When in 1927 and 1928 there was a rush of orders for the F. VIlb-3m, the capacity of the Amsterdam factory was insufficient to cope with the demand. There were already plenty of orders in hand for the F. VIIa, F. VIIa-3m, F. VIII and the military C. V, C. VI and C. VIIw. Fokker therefore decided to sell manufacturing licenses to other aircraft companies.
First was Poland when in October 1928, Plage & Laskiewicz started a series of twenty F. VIIb-3m’s modified as bombers. The Poles acquired the drawings for the commercial airliner and then engineered the necessary changes to convert the type to a bomber role. Following completion of these aircraft, a further eleven were built for airline use.
Polish Air Force operated 21 F.VIIb/3m (20 of them were licence-built) aircraft as bombers and transports between 1929 and 1939.
1 Pułk Lotniczy
211 Eskadra Bombowa
212 Eskadra Bombowa
213 Eskadra Bombowa
The majority of these entered service with the Polish airline LOT.
Military Fokker F.VIIb3m Versions:
F.VIIa/3m a bomber and transport plane.
C-2: Military transport version of the Fokker F.9, powered by three 220 hp (164 kW) Wright J-5 radial piston engines, accommodation for two pilots and 10 passengers; three built in 1926 for the US Army Air Corps
C-2A: Military transport version for the US Army Air Corps, with greater wingspan, powered by three 220 hp (164 kW) Wright J-5 radial piston engines, accommodation for two pilots and 10 passengers; eight built in 1928.
C-7: Military transport conversion of C-2A for the US Army Air Corps by re-engining with 300 hp (220 kW) Wright R-975 engines. XC-7 prototype and four C-2As redesignated in 1931.
C-7A: Six new production C-7 (Wright R-975) aircraft with larger wings, new vertical fin design, and fuselages patterned after the commercial F.10A
TA.1: Military transport version of the US Navy and Marine Corps; three built.
TA.2: Military transport version for the US Navy; three built.
TA.3: Military transport version for the US Navy, powered by three Wright J-6 radial piston engines; one built.
Belgium Air force
Independent state of Croatia
Czechoslovakia Air Force
Finnish Air Force (one F.VIIa)
French Air Force (5 F.VIIa/m and 2 F.VII/3m)
Regia Aeronautica (Italy)
Luchtvaartafgeling (Netherlands)received three bomber F.VIIa/3m aircraft)
Polish Air Force (operated 21 F.VIIb/3m (20 of them were licence-built) aircraft as bombers and transports between 1929 and 1939.)
Spanish Republican Air Force
United States Army Corps (designations include Atlantic-Fokker C-2, C-5 and C-7)
United States Navy and Marine Corps (originally designated TA then RA)
A TKS armed with a Nkm wz.38 FK 20mm autocannon, the same type commanded by Orlik.
The alleged wreck of Prince Victor von Ratibor’s Panzer IV.
Sketch of the clash at Pociecha made by R. Columbine. 1, II-positions of TK tankettes from km; III, IILA, IlIB with TKS which were armed with 20 mm cannons positions; 1, 2, 3-positions of hit German tanks.
Sketch of the battle for Sieraków also made by R. Columbine. Shown are TKS tankettes with 20 mm cannon, during which they engaged German tanks (marked with numbers from 1 to 7)
Plutonowy podchorąży rez. Roman Edmund Orlik (71. armoured dyon of Wielkopolska Cavalry Brigade) was one of the first tank aces of WW II.
On 18th of September during the combat of Pociecha he eliminated 3 tanks from Panzer-Regiment 11. from 1. Leichte-Division. He also destroyed several motorized vehicles during that combat and took 2 prisoners of war (tank crew). He also tried to rescue the crew of one of those eliminated by him German tanks – which started to burn – but he – unfortunately – didn’t manage to rescue them and all of them died.
Among tanks eliminated by Orlik on 18th of September there was tank of Leutnant (or Oberleutnant ?) Victor IV Albrecht von Ratibor – commander of a platoon. The whole his platoon was eliminated during that combat and Prinz Victor IV Albrecht von Ratibor was heavily WIA and severely burned – and after a few minutes he died. He was born in 1916 and was first son of Victor III August and Elizabeth zu Oettingen-Oettingen und Öttingen-Spilberg.
On 19th of September Orlik eliminated 7 German tanks (from Panzer-Abteilung 65. or from I. battalion of Panzer-Regiment 11.) during the battle of Sieraków. Most of those 7 tanks eliminated (most probably 6 of them) were Pz-35(t) tanks.
His tankette was one of 2 tankettes from 71. armoured dyon of Wielkopolska Cavalry Brigade (both of them were TKS tankettes with 20mm automatic guns) which broke through to Warsaw (during the night from 20th to 21st of September 1939). He was later fighting in Warsaw until 28th of September 1939.
Orlik’s victories (kills) during the battle of Sieraków
German sources say that during the failed German Panzer counterattack on Sieraków, Panzer-Abteilung 65. lost 26 KIA and WIA tank crewmen (including 4 officers, 5 NCOs and 17 soldiers).
The majority of tanks of Panzer-Abteilung 65. which took part in the attack (and most probably the whole Abteilung took part) were eliminated during that battle. Also Bade writes about this. According to Bade (and also according to German daily reports) the remaining German tanks escaped towards Hornówek and Lipków.
German tanks were attacking (according to Bade – but Polish sources confirm it) in two separated groups at the same time (it is possible – but not certain -, that apart from Panzer-Abteilung 65. also I. battalion of Panzer-Regiment 11. took part in that attack – or at least some part of it). Both groups were defeated and dispersed.
From the first group the Poles eliminated 27 tanks – 7 by Orlik, 20 by 7. light artillery dyon (direct fire) and 7. horse rifle regiment (the majority by regimental AT guns). During combats with this group the Poles (7. horse rifle regiment) lost 56 men – 14 KIA and 42 WIA.
From the second group the Poles eliminated 11 tanks – including 2 by direct fire of artillery platoon from 14. light artillery dyon (porucznik F. Orzeszko) and 3 by platoon of AT guns cal. 37mm of podporucznik Wiktor Ziemiński from 14. uhlan regiment (two of them were destroyed by Wiktor Ziemiński himself). The remaining 6 were eliminated by elements of 17. and 14. uhlan regiments and 9. horse rifle regiment.
Before the German counterattack, during the Polish attack on Sieraków (in the morning – the attack started , around 10:00 – so after less than 10 hours – Sieraków was captured), platoon from 15. light artillery regiment eliminated 2 tanks. Few tanks were also eliminated by 6. uhlan regiment – which was fighting north of Sieraków. And also in Sieraków (during the Polish attack) – apart from 34 German trucks (full of equipment and ammo), which were captured and later destroyed there, a few tanks were eliminated. While conquering Sieraków Polish forces also captured 9 machine guns.
Polish forces which took part in the battle of Sieraków – Laski (elements of Wielkopolska and Podolska Cavalry Brigades) were fighting both with tanks of Panzer-Abteilung 65. and tanks of I. battalion of Panzer-Regiment 11. during that day.
During the battle of Sieraków the Poles captured – according to the Polish sources – 70 POWs from II./KSR.4 and inflicted heavy casualties to it.
According to the German sources – both the German daily reports and relation of Bade – II./KSR.4 was dispersed and crushed during that day, and the remaining rests of it gathered on the road from Truskaw to Izabelin, where they established a hedgehog defence.
Lithuanian Grand-Duke Jagiełło’s brothers wanted heavier cannons to oppose the Teutonic Knights’ new weapons, but since gun carriages did not exist yet the heavy weapons could only be transported by water. Because the Teutonic Knights controlled the lower reaches of the Nemunas River, the only route from Poland to Lithuania was from the Vistula up the Bug River to the Narew, then up that river’s tributaries until close to streams that led down to the Nemunas at Gardinas. Cannon could be dragged over a short portage, or perhaps even transported the entire way over the many bodies of water in the Masurian Lake district. Not unexpectedly, the Teutonic Knights sought to block this route by building forts in the wilderness north of the Narew. This presented some complications, because that land belonged to the Masovian dukes, but it did hinder Jagiełło’s efforts to send assistance to his brothers. The wilderness had been unoccupied since the withdrawal of the Sudovians to the east, and empty of all humans other than raiding parties from Prussia, Lithuania, and Masovia. But technically it was still Masovian.
Meanwhile the war had become even more brutal than before.
The Teutonic Knights decapitated any Poles captured in the Lithuanian forts –
they accused them of apostasy and aiding pagans – and the crusader raids into
Samogitia met so little resistance that they were little more than manhunts. In
reprisal the Samogitians occasionally sacrificed prisoners to their gods,
burning knights alive, tied to their mounts in full armour over a giant pyre,
or shooting them full of arrows while bound to a sacred tree. Even so, the war
was not continuous. Despite the desperate nature of the fighting, there were
truces and sudden changes in alliances; and nothing disturbed the universal
love of hunting, for which special truces were arranged.
Although Vytautas was a crusader ally, as he saw his
ancestral lands being destroyed he began to look for an alternative means of
returning to power in Vilnius. Intellectually, he understood that it was most
logical to join forces with his cousin, but Vytautas was a passionate man, not
always ruled by his mind. Besides, he had not forgotten Jagiełło’s past
treacheries and, well-aware of assassination plots, he surrounded himself with
Tatar bodyguards. Consequently Vytautas was an emotional pendulum, swinging
from one side to the other, forced to seek help from someone, but not liking
any of the available allies. The Teutonic Knights took a cynical but
philosophical view of this, as one chronicler stated: ‘Pagans rarely do what is
right, as the broken treaties of Vytautas and his relatives prove’.
Still, when he considered the situation rationally Vytautas
saw his present alliance with the Teutonic Order as a losing strategy. Victory
under such circumstances would make him an impoverished ruler, hated by his own
people and dependent upon the goodwill of the grand master. He may have sent a
message to Jagiełło, somehow evading the order’s efforts to watch over his
every move; if so, it was undoubtedly vague, the kind which would do no harm if
discovered. Or perhaps Jagiełło merely sensed that the time was ripe to make
his cousin a proposal. All that is known for certain is that in early August
1392 Jagiełło sent Bishop Henryk of Płock to Prussia as his emissary. This
rather unpriestly Piast prince-bishop was related by marriage to the king’s
sister, Alexandra of Masovia. Henryk used the opportunity provided by
confession to inform Vytautas of his master’s propositions. Vytautas, under the
pretext of allowing his wife to make a visit home, told Anna to negotiate with
Jagiełło; he also managed to secure the release of many hostages who had been
kept in honourable captivity in scattered fortresses. Then he gave his sister
in marriage to Bishop Henryk and dismissed the English crusaders who had just
arrived to join another invasion of Lithuania. He thus eliminated from the game
the most dangerous bowmen in Europe, warriors who had been so effective in
recent battles with Jagiełło’s subjects.
Vytautas plotted his betrayal carefully, arranging for the
Samogitian warriors stationed in the crusader castles entrusted to him to kill
or capture the Germans in the garrisons. After this had succeeded, he sent
Lithuanian armies on widely separated fronts into Prussia and Livonia and
overwhelmed what forces the Teutonic Knights still had in Samogitia. Vytautas’
return to Lithuania was greeted with wild enthusiasm. Every Samogitian
appreciated his courage and cunning, contrasted his genial personality with
Jagiełło’s vengeful brothers, and understood that the series of military
disasters was likely now at an end; and the highlanders were happy to see the
reign of foreigners – Poles – at an end.
It was a year before Grand Master Wallenrode was able to
take his revenge. In January of 1393 he struck at Gardinas, employing Dutch and
French knights. This threatened to cut the major communication route between
Masovia and Vilnius, effectively isolating Lithuania. Vytautas and Jagiełło
appealed to the papal legate to arrange for peace talks, which did in fact take
place in Thorn in the summer. After ten days, however, Wallenrode became ill
and left the conference. A short while later he died.
The new grand master, Conrad von Jungingen, was a decisive
leader of far-reaching plans and far-reaching vision. Regional peace could be
achieved, he believed, by a decisive victory in Vilnius, the one location that
Vytautas and Jagiełło had to defend with all their might.
Already collecting in Prussia in the waning days of 1393 was
a great army of French and German crusaders, among whom was a body of
Burgundian archers (perhaps English mercenaries) whose concentrated firepower
had the potential to savage the pagans quite as badly as they had mauled French
armies in recent years. The crusaders began their march up the Nemunas in
January 1394, relying on the thick ice to serve as a highway into the
Lithuanian heartland. Vytautas attempted to halt the crusader march early on,
but he barely escaped death under the first barrage of his enemies’ missile
weapons, and his army was badly routed. The Lithuanian stand turned into a
hurried retreat before the 400 advancing crusader knights and their thousands
of sergeants and infantry.
Vytautas received a reinforcement from Poland, a strong
contingent of knights, to join the 15,000 mounted warriors under his command,
but their numbers were insufficient to stop the advance of the now much-feared
archers into the heart of his country. The crusaders passed through forests,
swamps, and open fields, evading ambushes, to reach Vilnius, where Vytautas was
joined by his Rus’ian troops. The grand prince fought a desperate engagement,
giving and taking heavy losses until his Rus’ian wing fled and was followed by
one Lithuanian unit after the other. At last, he, too, had to retreat, and
again he barely escaped the field alive. While Vytautas sought to rally his
scattered and demoralised forces at a safe distance, the Teutonic Knights settled
down to besiege his capital, a place they knew well from 1390. They made new
plans to celebrate the conversion of the Lithuanians, this time assured by
their arms that the baptismal ceremony would take place properly – a true
conversion, not the ambiguous promises of Jagiełło and Vytautas, whose
Christian names were used only in formal documents. What further proof, the
crusaders asked, did anyone need that their allegiance to Rome was very thin?
