In 1939, after announcing that 'Czechoslovakia
has ceased to exist', it became clear that Hitler's next intended target was Poland
. France and Britain began to panic
, and there followed attempts to try and form some sort of alliance
to stand against the Germans - conscription
for men aged 20-21 was introduced in Britain.. Offers from Russia
to join such a pact were refused.
With the announcement of the 'Pact of steel' by Italy and Germany, a mission from London went to Moscow to try and gain the aid of the only remaining nation with a large enough army to field against Hitler. While the mission was still there, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was revealed to the world. The public sections of it basically amounted to a non-aggression pact between Russia and Germany. The secret sections of it would soon have stinging effects on Poland. With the announcement of this pact, Britian guaranteed Poland's independence.
Not deterred, Hitler ordered the invasion of Poland on 31st August. 1939. The following day France and Englan demanded the withdrawl of the Wehrmacht, but were met with only a cold silence from Berlin. Talks began on how best to implement their promise to Poland. They issued an ultimatum to the German's, which was ignored - and so, at 11 a.m. on Sunday, September 3, Chamberlain broadcast the news that Britain was now at war with Germany.
Meanwhile, in Poland, the first Blitzkrieg had begun. On the morning of September 1st, 1939, bombers and fighters of the German Luftwaffe had crossed the Polish frontier and begun their destruction of Polish aircraft, airfields, road and rail, troop reserves, and anything which intelligence indicated might be part of the Polish command network.
The Germans found Poland especially suited to be subject to Blitzkrieg because it was a flat country with large frontiers that were far too large to be well defended. It protruded into enemy territory like an infant's toe into water - flanked by East Prussia to the north and Czechoslovakia to the south. The Polish defences were deployed in this tongue of land rather than behind the available river lines - where they would have had much stronger defences.
Poland's main problem was in its lack of armour - its army consisted mainly of infantry and cavalrymen, and it was to face six divisions of German tanks. The German infantry divisions kept the Polish troops occupied while the German mobile forces speeded round the side to strike at centres of control and supply
Two huge encirclements took place - an outer and an inner. The outer was intended to block any escape from the inner, and it worked successfully. Polish columns inside the trap were in a state of chaos, marching all over the place and unaware of what was happening, desperately trying to make contact with one another. Such was the movement that aerial obervation could report nothing but general movement of unidentified forces of unknown strength.
As a result of this, there was a little doubt at German headquarters as to whether the bulk of the Polish forces had indeed been trapped or had escaped, and as a result the German Tenth Army wheeled north to form a block along the River Bzura, north of Warsaw. The battle fought there was the most bitter of the campaign, but there could be no other outcome than defeat for the Poles. Only a few could break away east to join the garrison at Warsaw, and they soon found themselves once again cut off by the outer encirclement.
Only a small number of troops could ever hope to escape from this trap, and even those hopes were soon to be dashed. On the 17th September the secret clauses of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact were revealed, and the Red Army arrived to take its share of the country. Poland as a nation ceased to exist.
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