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Old 23rd December 2009, 02:41
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Polish Campaign of 1939 - some first hand battle accounts

"Our eyes move wearily from scene to scene and the further we march, words become less frequent [...] It is a tragic contrast. The birdsong doesn’t capture the face of this world. The reality is bloody traces of the battle which has passed" - Werner Flack, Poland, last days of September of 1939

"Eerie ruins rise up from the ground and the ruins smoulder; the smoke is blacker than night; it licks with ravenous greed and bright flames, crackles and pops, hisses and stews. Sparks fly up into the grey sky; beams moan, groan, ache in the heat and collapse and a swarm of sparks rise up like a living soul. The horror peers out of houses which line the road through broken and smashed windows, while the flames of neighbouring fires play their game of sparks against panes which have remained intact. We don’t want to believe our eyes. We never saw such a scene. Or had we only dreamed of such scenes in war? It’s almost too much for today! We look and stare; we listen for the confusing sounds of burning barns and houses and think for a second: the harvest is in. But where there was grain is now a black pile which flames leap from, and white smoke rises like poisonous steam. And close to the flickering house there’s a black figure lying on the half-burned floor amid the smoke and soot of the smouldering fire: a bundle of singed clothes perhaps? And yet it lies there so stretched out, strangely alive yet rigid" - Werner Flack describing the destruction of the Polish town of Gostyn



German soldier serving in Infanterie-Regiment 49. (28. Infanterie-Division) - Werner Flack - describing the battle of Mikolow:


Second World War in Polish part of Upper Silesia began with attacks of aircraft of the German 4th Air Fleet (Luftflotte), which bombed several places, including an airport in Katowice. Soon afterwards, early in the morning on September 1, 1939, units of the Wehrmacht crossed the Polish-German border. The aggressors were helped by members of the German minority in Poland, whose paramilitary organization Freikorps attacked Polish units from the rear. Several skirmishes took place, most of them in densely populated industrial areas of the cities of Ruda Śląska, Chorzów and Katowice.

However, main German attack was concentrated in the south of the industrial region, around the border towns of Mikołów and Pszczyna. There, units of the Polish Operational Group Silesia (part of Army Kraków) faced German 8th I.D. (General Erwin Koch), 28th I.D. (Gen. Hans von Oberstfelder) and German 5th Armored Division. The mentioned German units were part of the VIII Corps.

September 1, 1939

In the morning hours, German 5th Armored Division, attacking towards Rybnik and Żory, managed to annihilate Polish defense. The units destroyed by the attackers were located in the Pszczyna Forest, and their task was to provide connection between Operational Groups Silesia and Bielsko. Their loss created a gap in Polish defense, and the Germans took advantage of it on the following day. Even though Polish 55th I.D. (under General Jan Jagmin-Sadowski) was desperately fighting, it was unable to keep off the attackers.

September 2, 1939

At around 5 a.m. the Germans started an artillery shelling, which precipitated the main attack. Later on that day, two German battalions (49th and 83rd) moved towards Tychy, and on their way they were faced by Polish units, in the area of the village of Zwakow.

The battle that followed was one of the most ferocious of all that took place in September 1939 in Upper Silesia. Polish units managed to halt the aggressors, preventing them from capturing the town of Wyry. However, in the afternoon of September 2, even though the frontline was stabilized, the headquarters of the Armia Kraków ordered all units to leave Upper Silesia and withdraw towards Kraków and the Vistula river. This decision was undertaken because the Germans, attacking in the area of Woźniki, broke defense of the Kraków Cavalry Brigade. Also in the south the Germans broke Polish positions, and the Polish 6th I.D. was hastily retreating towards Oświęcim. Thus, units in the area of Pszczyna and Mikołów were threatened with encirclement.
And here the account of Werner Flack begins:

1st of September 1939:

(...) German Infanterie-Regiment from Breslau, as the forward unit of the division, enters the Polish Upper Silesia at sunrise on 01.09.1939. Soon at the head of the division German heavy machine guns start to fire. Poles respond. In the German column there is an alarm caused by some soldier who fired a [signal] rocket meaning the assault of Polish tanks. When it turns out, that the alarm was false, Germans crawl out of houses and ditches where they have concealed themselfes. Machine gun fire stops, but from the head of the division we can hear thunders of artillery fire. The most forward III. battalion of the regiment encountered heavy Polish resistance near the village Gostyn. It seems that Poles were withdrawing because they wanted to put up fierce resistance on stronger positions located along the hills near Mikolow. At 5:00 PM the regiment starts the assault. In some moment a Polish airman, despite violent German fire, carries out a reconnaissance of German columns while they are preparing themselfes for the attack. With great difficulty Germans advance through the sandy forests, to the accompaniment of Polish machine guns playing at their head. Soon after that, near the entrance to the village Gostyn, Polish harassing artillery fire annoys them. At 16:40 AM during the march of the main forces of the regiment across the village Gostyn, Polish shooters who were lying in wait there, open heavy fire, causing heavy casualies to the dense column and slowing down its march until the dusk. (...)