On the eighth day of the siege the Livonian master arrived to
reinforce the crusader host. He was welcomed heartily, for now the crusaders
could surround the entire city, contain the sorties from the fortress, and make
a determined assault on the wall at its weakest point. The Livonian forces were
sent to the river front, where they built two bridges, then rode across the
river to plunder the countryside. In this foraging they lost fifty men (only
three of them German and only one a knight, indicating that a large native
contingent was present) while killing and capturing ‘innumerable’ Lithuanians.
Nevertheless, the siege did not go well. After another week of fighting, the
firing posts that the engineers had built for the archers, the siege towers,
and the bridges were destroyed by an inferno that the garrison set during a
sortie. Nevertheless, the crusaders had some successes – their artillery had
brought down a stone tower and set fire to various wooden fortifications. Soon
afterward, however, the Lithuanians set a tower in the crusader camp ablaze,
which not only caused extensive casualties among the French but destroyed most
of the supplies, so that the crusaders would be unable to remain at Vilnius as
long as planned. The grand master allowed the war of engineers to continue four
more days, but it was obvious that the Lithuanians could destroy new siege
works almost as fast as the crusaders could build them. An assault would
require more time to prepare than the army could be kept fed by its remaining
supplies. Also, Vytautas had been regrouping his scattered forces. Scouts were
reporting that he would soon be coming to relieve the city. This meant that the
crusaders would have to fight on two fronts – an unattractive prospect.
The leaders of the crusader armies met, discussed their
situation, and reluctantly agreed to abandon the siege. The grand master sent
the Livonian forces home first, then moved west himself, harassed by
Lithuanians cutting down trees across the road, fortifying the river crossings,
and laying ambushes in the woods. The Prussian force alternately negotiated and
fought its way along the route away from Vilnius, then abruptly changed
direction and marched through Samogitia, thereby avoiding Vytautas’ army and
the obstacles he had erected.
The expedition had been one of the most memorable enterprises
of the medieval era – the siege of an enemy capital with knights and military
specialists drawn from all of Europe – and a chivalric exploit worthy of any
land; but the capture of the greatest city in Lithuania was beyond the ability
of the crusaders. The war continued, with the Teutonic Order striking up the
Nemunas River and ravaging the Samogitian settlements; they were far from
attempting another invasion of the highlands, farther yet from Jagiełło’s
capital. The Lithuanians remained on the defensive, biding their time. They had
no reason to risk everything on a pitched battle, no reason to carry the war
back into Prussia. Not yet, at least.
By the end of 1393 Vytautas was master of Lithuania. He had
driven all Jagiełło’s brothers from the land, and when his forces won a major
battle in 1394, crushing the Volhynian, Galician, and Moldavian dukes, Jagiełło
completely abandoned his brothers to their fate: Kaributas went into exile in
Cracow; the Moldavian ruler also fled to Cracow, where he was imprisoned;
Skirgaila died in Kiev in 1396, probably poisoned; and Svidrigailo fought for
the Teutonic Order briefly before achieving a reconciliation. The former
bishop, Henryk, died, unmourned, of poison.
Jagiełło retained the title of supreme prince, and Vytautas
was satisfied with the lesser title of great prince until his very last days.
But as time passed, so real authority passed into the hands of Vytautas.
Meanwhile the crusader raids into Lithuania continued. Not
only were the Prussian forces constantly in Samogitia, but so too was the black
and white banner of the Livonian master – a black centre stripe horizontally
flanked by white, with contrasting triangular tails fluttering behind. The last
raid into Samogitia came in the winter of 1398, when the crusaders took 700
prisoners and 650 horses, and killed many people; they had surprised the
defenders by entering the country during changeable weather, a gamble that had
rarely proven worth the risk before, but paid high returns when successful.
Vytautas did not retaliate. He was campaigning in southern Rus’, longing for an
end to the troublesome northern war that was hindering his chances for success
on the steppe. Only his promise to Jagiełło stood in the way of making peace.
Of course, promises were not serious obstacles to Vytautas.
Vytautas had an excuse to refuse obedience to Polish orders
soon afterward, when Jadwiga (who – not Jagiełło – was legally rex of Poland)
demanded a tax from the Lithuanians, a tax that Vytautas’ boyars had no desire
to pay. The royal demand was not unreasonable. Vytautas had depended on Polish
aid to defend Samogitia, and Polish nobles and clergy were asking why they had
to bear all the costs, while the Lithuanians paid nothing. The Poles probably
reasoned that Vytautas had no choice, and that no matter how much he protested,
in the end he would make his subjects pay.
This presumed reasoning underestimated Vytautas. The grand
prince was not fixated on Samogitia. Instead, he was studying the situation on
the steppe. In the process of driving Jagiełło’s brothers from their lands in
southern Rus’, Vytautas had confirmed suspicions that the Tatar hold on the
region had weakened. Moreover, his popularity among his people would be
seriously undermined if he appeared to be a mere Polish puppet.
Vytautas understood that if he did not pay the tax he would
have to sue for peace with at least one enemy. Better the Teutonic Order than
the Tatars, he reasoned, for it was against the weakened Tatars that he saw the
best prospects of territorial expansion. In contrast to the potential conquest
of the steppe, he could at best fight a defensive war against the Teutonic
Knights. Peace with the grand master, of course, could be had only at a price –
Samogitia. Fortunately for Vytautas, Jagiełło was caught up in the dream of
driving the Tatars from the steppe too, removing them forever as a threat to
his Polish and Lithuanian frontiers; and his Polish subjects, who had lived for
generations in fear of the Tatars, agreed. It helped that Jadwiga knew the
grand master personally and liked him; she had always wanted peace with Prussia
and had encouraged the many inconclusive meetings with the grand master’s
representatives in the past. Now it appeared that there was the likelihood of a
breakthrough in the negotiation process.
Peace talks with the Teutonic Order culminated in September
1398 in the Treaty of Sallinwerder, which surrendered Samogitia to the Germans.
Vytautas and Jagiełło led their armies to Kaunas, where the last pagans of
Samogitia surrendered to the Teutonic Order. The Samogitians growled, but they
understood that they could not fight without the grand prince of Lithuania and
the prince-consort of Poland. Besides, they had been under crusader control before,
and it had not lasted.
The next year, in the summer of 1399, a great army of
Lithuanians, Rus’ians, Tatars, Poles, and Teutonic Knights rode out onto the
steppe to challenge Timur’s domination there. The result was another military
disaster. Had Vytautas been successful,
the history of the Teutonic Order would have taken a new and more exotic turn
than anyone had previously imagined. But even defeat on the steppe did not mean
a return to the old ways. In the years to come some Teutonic Knights would
accompany Vytautas against Rus’ian foes as far away as Moscow, and others would
board ships to destroy a pirate stronghold on the island of Gotland.
It appeared that the crusade was at an end. The Teutonic
Order had achieved its goal, the Christianisation of most pagans and the conquest
of the rest. The Teutonic Knights still welcomed a handful of crusaders to
assist in garrisoning their castles in Samogitia, but the crusade was
essentially over by 1400
Interestingly, the greatest complaints against the Teutonic
Order came from those churchmen who were unhappy that the grand master was not
forcing his new subjects to undergo baptism immediately. Conrad von Jungingen
was instead pursuing a policy of economic development, and creating from the
many petty Lithuanian boyars a smaller, dependable ruling class. He assumed,
probably correctly, that in the course of time, this would result in the
voluntary conversion of these stubborn woodsmen.
Vytautas believed that too. He secretly encouraged the
Samogitians to hold out. He would soon be coming to free them again.
August 1939 approached. The weather was warm and sunny.
There was a lot of activity in the fields and pastures; the harvest needed to
be brought in. Who knew when the next bad weather would come? But the sun still
smiled down from the clear blue skies.
The headquarters and staff sections were filled with
secretive and fast-paced work. The adjutants and liaison officers ran around
with serious faces, and even the clerks and staff noncommissioned officers
became unapproachable. The first batch of reserve officers arrived in the
garrisons at the beginning of August. The soldiers, who had been called up for
eight weeks, had given up hope of being released. It was the same picture every
year. The annual maneuvers were around the corner. But this time, there was no
real anticipation; the reports coming in from east of the Reich frontier were
In July, at the Bergen-Belsen Training Area, the division
had activated the logistical units that belonged to it in accordance with its
mobilization plans. They received the designation Divisions-Nachschubtruppen 83
(Division Support Element 83). By the beginning of August, ten truck columns
had been established. That was followed by the division rations section under
the direction of Stabszahlmeister Flitner. The division bakery company was
under the command of Hauptmann Nagel. There was also the division’s
meat-processing platoon, the field post office (Feldpostinspektor Mollweide),
and the two maintenance companies.
On 17 August, the whistles of the noncommissioned officers
in charge pierced through the hallways of the barracks and the living areas:
“Load up!” Later on, the company commanders revealed the march objective of the
movement that had been ordered: the training area at Groß-Born. The elements of
the division gradually moved out of their various garrisons. The advance
parties of the rifle regiment left Eberswalde the next day, with elements of
the motorcycle battalion following on 19 August and the armored regiments the
day after that. That was followed by the artillery. Everyone thought to
himself: Were we really just going to Groß-Born? Only a few actually knew that
the Army High Command had already taken the preliminary measures for a
mobilization. That meant that the formations capable of “moving out
expeditiously” were to be prepared to move. That included all motorized
As the forces marched out, the family members of the
soldiers gathered to bid farewell, as did the civilian employees of the mess
halls, the canteens, and the administrative elements.
Many career officers and noncommissioned officers had to
depart from the divisional elements during that period. They were transferred
to new commands, activating formations and schools. It was not easy taking
leave of their units. Now that the time had come to prove themselves, their
common experiences and common efforts had to be given up. Reserve officers and
noncommissioned officers took their places. Some of them were from the times of
previous exercises and the march into the Sudetenland, thus allowing them to
find a bridge to foster trust and understanding.
The commanders of the 4th and 5th Batteries changed within
the 2nd Battalion of the division artillery. Major Wöhlermann and Hauptmann
Hellmers gave up their commands to Hauptmann Haselbach and Oberleutnant Nebel
(promoted to Hauptmann on 27 August). Major Burmeister assumed command of the
2nd Battalion of Panzer-Regiment 6.
The march route of the individual elements of the division
took them past Stettin, across the Oder, and through Pomeranian Switzerland
(pommersche Schweiz, the hill country of lower Pomerania, now Poland). On 22
August, a rumor spread through the march serials of a non-aggression pact
between Germany and Russia. That evening, the rumor was confirmed. By then, all
elements of the division were at the training area. The next few days were
spent with the daily duty routine and passed quickly. Weapons and equipment
were maintained; classroom instruction alternated with drill. Engineers
instructed other formations with regard to electrically detonated obstacles and
disarming them. No one thought that a military confrontation was possible.
Suddenly, on 25 August, marching orders arrived. The code
word was “Tannenberg.” At 1800 hours, the formations assembled in the camps for
a final formation. The commanders discovered from the division that the
surreptitious mobilization was to take place, with D-Day being 26 August. The
die had been cast.
The march east started. The border was to be reached that
same evening. The motorcycle battalion took the lead as far as Barkenbrügge.
The armored brigade was to pass through at that point. The lead elements
reached the border east of and to both sides of Preußisch Friedland around 2300
hours. The motorcycle battalion staged in the forests along the border. Its 1st
Company screened along the railway line to Königsberg.
At 2345 hours, orders to halt arrived.
The lead elements were promptly pulled back ten kilometers;
the artillery set up in the thick woods forty kilometers west of the border. No
one knew exactly what was going on. The rumor started to circulate slowly that
the attack had been called off. It was said that the government had made new
proposals to Poland with regard to regulating the Danzig and corridor problems
and that it was waiting for the Polish response.
In an order that must be considered a masterpiece of
planning, the German Army in the East—around half a million strong at this
point—had to be halted at and over the border. The division set up a bivouac
site in the Friedland area. The days spent in the camp were certainly a test of
nerves for the forces, but they also represented a bit of a breather after the
feverish preparations. Hardly any traces of normal duty activities could be
seen. The only thing was pulling guard. On 27 August, an order prohibiting the
sending of mail was imposed for the next few days. Portions of the companies
were detailed to assist in the harvest in the surrounding farmlands. Some
colorful evening celebrations took place, with the one hosted by the 2nd
Battalion of the divisional artillery on the evening of 28 August in
Peterswalde counting among the most impressive. The highlight of the evening
was a singing competition, which the choir from the 5th Battery won. Gefreiter
Salchow was an entertaining master of ceremonies who was not afraid to inject
some political humor. The 2nd Battalion of Panzer-Regiment 6 also held a singing
competition, with the 6th Company taking the prize.
On the evening of 26 August, the motorcycle battalion
returned to the border area again to secure the staging area of the division.
The 3rd Company of Oberleutnant Adler advanced as far as a line running from
the Grünkirch customs building to Grunau. Within the company, the platoon of
Leutnant Arent, who was the Reichsbühnenbildner in civilian life, was
positioned on the right. Leutnant Stadie’s platoon was in the middle and
Leutnant Schmidt’s platoon on the left. Across from them were the Polish
village of Wilkowo and Hill 162, which featured a tall wooden watchtower.
Contrary to expectations, everything remained quiet on the
Polish side, even though some movement could be identified. One antitank gun
and one machine-gun position could be identified. There was little to be seen
of civilians. On the German side, all traffic was forbidden between 2200 and
0500 hours. During that time, the patrols and engineers were active, cutting
tank lanes through the barbed wire.
