On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland and started WW2. The common misconception about the German invasion of Poland is that Germany basically rolled over Poland, which was helpless and unable to defend itself while Great Britain and France are remembered for having declared war on Germany and standing by their Polish ally.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The whole strategy of Poland in 1939 was based on the fact that the UK and France, which had signed defensive military alliances with Poland prior WW2, were supposed to attack Germany two weeks into the war at the latest. The Polish strategy was to try to preserve the bulk of its army for this future planned offensive, while defending the country.
Hitler chose to attack Poland first and not the west because he realized that if he attacked France, Poland would be honor bound by its treaties with France and Britain and would attack Germany. The last thing Hitler wanted was to find himself fighting a war on two fronts.
However, as history showed, the same could not be said of the French and the British who could have easily stormed through Germany's poorly defended western borders while the bulk of the German army was busy fighting in Poland.
This was later corroborated by a top German General, Alfred Jodl, who served as the Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High Command (and the man speaking to Hitler in the picture), who stated at the Nuremberg War trials that:
“If we did not collapse already in the year 1939 that was due only to the fact that during the Polish campaign, the approximately 110 French and British divisions in the West were held completely inactive against the 23 German divisions.”
Instead, the spineless and cowardly western governments choose to literally do nothing and to betray their Polish ally and let Hitler have his way with Poland.
British Prime minister Neville Chamberlain (left) and the French Prime Edouard Daladier (right).
The UK and France “Declared War" on German, and that was it. They sat behind the Maginot Line doing nothing, France made a few pathetic border skirmishes and the UK dropped leaflets on German cities.
They did this for 8 months until Germany invaded France on May 8, 1940.
France and the UK were also responsible for the fact that Poland did not fully mobilized its armed forces. When the Germans invaded Poland, the Poles were only 50% fully mobilized.
Because Poland's "allies" feared that if Poland became fully mobilized in August that it might "offend" and "provoke" Germany. So they prevailed upon Warsaw to hold back on a general mobilization which resulted in the fact that Germany had a two-to-one man advantage over Poland when the war broke out.
Hitler watching German troops on their way to Poland.
Despite the western betrayal, If Russia had not invaded Poland in 17 September, 1939, Poland would have dragged the fighting for many more weeks.
In many battles Poles held their ground against overwhelming German numbers, the most famous of these was the Battle of Wizna, where a single Polish infantry battalion with some 600 soldiers held out for four days against a whole German army consisting of 42,000 soldiers, almost 400 tanks and hundreds more of artillery and armored vehicles.
The Polish army fought very well, even though it was vastly outnumbered and heavily outgunned. Just to put things in perspective, the whole budget of the Polish army, came to less then 10% of what the Germans spent on their air force alone.
The Polish army managed to destroy more then one quarter of all German tanks, hundreds of armored cars and the Polish air force managed to shoot down hundreds of Germans planes.
When the war entered its third week the Polish army fielded more then 250,000 troops and was stil inflicting heavy casualties on the Germans.
Germany suffered over 60,000 casualties in the Polish campaign while the Poles suffered military losses of around 66,000 soldiers who were either killed or missing in action.
Polish army soldiers. 1939.
Stalin had originally planned to invade Poland much earlier, but when he saw that the Germans were encountering stiff Polish resistance he decided to postpone Soviet Russia's invasion and let both sides fight and shed each others blood.
Stalin was also waiting to see whether Britain and France would eventually attack Germany.
The last thing Stalin wanted was a war with Poland, France and Britain after Germany was defeated. Only when it became apparent that France and the UK had betrayed their Polish allies and left them to die, he invaded Poland on September 17th.
If the British and the French had honored their defensive military alliances with Poland and had acted their role in the Plan, Germany might have been defeated, tens of millions of lives would have been saved, and the course of European and world history would have changed.
As a consequence of the British and French betrayel of Poland, a five year German occupation of Poland subjected Poland to enormous destruction of its industry (62% of which was destroyed), its infrastructure (84%) and loss of civilian life (16.7% of its citizens during the war).
The Germans also sent three million Polish people back to the reich to be used as slaves.
Around six million Polish people died during the five year German occupation, three million Polish Jews and three million Catholic Poles. One in every five Poles was murdered by the Germans during WW2.
For all of this unimaginable suffering and destruction, Germany has never compensated Poland or the Polish people for their suffering and losses in any way beyond a few pathetic symbolic gestures.
Today, the myth and propaganda of Poland rolling over in the face of Germany’s invasion still persists, despite being just plain false, while Great Britain and France are remembered for having declared war.
The fact they betrayed Poland and did nothing else for eight long month until Germany invaded France on May 10, 1940 has been conveniently forgotten by many and almost airbrushed out of the general historical memory.
Poland did not lose the war because it was defeated by Germany or by the USSR, but because it was betrayed by the British and the French, her "allies".
"The Polish Campaign 1939." Steven Zaloga, Victor Madej.
""No Simple Victory"." Norman Davies.
"Poland in the Second World War." Józef Garliński