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

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.

The defensive doctrine of Poland, was applied in earnest starting 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 wrote in his last will and testament, 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 Ribbentrop-Mołotow Pact 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, 1938 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, 1, 8, 1983). Heavy Japanese loses and betrayal by Germany, were to bring an end to Japanese-Soviet war. Zhukov organized a surprise offensive 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. However, Nazi 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 to attack Russia saved the Soviet Union from destruction. The Russians so far do not want to admit this fact and they revive the cult of Stalin.

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 talked about Russia being “German Africa” and Russians as “negros” to be used by the superior German race.

Hitler’s plan to create “Greater 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 in their historical lands. Earlier, on March 3, 1918, in Brest Litovsk, a town occupied by 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 Rhine River 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. This is described in detail, by Józef Lipski, the ambassador of Poland to Germany, during the years 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 had 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 Congress of the Soviet Communist Party in Moscow. Eventually the 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 to Japanese in the middle of a military disaster, which lead to a cease fire and an the end of hostilities between Japan and the 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.

Hitler furious with the Poles for ruining his best-case scenario, ordered his generals on August 22, 1939 to use utmost ferocity against all ethnic Poles and as an act of vengeance to complete carefully planed destruction of Warsaw. The site of the Polish capital was to become a German provincial administrative town.

In 1939 Friedrich Pabst was nominated by Hitler as the chief architect of the New Warsaw for which he produced on February 6, 1940 a complete plan, drawn up with help of the nazi architects Hubert Gross and Otto Nurnberger. Detailed plans were made to destroy systematically all the buildings of Warsaw including all archives, museums, and monuments, while the armament industry and railroad facilities were to be enlarged. Detailed plans were made including the replacement of the Royal Castle with a Parteivolkshalle and the Column of King Sigismund with a huge statue called Niederwald Germania or Nieredwalddenkmal. Piłsudski square was renamed Adolf Hitler Platz.

Hitler decided to dynamite the Royal Castle of Warsaw in November 1939, a plan executed on September 28, 1944 within sight of the Red Army. It was on the eastern shores of the Vistula River, after Stalin issued orders to stop the front and to let the Nazis quell the Warsaw Uprising. Hundreds of thousands of Polish civilians were killed in Warsaw, including some 16000 members of the Polish Home Army.

