his command post, he was either up near the front with his specially equipped signals units — or he was over enemy territory in the cockpit of a Fiesler Storch doing personal reconnaissance. He had already been shot down once, on the first day of the war, by flak that crippled his light plane but left him unharmed. Richthofen had at his beck and call a reconnaissance squadron, two Stuka groups, a group of Me.110s, and a group of ground-attack planes that looked like updated versions of World War I fighters. Thus, like a surgeon or a master carpenter, Richthofen could reach for the right tool to do the job at hand.

The biplanes assigned to the air operations around Kutno were HS.123A-IS, built around a massive BMW 880-horsepower radial engine that provided a top speed of just over 210 miles per hour. But neither speed nor ceiling mattered with the Hs.123, which was meant to operate right down on the deck; five hundred feet was considered extreme altitude to the pilots who flew these ground-attack planes. The “Ein-Zwei-Drei,” as it was sometimes called, could carry a variety of armament: a pair of twin 7.9-millimeter machine guns firing through the propeller, or a pair of 20-millimeter cannon in pods under the wings, or underwing containers loaded with ninety-four small (4.4 pound) antipersonnel bombs, or four 110-pound high explosive bombs. Moreover, the HS.123s carried a small auxiliary fuel tank underneath the fuselage fitted with a special igniter so that it could be jettisoned with a napalmlike effect, a tactic borrowed from He.51 units operating with the Condor Legion in Spain. Originally designed as a dive-bomber and built by Henschel, the locomotive-makers, the solid Hs.123 could absorb more flak than any other Luftwaffe plane in service and still keep flying. Protected by the big radial engine in front, and with an armored headrest at the rear, Hs.123 pilots’ chances of survival when operating at zero altitude were better than most. The Henschels had proved themselves in Spain from 1937 onward, but in Poland they were a sensation.

The Hs.123 group, II/L.G.2, began the war with thirty-six operational planes, and after ten days of almost continuous action, thirty still remained. Richthofen threw them all against Kutrzeba’s assault forces late in the morning of September 11. The Henschels roared down on the Polish concentrations in a corridor thirty to fifty feet high separating the Poles from the Germans.

To Kutrzeba’s men, almost none of whom had been under air attack before, the next twenty minutes were like a nightmare in hell. The machine guns cut swaths in the ranks of men and horses; hundreds of the lightweight scatter bombs flamed and exploded; the heavier detonations of the 110-pounders tore gouts out of the earth, ripped through trees and flung jagged metal shards thudding into men and animals. Even when the last of the various missiles had been delivered, the 123s were not finished with their low-level attacks: the pilots discovered that when the BMW engine was pushed to 1,800 rpm, the resultant effect on the three-bladed, variable-pitch airscrew produced an ear-splitting and indescribable sound that was both inside and outside of the man subjected to it. Even hardened soldiers were unnerved, and ran in all directions to escape; horses simply went insane. The Henschels were followed by Stukas, which were followed by Dorniers and Heinkels pulled out of the battle for Warsaw, and they in turn were followed by cannon and machine-gun-firing Me.110s. The assault on the battered 30th Infantry Division was stopped cold, and the survivors of the day-long air attack began withdrawing across the river under the merciful cover of darkness. The wounded were, for the most part, brought back aboard whatever vehicles were left, and cavalrymen walked through the carnage left by Richthofen’s pilots’ putting pistol and rifle bullets into the heads of the wounded horses.

Dawn brought the return of the Henschels and a repetition of the horrors of the day before. The Army of Poznan was forced back into its twenty-by-thirty-mile enclave that became a Luftwaffe shooting gallery. The Poles replied with rifles, machine guns, and light flak, knocking down some of their tormentors, but the numbers thrown at the pocket from all around the compass were overwhelming. No square foot of that blasted area was safe. Recalled General Kutrzeba: “A furious air assault was made on the river crossings near Witkovice which, for the number of aircraft engaged, the violence of their attack and the acrobatic daring of their pilots, must have been unprecedented. Every movement, every troop concentration, every line of advance came under pulverizing bombardment from the air … The bridges were destroyed, the fords blocked, the waiting columns of men decimated … Three of us found some sort of cover in a grove of birch trees outside the village of Myszory. There we remained, unable to stir, until about noon when the air raids stopped. We knew it was only for a moment, but had we stayed there the chances of any of us surviving would have been slight.”

Kutrzeba tried to fight his shaken forces out of the trap and the hell of air attack, but found himself fenced in on all sides by the German Fourth, Eighth, and Tenth Armies, part of the latter having been ordered back from the siege of Warsaw to complete the encirclement of the Army of Poznan. On the sixteenth and seventeenth, the Luftwaffe delivered all-day attacks on the shrinking perimeter, and after that resistance was futile. Fifty thousand haggard Polish soldiers surrendered on the next day, and 105,000 gave themselves up on the day afterward. A few thousand of Kutrzeba’s men managed to escape through the German net before it was drawn too tightly, wading through marshes by night and hiding by day. But all the rest were either herded into captivity or lay mute in the fields and in the forests around Kutno.