All of a sudden, around 0100 hours on 29 August, advance
parties from the III./Infanterie-Regiment 25 of the 2. Infanterie-Division
(mot.) showed up. It was part of a deception, whereby the armored division was
being pulled back from the front. The motorcycle battalion moved to the
forestry office at Linde. The next day passed quietly. It rained. There was no
change in activity on 31 August, either. In the midst of all the quiet, orders
arrived around 1600 hours: “Be prepared to move!”
As it started to turn dark on that rainy day, the columns
began to move forward again. The tanks moved into the area on both sides of
Grunau, followed by the rifle regiment. Just after midnight, an attack order
arrived. The war was on!
To that end, the 4. Armee had moved up to the border in
Eastern Pomerania. The commander in chief was General der Artillerie von Kluge.
It was directed for the field army to force a crossing over the Braha, rapidly
reach the west bank of the Vistula in the Kulm–Graudenz area, and eliminate the
Polish forces in the corridor. The main effort of that aspect of the operation
was the XIX. Armee-Korps (mot.). The commanding general, General der
Panzertruppen Guderian, was the creator of the German armored force. Oberst
i.G. Nehring, a longtime assistant to Guderian in the creation of the
Panzertruppe and prewar commander of Panzer-Regiment 5, was his chief of staff.
The corps consisted of the 2. Infanterie-Division (mot.) of
Generalleutnant Bader and the 20. Infanterie-Division (mot.) of Generalleutnant
Wiktorin, in addition to the 3. Panzer-Division of Generalleutnant Freiherr
Geyr von Schweppenburg. Also attached to the corps was the 23.
Infanterie-Division of Generalmajor Graf von Brockdorff-Ahlefeldt, which was
its operational reserve.
As the formation with the most combat power of the corps, it
was to be employed as its main effort. That aspect had already been determined
at a conference at the headquarters of the 4. Armee in Kolberg. According to
the decision made there, the division would advance up to and into the Tuchel
Heath, with its armored brigade in the lead. It was intended for the reinforced
reconnaissance battalion of the division to advance as far as the Vistula after
the bridge over the Braha had been taken. The long, open flanks were to be
screened by the motorized rifle divisions. The first mission given to the
division: “Reach the Braha east of Prust in the vicinity of Hammermühle and
continue the advance to the Vistula in the vicinity of Schwetz!”
To execute that mission, the division received the following
assets in attachment: Panzer-Lehr-Abteilung (Major von Lewinski), Flak-Regiment
101, and a flight of army utility aircraft. At the start of hostilities, the
armored brigade had 324 Panzer I’s and Panzer II’s at its disposal. By
contrast, the Panzer-Lehr-Abteilung was already fielding some of the first
Panzer III’s and Panzer IV’s.
What did things look like from the Polish side? It goes
without saying that the Polish government was prepared for the German attack
and had already initiated mobilization of its own forces for some time.
Starting in the spring of 1939, it had started to systematically “ripen up” its
military and populace for the possible confrontation with Germany. The
Pomeranian Army of General Bortnowski had completed its movement into the
corridor by the end of August. The field army was organized into western and
eastern groups. The Eastern Group of General Boltuc had the mission of
protecting the western flank of the Modlin Army with its 4th and 16th Infantry
Divisions. In addition, it was directed to defend along a line running
Straßburg–Graudenz in the event of a German offensive. The Western Group of
General Skotnicki was directed to hold the corridor, including the flanking
position of Bromberg–Nakel, with its 9th and 15th Infantry Divisions, as well
as the Pomeranian Cavalry Brigade. The 27th Infantry Division was the field
army’s operational reserve. Its orders were to eventually march on Danzig with
the 13th Infantry Division, which would be brought in from Thorn.
The morning of 1 September 1939 dawned . . .
An early-morning fog appeared eerily in the woods; it was
already perceptibly cold. There was an unearthly disquiet everywhere. The
rattle of engines that quickly died off . . . the almost silent marching of
columns . . . whispering and cursing, the light clinking of weapons . . . the
division was ready. The officers continuously looked at their watches. The
hands seemed to move imperceptibly slowly. Then: 0445 hours! There was a
wailing from somewhere, but our artillery was still silent.
All of a sudden, the tank engines howled, tracked rattled,
motorcycles roared. It was as if all unrest and all doubts had been lifted all
at once and wiped away. The 3. Panzer-Division of Berlin and Brandenburg was marching
into war as the lead division of the 4. Armee.
The small tanks were the first ones to make their way
through the lanes created in the wire obstacles by the engineers. It was the
light platoon of the I./Panzer-Regiment 6 of Oberleutnant Buchterkirch. The
mission: “Conduct reconnaissance in the attack zone of the regiment and press
through across the Prust to secure the railway crossing!”
Tank after tank followed, with the Panzer-Lehr-Abteilung in
the lead. Following close behind, dispersed across a wide frontage, was the
rest of the armored brigade. Interspersed were a few squads of riflemen,
mounted in the few SPW’s6 that were available. The rifle brigade followed
closely behind the armored elements in two groups. Oberst Angern, the brigade
commander, led one group, while Oberst Kleemann was in charge of the second
one. The riflemen crossed the border on foot. The motorcycle battalion started
moving through the barbed wire at 0500 hours and was committed behind the
Panzer-Regiment 5 rolled forward on the righthand side of
the attack zone, followed closely by the motorcycles of the
2./Kradschützen-Bataillon 3. The battalion’s 3rd Company followed it, leading a
Flak battery, the 1st Company of the motorcycle battalion, and the 4th and 5th
Batteries of the divisional artillery into sector. Panzer-Regiment 6 was
employed on the left-hand side of the attack zone; its 1st Company was on the
right, the 2nd Company on the left, and the 4th Company following. The
remaining motorcycle elements, the 2nd and 3rd Companies of the divisional
engineers, and a light Flak battery followed the tanks. Guderian rode at the
front in an SPW among the regiment’s tanks.
Fog cascaded over the terrain. Despite that, the tanks
rolled forward across the potato and stubble fields. There wasn’t a Polish
soldier to be seen anywhere. Only the civilian populace could be seen in
individual farmsteads along the way, some raising their arms in greeting,
others glancing fearfully out from behind windows.
Oberleutnant Buchterkirch’s tanks had already advanced
fifteen kilometers when a column of horse-drawn carts suddenly appeared in
front of the entrance to Zahn. It was guarded by a few horse-mounted soldiers.
The first Poles! The Oberleutnant immediately opened fire. The tanks that were
following close behind did likewise. There was confusion among the ranks of the
enemy, with a few horses bolting and tossing their riders. Trains vehicles
flipped over. After a few minutes, the enemy column scattered. The tanks rolled
on. Behind them were the first Polish dead.
The morning fog slowly grew denser. Hardly anything could be
seen. But that also meant the enemy could not see the tanks. Oberleutnant
Buchterkirch had his tanks form up in column. The tank engines howled and the
march continued at maximum speed. Klein Klonia was passed and the Prut reached
without encountering any trace of Polish resistance. At 0915 hours, the tanks
were positioned along the railway line east of Prust. All of a sudden, a few
vehicles appeared in the fog. They were the lead vehicles of the divisional
reconnaissance battalion. Nothing had as yet been seen of the enemy. A single
motorcycle approached along the roadway. Machine guns bellowed; the motorcycle
stopped, with two men jumping off and raising their hands, flabbergasted. They
were Polish officers, the first prisoners.
Farther to the rear, Panzer-Regiment 6 had also encountered
enemy forces. Around 0600 hours, its tanks were outside of Zahn. Visibility was
poor, even though the sun was starting to peek through. A creek was crossed,
followed by a large tract of marshland, which caused the first losses. A heavy
tank got bogged down and churned itself ever deeper into the marshland with its
running gear. A few minutes later, the same fate befell two other vehicles. The
other tanks passed them, unconcerned. The maintenance contact teams were
summoned forward by radio. The artillery liaison officer, Oberleutnant Weymann,
also had bad luck. When he moved onto the Zahn–Großlossburg with his armored
vehicle, the rear track came off the running gear. The disabled vehicle was
discovered by a Polish bicycle patrol, which approached the vehicle’s crew,
which had dismounted and was working on the track. But before the Poles could
become dangerous, German tanks appeared and shot the patrol to pieces.
The clocks showed 1000 hours, when the fog lifted all at
once. The 7th Company of Panzer-Regiment 6 (Hauptmann Friedrichs), moving on
the left, suddenly encountered strong defensive fires coming a patch of woods
jutting out near Gross Klonia. The Poles had dug in and become invisible in the
woods and were firing antitank guns at pointblank range at the tanks. Two
vehicles were hit and immobilized immediately, while the others went into cover
behind in the rolling terrain. The company attempted to bypass the patch of
woods, but was forced to halt again by the enemy’s fires. The riflemen bringing
up the rear also ran into Polish infantry fire, with the result that it was
impossible to advance in that sector.
The regiment ordered a general halt in order to wait for the
other formations to close up. The 2nd Battalion of the division, which was
following the armored regiment, was ordered forward. Likewise, the 1st Company
of the motorcycle battalion, under the command of Oberleutnant von
Cochenhausen, which had heretofore not had any enemy contact, was ordered to
Things were getting urgent. The 7th Company had already lost
a number of vehicles. The first soldiers of the division killed in the war were
lost during that engagement: Leutnant Nienaber, Gefreiter Fromm, Gefreiter
Hopp, and four Panzerschützen (Meyer, Litmann, Godenschweig, and Kirschke). The
5th Battery of Artillerie-Regiment 75 (Hauptmann Haselbach) went into position
in a potato field and took the patch of woods under fire from 800 meters. The
shells exploded in the crowns of the trees, and soon there were smoke and
flames above the wood line. Some of the Poles fled their positions, others
approached the Germans with raised hands. After the artillery observers saw
that two enemy antitank guns had been destroyed, they ordered a stop to the
The 2nd Battalion of Panzer-Regiment 6 made only slow
progress. Every Polish pocket of resistance had to be eliminated individually.
Feldwebel Wolschina of the 6th Company distinguished himself in that round of
fighting by his aggressive advances. As a result, he became the first soldier
of the regiment to receive the Iron Cross, Second Class.
By then, the motorcycle infantry had arrived. Oberleutnant
von Cochenhausen had his company deploy and enter the thick woods. It was
difficult to advance. The underbrush was thick and large trees and branches,
knocked over or off by gunfire or felled, blocked the way. There were still
Polish riflemen everywhere putting up a defense. While clearing the woods, the
company suffered its first soldier killed in action; Leutnant Hiltmann and a
junior noncommissioned officer were wounded.
At that point, the armored regiment was able to continue its
march in the direction of the Brahe. All of the motorcycle battalion had closed
up around Willkowo in the meantime. A motorcycle patrol under Unteroffizier
Petreins from the 3rd Company was dispatched in the direction of Gross Klonia.
A solo rider, Kradschütze Löwenstein, brought the news that the route was clear
of the enemy. At that point, the battalion headed out in the direction of
Panzer-Regiment 5 made faster progress. Moving through
Prust, Hauptmann Edler von der Planitz’s tank company reached the Brahe shortly
after 1100 hours. By then, Buchterkirch’s platoon had advanced along the
railway line, where it was promptly taken under fire from the elevated
embankment by numerically superior Polish forces. The regiment’s tanks arrived
in time to assist. Leutnant Rommel’s platoon was directed by Buchterkirch in an
attack on the embankment and the enemy antitank guns. The tanks overran
everything that got in their way, but they were finally stopped by a field
position protected by wire. They were wedged between the creek and the marshland,
and they had to take up fire from exposed positions. All ammunition was
expended after ten minutes. Fortunately, the regiment’s 1st Company (Hauptmann
Nedtwig), which had been called forward, arrived by then. The other tanks were
able to pull back under its covering fires.
Schützen-Regiment 3 had moved out in the morning with the
tanks, but its main body remained behind the advancing fighting vehicles. In
searing heat, the riflemen marched and rode across the broad, flat terrain. In
the villages that were predisposed to the Germans, the soldiers were greeted
heartily. The greetings were especially heartfelt in Lossberg. Men, women, and
children stood on the streets, waving flags. Who knew how long and where they
might have hidden them?
The two armored regiments, which had worked their way
forward to the Brahe, halted along its western banks. The vehicles and men were
somewhat the worse for wear and waited for the rest of the divisional elements
to close up. By that afternoon, they were thirty kilometers deep in enemy
territory, along with the elements of the reconnaissance battalion that had
been attached. They had driven a wedge into the Polish Army.
But to the right and the left of that wedge, there were
powerful elements of the Polish 9th Infantry Division that were threatening the
flanks. An actual threat materialized from the north from the Tuchel Heath. A
Polish cavalry brigade attacked the left wing of the division.
The troops charged with drawn sabers. It was a scene
straight out of the opening days of World War I. Unfortunately, the Polish
cavalryman did not want to believe or were not allowed to believe that the
German tanks were made out of steel and not wood and cardboard. The machine-gun
fire from the tanks wreaked havoc among the ranks of the enemy riders. But they
did not give up. The rode back, reorganized, and attacked again.
In the meantime, friendly artillery had gone into position
in the open fields between Bagnitz and Prust. Its fires completely destroyed
the Polish cavalry charge. Elements of the rifle regiment were also there. The
heavy machine-gun section of the regiment’s 1st Company was able to thin the
enemy’s ranks with well-aimed fire. Hauptmann von Bosse’s 1st Battalion assumed
a flank guard mission north of Gross Klonia.
By early afternoon, the division had reached its day’s
objective. The commander went to the corps headquarters to make his report.
Everything seemed to be going according to plan.
The commanding general was not satisfied. Guderian ordered
the crossing of the Braha that very afternoon. He wanted to remain on the
enemy’s heels—just as he had always preached.
