Sept. 1 1939
WORLD WAR II STARTS! At 4.45 AM on Sept. 1 1939, Germany invades Poland on the pretext of Polish aggression on German soil (dead "Poles" are German prisoners dressed in Polish uniforms & shot). The German battleship Schleswig-Holstein fires the first shots of WWII and shells the fortress guarding the port of Danzig. At dawn, 53 German divisions cross into Poland. Classic blitzkrieg tactics of dive bombers, fast moving panzers and armored infantry divisions decimate the unsuspecting Polish forces on the borders. Heavy bombers damage major Polish cities (panicking the citizens) and destroy airfields, railways and bridges, plus railway stations full of mobilizing Polish soldiers. The Polish Air Force is mostly destroyed on the ground.
While most of the WWII combatants (Britain, France, USA, Russia) are not directly involved, this action is widely held to start the global conflict that follows. After years of appeasement, Britain & France quickly declare war on Germany...and we're off.
Day 2 Sept. 2 1939
Using new tactics developed by Heinz Guderian, German forces advance 50 miles into Poland in 36 hours, threatening Krakow, Lodz and other cities.
The term BLITZKRIEG has not been coined yet. Large fast-moving group of tanks, tracked artillery and troop carriers (supported by dive bombers) penetrate the front lines and fan out deep in the enemy's rear. They attack supply dumps and HQ companies unprepared for combat, while enemy front line units are isolated, surrounded and destroyed. The undermanned Polish army is not fully mobilized and equipped with ancient weapons and horse-drawn artillery. It is outmatched and quickly overwhelmed despite brave resistance.
Following earlier assurances of Poland’s security, France and Britain are committed to war with Germany but diplomatic and strategic questions delay an immediate response on this day. However, the evacuation of children from London begins.
Day 3 Sunday September 3, 1939
The German advance into Poland continues but the main action on this day is diplomatic. Honoring their promise to protect Poland if invaded, Britain issues an ultimatum to Germany at 9 AM and declares war 2 hours later. France, Australia, New Zealand and India follow suit. Germany does not expect this intervention, after British and French appeasement following German annexation of Austria and occupation of Czechoslovakia in the previous 18 months. On hearing of the British ultimatum, Hitler asks his Foreign Minister Ribbontrop “'What now?"
KEY FIGURES Winston Churchill is appointed to Chamberlain's War Cabinet as Lord of the Admiralty. Churchill has long warned of German aggression but has been kept at bay to appease Hitler. The Admiralty signals all ships and naval bases: "WINSTON IS BACK."
Britain declares a naval blockade of Germany. The German sub U30 sinks the British passenger ship Athenia, mistaking her for a cargo ship. 122 lives are lost.
Day 4, Monday, September 4, 1939. German advance into Poland continues.
Sometime in these first days, a clash between the Polish cavalry and German armour showed the superiority of the new German method of mobile warfare. Although much of their artillery was horse-drawn, the Germans took no horsed cavalry into WWII.
Conflicting accounts have the 18th Lancers regiment of the Pomorske Brigade (who had raided successfully out of wooded areas) either
A) mounting a direct charge with lances on enemy tanks OR
B) caught in the cross-fire between German infantry in front and armored cars blocking their path of retreat to a forest.
In either event, the horrific results of machine guns and cannon engaging mounted horsemen at close range signaled the beginning of the end for traditional horse cavalry, although similar encounters were to come in France next Spring.
Day 5, Tuesday, September 5, 1939
The German advance into Poland continues. Kluge’s 4th Army reaches the River Vistula in the North. Meanwhile, Reichenau’s 10th Army makes good progress towards Warsaw from Southern Germany. The German attack on Poland was a massive double encirclement with Kluge and Reichnau as the inner pincers targeted on the Vistula west of Warsaw. This was designed to trap Polish forces on the German border as they withdrew east, as well as the massive reserve army near Warsaw waiting on orders to ride out to attack Berlin. This pincer is about to close encircling the bulk of the Polish army.
The outer pincer, comprising Kuchler’s 3rd Army from East Prussia and List’s 14th Army from Slovakia in the South, is intended to shut several days later further East on the Bug River (as Germany and Russia had secretly agreed to divide Poland along the line of the Bug).
Day 6, Wednesday, September 6, 1939 Sunday
List’s 14th Army attacking from Slovakia takes Krakow.
Kluge’s 4th Army and Kuchler’s 3rd Army from the North and Reichenau’s 10th Army from the South advance on Warsaw. Polish high command orders a general retreat of its Western forces to the River Vistula and its tributary rivers (the Narew and the San), falling right into the German trap. The high command then leaves Warsaw later that night, following the government which left on September 4th.
