February 12, 2017

The Fight for the Polish Corridor

Polish Cavalry

The “Polish Corridor” or the “Danzig Corridor” was the strip of land that connected the free city of Danzig with Polish mainland and at the same time separated East Prussia from the rest of the German Reich.

The Polish Corridor
2. The Polish Corridor.

The Polish Army “Pomorze”

Army “Pomorze”, under Major General Władysław Bortnowski, was tasked to defend the “Corridor”. Army “Pomorze” was partially encircled having to face the Fourth German Army from the west and the XXI Armeekorps from the east. Army “Pomorze” deployed its units as follows:
  • The 9th, 15th, 27th Infantry Divisions and Cavalry Brigade “Pomorska” were facing west.
  • The 4th and 16th Infantry Divisions were facing east.
The Army planned to delay the Germans from the borders up to the Vistula River. Then the Army would retreat towards Modlin to the north of Warsaw.

Cavalry Brigade “Pomorska”, under Colonel Adam Zakrzewski, was the only formation of Army “Pomorze” which employed a number of AFVs. The 81st Independent Recon Company was equipped with 13 TK-3 tankettes (armed only with machine guns) and the 81st Armored Battalion possessed 8 wz.34 armored cars and 13 tankettes of which 4 had some armor piercing capability with their 20mm cannons.

AFVs of a Polish Armored Battalion
3. AFVs of a Polish Armored Battalion. 

The German Fourth Army

Fedor von Bock
Army Group North, under Generaloberst Fedor von Bock, formed the northern arm of the invading forces and was comprised of two armies: the Third Army (General der Artillerie Georg von Küchler) in East Prussia and the Fourth Army (General der Artillerie Günther von Kluge) in Pomerania. Generaloberst von Bock established his headquarters at the ancient city of Połczyn-Zdrój (Bad Polzin). Army Group North had a total strength of 630,000 men [1].

The Fourth Army had the mission to:
  • Overrun the “Corridor”,
  • Get in touch with XXI Armeekorps at Grudziądz,
  • Cross the Vistula between Grudziądz και Bydgoszcz (Bromberg) and attack towards Modlin.
The Fourth Army established its headquarters at Jastrowie (Jastrow). The Army commanded three Armeekorps (II, III, XIX) and border defense units. The only motorized formation of the Army was Heinz Guderian’s XIX Armeekorps (mot.).

Disposition of forces on September 1
5. Disposition of forces on September 1.

Actions on September 1

Colonel Kazimierz Mastalerz
When night fall on September 1 the Fourth Army had reached the Chojnice (Konitz) – Nakło nad Notecią (Nakel) line. Earlier in that day two mounted squadrons of Cavalry Brigade “Pomorska” slipped to the rear of 20. Infanterie-Division (mot.) and charged an unaware German infantry unit somewhere close to the village of Krojanty. The German infantrymen were panicked by the speed and sock of the Polish charge. However, recon vehicles intervened and with automatic fire forced the Poles to withdraw. The Polish cavalry commander Colonel Kazimierz Mastalerz was killed along with twenty of his uhlans. The next day German officials brought Italian journalists to the battlefield and informed them that the Poles died trying to pierce German tanks with their lances. Thus this episode became one of the most enduring WW II myths.

More importantly that day became apparent that it was going to be extremely difficult for the Polish infantry divisions to withdraw under German pressure. The Germans were superior in numbers and combat power and the Polish divisions were forced to engage their main body to stem German attacks. Heavily engaged the Polish divisions could withdraw with difficulty and their plan was at risk. The Poles planned to make their next stand at the Brda (Brahe) river.

XIX Armeekorps (mot.)

