Invasion of Poland (1939)

1939 military invasion of Poland, first campaign of World War II in Europe

The Invasion of Poland in 1939 was a military offensive in which Nazi Germany and, two weeks later, the Soviet Union, invaded Poland. It was the start of World War II in Europe. The invasion took place from 1 September to 6 October 1939. The invasion of Poland caused Britain and France to declare war on Germany on 3 September; they did little to affect the September Campaign. In the end, Poland lost. Germany and the Soviet Union divided the country according to a treaty signed years before the war.

Invasion of Poland (1939)
Part of World War II
Invasion of Poland-1939.png
The map shows the beginning of the Second World War in September 1939 in a wider European context.
Date1 September – 6 October 1939
Result Decisive German/Slovak and Soviet victory. Beginning of World War II
Polish territory divided between Germany, the USSR, Lithuania and Slovakia

Slovakia Slovakia

Soviet Union Soviet Union (After September 17, see details)
Second Polish Republic Poland
Commanders and leaders

Nazi Germany Fedor von Bock
(Army Group North)

Nazi Germany Gerd von Rundstedt
(Army Group South)

Slovakia Ferdinand Čatloš
(Army Bernolák)

Soviet Union Kliment Voroshilov
(Belorussian Front)

Soviet Union Mikhail Kovalev
(Belorussian Front)

Soviet Union Semyon Timoshenko
(Ukrainian Front)
Second Polish Republic Edward Rydz-Śmigły

60 divisions,
6 brigades,
9,000 guns,[1]
2,750 tanks,
2,315 aircraft[2]
3 divisions
Joined on 17 September:
Soviet Union:
33+ divisions,
11+ brigades,
4,959 guns,
4,736 tanks,
3,300 aircraft

1,500,000 Germans,[1]
466,516 Soviets,[3]
51,306 Slovaks
Grand total: 2,000,000+
39 divisions (some of them were never fully mobilized and concentrated),[4]
16 brigades,[4]
4,300 guns,[4]
880 tanks,
400 aircraft[1]
Total: 950,000[Note 1]
Casualties and losses

Germany:[Note 2]
16,343 killed,
3,500 missing,[11]
30,300 wounded
37 killed,
11 missing,
114 wounded[12]

USSR:[Note 3]
1,475 killed or missing,
2,383 wounded
Poland:[Note 4]
66,000 dead,
133,700 wounded,
694,000 captured

It is often called the first time that blitzkrieg was tried on the battlefield, but similar methods had been used earlier. The German surprise attack was successful. It was very effective against the ineffective and demobilized Polish Army, whose tanks and airplanes were nearly out and mostly old. They were outflanked, outmaneuvered, and outnumbered in September 1939, and easily destroyed by the Blitzkrieg. The Poles, if well prepared, could have had two million soldiers in the fight.

In the first few days of the German invasion, the Poles proved to be more difficult than the Germans expected. In the Battle[13] of Mokra on September 2nd, the Poles repulsed an attack by a German Panzer division forcing their retreat. The German air force, unlike their invasions of other countries, did not easily overcome the outnumbered Polish Air Force. However, due to their great superiority in numbers, they gained air superiority after 5 to 6 days.

Surrounded by German territories north, west, and south of Poland, the Poles had little space for tactical retreat. The Germans reached Warsaw and attacked on September 7 but were repulsed. They had suffered heavy tank losses and so were forced to retreat. The Battle of Bzura, on September 9, was the largest attack by the Poles during the war. The Poles had great initial success by decimating 2 German divisions and taking 3500 German prisoners. Polish infantry fought well, but by September 19, overwhelming German reinforcements defeated the Poles.

The Poles realized the British and French were in a phoney war and had no intention of assisting Poland, and the Red Army invaded Poland from the east on September 17, the Polish high command ordered as many troops and equipment to the Romanian bridgehead to enter Romania with the intention to continue their resistance by moving as much of their army to France as possible. Most of the Polish Navy escaped to Britain. Polish cryptographers who had cracked the German Enigma (machine) went to France and then to Britain to continue their work.

Polish politicians set up a government-in-exile in France and later escaped to Britain. In 1945, when the Allied armies invaded Germany, forcing their surrender, the Polish army was the fourth largest allied army.


