REVIEW: Case White- The Invasion of Poland 1939

Robert Forczyk’s book covers the story of the German invasion of Poland in 1939. Contrary to popular belief and written history, Germany’s Invasion of Poland was not a walk in the park for them at any time during the struggle. There was no rapid advance, blitzkrieg of Panzers across the Polish Terrain, no Polish Cavalry attacking tanks, and no, the Polish Air Force was not destroyed on the ground during the first day of the attack!

A compelling and thoroughly researched historical account of the Polish defense of their homeland against the German forces in 1939. The author goes deep dispelling misconceptions and written history that has twisted the story of these battles and made the Polish Forces look weak contrasted against the force and might of the German Forces.  Examples of these misconceptions follow; In his History of the Second World War, Gerhard Weinberg claimed that “in the first days of the campaign the Luftwaffe cleared the skies of… Polish Air Force”. Research proves that the Polish Air Force lost only 7 percent of its operational aircraft on the first day of the war and remained actively in the fight for a total of 17 days-until the Soviet Invasion! A second misconception; Polish doctrine was foolish, outdated and too reliant on horsed cavalry, as demonstrated by examples of Polish Cavalry charging German tanks. The myth is based on a minor skirmish at Krojanty on 1 September 1939 which did not involve tanks at all! There were no tanks near Krojanty at the time of the battle. These myths are the result of poor research and lazy retelling of stories swapped between amateur historians. Historians tales of German blitzkrieg provide a fascinating story, but the truth is the Germans were still testing and developing their tactics in 1939. The full force of the blitzkrieg would not be impactful until the Invasion of France and Belgium.

Forczyk’s book leverages a good mix of Polish and German sources to tell the factual story of the Polish invasion. As the author points out, historical writing should not just to be catalog facts but to develop insight analysis as to why events had particular outcomes.

This book is an excellent portrayal of the Polish spirit which is an innate national stubbornness which few outsiders can comprehend. This stubbornness was clearly demonstrated during and after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. An unwillingness to surrender and be treated like a second class citizenry. While Hitler and Stalin conquered the Polish Territory in 1939 and murdered thousands of Poles, they never broke the Polish spirit.  Hitler and Stalin both wanted territory in Poland. Hitler had delusion of Grandeur associated with his Lebensraum theory and Stalin wanted territorial expansion in Poland and the Baltic states to further the spread of communism. History remembers that in 1939 the world turned its back on Poland, especially England and France. It could also be said that they were stabbed in the back and betrayed by England and France who signed pacts to come to their aid in the case of invasion. Neither country helped in any way. They stood by and watched as the German and Russian forces invaded Poland.

Today, after 50 years of brutal occupation Poland has regained its freedom while the previous conquerors have ended up in the trash heap of history. Long live the Polish People!

About the author; Robert Forczyk has a PhD in International Relations and National Security from the University of Maryland and a strong background in European and Asian military history. He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel from the US Army Reserves having served 18 years as an armor officer in the US 2nd and 4th Infantry Divisions and as an intelligence officer in the 29th Infantry Division (Light). Dr Forczyk is currently a consultant in the Washington, DC area.

This book is available on (US), (UK) and Osprey Publishing.

Book review by Christopher (Moon) Mullins

1 thought on “REVIEW: Case White- The Invasion of Poland 1939”

  1. Hitler disliked the term “Blitzkrieg”, in part because the British had coined it, but also because he knew it wasn’t correct. Sure, the Germans employed their so-called “Panzer” divisions as combined-arms units, with the tanks taking the lead and the infantry and artillery in support. But the day was won for the Germans by the “old-fashioned” infantry and artillery units taking on the Polish Army and defeating it. The German artillery was especially noted for how well it “punished” the Poles, and they didn’t help themselves either by steadfastly defending their frontiers until wiped out, rather than retreat once the battle was decided to fight another day.

    The Polish strategy way over-estimated their own capabilities and severely under-estimated their German opponent. They thought they could hold out on their frontiers for at least two weeks, waiting for the British and French to declare war and attack Germany from the West, but their lines were breached in less than two days. They also believed propaganda, much of it disseminated, likely in cynical fashion, by the Soviets, that the Wehrmacht was a “paper tiger”, that the tanks seen in the parade on Hitler’s birthday were cardboard and plywood dummies mounted on trucks, that the Luftwaffe units seen flying over Berlin were the same aircraft, quickly having other unit markings applied once they landed at nearby airfields and repeatedly flying over Hitler’s review stand, and that 75 percent of the Luftwaffe’s inventory was grounded due to lack of engines! The Poles, even though they’d gotten contrary reports from their own spies and military attaches, refused to believe that Germany was as strong as it was, only some six years and a few months after the Nazis came to power and but four years after Hitler openly repudiated the Treaty of Versailles. The result of this over-confidence was that not only was the Polish military hopelessly shattered almost right away, once their armies were beaten, cut off, and surrounded at the frontier, they had almost nothing left to defend the interior and their capital.

    This doesn’t mean that the Poles didn’t give the Germans a terrific fight, they certainly did, and although the casualties the Wehrmacht suffered were light in comparison with comparable WWI battles on their Eastern Front, they still took out a significant number of panzers and aircraft that would be sorely missed in 1940. Even though the Germans had sent both tank and aircraft units to fight in Spain in the previous three years, to gain experience and test their new-fangled weapons, the Polish campaign still revealed many problems. Frequently the air and/or artillery support were badly coordinated, or the tank units lost communication with their supporting infantry and/or artillery and frequently were ambushed. There were also futile frontal assaults on Polish strongholds that showed the limits of what could be done with armor; in one ill-considered attack to take Warsaw on September 8, 1939, Polish anti-tank gunners destroyed some 40 Panzers and saved their capital for three weeks. A significant amount of the Germans casualties were the product of “Friendly Fire” as well.

    The Polish campaign did, beside securing their part of Poland that the Nazi-Soviet “Non-Aggression” Pact had secretly allocated to them, provide some useful benefits. It revealed problems with the German military which mostly were resolved for the May 1940 campaign in the West. It also reinforced the notion of German “superiority”, and undoubtedly played a part in most of the Balkan states caving in to German demands the following year to allow troops to be stationed in their borders. However, there were down sides as well…the cream of the Polish military managed to escape, including what navy they had getting away just in advance of the attack, and these Poles would sorely vex them throughout the rest of the war, especially the Polish airmen that served in the RAF’s No. 303 “Kosciusko” squadron. Since, in order to have a free hand to invade Poland at all, Hitler had to share the spoils with Stalin, not only did the Soviets gain half of that country at considerably less cost than Germany “paid”, they later on raised two entire Polish “Armies” from POWs (note: a Soviet “Army” was, at best, equal to a Western corps or even a reinforced division) which took part in liberating their own country in 1944 and the final defeat of Germany in 1945. The worst thing, though, although had the Germans not attacked, might have bit them anyway, was the the Poles had managed to do the initial cracking of the vaunted “Enigma” machine, and their research, including a copy built to aid in decoding, gave the British unit stationed at Bletchley Park a huge head-start in what proved to be a war-winning effort

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