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Defensive doctrine of Poland used in 1939 was decisive and made history

Iwo Cyprian Pogonowski|Sunday, December 6, 2009

The 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War was commemorated in Gdańsk, where German battleship Schlezwig-Holstein on a “goodwill visit” on September 1, 1939 at 4.45 a.m. fired the first shots of the war with its 16 inch guns aiming at Polish military base on the peninsula of Westerplatte in the free city of Gdansk. On September 1, 2009 European heads of governments gathered on Westerplatte, to commemorate and honor the anniversary of WWII.

Defensive doctrine of Poland, was used on January 26, 1939 when German minister von Ribbentrop was told in Warsaw that Poland will not join the pact against Russia. Poles followed the advice of Marshal Józef Piłsudski, who in his last will and testament wrote, that in order to preserve not only the independence of Poland, but in fact Poland’s very existence, the government of Poland had “to veer between Germany and Russia as long as possible and then bring the rest of the world into the conflict, rather than subordinating Poland to either one of its two neighbors.” The choice of the verb “to veer” indicated that Piłsudski was fully aware of the reality, that Poland formed a barrier between two main protagonists and most powerful contenders on the European continent: Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union.

  Stalin fearful of a two front war by Germany and Japan against the USSR decided to stop the Japanese Kwantung Army by Soviet attack in August 1939, a few days before the Pact Ribbentrop-Mołotow was to be signed in Moscow. According to The Oxford Companion to World War II (Oxford University Press, 1995) Soviet general Grigory Zhukov was the first in history to use the blitz-krieg tactics. These tactics were developed jointly by Germans and Russians on Soviet polygons after the Treaty of Rapallo of April 16, 1922.
  From May 28, 1939 on the largest air battles in history, up to that time, were fought in Asia and involved 140 to 200 Soviet and Japanese aircraft (A. Stella, Khalkhin-Gol, "The Forgotten War", Journal of Contemporary History, 18, 1983). Heavy Japanese loses and betrayal by Germany were to bring an end to Japanese-Soviet war. Zhukov organized a surprise counteroffensive using 35 infantry battalions, 20 cavalry squadrons, 500 aircraft and 500 of the new and powerful tanks. This force locally outnumbered the forces of the advancing Kwantung Army.
 
  On August 20, 1939 Zhukov launched a surprise attack and in ten days inflicted massive casualties on the Japanese. "Zhukov's essential achievement lay in combining tanks, artillery, aircraft and men in an integrated offensive for the first time in modern war. By 31 August, the Russians have completed what they described as the most impeccable encirclement of the enemy army since Hannibal beat the Romans at Cannae. The 23rd Division of the Kwantung Army was virtually wiped out, and at least 18,000 Japanese were killed." (P. Snow "Nomonhan -the Unknown Victory", History Today, July 1990.)
 
  Poles threatened by Hitler with complete eradication of the Polish state in the historic Polish lands, knew that Stalin threatened Poland with terror and enslavement. Germany then was the worse of the two evils. Poles made a rational decision and refused to help Germany to defeat Russia. Poland’s refusal saved the Soviet Union from destruction. The Russians so far do not want to admit this fact.
  During the 1930ties the League of Nations was trying to prevent the outbreak of hostilities. Then, on August 11, 1939, Hitler finally said to Jacob Burkhardt, Commissioner of the League of Nations: "Everything I undertake is directed against Russia; if the West is too stupid and blind to grasp this, I shall be compelled to come to an agreement with the Russians, beat the West and then, after their defeat, turn against the Soviet Union with all my forces. I need the Ukraine so that they can not starve me out as happened in the last war." (Roy Dennan "Missed Chances," Indigo, London 1997, p. 65).
 