South Africa declares war on Germany
Day 7, Thursday, September 7, 1939
The ‘phony’ war in the West begins. French patrols cross the border into Germany; however, the French and British are nowhere near ready to attack. British troops have to be assembled and shipped to France. The French are hamstrung by outdated political and military policies. First, they still have a WW One reliance on heavy artillery which has to be brought out of storage and trundled by horse to the German border. Second, the French peacetime standing army is small, due to the policies of appeasement, and relies on conscription to mobilize. Therefore, men have to be called up, equipped and trained before they can ship out to attack Germany.
There is no relief in sight for the Poles and German advances into Poland continue.
Day 8, Friday, September 8, 1939
The noose is beginning to tighten on Warsaw and Polish troop across the Vistula, to the West. Leading elements of Reichenau’s 10th Army from the South reach the outskirts of Warsaw, having covered a remarkable 140 miles in 7 days. This rate of advance is almost unheard of and illustrates the power of the new Blitzkreig tactics. The weather is unseasonably dry and favours Hitler’s mobile troops. Typical autumn rain in Poland would turn the roads and fields to mud and swell rivers like the Vistula into mighty defensive barriers, slowing the German advance. This does not happen and the Poles start talking about “Hitler’s weather”.
Britain revives the convoy system to protect merchant ships carrying vital supplies, in response to attacks by German submarines. The Battle of the Atlantic has begun.
Day 9, Saturday, September 9, 1939
The German troops advance on Warsaw.
On the French/German border, the French patrols make little ground. The French only maneuver in a 90-mile corridor between the Rhine and Moselle rivers, in order to respect the neutrality of Luxembourg, Holland and Belgium (which is more than Hitler will do next Spring). The Germans expect this and have constructed the intensely fortified Seigfried line in this area. The Seigfried line, however, is poorly manned to allow Hitler to concentrate his armour, infantry, artillery and air support to attack Poland. If France had been able to mobilize quickly and penetrate the Seigfried line, the Ruhr valley (the heart of the German armament industry) would have been overrun, Berlin threatened and WWII would likely have been stillborn.
Day 10, Sunday, September 10, 1939
As they close on Warsaw, the German High Command suffers doubt and confusion, almost letting Polish forces out of the bag. Polish troop movements stir up clouds of dust on the hot, dry plains, obscuring aerial observation by the Luftwaffe. German Command believes the Polish armies are retreating into Southeast Poland, across the Vistula, and they order Rundstedt’s Army Group South to follow. General Rundstedt is not fooled and sends his troops North towards Warsaw instead, capturing 60,000 Polish soldiers at Radom.
Western Front: Despite a notable lack of progress, the French Chief of Staff (Gamelin) declares that his army is in contact with the Germans and can do no more to save Poland. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) starts to sail for France. Canada declares war on Germany.
Day 11, Monday, September 11, 1939
The German double encirclement becomes apparent. Kluge’s 4th Army and Reichenau’s 10th Army tighten the inner pincers, capturing the coal- and industry-rich area of Upper Silesia and encircling the Polish defensive forces West of the Vistula River.
Meanwhile, the outer pincer is forming well to the East of the Vistula and Warsaw. List’s 14th Army sweeps through the Carpathian region and approaches the Bug River in the South of Poland. Guderian, the architect of mobile armoured warfare, spearheading Kuchler’s 3rd Army, crosses the Bug River in the North of Poland and turns South. The outer pincers now begin to close on the rest of the Polish army.
Day 12, September 12, 1939
The destruction of the Polish armies begins. The Polish Posnan and Pomorze Armies were stationed on the border during the initial German attack and were bypassed by the German forces in the first few days. As they retreat East, they merge and attack the flank of Blaskowitz’s 8th Army and Reichenau’s 10th Army (part of Rundstedt’s Army Group South). This begins the first great “pocket” battle of the war around the River Bzura. Over the next few days, the Polish troops are surrounded and the mobile German armour makes mincemeat of the unmechanised Polish infantry and its horse-drawn artillery.
Western Front: After initial French patrols into Germany are repelled, the French decide to halt advances and go on the defensive. The British Expeditionary Force, now on French soil, is put to use defending France. The British and French have done more or less nothing to distract Germany from its effort in Poland.
Day 13, September 13, 1939
The Battle of the Bzura, between the Polish Posnan and Pomorze Armies and Rundstedt’s Army Group South, continues. The Germans are initially surprised by the attack on 8th Army flanks and the Polish forces push them back about 12 miles. Notably, Polish cavalry brigades make considerable inroads through the vulnerable flanks and disrupt the German rear, illustrating the potential of cavalry against unmechanised foot infantry. The Germans now recognize the threat and divert elements of Army Group South, including panzer divisions, from the attack on Warsaw to deal with this threat. This slows the advance on Warsaw, allowing the defenders additional time to prepare.
The French set up a war cabinet, after 10 days of war with Germany.
