ORP Kondor (294) of project 613 (Whiskey V), one of four Polish boats of this class. Between August 5th and 8th, 1967 she passed undetected through Soviet ASW defence line on Barents Sea, while she was en route from Gdynia Naval Base (Poland) around Norway, and surfaced in the roadstead of Murmansk submarine naval base during a huge Polish-Soviet ASW exercises. She repeated the same performance next year, defeating Warsaw Pact air and naval anti-submarine defence line around Murmansk in June 1968, surfacing in the direct proximity of main Northern Fleet naval base.
Design work on this class began immediately after World War II as a medium submarine to replace the earlier S and Shch types. Detailed examination of German Type XXI boats strongly influenced the final design, which incorporated, in a less pronounced form, the figure-eight midsection and distinctive stern contours of these boats. There were many detail variations between different series of these submarines, mainly in the exact number and disposition of the guns. Large numbers of these boats were modified for special missions or experiments. Many also went to fleets within the Soviet sphere of influence: 5 to China (in addition to the 21 assembled there from Soviet-supplied components), 8 to Egypt, 2 to Bulgaria, 14 to Indonesia, 4 to Albania, 4 to Poland, 4 to North Korea, and one each to Cuba and Syria. By the early 1980s about 60 boats of the 215 built in the Soviet Union remained in service, and 18 still existed 10 years later.
Poland (four vessels, 1962–1986, retired)
ORP Orzeł (292)
ORP Bielik (295)
ORP Sokół (293)
ORP Kondor (294) – 10 June 1965 raising of the banner, 30 October 1985 lowering of the banner.
Many Type XXI characteristics were incorporated in TsKB-18’s Project 613 submarine-known in the West as “Whiskey.”60 This design had been initiated in 1942 as Project 608, but was rejected by the naval high command because it displaced 50 tons more than specified in requirements. The redesign of Project 608 into 613 was begun in 1946 under the supervision of Captain 1st Rank Vladimir N. Peregudov, who incorporated several features derived after studies of Type VIIC and Type XXI U-boats. One of the former, the U-250, had been sunk by the Soviets in the Gulf of Finland on 30 July 1944 and subsequently salvaged and carefully examined.
The hull and fairwater of Project 613 were streamlined, and the stern was given a “knife” configuration, with the large rudder positioned aft of the twin propellers. The propeller shafts were supported outside of the hull by horizontal stabilizers rather than by struts (as used in most U. S. submarines). The stern diving (horizontal) planes were aft of the propellers. The “knife” arrangement provided the possibility of a more maneuverable submarine than the U. S. Fleet/GUPPY configurations.
A small attack center, or conning tower, was fitted in the Project 613 fairwater, a feature deleted from the Type XXI. When retracted, the various periscopes and masts were housed completely within the superstructure.
Propulsion on the surface was provided by two diesel engines with a total output of 4,000 horsepower; submerged propulsion normally was by two main electric motors producing 2,700 horsepower plus two smaller motors that provided 100 horsepower for silent or economical running. This feature-derived from the German “creeping” motors-was the first German feature to be incorporated into Soviet submarine designs. Two large groups of batteries with 112 cells each were installed. Later a snorkel system would be installed for submerged operation of the diesel engines. This propulsion system could drive the Whiskey at 18.25 knots on the surface and 13 knots submerged.
The principal combat capability of the Whiskey was the six torpedo tubes-four bow and two stern, with six reloads in the forward torpedo room- a total of 12 torpedoes. This torpedo loadout was small in comparison to U. S. submarines and the Type XXI, but was comparable to the five tubes and 15 torpedoes in the Type VIIC U-boat. The tubes were fitted with a pneumatic, wakeless firing system that could launch torpedoes from the surface down to almost 100 feet (30 m); in subsequent upgrades firing depth was increased to 230 feet (70 m). Previously the USSR, as other nations, had produced specialized minelaying submarines. Beginning with the Whiskey, Soviet submarines could also lay mines through their torpedo tubes (as could U. S. submarines). In the minelaying role a Whiskey could have a loadout of two torpedoes for self-defense plus 20 tube-launched mines.
Early Project 608/613 designs had provided for a twin 76-mm gun mount for engaging surface ships. With the plan to conduct most or all of a combat patrol submerged, the gun armament was reduced to a twin 57-mm anti-aircraft mount aft of the conning tower and a twin 25-mm anti-aircraft mount on a forward step of the tower. (Guns were installed in Soviet submarines until 1956.)
With the use of a completely welded pressure hull using SKhL-4 alloy steel coupled with the design of its pressure hull, the Whiskey had a test depth of 655 feet (200 m) and a working depth of 560 feet (170 m).66 This was considerably deeper than the Type XXI as well as the new U. S. K1 class, and almost as deep as the Tang class. Unfortunately, in achieving the greatest feasible operating depth while restricting displacement, the designers excessively constrained the crew accommodations in the Whiskey (as in subsequent diesel-electric classes).
The Project 613/Whiskey introduced a new level of underwater performance to Soviet undersea craft, incorporating many German design features that would be found in future generations of Soviet submarines. The final TsKB-18 contract design was approved by the Navy in 1948, and construction began shortly afterward at the Krasnoye Sormovo shipyard in the inland city of Gor’kiy, some 200 miles (320 km) to the east of Moscow. Submarines built at Gor’kiy would be taken down the Volga River by transporter dock for completion at Caspian and Black Sea yards.
The lead submarine of Project 613-the S-80- was laid down at Gor’kiy on 13 March 1950, followed by additional production at the Baltisky (Baltic) shipyard in Leningrad, the Chernomorskiy yard in Nikolayev on the Black Sea, and the Leninsky Komsomol yard at Komsomol’sk in the Far East. Automatic welding and prefabrication were widely used in Project 613 construction.
The S-80 was put into the water-launched from a horizontal assembly facility-on 21 October 1950 when 70 percent complete. She was immediately transported by barge down the Volga River to the port of Baku on the Caspian Sea, arriving on 1 November. After completion and extensive trials, the S-80 was commissioned on 2 December 1951, a very impressive peacetime accomplishment The massive Project 613/Whiskey program produced 215 submarines for the Soviet Navy through 1958 (i. e., an average of more than 2 1/2 submarines per month of this design).
This was the largest submarine program in Soviet history, exceeding in tonnage the combined programs of the Soviet era up to that time. Indeed, in number of hulls, Project 613 would be the world’s largest submarine program of the Cold War era. (According to available records, a total of 340 submarines of this design were planned.) In 1954 the documentation for Project 613 construction was given to China, and three additional submarines were fabricated in the USSR, dismantled, and shipped to China for assembly at Shanghai’s Jiangnan shipyard. China then built 15 submarines at the inland shipyard at Wuhan on the Yangtze River, initially using Soviet-provided steel plates, sonar, armament, and other equipment. Soviet-built units also were transferred to Bulgaria (2), Egypt (8), Indonesia (14), North Korea (4), Poland (4), and Syria (1); Cuba and Syria each received one unit as a stationary battery charging platform to support other submarines. The Soviet Union transferred two submarines to Albania in 1960 and two additional units were seized in port by the Albanian government when relations with the USSR were broken for ideological reasons in 1961.
Whiskey Class medium range SSK
Units: 236 Displacement: 1,055 tons surfaced / 1350 tons submerged Dimensions: 249 ft, 2 in x 20 ft, 8 in x 15 ft, 1 in Armament: 6 x 21-in bow torpedo tubes (4 bow, 2 stern) Machinery: 2 diesel engines; 4,000 bhp / 2 x electric motors; 2,700 shp / 2 x electric creeping motors; 100 shp / 2 shafts Speed: 18.25 kn surfaced / 7 kn surfaced snorkeling / 13 kn submerged Range: 22,000 nm surfaced at 9 kn / 443 nm submerged at 2 kn Diving Depth: 655 ft Complement: 52 In Service: 1951 – mid 1990s
A handshake between Polish Marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły and the German attache, Major General Bogislav von Studnitz, at the “Independence Day” parade in Warsaw, November 11, 1938.
The First World War proved to be the turning-point in modern Polish history. It smashed the three empires which held it captive (Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary) and created a power vacuum which a new state in eastern Europe could fill. The core of independent Poland was the former province removed from Russia by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (1918). To this was added territory from Germany by the Treaty of Versailles (1919) and from Austria and Hungary by the Treaties of St Germain and Trianon (1919 and 1920). The Polish government, however, considered the eastern frontier to be too restrictive; hence, in 1919, Poland launched an attack on the Soviet Union and captured much of the Ukraine, including Kiev. The Soviet army soon recovered and drove the invaders back to Warsaw, which was subsequently besieged. Poland now appeared to be in dire peril but, with French assistance, managed to rout the Russians and reoccupy western Ukraine, possession of which was confirmed by the Treaty of Riga (1921). To this substantial slice of territory was added Vilna, seized from Lithuania, and parts of Upper Silesia. Overall, Poland, with an area of 150,000 square miles and a population of 27 million, was one of Europe’s more important states.
Unfortunately, it was confronted by a series of desperate problems. The first was the mixed composition of its population. Poles comprised only two-thirds of the total; the rest included 4 million Ukrainians, 3 million Jews, 1 million Germans, 1 million Belorussians, and small numbers of Russians, Lithuanians and Tartars. The second problem was political instability. The constitution proved inappropriate to the ethnic structure since it provided for a centralized rather than a federal state. In theory, Poland was an advanced democracy, with guarantees of individual freedoms. Unfortunately, proportional representation encouraged the growth of small parties and prevented the formation of stable governments; altogether, there were fifteen cabinets between November 1918 and May 1926, an average lifespan of only five months. The whole situation was aggravated by a major economic crisis in which inflation led to the Polish mark sinking to a level of 15 million to the dollar. This inevitably hindered the task of reconstruction, promoting shortages and unemployment. This unstable period came to a dramatic end when, in May 1926, General Piłsudski led several regiments of the Polish army into Warsaw. He replaced the democratic government with an authoritarian regime which lasted, beyond his own death in 1935, until the eventual liquidation of Poland in 1939.
Piłsudski was already something of a national hero. He had organized the Polish legions which had fought for the country’s independence in the First World War. He had then become head of state between 1919 and 1922, leading the Polish offensive against Russia and organizing the defence of Warsaw in 1920. He had voluntarily stepped aside in 1922 into semi-retirement. Between 1922 and 1926, however, he watched with disgust the deteriorating political scene. At first he was not disposed to take drastic action because ‘If I were to break the law I would be opening the door to all sorts of adventurers to make coups and putsches.’89 Eventually, however, he became convinced that direct action was unavoidable. His solution was a call for national unity and a common moral sense, to be promoted by a grouping called Sanacja.
Piłsudski’s achievements related mainly to the restoration of the Polish state after a century and a half of foreign rule. He strengthened the executive through his changes of 1926 and the constitution of 1935 (which he did not live to see), and made the administration more professional and efficient. He revived the morale of the army and, through a skilful foreign policy, strengthened Poland’s standing in Europe. On the other hand, his regime witnessed serious financial and economic problems. The Great Depression had a particularly devastating effect on Polish agriculture and, as elsewhere, caused a sudden spurt in industrial unemployment. Piłsudski resorted to an unimaginative policy of financial constraints and drastic deflation. But this only aggravated the problem, and even by 1939 Poland’s per capita output was 15 per cent below that of 1913. ‘Thus,’ observes Aldcroft, ‘Poland had little to show economically for 20 years of independent statehood.’
