June 24, 2014

Mława, Bending the Panzers

Reenactment of the battle for Mlawa

Mława is a town in today’s north-central Poland of some 31,000 inhabitants. But, in 1939 it was close to the East-Prussian – Polish border and it was situated on the main approach route towards Warsaw from the north. The Polish High Command decided to construct a system of fortifications north of Mława so as to form a first line of defense and to stall a possible German advance. The main defensive battle would be fought along the Vistula – Narew rivers. 


The defense of northern Poland was assigned to Modlin Army, commanded by Brigadier Emil Karol Przedrzymirski-Krukowicz. The greater part of the 20th Infantry Division manned the Mława position. The Division was commanded by Colonel W. A. Lawin-Liszka. The Polish infantry division of the era based its antitank capability on 27 X 37mm Bofors antitank guns. At the company level the Poles were using the wz.35 antitank rifle. Both weapons had excellent penetration capabilities. Artillery support was provided by a Light Artillery Regiment equipped with:
  • 24 X 75mm Mod.02/26 guns
  • 12 X 100mm Mod.14/19 howitzers
and a Heavy Detachment with:
  • 3 X 105mm Mod.29 guns
  • 3 X 155mm Mod.17 howitzers
Also, the 62nd Independent Recon Tank Company (13 tankettes) was assigned to the 79th Infantry Regiment of the 20th Infantry Division.

Polish and German dispositions
3. Polish dispositions and the attack formation of the German I Armeekorps & Armeekorps "W".

Panzerdivision “Kempf” – A Mixed Army/SS Unit
General Werner Kempf
4. General Werner Kempf.

The German OKH conceived a double envelopment of the Polish Army, which was to be carried out by two strong Army Groups that were to trap the Polish Armies in western Poland. In this pincer movement the northern arm, Third Army, was to slice through the heart of Poland from Neidenburg (Nidzica) in East-Prussia through Mława and over the Narew river to the Vistula, just east of Warsaw. The attack in the direction of Warsaw would form Third Army’s main effort. The Army attacked with I Armeekorps and Armeekorps “Wodrig’ in line. I Armeekorps, with Panzer-Division “Kempf” as its spearhead, was to assault the Mława position. The Armeekorps was commanded by General der Artillerie Walter Petzel.

Panzer-Division “Kempf” was formed in July 1939, originally designated as the “East Prussian Tank Unit”. Generalmajor Werner Kempf became the Division Commander with Oberstleutnant (i.G.) Julius von Bernuth as its Ia. Soon everybody referred to the Division using the name of its Commander. The peculiarity of this Division was that it was a mixed formation composed of Army (Heer) and SS units. The main elements of the Division were:
  • SS-Regiment “Deutschland”, CO: SS-Standartenführer Felix Steiner
  • 7th Panzer-Regiment, CO: Oberst Franz Landgraf
  • SS-Reconnaissance Battalion, CO: SS-Sturmbannführer Dr.-Ing. Wim Brandt
  • 511 Anti-Tank Battalion
  • SS-Artillery Regiment, CO: SS-Obersturmbannführer Peter Hansen
  • II/47 Heavy Artillery Battalion
  • 2/SS-Anti-Aircraft MG Battalion
  • 505 Pioneer Battalion
  • SS-Signal Battalion, CO: SS-Sturmbannführer Buch
The 7th Panzer-Regiment contained:
  • 61 PzKpfw I tanks
  • 81 PzKpfw II tanks
  • 3 PzKpfw III tanks
  • 9 PzKpfw IV tanks
  • 10 command tanks.
The Division’s mission was to assault Polish positions north of Mława, capture them and push through to Mława. 11. Infanterie-Division would be attacking on the left and 61. Infanterie-Division on the right.

The Assault

Reenactment of the battle
5. Reenactment of the battle.
The German Army invaded Poland at 04:45 hrs, on 1 September 1939. Panzer-Division “Kempf” attacked along the Napierki – Mława road. The IIIrd Battalion of SS-Regiment “Deutschland” (III/D) was assembled west of Bialuty, with Dźwierznia – Krajewo as its first objective and I/D assembled east of Bialuty with Uniszki-Zawadzkie as its first objective. If the two Battalions were successful they would proceed towards Point 192.

