Military history

Chapter Three

Battle of Bzura

On 9 September as four German infantry divisions from Eighth Army pushed along the Bzura attacking towards Lowicz, strong Polish formations from what was now called General Kutrzeba’s Army moved across from the Poznan province and advance south on the weak German northern flank. General Ulex’s X Corps, which had been following the greater part of Eighth Army’s thrust on Warsaw and the Vistula, were reported to be advancing steadily along the Bzura. At first light and unknown to X Corps or even to reconnaissance patrols, Kutrzeba saw his chance and made a surprise attack southwards against General Briesen’s 30th Infantry Division, and parts of the 4th and 16th Infantry Divisions. In a desperate attempt to keep casualties to a minimum, the 30th Infantry Division crossed the river to the southern bank where it intended to prepare a counterattack. Throughout the day German troops frantically began digging in to beat off the enemy, but found it difficult to stave off the Polish attack. German troops were already beginning to flee across open fields heavily infested with well armed enemy troops. By late afternoon it was reported that most of the German divisional NCOs and officers were already dead or wounded. During the thick of battle, Ulex anxiously telephoned General Blaskowitz field-headquarters appealing for help. Immediately Blaskowitz ordered Eighth Army to halt its rapid advance on the Vistula and Warsaw, swing-round and repair the damage to its rear caused by Kutrzeba’s force. Von Rundstedt decided to withdraw elements of Tenth Army from the besieged capital and move it to the Bzura to strengthen the ravaged Eighth. As Reichenau’s infantry divisions swung west, in Warsaw resistance intensified. It seemed as though the Poles defending the city had heard by word of mouth the successful gains on the Bzura. In a fierce effort to annihilate the capital’s defenders Reinhardt’s Panzers resumed a number of heavy close-quarter attacks, but by early evening it once again failed to crush the strong Polish defences. Even the use of heavy close coordinated air-strikes did nothing to weaken the city’s ability to holdout. To make matters worse by early evening Reinhardt received a reconnaissance report that large enemy formations were advancing along the east-west road between the town of Sochaczew and Warsaw. But what the message did not explain, and in fact what was not known at the time, was that the enemy force was made up from large parts of the Poznan and Pomorze armies under the command of General Kutrzeba. The only obstacle between this strong Polish force and Warsaw was Reinhardt’s division. The bulk of Reinhardt’s units were already deployed eastwest of the capital. Neither the 4th or Schmidt’s powerful 1st Panzer Division were in physical contact with the other to meet the developing threat. To protect the armoured force from complete destruction Reinhardt immediately ordered his division to face back-to-back, east and west, and then proceed to contact General Hoepner’s command post, asking for urgent assistance. Hoepner wasted no time and called up Hitler’s foremost fighting machine the SS-Leibstandarte Panzer regiments, which were immediately launched into an infantry attack in the west sector of the suburb. At the same time Reinhardt directed his 5th Panzer Brigade northwards to cut the Modlin to Warsaw road, where it was believed that Polish units were punching a hole through an unguarded sector north of the city. The remaining units of his group facing the capital were ordered to stem further Polish attacks out of Warsaw, while the remainder of the units facing west were ordered to dig-in and hold its positions.

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Two photographs taken in sequence showing an artillery crew posing for the camera with their 10.5cm howitzer. It was primarily the artillery regiments that were given the task of destroying enemy positions and fortified defences and of conducting counter-battery fire prior to an armoured assault.

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Approaching in the swirling dust from the west, determined to reach the capital at all costs, came infantry divisions from General Kutrzeba’s Army. To meet this developing threat, the 103rd SS-Leibstandarte artillery regiment was quickly employed along the Warsaw to Sochaczew road. What followed was a bloodthirsty contact that was fought doggedly and methodically in and around the battered town of Sochaczew.

The sheer scale of the battle of the Bzura was now beginning to unfold. By 10 September it was estimated that nearly thirty German and Polish divisions, including some 400,000 men were being drawn to the area. The High Command of the Army, OKH (Oberkommando des Heeres) estimated there to be at least a quarter of the Polish Army already embroiled in the region. But the cost to the Poles was high. Along the Bzura near Sochaczew the conflict had revealed the horror and devastation. Columns of dead civilians, troops, cattle and horses which had perished during intensive and prolonged attacks by the army and units of the SSLeibstandarte, laid tangled inside ditches and clearings along the road leading to Warsaw. Refugees, which had been withdrawing under the protection of the Polish Army, were caught in the hurricane of fire and gunned down. The majority of dismembered human remains and their belongings were gathered in piles on both sides of the road. But still the Poles continued to fight on.

