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September 1939 - Warszawa, Wieluń, Westerplatte

The outbreak of World War II was tragic in its consequences for Poland - it led to complete destruction of the Polish state reborn in 1918. On 1 September 1939, Poland was militarily confronted with a powerful war machine of the Third Reich, and, on 17 September, also with the forces of Poland's eastern neighbour - the Soviet Russia. The disproportion in military strength was enormous. Despite the dedication of Polish soldiers and patriotic attitude of the people, the defeat was inevitable. The relief forces of France and Great Britain, Poland's allies, did not come.

In this situation, as many soldiers as possible were evacuated through Romania to France and Great Britain in order to continue the fight.

Poland had to face five long years of occupation, immense financial, territorial and population losses and, which was especially painful, the extermination of a significant number of representatives of the Polish intelligentsia.

Defence of Warsaw
Since 1 September, Polish capital city became the primary target for the German air forces.

The direct threat for Warsaw came on 3 September after the German forces broke through Polish defences near Częstochowa. The Command of the Defence of Warsaw was established on that day, with Brigadier General Walerian Czuma in command. At the same time, the Warszawa Army commanded by Major General Juliusz Rómmel was created. Additionally, numerous volunteer units were gathered. The municipal government together with the Mayor of Warsaw Stefan Starzyński, who took the position of Civilian Commissar at the Warsaw Defence Command, also played a major role.

On 8 September, German armoured divisions reached the outskirts of Warsaw and attacked the city straight away. The attacks of 8 and 9 September were repulsed.

On 15 September, the Germans surrounded the city completely. In total, there were approximately 120 thousand soldiers in the besieged capital. Civilians also joined the fight. Warsaw was under indiscriminate artillery shelling and aerial bombing. The heaviest bombing raids took place on 17 and 25 September. On 26 and 27 September the Germans tried to capture Polish positions but to no avail.

In the meantime, the situation of the Warsaw defenders was getting worse. They lacked in water, food and ammunition. On 28 September, Warsaw surrendered. For the city and its inhabitants a long period of occupation and resistance fight was about to begin.

Bombing Wieluń
Before the war, Wieluń was a small town located 20 kilometers from the then Polish-German border.

On 1 September at 04.40 a.m., the town was assaulted by Luftwaffe dive bombers. Approximately 70% of the building structures were destroyed. 90% of the historic old town was ruined. 1,200 civilians died.

The bombing had no military justification - there were no Polish military forces stationed in the town. The German side claims the attack was a result of a mistake of the Nazi intelligence services who reported that there was a Polish cavalry brigade stationed in the town. This information was not true. The Polish side recognizes this bombing as a war crime.

Defence of Westerplatte
Since 1926, an ammunition storehouse of the Polish Army called the Military Transit Depot had been located on the Westerplatte peninsula. In 1939, around 180 soldiers and officers were garrisoned there.

On 1 September at 04.45 a.m., Schleswig-Holstein battleship started shelling Westerplatte. The assault troops supported by heavy artillery and dive bombers began their charge. German military advantage was immense.

Polish soldiers were supposed to defend Westerplatte outpost for several hours only, but they managed to defend their position for seven days. Fifteen Polish soldiers were killed and about 50 were wounded. German losses amounted to 300-400 killed and wounded.

The defence of Westerplatte was significant not only in symbolic terms, but in military terms as well. For 7 days the defenders were able to tie down significant German forces, which, as a consequence, could not be used elsewhere.

Wojciech Krajewski
Polish Army Museum in Warsaw