It was directed that the motorcycle battalion move first
across the Brahe with all of its available companies. The 2nd Company, together
with support from the engineers, succeeded in crossing the river on rubber
boats and floats about three kilometers south of the railway line. The 3rd
Company followed shortly thereafter. That same night, the 1st Company
established a bridgehead on the east bank of the Kamionka. The bridgehead was
held until the arrival of the rifle platoons.
The reconnaissance battalion forced the river in a surprise
attack directly outside of Hammermühle. The bridge was taken. The tanks that
followed took a Polish bicycle company that was hastily arriving to defend the
By then, it had turned midnight. Hammermühle and the
farmsteads all around it were blazing like torches. To both sides and the rear,
pyrotechnic flares were being shot skyward, a sure sign that the division was
well ahead of the remaining forces of the corps. Oberleutnant von Manteuffel
did not allow his motorcycle infantry any rest. His men were able to reach
Swiekatowo. That was as far as they got; the battalion set up an all-round
defense in the woods. That same night, there was a wild firefight. A large
Mercedes suddenly showed up with headlights on, driving right into the
encampment of the 1st Company. The German guards were just as surprised as the
two Polish officers in the car. The Poles entered captivity with glowering
faces. A few minutes later, they received company in the form of a mounted
patrol that also rode into the bivouac site without a clue.
Major Freiherr von Wechmar’s reconnaissance battalion
received orders during the night to continue advancing east, along with the
attached 2nd Battery of the artillery regiment and some tanks from the
Panzer-Lehr-Abteilung. The next objective for the newly formed advance guard
was the Vistula.
As it started to dawn on the second day of the war, the
reconnaissance and motorcycle battalions continued their advance east. They
knew that the armored brigade and the rifle regiment would close up behind
them. The division had created a strong second wave in the form of a
Kampfgruppe under Generalmajor Stumpff. It consisted of the II./Panzer-Regiment
5, the II./Panzer-Regiment 6, the II./Artillerie-Regiment 75, and the remaining
elements of Kradschützen-Bataillon 3. The elements of the rifle regiment that
remained behind in Kamionka moved out and into the Tuchel Heath around 0800
hours. The gigantic expanses of woods had an eerie quality to them. No one knew
what could be hiding in them.
The Poles then upset the apple cart a bit with regard to the
German plans. Strong elements from the Polish 9th and 27th Infantry Divisions,
as well as the Pomeranian Cavalry Brigade, conducted a surprise attack on the
German bridgehead at Hammermühle early in the morning and established
themselves along the road to Swiekatowo. That meant that the advanced elements
of the division were threatened with being cut off. Even worse, a loss of the
bridgehead would have negative effects on the continued attack of the entire
That morning, only Hauptmann Beigel’s 1st Company of the
engineer battalion was arrayed along the Hammermühle. The division commander,
unaware of what was happening, continued toward the front in order to receive
the reports from the formation commanders. All of a sudden, heavy machine-gun
fire flared up from the nearby woods. The enemy fires increased in intensity by
the minute. Generalleutnant von Schweppenburg; his adjutant, Major von
Wietersheim; and an assistant operations officer, Oberleutnant von Levetzow,
had to take cover immediately. The headquarters of the division and of the
divisional artillery, which arrived a short while later, also got caught in the
fire. The division’s command-and-control ability was lost for a short while on
that day. The two headquarters and the accompanying radio operators from the
divisional signals battalion suffered their first casualties. The officers had
no choice but to bound back across the 100 meters of open meadowland to get to
a steep downward slope to the rear. They were received there by the combat outposts
of the rifle regiment.
That did not accomplish much, since Polish fires started to
impact there as well and stymied every attempt to pull back and occupy better
positions. Although the engineers attempted an immediate counterattack into the
thick woods, they were unable to dislodge the well-entrenched enemy.
The division commander had the Kampfgruppe of Oberst
Kleemann, which was still relatively far back, brought forward to relieve the
beleaguered force. Unfortunately, that battle group had changed its direction
of march just a few minutes previously and had not turned its radios back on to
receive. As a result, hours passed. The division commander had no idea at that
point where his individual battalions and regiments were.
Finally, German soldiers appeared from the west. They were
not formations from the 3. Panzer-Division, however. Instead, it was the
reconnaissance troop of Rittmeister von Götz from the divisional reconnaissance
battalion of the 23. Infanterie-Division, which was in the second wave.
The Polish attack not only cut off the command-and-control
elements of the division that morning, it also hit the elements of the division
that had already ranged well to the east. During the night, the 2nd Battalion
of Panzer-Regiment 6 had assumed the mission of screening the bottleneck
between the lakes at Swiekatowo. The enemy thrust early that morning slammed
right into that area with full force. The 5th and 6th Companies were able to
turn back the first attack effort until 0900 hours. Two platoons from the 6th
Company particularly distinguished themselves in the engagement. They were the
platoons of Leutnant Graf von Kageneck and Leutnant von Diest-Koerber. Also
worthy of note were the achievements of Unteroffizier Wehrmeister and Gefreiter
Deuter, who were in the thick of things with their fighting vehicles.
Nonetheless, that company suffered its first five dead in that fighting:
Feldwebel Fiedler, Unteroffizier Fleher, Gefreiter Schreiber, Oberschütze
Feldhahn, and Panzerschütze Bischoff.
By noon, the enemy had pulled back to his original line of
departure. Due to a lack of fuel, the friendly vehicles were not able to attack
him. When the commander of Panzer-Regiment 6 brought up reinforcements in the
afternoon, the 2nd Battalion attacked to the north and was able to drive the
enemy back. At the same time, the 5th and 8th Companies screened the flank to
the east. The 6th Company attacked identified enemy antitank-gun positions and
put the guns out of commission. The 5th Company was also able to eliminate some
antitank guns—three in all. In the process, it rescued a platoon from the 4th
Company, which had advanced the farthest north but had also shot off all of its
ammunition. By late afternoon, all threats had been eliminated and the
battalion moved out to continue east after rearming.
The 1st Company of the motorcycle battalion was immediately
ordered back to Hammermühle, as was the 1st Company of the rifle regiment. The
2nd Battery of the divisional artillery turned its guns around 180 degrees and
fired with everything it was capable of.
Hauptmann Boehm’s riflemen moved as quickly as they could to
Hammermühle. Along the way were ammunition vehicles and baggage trains that had
been overrun by the tanks, as well as the corpses of horses and of Poles killed
in action. General Guderian appeared and encouraged the soldiers, waving them
on. After moving four kilometers through woods, a halt was ordered. Polish
artillery held up any further movement and was raking the road with heavy fire.
The company’s vehicles were brought forward, and the march continued through
Johannisberg and Stansilawa to Koritowo.
All of a sudden, General von Schweppenburg was standing in
front of the men. He personally directed the 3rd Platoon of Feldwebel Hillinger
against the enemy battery.
Panzer-Regiment 5 then moved out to attack Gross Lonk. On
the far side of Koritow, the fighting vehicles ran into the artillery positions
of the enemy. Disregarding the intense fires and brave resistance, the tanks
plunged into the Polish lines and individually took out the guns. That did not
occur without perceptible losses, however.
The 1st Company of Kradschützen-Bataillon 3 assumed the
mission of protecting the division command post with one of its platoons. The
remaining two platoons advanced into the woods north of Hammermühle. Two Polish
infantry companies were wiped out in tough fighting. The two platoons lost two
dead and four wounded in that engagement and only had thirty men altogether by
the end of the evening. The batteries that were brought forward fired over open
sights. The 3rd Battery lost Hauptwachtmeister Hippe in the process, the first
Spieß of the division to be killed, an indicator of the toughness of the
fighting and also the bravery of the enemy. By evening, the division had mastered
the dangerous situation with its own forces. It was then able to rapidly move
its elements to the east across the Brahe.
In the meantime, the motorcycle battalion had taken Klonowo
with its remaining two companies and a few tanks from the Panzer-Lehr-Abteilung.
Unconcerned about the sounds of fighting to their rear, the motorcycle infantry
and reconnaissance troopers continued their advance east. The sun blazed
mercilessly that day, with rain following in the afternoon. The tanks and
riflemen moved, marched, and advanced. The roads were poor and frequently only
had a single lane. All of the traffic had to work its way around that. The
roads became clogged and there were unpleasant stops. The reconnaissance
battalion was far ahead of the division and moved right through the middle of
enemy detachments, which were equally shocked and surprised and incapable of
offering a defense. Major von Wechmar intended to reach the Vistula before the
onset of darkness. But intertwined enemy columns or vehicles and trees that had
fallen victim to Stukas blocked the way. The enemy was not falling back
uniformly. Resistance around Rozana was especially hard.
The reconnaissance battalion was unable to advance any
farther. The armored car crews, supported by the 1st Battery of the artillery
regiment (Leutnant Hoffmann), had a hard fight on their hands at the Poledno
Estate, which was being defended by Polish cavalry. The advance guard suffered
its first officer casualties. The commander of the 2./Aufklärungs-Abteilung 3,
Rittmeister von Prittwitz und Gaffron, the former adjutant to Generaloberst von
Fritsch, was wounded in the stomach. The brave officer refused to be operated
on at the main clearing station, insisting that the surgeons operate on the
more severely wounded first. Leutnant Adam died on the battlefield at the head
of his reconnaissance platoon. Once stopped, the battalion “circled the wagons”
with its vehicles, the village of Rozana, set alight by air attacks and
artillery, forming a backdrop.
The motorcycle battalion pivoted from its movement east to
head south in order to help the reconnaissance battalion. But the motorcycle
infantry were not able to get beyond the line reached by the armored cars. In
contrast, the divisional engineers had more success in the effort to take
Rozana. They had been directed there by the division commander. Major von
Mertens led his engineers in the assault on the shot-up and burning town and
took possession of it that night.
The 2nd Battalion of Panzer-Regiment 6 also moved out in the
evening (around 2000 hours). Hauptmann Bernewitz’s 8th Company advanced as far
as Polskie-Lakie. At that point, the tanks encountered a surprisingly strong
antitank defense. Three friendly tanks were knocked out. The battalion then
pulled back 1,000 meters, set the village alight, and then set up an all-round
defense for the night.
The division could be satisfied with its achievements that
day. Its formations had not only stymied the efforts of the Poles to break
through, but they had also broken into the front of the Corridor Army. The
corps brought the 23. Infanterie-Division across the Brahe and employed it to
the left of the division.
The 1st Battalion of the rifle regiment assumed the flank
guard mission for the division during the night. The plucky riflemen succeeded
in orienting themselves in the dark woods and fields and taking up good
positions. They throttled all attempts by the Poles to find a gap in the German
lines. The division discovered with certainty that its tanks had advanced so
far into the corridor that elements of the Polish forces had been bypassed.
The night was very cool. That was especially noticeable
after a humid summer’s day, as the past one had been. Something else had a
negative impact on the soldiers as well: hunger and thirst. The supply elements
were still far to the rear as a result of the rapid advance and the poor road
network. They had barely gotten beyond Hammermühle. Some of the men found the
courage to sneak across the fields in an effort to milk some cows that had gone
astray. Among artillery circles within the division, that night was always
referred to as “the hour of the Ortsbauernführer.”
The advance started all over again at 0400 hours across the
entire frontage of the division. The march route ran parallel to the Vistula
along the Poledno–Drozdowo road. The reconnaissance and motorcycle battalions
were the first to move out, followed by the armored brigade (at least those
elements that had been refueled). The 2nd Company of the motorcycle battalion,
which was in the lead, received heavy fire from Drozdowo shortly after moving
out and bogged down. The battalion commander quickly brought his 3rd Company
forward and employed it north of the road, along with the 1st Company, which
was still exhausted from the previous day. The 1st Company approached the
railway embankment behind Belno. Oberleutnant von Cochenhausen intended to let
his men rest after that. It remained an intent. A transport train steamed in.
The motorcycle infantry forced it to halt; 4 officers and 128 enlisted
personnel were taken prisoner.
All of the remaining elements of the division also advanced
against numerically superior Polish forces. The enemy field army command had
recognized the situation it was in—the rapidly growing threat of
encirclement—and was doing everything in its power to pull its division across
the Vistula on the road leading to Kulm.
The armored brigade attacked at first light from Swiekatowo
in the direction of Heinrichsdorf and Biechowoko toward the northwest in an
effort to interdict the retreat routes. Both of the division’s armored
regiments and the attached Panzer-Lehr-Abteilung moved at “full speed ahead.”
But it was soon discovered that the Poles had placed very strong antitank
defenses at the entrance to every village. As a result, there was hard fighting
that was not without casualties.
Panzer-Regiment 6, moving on the right, crossed the
Terespol–Tuchel road, with Hauptmann Schneider-Kostalski’s 2nd Company
eliminating three Polish machine-gun tanks in the process. Defiles then held up
further advance. The regiment pivoted to the left and ran into elements of the
advancing Panzer-Regiment 5. Enemy infantry continued defending everywhere
after being bypassed by the tanks and made life difficult for the riflemen
The tanks reached the Terespol–Oslowo area and then pressed
on to the east, but the following formations ran into strong enemy forces. Only
the 4th Battery of the artillery regiment was able to successfully stay on the
heels of the enemy. The remaining battery received considerable fire from the
village of Heinrichsdorf. Hauptmann Haselbach assumed command of the forces in
the area and had the 5th and 6th Batteries unlimber in a depression. Patrols
were sent out in all directions. Sections under Wachtmeister Rademacher and
Unteroffizier Himmel searched the nearby farmsteads, while Leutnant Grotewald
occupied the industrial area of Heinrichsdorf with the ammunition section of
the 4th Battery, which had been left behind.
The Poles tried to open the road to Terespol with all the
means at their disposal. But it was already too late at noon on that hot summer
day to accomplish that, even though elements of the Polish 9th Infantry
Division—especially elements of the 16th Cavalry Regiment, as well as the 25th
and 35th Infantry Regiments—fought bravely. By then, the rifle regiment was
able to join the developing fray by moving via Poledno and Drozdowo.