(...) In the meantime battalions of the first line try to attack. The enemy is sitting on the trees, in houses, in cellars, in ruins of destroyed buildings, in thickets and bushes - he masked himself, dug shooting ditches in places, which have got the best view of the terrain. He placed machine guns, artillery guns and mortars. Poles know perfectly every place which the Germans could use for their advance, they are sending series after series of bullets from their machine weapons, magazine after magazine. They seem to be saying: "Up to here and not a single step further". They know well, that during the night Germans will not be able to break through. The area in front of our forces is full of houses. Every farmstead is a blokhaus - in each of them invisible shooters stick. These shooters let the attackers to pass themselfes, and then open fire at their rears. In front of our forces there are a lot of bushes. In almost every single shrub there are Polish shooters with lots of ammunition. (...)

(...) General wanted to personally recognize the situation of our battalions - intense Polish fire forced him to retreat. Communication is broken. Lasting out until the night, frayed regiments and battalions withdraw, to give up place for the fresh ones. Casualties are very heavy. Medical orderlies are constantly running. Artillery combat is still in progress. (...)

Night from 1st to 2nd of September 1939:

(...) Forward battalions get stuck. Report to the regiments: “the assault is not advancing!”. Order of the commander: “attack!”. Once again battalions are jumping out of their shooting niches. Poles organize a barrage in front of their well developed positions. Reports to the regiments, that the assault has decisively got stuck. The order: “dig in and wait until the daybreak”. The fire is falling and increasing again, like a wave breaking on the shore. Suddenly lightnings pierce the dark. Tremendous howling in the air, then a powerful crash. Yet once again it is flashing, thundering, the ground is shaking. Like a swarm of dangerous birds missiles of German artillery fly over heads of their soldiers. The assault got stuck at the foot of the hills of Mikolow. Now these hills and these fortifications are being bombed by German artillery. Hundreds of lightnings pierce the darkness. In some moments it is like it was thundering constantly. There – where Poles are lasting inside these gloomy forests – hundreds of detonations are flashing, clods of ground are flying in the air, trees are crumbling. German shooters are lying stick out far away ahead of the main position. They dug out shooting niches for themselfes, placed MGs at their posts and are waiting. The night is terribly dark. Bright lightnings of German artillery shots behind the backs are brightening the horizon for a second. Rockets are breathing with strong light. But on the side of the enemy nothing can be seen – no any outlet fire, no any human shapes, nothing. Like evil insects enemy rifle bullets are continuosly buzzing in the air. (...)

(...) A rifleman is constantly staring at the darkness with his tired eyes. He has got an impression, that some shapes has suddenly revived inside the bushes. After a moment he realizes, that these were probably imaginations. Phantoms has disappeared, but a rifleman can see, that he has almost run out of ammo. (...)

2nd of September 1939:

(...) On 02.09.1939 at 2:30 PM a leftwing regiment of the division slided out its I battalion towards the extreme left wing at a height of the III battalion, which was involved there since the beginning. Both battalions were located in the forest east of the locality Gostyn. At sunrise, after strong artillery preparation, I battalion was ordered to carry out a strong assault to relieve the III battalion, which was squashed to the ground by enemy fire. Portable radio stations of the regiment and 3 artillery observers with their radio stations are going to the headquarters of the command of the I battalion. (...)

(...) The frontline has calmed down. Only from time to time some bullets are fired and here and there missiles are flying. The command of the I battalion is located in the forest. Soldiers, wrapped in tent sheets, are lying in niches which they have previously dug out. They had got a very hard night. The enemy is around them. They were being under enemy fire from all sides and they couldn’t move. (...)

