I always want Poland

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When Hitler invaded Poland, he was confident that Britain and France would continue their policy of appeasement and broker a peace deal. Bradley Lightbody considers his gross miscalculation and how it led Europe to stumble into war. Simultaneously, 62 German divisions supported by 1, aircraft commenced the invasion of Poland. The decision of Adolf Hitler to invade Poland was a gamble. The Wehrmacht the German Army was not yet at full strength and the German economy was still locked into peacetime production.

As such, the invasion alarmed Hitler's generals and raised opposition to his command - and leaks of his war plans to Britain and France. Hitler's generals urged caution and asked for more time to complete the defences of the 'West Wall', in order to stem any British and French counter-offensive in the west while the bulk of the Wehrmacht was engaged in the east. Their leader dismissed their concerns, however, and demanded instead their total loyalty. Hitler was confident that the invasion of Poland would result in a short, victorious war for two important reasons.

First, he was convinced that the deployment of the world's first armoured corps would swiftly defeat the Polish armed forces in a blitzkrieg offensive. Secondly, he judged the British and French prime-ministers, Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier, to be weak, indecisive leaders who would opt for a peace settlement rather than war.

The latter judgement was a product of Hitler's success in winning a substantial revision of the Treaty of Versailles - which laid down severe restrictions for Germany after its defeat in World War One - between Britain and France had accepted German rearmament inthe re-occupation of the Rhineland in and the Anschlussor union, with Austria in Marchall in defiance of the Treaty. At Munich in SeptemberBritain and France had also reluctantly endorsed the forced transfer of the 'ethnically German' Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia to Germany.

Hitler had thus successfully intimidated the western powers by the threat of military action, and in particular through the widespread fear of air attack by the powerful Luftwaffe. He was also aided by public opinion in the west, which broadly regarded the Treaty of Versailles as flawed and held the belief that communism rather than fascism posed the greater threat to western democracies.

In this context many welcomed a rearmed Germany, as a bulwark against the Soviet Union. Consequently Hitler enjoyed a largely positive press in the west throughout the periodas evidenced by the hosting of the Olympics in Berlin and the favourably regarded visits by the Duke of Windsor and ex-British prime-minister David Lloyd George. Hitler, emboldened by his earlier successes, ordered the German occupation of the whole of Czechoslovakia, gained the return of the province of Memel from Lithuania, and pressed Poland to permit the construction of new road and railways across its territories to improve communications between East Prussia and Germany.

East Prussia had been separated from the rest of Germany in when the Allies redrew the borders of Germany and Russia to re-establish the independent state of Poland. The Poles had lost their independence as a nation state inwhen Tsarist Russia and Prussia had divided and annexed Polish lands.

Hitler's annexation of Czechoslovakia breached the written guarantee he had issued to Chamberlain in Munich instating that he had no further territorial demands to make in Europe. Therefore, on 31 MarchChamberlain issued a formal guarantee of Poland's borders and said that he expected Hitler to moderate his demands. Hitler was not deterred, and on 3 April he ordered the Wehrmacht to prepare for the invasion of Poland on 1 September.

Hitler was convinced that Chamberlain would not go to war to defend Poland and that France would lack the will to act alone. Hitler's only real concern was that a sudden German invasion of Poland might alarm Stalin and trigger a war with the Soviet Union. Stalin feared a German invasion and had been seeking an anti-Nazi 'collective security' alliance with the western powers for many years, but by July Britain and France had still not agreed terms.

Poland had also rejected an alliance with the Soviet Union, and refused permission for the Red Army to cross its territory to engage the Wehrmacht in a future war. Hitler saw his opportunity, and authorised his Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop to enter into secret negotiations with the Soviet Union. The result was the ing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact on 23 August Both Hitler and Stalin set aside their mutual antipathy for national gain and in particular the restoration of their pre borders.

However, only hours before the attack Hitler cancelled the invasion when his ally Mussolini declared that Italy was not ready to go to war, and Britain declared a formal military alliance with Poland. Once reassured of Mussolini's political support, Hitler reset the invasion for 1 September The invasion was not dependent on Italian military support and Hitler dismissed the Anglo-Polish treaty as an empty gesture. At 6 am on 1 September Warsaw was struck by the first of a succession of bombing raids, while two major German army groups invaded Poland from Prussia in the north and Slovakia in the south.