Piłsudski also showed serious flaws in his character. His rule became increasingly irksome as he himself became increasingly petty. Rothschild argues that Piłsudski’s best years were behind him and that he had become ‘prematurely cantankerous, embittered and rigid’. Overall, it could be said, he completely lost the will to temper discipline and constraint with progressive reform; his emphasis on continuity therefore precluded any possibility of meaningful change. Piłsudski was one of the few dictators to die before the general upheaval of 1939–40. The authoritarian regime which he had established continued for the next four years, but it became less personal and more ideological. The reason for this was that, cantankerous though he had been, Piłsudski proved irreplaceable; the likes of Slawek, Rydz-Smigly and Beck lacked his popularity and charisma. Faced with ever growing pressure from the right, the Sanacja after Piłsudski was forced to collaborate with Poland’s semi-fascist movements, since it lacked Piłsudski’s confidence to defy them. Whether Poland would eventually have become a fascist state is open to speculation, but it is interesting to note that its movement in that direction was due to the lack of leadership rather than to any personality cult. Polish ‘fascism’ therefore served to conceal mediocrity rather than to project personal power.
Piłsudski and his successors were faced with the problem of upholding the security of the new Polish state. This was given some urgency by the resentment of all her neighbours against Poland’s territorial gains. At first Piłsudski sought safety in an alliance with France and Romania in 1921. Gradually, however, the will of France to assist Poland grew weaker. In 1925 France signed the Locarno Pact which, alongside Britain, Italy, Belgium and Germany, guaranteed the 1919 frontiers in western Europe but not in the east. By the early 1930s Piłsudski felt that he could no longer depend upon France and therefore sought accommodation with the powers which threatened Poland; he formed non-aggression pacts with Russia in 1932 and Germany in 1934. After Piłsudski’s death, however, Poland slid towards destruction. There was a dreadful inevitability about the whole process: given Hitler’s policy of Lebensraum and Stalin’s determination to wipe out the memory of Brest-Litovsk, Poland did not stand a chance. According to Syrop, ‘It is clear now that once Hitler and Stalin had jointly decided to wipe Poland off the map, no Polish policy and no power on earth could avert disaster.’
Foreign Minister Beck showed courage in defying Hitler’s demands for a Polish corridor and was bolstered by the Anglo-French guarantee of March 1939. He clearly felt that Poland stood a chance of holding off Germany, as Piłsudski had fended off Russia in 1920. This time, however, Poland was crushed by Hitler’s Blitzkrieg. The Polish cavalry, which had triumphed over Soviet infantry, was now shot to pieces by German tanks and aircraft. By mid-September the western half of Poland had been conquered by the Nazi war machine. The Polish government transferred to the east, only to be trapped by Soviet troops who were moving into position to take up the territory agreed in the Nazi – Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. Poland was therefore at the mercy of her two historic enemies. Stalin proceeded to impose communist institutions in the east, while the German zone was divided in two. The north-west and Silesia were absorbed directly into the Third Reich and were immediately Germanized; Gauleiter Forster said that his intention was ‘to remove every manifestation of Polonism within the next few years’. The rest was placed under Governor-General Hans Frank, who stated that no Polish state would ever be revived. The German occupation of Poland was to prove more horrifying and destructive than that in any other conquered territory. Six million people died out of a total population of 35 million; many of these were Jews who perished in extermination camps set up at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Maidenek, Sobibor, Belzec and Treblinka. The Polish capital, Warsaw, was the only occupied city to be pulled apart, systematically, by ground demolition squads.
The devastation did not destroy the Polish national spirit and three resistance organizations had come into existence by mid-1941. The first was a government in exile under Sikorski which established an army abroad and integrated Polish servicemen into the American and British forces. The second was the underground Home Army (AK), the third the Polish Workers’ Movement (PPR), a communist organization led by Gomułka. At first there was co-operation between Sikorski and the Soviet Union but, as the Soviet victory over Germany became increasingly likely, Stalin did everything possible to weaken Sikorski and the AK. His task was made easier by the Yalta and Potsdam conferences of 1945. The Western Allies were, of course, unhappy about Poland falling under Soviet influence, but they were unable to prevent it. Hence, when recreated, Poland eventually became one of Stalin’s satellite states, with a regime which was far more systematically pervasive than Piłsudski’s had ever been. It was not until 1989 that the monopoly of the Communist Party was broken.
The Nature of the Polish Right Wing
Poland is rightly seen as the victim of the aggression of Europe’s two leading dictatorships in 1939. At the same time, however, Poland had itself become a dictatorship and had spawned a number of far-right parties. In this respect it followed an experience similar to that of Austria and Portugal. As in these countries, a distinction needs to be made between a conservative authoritarian establishment and semi-fascist minority groups which wanted to radicalize the right.
Authoritarian dictatorship is normally associated with Piłsudski. His assumption of power in 1926 was a reaction to the political chaos of the mid-1920s. He was in no sense a radical. His aim was to reconcile, not to radicalize. According to Rothschild, the purpose of the Sanacja was to form a ‘non-political phalanx of all classes and parties supposedly prepared to elevate general state interests above particular partisan and social ones’. This new order would be kept together by Piłsudski himself. Ironically, he did not resume the presidency in 1926, serving, instead, in the humbler capacity of Foreign Minister with two brief spells as premier. Yet no one doubted that ultimate power lay in his hands: ‘I am a strong man and I like to decide all matters by myself.’ To emphasize this point, he reduced the power of the legislature, arguing that ‘The Chicanes of Parliament retard indispensable solutions.’ He saw Western-style party political manoeuvres as highly destructive in Poland, since they had produced a parliament which was in reality a ‘House of Prostitutes’. He therefore broke the back of the party system and surrounded himself with loyal followers. Yet his dictatorship was never complete; his aim was not to set up a totalitarian state and a new political consciousness, but rather to depoliticize Poland and to create unity through heightened moral awareness. His successors were somewhat less restrained than Piłsudski and, in the words of Payne, ‘accentuated state control and authoritarianism’. Between 1935 and 1939 the authoritarian regime was becoming more involved in regulating the economy and mobilizing popular support behind a new government organization, the Camp of National Unity, or OZN. This took on several outward appearances of proto-fascism.
Even so, the post-Piłsudski governments were less radical than most other non-fascist dictatorships in Europe. More open to far-right influences were the minority movements such as the National Democrat Party; strongest in western Poland, this was violently anti-Semitic, strongly nationalistic and sympathetic to both Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, even though the latter was widely perceived as the national enemy. From this developed the even more extreme National Party (OWP) and Camp of National Radicalism (ONR). But the most explicitly fascist group was the Falanga, which was strongly influenced by the Spanish Falangist movement; it also had similarities to Codreanu’s Legion and Iron Guard in Romania.
As elsewhere, the traditionalist authorities were not prepared to tolerate the excesses of these minority groups and at various stages during the 1930s resorted to banning them. Even though they stood no chance of coming to power they did, nevertheless, provide a core for that section of the Polish population which was prepared to collaborate with the Nazis, especially in implementing their anti-Semitic policies.
Tension between Poland and the Third Reich was already clear from the spring of 1939 and the intensity of flying at the Polish-German border rose on both sides. Poland’s access to the coast was of a special nature (see the map). Its peculiar character lay in the fact that Polish territory divided Germany in effect. The Pomeranian ‘corridor’ that belonged to Poland was located between the bulk of Germany and the territory of East Prussia. In fact the German demand for an ex-territorial motorway through Poland, and the Polish refusal, was one of the direct causes of the war.
Morski Dywizjon Lotnicyzy maintained a continuous combat readiness. New recruits were being trained, and then sent on specialist courses. At the same time a new system of long range reconnaissance was developed. It covered the area from the so-called Lawica Siupska in the west, up to the German port of Pilau (Pilawa) in East Prussia. Usually a few flights a day were flown, providing continuous monitoring of German shipping. These missions were flown by Lublin R-XIIIs, which carried out spying missions ‘by the way’. The Germans were not passive, either, frequently violating Polish airspace. In one case the Polish Lublin R-XIII G/hydro no. 714 performed the role of a fighter, successfully chasing away the German LZ-130 airship from Polish territory. In April 1939 the Dywizjon lost a Lublin R-XIII which crashed at Swarzewo. Usually at the beginning of May each year a three-aircraft Pluton Samolotow Towarzyszacych was detached from the unit at Puck, the aircraft being converted to wheeled undercarriage and subsequently moving to Rumia-Zagorze airfield. Another accident occurred during night flying on 19 May 1939 at 23:00 when a crew failed to locate the airfield and crashed into trees. The crew escaped unhurt, but the aircraft was written off. On 7 August 1939 one R-XIII patrolling its assigned sector observed a large passenger ship, identified as Hansesstadt Danzig. The pilot wanted to take a clear picture of the vessel, and approached it at a very low level. During a sharp turn it side-slipped and crashed into the sea. The Dywizjob thus lost the Lublin R-XIII ter/hydro no. 712. The crew was picked up by a boat from the German ship, and subsequently transferred to the police in the Free City of Danzig. Thus the modest inventory of Morski Dywizjon Lotniczy was reduced by two aircraft.
Pilots of the Danzig flying club mobilised on 24 August 1939, formed on the 31st of that month the Pluton Layznikowy Dowodcy L’ldowej Obrony Wybrzeza, led by ppor. rez. pit. Edmund Jereczek. The Pluton took over two civil RWD 13 aircraft, registered as SP-ATB and SP- BML. The Pluton was reinforced by R-XIII G/hydro no. 718 of Morski Dywizjon Lotniczy.
