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Blitzkrieg : Hitler's Invasion of Poland

BA University of Arkansas (Fayetteville) Geography & History

The Nazi Pary Takes Control

In period of just a few months in 1933 Adolf Hitler's Nazi party would establish a one-party state in Germany. Backed by his Storm Troopers (paramilitary arm), numbering almost three million men, Hitler brutally suppressed any opposition taking complete control over the German government and its people.

Between May and July, 1933, all parties who opposed the National Socialist Party were dissolved, and on July 14, it was declared the sole party in Germany. By then, over 26,789 people had been sent to concentration camps without a trial, and many more were murdered, their bodies left on the streets to set an example for those who wished to challenge the new Nazi order.

Hitler's next step was to win over the German people and unite them behind his rule. He recruited Joseph Goebbels a master propagandist, who used all forms of media to put Hitler's message across to his people.

Radio would become the most pervasive source of Nazi propaganda by reaching a mass audience of tens of millions of Germans. In six short years the number of radios sets in Germany went from four million to seventy million. Nazi propaganda was designed to shape a folk community bonded to its leader.

Allegiance to Hitler was direct, personal, and absolute. Hitler's frequent companion Leni Riefenstahl, a beautiful film star and pioneering director, glorified his image in the "Triumph of the Will," this film is a prime example of Nazi propaganda. The power of her images in the film would help to seduce a generation of German people.

The Nazi party systematically created the cult of the Fuhrer, the great magnetic leader, whose voice gave birth to a movement, which would silence the best of Germany and magnify the worst.

To veterans, Hitler was cast as the heroic soldier who had fought valiantly for Germany in the First World War. He spread his message to the German people through fear and anger.

Using fear as a weapon he turned a small crack in social issues into a great divide taking total control over the German people. He painted its Jewish citizens as the ultimate threat to his new Reich waging a race war upon this part of the German population.

Hitler knew how to reach his audience, and how to gain the sympathy of even the most sophisticated citizens, creating monsters out of ordinary men. The Treaty of Versailles signed at to end the First World War acted as a time bomb in Germany.

Hitler used the Treaty of Versailles to paint the Jewish population as the scapegoats for Germany's defeat in the First World War, blaming it for their economic uncertainty, creating a stormy political atmosphere where an extremist party such as the Nazi party could seize power.

On March 15,1935, soon after gaining power in Germany Hitler announced reinstating conscription and the existence of the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) which by then already had over 2,500 planes.

These two actions were serious breaches to the Treaty of Versailles creating great concern throughout the world. Hitler's vision of the future was driven by the policy of Lebensraum (living space) an idea that land expansion was essential to the survival of the German people.

However, rather than adding colonies to make Germany larger, Hitler wanted to enlarge Germany within Europe. He believed that Germany had a right to take land from a lesser people, those he considered inferior, to the Aryan people of Germany, in an attempt to bring unity between the German people and the land (the Nazi concept of Blood and Soil).

Leni Riefenstahl

Leni Riefenstahl Nuremberg 1933 : "Triumph of the Will"

The Gleiwitz Incident: The Spark the Ignites the Second World War

On September 1,1939, Germany would attack Poland under the pretext of an attack by Polish troops on the radio station in the Silesian city of Geiwitz near the border with Poland. This was the aggression Hitler used to justify his invasion of Poland.

It was later proven the attack was staged by Nazi operatives who posed as Polish military officers. Alfred Naujoks (1911-1966), a high-ranking German SS officer staged the attack on orders from Heinrich Himmler.

Himmler was one of the most powerful and loyal members of Hitler's inner circle. He had a lifelong interest in occultism, interpreting Germanic neopagan beliefs to promote the racial policy of Nazi Germany, incorporating obscure symbolism and rituals into the SS to enhance the cult of Hitler.

Three days after the invasion of Poland, Britain and France would declare war on Germany setting off another world war. A war that would become the deadliest in human history, leaving Europe and the Soviet Union in ruins, setting the stage for a new era of warfare which will become known as "Total War".

A week before the attack on Poland, German and Soviet leaders would sign the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. In this non-aggression pact Stalin and Hitler secretly agreed to invade and partition Poland.

Hitler would tell German citizens that the invasion of Poland was a defensive action provoked by an attack from Polish nationals on German land. The false flag attack on the radio tower at Geiwitz committed by SS troops dressed in Polish uniforms would create a chain of events that would bring about a Second World War.

The Attack on Poland: Lightning War

The campaign in Poland was the first demonstration of the Blitzkrieg on a massive scale. Preceded by the advance of German ground forces were devastating air attacks by the Luftwaffe on Polish airfields, railway junctions, and mobilization centers.

From the beginning of the invasion German forces had complete air superiority over the battlefield as a consequence movement of Polish forces was seriously handicapped. The geography of Poland offered flat and fairly easy going for a mobile invader, but the scarcity of good roads would require German tanks and other mechanized forces to move off the roads on to open country.

The Polish army's forward concentration near its border with Germany would leave them exposed to a double envelopment early in the invasion by fast moving German spearheads.

Since the Polish army lacked trucks to transport their infantry, they were forced to march on foot to defensive positions in the rear early in the invasion, many were overrun or surrounded by Germany's hard driving mechanized columns. In the wide-open spaces of Poland, the unmechanized state of her forces would become a fatal disadvantage in the battle that lay ahead with Germany.