Day 14, September 14, 1939
The Battle of the Bzura rages West of Warsaw, while Warsaw is surrounded and the wider German flanking advances deep into Poland continue.
Battle of the Atlantic. Since August, about 8-10 U-boats (roughly half of Germany's long-range U-boat fleet) have taken up positions off the British Atlantic coast, sinking over 65,000 tons of shipping in the first week of the war alone. HMS Ark Royal, Britain’s most modern aircraft carrier, is hunting U-boats off the Atlantic coast with a flotilla of destroyers and other anti-submarine vessels when she is attacked by U-39. U-39 fires two torpedoes which are spotted by Ark Royal’s lookouts. Ark Royal turns towards the torpedoes causing them to miss and explode harmlessly. Ark Royal’s escorting destroyers chase the sub and depth charges bring the damaged U-39 to the surface. The submarine’s crew abandons ship and is captured before U-39 sinks, becoming Germany‘s first U-boat loss of the war.
Day 15, September 15, 1939
The encirclement and destruction of the 19 divisions in the Polish Posnan and Pomorze Armies in the Battle of the Bzura continues. Polish forces further back between the Vistula and Bug Rivers consist of an additional 38 infantry divisions and 11 cavalry brigades. But they are also now surrounded by Kuchler’s 3rd Army from East Prussia and List’s 14th Army from Slovakia, comprising the outer pincers of the German encirclement, and their destruction also begins.
To add to the Polish agony, Warsaw is also surrounded. Germans High Command proposes starving the besieged city into submission but Hitler demands that the city be subjected to artillery and aerial bombardment.
Day 16, September 16, 1939
The destruction of the two pockets West of Warsaw and between the Vistula and Bug Rivers continues, representing the vast majority of the Polish armies. Warsaw is surrounded with the exception of a small corridor to the West, ironically allowing retreating soldiers and fleeing civilians into the city that is already overcrowded and short of food. German High Command demands the surrender of Warsaw, probably to avoid the high-explosive slaughter that Hitler has ordered. Stoically, the demand is rejected, starting the bombing and shelling of the city.
However, the Poles’ dire situation will soon get much worse. The Molotov/Ribbentrop pact of August 23 1939 contained a Secret Protocol for dividing Poland. Germany has been pressing for Soviet action, probably fearing the French and British build up, while Stalin is content to let Germans do most of the fighting. Now, some 3 million Soviet troops prepare to invade Poland from the East.
Day 17, September 17, 1939
USSR invades Poland at 5.40 AM “to protect Ukrainian and Belarusian minorities of eastern Poland” (Foreign minister Molotov). A million Soviet troops advance, crushing 30-40,000 Polish border defenders. Surprisingly, France and Britain do not declare war on USSR, as their pact with Poland only applies to German attack. A French/British invasion might still force the Germans, who are not ready to conduct a war in the West, to sue for peace but the spirit of appeasement continues. France and Britain see that Poland is finished, fearing that an attack now will not only be futile but direct German aggression against France.
In the Atlantic, the British aircraft carrier HMS Courageous is the first naval victim of German U-boats. She turns into the wind to launch her aircraft off the coast Ireland when torpedoed by U-29 (518 dead). Britain removes aircraft carriers from submarine patrol after torpedo attacks on HMS Ark Royal on September 14 and Courageous.
Day 18, September 18, 1939
The German noose tightens on the Polish forces in the Battle of the Bzura. A few thousand Polish troops retreat over the Vistula River into Warsaw, although Warsaw is surrounded, suggesting the Germans allow this to happen to increase the misery and starvation in the city. This is consistent with reports that civilians fleeing Warsaw are refused passage out and turned back. Shelling and bombing of Warsaw continues.
In the face of the Soviet invasion, the commander of the Polish Army Marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły orders his troops in central and Eastern Poland to fall back and not engage the Red Army. He plans a last stand of all remaining Polish forces at the Romanian bridgehead in Southeast Poland. The Polish government and High Command, including Rydz-Śmigły, cross into Romania as refugees. Romania promptly interns them under pressure from Germany.
Day 19, September 19, 1939
The Battle of the Bzura finally ends with the surrender of the Polish Posnan and Pomorze Armies west of Warsaw. Germans forces have destroyed 19 Polish divisions and they take 100,000 -170,000 prisoners. The bombardment of Warsaw continues.
The Soviet advance into the Eastern Poland meets little resistance. The division of Poland in the Soviet-German pact is so secret that a few hostile encounters occur between surprised German and Red Army troops. German 137th Regiment attacks a reconnaissance detachment of the Soviet 24th Tank Brigade near Lwow, leading to a few casualties on each side before realizing the situation. Another secret also becomes clear. Hitler meets with his General Staff to announce his policy of “Housecleaning” (elimination of ethnic minorities, Jews, clergy, nobility). Army regulations and morals forbid murdering civilians, so the army refuses and these atrocities do not start until a civilian German administration is in place.