At 1240 hours, the artillery took the Poles attempting to
break out under heavy fire. The effect along the road was horrific. Horses
bolted, soldiers ran head over heels into the fields, and limbers and trains
vehicles flipped over. They were followed by fires from Hauptmann Haselbach’s
5th Battery and Leutnant Jaschke’s 6th Battery (Jaschke was acting battery
commander). Hauptwachtmeister Reinig of the 6th Battery identified a Polish
battery going into position along the northern edge of Heinrichsdorf. He
brought up the spotting gun of the battery. The gunner, Wenzel, had the target
in range with his second shell. A few minutes later, the enemy battery was
silenced. For his efforts, Hauptwachtmeister Reinig later became the first
soldier of the artillery regiment to receive the Iron Cross, Second Class.
The rifle regiment attacked at just the right time to
interdict the hard-fighting enemy. Heavy fighting ensued; it was conducted by
the Poles with the courage of desperation. The 1st and 3rd Rifle Companies
assaulted along the road in the direction of Polskie. Hauptmann von Lany, the
commander of the 3rd Company, and Leutnant von Heydebreck, his platoon leader,
were killed. The 1st Company lost its first man with Schütze Krämer.
By then, the Poles had had enough. There was no way to get
out. In addition to twenty artillery pieces and six antitank guns being
destroyed, there were vehicles, ammunition wagons, machine guns, horses, and
articles of equipment scattered everywhere. The rifle regiment took 36 officers
and 800 men prisoner that afternoon; fifteen artillery pieces were among the
spoils of war.
The division did not allow itself to be distracted from its
objective by the fighting to encircle the enemy forces. The reconnaissance
battalion received orders to take Schwetz, while the motorcycle battalion was
sent in the direction of Liepo–Biala–Taszarko. Fortunately, the advance of
Infanterie-Regiment 96 of the 32. Infanterie-Division on the right side of the
division was starting to make its presence felt. Despite that, Polish cavalry
sections continued to surface across the front and created temporary
disruptions here and there. There no longer appeared to be unified command
among the Poles; operations seemed to be left up to the individual unit and
Around 1000 hours, the II./Panzer-Regiment 6 crossed the
Czerna-Woda at F.W. Dedienke. The lead tanks identified the rapid movement of
trains, one after the other, four kilometers away. Oberstleutnant Rothenburg,
who was up front with his tanks, ordered Hauptmann Schneider-Kostalski to block
the reported rail traffic along the stretch between Derispol–Oslowo. The tanks
moved along the sandy road as far as the rail line without encountering any
resistance. The railway crossing guard shack was locked up and the gate
crossing lowered. Schneider-Kostalski was undeterred. He ordered: “Panzer
marsch!” The gate flew in the air with a crash. A cloud of smoke could be seen
to the south. Schneider-Kostalski had his company take up firing positions on
the far side of the line. The train’s engineer must have noticed the movement,
however, since the train slowed and finally stopped. The company commander
opened fire at 250 meters. With the first round, the locomotive’s boiler
exploded with a monstrous cloud of smoke. The doors to the passenger cars
opened everywhere. Polish soldiers jumped out and attempted to flee into the
nearby woods. The tanks of the 4th and 7th Companies showed up at that moment
and joined in the engagement. Sixty Polish soldiers were sent back as
prisoners. They were the last men of a battalion that had boarded the train.
The three tank companies immediately took up the advance on
Lakowicz. At Krapjewitce, they were able to scatter horse-drawn trains
elements. Once past Polskie-Lakie, they encountered Polish cavalry and antitank
elements. The 2nd Company encountered its first enemy tank on the Rozana–Bledno
road at 1100 hours; it was knocked out at 300 meters with two rounds.
The armored brigade reached the training area at Schwetz in
the afternoon and continued its advance north. Toward 1800 hours, the tanks
took Oslowo. The forces reorganized for the attack on the Grupa Training Area.
The rear areas also had to be secured, since there were still strong Polish
forces in the area around Terespol. Those forces did not remain quiet; they
continued to fight to break free. Leutnant Lange, the adjutant of the artillery’s
2nd Battalion, was captured by the enemy during a patrol. He was stabbed, but
he lived to tell the tale.
Major von Wechmar’s reconnaissance battalion pressed past
Schwetz at the onset of darkness without regard for the scattered enemy groups.
He immediately pressed along the Vistula to the north with all of his troops.
To help keep the movement fluid, the division sent the engineer companies of
Major von Mertens, which had just become available, and Hauptmann Reinke’s 3rd
Battery, after the reconnaissance battalion. The engineers and the artillery
made it into Schwetz, but the Poles then started a stubborn defense there.
There was a danger that the engineer battalion might be encircled. The
engineers had to defend from all directions and lost contact with the remaining
elements of the division. Despite that, it was able to prevail. In the end, the
battalion occupied and held Schwetz. The 3rd Battery captured a war chest in
the city hall.
The Polish command knew what was at stake. Energetic officers
rallied their men again and again to bravely defend. As a result, the German
rifle companies did not advance any farther that night. As a result,
Generalleutnant von Schweppenburg ordered the 1st Battalion of the rifle
regiment pulled back to Poledno. The division operations officer, Major von der
Borne, expressed a contrary opinion. He believed the riflemen should remain
where they were. But the division commander wanted to lead his forces in a
traditional cavalry style: pull the forces back tonight so that they could be
used to conduct a “fencer’s leap” the following morning. As a result, he
ordered the battalion back and directed it to hold Poledno “to the last
bullet,” as the pivot point of the entire division.
Only Panzer-Regiment 5 was able to score a success that
evening. It did not remain in Oslowo; instead, it pushed its companies along
sandy routes through the dark woods as far as Dubielno, which was reached
around 0200 hours.
That meant that the encirclement of the enemy forces
fighting in the corridor was just around the corner. The division could see the
blazing fires and hear the sounds of fighting in the nearby fortress of
Graudenz, which had fallen to the East Prussian 21. Infanterie-Division that
day. The XIX. Armee-Korps (mot.) was only a few kilometers from the borders of
The Polish Pomeranian Army had been split in two in three
days of fighting. The field army headquarters was located in Thorn at that
point and was attempting to establish contact with the Modlin or Posen Armies
with its remaining regiments.
General Guderian went to the division headquarters during
the night and ordered the advance to continue, irrespective of the condition of
the beleaguered men and vehicles. The Poles could not be given any time to
cross the Vistula west of Graudenz. Correspondingly, orders were sent to all
elements of the division to move out at first light again.
The reconnaissance battalion started its movement along the
Vistula in the direction of Graudenz at 0400 hours. The armored cars and
motorcycles moved without regard for the scattered enemy elements, which were
still offering a defense from out of individual farmsteads and barns. The men
of the division had only one objective: to establish contact with their East
Prussian comrades as soon as possible. Whoever fell back had to fend for
himself. The disabled vehicles had to be repaired with only the means
available. Fortunately, the Poles were no longer in a position to offer
energetic resistance. Most of them automatically raised their hands in the air
as the vehicles raced past them. Only a burst of machine-gun fire was necessary
to fish them out of their hiding places—trenches, haystacks, houses, and
gardens—where they had spent the cold night in order to try to find a place
that morning to get over the river somewhere and head south.
The movements of the reconnaissance battalion took place on
the right wing of the division; the main effort of the day’s efforts was to be
in the center, however. The armored brigade, reinforced by the motorcycle
battalion and the 2nd and 4th Batteries of the divisional artillery while it
staged during the night, received orders to cross the Matave quickly and attack
the Grupa Training Area from the west along a broad front. The enemy was to be
driven east to the Vistula, where Oberst Angern, with elements of the rifle
brigade and the reconnaissance battalion, had been directed to interdict him.
Oberst Rothenberg was entrusted with the screening of the division north of
Schwetz. In addition to Panzer-Regiment 6, he had the I./Schützen-Regiment 3,
the 1./Pionier-Bataillon 39, the I./Artillerie-Regiment 75, and the
6./MG-Bataillon 59 at his disposal. Of those forces, the 2nd Battalion of the
armored regiment (Major Burmeister) would face a few dangerous situations over
the course of the next few hours.
The elements of the division that were still hanging back
were collected into a Kampfgruppe under the command of Oberst Kleemann. It was
directed for Kleemann’s elements to move as expeditiously as possible to follow
the armored brigade, ferreting out the Polish forces still hiding in the woods
and fields in the process. Since the movement of the entire force was delayed,
Hauptmann Beez decided to race forward with a hastily assembled advance party.
That small element, to which Leutnant Behrend, Leutnant Franzke, and Inspektor
Tries were also a party, collected almost 300 prisoners in a short period.
Leutnant Behrend ensured the prisoners were properly transported to the rear,
while the rest continued moving toward the increasingly loud sounds of fighting
coming from Grupa.
The armored brigade moved out around 0400 hours and portions
crossed the creek in their first attempt. The Poles did not open fire until the
following elements arrived. The brigade suffered considerable casualties,
particularly in the streets of Grupa proper, where the enemy had barricaded
himself in houses and set up strong antitank-gun positions. Oberstleutnant
Wimmer assumed command of the motorcycle, antitank, and artillery elements left
behind. Despite the more unified command of those forces, the Poles still
thwarted every attempt to cross the creek by means of well-placed artillery
fire. It was not until four light tanks of the armored brigade turned around
and rolled up the Polish positions from the rear that it was possible to cross
the water obstacle.
Hauptmann Hinniger’s 2nd Battery was the first unit that
could be guided through. It was high time, since the tanks and riflemen that
were attacking Grupa had run into a bind. The Polish forces—later, it was
discovered that there were nearly 20,000 men there—were attacking with the
courage of desperation in order to break out of the encirclement.
Oberst Angern led the forces of the division that were
arrayed around Grupa. The tank attack on the training area was not making any
progress due to heavy and well-aimed antitank-gun fire. The friendly companies
needed to be pulled back. The 1st Company of the motorcycle battalion also bogged
down in the Polish fires. The company commander, Oberleutnant von Cochenhausen,
was badly wounded.
The 3rd Company of the motorcycle battalion (Oberleutnant
Adler) pulled back from the crossroads east of Grupa and worked its way back in
the woods to the south as far as Hill 87. The company was subjected to an
intense infantry attack. The numerically superior enemy approached the company,
which was fixed in place, by leaps and bounds. If the position were broken
through there, then the enemy would create a gap from which to escape.
Oberst Angern gave responsibility for the southern portion
of the sector to Oberstleutnant Wimmer, who arrived in Grupa-Dola at 0745
hours. At the time, the 3rd Company of the rifle regiment, the 3rd Company of
the motorcycle battalion and elements of two tank and one machine-gun company
were positioned there. Wimmer brought the heaviest firepower with him—his 2nd
Battery. To the right of the road leading from Grupa to the training area, the
battle group had contact with the 2nd Battalion of the rifle regiment
(Oberstleutnant Dr. Ehlermann). That battalion’s 7th Company was widely
dispersed in the vicinity of the observation posts of the 2nd Battery and was
exchanging fire with Polish snipers.
The 2nd Battery then opened well-aimed fire on identified
Polish positions. That enabled Oberleutnant Adler and his men to disengage from
the enemy. His company left behind three dead (Unteroffizier Bruns,
Unteroffizier Fiss, and Unteroffizier Petreins), as well as four men missing
(two Gefreite and two Schützen). Wimmer employed the freed-up motorcycle
infantry on the right, where the Poles also attacked.
The battery fired off all but twenty of its rounds. In the
broken terrain, the machine gunners had no fields of fire and had to allow the enemy
to approach to pointblank range. Fortunately, elements of the two tank
companies arrived at that point. But they also had little ammunition left. The
enemy recognized his advantage and pressed ever more energetically by the
minute against the German positions. Both of the brigade commanders,
Generalmajor Stumpff and Oberst Angern, had to employ their messengers in the
defense of Grupa. The time moved inexorably forward . . . if a miracle did not
And miracles do happen.
The 4th Battery of the artillery regiment arrived from the
Matave just in time and unlimbered at the edge of the woods. Its fires forced
the enemy to call off his attacks for the time being. Fortunately, the
ammunition section of Inspektor Tries also arrived. The guns once more had
ammunition and started to fire with everything they had. Hauptmann Lorenz, the
commander of the 1st Battalion, then arrived with the 1st Battery.
At that point, the Poles gave up on their intent of breaking
out in the direction of Graudenz. The Poles only conducted limited attacks, but
they were all turned back, since large portions of the rifle regiment had also
arrived and started to get committed to the fighting. On that afternoon of 4
September, the division had also passed its baptism of fire in the defense.
Generalmajor Stumpff was able to report that to the commanding general, who
arrived late in the afternoon. Because Stumpff became ill, however, he had to
give up command of the armored brigade temporarily. Oberst Rothenburg assumed
acting command, with Major von Lewinski taking over Panzer-Regiment 6. The
commander of the latter regiment’s 1st Battalion, Major von Boltenstern, also
took ill and had to be relieved by Major Schmidt-Ott.
The motorized elements were gradually withdrawn from the
encirclement over the next few hours and replaced by infantry, since the other
divisions of the corps had closed up to the division by then and established
contact. They assumed responsibility for finishing the encirclement of the
Polish Corridor Army.
The ethnic German villages between Graudenz and Schwetz
served as the quartering area for the division. The cannoneers and riflemen
were especially warmly welcomed in Wiag. The rear-area services, supply
elements, and maintenance companies were brought forward through Swiekatowo to
Stanislawie. The tanks, trucks, and motorcycles were in desperate need of
maintenance, but it could only be conducted hastily, since the fighting in the
corridor was not yet over.
