Poland 1939 (Fall Weiß)

By Christian Ankerstjerne

Tank Strength

German Tank Forces

During the invasion of Poland, Germany fielded a total of 11 tank divisions, five of which were light divisions. Together, these divisions had the following tanks:

Number of German tanks fielded during the invasion.
Tank Number
Panzerkampfwagen I 973
Panzerkampfwagen II 1127
Panzerkampfwagen 35 (t) 112
Panzerkampfwagen 38 (t) 55
Panzerkampfwagen III 87
Panzerkampfwagen IV 198
Kleiner Panzerbefehlswagen 128
Befehlspanzer 35 (t) 8
Befehlspanzer 38 (t) 2
Total 2690

Polish Tank Forces

Polish tank strength at the beginning of the invasion.
Tank Number
TK-3 300
TKS (machine gun only) 272
TKS (20 mm gun) 20
Renault FT-17 (some 37 mm gun, some machine gun only) About 170
Vickers 6-Ton (heavy machine gun only) 16
Vickers 6-Ton (47 mm gun) 22
7TP (machine gun only) 24
7TP (37 mm gun) 108
Total 932

Summary

Of the 2546 German combat tanks, only 446 (17.5%) were modern designs (Panzerkampfwagen 35 (t), 38 (t), III, and IV). Of the 932 Polish tanks, only 130 (13.9%) were modern designs (Vickers 6-Ton with 47 mm Vickers and 7TP). The modern tanks that each side did field were roughly equivilant.

Order of Battle

German Order of Battle

This order of battle does not include border guard units.

Polish Cavalry Charges Against Tanks

One of the most stubborn myths of the invasion of Poland is that of Polish cavalry charging German tanks, unaware of the nature of armored warfare. Originating with German propaganda, the myth has been repeated in post-war litterature.

The Polish Pomorska Cavalry Brigade, in ignorance of the nature of our tanks, had charged them with sword and lances and had suffered tremendous losses.

Guderian, p. 73

The attack that Guderian refer to did in fact happen, though not in the way he describes.

During the retreat of the Polish forces on 1 September, the 18th Pomeranian Uhlans Regiment covored the withdrawal around the city of Chojnice. On the evening of 1 September, the regiment came across resting German infantry of 76. Infanterie-Regiment, part of 20. Infanterie-Division (mot.) of Guderian's XIX. Armeekorps (mot.) The Polish regimental commander, colonel Kazimierz Mastalerz, ordered 1st and 2nd Squadron (a total of about 250 troopers) to charge.

The attack was successful in forcing the German infantry to withdraw, but the Polish cavalry came under attack as German armored cars unexpectedly appeared. The Polish cavalry retreated on horseback, suffering relatively heavy casualties.

After the engagement, a group of German and Italian war correspondants came upon the battlefield, and concluded that the Polish cavalry had charged German tanks. The story was brought in the magazine Die Wehrmacht, as well as Russian propaganda.

There were several other Polish cavalry charges throughout the Polish campaign, but none were against tanks. After the war, however, Russian propaganda continued to propagate the myth to discredit the pre-war Polish leadership. Likewise, Poles themselves kept the myth alive as a symbol of courage in face of a superior enemy.

Polish Knowledge of Tanks

The notion that Polish forces thought that Germany still used wood tank mock-ups, or even that they did not know what tanks were, is easily disproven.

Germany had been very open about their tank force throughout the mid- and late-thirties. Foreign press had reported from large tank parades in Berlin, as well as during the annexation of Austria and Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia was furthermore a tank-exporting country. Thus, it was well-known that Germany had a significant armored capability.

Polish knowledge of tanks was furthermore quite good. As can be seen from the numbers above, Poland had almost 1000 tanks at the beginning of the war, including 130 modern tanks, some of which had been built in Poland.

The Polish army had about 1200 37 mm anti-tank guns; 27 for each infantry division, and 14 for each cavalry division. Both infantry and cavalry divisions received 92 anti-tank rifles. made a significant impression on the Germans from the very beginning of the invasion. In total, 236 German tanks were completely destroyed during the campaign. In addition to the anti-tank capabilities, armored battalions with the TK-3 and TKS tankettes were assigned at army level, including one assigned to the 18th Pomeranian Uhlans Regiment

Cavalry During the Second World War

The use of cavalry during the Second World War might seem anachronistic. Especially on the Eastern Front, however, where tanks and trucks became bogged down in the mud, and fuel supplies were unstable, they were a valuable resource.

During the invasion of Poland, the Polish army had 38 cavalry regiments, while the German army had only two. By the end of the war, Germany fielded 20 cavalry regiments, 16 of which were with the Waffen-SS, including two full-strength divisions of Russian Cossacks. Hungary, Italy, and Romania all used cavalry on the Eastern Front on the German side.

Like the Axis countries, Russia used cavalry throughout the war. Notably, cavalry was used instead of armored personel carriers to support tank advances.