Day 20, September 20, 1939
The Red Army advances into Eastern Poland at a very rapid pace mainly along marked roads (35-40 miles per day). Very little cross-country maneuver is attempted, leaving isolated pockets of Polish troops and civilians. The opportunity for defensive insurrection is lost as the Poles do not know of Soviet collaboration with the Germans and they believe Soviet promises of freedom if they surrender. 230,000 – 450,000 Polish soldiers are taken prisoner and most are shipped to camps in Russia. Stalin’s secret police (Lavrentiy Beria’s NKVD) follow the Red Army and are responsible for ethnic and political cleansing of the ‘liberated’ civilian populations - prisoner and execution numbers are not known.
Some practical deficiencies appear in the original Secret Protocol for Polish territory to be divided. Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov contacts German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop for further talks in Moscow to renegotiate their pact.
Day 21, September 21, 1939
The Siege of Warsaw continues. Polish defenses amount to approximately 120 000 soldiers plus civilians, including women and children. The German forces preparing to storm the city number about 175 000 soldiers. The Germans continue shelling the city with artillery, including heavy railway guns and mortars, and aerial bombardment. Two air fleets take part in frequent raids against Warsaw; 1st Air Fleet (under General der Flieger Albert Kesselring, later Generalfeldmarschall Kesselring of North Africa and Italy fame) and 4th Air Fleet.
Day 22, September 22, 1939
In preparation for the final assault on Warsaw, German forces cross the Vistula River at Modlin, isolating the garrison in the Fortress Modlin and cutting the last lines of communication with Warsaw. They begin attacks on the Warsaw district of Praga on the Eastern bank of the Vistula.
German troops hand over Brest-Litovsk to the Soviets under strange circumstances. German General Heinz Guderian is moving part of the 19th Panzer Corps forward on a train into the Soviet zone when the commander of the Soviet 29th Tank Brigade Semyon Krivoshein blocks the tracks, claiming his tanks have run out of gas. They negotiate a joint victory parade in Brest-Litovsk before a German withdrawal back to the West. 100 miles South, Red Army troops take Lwow (now the city of Lviv in the Ukraine) with false promises to the defenders of safe passage to neutral countries to continue fighting the Germans. Most Polish soldiers ended up in Soviet camps instead.
Day 23, September 23, 1939
Warsaw is out of food and water after 8 days of siege, plus artillery shelling and aerial bombing. The citizens are staving, reduced to carving flesh from horses killed by the German bombardment, and there is little available drinking water as the main water pumping station has been destroyed by bombing. Fires burn out of control as there is no water to extinguish them.
Further East between the Vistula and Bug Rivers, fighting continues between the outer pincers of the German encirclement (Kuchler’s 3rd Army from East Prussia and List’s 14th Army from Slovakia) and the trapped Polish forces. The Battle of Tomaszów Lubelski is the second largest engagement, after the Battle of Bzura, and the largest tank battle of the war in Poland as Polish troops try to follow Marshal Rydz-Śmigły’s orders and break out of the German pocket towards the Romanian bridgehead in Southeast Poland.
Day 24, September 24, 1939
Siege of Warsaw. In preparation for the final assault, General Johannes Blaskowitz Commander-in-Chief East (Oberbefehlshaber Ost) takes command of all German units. 1,150 German planes bomb Warsaw to soften up the city.
SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich’s Special Task Force (Einsatzgruppen) begins eliminating Polish civilians. They round up and execute 800 intellectuals and civic leaders in the city of Bydgoszcz. This pattern is to be repeated in many German-occupied countries.
Britain’s naval blockade of Germany causes limited food rationing in Germany.
USSR exploits aggression in Poland to gain land and other concessions from the Baltic States, to improve its defense of the Baltic coastline. Soviet aircraft fly in Estonian airspace (following blockade of the harbor of Tallinn, the capital on 19 September). Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov warns Estonian negotiators in Moscow that USSR will use "more radical actions" to obtain military bases.
Day 25, 25 September 1939
Siege of Warsaw. Shelling continues and 420 planes Luftwaffe again bomb Warsaw, “softening up” for the main ground attack. Reservoirs and water works, granaries and flourmills, natural gas tanks and power plants have been destroyed by now, depriving the city of water, food and power. Incendiary bombs create havoc in residential areas. Casualties in the city are now estimated at 40,000 dead. Although military defenses are well prepared for the German ground attack, the civilian situation is so dire that it is clear the city cannot hold out much longer.
North Sea. Aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and battleship HMS Nelson rescue the submarine HMS Spearfish (damaged by German warships on 24 September off Horns Reef, Denmark and unable to dive) and escort her back to Rosyth, Scotland.
Western Front. The French dust off their WWI-era heavy artillery and exchange a few rounds with the Germans on the Siegfried Line.
