If it were not for Russia …

We hear: on September 1, 1939, Poland was invaded by the Germans, and on September 17, the Soviets “entered” eastern Poland. Meanwhile, this “encroachment” was also an act of aggression, with battles and crimes committed by this aggressor, which ended with the annexation of this part of the territory of the Republic of Poland. We are irritated when stories appear rom the German side that the aggressors were some nationally undefined “Nazis”. it is taken as obvious the that in the case of the second aggressor we were dealing only with some “Soviets”. We have also come across the opinion that the Soviets were a conglomerate of various ethnicities in which the Russians did not in fact play the main role. It is overlooked that these “other ethnicities” were  indeed Russified people, and therefore Russians; Stalin – himself a “Georgian” – was a Russian imperialist, the “Pole” Dzerzhinsky (Dzierżyński in Polish) is still a model for the Russian,  and not Polish, secret services. The orders launched on September 17 for the “Soviet” troops, issued by Stalin (who is still revered by the Russians) were in Russian, and that language was used by the aggressor from the east.

On September 1, 1939, “brown” Germany invaded Poland, and on September 17, “red” Russia invaded Poland.

Soviet-German parade in Brześć nad Bugiem (Brest)

…there would be no war

In May 1939, Hitler carefully checked the chances of the planned war with Poland. Poland had France as an ally, and Germany, although it had an army stronger than the Polish Army, would not be able to take control of the whole of Poland quickly. Binding the German forces in the performance of this task would expose the rear of Germany in the west, and in the event of a French attack, Germany was at risk of defeat. With this state of affairs, Stalin’s consent to an alliance with Germany in exchange for “satisfying the interests of the USSR in certain areas” released Hitler’s hands. The Soviet participation guaranteed that the Polish army would not be able to defend itself, and the Wehrmacht would not have to occupy the eastern Polish territories and waste time – Russia was to do it for the Germans.

At a meeting of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the All-Soviet Communist Party (Bolsheviks) on August 19, 1939, Stalin said: “If we conclude a mutual aid agreement with France and Great Britain, Germany will give up Poland and will start looking for a modus vivendi with Western countries. War will be prevented […]. If we accept Germany’s proposal and conclude a non-aggression pact with them, Germany of course, will invade Poland, and then France and England will inevitably join this war. Western Europe will be engulfed in serious unrest and riots. Under these conditions, we will have a good chance of remaining on the sidelines of the conflict and joining the war when it is convenient for us.”

He further explained: “The experience of the last twenty years shows that in a period of peace it is impossible in Europe for a communist, Bolshevik movement to seize power. The dictatorship of this party is only possible as a result of a great war. We will make our own choice; that is clear. We should accept Germany’s proposal and kindly send home the French mission. The first benefit we will gain will be the destruction of Poland as far as the outskirts of Warsaw…. “

Stalin knew very well that by entering into an alliance with Hitler, he was helping to “destroy Poland” and this would trigger the outbreak of the desired “great war”.

Signing of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact

Russian propagandists still pretend not to see it. Let us emphasize: the USSR made it possible for Hitler to start a war. If Stalin had wanted to avoid the war, he would have concluded “a mutual aid pact with France and Great Britain.” The responsibility for starting World War II falls on Hitler, but it was Stalin’s decision that determined the date of its outbreak.

After receiving Stalin’s consent, on August 22, 1939, Hitler announced to his generals that he had made the final decision to attack Poland. “I was sure,” he said, “Stalin would never accept the British proposal. Russia has no interest in saving Poland […]. We established personal contact with Stalin. Ribbentrop will make an agreement the day after tomorrow. Poland is in the situation I wanted to see her in. We do not have to worry about any blockade. The East will provide us with grain, cattle, coal, lead, and zinc. […] Today’s announcement on the non-aggression pact with Russia sounded like a bomb explosion. The consequences are hard to predict.” Stalin also said that both countries would benefit from this path. “The effect in Poland will be terrible,” he stressed. There is no doubt, therefore, that if it were not for the alliance with Russia, Hitler would not have started the war.

…and no disaster

On September 12, Poland’s allies in Abbeville decided to suspend the offensive planned for September 16. At the request of France, it was postponed to September 21. The French command felt that it needed to gather more heavy artillery necessary to break through the German fortifications on the border with France.

French soldier in captured German city during a limited offensive in September 1939

There is a fairly common opinion that in Abbeville Poland’s allies decided to definitively stop the offensive on Germany and did so in secret from the Poles. This is not true. The Chief of Staff of the Polish Commander-in-Chief, General Wacław Stachiewicz, recalled: “On September 16, the head of the French mission, General Faury, told me, that he had sent a report to his authorities, in which he stated that the situation on our front was improving and that if we had a few days to carry out the issued orders, we would be able to stay in eastern Małopolska [now – western Ukraine –editor) and concentrate more forces there, which would create new possibilities of operation. At the same time, however, he informed me that he had received a notification that the start of the offensive in the west would be delayed by several days (on the 20th day of mobilization, ie on September 21) because the preparations had not yet been completed.”  General Stachiewicz, for his part, had no doubts that the Polish defence would last until the date given by the French general.

There was still (September 16, 1939) a chance to win the war with Germany. Of course, we do not know whether the second offensive launch date would have been kept. It cannot be established, since on September 17, 1939, the Russian troops attacked the rear of the Polish defence. These were 2 armoured corps, 9 independent armoured brigades, 14 cavalry divisions and 39 infantry divisions. A total of about 1 million soldiers, over 5,000 armoured vehicles, 4,500 guns and 1,000 aircraft. The forces developed: The Belarusian Front (commander Mikhail Kovalev) was advancing towards Wilno (Vilnius) – Grodno – Volkovysk – Brześć (Brest); The Ukrainian Front (commander Semyon Timoshenko) attacked Kowel – Włodzimierz Wołyński – Sokal – Stanisławów (now Ivano-Frankivsk) – Kołomyja.

Historian Mieczysław Lipiński wrote: “Today we know from the documents obtained by the Allies that at the end of September 1939 Germany’s material stocks were exhausted; they were sufficient to wage war for a period not longer than two or three weeks, and technical equipment: armoured vehicles and aeroplanes, for an even shorter period.” On September 16, 40 of the 53 Polish tactical unions fought at the front. On the Polish side there were 700,000 soldiers, most of them outside of combat units, in the process of forming and preparing for combat.

These forces could have been used in defence, especially since the transports of weapons and ammunition had departed from the West, which should have reached the Polish-Romanian border. So if there had been no Russian aggression, Poland would still have been able to defend herself; she would not have been defeated.

Soviet and German soldiers in Poland

It was not the fault of the Polish authorities in 1939 that, as a result of World War II, Poland was betrayed by the allies and placed under the slavery of the Soviets. What happened next, in Tehran and Yalta, does not discredit President Ignacy Mościcki, nor Marshal Edward Śmigły-Rydz, and does not cancel the proud words of Minister Józef Beck: “We in Poland do not know the concept of peace at any price. There is only one thing in the lives of people, nations and states which is priceless. That thing is honour. “

Romuald Szeremietiew

The author, specialist in the field of military sciences, was a professor at the National Defence University and the Catholic University of Lublin, a member of the Sejm and Deputy Minister and acting Minister of National Defence


Photos: Public Domain

translation: B.K.

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