  1. Various sources contradict each other so the figures quoted above should only be taken as a rough indication of the strength estimate. The most common range differences and their brackets are: German personnel 1,500,000 (official figure of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs) – or 1,800,000. Polish tanks: 100–880, 100 is the number of modern tanks, while the 880 number includes older tanks from the WWI era and tankettes.[5][6]
  2. The discrepancy in German casualties can be attributed to the fact that some German statistics still listed soldiers as missing decades after the war. Today the most common and accepted numbers are: 8,082 to 16,343 KIA, 320 to 5,029 MIA, 27,280 to 34,136 WIA.[7] For comparison, in his 1939 speech following the Polish Campaign Adolf Hitler presented these German figures: 10,576 KIA, 30,222 WIA, and 3,400 MIA.[8] According to early Allied estimates, including those of the Polish government-in-exile, the number of German KIA casualties was 90,000 and WIA casualties was 200,000[8][9] Equipment losses are given as 832 German tanks [10] of with approximately 236[10] to 341 as irrecoverable losses and approximately 319 other armoured vehicles as irrecoverable losses (including 165 Panzer Spahwagen – of them 101 as irrecoverable losses)[10] 522–561 German planes (including 246–285 destroyed and 276 damaged), 1 German minelayer (M-85) and 1 German torpedo ship ("Tiger")
  3. Soviet official losses are estimated at 737 to 1,475 KIA or MIA (Ukrainian Front – 972, Belorussian Front – 503, and 1,859 to 2,383 WIA (Ukrainian Front – 1,741, Belorussian Front – 642). The Soviets lost approximately 150 tanks in combat of which 43 as irrecoverable losses, while hundreds more suffered technical failures.[3]
  4. Various sources contradict each other so the figures quoted above should only be taken as a rough indication of losses. The most common range brackets for casualties are: Poland: 66,000 to 70,000 KIA, 134,000 WIA.[7] The often cited figure of 420,000 Polish prisoners of war represents only those captured by the Germans, as Soviets captured about 250,000 Polish POWs themselves, making the total number of Polish POWs about 660,000–690,000. In terms of equipment the Polish Navy lost 1 destroyer (ORP Wicher (1928), 1 minelayer (ORP Gryf) and several support craft. Equipment losses included 132 Polish tanks and armoured cars 327 Polish planes (118 fighters))[10]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The 1939 CampaignPolish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2005 Archived 2013-12-11 at the Wayback Machine
  2. E.R Hooton, p85
  3. 3.0 3.1 Krivosheev, G.F. (1997). Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses in the Twentieth Century. Greenhill Books/Lionel Leventhal. ISBN 978-1-85367-280-4.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Переслегин. Вторая мировая: война между реальностями.- М.:Яуза, Эксмо, 2006, с.22; Р. Э. Дюпюи, Т. Н. Дюпюи. Всемирная история войн.—С-П,М: АСТ, кн.4, с.93
  5. Internetowa encyklopedia PWN, article on 'Kampania Wrześniowa 1939'
  6. Website of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs – the Poles on the Front Lines
  7. 7.0 7.1 Wojna Obronna Polski 1939, page 851
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Polish War, German Losses". The Canberra Times. 13 Oct 1937. Archived from the original on 2009-06-30. Retrieved 2009-01-17.
  9. "Nazi Loss in Poland Placed at 290,000". The New York Times. 1941. Archived from the original on 2009-02-07. Retrieved 2009-01-16.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 KAMIL CYWINSKI, Waffen und Geheimwaffen des deutschen Heeres 1933-1945
  11. Parkinson, Roger (1977). The Encyclopedia of Modern War. Stein and Day. p. 133. ISBN 978-0-8128-1898-7.
  12. "Axis Slovakia: Hitler's Slavic Wedge, 1938-1945", page 81
  13. " -Twój dostawca Internetu Internet Opatkowice, Kliny, Wieliczka, Kokotów, Śledziejowice, Gaj, Libertów, Lusina, Swoszowice, Chorowice, Skawina, Skotniki, Internet Wieliczka, Internet Śledziejowice, Internet Kokotów". Retrieved 2020-08-31.

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