  Hitler’s plan to create “Great Germany” populated by “racial Germans from the River Rhine to the Dnepr River in the Ukraine,” was known to marshal Piłsudski, who understood that Hitler planned eventual eviction and mass murder of Poles and Ukrainians. Earlier on March 3, 1918, in Brest Litovsk, a town occupied by the Germans, Lenin’s government signed a humiliating capitulation, which yielded to German dictate and agreed to make Russia a vassal state of Germany. Berlin planned to treat Russia like Britain treated India and make a colonial empire ruled by Germany from the River Rhine to Vladivostok. In 1939 the territory of Poland blocked Germany from the direct access to the Ukraine and to Russia.
 
  Already on August 5, 1935 Hitler started pressing the government of Poland to sign a pact with Germany against Russia, as is described in detail by Józef Lipski, the ambassador of Poland in Germany, in 1933-39. Stalin’s government was aware of Hitler’s plans and of the pact between Germany and Japan against Russia signed in 1936. Stalin feared a two front war, Japanese attack from the east and German attack from the west. When Poland refused to join Germany on January 26, 1939 Stalin thought that he had a chance to entangle Germany in a long lasting war on the western front, as it happened during WWI.
 
  For all practical purposes Stalin offered to divide Poland between Germany and Russia by inviting the German-Soviet cooperation on March 10, 1939 in a speech broadcast by radio and addressed to the 18th convention of the Soviet Communist Party. Eventually Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was signed in Moscow and dated August 23, 1939.  The news of German-Soviet pact and German betrayal, came in the middle of a Japanese disaster, which lead to cease fire and an end of hostilities between Japan and Soviet Union on September 16, 1939 after Japan lodged a formal protest in Berlin against the “Ribbentrop – Molotov Pact.”  Thus, Poland’s decision to defend itself ruined Hitler’s “best case scenario” and his plans to defeat Stalin in a two-front war against Russia. Instead Stalin managed to entangle the Germans in a two-front war. The “great game” consisted of competition between Hitler and Stalin who defeats whom in a two-front war by means of attacks from the east and from the west.

Poland was caught in the middle of struggle of much more powerful countries, both governed by totalitarian regimes. Nazi government considered itself to be the “natural heir” of the British Empire. This helped the Poles to sign the Polish-British Common Defense Pact against German aggression on August 25, 1939. The signing happened after Poland, on July 25, 1939 gave to Britain and France each, a copy of a linguistic deciphering electro-mechanical device for the German secret military code system Enigma. American code expert David A. Hatch of the Center of Criptic History, NSA, Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, wrote that “the breaking of the Enigma by Poland was one of the cornerstones of Allied victory over Germany.”

Poland’s resolve to defend itself was remarkable against the backdrop of pacifist Western Europe. Poland derailed Hitler’s strategy by refusing to help Germany to attack Russia with a total of about 600 divisions. A force twice larger, than was the Soviet army in 1939. Because of Poland, Hitler had to betray Japan and lose some 200 Japanese division after he had potential 100 Polish divisions or some three and half million Polish soldiers (10% pre-wear population of Poland).

Soviet-Japanese war ended with the cease-fire signed on September 15, 1939, it was put in force the next day, on Sept. 16th and on September 17th 1939, the Red Army, freed of the hostilities against Japan, joined the Germans in the invasion of Poland, which was in progress since September 1, 1939. German records show that Germans used 50% more ammunition in Poland in September 1939, than they used against the French and the British in 1940.

In 1939 during the battle of Poland, the Poles destroyed one third of German armor used against Poland and one fourth of German airplanes. During the war heroic deeds were performed by Polish pilots serving with the 17,000 Polish airmen in Gr. Britain as well as by Polish sailors, who helped to sink the battleship Bismarck etc. Polish Second Corp won the battle of Monte Cassino and opened for the Allies the road to Rome.

In August 1944 the Polish First Armored Division played a decisive role in the battle for France where it defeated the Hermann Goering Pantzer Division in a decisive battle of Fallaise in Normandy. On the Western Front Polish armed forces constituted the third largest allied force after the USA and Gr. Britain.