Elsewhere, Army Group South had achieved notable success. In the region around the city of Radom, where intensive fighting had been raging for a number of days, General Schwedler’s IV Corps, General Wietersheim’s XIV Corps, and General Hoth’s XV Corps, had been fighting against elements of the Lodz Army, now called General Rommel Group (not to be confused with the German General, Erwin Rommel), another newly created army, the Lublin Army, and parts of the Krakow Army, had encircled these badly depleted Polish forces, which yielded some 60,000 prisoners.

Further east advanced German units from the Tenth Army successfully reached the Vistula, whilst simultaneously List’s army were arriving on the bank of the San River. In the north both the Fourth and Third armies made a series of combined attacks across the Narew, reaching parts of the Bug River, which were heavily fortified. As for the Polish Army it had been vanquished. Most of its 35 divisions had either been destroyed or caught in a vast pincer movement that closed around Warsaw. The German objective was now to crush what was left of the dazed and disorganised Polish units, and destroy them, completing a second much deeper envelopment aimed at the Bug, 100-miles east of Warsaw. The plan was for Army Group North to spearhead further east and for the Fourth Army to occupy the city of Brzesc, which was situated on the Bug. Fourteenth Army was to continue its drive north between the San and Bug and link up with Army Group North.

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A soldier stands with his 15cm howitzer, which is being towed by a halftrack. Employment of artillery was a necessity to any ground force engaging an enemy. Both infantry and motorised artillery regiments became the backbone of the fighting in Poland, despite how short the campaign was.

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A column of vehicles have halted on a road. Unusually a light Horch Cross-Country vehicle has a PaK35/36 on tow. During the invasion of Poland, and indeed throughout the rest of the war, the Germans improvised a number of various military and civilian vehicles to tow and carry vital weapons and ammunition to the front lines.

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A photograph taken capturing the moment a 15cm howitzer is fired. By 9 September wholesale collapses in morale continued to result in mass surrenders of Polish units swamped by the German spearheads. Divisions had simply disintegrated, leaving scattered bands of demoralised stragglers roaming the countryside without proper equipment or leadership.

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Another photograph showing a 15cm gun in action. This photograph was taken during the Eighth Army`s heavy fighting along the Bzura River. On 9 September as four German infantry divisions from Eighth Army pushed along the Bzura attacking towards Lowicz, strong Polish formations from what was now called General Kutrzeba’s Army moved across from the Poznan province and advanced south on the weak German northern flank. What followed was a bitter battle.

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Motorcyclists with their motorcycle combinations have halted on a road during intensive fighting against enemy forces from General Kutrzeba’s Army. Throughout 9 September the German Eighth Army remained in close cooperation with Tenth Army’s advance. Leading elements made probing attacks east of Lodz against a number of newly organised Polish groups which had been forced together out of destroyed or broken divisions.

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A Pz.Kpfw.I advancing across a field. Such was the rapid advance of the German Army that many units were now beginning to arrive on the west bank of the Vistula by 9 September. The Poles had not even had time to build a defence barrier there, let alone a close-meshed network of field fortifications which had been the intended plan.

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A Pz.Kpfw.35 (t) on a hillside. This tank’s armament was very similar to that of the Pz.Kpfw.III, which consisted of a 3.7cm gun and co-axial 7.92mm machine gun, with a further machine gun in the front plate. The vehicles saw much use in Poland and fought a number of successful engagements.

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German forces advance on the Vistula. Here soldiers converse with each other in front of a stationary Pz.Kpfw.35 (t). Before the Vistula the Germans committed its main forces in marginal, wholly unspectacular clearing operations, preparing to the front between the Vistula and Bug. In executing the last breakthrough for the river, the Germans used tightly concentrated infantry and artillery to breach enemy positions. Panzers stayed out of sight until an opening was ready, and then went straight through attacking without bothering about its flanks.

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German troops and horse drawn transport halt on a road. During the night of 8 and 9 September troops of Blaskowitz Eighth Army had tried desperately to maintain contact with Tenth Army’s furious advance from its rear. Eighth Army troops that were pushing east of Lodz and in the direction of the Bzura River were gradually left trailing behind in the dash for Warsaw.

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A well camouflaged PaK35/36 anti-tank gun is moved into position along a road near a forest. As troops of the Eighth Army approached the Bzura Polish forces belonging to General Kutrzeba`s Army disrupted them. Kutrzeba had a rare advantage to use infantry, artillery, sixtyfive tankettes and armoured vehicles, without the worry of German tanks hampering operations.

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A well positioned MG34 machine gunner on a sustained fire mount. Late on the afternoon of 9 September Kutrzeba’s forces attacked the German 30th Infantry Division and the 26th Infantry Regiment defending the town of Leczyca. The heaviest fighting took place at Piatek, but the Poles failed to achieve any advantage in the town.

