Monday, August 31, 2009

September 1st, 1939

On this date, seventy years ago, World War II began. According to a BBC report at the time:

German forces have invaded Poland and its planes have bombed Polish cities, including the capital, Warsaw.

The attack comes without any warning or declaration of war.

Britain and France have mobilised their forces and are preparing to wage war on Germany for the second time this century.

Just before dawn today, German tanks, infantry and cavalry penetrated Polish territory on several fronts with five armies, a total of 1.5 million troops.

Soon afterwards German planes bombarded the cities. They have been making swift progress in penetrating Polish defences which are heavily outnumbered in artillery, infantry and air power.

The cities of Katowice, Krakow, Tczew and Tunel were attacked with incendiary bombs. Air raids on Warsaw began at 0900 local time.

. . .

The Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, held a meeting with King George today in Downing Street.

Later this evening Mr Chamberlain told a packed House of Commons that British and French Ambassadors in Berlin had given German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop an ultimatum.

He was to tell Berlin that unless the Nazis withdraw, Britain and France would fulfil its promise of support to Poland.

There's more at the link.

The BBC has also published an article recounting the memories of one of the Polish garrison of the fortress of Westerplatte. The fortress was shelled by the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein, then assaulted by a brigade of troops.

The battleship Schleswig-Holstein shells Polish positions on September 1st, 1939
(image courtesy of Wikipedia)

The two-hundred-man garrison, who were not expected to be able to hold out for longer than twelve hours, managed to resist for an almost unbelievable seven days, killing several hundred Germans for the loss of no more than a score of their own men. Their achievement remains a shining memory in Poland, where it helps to compensate for that nation's otherwise humiliating defeat at the hands of the first-ever Blitzkrieg campaign.

The war would grind on for a few days short of six years. Over one hundred million people would be mobilized into uniform, and more than twenty-four million of them would be killed. There would be a further fifty million or so civilian casualties at least - the precise number will never be known.


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