Russia was most likely saved from defeat by Poland’s refusal to join Germany in the attack on Soviet Union in 1939. When Hitler had to joined Stalin to defeat Poland, he caused Germany to betray Japan, which therefore signed ceasefire with Russia and ceased to fight against the Siberian Army, the same army that took part in battle of Moscow and caused sudden worsening of the situation of the German Army on the eastern front.

"On 1 December, [1941] Army Group Center made a last all-out attack to take Moscow, but the balance of forces favored the defender. ... At down of 3 December, Zhukov's Siberian divisions [100,000 men with 300 tanks and 2000 artillery pieces] crushed through the extended flanks of the [German] Army Group Center." (Stephen Badsey, "World War II Battle Plans" 2000, p. 98).

German General Staff estimated that if the Germans had 45-50 divisions more, they would not have lost the battle of Moscow. Ironically this is the number of divisions with which Poland defended itself in 1939. As mentioned before Poland saved Russia by refusing to join in German attack on the Soviet Union - a fact, which the Russians hate to admit. On the other hand, when the leaders of the Ukrainian nationalists, who were willing to fight on the German side and proclaimed the independence of Ukraine in Lvov (Lwów, Lviv) in 1941, they were arrested and imprisoned in the bunker of Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp near Berlin.

In 1940, when Hitler was victorious in France, he was in euphoria and he ordered Adolf Eichmann to prepare a four year plan to evacuate all European Jews under German occupation and deport them, using French and British navy, to a super ghetto, to be supervised by Hermann Goering, on the island of Madagascar (this is shown on the Internet). After Hitler lost the crucial battle of Moscow and realized that Germny may lose the war, he decided to commit the genocide of the Jew as a preventive measure so that they would not benefit and exploit defeated Germany. Similar Nazi logic was used in 1945, during mass murder of prisoners evacuated from concentration camps.  

Hitler took his own life on April 30, 1945, when the news came that the powerful German army group “Mitte,” under the command of field marshal Ferdinand Schroeder, ordered by him to rescue Berlin, had been defeated by the 2nd Polish army near Bautzen (Budziszyn) on April 21-27. It was the bloodiest battle fought by Poles in World War II. 26,000 German elite soldiers of the Berlin rescue force were killed there and 314 of their best tanks and 135 self-propelled guns were lost. 27,000 Germans were taken prisoner, most of them wounded in combat.

The First Polish Army organized by the Soviets was the only non-Soviet force to capture Berlin,  the Second Polish Army won the battle of Bautzen against the Berlin rescue force which included the rebuilt Hermann Goering Pantzer Division, the GrossDeutchland Corps and other famous German divisions.

 Despite horrible losses inflicted on Poland and the tragic loss of over six million people or 10% of the population, Poland survived the war, despite the betrayal by Roosevelt and Churchill in Teheran in 1943 and in Potsdam in 1945 and the years of post-war years terror of Jakub Berman and other communist collaborators.

Poles remember that during Soviet invasion of Poland in 1920, Lenin attempted to overrun Poland and form a Moscow-Berlin axis, in order to start a world wide communist revolution. General Mikhail Tukhachevsky gave the order to the Red Army on July 4, 1920: “To the west, over the corpse of ‘White Poland,’ on the road to the worldwide conflagration.” (Pogonowski, Iwo Cyprian. “Poland an Illustrated History,” New York: Hippocrene Books Inc., 2000. Page 17.)

The leadership of Józef Piłsudski in 1920 and his realistic defensive doctrine helped to save the Polish nation, the only one in Europe to fight Hitler and Stalin, against all odds. Poland formed an underground state under German occupation and had government in exile during the war. Now Poland has the same borders, which it had already one thousand years ago. Among Poland’s 38 million people, there is one of the smallest numbers of ethnic minorities. Hopefully now Poland will have a chance to live in peace as a member of NATO and of the European Union. This outcome is very different of what Hitler planned for Poland.
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