In light of the heavy use of cavalry during the Second World War, the redicule of the Polish army for their use of cavalry is misplaced, even more so seing as it was spread mainly by the countries relying the most on cavalry in the European theater.

German Ammunition Usage

As can be seen in the table below, ammunition usage during the invasion of Poland far exceeded the production during the same period. Especially the use of 9 mm pistol ammunition, 37 mm tank and anti-tank ammunition, and 105 mm howitzer and artillery ammunition surprised the German high command.

German ammunition usage during the invasion of Poland, from 1 September to 1 October 1939.
Ammunition Type 3. Armee 4. Armee 8. Armee 10. Armee 14. Armee Total September 1939 production
Small Arms
Pistol and submachine gun 3 717 140 2 056 960 4 468 900 4 572 000 4 814 458 19 629 458 3 200 000
Rifle and machine gun 197 901 670 23 845 600 54 848 000 63 355 000 58 209 234 398 159 504 156 000 000
Tank and Anti-tank Artillery
20 mm anti-tank 172 580 233 620 560 000 615 000 406 734 1 987 934 800 000
20 mm high-explosive 423 670 136 240 685 000 677 000 133 027 2 054 937 840 000
37 mm anti-tank gun 1 000 300 154 431 179 000 212 000 262 469 1 808 200 80 000
37 mm tank gun 0 26 331 57 770 52 100 27 916 164 117 30 000
75 mm tank gun 29 040 20 458 42 400 33 024 12 224 137 146 33 500
Mortars and Field Artillery
50 mm mortar 259 640 64 833 192 300 217 000 211 323 945 096 350 000
80 mm mortar 167 490 38 514 94 940 102 800 81 141 484 885 120 000
210 mm mortar 1 290 450 0 0 2 054 3 794 2 400
305 mm mortar (Czechoslovak) 150 0 0 33 334 517 0
75 mm infantry gun 177 108 27 314 64 800 75 600 68 795 413 617 40 000
150 mm infantry gun 7 840 1 200 5 540 5 967 4 526 25 073 10 000
105 mm howitzer 672 030 67 878 229 200 244 200 187 085 1 400 393 280 000
150 mm howitzer 117 881 23 654 43 100 57 000 46 270 287 905 72 000
105 mm artillery 15 890 4 525 23 100 23 600 17 131 84 246 13 600
150 mm artillery 5 190 135 0 0 841 6 166 0
240 mm artillery 0 0 0 12 0 12 0
Explosives
Hand grenades 516 410 91 350 170 000 175 440 227 006 1 180 206 1 000 000
Mines 1 20 386 3 500 1 000 31 346 56 232 32 000
Smoke grenades 1 23 972 8 500 12 200 31 534 76 206 0

Polish Soldiers and Equipment Captured by Germany

Polish Prisoners of War in Germany

Number of Polish prisoners of war captured , from 1 September to 1 October, 1939.
Warsaw Modlin Heln Campaign Total
Generals 0 0 0 6
Officers 5 031 2 000 250 11 446
Soldiers 113 425 40 000 4 250 576 902
Total 118 4562 42 000 4 500 588 354

Captured Weapons

Captured Weapons

Fuel and Oil

Actual captured stocks were supposed to be higher, as these numbers does not include captured fuel used by field units.

Other Captured Items

Notes

  1. Not reported Back.
  2. Not reported Back.
  3. Hereof 16 000 wounded Back.
  4. Hereof 348 captured in Warsaw Back.
  5. Hereof 63 useful for military service Back.
  6. Hereof 3642 captured in Warsaw Back.
  7. Hereof 106 studs Back.

Sources

  1. Allgemeine Heeresamt. AHA 3011/39 g.K. AHA I b.. : , 1939. p. .
  2. Allgemeine Heeresamt. AHA 3102/39 g.K. AHA I b. : , 1939. p. .
  3. GUDERIAN, Heinz. Panzer-Leader. London : Penguin Books, 1996. 528 p. ISBN 0-141-39027-1.
  4. JENTZ, Thomas L. Panzertruppen 1 : The Complete Guide to the Creation & Combat Employment of Germany's Tank Force, 1933-1942. Atglen, PA : Schiffer Military History, 1996. 288 p. ISBN 0-88740-915-6.
  5. NIEHORSTER, Leo W. G. Mechanized Army and Waffen-SS Units (1st September 1939). Hannover : Self-published, 1990. 196 p. .
  6. RICHTER, Klaus Christian. Cavalry of the Wehrmacht 1941-1945. Atglen, PA : Schiffer Military History, 1995. 208 p. ISBN 0-88740-814-1.
  7. ZALOGA, Steven J. & GERRARD, Howard. Campaign 107 - Poland 1939 : The Birth of Blitzkrieg. Oxford : Osprey Publishing, 2002. 96 p. ISBN 1-84176-408-6.