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Part 16th- September 1939
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16 September 1939
Hitler’s troops were already
having invaded on the first of the month. The Polish army began retreating and regrouping east, near Lvov, in eastern Galicia, attempting to escape relentless German land and air offensives.
But Polish troops had jumped from the frying pan into the fire-as Soviet troops began occupying eastern Poland.
The Ribbentrop-Molotov Non-aggression Pact, signed in August, had eliminated any hope Poland had of a Russian ally in a war against Germany. Little did Poles know that a secret clause of that pact, the details of which would not become public until 1990, gave the U.S.S.R. the right to mark off for itself a chunk of Poland’s eastern region.
The “reason” given was that Russia had to come to the aid of its “blood brothers,” the Ukrainians and Byelorussians, who were trapped in territory that had been illegally annexed by Poland.
Now Poland was squeezed from West and East-trapped between two behemoths.
Its forces overwhelmed by the mechanized modern German army, Poland had nothing left with which to fight the Soviets.
As Soviet troops broke into Poland, they unexpectedly met up with German troops who had fought their way that far east in a little more than two weeks. The Germans receded when confronted by the Soviets, handing over their Polish prisoners of war. Thousands of Polish troops were taken into captivity; some Poles simply surrendered to the Soviets to avoid being captured by the Germans.
The Soviet Union would wind up with about three-fifths of Poland and 13 million of its people as a result of the invasion
marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły
that half of his divisions are in contact with the enemy, and that French advances have forced the Wehrmacht to withdraw at least six divisions from Poland.
The following day,
the commander of the French Military Mission to Poland, General Louis Faury, informed the Polish Chief of Staff,
General Wacław Stachiewicz, that the planned major offensive on the western front had to be postponed from September 17 to September 20. At the same time, French divisions were ordered to retreat to their barracks
along the Maginot Line.
The Maginot Line was named by
the French Minister of War André Maginot
it was a series of concrete fortifications, tank obstacles, artillery and machine-gun positions, observation, communication centers, shelters and other defenses, which France had created along borders with Germany and Italy, due to the bad experience of the First World War. Generally, the term describes only the defenses mentioned in Germany, while the term Alpine Line is used for the Franco-Italian defenses. The length of the line covering the borders of France and Switzerland to Luxembourg and the width of the area covered ranged between 20 and 25 kilometers inside the country. Its construction started in 1930 and completed in 1939 The French built the fortification was to prevent any surprise attack by German forces and to give time to deploy the army in case of attack, allowing French forces after he arranged to go to Belgium for a decisive showdown. The success of static, defensive combat during the First World War was a key influence on the minds of the French people for the construction of the project. Military experts thought the Maginot Line as a brilliant military work, believing that this will prevent future invasions from the east and especially from Germany When the Germans invaded France, the fortification system really successful in avoiding a frontal assault. Proved but strategically ineffective, as the Germans invaded by Belgium, bypassing
the Maginot Line through the Ardennes forest …
The Germans constructed a line of defences some distance east of the Maginot Line, called the Siegfried Line, in order to defend the Greater Reich from attacks from the west, however, I can’t seem to find any historical mentioning of a similar line of defence built in the east? There were none in the south either, but the combined Italian and German “Gustav Line” in Italy at least gave them some defence to the south even though it didn’t primarily defend Germany, but rather the northern part of Italy, and thus in turn protected Germany. The north was not (as far as I know) protected that well as it faced the Baltic sea, and the Baltic sea was in turn cut of from the Atlantic by the massive gun placements in the north of Denmark (Near Hanstholm) and the south of Norway (Near Kristiansand), as well as a minefield in the middle. So, even though the German navy was rather devastated, an allied naval invasion to the north of Germany would be rather futile. (And The Soviet Union didn’t really have a navy to speak of, so no real threat from the eastern Baltic sea)
In fact, the whole Atlantic seaboard was heavily fortified! From the border of Spain to the north of Norway (At the time of capitulation there were about 400 000 fit soldiers and loads of great equipment stationed in Norway alone, and there’s a bunker complex in Norway that was finished on the 7th of May 1945, 1 day before the capitulation), so it was clear that Germany really feared an invasion.
But what about the east? Why didn’t Germany fortify more heavily there? And one may say that the distances was greater, and yes, they were great indeed, but to fortify from Crimea to Leningrad are no greater task then to fortify from the the border of Spain to the northern tip of Norway.
Was it simply the fact that Germany didn’t really get full control over its eastern campaigns? The partisans, the environment, the demolished infrastructure, the mud? Or that they didn’t have enough time? Or was it simply that Germany didn’t think they would ever lose in the east?
I’m actually curious that this has not struck me before as I have watched countless hours of documentaries (some good, some crap) and read countless pages in books and magazines about this war, and I have never encountered an “Eastern Siegfried Line”.
The Phoney war started. The French remained in control of a pocket
in the Saarland.
As a symbolic gesture, the 1st Polish Grenadier Division later raised in the French Army was stationed to occupy this German territory.
The Allied attitude towards Poland in 1939 has been a subject of an ongoing dispute among historians ever since. Some historians argue that if only France had pursued the offensive agreed on in the treaties, it would have definitely been able to break through the unfinished Siegfried Line and force Germany to fight a costly two-front war that it was in no position to win. At the same time, others argue that France and Britain had promised more than they would deliver —
especially when confronted with the option to declare war on the Soviet Union for violating Poland’s territory on September 17, 1939 the way they had on Germany on September 3, 1939 (though in fact the pledge would not have obliged France and the United Kingdom to declare war on the Soviet Union due to the actual wording of the pact that specifically named Germany as the potential aggressor) — and that the French army was superior to the Wehrmacht in numbers only.
It lacked the offensive doctrines, mobilization schemes, and offensive spirit necessary to attack Germany.
Also, while the bulk of the Luftwaffe’s bomber force was engaged in Poland (most of the fighter units were in the West), neither the French airforce nor the British Royal Air Force engaged in any operations against Germany
beyond leaflet droppings
and the bombing of German naval bases.
It seems unlikely, given the Soviet strategic doctrine of opportunistic war, that they would have carried on with invasion of Poland fulfilling their promises given to the Germans.  Though the Germans asked the Russians to invade Poland on September 3 no such action took place till September 17, 1939. This is partly because the Soviet Union waited for a proof of Poland’s collapse as well as a lack of military involvement on the part of the Allies .
The problem with Polish expectations was that the French and British commitments greatly exaggerated their capabilities. Although France promptly declared war, the French mobilization was not complete until early October, by which time Poland had fallen. In Britain where mobilization was more rapid, only 1 in 40 men were mobilized (compared to 1 in 10 in France, and 1 in 20 in Poland), thus providing only a token force against Germany’s forces of several million.
The presumption that “something could have been done but wasn’t” overlooks the basic fact that the West, just like Poland, was ill-equipped to fight Germany even with the majority of German forces engaged in the east. After the war, General Alfred Jodl commented that the Germans survived 1939 “only because approximately 110 French and English divisions in the West, which during the campaign on Poland were facing 25 German divisions, remained completely inactive.”
To Be Continued
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