(...) Meanwhile the sunrise has come. German artillery is still silent. The morning fog is so thick, that visibility is not farther than 100 steps. The enemy is silent. There are some rumours that Poles have retreated. Suddenly a whistle from between the trees, yet closer to our heads. Somewhere near, from the front, from the left, a Polish MG is barking. After a moment they are firing a little bit more to the right, and finally from the left side. The command of the battalion is forced to hide itself immediately. Polish machine guns are hurtling around with a stunning noise, sending their destructive beams into the forest. It looks like blows of a whip were hitting the trees. Enemy flank fire from the right side is giving the posts of the I battalion a thrashing. From the left side a machine pistol * is firing. Young German soldiers sweat from fear. In the face of the downpour of fire and lack of visibility of the enemy our own rifles are useless. But in the end grenades of German artillery are howling in the air. The nearbyhood, in which Polish shooters are sticking, turns into one big surface of explosions. It adds uplift to the German soldiers, especcialy that Polish HMGs are silent. The worse our disappointment is, when immediately after the German heavy weapons has stopped firing, a Polish HMG from the left at a slant once again rattles. Fortunately its bullets are flying too high. It seems that the enemy is heavilly shaken after our powerful artillery bombardment. In this moment the commander of the battalion using a trumpet signal rouses the battalion to the assault. Command of the battalion together with 1st company manage to get to the edge of the forest without casualties. Poles are still firing too high. The assault raises spirits of German soldiers. But the fact that suddenly for no reason a scream: “gas, gas alarm!” comes into being, is the evidence of their moods. Everyone put on gas masks only to take them off after some time, because there is no gas at all in the air. Meanwhile over the green meadow, which was reached by German soldiers, the sun rises and disperses the thick fogs. (...)

(...) 100 metres before some abandoned farmstead the assault gets stuck. Fire of invisible enemy shooters increases to such extent, that there are no chances for further advancing. 1st company tries to break through, but without success. Report to the regiment: “the assault got stuck!”. The strike, which was to relieve the III battalion has failed. The enemy once again dug in and masked himself. Preparatory fire of our artillery struck too far. Fog made the proper observation impossible. Likewise in the section of I battalion, the assault got stuck along the whole frontline. (...)

(...) It is 10 o'clock in the morning. In the farmstead Polish sharpshooters are sitting. One of them, with the regularity of a clock, is shooting at the radio station service. One bullet pierces the radio station and hits the leg of a Leutnant who was lying nearby. The service is retreating behind a nearby mound but even there Polish bullets reach them. Two AT guns are standing near the mound. One of the radio operators spots something in a potato field, at a distance of around 100 metres. A brown helmet! AT guns immediately open fire. Rumble of shots causes panic among the Germans lying behind the mound. Commander of the AT platoon has to calm them down, telling them that these were their own AT guns, not Polish grenades. Guns are firing one round after another, but Polish HMG which is under fire, shots a long series. Its bullets hit the shields of the AT guns. Service of the AT guns runs away: 20 people crowd behind the mound, they are surrounded by enemy fire: who has not die, is individually running towards the forest. Out of 20 men, only 7 reach the forest. They are running backwards, spreading panic. Remnants of I battalion retreat along the whole frontline. (...)

(...) Meanwhile the III battalion is lying in the forest near the railway, anxiously waiting for the reliefing assault of the first battalion, knownig nothing about the failed assault. III battalion has already suffered heavy casualties during its own assault. Now it is no longer able of advancing forward – casualties very heavy, ammunition almost used up. In the opposite forest the death is lurking behind every tree and is lying in wait until some of the Germans pop round forward, to silece him forever. Polish defenders has grown into the forest and do not let anybody pass. Now Polish grenades are howling, exploding in the middle of squashed to the ground German lines. III battalion starts to understand, that it can no longer count on the attack of the I battalion. To make matters worse, puffing and gasping, a Polish armoured train is coming from afar along the railway. Polish armoured train is coming closer. It is 400 metres from the German positions. Panic seizes Germans. Adjutant of the battalion is KIA. In the last moment mortar fire forces the Polish train to temporary withdrawal. But it returns many times, destroying the battalion with its fire. Slightly wounded, pouring in to the regimental HQ, report that I and III battalions have been literally pulverized by the Polish counterattack. Only one thought has remained - endure until the night, which enables withdrawal. (...)

* This must be a mistake - Polish forces which participated in that battle didn't have any machine pistols. However, it is possible that they captured some German machine pistols from captured German saboteurs (Freikorps).

Polish infantry:


Werner Flack, "Wir marschieren für das Reich. Deutsche Jugend im Kampferlebnis des polnischen Feldzuges", Stalling Verlag, Oldenburg, 1940 - fragments from pages 17 - 34 depicting the battle of Mikolow from the perspective of Werner Flack and other soldiers of his regiment.

Sorry if there are any mistakes - if there are such, all of them must be the result of my translation.
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