Day 26, 26 Sept 1939,
Siege of Warsaw. Early morning German assault; 5 divisions attack Western Warsaw across the Vistula, 4 divisions advance from the East. 70 field artillery batteries, 80 heavy artillery batteries plus 1st and 4th Air Fleets pound Warsaw continuously. However, the German forces are repelled and retreat to the starting point.
Battle of the Atlantic. Pocket battleships Deutschland and Graf Spee, in the Atlantic since August, receive orders to sink British merchant ships but avoid combat with superior forces.
North Sea. 3 Dornier Do18 seaplanes spot HMS Ark Royal, returning to Rosyth with the damaged submarine HMS Spearfish. One Do18 is shot down by 3 Blackburn Skuas from Ark Royal, makes a water landing and is sunk by destroyer HMS Somali. It is the first British aerial kill. 4 Ju 88 bombers are called in by the Do18s; one drops a 2,200 lb bomb, missing Ark Royal by 100 feet. German reconnaissance flights later fail to find Ark Royal; they presume her sunk.
Day 27, Sept 27, 1939
Warsaw capitulates after 26 days of bombardment and 11 days of siege. The Germans renew the barrage and ground attack this morning but again this is repelled by Polish military and civilian defenders. However, the inhabitants of Warsaw are starving to death making a defense of Warsaw untenable. Talks on the surrender of Warsaw began on September 26 and continue in parallel with the German ground assault on the city. At 12.00, General Blaskowitz accepts the surrender of the Polish garrison and a cease fire agreement is signed in a railway car on the edge of Warsaw. Polish commanders order all fighting halted, in some cases visiting fighting units in person. 160,000 men, soldiers and civilians, are taken prisoner.
Hitler informs the German General Staff of his plans for a war in the West and instructs them to plan an attack on France. The initial response from the German military professional is that this is beyond current German military capabilities.
Day 28, September 28, 1939
The Soviet occupation of Eastern Poland is almost complete. Approximately 9000 Polish troops, trapped between the Soviets and Germans, offer battle with the Red Army and rout the Soviets (Battle of Szack). In the aftermath, armored troops of the Soviet 4th Army under General Vassili Chuikov surprise the Polesie Brigade near the village of Mielnik. The Poles surrender but, in a sign of things to come, all the Polesie officers and NCOs (about 500) are then executed by the Red Army.
A week of German/Soviet diplomacy leads to the final division of Poland and Lithuania. Foreign Ministers Molotov and Ribbentrop meet in Moscow to renegotiate their pact. At Soviet insistence, Lithuania is transferred from the German zone to the USSR. In exchange, Germany acquires land East of Warsaw, to the Bug River. The Red Army will withdraw behind the new line of the Narew, Bug and San Rivers.
Day 29 September 29, 1939
Polish resistance fades. As Warsaw is subdued, the garrison of the massive Fortress at Modlin (under attack by the Germans since Sept 13 but bypassed in favor of besieging Warsaw) sees no point to continue fighting. The last Polish holdouts from the Battle of Bzura around the town of Kutno also surrender. Another 10 Polish divisions in total go into the German bag.
Fearing USSR aggression, the Baltic States begin caving in to Soviet demands. The Estonian Foreign Minister, in Moscow to discuss commercial cooperation, is bullied by Stalin into a military “alliance’ which allows the Soviets to occupy Estonian naval bases. Latvia and Lithuania will soon follow but Finland resists, leading the “Winter war” with USSR.
Day 30, September 30, 1939
German pocket battleship Graf Spee, in the Atlantic prior to the invasion of Poland and ordered September 26 to attack British merchant vessels, makes her first kill off Pernambuco, Brazil.
The British steamer Clement (bearing 20000 cases of kerosene from New York to Salvador, Brazil) is fired on by an Arado seaplane from Graf Spee and radioed to stop. After taking to the lifeboats, Clement’s Captain is rescued by Graf Spee while the crew is given bearings for Brazil. Although torpedoes are embarrassingly ineffective, fire from Graf Spee’s 6 and 11 inch guns sinks Clement. Later in the day, Clement’s Captain is transferred to the neutral Greek steamer Papalemos. As a final gentlemanly gesture, the Graf Spee radios a message to Pernambuco “to save the lifeboats of the Clement” and their location.
Graf Spee is quickly repainted and sails East to seek further quarry, disguised under a French flag.
Day 31, October 1, 1939
Garrison of Hel Peninsula, Poland, surrenders. This tiny sandbar poking 10 miles into Gdansk Bay, 100 meters wide at the narrowest point, is defended by 3000 Polish soldiers and sailors with various coastal and anti-air batteries plus ships guns. They have held out against a larger German force since September 20, separating the Peninsula from the mainland by blowing up the narrows with torpedo warheads. They resisted shelling by German battleships, inflicting damage to SMS Schleswig-Holstein in return, and shot down about 50 German planes. However, running out of supplies and with no reinforcements now likely, they now surrender.