Guderian took over the command of XIX Armeekorps (mot.) on August 22, 1939. His mission for the first stage of the campaign was to:
  • Attack between Chojnice (north) and Sepolno Krajenskie (south),
  • Cross the Brda river,
  • Reach the Vistula and cut off the Polish forces in the “Corridor”.
Guderian was given four divisions:
  • 20th Infanterie-Division (mot.), GOC: Generalleutnant Mauritz von Wiktorin.
  • 2nd Infanterie-Division (mot.), GOC: Generalleutnant Paul Bader.
  • 3rd Panzer-Division, GOC: Generalleutnant Geyr von Schweppenburg.
  • 23rd Infanterie-Division, GOC: Generalleutnant Walter Graf von Brockdorff-Ahlefeldt, with the mission to follow behind the 3rd Panzer-Division as Corps reserve.
3rd Panzer-Division was assigned the main effort. The 3rd Panzer-Division had a total of 391 tanks [2]. However, 80% of them were of the lighter Pz I & II types.

Tank strength of the 3rd Panzer-Division
7. Tank strength of the 3rd Panzer-Division.

Guderian’s Corps suffered some early seatbacks. The 20th Infanterie-Division (mot.) remained immobile after Pomorska’s charge. The 2nd Infanterie-Division (mot.) broke off its attack after the initial engagements with the Poles. During the night of September 1/2 the Divisional commander requested permission to withdraw! Even Guderian himself almost became victim of German heavy artillery.

The 3rd Panzer-Division advanced through Wielka Klonia (Gross Klonia), Guderian’s birthplace, to Mała Klonia (Kleine Klonia) and Pruszcz. The Division’s advanced elements reached the Brda but the regimental commander on the spot hesitated to go for a crossing. A young lieutenant informed Guderian that an easy crossing could be made close to Stary Młyn. Guderian ordered the Kradschützen-Bataillon to attempt a crossing with rubber boats. They succeeded.

Guderian in his half-track has just crossed the Brda
8. Guderian in his half-track has just crossed the Brda.

The Brda crossing changed the tactical situation overnight. The Polish withdrawal plan was losing touch with reality and the Vistula had become a distant dream.

The operations of XIX Armeekorps (mot.) on September 1
9. The operations of XIX Armeekorps (mot.) on September 1.

During the night of September 1/2 the 3rd Panzer-Division completed the crossing and advanced towards Świekatowo. Guderian relocated his headquarters at Trzciany (Zahn). The 3rd Aufklärungs-Abteilung was ordered to reconnoiter along the Brda – Tuchola (Tuchel) – Świecie (Schwetz) route and reach the Vistula.

On September 2 the 3rd Panzer-Division faced determined Polish counterattacks but held its ground. Its reconnaissance battalion had reached the Vistula and the Division’s main body was to follow.

Overview of the operations on September 1-2
10. Overview of the operations on September 1-2.

On September 3 the 3rd Panzer-Division reached the Vistula en force and cut off some ten to fifteen thousand Polish soldiers in the “Corridor”. The German infantry divisions tightened the loose.

On September 6 Guderian crossed the Vistula and established his headquarters at Kamieniec (Finckenstein) at the Finckenstein palace where Napoleon had also stayed. Guderian’s Corps became under the operational control of Army Group North and was assigned a new task.

The Fickenstein palace. It was destroyed by the Soviets in 1945
11. The Fickenstein palace. It was destroyed by the Soviets in 1945.

[1] Zaloga (2002), p. 22.
[2] Jentz (1996), p. 90.

Guderian, Heinz. (1950). Erinnerungen eines Soldaten. Neckargemünd: Kurt Vowinkel Verlag.
Jentz, Thomas L. (1996). Panzertruppen vol. 1. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing.
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. Witold Pikiel (1889-1943), via Wikimedia Commons
2. Ziegelbrenner, original; SVG version:User:Rowanwindwhistler GFDL  or CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
3. FOTO:FORTEPAN/Berkó Pál, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
4. Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1977-120-11/Unknown/CC BY-SA 3.0 de, via Wikimedia Commons
5. DA-PAM 20-255
6. Wikimedia Commons
8. Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1976-071-36/CC BY-SA 3.0 de, via Wikimedia Commons
11. http://www.bildindex.de/obj20576836.html, via Wikimedia Commons

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