The main base of the naval aviation had been thoroughly reconnoitred by the Germans, so in the event of war it was assumed that the unit would be evacuated to the Hel Peninsula. After 30 August part of the storage facilities and Oddzial Obrony Ladowej moved to HeI. The aircraft stayed at Puck. On the morning of 1 September 1939, about 6:00 a. m., the first German bomber formation arrived over Puck. This consisted of some 20 Heinkel He Ills from KG 1 of Luftflotte 1. They attacked the base of the Dywizjon, the railway station, and a target ship anchored in the Bay of Puck. Four people were killed, and over a dozen wounded in the raid. The Dywizjon commander, kmdr. por. pil. Edward Szystkowski, was among the dead, passing command to kmdr. ppor. pil.. Kazimierz Szalewicz before he died. Immediate evaluation of the flying equipment to Hel was ordered, as there was no anti-aircraft defence left at Puck by that time. The aircraft were anchored along the Peninsula on the Bay side. The aircraft were left in full view, providing an easy target for enemy aircraft. The RWD-17W was an exception, being on land and hidden in woods. The Nikol A-2 amphibian was anchored in the naval port at Hel. The aircraft were only protected by artillery batteries located at the Peninsula. Against total air superiority, in terms of both quantity and quality, operational capabilities of the unit were largely limited even on the first day of the war. The situation grew worse with the death of the commander and the chaos caused by the unit’s evacuation. An idea to bomb the Schleswig Holstein battleship, anchored in Danzig, and shelling the Polish posts at Westerplatte was not put into life as most of the Lublin R-XIIIs were damaged in a raid by two Heinkel He 59s that took place on the evening of 2 September. The following day the Germans resumed raids, and as a result the strafed Lublins were sunk in the coastal shallows. Only the R-XIII G/hydro no. 714 survived the ordeal. The same day the Cant Z 506B left to travel inland, most ground crews of the unit were to fight alongside ground troops that defended the Peninsula. A surviving Lublin R-XIII was used for the first time on the evening of 6 September, when it flew an hour’s reconnaissance flight over the Bay of Gdansk. The crew consisted of por. pil. Jozef Rudzki and por. pil. obs. Zdzislaw Juszczkiewicz. The flight was uneventful, and activity of small enemy naval craft was detected. Following this successful flight the R-XIII no. 714 took off for another the next night. This time the aircraft, flown by the same crew, was armed with six 12.5 kg bombs, with which it would attack the Schleswig Holstein battleship at Danzig. Upon arrival it was found that the ship had left its previous location. The R-XIII crew noticed a night parade organised in Danzig by the Germans to celebrate the victory over the Polish posts at Westerplatte, the Poles attacked, bombing and then strafing the surprised Germans. Subsequently they returned without problem to their temporary base. These were the only combat missions flown by aircraft of Morski Dywizjob Lotniczy in September 1939. The following day the Germans made a revenge attack against Hel with Ju 87s of 4.1186 Tragerstaffel. During the raid the last serviceable R-XIII, no. 714, and the Schreck FBA 17HE2 were destroyed. Thus on 8 September the RWD 17W and Nikol A-2 were the only airworthy machines, with the exception of the aircraft of Pluton Lijcznikowy Dowodcy Lijdowej Obrony Wybrzeza. The above mentioned Pluton was merged into the Kompania Sztabowa on 1 September 1939 by the orders of Dowodca Lijdowej Obrony Wybrzeija, plk. Stanislaw Dijbek. Initially the aircraft of the Pluton were based at the commercial airfield in Rumia. That is where they were caught (together with two ‘Lot’ Polish Airlines aircraft) by the German raid on the first day of the war at 6:00 a. m. After the raid a Lublin R-XIII G/hydro reinforcing the Pluton arrived at Rumia. The raid did not cause major damage, but accelerated departure of the passenger aircraft inland. Another raid carried out by the Germans the same afternoon failed to inflict damage except for bomb craters. After 4 September the anti- aircraft defences left the airfield, so the Pluton commander ordered the observer’s machine gun of the Lublin R-XIII removed and mounted on a fixed base near the hangar. This provisional post shot down a Junkers Ju 87 on one of the following days, its crew becoming prisoners of war. The Pluton still remained unused. On 9 September the situation became difficult, when the airfield area came under direct enemy fire. The Pluton commander, ppor. pil. Edmund Jereczek, unable to contact his HQ decided to evacuate to the reserve airfield at Nowe Obluze north of Gdynia. Using a short- lived counter-attack by the Polish infantry as cover, the pilots started the engines of their aircraft, and took off straight through the open hangar doors (since the first raid on the morning of 1 September 1939 the aircraft were hidden in old flying club hangars at one side of the airfield). On 13 September plk. Dqbek ordered evacuation of both RWD 13s to Sweden. The Lublin R- XIII would fly to Hel with a report. At that time the nearby base at Puck was already in use by German aircraft. Both RWD 13s took off the same day at 12:30. Immediately after take-off the aircraft started to climb through clouds. When passing through these the pilots lost contact. Given this situation each undertook individual attempts to escape. The first RWD 13, SP- BML, flown by ppor. pil. E. Jereczek managed after flying over 450 km landed at Visborglatt on the island of Gotland. The crew was interned, and the aircraft impressed by the Swedes, who used it until 1952. The other RWD 13, SP-ATB, flown by szer. pil. Wadaw Zarudzki was forced to turn back due to problems with the engine. It landed back at Nowe Obluze airfield after an hour’s flight.
The last surviving aircraft. the Lublin R-XIII G/hydro no. 718, was going to fly on 17 September 1939 an evacuation flight and report to Warsaw. Flown by mat Stefan Czerwinski the aircraft took off that day at about 22:00. Soon after take-off the aircraft crashed into the sea for unknown reasons. The pilot was killed, while an unidentified infantry kapitan survived. The RWD 17, SP- BPB, surviving at the Hel Peninsula, was the last aircraft of the Polish aviation at the coast. It crashed on 30 September 1939 in the hands of ppor. pil. Juliusz Bilewicz during an attempt to fly to Sweden.
During the 1939 campaign the Polish naval aviation flew a total of 27 missions, including 3 combat sorties in a combined time of 13 hours 15 minutes. The activity of the naval aircraft was therefore negligible. This was due to several factors. The most important lay in the overwhelming superiority of the German air force, both in quantity and quality. The efforts of the few who continued in their resistance is all the more praiseworthy. Land fighting in defence of the Hel Peninsula involved some 300 soldiers of the Morski Dywizjon Lotniczy at Puck, led by the unit’s officers.
When in 1927 and 1928 there was a rush of orders for the F. VIlb-3m, the capacity of the Amsterdam factory was insufficient to cope with the demand. There were already plenty of orders in hand for the F. VIIa, F. VIIa-3m, F. VIII and the military C. V, C. VI and C. VIIw. Fokker therefore decided to sell manufacturing licenses to other aircraft companies.
First was Poland when in October 1928, Plage & Laskiewicz started a series of twenty F. VIIb-3m’s modified as bombers. The Poles acquired the drawings for the commercial airliner and then engineered the necessary changes to convert the type to a bomber role. Following completion of these aircraft, a further eleven were built for airline use.
Polish Air Force operated 21 F.VIIb/3m (20 of them were licence-built) aircraft as bombers and transports between 1929 and 1939.
1 Pułk Lotniczy
211 Eskadra Bombowa
212 Eskadra Bombowa
213 Eskadra Bombowa
The majority of these entered service with the Polish airline LOT.
Military Fokker F.VIIb3m Versions:
F.VIIa/3m a bomber and transport plane.
C-2: Military transport version of the Fokker F.9, powered by three 220 hp (164 kW) Wright J-5 radial piston engines, accommodation for two pilots and 10 passengers; three built in 1926 for the US Army Air Corps
C-2A: Military transport version for the US Army Air Corps, with greater wingspan, powered by three 220 hp (164 kW) Wright J-5 radial piston engines, accommodation for two pilots and 10 passengers; eight built in 1928.
C-7: Military transport conversion of C-2A for the US Army Air Corps by re-engining with 300 hp (220 kW) Wright R-975 engines. XC-7 prototype and four C-2As redesignated in 1931.
C-7A: Six new production C-7 (Wright R-975) aircraft with larger wings, new vertical fin design, and fuselages patterned after the commercial F.10A
TA.1: Military transport version of the US Navy and Marine Corps; three built.
TA.2: Military transport version for the US Navy; three built.
TA.3: Military transport version for the US Navy, powered by three Wright J-6 radial piston engines; one built.
Belgium Air force
Independent state of Croatia
Czechoslovakia Air Force
Finnish Air Force (one F.VIIa)
French Air Force (5 F.VIIa/m and 2 F.VII/3m)
Regia Aeronautica (Italy)
Luchtvaartafgeling (Netherlands)received three bomber F.VIIa/3m aircraft)
Polish Air Force (operated 21 F.VIIb/3m (20 of them were licence-built) aircraft as bombers and transports between 1929 and 1939.)
Spanish Republican Air Force
United States Army Corps (designations include Atlantic-Fokker C-2, C-5 and C-7)
United States Navy and Marine Corps (originally designated TA then RA)
A TKS armed with a Nkm wz.38 FK 20mm autocannon, the same type commanded by Orlik.
The alleged wreck of Prince Victor von Ratibor’s Panzer IV.
Sketch of the clash at Pociecha made by R. Columbine. 1, II-positions of TK tankettes from km; III, IILA, IlIB with TKS which were armed with 20 mm cannons positions; 1, 2, 3-positions of hit German tanks.
Sketch of the battle for Sieraków also made by R. Columbine. Shown are TKS tankettes with 20 mm cannon, during which they engaged German tanks (marked with numbers from 1 to 7)
Plutonowy podchorąży rez. Roman Edmund Orlik (71. armoured dyon of Wielkopolska Cavalry Brigade) was one of the first tank aces of WW II.
On 18th of September during the combat of Pociecha he eliminated 3 tanks from Panzer-Regiment 11. from 1. Leichte-Division. He also destroyed several motorized vehicles during that combat and took 2 prisoners of war (tank crew). He also tried to rescue the crew of one of those eliminated by him German tanks – which started to burn – but he – unfortunately – didn’t manage to rescue them and all of them died.
Among tanks eliminated by Orlik on 18th of September there was tank of Leutnant (or Oberleutnant ?) Victor IV Albrecht von Ratibor – commander of a platoon. The whole his platoon was eliminated during that combat and Prinz Victor IV Albrecht von Ratibor was heavily WIA and severely burned – and after a few minutes he died. He was born in 1916 and was first son of Victor III August and Elizabeth zu Oettingen-Oettingen und Öttingen-Spilberg.
On 19th of September Orlik eliminated 7 German tanks (from Panzer-Abteilung 65. or from I. battalion of Panzer-Regiment 11.) during the battle of Sieraków. Most of those 7 tanks eliminated (most probably 6 of them) were Pz-35(t) tanks.
His tankette was one of 2 tankettes from 71. armoured dyon of Wielkopolska Cavalry Brigade (both of them were TKS tankettes with 20mm automatic guns) which broke through to Warsaw (during the night from 20th to 21st of September 1939). He was later fighting in Warsaw until 28th of September 1939.
Orlik’s victories (kills) during the battle of Sieraków
German sources say that during the failed German Panzer counterattack on Sieraków, Panzer-Abteilung 65. lost 26 KIA and WIA tank crewmen (including 4 officers, 5 NCOs and 17 soldiers).
The majority of tanks of Panzer-Abteilung 65. which took part in the attack (and most probably the whole Abteilung took part) were eliminated during that battle. Also Bade writes about this. According to Bade (and also according to German daily reports) the remaining German tanks escaped towards Hornówek and Lipków.
German tanks were attacking (according to Bade – but Polish sources confirm it) in two separated groups at the same time (it is possible – but not certain -, that apart from Panzer-Abteilung 65. also I. battalion of Panzer-Regiment 11. took part in that attack – or at least some part of it). Both groups were defeated and dispersed.
From the first group the Poles eliminated 27 tanks – 7 by Orlik, 20 by 7. light artillery dyon (direct fire) and 7. horse rifle regiment (the majority by regimental AT guns). During combats with this group the Poles (7. horse rifle regiment) lost 56 men – 14 KIA and 42 WIA.