The majority of the division did not see action on 5
September. The neighboring infantry divisions did not allow the Poles to break
through and forced them to give up the fight that day. The first battle of
encirclement of World War II was over.
Despite the “peaceful” hours of that day, the division was
not idle. The artillery occupied positions to assist in fending off any
potential enemy attacks. The maintenance companies were brought up closer to
the motorized elements and quartered in the former Polish military facilities
in Schwetz. The engineer battalion, which was never employed as a complete
entity up to that point—it had been parceled out to all of the battle groups of
the division—built a bridge over the Vistula at Weisshof. The motorcycle
battalion combed the bottomlands of the river for scattered Polish elements.
Its 3rd Company screened along the embankment, while a reinforced platoon under
Leutnant Schmidt became the first element of the division to cross the Vistula
On 6 September, the first German formations were moved to
the eastern portions of East Prussia. They were to conduct a new assault from
there. The XXI. Armee-Korps took Graudenz. In the next two days, the XIX.
Armee-Korps (mot.) was to follow, crossing the bridges at Käsemark (north of
Dirschau), at Mewe, and at Topolno.
The corps situation on the evening of 6 September was as
follows. The 20. Infanterie-Division (mot.) was already marching across the
bridge at Käsemark in the direction of Elbing and had already reached
Bartenstein with its lead elements. The 2. Infanterie-Division (mot.) was
preparing to cross at Mewe, while the 3. Panzer-Division remained west of
Graudenz behind the latter motorized infantry division.
The division moved out on 7 September with its lead
elements. The columns once again experienced the “beauty” of the Polish road
system under their wheels. It seemed to the soldiers that ever since that area
had come under Polish control, not a single spade had been turned to maintain
the roads. The deep sand and the broad craters made the march difficult. Many
vehicles became disabled, because the gas lines or the suspension springs
broke. The men of the maintenance companies were not idle.
The movement led north. In the shadow of the Ordensburg at
Mewe, all of the divisional elements crossed on a pontoon bridge constructed by
the engineers over the broad, calm waters of the Vistula. At Kurzebrack, to the
west of Marienwerder, most of them saw for the first time in their lives the
four-meter-wide access to the Vistula provided to the Germans. At that point,
the men of the division were in East Prussia, a beautiful province with large
tracts of woods, broad hills, vast fields, and quiet lakes.
The movement took place under magnificent sunshine through
the resplendent cities of Marienwerder, Rosenberg, Auerswald, Deutsch-Eylau,
Osterode, the Tannenberg Memorial, Allenstein, Guttstadt, Lötzen, and Arys. The
long route of 380 kilometers was covered in three days. But no one felt the
hardships. The weather put on a sunny face. The reception in the individual localities
was indescribable. All people, especially the youth, could not contain
themselves in decorating the vehicles with flowers and cheering the soldiers.
Guderian requested that his corps be directly allocated to
the field army group. He intended to range far to the east on the left wing of
the 3. Armee, reach the Bug at Brest, and encircle the Polish field armies in
Eastern Poland. Generaloberst von Bock picked up on the idea; in the end, the
Army High Command approved the operation.
When the Polish front in front of the 3. Armee started to
waver, the XIX. Armee-Korps (mot.) was employed on the left wing to conduct a
bounding pursuit. Guderian gave his divisions the following intermediate
20. Infanterie-Division (mot.)—through Zambrow to the Bug
crossing at Nur
10. Panzer-Division—to Bielsk via Bransk
3. Panzer-Division—to the area north of Bielsk
2. Infanterie-Division (mot.)—to be brought forward into the
area around Zambrow–Bielsk
The long-range objective for all of the formations remained
the fortress of Brest-Litowsk.
Sunday, 10 September, was a day of rest for the division at
the large training area at Arys. The sun smiled warmly on the soldiers. As it
started to disappear behind the hills and woods, marching orders arrived. The
individual formations left the training area one after the other until about
midnight and headed to the southeast to the border. That same night, Polish
territory was entered for the second time by the forward elements of the
division. The main body of the division crossed the border at Szczuczyn.
Panzer-Regiment 6 followed the next day. It had moved out with the following
vehicles: 55 Panzer I’s, 55 Panzer II’s, 3 Panzer III’s, 6 Panzer IV’s, 132
trucks, 60 staff cars, and 114 motorcycles.
That meant that the time for cursing had started all over
again for the drivers of the tanks, staff cars, trucks, prime movers, and
especially the motorcycle riders. “Roads” was not the right word, and the
entities that were so marked on the maps would not even have qualified as routes
of the worst order back in the homeland. But there was to be no rest. There was
only one objective and one mission: Forward!
Wasosz and Przytuly were a few of the places on the route
before the columns reached the broad bottomlands of the Narew. The terrain came
across as monotonous and bleak; there was something of the unearthly quality of
the steppes of the Far East about it. The whitewashed wooden houses of the
villages came across as simple structures and the people there as poor and
raggedy. For the first time, the soldiers saw faces that expressed neither joy
nor sorrow, just a resignation to fate.
The engineers had already constructed a pontoon bridge over
the Narew at Wizna, since the large bridge there had been blown up, and its
remnants were lying in the water. The crossing went very slowly, since the
heavy prime movers had to be guided individually. The planks were only as wide
as the heavy vehicles, and it cost a lot of sweat on the part of those drivers
to make it across in one piece.
The lead elements—the reconnaissance battalion and the
motorcycle battalion—crossed the river in the course of the day, while the
artillery crossed during the night. The supply elements were still far to the
rear. Moving from Schwetz, they did not follow up until 13 September, when the
fighting elements were already deep in Poland. They quickly closed up with the
fighting elements, however.
The division did not remain in the Wizna area; it ordered
the immediate continuation of the march in the direction of Jedzewo, the large
transportation hub south of the river. There was nothing to be seen of the
enemy yet. Only the destroyed bunkers, the wire entanglements, the foxholes,
and the artillery and bomb craters gave witness to the fact that the 10.
Panzer-Division, moving ahead of the 3. Panzer-Division, had to take this area
in a fight.
Once again, the reconnaissance battalion and the motorcycle
battalion, reinforced by engineers and artillery, had taken the point. The
objective for both battalions was Sokoly. But soon after it had moved out, the
motorcycle battalion was pivoted sharply to the west.
“Polish forces are attacking the corps headquarters in the
vicinity of Wysokie-Masowieki!”
The motorcycle infantry did their utmost to come to the aid
of Guderian. When they reached Zambrow late in the afternoon, their efforts had
been overcome by events. The commanding general was unharmed and was happy to
see the enthusiasm of his soldiers.
Despite that, the battalion did not get any rest, even
though the night brought rain with it. The battalion was employed by Guderian
against Wysokie, where it was to throw down the gauntlet and cut off the enemy
fleeing from the direction of Lomscha. When Oberstleutnant von Manteuffel and
his men entered the completely destroyed village of Wysokie, they were too
late. The battalion then returned to the command and control of the division.
The 20. Infanterie-Division (mot.) had thrown back the enemy
south of Zambrow and pushed him right into the arms of the 21.
Infanterie-Division and the 206. Infanterie-Division, which were advancing from
the west on Andrzejewo. The Polish 18th Infantry Division met its end there.
The general situation for the XIX. Armee-Korps (mot.) on the
evening of 11 September was as follows: the 20. Infanterie-Division (mot.) was
south of Zambrow and fighting; the 10. Panzer-Division was advancing from
Bransk in the direction of Bielsk; the 3. Panzer-Division was still right to
the north of it; and the 2. Infanterie-Division (mot.) was rolling in the
direction of Bielsk from the north.
In order to protect its open flank, the division formed a
Kampfgruppe composed of engineers and the platoon of Wachtmeister Rademacher of
the 5th Battery of the artillery regiment and employed it at Jedzewo. The
terrain was completely open and flat. The remaining elements assaulted in
generally southerly direction. The reconnaissance battalion, supported by the
6th Battery, advanced as far as the area southeast of Sokoly. The advancing
armored cars were suddenly attacked from some woods by Polish cavalry and had
to halt. The battery went into position in some vegetated terrain in the nick
of time and shot the attacking Poles to pieces at 2,500 meters. When snipers
appears during the continued advances in some woods, fire was opened for the
second time under the direction of Oberleutnant Kersten and Leutnant Krause,
allowing the battalion to continue its march. During its move through Sokoly,
the rifle regiment was fired upon by civilians in ambush positions. The
riflemen immediately searched the poverty-stricken houses.
Bielsk was reached on 12 September and taken in the face of
weak resistance on the part of the Polish 35th Infantry Division. The tanks
moved to the Brest–Bialystock rail line and blocked all traffic. Elements of
other formations took up the mission of guarding the east flank of the
division, which was growing ever longer. The primeval forests of Bialowieza
spread out on the far side of the rail line. The czar located his hunting lodge
there once, and the last bison of Europe lived in its thickets.
The motorcycle battalion sent two patrols into that area.
Unteroffizier Voutta moved into the thick woods with his men, and Gefreiter
Steffen was sent to Hainowka. Steffen’s group was lured into an ambush, but it
was able to fight its way out and establish contact with the 1st Company of the
rifle regiment, which was screening the road east of Bielsk. Hauptmann von
Bosse, the commander of the rifle regiment’s 1st Battalion, immediately
initiated a reprisal operation against Hainowka. The 4th Battery of the
artillery regiment went into position against Hainowka with one of its
platoons, under the direction of the battery commander, Hauptmann Nebel. It
returned to Halody toward noon.
The advance over the next few days headed toward
Brest-Litowsk. The motorcycle battalion was once again in the lead, with its
3rd Company the tip of the spear. The motorcycle infantry rattled carefree into
the village of Zabinka, only to find themselves confronted by an armored train
at the rail station. Before Leutnant Schmidt could issue orders, the armored
trains started spewing fire. At the same moment, things turned lively in the
town. Machine guns and carbines started hammering away from the houses. The
motorcycle infantry had no other choice but to turn and pull back as quickly as
possible. The accompanying artillery forward observer, Leutnant Jaschke, and
his men were also fired upon. Vehicles exploded, wounded moaned, and the radio
equipment ripped apart. It was a devilish situation. The situation went from
bad to worse when four Polish tanks appeared out of nowhere and enemy antitank
guns also started firing.
The 6th Battery then raced in and took the town under fire.
Leutnant Jaschke, Unteroffizier Killat, and Gefreiter Mieritz directed the fires
of the battery by means of a radio set that had been brought quickly forward.
The armored trains steamed away. When the first shells destroyed the enemy’s
pockets of resistance, he gave up. The motorcycle infantry were able to take
Zabinka by 1400 hours. Once again, the town appeared to be dead. Only the four
disabled tanks and the burning houses indicated the severity of the fighting.
The 7th Company of Panzer-Regiment 6 arrived in time to fend off an immediate
counterattack by Polish cavalry. The entire 2nd Battalion then cleared the
The motorcycle battalion assumed the mission of securing the
town and formed a bridgehead over the Muchawiec. The forward observers from the
artillery, Leutnant Meyer and Oberwachtmeister Berlin, appeared there. They
directed the fires of the friendly batteries against a Polish battery at
Zamoszany, which was protecting the rail line.
The division did not allow itself to be distracted from its
objective, the fortress of Brest. By the afternoon of 14 September, Panzer-Regiment
5, the reconnaissance battalion, and the 3rd Battery of the artillery regiment
were east of the city, in an effort to cut it off from that side. (Fate would
have it that the division would once again move out from the same spot on 22
Guderian’s intent was to attack Brest with his division on
15 September. He led his four major formations up to the fortress in a night
march, leaving only the 2. Infanterie-Division (mot.) to protect the broad
flank of the corps in the direction of the Bialowies Forest. The lead elements
of both the 10. Panzer-Division and the 20. Infanterie-Division (mot.) made it
to the fortress on 14 September.
The division moved out to attack from the east. To that end,
it formed a Kampfgruppe consisting of elements of Panzer-Regiment 6, the
motorcycle battalion, the engineer battalion, the 6th Battery of the artillery
(Oberleutnant Kersten), and a platoon from the 4th Battery (Leutnant Stiller).
The battle group moved out around 0345 hours in its attack
on Brest. Its mission was to take Fort III. The city was reached without a shot
being fired. The Poles did not defend Fort III, either. The 2nd Company of the
motorcycle battalion (Hauptmann Pape) rested in the fort. The forces continued
unscathed as far as the central train station and occupied the high rail
From the overpass, the enemy was nowhere to be seen in the
immediate area; however, the guns at the citadel were firing with everything
they had and there was a lively exchange of fire at the rail yards. The
motorcycle infantry screened the southern part of the city, where they were
also under constant fire from the citadel.
Contact was established with the 20. Infanterie-Division
(mot.), which was attacking from the north. The III./Infanterie-Regiment 86 of
that division maintained the contact. The batteries of the 3. Panzer-Division
were attached to Oberst Weidling—former commander of Artillerie-Regiment 75 and
current commander of the divisional artillery of the motorized infantry
division—in an effort to provide unity of command for fire support.
The first attack of the 20. Infanterie-Division (mot.)
around 1430 hours against the citadel did not succeed. A bit later, the
III./Infanterie-Regiment 86 and Pionier-Bataillon 39 attempted an attack with a
limited objective against the eastern edge of the fortress. The Polish
defensive fires also forced the German attackers to ground there as well. Small
groups from Schützen-Regiment 3—for example, the 2nd Platoon of the 1st
Company—attempted to conduct reconnaissance-in-force efforts against the
southern part of the fortress, but they were also turned back. The 2nd
Battalion of Panzer-Regiment 6 attacked the citadel, which was being placed
under heavy German artillery fire, from the east. The 2nd Company (Hauptmann
Schneider-Kostalski) and the 4th Company (Hauptmann Weiß) approached the
fortress from the southeast. Around 2200 hours, the armored regiment received
orders to call off the attack. Both battalions disengaged from the enemy during
The motorcycle battalion remained in the city that night to
screen its southern sector. The 1st Platoon of the 3rd Company (Leutnant von
Brauchitsch) screened the prison, where civilian and military prisoners taken
the previous day were being housed. The battalion was pulled out of Brest on
the morning of 16 September and quickly returned to direct divisional control.