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German troops advance through a forest at dawn during heavy fighting against Polish forces near the Bzura. Fighting in the area near the town of Piatek became so fierce that German troops belonging to the 26th Infantry Regiment began to flee across open fields heavily infested by Poles. In the vicious fighting that took place most of the German NCOs and officers were killed or wounded. At times it seemed likely that General Briesen’s 30th Infantry Division would regain control of the area. But the situation was not consolidated and the division retreated under a hail of shelling.

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German infantry march along a dusty road towards the Bzura. Note the soldier with an MG34 machine gun slung over his shoulder for ease of carriage. The MG34 was used extensively in Poland and was the world’s first general-purpose machine gun. The weapon possessed a wooden shoulder stock, pistol grip and a V-notch rear sight. The solid construction stood the test of combat and was used throughout the war.

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Two photographs showing a 15cm gun. As the standard German heavy field howitzer in Poland, the gun was very effective at clearing heavily concentrated enemy positions and allowing German infantry and armour to pour through relatively unhindered.

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Four photographs showing the Pz.Kpfw.I. In total there were five Panzer divisions deployed against a brave but badly equipped, out-of-date Polish army. Their cavalry and mechanised units were clearly no match even against the Pz.Kpfw.I.

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During the course of the campaign the Panzers showed their worth and mastered the local terrain. The Poles fought courageously, but the outcome was almost always settled by the superiority of the Panzer skills and techniques.

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Two photographs taken in sequence showing an impressive sight of Pz.Kpfw.Is advancing along a road. The vehicles are moving in close formation, clearly indicating that air domination has been achieved.

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Three nice photographs showing crewmen with their Pz.Kpfw.I. During the Polish invasion both the light and heavy tanks used strength and momentum to break through the enemy line and head for vital objectives deep within enemy territory.

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An Sd.kfz 263 radio vehicle with three Sd.Kfz.221 light armoured cars parked on the side of a road near the battered town of Sochaczew on 9 September. These vehicles belong to Hitler’s foremost fighting machine, the 1.SS.Leibstandarte-Division, which supported the 4th Panzer Division’s advance on Lodz.

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Three photographs showing infantry and SS during bitter fighting for the town of Sochaczew.

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Fighting around the town was particularly fierce with many casualties from both sides. German armoured vehicles, which were trying with varying degrees of success to batter their way through the town, but were easy targets to well concealed antitank gunners. As a result a number of them were lost in the battle.

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Two photographs showing the catastrophe of war. Along stretches of road leading to Warsaw the area was littered with death and devastation from heavy fighting. Damage was severe in many areas west of the Polish capital and the loss of life to both soldiers and civilians were very high. Amongst the carnage of twisted and damaged wagons are dead horses. In above photo two SS soldiers can be seen sorting through a bag.

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A motorcyclist belonging to a motorcyclist messenger platoon. The rider is clearly wearing his rubberised leather coat, his M1935 steel helmet and aviator goggles. The motorcycle messenger platoon was a vital asset to a Panzer division and enabled the officers and staff to receive and dispatch vital information on the battlefield.

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Various German vehicles can be seen halted in a field along with infantry. This unit is resting, poised to continue its advance on the river Vistula. Despite heavy fighting along the Bzura after ten days of almost continuous fighting the Polish Army were dying a lingering death. Their supplies were too insufficient to prolong the war effort any longer.

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Support vehicles move across a newly constructed wooden bridge over the Bzura River bound for the front line. A huge amount of supplies were brought to the Bzura region during this period. Fighting was very intense indeed, and in some sectors of the front it required huge amounts of ammunition.

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A nice photograph of an SS artillery crew firing a camouflaged 15cm s.IG 33. These SS troops belonged to the 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler Motorized Infantry Regiment, which was attached to the Eighth Army.

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An SS artillery crew of a 7.5cm le IG 18 gun can be seen dug in. For military operations in Poland, 18,000 men were used and distributed between the Totenkopf (Death Head), Leibstandarte, and certain V-T battalions Verfügungstruppe (Combat Troops), known later as the Waffen-SS (Weapon-SS).

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An SS armoured vehicle towing what appears to be an anti-tank gun hurtles along a dusty road bound for the front lines. In Poland the SS only consisted of a few regiments. The major part of these was transported prior to the invasion to East Prussia where they were organised into regimental combat groups which were attached to larger army formations.

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A group of local people from a village watch the procession of armoured vehicles including Pz.Kpfw.Is. These vehicles are making a determined drive towards the Narew River. Whilst fighting still raged on the Bzura and Vistula rivers, both the German Fourth and Third armies made a series of combined attacks across the Narew River.

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