Air supremacy was achieved on the first day, after most of Poland's airforce was caught on the ground. Panzer spearhe smashed holes in the Polish lines and permitted the slower moving German infantry to pour through into the Polish rear. In advance of the line of attack the Luftwaffe heavily bombed all road and rail junctions, and concentrations of Polish troops. Towns and villages were deliberately bombed to create a fleeing mass of terror-stricken civilians to block the ro and hamper the flow of reinforcements to the front.

Flying directly ahead of the Panzers, the Junkers Ju dive-bomber Stuka fulfilled the role of artillery, and destroyed any strong points in the German path. The surprise German strategy of blitzkreig was based upon continuous advance and the prevention of a static frontline that would permit Polish forces time to regroup.

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At 8am, on 1 September, Poland requested immediate military assistance from France and Britain, but it was not until noon on 3 September that Britain declared war on Germany, followed by France's declaration at 5.

The delay reflected British hopes that Hitler would respond to demands and end the invasion. They expected the Germans to probe and bombard the Polish line with heavy artillery for several weeks before launching a full invasion. Consequently while the Panzers advanced, French troops confined themselves to scouting and mapping the German 'West Wall', while awaiting the deployment of the British Expeditionary Force BEF and full mobilisation. There was no offensive strategy, because France expected to fight a war of defence, and had invested heavily in the static defences of the Maginot line.

The RAF also dropped not bombs but leaflets, urging a peace settlement. By 6 September the two Wehrmacht army groups had linked up at Lodz in the centre of Poland and cleaved the country in two, trapping the bulk of the Polish army against the German border.

Two days later, the Panzers had corralled Polish forces into five isolated pockets centred around Pomerania, Pozan, Lodz, Krakow and Carpathia. Twelve of Poland's divisions were cavalry, armed with lance and sabre, and they were no match for tanks. Each pocket was relentlessly bombarded and bombed, and once food and ammunition had run out had little choice but to surrender. By 8 September the leading Panzers were on the outskirts of Warsaw, having covered miles in only eight days. Two days later all Polish forces were ordered to fall back and regroup in Eastern Poland for a last stand.

All hope was pinned upon a major French and British offensive in the west to relieve the pressure. However, despite assurances from Marshal Maurice Gamelin that the French Army was fully engaged in combat, all military action on the western front was ended on 13 September, when French troops were ordered to fall back behind the security of the Maginot line. Warsaw was surrounded on 15 September, and suffered punishing bombing raids without hope of relief. On 17 September the Red Army crossed the Polish border in the east, in fulfilment of the secret agreement within the Nazi-Soviet Pact, and ended any prospect of Poland's survival.

Those Poles who could, fled across the border into Romania, and many subsequently reached the west and continued the war as the Free Polish Forces. Warsaw bravely held out until 27 September, but after enduring 18 days of continuous bombing finally surrendered at 2. Germany had gained a swift victory, but not the end of the war. Britain and France refused to accept Hitler's peace offer. His gamble had failed, and Poland had become the first battleground of World War Two.

Bradley Lightbody is a writer, whose latest book is listed above. He is currently Director of Training with the education consultancies Quiet Associates and College UK, delivering training courses to the Further Education college sector. Search term:. This is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets CSS enabled. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets CSS if you are able to do so. This has been archived and is no longer updated.

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The gamble At 4. Revision of Versailles The latter judgement was a product of Hitler's success in winning a substantial revision of the Treaty of Versailles - which laid down severe restrictions for Germany after its defeat in World War One - between Nazi-Soviet pact Hitler's only real concern was that a sudden German invasion of Poland might alarm Stalin and trigger a war with the Soviet Union.

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About the author Bradley Lightbody is a writer, whose latest book is listed above. World War One Centenary. Dan Snow asks why so many soldiers survived the trenches in WW1. Settings out.

I always want Poland

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75 years ago, Hitler invaded Poland. Here's how it happened.