When the SS men reached the town of Uniszki-Zawadzkie they started receiving heavy concentrated fire from the defenders and their attack bogged down. After receiving artillery support the SS Battalions renewed their attack and cleared Uniszki-Zawadzkie at 11:15 hrs. As the attackers were advancing to the south they came in contact with enemy bunkers. It was decided to suspend all action and reorganize. At 15:00 hrs an attack by the entire Armeekorps was to take place. The 7th Panzer-Regiment was to attack in conjunction with 11. Infanterie-Division.

7. Panzer-Regiment assembled north of Kuklin and at 15:00 hrs advanced toward the eastern edge of Mława. West of Windyki the tanks were halted by antitank obstacles and received fire from the bunkers. At 17:00 Oberst Franz Landgraf decided to break contact and retreat. The tanks had attacked a fortified position without proper reconnaissance, while the accompanying infantry watched the action from covered positions. A total of 72 tanks were lost. It was a failure, but provided valuable lessons for the future. 

The failed attacks of Pz.-Div. “Kempf”
6. The failed attacks of Pz.-Div. “Kempf” during the first day of the war.

Polish defenses held everywhere and at 20:00 hrs I Armeekorps decided to call it a day. The attack would resume the next morning.

Bypassing from the East

On September 2, while I Armeekorps was reorganizing its forces Armeekorps “Wodrig” managed to break Polish resistance around Chorzele and bypass Mława’s fortified position from the east. On September 3, at 07:30 hrs, Wodrig’s divisions were pursuing the retreating Poles. 1. Infanterie-Division was advancing towards Grudusk and 12. Infanterie-Division was advancing towards Borkovo. Third Army shifted its main effort from I Armeekorps to Armeekorps “Wodrig” and attached Panzer-Division “Kempf” to it. Przasnysz was set as the Division’s immediate objective. Panzer-Division “Kempf” formed three Kampfgruppen with one infantry, one tank and one artillery battalion each. The town was cleared at 15:00 hrs and the Division turned towards Ciechanów. At the end of the day Ciechanów was occupied and German troops were to the south of Mława. The Polish High Command ordered a withdrawal to the Vistula and the fortress of Modlin.

Armeekorps “Wodrig” bypassed the Mława position from the east
7. On September 2 Armeekorps “Wodrig” bypassed the Mława position from the east.


The fortifications north of Mława were bypassed from the east, but not before a costly panzer attack against them occurred. Such a misuse of tanks could be attributed to a certain degree of inexperience on the part of I Armeekorps. On the other hand the Third Army was swift to shift its main effort when opportunity arose and attached Panzer-Division “Kempf” to Armeekorps “Wodrig” to deliver the main thrust.

A bunker of the Mława fortified position
8. A bunker of the Mława position.

Jentz, Thomas L. Panzertruppen vol. 1. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 1996.
Kennedy, Robert M. The German Campaign in Poland (1939). Washington, DC: Office of the Chief of Military History, U.S. Army, 1956.
War Department. Digests and Lessons of Recent Military Operations-The German Campaign in Poland, September 1 to October 5, 1939. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1942.
Weidinger, Otto. Das Reich I 1934-1939. Winnipeg: J.J. Fedorowicz, 1990.
Zaloga, Steven J. Poland 1939 The Birth of Blitzkrieg. Oxford: Osprey, 2002.

Photos attribution
1., 5., 8. Adam Kliczek, CC-BY-SA-3.0-pl, via Wikimedia Commons
2., 3. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Template:Halibutt_Copyright_GFDL, additional details: author
4. http://hbctitan.webzdarma.cz/Peter_generals/Kempf-Werner.jpg
6. http://www.openstreetmap.org/copyright, operational details: author.
7. DA PAM 20-255

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