From the second group the Poles eliminated 11 tanks – including 2 by direct fire of artillery platoon from 14. light artillery dyon (porucznik F. Orzeszko) and 3 by platoon of AT guns cal. 37mm of podporucznik Wiktor Ziemiński from 14. uhlan regiment (two of them were destroyed by Wiktor Ziemiński himself). The remaining 6 were eliminated by elements of 17. and 14. uhlan regiments and 9. horse rifle regiment.
Before the German counterattack, during the Polish attack on Sieraków (in the morning – the attack started , around 10:00 – so after less than 10 hours – Sieraków was captured), platoon from 15. light artillery regiment eliminated 2 tanks. Few tanks were also eliminated by 6. uhlan regiment – which was fighting north of Sieraków. And also in Sieraków (during the Polish attack) – apart from 34 German trucks (full of equipment and ammo), which were captured and later destroyed there, a few tanks were eliminated. While conquering Sieraków Polish forces also captured 9 machine guns.
Polish forces which took part in the battle of Sieraków – Laski (elements of Wielkopolska and Podolska Cavalry Brigades) were fighting both with tanks of Panzer-Abteilung 65. and tanks of I. battalion of Panzer-Regiment 11. during that day.
During the battle of Sieraków the Poles captured – according to the Polish sources – 70 POWs from II./KSR.4 and inflicted heavy casualties to it.
According to the German sources – both the German daily reports and relation of Bade – II./KSR.4 was dispersed and crushed during that day, and the remaining rests of it gathered on the road from Truskaw to Izabelin, where they established a hedgehog defence.
Lithuanian Grand-Duke Jagiełło’s brothers wanted heavier cannons to oppose the Teutonic Knights’ new weapons, but since gun carriages did not exist yet the heavy weapons could only be transported by water. Because the Teutonic Knights controlled the lower reaches of the Nemunas River, the only route from Poland to Lithuania was from the Vistula up the Bug River to the Narew, then up that river’s tributaries until close to streams that led down to the Nemunas at Gardinas. Cannon could be dragged over a short portage, or perhaps even transported the entire way over the many bodies of water in the Masurian Lake district. Not unexpectedly, the Teutonic Knights sought to block this route by building forts in the wilderness north of the Narew. This presented some complications, because that land belonged to the Masovian dukes, but it did hinder Jagiełło’s efforts to send assistance to his brothers. The wilderness had been unoccupied since the withdrawal of the Sudovians to the east, and empty of all humans other than raiding parties from Prussia, Lithuania, and Masovia. But technically it was still Masovian.
Meanwhile the war had become even more brutal than before.
The Teutonic Knights decapitated any Poles captured in the Lithuanian forts –
they accused them of apostasy and aiding pagans – and the crusader raids into
Samogitia met so little resistance that they were little more than manhunts. In
reprisal the Samogitians occasionally sacrificed prisoners to their gods,
burning knights alive, tied to their mounts in full armour over a giant pyre,
or shooting them full of arrows while bound to a sacred tree. Even so, the war
was not continuous. Despite the desperate nature of the fighting, there were
truces and sudden changes in alliances; and nothing disturbed the universal
love of hunting, for which special truces were arranged.
Although Vytautas was a crusader ally, as he saw his
ancestral lands being destroyed he began to look for an alternative means of
returning to power in Vilnius. Intellectually, he understood that it was most
logical to join forces with his cousin, but Vytautas was a passionate man, not
always ruled by his mind. Besides, he had not forgotten Jagiełło’s past
treacheries and, well-aware of assassination plots, he surrounded himself with
Tatar bodyguards. Consequently Vytautas was an emotional pendulum, swinging
from one side to the other, forced to seek help from someone, but not liking
any of the available allies. The Teutonic Knights took a cynical but
philosophical view of this, as one chronicler stated: ‘Pagans rarely do what is
right, as the broken treaties of Vytautas and his relatives prove’.
Still, when he considered the situation rationally Vytautas
saw his present alliance with the Teutonic Order as a losing strategy. Victory
under such circumstances would make him an impoverished ruler, hated by his own
people and dependent upon the goodwill of the grand master. He may have sent a
message to Jagiełło, somehow evading the order’s efforts to watch over his
every move; if so, it was undoubtedly vague, the kind which would do no harm if
discovered. Or perhaps Jagiełło merely sensed that the time was ripe to make
his cousin a proposal. All that is known for certain is that in early August
1392 Jagiełło sent Bishop Henryk of Płock to Prussia as his emissary. This
rather unpriestly Piast prince-bishop was related by marriage to the king’s
sister, Alexandra of Masovia. Henryk used the opportunity provided by
confession to inform Vytautas of his master’s propositions. Vytautas, under the
pretext of allowing his wife to make a visit home, told Anna to negotiate with
Jagiełło; he also managed to secure the release of many hostages who had been
kept in honourable captivity in scattered fortresses. Then he gave his sister
in marriage to Bishop Henryk and dismissed the English crusaders who had just
arrived to join another invasion of Lithuania. He thus eliminated from the game
the most dangerous bowmen in Europe, warriors who had been so effective in
recent battles with Jagiełło’s subjects.
Vytautas plotted his betrayal carefully, arranging for the
Samogitian warriors stationed in the crusader castles entrusted to him to kill
or capture the Germans in the garrisons. After this had succeeded, he sent
Lithuanian armies on widely separated fronts into Prussia and Livonia and
overwhelmed what forces the Teutonic Knights still had in Samogitia. Vytautas’
return to Lithuania was greeted with wild enthusiasm. Every Samogitian
appreciated his courage and cunning, contrasted his genial personality with
Jagiełło’s vengeful brothers, and understood that the series of military
disasters was likely now at an end; and the highlanders were happy to see the
reign of foreigners – Poles – at an end.
It was a year before Grand Master Wallenrode was able to
take his revenge. In January of 1393 he struck at Gardinas, employing Dutch and
French knights. This threatened to cut the major communication route between
Masovia and Vilnius, effectively isolating Lithuania. Vytautas and Jagiełło
appealed to the papal legate to arrange for peace talks, which did in fact take
place in Thorn in the summer. After ten days, however, Wallenrode became ill
and left the conference. A short while later he died.
The new grand master, Conrad von Jungingen, was a decisive
leader of far-reaching plans and far-reaching vision. Regional peace could be
achieved, he believed, by a decisive victory in Vilnius, the one location that
Vytautas and Jagiełło had to defend with all their might.
Already collecting in Prussia in the waning days of 1393 was
a great army of French and German crusaders, among whom was a body of
Burgundian archers (perhaps English mercenaries) whose concentrated firepower
had the potential to savage the pagans quite as badly as they had mauled French
armies in recent years. The crusaders began their march up the Nemunas in
January 1394, relying on the thick ice to serve as a highway into the
Lithuanian heartland. Vytautas attempted to halt the crusader march early on,
but he barely escaped death under the first barrage of his enemies’ missile
weapons, and his army was badly routed. The Lithuanian stand turned into a
hurried retreat before the 400 advancing crusader knights and their thousands
of sergeants and infantry.
Vytautas received a reinforcement from Poland, a strong
contingent of knights, to join the 15,000 mounted warriors under his command,
but their numbers were insufficient to stop the advance of the now much-feared
archers into the heart of his country. The crusaders passed through forests,
swamps, and open fields, evading ambushes, to reach Vilnius, where Vytautas was
joined by his Rus’ian troops. The grand prince fought a desperate engagement,
giving and taking heavy losses until his Rus’ian wing fled and was followed by
one Lithuanian unit after the other. At last, he, too, had to retreat, and
again he barely escaped the field alive. While Vytautas sought to rally his
scattered and demoralised forces at a safe distance, the Teutonic Knights settled
down to besiege his capital, a place they knew well from 1390. They made new
plans to celebrate the conversion of the Lithuanians, this time assured by
their arms that the baptismal ceremony would take place properly – a true
conversion, not the ambiguous promises of Jagiełło and Vytautas, whose
Christian names were used only in formal documents. What further proof, the
crusaders asked, did anyone need that their allegiance to Rome was very thin?
On the eighth day of the siege the Livonian master arrived to
reinforce the crusader host. He was welcomed heartily, for now the crusaders
could surround the entire city, contain the sorties from the fortress, and make
a determined assault on the wall at its weakest point. The Livonian forces were
sent to the river front, where they built two bridges, then rode across the
river to plunder the countryside. In this foraging they lost fifty men (only
three of them German and only one a knight, indicating that a large native
contingent was present) while killing and capturing ‘innumerable’ Lithuanians.
Nevertheless, the siege did not go well. After another week of fighting, the
firing posts that the engineers had built for the archers, the siege towers,
and the bridges were destroyed by an inferno that the garrison set during a
sortie. Nevertheless, the crusaders had some successes – their artillery had
brought down a stone tower and set fire to various wooden fortifications. Soon
afterward, however, the Lithuanians set a tower in the crusader camp ablaze,
which not only caused extensive casualties among the French but destroyed most
of the supplies, so that the crusaders would be unable to remain at Vilnius as
long as planned. The grand master allowed the war of engineers to continue four
more days, but it was obvious that the Lithuanians could destroy new siege
works almost as fast as the crusaders could build them. An assault would
require more time to prepare than the army could be kept fed by its remaining
supplies. Also, Vytautas had been regrouping his scattered forces. Scouts were
reporting that he would soon be coming to relieve the city. This meant that the
crusaders would have to fight on two fronts – an unattractive prospect.
The leaders of the crusader armies met, discussed their
situation, and reluctantly agreed to abandon the siege. The grand master sent
the Livonian forces home first, then moved west himself, harassed by
Lithuanians cutting down trees across the road, fortifying the river crossings,
and laying ambushes in the woods. The Prussian force alternately negotiated and
fought its way along the route away from Vilnius, then abruptly changed
direction and marched through Samogitia, thereby avoiding Vytautas’ army and
the obstacles he had erected.
The expedition had been one of the most memorable enterprises
of the medieval era – the siege of an enemy capital with knights and military
specialists drawn from all of Europe – and a chivalric exploit worthy of any
land; but the capture of the greatest city in Lithuania was beyond the ability
of the crusaders. The war continued, with the Teutonic Order striking up the
Nemunas River and ravaging the Samogitian settlements; they were far from
attempting another invasion of the highlands, farther yet from Jagiełło’s
capital. The Lithuanians remained on the defensive, biding their time. They had
no reason to risk everything on a pitched battle, no reason to carry the war
back into Prussia. Not yet, at least.
By the end of 1393 Vytautas was master of Lithuania. He had
driven all Jagiełło’s brothers from the land, and when his forces won a major
battle in 1394, crushing the Volhynian, Galician, and Moldavian dukes, Jagiełło
completely abandoned his brothers to their fate: Kaributas went into exile in
Cracow; the Moldavian ruler also fled to Cracow, where he was imprisoned;
Skirgaila died in Kiev in 1396, probably poisoned; and Svidrigailo fought for
the Teutonic Order briefly before achieving a reconciliation. The former
bishop, Henryk, died, unmourned, of poison.
Jagiełło retained the title of supreme prince, and Vytautas
was satisfied with the lesser title of great prince until his very last days.
But as time passed, so real authority passed into the hands of Vytautas.
