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World War II
A Narrative History

"Panzers into Poland"
(1939)
Hans Guderian
Panzer Leader (1952)

German column advances through Poland.
On 1 September 1939 German forces put Operation "Case White" into motion and invaded Poland. Victory was swift and relatively easy, in no small measure to the blitzkrieg tactics adopted by the likes of the brilliant panzer commander, Heinz Guderian....
On the 1 September at 04:45 hours the whole corps moved simultaneously over the frontier. There was a thick ground mist at first which prevented the air force from giving us any support. I accompanied the 3rd Panzer Brigade in the first wave, as far as the area north of Zempelburg where the preliminary fighting took place. Unfortunately, the heavy artillery of the 3rd Panzer Division felt itself compelled to fire into the mist, despite having received precise orders not to do so. The first shell landed fifty yards ahead of my command vehicle, the second fifty yards behind it. I reckoned that the next one was bound to be a direct hit and ordered my driver to turn about and drive off. The unaccustomed noise had made him nervous, however, and he drove straight into a ditch at full speed. The front axle of the half-tracked vehicle was bent so that the steering mechanism was put out of action. This marked the end of my drive. I made my way to my corps command post, procured myself a fresh vehicle and had a word with the over-eager artillerymen. Incidentally it may be noted that I was the first corps commander ever to use armoured command vehicles in order to accompany tanks on to the battlefield. They were equipped with radio, so that I was able to keep in constant touch with my corps headquarters and with the divisions under my command.
The first serious fighting took place north of Zempelburg in and around Gross-Klonia, where the mist suddenly lifted and the leading tanks found themselves face to face with Polish defensive positions. The Polish anti-tank gunners scored many direct hits. One officer, one officer cadet and eight other ranks were killed.
After successfully changing vehicles, I rejoined the 3rd Panzer Division whose most forward troops had now reached the Brahe. The bulk of the division was between Pruszcz and Klein-Klonia and was about to settle down for a rest. The divisional commander had been sent for by the Commander-in-Chief of the Army Group, Colonel-General von Bock, and was therefore absent. I asked the officers of the 6th Panzer Regiment who were there to tell me about the situation on the Brahe.
The regimental commander did not believe that a passage of the river could be forced on that day, and he was eager to carry out the welcome orders for a rest. The corps order -- that the Brahe should be crossed during the first day of the attack -- had been forgotten. I walked angrily away and tried to decide what measure I should take to improve this unhappy state of affairs. A young Lieutenant Felix came over to where I was standing. He had taken off his tunic, his shirt sleeves were rolled up, and his arms were black with powder. "Herr General," he said, "I've just come from the Brahe. The enemy forces on the far bank are weak. The Poles set fire to the bridge at Hummermuhle, but I put the fire out from my tank. The bridge is crossable. The advance has only stopped because there's no one to lead it. You must go there yourself, sir." I looked at the young man in amazement. He made a very good impression and his eyes inspired confidence .... I followed his advice and drove through a confusion of German and Polish vehicles along the narrow sandy track that led through the woods to Hummermuhle, where I arrived between 16.00 and 17.00 hours. A group of staff officers were standing behind a stout oak tree about 100 yards from the water's edge. They greeted me with the cry: "Herr General, they're shooting here!" They were indeed, both the tank guns of the 6th Panzer Regiment and the rifles of the 3rd Rifle Regiment blazing away. The enemy on the far bank sat in his trenches and was invisible. First of all I put a stop to the idiotic firing, in which I was ably assisted by the newly arrived commander of the 3rd Rifle Brigade, Colonel Angern. Then I ordered that the extent of the enemy's defensive positions be established. Motor-cycle Battalion 3, which had not yet been in action, was sent across the river in rubber boats at a point that was not under enemy fire. When they had crossed successfully, I ordered the tanks over the bridge. They took the Polish bicycle company, which was defending this sector of the stream, prisoner. Casualties were negligible.
*****
On 5 September our corps had a surprise visit from Adolf Hitler. I met him near Plevno on the Tuchel-Schwetz road, got into his car and drove with him along the line of our previous advance. We passed the destroyed Polish artillery, went through Schwetz, and then, following closely behind our encircling troops, drove to Gaudenz, where he stopped and gazed for some time at the blown bridges over the Vistula. At the sight of the smashed artillery regiment, Hitler had asked me, "Our dive bombers did that?" When I replied, "No, our Panzers!" he was plainly astonished. Between Schwetz and Graudenz those elements of 3 Panzer Division not needed for the encirclement of the Poles were drawn up: these included the 6th Panzer Regiment and the 3rd Armoured Reconnaissance Battalion with my son Jurt. We drove back through parts of 23 and 2 (Motorized) Infantry Divisions. During the drive we discussed at first the course of events in my corps area. Hitler asked about casualties. I gave him the latest figures that I had received, some one hundred and fifty dead and seven hundred wounded for all the four divisions under my command during the Battle of the Corridor. He was amazed at the smallness of these figures and contrasted them with the casualties of his own old regiment, the List Regiment, during the first World War .... I was able to show him that the smallness of our casualties in this battle against a tough and courageous enemy was primarily due to the effectiveness of our tanks. Tanks are a life-saving weapon. The men's belief in the superiority of their armoured equipment had been greatly strengthened by their successes in the Corridor. The enemy had suffered the total destruction of between two and three infantry divisions and one cavalry brigade. Thousands of prisoners and hundreds of guns had fallen into our hands.
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 Guderian, Col. Gen. Heinz

(1888-1953) Guderian was the architect of Germany's Panzer victories in France in May 1940, and in the USSR in June 1941. In 1937 he published a widely acclaimed textbook, Achtung! Panzer! in which he advocated his ideas about high-speed warfare. Most of the other officers in the German Army High Command were skeptical about his ideas; nonetheless he was selected to command XIX Panzer Corps, the vanguard of Kleist's Panzer Army. He gave a perfect demonstration of his theory, breaking through at Sedan, crossing the Meuse, and traveling so fast that the German High Command had to put a brake on him. In June 1941 Guderian led the Second Panzer Army in the invasion of the USSR, which accomplished the encirclement of the Soviet Armies in Kiev and Uman. Guderian's Army was then assigned to advance on Moscow and approach from the south. Guderian, however, did not see eye to eye with his superior, Kluge, whom he persistently ignored and disobeyed. In December he was dismissed by Hitler in the purge of the eastern generals for disobeying his orders and making a timely withdrawal. In February 1943 he was recalled to build up the morale of the Panzer Corps and given the honorary title of Inspector general of the Armored troops. He made reforms and reorganized the Panzer Army but what gains he had achieved were squandered at the great tank battle at Kursk in July 1943. On the day after Stauffenberg's Bomb Plot, Guderian replaced Zeitler as Chief of General Staff but Hitler ignored his advice. Guderian applied pressure on Hitler to withdraw forces to a defensive line around Germany but Hitler would not countenance any withdrawal. On 21 March 1945 Guderian was finally dismissed. Hitler had never fully recognized Guderian's great gifts as a military commander and theorist.
Who was Who in World War II, Keegan, ed. (1978)