A Bloody Beginning: Germany Invades Poland
On Friday, September 1, 1939, Europe trembled as five German armies composed of some 1.5 million soldiers, 2,000 tanks, and 1,900 aircraft launched Operation Fall Weiss and invaded Poland. Although the Polish army was able to call upon nearly one million men of its own to stand up against the invaders, the proud nation’s forces were simply outmatched and overwhelmed by the lightning-quick, tactically innovative, and technologically superior Germans. With overpowering blitzkrieg attacks, which is best described as “a method of offensive warfare designed to strike a swift, focused blow at an enemy using mobile, maneuverable forces, including armored tanks and air support,” the Germans killed more than 100,000 Polish soldiers within four weeks.
Britain and France had previously vowed to defend Poland. After Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler ignored an ultimatum to withdraw his troops, both nations quickly declared war on Germany on September 3. Poland, however, was beyond saving and its fate was sealed even further when the Soviet Union invaded the country from the east on September 17. By early October, Polish resistance was at an end and the nation had been conquered. Speaking to journalists during a visit to the devastated Polish capital, Hitler said, “Take a good look around Warsaw,” and he chillingly added, “That is how I can deal with any European City.”
Germany’s invasion of Poland marked the beginning of the Second World War, which would become the bloodiest human or natural catastrophe in history, resulting in an estimated 70 million dead. As Pulitzer Prize-winning author Rick Atkinson calculates, “September 1, 1939, was the first day of a war that would last for 2,174 days, and it brought the first dead in a war that would claim an average of 27,600 lives every day, or 1,150 an hour, or 19 a minute, or one death every three seconds.”
Photo Header: Polish soldiers defending their capital of Warsaw in September 1939. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 by Rick Atkinson.
History.com: Germany Invades Poland.
Time.com: Why the Invasion of Poland in 1939 Launched World War II.
United Press International: Operation Fall Weiss: Lessons of World War II Still Relevant.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: Invasion of Poland, Fall 1939.