Meanwhile the crusader raids into Lithuania continued. Not
only were the Prussian forces constantly in Samogitia, but so too was the black
and white banner of the Livonian master – a black centre stripe horizontally
flanked by white, with contrasting triangular tails fluttering behind. The last
raid into Samogitia came in the winter of 1398, when the crusaders took 700
prisoners and 650 horses, and killed many people; they had surprised the
defenders by entering the country during changeable weather, a gamble that had
rarely proven worth the risk before, but paid high returns when successful.
Vytautas did not retaliate. He was campaigning in southern Rus’, longing for an
end to the troublesome northern war that was hindering his chances for success
on the steppe. Only his promise to Jagiełło stood in the way of making peace.
Of course, promises were not serious obstacles to Vytautas.
Vytautas had an excuse to refuse obedience to Polish orders
soon afterward, when Jadwiga (who – not Jagiełło – was legally rex of Poland)
demanded a tax from the Lithuanians, a tax that Vytautas’ boyars had no desire
to pay. The royal demand was not unreasonable. Vytautas had depended on Polish
aid to defend Samogitia, and Polish nobles and clergy were asking why they had
to bear all the costs, while the Lithuanians paid nothing. The Poles probably
reasoned that Vytautas had no choice, and that no matter how much he protested,
in the end he would make his subjects pay.
This presumed reasoning underestimated Vytautas. The grand
prince was not fixated on Samogitia. Instead, he was studying the situation on
the steppe. In the process of driving Jagiełło’s brothers from their lands in
southern Rus’, Vytautas had confirmed suspicions that the Tatar hold on the
region had weakened. Moreover, his popularity among his people would be
seriously undermined if he appeared to be a mere Polish puppet.
Vytautas understood that if he did not pay the tax he would
have to sue for peace with at least one enemy. Better the Teutonic Order than
the Tatars, he reasoned, for it was against the weakened Tatars that he saw the
best prospects of territorial expansion. In contrast to the potential conquest
of the steppe, he could at best fight a defensive war against the Teutonic
Knights. Peace with the grand master, of course, could be had only at a price –
Samogitia. Fortunately for Vytautas, Jagiełło was caught up in the dream of
driving the Tatars from the steppe too, removing them forever as a threat to
his Polish and Lithuanian frontiers; and his Polish subjects, who had lived for
generations in fear of the Tatars, agreed. It helped that Jadwiga knew the
grand master personally and liked him; she had always wanted peace with Prussia
and had encouraged the many inconclusive meetings with the grand master’s
representatives in the past. Now it appeared that there was the likelihood of a
breakthrough in the negotiation process.
Peace talks with the Teutonic Order culminated in September
1398 in the Treaty of Sallinwerder, which surrendered Samogitia to the Germans.
Vytautas and Jagiełło led their armies to Kaunas, where the last pagans of
Samogitia surrendered to the Teutonic Order. The Samogitians growled, but they
understood that they could not fight without the grand prince of Lithuania and
the prince-consort of Poland. Besides, they had been under crusader control before,
and it had not lasted.
The next year, in the summer of 1399, a great army of
Lithuanians, Rus’ians, Tatars, Poles, and Teutonic Knights rode out onto the
steppe to challenge Timur’s domination there. The result was another military
disaster. Had Vytautas been successful,
the history of the Teutonic Order would have taken a new and more exotic turn
than anyone had previously imagined. But even defeat on the steppe did not mean
a return to the old ways. In the years to come some Teutonic Knights would
accompany Vytautas against Rus’ian foes as far away as Moscow, and others would
board ships to destroy a pirate stronghold on the island of Gotland.
It appeared that the crusade was at an end. The Teutonic
Order had achieved its goal, the Christianisation of most pagans and the conquest
of the rest. The Teutonic Knights still welcomed a handful of crusaders to
assist in garrisoning their castles in Samogitia, but the crusade was
essentially over by 1400
Interestingly, the greatest complaints against the Teutonic
Order came from those churchmen who were unhappy that the grand master was not
forcing his new subjects to undergo baptism immediately. Conrad von Jungingen
was instead pursuing a policy of economic development, and creating from the
many petty Lithuanian boyars a smaller, dependable ruling class. He assumed,
probably correctly, that in the course of time, this would result in the
voluntary conversion of these stubborn woodsmen.
Vytautas believed that too. He secretly encouraged the
Samogitians to hold out. He would soon be coming to free them again.
August 1939 approached. The weather was warm and sunny.
There was a lot of activity in the fields and pastures; the harvest needed to
be brought in. Who knew when the next bad weather would come? But the sun still
smiled down from the clear blue skies.
The headquarters and staff sections were filled with
secretive and fast-paced work. The adjutants and liaison officers ran around
with serious faces, and even the clerks and staff noncommissioned officers
became unapproachable. The first batch of reserve officers arrived in the
garrisons at the beginning of August. The soldiers, who had been called up for
eight weeks, had given up hope of being released. It was the same picture every
year. The annual maneuvers were around the corner. But this time, there was no
real anticipation; the reports coming in from east of the Reich frontier were
In July, at the Bergen-Belsen Training Area, the division
had activated the logistical units that belonged to it in accordance with its
mobilization plans. They received the designation Divisions-Nachschubtruppen 83
(Division Support Element 83). By the beginning of August, ten truck columns
had been established. That was followed by the division rations section under
the direction of Stabszahlmeister Flitner. The division bakery company was
under the command of Hauptmann Nagel. There was also the division’s
meat-processing platoon, the field post office (Feldpostinspektor Mollweide),
and the two maintenance companies.
On 17 August, the whistles of the noncommissioned officers
in charge pierced through the hallways of the barracks and the living areas:
“Load up!” Later on, the company commanders revealed the march objective of the
movement that had been ordered: the training area at Groß-Born. The elements of
the division gradually moved out of their various garrisons. The advance
parties of the rifle regiment left Eberswalde the next day, with elements of
the motorcycle battalion following on 19 August and the armored regiments the
day after that. That was followed by the artillery. Everyone thought to
himself: Were we really just going to Groß-Born? Only a few actually knew that
the Army High Command had already taken the preliminary measures for a
mobilization. That meant that the formations capable of “moving out
expeditiously” were to be prepared to move. That included all motorized
As the forces marched out, the family members of the
soldiers gathered to bid farewell, as did the civilian employees of the mess
halls, the canteens, and the administrative elements.
Many career officers and noncommissioned officers had to
depart from the divisional elements during that period. They were transferred
to new commands, activating formations and schools. It was not easy taking
leave of their units. Now that the time had come to prove themselves, their
common experiences and common efforts had to be given up. Reserve officers and
noncommissioned officers took their places. Some of them were from the times of
previous exercises and the march into the Sudetenland, thus allowing them to
find a bridge to foster trust and understanding.
The commanders of the 4th and 5th Batteries changed within
the 2nd Battalion of the division artillery. Major Wöhlermann and Hauptmann
Hellmers gave up their commands to Hauptmann Haselbach and Oberleutnant Nebel
(promoted to Hauptmann on 27 August). Major Burmeister assumed command of the
2nd Battalion of Panzer-Regiment 6.
The march route of the individual elements of the division
took them past Stettin, across the Oder, and through Pomeranian Switzerland
(pommersche Schweiz, the hill country of lower Pomerania, now Poland). On 22
August, a rumor spread through the march serials of a non-aggression pact
between Germany and Russia. That evening, the rumor was confirmed. By then, all
elements of the division were at the training area. The next few days were
spent with the daily duty routine and passed quickly. Weapons and equipment
were maintained; classroom instruction alternated with drill. Engineers
instructed other formations with regard to electrically detonated obstacles and
disarming them. No one thought that a military confrontation was possible.
Suddenly, on 25 August, marching orders arrived. The code
word was “Tannenberg.” At 1800 hours, the formations assembled in the camps for
a final formation. The commanders discovered from the division that the
surreptitious mobilization was to take place, with D-Day being 26 August. The
die had been cast.
The march east started. The border was to be reached that
same evening. The motorcycle battalion took the lead as far as Barkenbrügge.
The armored brigade was to pass through at that point. The lead elements
reached the border east of and to both sides of Preußisch Friedland around 2300
hours. The motorcycle battalion staged in the forests along the border. Its 1st
Company screened along the railway line to Königsberg.
At 2345 hours, orders to halt arrived.
The lead elements were promptly pulled back ten kilometers;
the artillery set up in the thick woods forty kilometers west of the border. No
one knew exactly what was going on. The rumor started to circulate slowly that
the attack had been called off. It was said that the government had made new
proposals to Poland with regard to regulating the Danzig and corridor problems
and that it was waiting for the Polish response.
In an order that must be considered a masterpiece of
planning, the German Army in the East—around half a million strong at this
point—had to be halted at and over the border. The division set up a bivouac
site in the Friedland area. The days spent in the camp were certainly a test of
nerves for the forces, but they also represented a bit of a breather after the
feverish preparations. Hardly any traces of normal duty activities could be
seen. The only thing was pulling guard. On 27 August, an order prohibiting the
sending of mail was imposed for the next few days. Portions of the companies
were detailed to assist in the harvest in the surrounding farmlands. Some
colorful evening celebrations took place, with the one hosted by the 2nd
Battalion of the divisional artillery on the evening of 28 August in
Peterswalde counting among the most impressive. The highlight of the evening
was a singing competition, which the choir from the 5th Battery won. Gefreiter
Salchow was an entertaining master of ceremonies who was not afraid to inject
some political humor. The 2nd Battalion of Panzer-Regiment 6 also held a singing
competition, with the 6th Company taking the prize.
On the evening of 26 August, the motorcycle battalion
returned to the border area again to secure the staging area of the division.
The 3rd Company of Oberleutnant Adler advanced as far as a line running from
the Grünkirch customs building to Grunau. Within the company, the platoon of
Leutnant Arent, who was the Reichsbühnenbildner in civilian life, was
positioned on the right. Leutnant Stadie’s platoon was in the middle and
Leutnant Schmidt’s platoon on the left. Across from them were the Polish
village of Wilkowo and Hill 162, which featured a tall wooden watchtower.
Contrary to expectations, everything remained quiet on the
Polish side, even though some movement could be identified. One antitank gun
and one machine-gun position could be identified. There was little to be seen
of civilians. On the German side, all traffic was forbidden between 2200 and
0500 hours. During that time, the patrols and engineers were active, cutting
tank lanes through the barbed wire.
All of a sudden, around 0100 hours on 29 August, advance
parties from the III./Infanterie-Regiment 25 of the 2. Infanterie-Division
(mot.) showed up. It was part of a deception, whereby the armored division was
being pulled back from the front. The motorcycle battalion moved to the
forestry office at Linde. The next day passed quietly. It rained. There was no
change in activity on 31 August, either. In the midst of all the quiet, orders
arrived around 1600 hours: “Be prepared to move!”
As it started to turn dark on that rainy day, the columns
began to move forward again. The tanks moved into the area on both sides of
Grunau, followed by the rifle regiment. Just after midnight, an attack order
arrived. The war was on!
To that end, the 4. Armee had moved up to the border in
Eastern Pomerania. The commander in chief was General der Artillerie von Kluge.