Battle of the Atlantic. So far, the Germans have sunk 41 merchant vessels for a total of 153-185,000 tons. Like most figures in this war, estimates vary.
Day 32, October 2, 1939
The last major battle in Poland begins near the town of Kock, 50 miles Southeast of Warsaw. About 18,000 Polish troops under General Franciszek Kleeberg have been harried by Guderian’s Panzers for two weeks in a fighting retreat towards the Romanian bridgehead in Southeast Poland. On September 30, Kleeberg’s light cavalry (Uhlan) captured the town of Kock from the Germans.
General Paul Otto (commander of the German 13th Motorised Infantry Division) is under orders from 10th Army’s General von Reichenau to destroy Polish force between the Bug and Vistula Rivers. Otto believes the Polish forces are demoralized to the point of surrender and sends a single German battalion to take them to a prisoner but the Poles mount a spirited counterattack, starting the Battle of Kock. Over the next 5 days, two German divisions (29th and13th Motorised Infantry) numbering 30,000 men assault the Polish positions.
Day 33, October 3, 1939
Operation Tannenberg, the elimination of Polish intellectuals, activists, scholars, actors, former officers, and civic leaders by Reinhard Heydrich’s SS-Einsatzgruppen, is in full swing. From mid-September to the end of October, 20,000 Polish civilians are killed in over 750 mass executions. This is the beginning of a ruthless slaughter of Polish civilians, particularly Jews. 6 million Poles will die between 1939 and 1945 (over 20% of Poland's population).
Day 34, October 4, 1939
While the Battle of Kock continues in the middle of Poland, the German army mops up remaining pockets of resistance. Of most significance is the withdrawal of Polish troops, fighting German and Soviet forces in the South of Poland, to the Romanian Bridgehead.
At this stage, Romania provides substantial aid to the Poles, despite later alliances with Hitler and Stalin. Up to 120,000 Polish troops escape through neutral Romania and Hungary to France and Britain where they form the Polish Armed Forces in the West. This is larger than the armies of France and Britain, an embarrassing indication of their current lack of preparation. Ships from the Romanian Navy escort the shipment of 82,000 kg of gold from the port of Constanţa on the Black Sea to Western Europe, to prevent interception by Soviet Navy. The Romanian National Bank also hid the remaining treasury of the National Bank of Poland, totaling 3,057,450 kg, which was returned to Poland in September 1947.
Day 35, October 5, 1939
Poland. The Battle of Kock continues with attack and counterthrust in villages and dense forest leading to heavy casualties, although this is the last day of fighting. Hitler enters Warsaw in triumph and warns that the same will happen to the cities of other countries that resist Germany. This is high bravado; a show of force designed to intimidate other European leaders, paid for in the lives of the soldiers and civilians of Warsaw.
Latvian and Lithuanian Foreign Ministers are both in Moscow, under pressure from the Soviet Union to establish military and naval bases. Stalin threatens Vilhelms Munter, the Latvian, and warns him to expect no help from Germany. They sign a treaty to allow Red Navy bases in Latvia’s Baltic harbors.
Battle of the Atlantic. The British steamer Newton Beach (with a cargo of maize) is taken as a prison ship by Graf Spee near the British-owned island of St. Helena, about 1200 miles off the coast of Africa.
Day 36, October 6, 1939
Speaking at the Reichstag in Berlin, Hitler appeals for peace in Europe. He claims to have no designs on France, wants friendship with Britain and proposes recognition of new boundaries in Eastern Europe without further conflict. His warped logic implies that since Poland no longer exists, France and Britain have no need to go to war in Poland’s defense.
The Battle of Kock is over, effectively ending the war in Poland. At 10 AM, General Kleeberg surrenders his Polsie Independent Group, surrounded and out of ammunition and food. His captors, with peculiarly German logic, believe he should be shot for prolonging the fighting, since Warsaw has already fallen. He is imprisoned, isolated from other inmates, refused medical help and fed starvation food rations. He loses his sight and is given a dog. He loses the ability to walk and is allowed to make short walks with crutches. He dies a humiliating death for an honorable soldier, in prison, in April 1941.
Day 37, October 7, 1939
Hitler’s antagonism of communism is well known (see Mein Kampf) and Stalin fears attack despite their non-aggression pact. He moves to shore up his Baltic borders to protect the city of Leningrad (St. Petersburg) exposed on the Gulf of Finland, close to the Finnish border. He uses success in Poland to cow Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Finland into giving up territory and access to key strategic bases. Molotov, in fury at the discourtesy of receiving no reply to his Oct 5 negotiation invitation to the Finns, threatens the Finnish ambassador Yrjo-Koskinen with ‘other means’ if they do not negotiate terms.
