On this day in 1939, German forces bombard Poland on land and from the air. World War II had begun.
The German invasion of Poland was a primer on how Hitler intended to wage war–what would become the “blitzkrieg” strategy. This was characterized by extensive bombing early on to destroy the enemy’s air capacity, railroads, communication lines, and munitions dumps, followed by a massive land invasion with overwhelming numbers of troops, tanks, and artillery. Once the German forces had plowed their way through, devastating a swath of territory, infantry moved in, picking off any remaining resistance.
Once Hitler had a base of operations within the target country, he immediately began setting up “security” forces to annihilate all enemies of his Nazi ideology, whether racial, religious, or political. Concentration camps for slave laborers and the extermination of civilians went hand in hand with German rule of a conquered nation. For example, within one day of the German invasion of Poland, Hitler was already setting up SS “Death’s Head” regiments to terrorize the populace.
Although 1 million strong, the Polish forces were severely under-equipped and attempted to take the Germans head-on with horsed cavaliers in a forward concentration, rather than falling back to more natural defensive positions. The outmoded thinking of the Polish commanders coupled with the antiquated state of its military was simply no match for the overwhelming and modern mechanized German forces.
About 65,000 Polish troops were killed in the fighting, with 420,000 others being captured by the Germans and 240,000 more by the Soviets (for a total of 660,000 prisoners). Up to 120,000 Polish troops escaped to neutral Romania, and another 20,000 to Latvia and Lithuania, with the majority eventually making their way to France or Britain.
Great Britain would respond with bombing raids over Germany three days later.