It was directed for the field army to force a crossing over the Braha, rapidly
reach the west bank of the Vistula in the Kulm–Graudenz area, and eliminate the
Polish forces in the corridor. The main effort of that aspect of the operation
was the XIX. Armee-Korps (mot.). The commanding general, General der
Panzertruppen Guderian, was the creator of the German armored force. Oberst
i.G. Nehring, a longtime assistant to Guderian in the creation of the
Panzertruppe and prewar commander of Panzer-Regiment 5, was his chief of staff.
The corps consisted of the 2. Infanterie-Division (mot.) of
Generalleutnant Bader and the 20. Infanterie-Division (mot.) of Generalleutnant
Wiktorin, in addition to the 3. Panzer-Division of Generalleutnant Freiherr
Geyr von Schweppenburg. Also attached to the corps was the 23.
Infanterie-Division of Generalmajor Graf von Brockdorff-Ahlefeldt, which was
its operational reserve.
As the formation with the most combat power of the corps, it
was to be employed as its main effort. That aspect had already been determined
at a conference at the headquarters of the 4. Armee in Kolberg. According to
the decision made there, the division would advance up to and into the Tuchel
Heath, with its armored brigade in the lead. It was intended for the reinforced
reconnaissance battalion of the division to advance as far as the Vistula after
the bridge over the Braha had been taken. The long, open flanks were to be
screened by the motorized rifle divisions. The first mission given to the
division: “Reach the Braha east of Prust in the vicinity of Hammermühle and
continue the advance to the Vistula in the vicinity of Schwetz!”
To execute that mission, the division received the following
assets in attachment: Panzer-Lehr-Abteilung (Major von Lewinski), Flak-Regiment
101, and a flight of army utility aircraft. At the start of hostilities, the
armored brigade had 324 Panzer I’s and Panzer II’s at its disposal. By
contrast, the Panzer-Lehr-Abteilung was already fielding some of the first
Panzer III’s and Panzer IV’s.
What did things look like from the Polish side? It goes
without saying that the Polish government was prepared for the German attack
and had already initiated mobilization of its own forces for some time.
Starting in the spring of 1939, it had started to systematically “ripen up” its
military and populace for the possible confrontation with Germany. The
Pomeranian Army of General Bortnowski had completed its movement into the
corridor by the end of August. The field army was organized into western and
eastern groups. The Eastern Group of General Boltuc had the mission of
protecting the western flank of the Modlin Army with its 4th and 16th Infantry
Divisions. In addition, it was directed to defend along a line running
Straßburg–Graudenz in the event of a German offensive. The Western Group of
General Skotnicki was directed to hold the corridor, including the flanking
position of Bromberg–Nakel, with its 9th and 15th Infantry Divisions, as well
as the Pomeranian Cavalry Brigade. The 27th Infantry Division was the field
army’s operational reserve. Its orders were to eventually march on Danzig with
the 13th Infantry Division, which would be brought in from Thorn.
The morning of 1 September 1939 dawned . . .
An early-morning fog appeared eerily in the woods; it was
already perceptibly cold. There was an unearthly disquiet everywhere. The
rattle of engines that quickly died off . . . the almost silent marching of
columns . . . whispering and cursing, the light clinking of weapons . . . the
division was ready. The officers continuously looked at their watches. The
hands seemed to move imperceptibly slowly. Then: 0445 hours! There was a
wailing from somewhere, but our artillery was still silent.
All of a sudden, the tank engines howled, tracked rattled,
motorcycles roared. It was as if all unrest and all doubts had been lifted all
at once and wiped away. The 3. Panzer-Division of Berlin and Brandenburg was marching
into war as the lead division of the 4. Armee.
The small tanks were the first ones to make their way
through the lanes created in the wire obstacles by the engineers. It was the
light platoon of the I./Panzer-Regiment 6 of Oberleutnant Buchterkirch. The
mission: “Conduct reconnaissance in the attack zone of the regiment and press
through across the Prust to secure the railway crossing!”
Tank after tank followed, with the Panzer-Lehr-Abteilung in
the lead. Following close behind, dispersed across a wide frontage, was the
rest of the armored brigade. Interspersed were a few squads of riflemen,
mounted in the few SPW’s6 that were available. The rifle brigade followed
closely behind the armored elements in two groups. Oberst Angern, the brigade
commander, led one group, while Oberst Kleemann was in charge of the second
one. The riflemen crossed the border on foot. The motorcycle battalion started
moving through the barbed wire at 0500 hours and was committed behind the
Panzer-Regiment 5 rolled forward on the righthand side of
the attack zone, followed closely by the motorcycles of the
2./Kradschützen-Bataillon 3. The battalion’s 3rd Company followed it, leading a
Flak battery, the 1st Company of the motorcycle battalion, and the 4th and 5th
Batteries of the divisional artillery into sector. Panzer-Regiment 6 was
employed on the left-hand side of the attack zone; its 1st Company was on the
right, the 2nd Company on the left, and the 4th Company following. The
remaining motorcycle elements, the 2nd and 3rd Companies of the divisional
engineers, and a light Flak battery followed the tanks. Guderian rode at the
front in an SPW among the regiment’s tanks.
Fog cascaded over the terrain. Despite that, the tanks
rolled forward across the potato and stubble fields. There wasn’t a Polish
soldier to be seen anywhere. Only the civilian populace could be seen in
individual farmsteads along the way, some raising their arms in greeting,
others glancing fearfully out from behind windows.
Oberleutnant Buchterkirch’s tanks had already advanced
fifteen kilometers when a column of horse-drawn carts suddenly appeared in
front of the entrance to Zahn. It was guarded by a few horse-mounted soldiers.
The first Poles! The Oberleutnant immediately opened fire. The tanks that were
following close behind did likewise. There was confusion among the ranks of the
enemy, with a few horses bolting and tossing their riders. Trains vehicles
flipped over. After a few minutes, the enemy column scattered. The tanks rolled
on. Behind them were the first Polish dead.
The morning fog slowly grew denser. Hardly anything could be
seen. But that also meant the enemy could not see the tanks. Oberleutnant
Buchterkirch had his tanks form up in column. The tank engines howled and the
march continued at maximum speed. Klein Klonia was passed and the Prut reached
without encountering any trace of Polish resistance. At 0915 hours, the tanks
were positioned along the railway line east of Prust. All of a sudden, a few
vehicles appeared in the fog. They were the lead vehicles of the divisional
reconnaissance battalion. Nothing had as yet been seen of the enemy. A single
motorcycle approached along the roadway. Machine guns bellowed; the motorcycle
stopped, with two men jumping off and raising their hands, flabbergasted. They
were Polish officers, the first prisoners.
Farther to the rear, Panzer-Regiment 6 had also encountered
enemy forces. Around 0600 hours, its tanks were outside of Zahn. Visibility was
poor, even though the sun was starting to peek through. A creek was crossed,
followed by a large tract of marshland, which caused the first losses. A heavy
tank got bogged down and churned itself ever deeper into the marshland with its
running gear. A few minutes later, the same fate befell two other vehicles. The
other tanks passed them, unconcerned. The maintenance contact teams were
summoned forward by radio. The artillery liaison officer, Oberleutnant Weymann,
also had bad luck. When he moved onto the Zahn–Großlossburg with his armored
vehicle, the rear track came off the running gear. The disabled vehicle was
discovered by a Polish bicycle patrol, which approached the vehicle’s crew,
which had dismounted and was working on the track. But before the Poles could
become dangerous, German tanks appeared and shot the patrol to pieces.
The clocks showed 1000 hours, when the fog lifted all at
once. The 7th Company of Panzer-Regiment 6 (Hauptmann Friedrichs), moving on
the left, suddenly encountered strong defensive fires coming a patch of woods
jutting out near Gross Klonia. The Poles had dug in and become invisible in the
woods and were firing antitank guns at pointblank range at the tanks. Two
vehicles were hit and immobilized immediately, while the others went into cover
behind in the rolling terrain. The company attempted to bypass the patch of
woods, but was forced to halt again by the enemy’s fires. The riflemen bringing
up the rear also ran into Polish infantry fire, with the result that it was
impossible to advance in that sector.
The regiment ordered a general halt in order to wait for the
other formations to close up. The 2nd Battalion of the division, which was
following the armored regiment, was ordered forward. Likewise, the 1st Company
of the motorcycle battalion, under the command of Oberleutnant von
Cochenhausen, which had heretofore not had any enemy contact, was ordered to
Things were getting urgent. The 7th Company had already lost
a number of vehicles. The first soldiers of the division killed in the war were
lost during that engagement: Leutnant Nienaber, Gefreiter Fromm, Gefreiter
Hopp, and four Panzerschützen (Meyer, Litmann, Godenschweig, and Kirschke). The
5th Battery of Artillerie-Regiment 75 (Hauptmann Haselbach) went into position
in a potato field and took the patch of woods under fire from 800 meters. The
shells exploded in the crowns of the trees, and soon there were smoke and
flames above the wood line. Some of the Poles fled their positions, others
approached the Germans with raised hands. After the artillery observers saw
that two enemy antitank guns had been destroyed, they ordered a stop to the
The 2nd Battalion of Panzer-Regiment 6 made only slow
progress. Every Polish pocket of resistance had to be eliminated individually.
Feldwebel Wolschina of the 6th Company distinguished himself in that round of
fighting by his aggressive advances. As a result, he became the first soldier
of the regiment to receive the Iron Cross, Second Class.
By then, the motorcycle infantry had arrived. Oberleutnant
von Cochenhausen had his company deploy and enter the thick woods. It was
difficult to advance. The underbrush was thick and large trees and branches,
knocked over or off by gunfire or felled, blocked the way. There were still
Polish riflemen everywhere putting up a defense. While clearing the woods, the
company suffered its first soldier killed in action; Leutnant Hiltmann and a
junior noncommissioned officer were wounded.
At that point, the armored regiment was able to continue its
march in the direction of the Brahe. All of the motorcycle battalion had closed
up around Willkowo in the meantime. A motorcycle patrol under Unteroffizier
Petreins from the 3rd Company was dispatched in the direction of Gross Klonia.
A solo rider, Kradschütze Löwenstein, brought the news that the route was clear
of the enemy. At that point, the battalion headed out in the direction of
Panzer-Regiment 5 made faster progress. Moving through
Prust, Hauptmann Edler von der Planitz’s tank company reached the Brahe shortly
after 1100 hours. By then, Buchterkirch’s platoon had advanced along the
railway line, where it was promptly taken under fire from the elevated
embankment by numerically superior Polish forces. The regiment’s tanks arrived
in time to assist. Leutnant Rommel’s platoon was directed by Buchterkirch in an
attack on the embankment and the enemy antitank guns. The tanks overran
everything that got in their way, but they were finally stopped by a field
position protected by wire. They were wedged between the creek and the marshland,
and they had to take up fire from exposed positions. All ammunition was
expended after ten minutes. Fortunately, the regiment’s 1st Company (Hauptmann
Nedtwig), which had been called forward, arrived by then. The other tanks were
able to pull back under its covering fires.
Schützen-Regiment 3 had moved out in the morning with the
tanks, but its main body remained behind the advancing fighting vehicles. In
searing heat, the riflemen marched and rode across the broad, flat terrain. In
the villages that were predisposed to the Germans, the soldiers were greeted
heartily. The greetings were especially heartfelt in Lossberg. Men, women, and
children stood on the streets, waving flags. Who knew how long and where they
might have hidden them?