At first light on the morning of September 17, Russian tanks and infantry rolled into Poland. The advance was swift and orderly against practically no opposition; what was left of the Polish army was penned inside Warsaw, surrounded by German armor at Modlin and in the Kampinoska Forest thirty miles north of the capital, while a pitifully small number of troops were still fighting desperately with their backs against the sea trying to hold Gdynia and Danzig, which the Poles called Gdansk. As agreed in Moscow three weeks earlier, the Red Army ground through Poland until it reached the partition line halfway across the country, a line running south from East Prussia past Brest-Litovsk and to the Carpathians. There the Soviets halted, waiting for the Wehrmacht to finish the kill; the carcass had already been divided.

The Wehrmacht used all its arms to methodically reduce the pocket of resistance on the Baltic. The area here is flat and featureless, except for a low ridge stretching seven miles inland from the sea. Initial advances across the hard sand were stopped by vicious and accurate Polish machine-gunning and heavy rifle fire. With no wish to incur needless casualties, the assault elements of the Third Army moved in its heavy artillery and began bombarding the area with high explosive. The fire was regulated by one of the German navy’s Heinkel reconnaissance planes that buzzed overhead, wirelessing back corrections. The small island of Westerplatte, lying in the sea just off Danzig, stubbornly resisted the shelling and the tentative infantry advances. During the shelling, Polish defenders took shelter in one of the huge steel-and-concrete bunkers that proved impervious to the guns the German artillery had at hand. The battleship Schleswig-Holstein anchored in the bay and opened up with its eleven-inch guns. The concrete was seared and pitted, but still the great dome of the bunker remained intact. Then Stukas were called in, and in the ensuing half hour succeeded where the battleship had failed. The 550-pound bombs delivered with stunning accuracy smashed through ten feet of reinforced concrete to mangle everyone inside. Those who had sought cover in trenches because there was no more room inside the bunkers counted themselves lucky. The Westerplatte fell, and in a gesture reminiscent of the nineteenth century, the German commander allowed his Polish counterpart to retain his sword as a Wehrmacht tribute to Polish courage. There now remained Warsaw, whose ordeal had lasted longer than that of any other city in Poland.

Trapped inside the beautiful old city were nearly a hundred thousand Polish troops. They were joined in trench-digging and in converting buildings to strongpoints by civilian men, women, and even children determined to defend the city to the last. On the day after the Russians crossed the Polish frontier, the leaders of the government and even Field Marshal Smigly-Rydz made their way out of the doomed country and sought temporary sanctuary in Rumania. Leaderless, Warsaw fought on.

The skies over the city were never free of German planes. All that was left to defend Warsaw was a spontaneously formed unit calling itself the Deblin Group, composed of older P.7s, what was left of the P.11s, and one example of a PZL P.24, which looked much like the others except for a closed cockpit. One of the instructors at the Polish air force training center at Deblin, a lieutenant named Szczesny, commandeered one of two pre-production P.24s, and with the help of an armorer, installed a pair of machine guns. Thus equipped, he attached himself to the Deblin Fighter Group. Lieutenant Szczesny and the plane’s designer had every reason to be proud of the P.24; he shot down one German bomber on September 14, and bagged another on the following day.

The almost continual air bombardment and shelling by German artillery — and some of the heavier pieces had been transferred away from the west to aid in the reduction of the capital — cloaked Warsaw in a perpetual cloud of smoke through which fires could be dimly seen. Richthofen complained of “chaos over the target,” of “aircraft nearly colliding in the act of bombing.” Only rarely were German pilots able to pinpoint their assigned military targets, and the city suffered indiscriminate bombing.

By mid-month, Goering considered that the situation in Poland was such that mass transfer of Luftwaffe units back to the west for rest and refitting was indicated. One group after another was pulled out and returned to home bases in Germany, leaving Richthofen, now in charge of winding up aerial operations over Warsaw, with less than half the bombers with which the Luftwaffe began the campaign. But, as events were to prove, it was all that he needed.

On the morning of September 25, a diluted version of Operation Seaside began. First over the city were swarms of Stukas, stacked up in groups several thousand feet apart, waiting their turn in line to scream down into the cauldron below. After two hundred-plus JU.87s had flung themselves at the city, the first heavy bombers appeared. Richthofen was loath to send them in; they were not the He.111s designed for the job, but thirty JU.52s fitted out for troop-carrying missions, and therefore were without bomb racks. The cargo doors were removed and crewmen used coal shovels to scoop up the loose thermite incendiary bombs, which were sown over the city by the ton. Sortie after sortie was flown until Warsaw floated in a sea of fire. Two of the lumbering Ju.52s. were shot down by Polish flak and fell into the inferno they had created. Attempts to battle the flames had to be abandoned; the rain of high explosive, totaling five hundred tons, had smashed water mains and choked the streets with rubble that had once been proud buildings. The pyre that was Warsaw blazed brightly, the flames visible in the nighttime sky fully ten miles away.

Surrender negotiations began the following morning, and on August 27 the capitulation was made formal. With Warsaw, so fell Modlin and the diehards still holding out in the forest of Kampinoska. Thus a nation of thirty-five million was delivered into the hands of her enemies. The cost to the Wehrmacht was relatively cheap: 10,761 killed in action, including 189 pilots and air crew. The Luftwaffe lost 285 planes, mostly victims of intense ground fire during the low-level operations that had been so effective.