February 9, 2017

Fall Weiss vs Plan “Z”

German soldiers remove a frontier bar
1. German soldiers remove a frontier bar at the Sopot (Zoppot) –Gdynia (Gdingen) road,
close to Danzig (Gdańsk).

“The Polish cavalry attacked heroically;
In general the bravery and heroism of the Polish Army merits great respect.
But the higher command was not equal to the demands of the situation”
Generaloberst Gerd von Rundstedt

In the early hours of September the 1st , 1939 German troops crossed the Polish border. What was their plan and how their opponents hoped to confront them?

Fall Weiss

The German military was assigned the task to destroy the Polish Army and occupy Poland up to the line agreed under the Ribbentrop – Molotov Pact. The German military leadership envisioned a gigantic battle of annihilation where two powerful Army Groups would envelop the larger part of the Polish Army and defeat it before it could retreat behind the Narew – Vistula – San river line. Time was of great importance because any delay might tempt the Western Allies to intervene.

Fall Weis
2. Fall Weis (Case White) Concept of Operations.

Plan “Z”

Polish leadership had to face a tremendous dilemma. The militarily correct choice for the Polish Army was to abandon Western Poland and defend behind the Narew – Vistula – San river line. But, politically this was an impossible choice.

The western part of Poland was the more populous, industrialized and rich in coal. A large part of the reservists came from there. If the Army abandoned the western part the reservists would be asked to abandon their homes to the enemy. Moreover, the Germans might seize the western part without a fight and then stop in front of the river line. In that way Poland could lose half her territory without resistance. That might lead France and Great Britain to break from their promises. Why fight when Poland herself didn’t?

French military leadership was of the opinion that the Poles could hold the Germans for three to four months and they promised them that they would be in position to launch a major attack against Germany two weeks after the German invasion. The Poles only had to hold long enough. French and Polish military experts had greatly underestimated the potential of the new panzer forces.

Defensive positions of Plan “Z”
3. Defensive positions of Plan “Z”.

In May 1939 the Polish general staff finalized its defensive plan under the codename Plan “Z” (Zachod = West). The standing Army would defend on the frontier gaining time. The country would mobilize its reserves. Then the Army would retreat to a delaying position along the Vistula – Warta (Warthe) – Kraków line. Finally, it would go behind the Narew – Vistula – San line, where it would fight its main defensive battle. It was of critical importance for the survival of the Army not to be engaged in decisive battle west of the Vistula. The odd thing in this plan was that the Poles intended to conduct a mobile defense against an enemy who was superior in mechanized forces.

Kennedy, Robert M. (1956). The German Campaign in Poland (1939). Department of the Army.
War Department. (1942). The German Campaign in Poland September 1 to October 5, 1939. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
Zaloga, Steven J. (2002). Poland 1939: The Birth of Blitzkrieg. Reprint. (2003). Oxford: Osprey Publishing.

Photos attribution
1. Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1979-056-18A/Sönnke, Hans/CC BY-SA 3.0 de, via Wikimedia Commons
3. www.panzeroperations.com

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