Was there a Soviet aggression on Poland in 1939?

The Russian Supreme Court ruled[1] that the Soviet Union did not invade Poland in 1939. If so, what it was the three-day battle of Grodno, where its Polish defenders destroyed more than twenty Soviet armored vehicles?

    Soviet tanks in Poland

On September 17th, 1939, the Soviet-Polish border was crossed by 620,000 Soviet soldiers and 4,700 tanks, supported by 3,300 aircraft. Polish army already fought against the Germans and, initially, only the crews of the border watchtowers stood ground against the Soviets. On September 18th , the Soviets approached Wilno (now – Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania), where nearly 10,000 Polish soldiers were stationed. Most of them, however, withdrew to Lithuania following the order of their commander; the fighting raged only for one day, with five Soviet tanks and one armored car destroyed.

Later, the Soviets progressed slowly, because their tanks ran out of fuel. Only in the morning of September 20th, a reconnaissance battalion came close to Grodno (now in Belarus, 25 km from the current Polish-Belarussian border). At that time, this historically important city, where until the 18th century every third session of the Polish parliament was convened and where the Polish kings had one of their residences,- was inhabited mainly by Poles and Jews. The Soviets decided to attack the city using a bridge on the river Neman. The city had about 2,500 defenders, supported by volunteers, mostly scouts, armed with bottles of liquid incendiary. The Polish soldiers had only light weapons, machine guns and two 4 cm anti-aircraft guns.

    Neman river and Grodno before 1939

The Soviet tanks crossed the bridge and reached the city, but were not followed by infantry. The Poles began hunting for them, destroying all the vehicles. It turned out that despite their great advantage, Soviets are not able to capture Grodno quickly. The fighting continued throughout the 20th and 21st September. The Poles counterattacked across the river. But as more and more new Soviet units reached Grodno, the Soviets were attacking more and more brutally.

Polish defenders. Photo from the movie „Krew na bruku. Grodno 1939”

There have been several cases of using civilians as “human shields” for the advance of tanks At least in one case, a child (thirteen years old Tadzik Jasinski) was tied to the armor of the tank , and then killed by Polish bullets. It is not known where he was buried, but  there is his symbolic grave, always adored with fresh flowers, at the cemetery in Grodno.

The fighting lasted until 22 September. That day, the two leaders of the Polish defense, Deputy Mayor Roman Sawicki and Major Benedykt Serafin, left Grodno along with the last units of the defenders. However, a few points of resistance held out until they run out of ammunition. The Soviet losses were officially put at 53 dead, 161 injured and 19 tanks and three armored cars destroyed (it is possible that they were much higher). The Polish losses are difficult to determine. After the town was taken by the Soviets, a real terror started. They killed all Poles in uniforms: soldiers, policemen and even young scouts. This mass murder left at least 300 people dead.

Polish defenders. Photo from the movie „Krew na bruku. Grodno 1939”

In the night of 21 September, in the vicinity of Grodno, another battle took place. At Kodziowce, the 101st Reserve Ulan (Cavalry) Regiment destroyed at least a dozen Soviet tanks and then withdrew to Lithuania. The fighting continued also in southern Poland. Since the Poles defended themselves against the Soviets with such intensity, what was the entry of the Soviet troops into Poland if not an aggression? This is the paradox that Russia does not have an answer for.

 

[1] http://www.tol.org/client/article/26273-russia-supreme-court-luzgin-1939-ussr-poland-nazi-germany-molotov-ribbentrop.html

 

P.K.

© Fundacja Joachima Lelewela

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