The two armored regiments, which had worked their way
forward to the Brahe, halted along its western banks. The vehicles and men were
somewhat the worse for wear and waited for the rest of the divisional elements
to close up. By that afternoon, they were thirty kilometers deep in enemy
territory, along with the elements of the reconnaissance battalion that had
been attached. They had driven a wedge into the Polish Army.
But to the right and the left of that wedge, there were
powerful elements of the Polish 9th Infantry Division that were threatening the
flanks. An actual threat materialized from the north from the Tuchel Heath. A
Polish cavalry brigade attacked the left wing of the division.
The troops charged with drawn sabers. It was a scene
straight out of the opening days of World War I. Unfortunately, the Polish
cavalryman did not want to believe or were not allowed to believe that the
German tanks were made out of steel and not wood and cardboard. The machine-gun
fire from the tanks wreaked havoc among the ranks of the enemy riders. But they
did not give up. The rode back, reorganized, and attacked again.
In the meantime, friendly artillery had gone into position
in the open fields between Bagnitz and Prust. Its fires completely destroyed
the Polish cavalry charge. Elements of the rifle regiment were also there. The
heavy machine-gun section of the regiment’s 1st Company was able to thin the
enemy’s ranks with well-aimed fire. Hauptmann von Bosse’s 1st Battalion assumed
a flank guard mission north of Gross Klonia.
By early afternoon, the division had reached its day’s
objective. The commander went to the corps headquarters to make his report.
Everything seemed to be going according to plan.
The commanding general was not satisfied. Guderian ordered
the crossing of the Braha that very afternoon. He wanted to remain on the
enemy’s heels—just as he had always preached.
It was directed that the motorcycle battalion move first
across the Brahe with all of its available companies. The 2nd Company, together
with support from the engineers, succeeded in crossing the river on rubber
boats and floats about three kilometers south of the railway line. The 3rd
Company followed shortly thereafter. That same night, the 1st Company
established a bridgehead on the east bank of the Kamionka. The bridgehead was
held until the arrival of the rifle platoons.
The reconnaissance battalion forced the river in a surprise
attack directly outside of Hammermühle. The bridge was taken. The tanks that
followed took a Polish bicycle company that was hastily arriving to defend the
By then, it had turned midnight. Hammermühle and the
farmsteads all around it were blazing like torches. To both sides and the rear,
pyrotechnic flares were being shot skyward, a sure sign that the division was
well ahead of the remaining forces of the corps. Oberleutnant von Manteuffel
did not allow his motorcycle infantry any rest. His men were able to reach
Swiekatowo. That was as far as they got; the battalion set up an all-round
defense in the woods. That same night, there was a wild firefight. A large
Mercedes suddenly showed up with headlights on, driving right into the
encampment of the 1st Company. The German guards were just as surprised as the
two Polish officers in the car. The Poles entered captivity with glowering
faces. A few minutes later, they received company in the form of a mounted
patrol that also rode into the bivouac site without a clue.
Major Freiherr von Wechmar’s reconnaissance battalion
received orders during the night to continue advancing east, along with the
attached 2nd Battery of the artillery regiment and some tanks from the
Panzer-Lehr-Abteilung. The next objective for the newly formed advance guard
was the Vistula.
As it started to dawn on the second day of the war, the
reconnaissance and motorcycle battalions continued their advance east. They
knew that the armored brigade and the rifle regiment would close up behind
them. The division had created a strong second wave in the form of a
Kampfgruppe under Generalmajor Stumpff. It consisted of the II./Panzer-Regiment
5, the II./Panzer-Regiment 6, the II./Artillerie-Regiment 75, and the remaining
elements of Kradschützen-Bataillon 3. The elements of the rifle regiment that
remained behind in Kamionka moved out and into the Tuchel Heath around 0800
hours. The gigantic expanses of woods had an eerie quality to them. No one knew
what could be hiding in them.
The Poles then upset the apple cart a bit with regard to the
German plans. Strong elements from the Polish 9th and 27th Infantry Divisions,
as well as the Pomeranian Cavalry Brigade, conducted a surprise attack on the
German bridgehead at Hammermühle early in the morning and established
themselves along the road to Swiekatowo. That meant that the advanced elements
of the division were threatened with being cut off. Even worse, a loss of the
bridgehead would have negative effects on the continued attack of the entire
That morning, only Hauptmann Beigel’s 1st Company of the
engineer battalion was arrayed along the Hammermühle. The division commander,
unaware of what was happening, continued toward the front in order to receive
the reports from the formation commanders. All of a sudden, heavy machine-gun
fire flared up from the nearby woods. The enemy fires increased in intensity by
the minute. Generalleutnant von Schweppenburg; his adjutant, Major von
Wietersheim; and an assistant operations officer, Oberleutnant von Levetzow,
had to take cover immediately. The headquarters of the division and of the
divisional artillery, which arrived a short while later, also got caught in the
fire. The division’s command-and-control ability was lost for a short while on
that day. The two headquarters and the accompanying radio operators from the
divisional signals battalion suffered their first casualties. The officers had
no choice but to bound back across the 100 meters of open meadowland to get to
a steep downward slope to the rear. They were received there by the combat outposts
of the rifle regiment.
That did not accomplish much, since Polish fires started to
impact there as well and stymied every attempt to pull back and occupy better
positions. Although the engineers attempted an immediate counterattack into the
thick woods, they were unable to dislodge the well-entrenched enemy.
The division commander had the Kampfgruppe of Oberst
Kleemann, which was still relatively far back, brought forward to relieve the
beleaguered force. Unfortunately, that battle group had changed its direction
of march just a few minutes previously and had not turned its radios back on to
receive. As a result, hours passed. The division commander had no idea at that
point where his individual battalions and regiments were.
Finally, German soldiers appeared from the west. They were
not formations from the 3. Panzer-Division, however. Instead, it was the
reconnaissance troop of Rittmeister von Götz from the divisional reconnaissance
battalion of the 23. Infanterie-Division, which was in the second wave.
The Polish attack not only cut off the command-and-control
elements of the division that morning, it also hit the elements of the division
that had already ranged well to the east. During the night, the 2nd Battalion
of Panzer-Regiment 6 had assumed the mission of screening the bottleneck
between the lakes at Swiekatowo. The enemy thrust early that morning slammed
right into that area with full force. The 5th and 6th Companies were able to
turn back the first attack effort until 0900 hours. Two platoons from the 6th
Company particularly distinguished themselves in the engagement. They were the
platoons of Leutnant Graf von Kageneck and Leutnant von Diest-Koerber. Also
worthy of note were the achievements of Unteroffizier Wehrmeister and Gefreiter
Deuter, who were in the thick of things with their fighting vehicles.
Nonetheless, that company suffered its first five dead in that fighting:
Feldwebel Fiedler, Unteroffizier Fleher, Gefreiter Schreiber, Oberschütze
Feldhahn, and Panzerschütze Bischoff.
By noon, the enemy had pulled back to his original line of
departure. Due to a lack of fuel, the friendly vehicles were not able to attack
him. When the commander of Panzer-Regiment 6 brought up reinforcements in the
afternoon, the 2nd Battalion attacked to the north and was able to drive the
enemy back. At the same time, the 5th and 8th Companies screened the flank to
the east. The 6th Company attacked identified enemy antitank-gun positions and
put the guns out of commission. The 5th Company was also able to eliminate some
antitank guns—three in all. In the process, it rescued a platoon from the 4th
Company, which had advanced the farthest north but had also shot off all of its
ammunition. By late afternoon, all threats had been eliminated and the
battalion moved out to continue east after rearming.
The 1st Company of the motorcycle battalion was immediately
ordered back to Hammermühle, as was the 1st Company of the rifle regiment. The
2nd Battery of the divisional artillery turned its guns around 180 degrees and
fired with everything it was capable of.
Hauptmann Boehm’s riflemen moved as quickly as they could to
Hammermühle. Along the way were ammunition vehicles and baggage trains that had
been overrun by the tanks, as well as the corpses of horses and of Poles killed
in action. General Guderian appeared and encouraged the soldiers, waving them
on. After moving four kilometers through woods, a halt was ordered. Polish
artillery held up any further movement and was raking the road with heavy fire.
The company’s vehicles were brought forward, and the march continued through
Johannisberg and Stansilawa to Koritowo.
All of a sudden, General von Schweppenburg was standing in
front of the men. He personally directed the 3rd Platoon of Feldwebel Hillinger
against the enemy battery.
Panzer-Regiment 5 then moved out to attack Gross Lonk. On
the far side of Koritow, the fighting vehicles ran into the artillery positions
of the enemy. Disregarding the intense fires and brave resistance, the tanks
plunged into the Polish lines and individually took out the guns. That did not
occur without perceptible losses, however.
The 1st Company of Kradschützen-Bataillon 3 assumed the
mission of protecting the division command post with one of its platoons. The
remaining two platoons advanced into the woods north of Hammermühle. Two Polish
infantry companies were wiped out in tough fighting. The two platoons lost two
dead and four wounded in that engagement and only had thirty men altogether by
the end of the evening. The batteries that were brought forward fired over open
sights. The 3rd Battery lost Hauptwachtmeister Hippe in the process, the first
Spieß of the division to be killed, an indicator of the toughness of the
fighting and also the bravery of the enemy. By evening, the division had mastered
the dangerous situation with its own forces. It was then able to rapidly move
its elements to the east across the Brahe.
In the meantime, the motorcycle battalion had taken Klonowo
with its remaining two companies and a few tanks from the Panzer-Lehr-Abteilung.
Unconcerned about the sounds of fighting to their rear, the motorcycle infantry
and reconnaissance troopers continued their advance east. The sun blazed
mercilessly that day, with rain following in the afternoon. The tanks and
riflemen moved, marched, and advanced. The roads were poor and frequently only
had a single lane. All of the traffic had to work its way around that. The
roads became clogged and there were unpleasant stops. The reconnaissance
battalion was far ahead of the division and moved right through the middle of
enemy detachments, which were equally shocked and surprised and incapable of
offering a defense. Major von Wechmar intended to reach the Vistula before the
onset of darkness. But intertwined enemy columns or vehicles and trees that had
fallen victim to Stukas blocked the way. The enemy was not falling back
uniformly. Resistance around Rozana was especially hard.
The reconnaissance battalion was unable to advance any
farther. The armored car crews, supported by the 1st Battery of the artillery
regiment (Leutnant Hoffmann), had a hard fight on their hands at the Poledno
Estate, which was being defended by Polish cavalry. The advance guard suffered
its first officer casualties. The commander of the 2./Aufklärungs-Abteilung 3,
Rittmeister von Prittwitz und Gaffron, the former adjutant to Generaloberst von
Fritsch, was wounded in the stomach. The brave officer refused to be operated
on at the main clearing station, insisting that the surgeons operate on the
more severely wounded first. Leutnant Adam died on the battlefield at the head
of his reconnaissance platoon. Once stopped, the battalion “circled the wagons”
with its vehicles, the village of Rozana, set alight by air attacks and
artillery, forming a backdrop.
