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War Stories
A Narrative History of World War 2
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HITLER OPENS WAR
Poland Attacked by Land and Air
Britain, France Mobilize

September 1, 1939

Berlin, Sept. 1 -- In a fateful message to the people of Germany and the world, Reichsfuehrer Adolf Hitler informed the Reichstag today that war had broken out between Germany and Poland. He said:
"Polish troops opened fire on our soldiers last night. Since 5:45 A.M. we have been replying with fire. I have ordered the air force to attack military centers. From now on bomb will be answered with bomb. It will continue until Germany emerges victorious."

Paris, Sept. 1 -- Poland today formally invoked the aid of France against Germany. The French government received official notification at 10:15 A.M. that Polish territory had been invaded. France was asked to carry out her obligations under the Franco-Polish mutual assistance pact.
Poland. At 4:45 a.m., without any formal declaration of war, the German army crosses the Polish frontier. Operation Fall Weiss (White Plan) is launched. There has been no reply [from Germany] to the appeals of Leopold III of Belgium, made in his own name and those of six other small European countries, nor to the exhortations of the American President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, nor to the prayers of Pope Pius XII, nor even to the proposals for mediation sent at the eleventh hour by Mussolini.
The Germans cross the frontier at several points, with 53 divisions under command of General von Brauchitsch, divided into two army groups, Heeresgruppe Nord commanded by General von Bock, and Heeresgruppe Sud under General von Rundstedt. The individual armies are commanded by Generals von Kluge, von Kuchler, List, von Reichenau and Blaskowitz; the armoured formations are headed by Generals Guderian, Hoeppner and von Kleist, names which will recur again and again in the years to follow. The Polish defenses are overwhelmed in a few hours, and German tanks penetrate deep into enemy terriroty. Simultaneously the Germans bomb several Polish cities, including Warsaw, Lodz and Krakow. In the port of Danzig the training-ship [and pre-Dreadnought battleship] Schleswig-Holstein, an armoured cruiser, opens a murderous fire on the fragile defenses of the Westerplatte, where the Polish navy's arsenal is situated. Danzig is annexed to the Reich (though the official act of annexation does not occur until 1 November.)
The success of the invasion had been taken for granted by the Germans, and the general lines of the partition of Poland have already been laid down in the secret clauses in the Russian-German pact of 23 August. Broadly speaking, the demarcation line between Germany and the USSR is to run along the lines of the rivers Narew-Vistula-San. Lithuania is to be included in the German sphere of influence, while the Russian sphere includes Estonia, Latvia, Finland and Bessarabia (which is to be returned to Russia by Rumania). Britain and France demand that German forces be withdrawn from Poland. Evacuation of children from ondon and other vulnerable areas begins. [2194 Days of War]
....The Poles have 23 regular infantry divisions prepared with seven more assembling, one weak armored division and an inadequate quantity of artillery. They also have a considerable force of cavalry. (Although it is commonly believed, it is not true that cavalry will be used later in the campaign to charge German tanks.) The reserve units were only called up on 30 August and are not, therefore, mobilized as yet. In the air almost all the 500 Polish planes are obsolete and will be able to do very little to blunt the impact of the German attack .... The Polish Commander-in-Chief, Marshal Rydz-Smigly, has deployed the stronger parts of his army in the northwestern half of the country, including large forces in the Poznan area and in the Polish Corridor. Although there are few natural barriers favoring defense in the western half of the country ... he hopes to hold the Germans to only gradual gains. By thus stationing his forces well forward and by the attacking tactics adopted, Rydz-Smigly has risked a serious defeat. Many units will be overrun before their reinforcements from the reserve mobilization can arrive.
All along the front the superior training, equipment and strength of the Germans quickly brings them the advantage in the first battles. At sea, as in the air, the story of Polish inferiority and crushing early attacks is much the same. Three of the four Polish destroyers manage to leave for Britain before hostilities begin and later one submarine also escapes. [World Almanac of World War II]
As Europe races towards war, anti-Hitler emissaries [from Germany] have been holding secret talks with Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister, and his foreign secretary, Lord Halifax. Contact was made early this summer. Some envoys talked of overthrowing Hitler while others brought proposals for a deal over Danzig. Even today the two British leaders and foreign office officials have kept the talks going. However, they have never been fully convinced that the emissaries represent a genuine peace movement. There appear to be two separate groups.
One is largely representative of Germany's aristocratic and conservative upper classes. The other, much more mysterious, is represented by a Swedish businessman, Birger Dahlerus, who claims to be a close friend of Goering and says the German field marshal wants peace. Today, Dahlerus telephoned London, urging British leaders to persuade the Poles to be reasonable. He was told to tell his German friends to get out of Poland. [Chronicle of the Second World War]