ORP Kondor project 613 (Whiskey V)

One of four Polish boats of this class.

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

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

Poland (four vessels, 1962–1986, retired)

 ORP Orzeł (292)

 ORP Bielik (295)

 ORP Sokół (293)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whiskey Class medium range SSK

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

Poland Pre-WWII

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Nature of the Polish Right Wing

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

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

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

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

POLISH NAVAL AVIATION IN THE 1939 CAMPAIGN

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fokker F.VIIb-3m – Polish Air Force

By dugazm

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.

Military operators:

    Belgium Air force

    Belgian Congo

    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)

    Yugoslav Royal Air force

Specifications (F.VIIb/3m)

General characteristics

  • Crew: 2
  • Capacity: 8 passengers
  • Length: 14.6 m (47 ft 11 in)
  • Wingspan: 21.7 m (71 ft 2 in)
  • Height: 3.9 m (12 ft 10 in)
  • Airfoil: root: Goettingen 386 (20%) ; tip: Goettingen 388 (11.3%)[10]
  • Empty weight: 6,725 kg (14,826 lb)
  • Gross weight: 11,570 kg (25,507 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Wright J-5 Whirlwind 9-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engine, 164 kW (220 hp)
  • Propellers: 2 or 3-bladed fixed-pitch propellers

Performance

  • Cruise speed: 170 km/h (110 mph, 92 kn)

Polish Tank Ace

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.

Crusader Sieges of Vilnius

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.

Peace

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.

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

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 too serious.

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 divisions.

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 armored regiments.

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 attack.

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 artillery fires.

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 Bagnitz.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 following.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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