Battle of the Atlantic. British steamer Ashlea (with a cargo of sugar) is stopped by Graf Spee, disguised as a French merchant ship, again near the British island of St. Helena 1200 miles off Africa. Ashlea’s crew is taken on board the prison ship Newton Beach (captured two days before) and Ashlea is sunk by scuttling charges.
Day 38, October 8, 1939
Fighting in Poland is over. The country ceases to exist although Poland never officially surrenders. A Government-in-Exile (in Paris, then Angers France, finally in London) under Prime Minister (also General) Władysław Sikorski commands Polish armed forces operating outside Poland. 100,000 Polish troops escape via Romania and Lithuania, but 70,000 are dead and 130,000 wounded. Civilian losses are estimated at 150,000–200,000. 694,000 Polish troops become German prisoners of war. 217,000 go into Soviet captivity, most never to return. German losses are modest and more accurately recorded; 10,572 dead, 30,322 wounded, 3409 missing. Soviet casualties are minimal; 1000 dead, 2400 wounded.
Battle of the Atlantic. British steamer Newton Beach, captured by Graf Spee Oct 5, is found to be too slow for use as a prison ship and sunk, after her prisoners are transferred to Graf Spee.
Day 39, October 9, 1939
Hitler issues Führer Directive 6 (Plans for Offensive in the West) after receiving no response to peace overtures in his Oct 6 Reichstag speech. He determines to defeat the French army and their allies, by striking before the arrival of large numbers of British troops, while French border defenses are not fully organized. He knows the British army is currently weak from the Soviets, who negotiated with the British before their pact with Germany. Hitler plans to occupy as much territory in France, Belgium and Holland as possible, then launch an air and sea war to bring Britain to terms. He orders General von Brauchitsch, Commander-in-Chief of the German Army, and General Halder, chief of staff of the High Command, to prepare a plan for invasion before the end of 1939.
Juho Kusti Paasikivi leaves Helsinki for Moscow to negotiate Soviet territorial demands. As an architect of Finnish independence, he won concessions from Stalin in the 1920 Treaty of Tartu.
Day 40 October 10, 1939
Stalin and Molotov threaten Juozas Urbšys, Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, with invasion to force the signature of a “mutual assistance pact” allowing Soviet army, air and naval bases in Lithuania. Stalin wants 50,000 soldiers there; Urbšys concedes 28,000 Red troops. In return, Lithuania gets the city of Vilnius, annexed by Poland in 1920 and recently taken by USSR. These are cynical gestures by Molotov and Stalin, as Lithuania will be annexed by USSR in 1940.
Battle of the Atlantic. Graf Spee captures the British liner Huntsman (with a cargo of tea) near the British island of St. Helena, 1200 miles off the coast of Africa. Huntsman, with sleeping and galley facilities, is well suited to replace Newton Beach as a prison ship. Huntsman’s passengers are now joined by Graf Spee’s other prisoners. Graf Spee uses Huntsman’s radio to deceptively report attack by a submarine at a false location and both boats steam off to meet Graf Spee’s support ship Altmark.
Day 41 October 11, 1939
Édouard Daladier (Prime Minister of France) dismisses Hitler’s Oct 6 peace proposal, saying "We took up arms against aggression. We shall not put them down until we have guarantees for a real peace and security, a security which is not threatened every six months." This closes the door on any diplomatic moves by Britain and France to negotiate with Germany to buy time to prepare for war. However, Hitler is in no mood to wait as Germany currently has the strategic initiative, numerical supremacy and better weaponry to overrun the undermanned and poorly organized Allied defenses. He is already planning to invade France (Führer Directive 6, October 9).
British Expeditionary Force finishes initial landings in France. They deploy a total of about 158,000 troops.
Day 42 October 12, 1939
The Finnish delegation arrives in Moscow by train and meets with Stalin and Molotov. Soviet demands include Finnish territory in the Karelian Isthmus, moving the border away from Leningrad to safeguard the city from attack by land (the expected enemy is Germany, not the Finns). In addition, Finland is asked to cede several small islands in the Gulf of Finland and lease the Hanko peninsula (on the Northern mouth of the Gulf) to USSR for 30 years, with the goal of sealing off the Gulf of Finland to protect Leningrad from sea attack. USSR offers some land and a “mutual assistance pact” in return. Molotov issues vague threats of military action, which have previously worked with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The Finns, however, refuse. Negotiations will continue but the Finnish army is mobilized and children are evacuated from Finnish cities.
Britain follows suit with France in formally rejecting Hitler’s peace proposals.
