Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Polish Army 1939 Wizna Polish Thermopylae 40 to 1 Piosenka szwedzkiego zespołu Sabaton z najnowszego albumu The Art of War

Polish Army 1939 Wizna Polish Thermopylae 40 to 1 Piosenka szwedzkiego zespołu Sabaton z najnowszego albumu The Art of War

Polish Army 1939 Wizna Polish Thermopylae Piosenka szwedzkiego zespołu Sabaton z najnowszego albumu The Art of War

Eve of the Battle
Before the war the area of the village of Wizna was prepared as a fortified line of defence. It was to shield the Polish positions further to the south and guard the crossing of Narew and Biebrza rivers. The 9 kilometres long line of Polish defences was subordinate to the Polish Narew Corps shielding Łomża and providing defence of northern approach to Warsaw. The Wizna fortified area was one of the most important nodes in the area, providing cover of both the river crossings, and the roads Łomża-Białystok and roads towards Brześć Litewski on the rear of Polish forces.

The first construction works were started in April 1939. The spot was chosen carefully: most of the concrete bunkers were built on hills overlooking a swampy Narew River valley. They could be reached either through direct assault through the swamps or by attack along the causeway leading from the bridge in Wizna. Until September 1, 1939, 12 bunkers were built altogether. Six of them were heavy concrete bunkers with reinforced steel cupolas (8 tons of weight) while the other six were machine gun pillboxes. Additional four heavy bunkers were under construction at the moment the World War II started. In addition, the area was reinforced with trenches, anti-tank and anti-personnel obstacles, barbed wire lines and landmines. There were also plans of breaking the dams on the Biebrza and Narew rivers to flood the area, but the Summer of 1939 was one of the most dry seasons in Polish history and the level of water was too low.

Although not all bunkers were ready by the beginning of the war, the Polish lines of defences were well-prepared. The walls of an average bunker, 1.5 metres thick and reinforced with 20-centimetre-thick steel plates, could withstand a direct hit from even the heaviest guns available to the Wehrmacht at the time. The bunkers were situated on hills which gave good visibility of all the advancing forces.

[edit] First phase
On September 1, 1939, the Polish Defensive War of 1939 started. The German 3rd Army was to advance from East Prussia towards Warsaw, directly through the positions of Polish Narew Corps. On September 2 Captain Władysław Raginis was named the commander of the Wizna area. As his command post he chose the "GG-126" bunker near the village of Góra Strękowa. The bunker was located on a hill in the exact centre of the Polish lines. His forces numbered approximately 700 soldiers and NCOs and 20 officers armed with 6 pieces of artillery (76mm), 24 HMGs, 18 machine guns and two Kb ppanc wz.35 anti-tank carbines.

After initial clashes at the border, the Podlaska Cavalry Brigade operating in the area was forced to withdraw and on September 5 left the area. On September 3 Polish positions were spotted from the air and strafed with machine gun fire from enemy fighters. Later that day one of the German bombers returning from a bombing raid over Warsaw was shot down by machine gun fire.

On September 7, 1939, the reconnaissance units of the 10th Panzer Division of general Nicolaus von Falkenhorst captured the village of Wizna. Polish mounted reconnaissance squads abandoned the village after a short fight and retreated to the southern bank of Narew. When the German tanks tried to cross the bridge, it was blown up by Polish engineers. After dark, patrols of German infantry crossed the river and advanced towards Giełczyn, but were repelled with heavy casualties.

On September 8 general Heinz Guderian, commander of the XIX Panzer Corps, was ordered to advance through Wizna towards Brześć. By early morning of September 9 his units reached the Wizna area and were joined with 10th Panzer Division and "Lötzen" Brigade already present in the area. His forces numbered some 1 200 officers and 41 000 soldiers and NCOs, equipped with over 350 tanks, 108 howitzers, 58 pieces of artillery, 195 anti-tank guns, 108 mortars, 188 grenade launchers, 288 heavy machine guns and 689 machine guns. Altogether, his forces were some 40 times stronger than the Polish defenders.

Second Phase
In the early morning German planes dropped leaflets asking the Poles to give up and claiming that most of Poland is already in German hands and further resistance is futile. In order to strengthen the morale of his troops, Władysław Raginis swore that he will not leave his post alive and that the defence will continue. Soon after that an artillery barrage started. Polish artillery was several times weaker and soon was forced to retreat towards Białystok. After the preparations, the Germans attacked the northern flank of the Polish forces. Two platoons defending several bunkers located to the north of Narew were attacked from three sides by German tanks and infantry. Initially the losses among German infantry were high, but after heavy artillery fire commander of the Giełczyn area First Lieutenant Kiewlicz was ordered to burn the wooden bridge over Narew and withdraw to Białystok. The remnants of his forces broke through German encirclement and reached Białystok, where they joined the forces of general Franciszek Kleeberg.

At the same time an assault on the southern part of Polish fortifications came to a stalemate. Polish bunkers were lacking adequate anti-tank armament, but were able to rain the German infantry with machine gun fire. However, at 6 o'clock in the evening the infantry was forced to abandon the trenches and field fortifications and retreat into the bunkers. The German tanks could finally cross the Polish lines and advance towards Tykocin and Zambrów. However, the German infantry was still under heavy fire and was pinned down in the swampy fields in front of Polish bunkers.

Although Raginis was subordinate to Lt.Col. Tadeusz Tabaczyński, commander of the Osowiec fortified area located some 30 kilometres to the north, he could not expect any reinforcements. On September 8 Marshal of Poland Edward Śmigły-Rydz ordered the 135th Infantry Regiment that constituted the reserves of both Osowiec and Wizna, to be withdrawn to Warsaw. When the order was withdrawn and the unit returned to Osowiec, it was already too late to help the isolated Poles at Wizna.

Heavy fights for each of the—now isolated—bunkers continued. Several assaults were repelled during the night and in the early morning of September 10. At approximately 12 o'clock the German engineers with the help of tanks and artillery finally managed to destroy all but two Polish bunkers. Both of them were located in the centre of Góra Strękowa and continued the defence despite having much of the crew wounded or incapacitated and most of the machine guns destroyed. It is alleged that Heinz Guderian, in an attempt to end the Polish resistance, threatened the Polish commander that he would shoot the POWs if the remaining forces did not surrender. (No captives were shot.) Captain Władysław Raginis then ordered his men to abandon the bunker and committed suicide by throwing himself on a grenade.

After the Battle
After the Polish resistance ended, the XIX Panzer Corps advanced towards Zambrów and Wysokie Mazowieckie finally encircling and destroying the Polish Narew Corps. Later it advanced further southwards and took part in the Battle of Brześć.

Although all the bunkers were destroyed and the Polish resistance was finally broken, the fortified area of Wizna managed to halt the German advance for three days. The heroic struggle against overwhelming odds is nowadays one of the symbols of the Polish Defensive War of 1939 and is a part of Polish popular culture.
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