The Germans held the upper hand from the start having already begun the process of rearmament, which had been going on for several years, equipping its army and air force with the best ultra-modern weapons and vehicles available.

Germany also held another trump card, the new tactic of Blitzkrieg (Lightning War) which would revolutionize the face of warfare. This type of warfare consisted of rapid control of the skies and the comprehensive bombing of enemy lines of communication and transport.

Soon after the air bombardments finished spearheads led by dense concentrations of armored and motorized infantry formations would strike the enemy on a very small front. By creating an overwhelming numerical advantage over the Polish defenses these spearheads would breakthrough creating chaos among the Polish army's rear areas.

All the armored spearheads were covered by the German air force preventing counter-attacks by the enemy. Stuka dive bombers were called upon to destroy any Polish strong points acting as mobile artillery to help speed up the German advance.

During the invasion Polish generals continued to follow the tactics used in the First World War. By not concentrating their tanks into one cohesive force they reduced their effectiveness against German spearheads.

Instead, they spread their tanks out among their infantry formations, consequently Polish counter-attacks didn't have the armored punch to stop the German spearheads. With only a few modern aircraft, and inadequate anti-aircraft artillery, the Polish air force was unable to contain the German Luftwaffe which controlled the skies above the battlefield.

Much like the Italians, most of Poland's military equipment dated from the First World War. Their best formations were undoubtedly their cavalry brigades, which fought with great gallantry, on some occasions charging German tanks with drawn sabers taking heavy casualties. But all the dash and bravado could not compensate for the lack of modern arms and serious tactical training.

On September 17,1939, the Soviets invaded Poland's eastern frontier. That blow in the back sealed Poland's fate, for there were scarcely any troops left to oppose this second invasion.

The next day the Polish Government and Military High Command fled across the Romanian border sending back a message to their troops to continue the fight. Expecting France and Britain to come to their aid, Polish generals set up defensive positions near the Hungarian border hoping for their arrival.

But soon they realized that they had been abandoned by their allies, and afterward over 100,000 Polish soldiers and airman would cross over the Hungarian and Romanian borders to fight another day.

On September 8,1939, German spearheads would begin to surround the Polish capital of Warsaw setting siege to the city having covered 140 miles in just eight days. Over 18,000 citizens of Warsaw would die during the siege, by September 30, 1939 the city would surrender to the German army effectively ending the battle for Poland.

By October 6,1939, all Polish resistance had ended with over 910,000 Poles being were taken prisoner. Of which 217,000 of those were taken prisoner by the Soviets.

The Heroes of Westerplatte

The Battle of Westerplatte was one of the first battles of the Second World War in Europe. The battle marked the opening round of the German invasion of Poland as German troops rushed across the Polish corridor to link up with German troops in East Prussia.

The German assault took place at dawn on September 1, 1939, at Poland's Military Transit Depot on the Westerplatte peninsula in the harbor of the Free City of Danzig.

The depot was defended by fewer than 200 Polish soldiers. The Germans attacked Westerplatte with a force of 1,500 military police, and 225 Marines commanded by Admiral Gustav Kleikamp aboard the battleship Schleswig- Holstein. At times during the battle the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein would shell Polish positions at point blank range.

The defense of Westerplatte served as an inspiration to the Polish Army and other nations who would face German aggression elsewhere, even today it is still regarded as a symbol of resistance to the invasion.

The Poles withstood repeated German assaults led by dive-bomber attacks and naval shelling for almost seven days. Staff Sergeant Wojciech Naj Sarek was killed by machine-gun fire early in the battle, and was perhaps the first victim of the over forty -five million poor souls who would die in the Second World War.

Conclusion

One surprising fact about the German invasion of Poland is that the Soviet occupation of Poland would last over fifty years, a great deal longer than Germany's.

With only 40,000 casualties, compared against to over 900,000 poles killed or taken prisoner, Nazis Germany would prove the ultimate victor in the battle for Poland. Now Hitler could turn his eyes to the west, soon all western Europe would experience Germany's new form of lightning war.

It would be followed by five years of German occupation leaving Europe in ruins. Hundreds of great architectural treasures and cities would be destroyed as the Second World War would continue on for over five bloody years.

It will take decades to recover, and some villages and towns will never reappear. Over 45 million people will die in Europe under Nazi Germany's brutal occupation many families remain permanently scarred some seventy years after the war ended.

The Destruction of Warsaw

Young Polish survivor of Nazi bombing of Warsaw, photographed by Julien Bryan.

Young Polish survivor of Nazi bombing of Warsaw, photographed by Julien Bryan.

Sources

Hardgreaves, Richard. Blitzkrieg Unleashed: The German Invasion of Poland 1939.

Stackpole Books,. 5067 Ritter Road Mechanicsburg, PA 17055. 2010.

Keegan, John. The Second World War . Penguin Random House LLC,. 375 Hudson Street. New York , New York 10014. 1989.

Mellenthin, Major General F.W., Panzer Battles. Ballantine Books,. 375 Hudson Street. New York, New York 10014. 1976



© 2019 Mark Caruthers

Comments

MG Singh emge from Singapore on August 03, 2020:

A very well written article which I found very interesting. Hitler and Stalin ganged up together for the destruction of Poland. This was as per the secret protocol of the German- Russian treaty. The Polish campaign in real time was just a 'pause', the ultimate aim to destroy Stalin and Russia. Hitler failed.

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