Day 43 October 13, 1939
Hans Frank is appointed German "supreme chief administrator" for all occupied territories in Poland. Following the division of Poland, 2 million Jews reside in German-controlled areas and 1.3 million in Soviet areas. Western Poland (roughly West of Danzig) is incorporated into Germany and over 1 million Poles are expelled; many are taken to Germany as forced labor but most are sent East into the German-controlled centre of Poland which will become the General Government (a German puppet state). Jews are forced to live in ghettos or deported to concentration camps. In their place, German nationals and Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian Volkdeutsche (Balts of German descendent) are settled in Western Poland. They are given homes and businesses by the German administration.
Admiral Donitz attempts his first 'wolf pack' deployment of U-boat tactics. Groups of submarines engage in sustained attacks on a convoy, but without success.
Day 44 October 14, 1939
Germany brings the war to the British Isles. Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands is base to Britain’s Home Fleet, protected by mines, nets, sunken ships and Royal Navy patrols. However, U-47 penetrates Scapa Flow’s defenses, prowls for targets (see link below) and, at 1 AM, sinks the WWI-era battleship HMS Royal Oak. The first torpedoes miss or fail to explode. A second salvo blows a 30 ft hole in Royal Oak. She capsizes and sinks within 15 minutes (833 lives lost). U-47’s commander Günther Prien wins the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.
In Moscow, the Finns again negotiate Soviets territorial demands. Finland offers three small Gulf islands to protect its borders won at Finnish independence in 1920. Stalin instead threatens a return to Russian Tsarist borders, eliminating Finland, saying presciently of Germany “we now have good relations, but everything in this world can change”. The Finns beg for more time and take the train home.
Day 45 October 15, 1939
Battle of the Atlantic. Since Sept 26, Graf Spee has sailed 2000 miles east from the coast of Brazil to the African side of the Atlantic, sinking 3 British merchant ships and taking several prisoners. She now sails west back into the middle of the Atlantic to rendezvous with her waiting support ship Altmark and refuel. Almark, disguised as a Norwegian merchant ship "Sogne", is readied for the transfer of prisoners.
Graf Spee’s captain, Hans Langsdorff, is prevented from hunting convoys by orders to avoid confrontation with the Royal Navy (a lesson learned from WWI when German vessels were thrown into battle with superior British forces). He aims to sow confusion and tie up as many Royal Navy ships as possible by acting in widely dispersed locations, in addition to disrupting Britain’s supply lines. Graf Spee will sail into the Indian Ocean and back to South America in the next few weeks (see link below).
Day 46 October 16, 1939
Battle of the Atlantic - unrestricted submarine warfare begins. Following the success of U-47’s raid in Scapa Flow, German Grand Admiral Erich Raeder orders the torpedoing of “all merchant ships definitely identified as enemy”. This also frees the surface raiders to attack French ship; previously they have been restricted to British vessels.
First strategic bombing of British mainland. Junkers Ju 88s attack British warships at Rosyth on the Firth of Forth, damaging the cruisers HMS Southampton and Edinburgh, plus the destroyer HMS Mohawk. Spitfires of No. 602 and No. 603 Squadrons shoot down two Ju 88s and a Heinkel He 111.
Day 47 October 17, 1939
Four Junkers Ju 88 bombers raid Scapa Flow and badly damage an old base ship, the battleship HMS Iron Duke which served as flagship of the Grand Fleet during WWI including the Battle of Jutland. One Ju 88 shot down by an anti-aircraft battery on the island of Hoy.
Battle of the Atlantic. British liner SS Huntsman (see link below has been used as a prison ship since her capture by Graf Spee on Oct 10. About 35 prisoners are transferred to Altmark (Graf Spee’s supply ship) and Huntsman is sunk. ‘Late this night we heard six explosions & then another much heavier one which we presumed was a torpedo sinking my ship. I was pleased it was done at night so I could not see her go as I was very fond of her and very much attached to her. Our Prison Officer confirmed "She died hard."’ - Diary of Captain Albert Horace Brown of SS Huntsman.
Day 48 October 18, 1939
The first Soviet forces enter Estonia and the Baltic Germans start leaving. Eventually 12-13,000 will migrate by ship from ports in Estonia to Danzig, for resettlement (Umsiedlung) in Polish territory annexed by Germany (see link below). They occupy homes and businesses left by deported Poles. This is part of the Nazi plan for Germanisation or cultural and economic assimilation of Polish regions into greater Germany to provide living space (Lebensraum) in the East.
The Finnish government and other Scandinavian diplomats discuss Soviet demands for territory on the Gulf of Finland to defend Leningrad. The Finnish army continues mobilizing, utilizing limited resources to fortify the Red Army’s most likely route of attack across the Karelian Isthmus. Concrete bocks and boulders are placed to slow tank movements. They clear paths in the forests to corral infantry into fields of fire that are ranged by artillery, strung with barbed wire and then densely sown with mines (which are cheap and plentiful). This will prove deadly to advancing Red Army troops.