The motorcycle battalion pivoted from its movement east to
head south in order to help the reconnaissance battalion. But the motorcycle
infantry were not able to get beyond the line reached by the armored cars. In
contrast, the divisional engineers had more success in the effort to take
Rozana. They had been directed there by the division commander. Major von
Mertens led his engineers in the assault on the shot-up and burning town and
took possession of it that night.
The 2nd Battalion of Panzer-Regiment 6 also moved out in the
evening (around 2000 hours). Hauptmann Bernewitz’s 8th Company advanced as far
as Polskie-Lakie. At that point, the tanks encountered a surprisingly strong
antitank defense. Three friendly tanks were knocked out. The battalion then
pulled back 1,000 meters, set the village alight, and then set up an all-round
defense for the night.
The division could be satisfied with its achievements that
day. Its formations had not only stymied the efforts of the Poles to break
through, but they had also broken into the front of the Corridor Army. The
corps brought the 23. Infanterie-Division across the Brahe and employed it to
the left of the division.
The 1st Battalion of the rifle regiment assumed the flank
guard mission for the division during the night. The plucky riflemen succeeded
in orienting themselves in the dark woods and fields and taking up good
positions. They throttled all attempts by the Poles to find a gap in the German
lines. The division discovered with certainty that its tanks had advanced so
far into the corridor that elements of the Polish forces had been bypassed.
The night was very cool. That was especially noticeable
after a humid summer’s day, as the past one had been. Something else had a
negative impact on the soldiers as well: hunger and thirst. The supply elements
were still far to the rear as a result of the rapid advance and the poor road
network. They had barely gotten beyond Hammermühle. Some of the men found the
courage to sneak across the fields in an effort to milk some cows that had gone
astray. Among artillery circles within the division, that night was always
referred to as “the hour of the Ortsbauernführer.”
The advance started all over again at 0400 hours across the
entire frontage of the division. The march route ran parallel to the Vistula
along the Poledno–Drozdowo road. The reconnaissance and motorcycle battalions
were the first to move out, followed by the armored brigade (at least those
elements that had been refueled). The 2nd Company of the motorcycle battalion,
which was in the lead, received heavy fire from Drozdowo shortly after moving
out and bogged down. The battalion commander quickly brought his 3rd Company
forward and employed it north of the road, along with the 1st Company, which
was still exhausted from the previous day. The 1st Company approached the
railway embankment behind Belno. Oberleutnant von Cochenhausen intended to let
his men rest after that. It remained an intent. A transport train steamed in.
The motorcycle infantry forced it to halt; 4 officers and 128 enlisted
personnel were taken prisoner.
All of the remaining elements of the division also advanced
against numerically superior Polish forces. The enemy field army command had
recognized the situation it was in—the rapidly growing threat of
encirclement—and was doing everything in its power to pull its division across
the Vistula on the road leading to Kulm.
The armored brigade attacked at first light from Swiekatowo
in the direction of Heinrichsdorf and Biechowoko toward the northwest in an
effort to interdict the retreat routes. Both of the division’s armored
regiments and the attached Panzer-Lehr-Abteilung moved at “full speed ahead.”
But it was soon discovered that the Poles had placed very strong antitank
defenses at the entrance to every village. As a result, there was hard fighting
that was not without casualties.
Panzer-Regiment 6, moving on the right, crossed the
Terespol–Tuchel road, with Hauptmann Schneider-Kostalski’s 2nd Company
eliminating three Polish machine-gun tanks in the process. Defiles then held up
further advance. The regiment pivoted to the left and ran into elements of the
advancing Panzer-Regiment 5. Enemy infantry continued defending everywhere
after being bypassed by the tanks and made life difficult for the riflemen
The tanks reached the Terespol–Oslowo area and then pressed
on to the east, but the following formations ran into strong enemy forces. Only
the 4th Battery of the artillery regiment was able to successfully stay on the
heels of the enemy. The remaining battery received considerable fire from the
village of Heinrichsdorf. Hauptmann Haselbach assumed command of the forces in
the area and had the 5th and 6th Batteries unlimber in a depression. Patrols
were sent out in all directions. Sections under Wachtmeister Rademacher and
Unteroffizier Himmel searched the nearby farmsteads, while Leutnant Grotewald
occupied the industrial area of Heinrichsdorf with the ammunition section of
the 4th Battery, which had been left behind.
The Poles tried to open the road to Terespol with all the
means at their disposal. But it was already too late at noon on that hot summer
day to accomplish that, even though elements of the Polish 9th Infantry
Division—especially elements of the 16th Cavalry Regiment, as well as the 25th
and 35th Infantry Regiments—fought bravely. By then, the rifle regiment was
able to join the developing fray by moving via Poledno and Drozdowo.
At 1240 hours, the artillery took the Poles attempting to
break out under heavy fire. The effect along the road was horrific. Horses
bolted, soldiers ran head over heels into the fields, and limbers and trains
vehicles flipped over. They were followed by fires from Hauptmann Haselbach’s
5th Battery and Leutnant Jaschke’s 6th Battery (Jaschke was acting battery
commander). Hauptwachtmeister Reinig of the 6th Battery identified a Polish
battery going into position along the northern edge of Heinrichsdorf. He
brought up the spotting gun of the battery. The gunner, Wenzel, had the target
in range with his second shell. A few minutes later, the enemy battery was
silenced. For his efforts, Hauptwachtmeister Reinig later became the first
soldier of the artillery regiment to receive the Iron Cross, Second Class.
The rifle regiment attacked at just the right time to
interdict the hard-fighting enemy. Heavy fighting ensued; it was conducted by
the Poles with the courage of desperation. The 1st and 3rd Rifle Companies
assaulted along the road in the direction of Polskie. Hauptmann von Lany, the
commander of the 3rd Company, and Leutnant von Heydebreck, his platoon leader,
were killed. The 1st Company lost its first man with Schütze Krämer.
By then, the Poles had had enough. There was no way to get
out. In addition to twenty artillery pieces and six antitank guns being
destroyed, there were vehicles, ammunition wagons, machine guns, horses, and
articles of equipment scattered everywhere. The rifle regiment took 36 officers
and 800 men prisoner that afternoon; fifteen artillery pieces were among the
spoils of war.
The division did not allow itself to be distracted from its
objective by the fighting to encircle the enemy forces. The reconnaissance
battalion received orders to take Schwetz, while the motorcycle battalion was
sent in the direction of Liepo–Biala–Taszarko. Fortunately, the advance of
Infanterie-Regiment 96 of the 32. Infanterie-Division on the right side of the
division was starting to make its presence felt. Despite that, Polish cavalry
sections continued to surface across the front and created temporary
disruptions here and there. There no longer appeared to be unified command
among the Poles; operations seemed to be left up to the individual unit and
Around 1000 hours, the II./Panzer-Regiment 6 crossed the
Czerna-Woda at F.W. Dedienke. The lead tanks identified the rapid movement of
trains, one after the other, four kilometers away. Oberstleutnant Rothenburg,
who was up front with his tanks, ordered Hauptmann Schneider-Kostalski to block
the reported rail traffic along the stretch between Derispol–Oslowo. The tanks
moved along the sandy road as far as the rail line without encountering any
resistance. The railway crossing guard shack was locked up and the gate
crossing lowered. Schneider-Kostalski was undeterred. He ordered: “Panzer
marsch!” The gate flew in the air with a crash. A cloud of smoke could be seen
to the south. Schneider-Kostalski had his company take up firing positions on
the far side of the line. The train’s engineer must have noticed the movement,
however, since the train slowed and finally stopped. The company commander
opened fire at 250 meters. With the first round, the locomotive’s boiler
exploded with a monstrous cloud of smoke. The doors to the passenger cars
opened everywhere. Polish soldiers jumped out and attempted to flee into the
nearby woods. The tanks of the 4th and 7th Companies showed up at that moment
and joined in the engagement. Sixty Polish soldiers were sent back as
prisoners. They were the last men of a battalion that had boarded the train.
The three tank companies immediately took up the advance on
Lakowicz. At Krapjewitce, they were able to scatter horse-drawn trains
elements. Once past Polskie-Lakie, they encountered Polish cavalry and antitank
elements. The 2nd Company encountered its first enemy tank on the Rozana–Bledno
road at 1100 hours; it was knocked out at 300 meters with two rounds.
The armored brigade reached the training area at Schwetz in
the afternoon and continued its advance north. Toward 1800 hours, the tanks
took Oslowo. The forces reorganized for the attack on the Grupa Training Area.
The rear areas also had to be secured, since there were still strong Polish
forces in the area around Terespol. Those forces did not remain quiet; they
continued to fight to break free. Leutnant Lange, the adjutant of the artillery’s
2nd Battalion, was captured by the enemy during a patrol. He was stabbed, but
he lived to tell the tale.
Major von Wechmar’s reconnaissance battalion pressed past
Schwetz at the onset of darkness without regard for the scattered enemy groups.
He immediately pressed along the Vistula to the north with all of his troops.
To help keep the movement fluid, the division sent the engineer companies of
Major von Mertens, which had just become available, and Hauptmann Reinke’s 3rd
Battery, after the reconnaissance battalion. The engineers and the artillery
made it into Schwetz, but the Poles then started a stubborn defense there.
There was a danger that the engineer battalion might be encircled. The
engineers had to defend from all directions and lost contact with the remaining
elements of the division. Despite that, it was able to prevail. In the end, the
battalion occupied and held Schwetz. The 3rd Battery captured a war chest in
the city hall.
The Polish command knew what was at stake. Energetic officers
rallied their men again and again to bravely defend. As a result, the German
rifle companies did not advance any farther that night. As a result,
Generalleutnant von Schweppenburg ordered the 1st Battalion of the rifle
regiment pulled back to Poledno. The division operations officer, Major von der
Borne, expressed a contrary opinion. He believed the riflemen should remain
where they were. But the division commander wanted to lead his forces in a
traditional cavalry style: pull the forces back tonight so that they could be
used to conduct a “fencer’s leap” the following morning. As a result, he
ordered the battalion back and directed it to hold Poledno “to the last
bullet,” as the pivot point of the entire division.
Only Panzer-Regiment 5 was able to score a success that
evening. It did not remain in Oslowo; instead, it pushed its companies along
sandy routes through the dark woods as far as Dubielno, which was reached
around 0200 hours.
That meant that the encirclement of the enemy forces
fighting in the corridor was just around the corner. The division could see the
blazing fires and hear the sounds of fighting in the nearby fortress of
Graudenz, which had fallen to the East Prussian 21. Infanterie-Division that
day. The XIX. Armee-Korps (mot.) was only a few kilometers from the borders of
The Polish Pomeranian Army had been split in two in three
days of fighting. The field army headquarters was located in Thorn at that
point and was attempting to establish contact with the Modlin or Posen Armies
with its remaining regiments.
General Guderian went to the division headquarters during
the night and ordered the advance to continue, irrespective of the condition of
the beleaguered men and vehicles. The Poles could not be given any time to
cross the Vistula west of Graudenz. Correspondingly, orders were sent to all
elements of the division to move out at first light again.