Thus, Poland was caught in the middle of the struggle of much more powerful countries, both governed by totalitarian regimes. The 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 of the Polish-British Pact occurred after Poland, on July 25, 1939. gave to Britain and France each, a copy of a the linguistic deciphering electro-mechanical device named Enigma for the German secret military code system. 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, the Anschluss of Austria and the annexation of Sudettenland as well as the imposition of German protectorate on Czechia and Moravia. Poland derailed Hitler’s strategy by refusing to help him to attack Russia with a combined total of about 600 divisions. A force twice as large as was the Soviet army in 1939. Hitler’s ambition together with Poland’s refusal put him in the position of betraying Japan and thereby to be deprived of some 200 Japanese divisions after he lost 50 or more Polish divisions. As a result Germany faced shortage of one million soldiers on the Eastern Front each year.
The 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 the German Army used twice more ammunition in Poland in September 1939, than was used by Germans 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, who later were among the 17,000 Polish in the Polish Air Force in England and had decisive role in defeating the German Air Force in the Battle of Britain. Polish sailors, helped to spot and sink the battleship Bismarck, among others feats. Polish Second Corp won the battle of Monte Cassino and opened for the road to Rome for the Allies.
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 Nazi Germany in the attack the on Soviet Union in 1939. When Hitler had joined the Soviets to defeat Poland, Hitler betrayed the treaty he had with Japan. The Japanese signed the ceasefire with Russia and stopped hostilities against the Siberian Army, the same army that took part in the 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).
The German General Staff estimated that if the Germans had some 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 the 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, including Stepan Bandera, who were willing to fight on the side of Nazi Germany, 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 plan is available on the Internet). It is possible that after Hitler lost the crucial battle of Moscow and realized that Germany may lose the war. He decided then to commit the genocide of the Jews, as a preventive measure, so that the Jews would not benefit and exploit defeated Germany. Similar Nazi logic was used in 1945, during the mass murder of prisoners evacuated from concentration camps.
During the Summer of 1941 Abraham Stern, the leader of Irgun Zwei Leumi, to which Yitzak Shamir (Yezernitzky) belonged, sent a message to Beirut to contact the German Nazis gevernment and offer them the following proposal: “The establishment of the historical Jewish state, on the nationalist and totalitarian basis, tied by treaty to the German Reich, in accordance with the preservation and strengthening of future German power position in the Near East.” In the fall of 1941 Stern was determined to renew his connections with the Nazis and made a second attempt to contact them in December 1941. It was shortly before Stern was murdered by the British in Tel Aviv in February 1942. His second attempt to make contact with the Nazis failed. Yitzak Shamir was then a member of the command of Stern’s group and chose as his assistant Ghiladi. Later Shamir decided that Ghiladi had to be killed. (Avishai Margalit, “Yitzak Shamir - His Violent Career” The New York Review of Books, May 14, 1992, p.21)[Ghiladi who was an assistant to the future prime minister Yitzak Shamir may or may not be the same Naeim Giladi, author of “Ben-Gurion’s Scandals: How The Haganah and The Mossad Eliminated Jews.” Tempe, Arrizona ISBN 1-893302-40-7 (LCCP No 2003100608).]
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 Schoerner (1882-1973) was destroyed south of Berlin. Earlier on April 4, 1945 Hitler promoted Schoerner to Field Marshal and nominated him as the new Commander-in-Chief of the German Army (Oberbefehlshaber des Heeres). Hitler ordered Schoerner to establish in Bavaria in the Alps a fortress in Dbersdorf on the summit of Obersaltzberg mountaun. Schoerner was favorite of Goebbels, who praised him highly in his diary entries from March and April 1945.
The Marshal Schroener’s force, the German army group “Mitte,” had been defeated by the 2nd Polish Army in a battle near Bautzen (Budziszyn) on April 21-27. It was the bloodiest battle fought by Poles in World War II. 26,000 German 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 Soviets excluded the battle of Bautzen from Polish textbooks, in order not to give Polish soldiers credit for their victory.
The First Polish Army organized by the Soviets was the only non-Soviet force to capture Berlin, after it broke through the fortifications of “Die Pommernstellung” or “Wał Pomorski.” Second Polish Army fought the battle of Bautzen against the Berlin Army “Mitte” which included the rebuilt Hermann Goering Pantzer Division, the GrossDeutchlandCorps and other famous German formations. Both Polish Armies had traditional Polish uniforms, except for the fact that Polish white eagle on their banners and caps did not have the traditional royal crown.
Despite horrible losses inflicted on Poland and the tragic loss of over six million people or 20% of the population, Poland survived the war, the betrayal by Roosevelt and Churchill in Teheran in 1943 and in Yalta and Potsdam in 1945 and the years of post-war terror of Jakub Berman and other communist collaborators.
Poles remember that during the 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. In preparation for the arrival of the Bolshevik Army in Germany local communists took over the government of the state of Bavaria and the city government of Berlin in 1919. General Mikhail Tukhachevsky gave the historic 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 realistic defensive doctrine of Józef Piłsudski helped to save the Polish nation, the only one in Europe to fight Hitler and Stalin, against all odds and at a critical junction of history Poland defended itself against Hitler’s Germany. Poland formed an underground state under German occupation and had government in exile during the war. Now Poland is a free country and has the same borders, which it had already one thousand years ago. Among Poland’s 38 million people, there is the smallest number of ethnic minorities among European countries. Hopefully Poland will have a chance to live in peace as a member of NATO and of the European Union. This outcome is very different from what Hitler planned for Poland.
3 grudzień 2009

Iwo Cyprian Pogonowski 





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