The division proper was moving in the direction of Wlodawa. As a result, only
two batteries of the divisional artillery remained behind. They continued to
support the attack of the motorized infantry division on the citadel. Their
fires were directed by Leutnant Meyer, assisted by his radio operators,
Unteroffizier Göhler and Kanonier Elsholz. The fires were so effective that all
three men later received the Iron Cross, Second Class.
The 3. Panzer-Division no longer took part in the fighting
for the fortress. Instead, it went around the city with the majority of its
forces to then thrust south. Its new objective was Wlodawa. This time, the
reconnaissance battalion, Panzer-Regiment 5, and the 3rd Battery were in the
advance guard. The terrain appeared monotonous and gray to the men of the
advance guard. The rain of the last few days had softened up the roads and the
pastures. There was hardly a tree to be seen; only sandy soil and more sandy
soil, with small, dirty localities here and there. There were few people to be
seen, and those that were encountered were shy and uncommunicative. They were
quite different from the White Russians, who had been encountered at Bialystok
The division moved in Kampfgruppen on Tomaszowka. The
armored cars encountered an energetic defense when they arrived there towards
noon on 16 September. The tanks were called up by radio. The commander of the
I./Panzer-Regiment 5, Major Wendenburg, ordered the 2nd Company forward. The
nineteen tanks caught up with the lead elements at the Przaborowo rail station.
The commander of the lead element reported that it was impossible to advance
any farther, because the terrain, with many woods and lakes, was full of Poles.
Prisoner statements indicated that the organizational staff directing the
retrograde movements of the entire Polish Army was located there.
Hauptmann Schmidt, the tank company commander, assumed
command of the available motorcycle infantry and turned to the east on the path
leading from behind the rail station. Leutnant Nitschke took over the lead with
his tanks. To his right was Lake Sielachy. Then Percszpa came into view. The
small village was ablaze. The riflemen discovered enemy soldiers and smoked
them out. The Leutnant left a few men with their motorcycles back at the
entrance to the village and gave them orders to reconnoiter the southwest in the
direction of the railway embankment. The tanks raced through the village and
reached the woods to its south. By then, it was already fairly dark, so the
Leutnant and his men had to wait until the rest of the company closed up.
Just outside of the crossroads at Tomaszowka, movement was
identified. Nitschke sent a short burst in that direction, which immediately
caused the activities to cease. The 2./Panzer-Regiment 5 turned onto the road
leading to Tomaszowka. There was no break in the action. The battery, following
to the rear, was unable to maintain contact in the darkness and went into
position along the railway embankment. The engineers mounted up on the tanks,
which then moved into the woods.
When an enemy armored car turned up on a trail by surprise,
it was shot to bits in short order. But there were more and more movements
along the road by the minute. Hauptmann Schmidt had his vehicle pivot sharply
right and take anything that blocked the route under fire. Trucks, horse-drawn
wagons, pontoon equipment, and many other major items of equipment and materiel
went up in flames. The Polish drivers fled into the protection of the woods on
both sides of the road as quickly as they could. The speedometers on the tanks
registered forty-five kilometers an hour, and the pace picked up from there.
The Wlodawa–Kowel telegraph line was disrupted by knocking over the poles;
horse-drawn columns were scattered and vehicles destroyed.
Just as the darkness of the night made further progress
impossible, the company reached Tomaszowka. A single antitank gun, which was
positioned not far from the rail station and took the German tanks under fire,
was put out of commission. The tankers had only been able to identify the gun
by its muzzle flashes. Some batteries were firing from somewhere into the
burning village, but the tanks had moved through it by 1945 hours.
Hauptmann Schmidt and Leutnant Nitschke fired white signal
flares. The signals were made out by Wachtmeister Gaebler, the forward observer
from the 3rd Battery, and understood: Shift the fires forward! On that day, the
battery fired some 350 rounds.
Hauptmann Schmidt’s 2nd Company was not satisfied with what
it had achieved. There was still fuel in the tanks, so it continued south. The
route turned increasingly worse by the minute. The motorcycle infantry were no
longer able to keep pace and fell back. The tanks rattled on by themselves. It
was difficult to stay oriented in the darkness. The movement grew slower, since
woods and marshland became the next obstacles.
During the night, Major Wendenburg assembled his tanks as
best he could. The 4th Company took over the lead. The officers moving out
front had to illuminate their way with flashlights. At some places, Polish
trains vehicles were passed. As it started to turn first light around 0300
hours, the battalion was outside of Opalin. The village was swarming with
Polish soldiers. Since the battalion was almost out of fuel—the 2nd Company was
already stranded—Major Wendenburg had his forces turn eight kilometers to the
west. He had his battalion set up an all-round defense on a small rise. Patrols
were sent out in all directions to maintain security.
The motorcycle battalion left Kampfgruppe Wendenburg and
turned west toward the Bug. The Poles expected an attack there, however, and
had blown up the bridge over the Bug in time. That meant that the men of the
division had to remain on the east bank of the river in order to wait for the
engineers coming forward.
The next day was one of decision. The motorcycle infantry
crossed the river on inflatable craft and floats and entered the city of
Wlodawa from the northeast. The 2nd Battalion of the divisional artillery had
already been firing on the northern portion of the city since the morning,
concentrating on the military facilities. The enemy resistance had been
weakened by the well-placed fires, with the result that it did not prove too
difficult for the motorcycle battalion and elements of the rifle regiment,
which had been brought forward, to take the city in its entirety that morning.
Major Burmeister’s 2nd Battalion of Panzer-Regiment 6, which also closed upon
the city, was not needed to enter the fray. Two platoons from the 6th Company
of the armor regiment, those of Leutnant Graf von Kageneck and Leutnant von
Diest-Koerber, were sent west to reconnoiter around 1500 hours. After both
platoons had forded the broad but shallow riverbed and moved out of Wlodawa
after moving through it, they were immediately engaged by heavy enemy artillery
fire and had to pull back to behind the forward combat outposts of the
It was not until the afternoon of 17 September that the
Poles had reorganized their forces. They attacked from the wooded terrain west
of the city to retake it. A storm that broke out at the same time prevented the
German defenders from offering a proper defense. The artillery was unable to
join directly into the fray. Instead, it was limited to firing on targets that
had been previously identified by the forward observers. The companies of the
rifle regiment finally gathered themselves, and their rifle and machine-gun
fire tore big gaps in the ranks of the Poles. The 3rd Company of the motorcycle
battalion was committed to a flanking effort outside of the city, and the 6th
Company of Panzer-Regiment 6 (Hauptmann von Winterfeld), which was quickly
called forward, was finally able to bring the enemy attack to a complete
standstill. According to prisoner statements, nine companies had been involved
in the enemy’s effort.
The enemy then gave up on Wlodawa and pulled back into the
thick woods south of the city.
After Tomaszokwa was occupied, the 1st Company of the rifle
regiment advanced farther along the railway line. The final meters leading up
to the Bug were a race against death. It was certain that the Poles had prepared
the large bridge for demolition. The riflemen and engineers took long strides
across the railway ties, and the risky venture succeeded. They got across the
bridge, reached the railway guardhouse on the south bank of the river, and
formed a small bridgehead. It was 0030 hours.
The engineers immediately set about searching for charges.
Despite the darkness, they found some and started the laborious task of
At first light, the 3rd Platoon of the 1st Company attacked
Orchowek, which was burning. Obergefreiter Janik was killed. Because the
village had completely burned down, the riflemen dug bunkers and dugouts next
to the rail line. Although the Poles attempted to reduce the small bridgehead a
few times during the day with infantry and cavalry, their attacks were always
From the area where it had encamped, the 1st Battalion of
Panzer-Regiment 5 had observed enemy groups attempting to flee since early
morning, by swimming across the Bug. The tanks were unable to prevent those attempts,
however, since they were stranded due to a lack of fuel.
Major Wendenburg had sent out two patrols during the night
that had been directed to blow up the bridges over the Bug. The numerically
strongest patrol made good progress. Feldwebel Hass took the lead with his
medium tank. Following behind him was the commander’s tank of the 4th Company.
Leutnant Brandt and an engineer Unteroffizier had also mounted it. Leutnant
Zorn brought up the rear with the two remaining light tanks and the rest of the
The movement of the patrol took it through Huszcza and Rowno
in the direction of Wilzcy–Przewo. Along the route, a few vehicle columns were
shot up. The crews of the two light tanks watched over the prisoners. After a
few minutes, however, they simply let the Poles flee, after their weapons had
been taken away. The prisoners would only have been a burden for the patrol.
The enemy received the patrol in Przewo with heavy small-arms fires. But
Leutnant Zorn, Leutnant Brandt, and the engineers fought their way through the
middle of the enemy to the wooden bridge, which they set on fire. The two light
tanks held down the Poles on the far side with well-aimed fires.
The tankers even managed to capture a Polish 7.5-centimeter
field piece from 1917. Leutnant Zorn limbered the piece to his tank and started
to bring it back. Unfortunately, his fighting vehicle became immobilized after
a few minutes with running gear problems.
The heavy commander’s tank with the engineer officer went
forward as far as the rail line. Just as Leutnant Brand was starting to place a
demolition charge on the tracks, a transport train started to approach.
Fortunately, its locomotive was knocked out by the tank, thus blocking the
line. As a result, this mission was also accomplished.
Leutnant Wisniewski, who led the second patrol, returned
around 1000 hours and reported that the railway bridge had been successfully
blown up. As a result, the immobilized tank battalions had at least cut off the
retreat route over the Bug to the Poles.
It was not until 1600 hours that the regimental logistics
officer, Hauptmann Hackermann, arrived and reported that fuel was on its way.
It took another hour before the fuel arrived. Major Wendenburg immediately had
his battalion form up.
It approached the village of Przewo as it started to turn
dark. The tanks did not allow themselves to be held up by either the hastily
emplaced road obstacles or by the heavy flanking fires coming from the woods.
The 1st Company thrust through the burning village, while the 2nd Company took
down the Polish resistance in the woods. The sole heavy tank of the battalion
overran everything and reached the rail line. It encountered an enemy battery
there, which forced the tank to pull back. The tankers saw that the train that
had been engaged that morning by the patrol was still there, making all traffic
Major Wendenburg had his companies assemble between Przewo
and Rowno. In the process, the tank companies encountered the lead company of
the rifle regiment. It was the 8th Company, along with Major Zimmermann. The
riflemen were immediately employed screening in the direction of Przewo. The
tank battalion set up an all-round defense.
On 17 September, the reconnaissance battalion received the
mission to blown up the Kowel–Chelm rail line at Luboml. The 2nd Battery of the
artillery regiment and some engineers were attached in support. The movement of
those elements took place on sandy, softened and seemingly endless roads to the
southeast. There were still individual occurrences of enemy resistance, but
they were quickly eliminated by a few bursts of fire from the machine guns on
the armored cars. There wasn’t a true engagement until it started to turn dark,
when the battalion approached Scack. The Poles had dug in there in the houses
Major Freiherr von Wechmar had his companies halt and wait
until the battery had closed up. The guns unlimbered in an open field and took
the locality and individual pockets of resistance under direct fire. After a
few minutes, the enemy was silenced, and the companies were able to take the
locality in an envelopment. The battalion set up defenses for the night,
putting out security in all directions.
The Kampfgruppe was ordered to break camp at first light on
18 September. The march continued relentlessly, and Luboml was reached that
same morning. The reconnaissance battalion encountered a large grouping of
enemy forces. The armored cars moved into position behind hills and ditches.
The riflemen took up the infantry fight and the artillery battery fired. But
the enemy no longer had any desire to become engaged in protracted and
casualty-intensive fighting. First individually and then in ever-larger groups,
the enemy surrendered. In the end, the 400 men of Kampfgruppe Wechmar counted
almost 3,000 Polish prisoners. The reconnaissance battalion had accomplished
its mission, transitioning to a screening mission.
The tanks of the division continued their own advance about
0700 hours that morning. But the enemy had pulled his forces across the Bug
during the night and only put up minimal resistance. Przewo, the railway
embankment, and the railway bridge were taken practically without a fight. The
tanks advanced across the river and established a small bridgehead. The 6th
Battery of artillery arrived and assumed the direct-support mission. Three
Unteroffiziere—Killat, Grothe, and Schröder—discovered the gun that had been
captured the previous day and included it in the firefight.
At 1357 hours, the division ordered the bridge to be blown up.
At that point, the battalion moved back across the river without any enemy
interference. At that point, the enemy started to get continual reinforcements.
Starting at 1530 hours, strong artillery fire started to fall on the friendly
positions. The division was concerned about its Kampfgruppe, which had ranged
far forward, and sent out the following radio message in the afternoon: “If the
tactical situation requires it, pull back to Aufklärungs-Abteilung 3 in Luboml,
since larger regular-army formations are moving from west to east. Report your
decision.” Major Wendenburg reported back shortly: “Position will be held!”
Far ahead of the other major formations, the 3.
Panzer-Division was the southernmost division of the field army group at that
point. Correspondingly, it had covered more ground than any other German
division during the campaign. The division was closer to the elements of the
10. Armee approaching from the south than it was to its sister divisions within
the corps. The division commander ordered the 2nd Battalion of the rifle
regiment (Oberstleutnant Dr. Ehlermann) to break through to Heeresgruppe Süd.
Attached to Ehlermann’s battalion were the 6./Panzer-Regiment 6, the
1./Artillerie-Regiment 75, and the 1./Panzerabwehr-Abteilung 39. The lead elements
of the southern field army group were trying to take Chelm from three sides
with the 4. Infanterie-Division, the 4. leichte Division, and the 2.
The reinforced rifle battalion moved out right on time.
Forward movement was made difficult by the clogged roads, blown-up bridges, and
recurring resistance form Polish formations that were led by especially brave
officers. They had established themselves skillfully along wood lines and the
outskirts of villages. The fights for Osowa and Malinowka were especially hard
for the rifle companies. Leading the way in an exemplary fashion, Hauptmann
Wellmann stormed the last village with his 6th Company. The battalion worked
its way forward slowly and had to bring down new enemy strongpoints in sacrificial
fighting. During that fighting, the 2nd Battalion suffered the heaviest losses
of the entire division for the campaign. Since night had fallen in the
meantime, the idea of a continued advance was discarded.
A motorcycle infantry patrol under the command of
Unteroffizier Panzlaff was sent farther south, however, reaching the area just
outside of Chelm. The expected forces of the 10. Armee attacking from the south
were not there. The Wehrmacht High Command reported a linkup between the two
field army groups, but none ever took place in the campaign.
The division instructed the Ehlermann’s battalion not to
continue its operation and to pull back slowly on the direction of Wlodawa. The
division pulled back the rest of its battle groups to Wlodawa as well. They
were widely dispersed over a large area. It wanted to protect the force and not
cause unnecessary casualties, since the Polish Army was already in a state of
dissolution. Ehlermann evacuated the positions his reinforced battalion had
taken near Chelm and pulled back under sharp pressure from individual Polish
formations. Hauptmann von Winterfeld’s tank company provided the Kampfgruppe
with the requisite covering fires. Four German fighting vehicles were lost that
day. Around 1000 hours, Major Wendenburg received similar orders: He was to
pull back to Luboml and link up with the reconnaissance battalion. Around 1600
hours, the two advance guards of the division linked up.
All forces of the division that were east of the Bug left
their forward positions and pulled back across the river, as ordered. There had
been no encounters with the Red Army anywhere, but the senior commanders took
precautionary measures to ensure that the encounters took place without any
In order to mark the German lines for Russian aircraft, the
division ordered recognition panels set out.
The fighting slowly abated. That meant that there was some
movement between and within the fronts. The Polish soldiers no longer knew what
they should do. Unarmed, they gave up by the hundreds, so as not to fall into
the hands of the Red Army. For example, Hauptmann Eikmann’s maintenance company
took in some 1,500 prisoners in the Puchaczewo area from 19 to 21 September.
Leutnant Müller of Panzer-Regiment 6, who went deer hunting in some woods,
wound up bringing in 165 prisoners. The civilian populace was also on the run.
The elements of the division assembled in Wlodawa. For many
of the soldiers, the village became a place to recover. They saw an actual city
for the first time, which stood out considerably in its appearance from the
dirty villages that had been crossed through and fought for up to that point.
Its two churches, the Baroque Roman Catholic one and the Orthodox one with its
characteristic onion dome, dominated the landscape of the city. Its populace
was composed of Poles, White Russians, and a large number of Jews.
After the forces had rested a bit and the men could wash off
the dirt and grime from the many days of dust and rain, they had a pleasant
surprise. The first field mail arrived.
The return march for the division was set for 21 September.
The individuals left their quartering areas around Wlodawa at first light and
moved along the road back to Brest. The large city had already been decorated
with red flags with the hammer and sickle and black-white-red flags. The first
Russian soldiers had arrived; they were assigned to a tank brigade.
The march then continued twenty-five kilometers to the
demarcation line, moving through Widomla–Giechanowiec–Zambrow and on to Lomscha,
where the divisional formations arrived on 22 September. For the fourth time in
a month, the German border was crossed just south of Johannisburg. The men
forgot about the hardships of the campaign that was behind them. The friendly
and tidy East Prussian villages, the nice people, and the thoughts of reuniting
with loved ones back home put wind in the sails of all the soldiers.
The division quartered in the area around Bartenstein. The
individual companies and detachments were quartered privately in the surrounding
localities. Everyone felt as though they were on maneuvers. The XIX.
Armee-Korps (mot.) was disbanded on 26 September,17 and the last general order
from the field army group was issued a few days later. That signaled the end of
the campaign in Poland.
Wladyslaw Raginis (1908-1939) – Captain of Polish
Army, military commander during the Polish Defensive War of 1939 of a small
force holding the Polish fortified defense positions against a vastly larger
invasion during the Battle of Wizna.
Between September 7 and September 8 was fought the “Battle
of Wizna. It is often known as “the Polish Thermopylae” – a reference to the
300 Spartans who bravely held off an enormous Persian army in Ancient Greece.
Polish historian Leszek Moczulski claims that between 350
and 720 managed to defend a fortified line from around 40,000 German troops.
For three days they defended the fortified line and they managed to postpone
the encirclement of Independent Operational Group Narew that was fighting
Captain Wladyslaw Raginis was the hero of the battle and the
commanding officer of the Polish troops. He swore that he would hold position
and fight Germans as long as he was alive. Fighting for 3 days without rest or
sleep they started losing the battle. In the end, Captain Raginis told his
troops to surrender and he committed suicide by throwing himself on a grenade.
On September 3, Polish troops were attacked from the air,
but their own aircraft could not fight back. The Podlaska Cavalry Brigade was
operating in the area, but after multiple attacks on its flank on the night of
September 4, it received an order to retreat toward Mały Płock and cross the
On September 7, scouts of General Nikolaus von Falkenhorst’s
10th Panzer Division captured a village near Wizna. Polish scouts from the
mountain rifle division suffered losses and were forced to retreat to the
southern bank of the Narew. Polish engineers managed to blow up the bridge and
because of that, the Germans faced difficulties to cross the river. In the
night patrols of German soldiers managed to cross the river but were repelled
with great casualties.
In Polish culture, the Battle of Wizna is known as the
Polish Thermopylae because of the small number of Polish soldiers who fought
against a great number of German soldiers.
Here are the statistics:
720 men (20 officers)
Six 76 mm guns
42 MGs – machine guns
2 URs – antitank rifles
657 mortars, guns and grenade launchers
The area of the village of Wizna was fortified to shield the
Polish positions in the south and guard the crossing of the Narew and Biebrza
rivers. The 5.5 mile (9 km) line of defenses along the high riverbanks passed
between the villages of Kołodzieje and Grądy-Woniecko, with Wizna in the
center. In addition, the most important road, Łomża–Białystok, passed through
Wizna. However, this defensive line was poorly fortified. If broken, an enemy
would have access northwards to Warsaw. The construction of the main
fortifications began only in April 1939.
By September 1, the Poles had built six heavy bunkers with
reinforced concrete domes weighing 8 tons each, two lightweight concrete
bunkers, and eight machine gun pillboxes protected by sandbags or earthworks.
Four more bunkers were still in the construction stage when the war began.
The average thickness of the bunker walls was nearly 5 feet
(1.5 meters). They were also protected by steel plates nearly 8 inches (20 cm)
thick, which no Wehrmacht cannon could pierce at that time.
In addition to the bunkers, anti-personnel and anti-tank
barriers were erected and many trenches and ditches were dug. To flood this
area in order to create additional difficulties for an adversary, the plan was
to destroy the dams on the Narew and Biebrza rivers. However, a record dry
summer and low water levels prevented that from happening.
Despite their unfinished state, the Polish bunkers were of
excellent quality. The fortifications were located on hills, which gave them a
large radius of sight and many opportunities for shooting.
Raginis was not only outmanned 60:1 but also had to deal
with an extremely formidable foe: General Heinz Guderian. Guderian was one of
Germany’s best commanders, known for his infiltration tactics, where strong
points on a heavily defended front would be bypassed with special combat teams.
Polish engineers destroyed the only bridge over the Narew,
thereby temporarily stopping the Germans. German infantry patrols crossed the
river and attempted to advance to Giełczyn, but suffered heavy losses.
On September 8, German General Heinz Guderian received an
order to advance through Wizna towards Brześć. The next morning, his troops
invaded the Wizna area and were combined with the “Lötzen” Brigade and 10th
The Poles were vastly outnumbered. German planes dropped
leaflets ordering them to surrender, in an attempt to unnerve them and avoid
combat. They stated that most of Poland was already under their control, and
that “further resistance would only prove futile.” Just when all hope was lost,
Raginis found the means to bolster the courage of his men. He swore that he
would never leave his post alive, no matter the consequences. Inspired and
ready to accept their fate, the soldiers were now prepared to leap into the
jaws of death.
The Germans proposed a truce and attempted to force the
Poles to surrender, including through threats to shoot their captured comrades
if they did not end their resistance. Soon after, the Germans conducted an
aerial and artillery bombardment. The Polish artillery was forced to retreat to
Białystok. After the bombing, the Germans attacked the northern flank of the
Two platoons of Polish troops were attacked from three
sides, but the Germans suffered losses. After strong artillery fire, the Polish
commander of the Giełczyn area, First Lieutenant Kiewlicz, received an order to
burn the wooden bridge over the Narew and retreat to Białystok. Some of his
troops managed to escape from the German encirclement, and joined the forces of
General Franciszek Kleeberg in Białystok.
At the same time, the southern Polish fortifications were
surrounded and could not repel a tank attack. They did not have anti-tank
weapons at their disposal but, hiding in the bunkers, the Poles could still
fire at enemy infantry.
Despite this, by 6:00 PM the Polish troops in the trenches
and field fortifications had been forced to retreat to the bunkers. German tanks
managed to cross the line of defense and advance to Tykocin and Zambrów.
However, the German infantry suffered heavy losses and could not follow the
Lt. Col. Tadeusz Tabaczyński was unable to send his troops
to the aid of Raginis, although he was less than 19 miles (30 km) away from him
in the fortified area of Osowiec. On September 8, Marshal Edward Śmigły-Rydz
ordered the 135th Infantry Regiment, which made up the reserves of Wizna and
Osowiec, to retreat to Warsaw.
By the time this order reached the troops, it was too late.
The troops on the Wizna line were surrounded. Assaults on the fortifications
around Wizna continued. On September 10, German troops using artillery and
tanks destroyed all but two of the Polish bunkers. Regardless of the large
number of dead and wounded troops, those in the remaining bunkers continued to
In order to force the Poles to stop the resistance, Heinz
Guderian demanded that Raginis cease-fire and surrender, threatening to shoot
prisoners of war otherwise.For a while, resistance continued.
Eventually Captain Raginis, badly wounded but still in
command of what was left of his forces, ordered his men to lay down their arms
and surrender. However, true to his oath, he refused to surrender. After his
men left the final bunker he committed suicide by throwing himself onto a
Several dozen Polish soldiers were taken into captivity. The
rest fell in battle. Many civilians were murdered in Wizna, and Poland would
suffer terribly under Nazi occupation. Polish soldiers fulfilled their oath
until the very end. The heroic struggle against overwhelming odds is nowadays
one of the symbols of the Polish Defensive War of 1939 and is a part of Polish
Although the Polish units were almost entirely composed of
conscripts mobilised in August 1939 rather than professional soldiers, their
morale was very high. After the war, Guderian had trouble explaining why his
Corps was stopped by such a small force. In his memoirs, he attributes the
delay to his officers “having trouble building bridges across the rivers”.
During the Nuremberg Trials, he remarked that Wizna was “well-defended by a
local officer school.”
The resistance of Raginis’ soldiers slowed the advance of
the Germans for three days, but could not prevent the occupation of Poland.
Even so, the feat of Raginis’ troops is one of the symbols of Poland’s struggles
in World War II.
Official Polish losses are unknown. According to various
estimates, about 40-70 Polish soldiers survived, some of whom were captured. In
his diaries, Guderian estimated German casualties at 900 people, at least 10
tanks, and a number of armored vehicles.
While even though nearly all the men in this famous last stand were killed in battle, the message it sent was one of great valor and bravery. These brave men kicked off one of the bloodiest segments in human history with an act of selflessness. They showed that there is value in setting an example, in creating a legend: in slowing the advancement of evil, even if it comes at the cost of your own life.
Though the engagements on the Narew were intertwined and all
equally effective, it is often only the defence of Wizna that receives any
popular attention. Perhaps because of the circumstances of Wladyslaw Raginis’
death, it is portrayed as a heroic last stand: Poland’s Thermopylae. Indeed,
the memorial at the bunker site consciously echoes the Greek epitaph with the
words `Go tell the Fatherland, Passer-by, that we fought to the end, obedient
to our duty.’ The heroism of Raginis and his men, their determination and
self-sacrifice, is undoubted, particularly as they were effectively abandoned
to their fate by their superiors. Whether they appreciated it or not, the
crossings on the upper Narew were crucial to the success of Guderian’s plan to
drive further east towards Brest, and the few days’ delay that were inflicted
upon the Germans there were of vital assistance to the wider Polish withdrawal
However, the more breathless claims attached to the Wizna
story are rather harder to justify. Wizna alone did not – as some accounts
suggest – halt the 40,000 men of the German 3rd Army in their tracks; that
accolade must be shared with the men who defended Lomza and Nowogrod further to
the west. Neither did the battle last for three days. Though the Germans first
arrived at the river on the 7th, there was evidently little genuine combat in
the sector until the morning of the 10th, when the assault on the
fortifications began in earnest. It is perhaps telling in this regard that
contemporary German sources give Wizna very little mention, beyond complaining
of the `weak bridgehead’ there and the resulting slow progress. To them, it
seems, it was little more than a skirmish during the frustrating wait to cross