Friday, November 12, 2010

Fullbore Friday

The Polish Thermopylae, AKA The Battle of Wizna.
The first construction works were started in April 1939. The spot was chosen carefully: most of the concrete bunkers were built on hills overlooking a swampy Narew River valley. They could be reached either through direct assault through the swamps or by attack along the causeway leading from the bridge in Wizna. Until September 1, 1939, 12 bunkers were built altogether. Six of them were heavy concrete bunkers with reinforced steel cupolas (8 tons of weight) while the other six were machine gun pillboxes. Additional four heavy bunkers were under construction at the moment the World War II started. In addition, the area was reinforced with trenches, anti-tank and anti-personnel obstacles, barbed wire lines and landmines. There were also plans of breaking the dams on the Biebrza and Narew rivers to flood the area, but the Summer of 1939 was one of the most dry seasons in Polish history and the level of water was too low.

Although not all bunkers were ready by the beginning of the war, the Polish lines of defences were well-prepared. The walls of an average bunker, 1.5 metres thick and reinforced with 20-centimetre-thick steel plates, could withstand a direct hit from even the heaviest guns available to the Wehrmacht at the time. The bunkers were situated on hills which gave good visibility of all the advancing forces.
Is there a movie here? That isn't even the question. The question is why hasn't there been one made.

Any good movie needs a villain. The best movies have a villain who is a bit nuanced - or even better - there is some ambguity as to if he is evil at all. Notice any names?
On September 8 general Heinz Guderian, commander of the XIX Panzer Corps, was ordered to advance through Wizna towards Brzesz. By early morning of September 9 his units reached the Wizna area and were joined with 10th Panzer Division and "Lötzen" Brigade already present in the area. His forces numbered some 1 200 officers and 41 000 soldiers and NCOs, equipped with over 350 tanks, 108 howitzers, 58 pieces of artillery, 195 anti-tank guns, 108 mortars, 188 grenade launchers, 288 heavy machine guns and 689 machine guns. Altogether, his forces were some 40 times stronger than the Polish defenders.
Who faced the great Guderian?
Captain Wladyslaw Raginis, Polish Army with, 700 soldiers and NCOs and 20 officers armed with 6 pieces of artillery (76mm), 24 HMGs, 18 machine guns and two Kb ppanc wz.35 anti-tank carbines.
Read the whole thing.


DeltaBravo said...

Did you see Bill O'Reilly's interview of Former Pres. Bush last night?  O'Reilly commented on the Polish troops in AFG.  And said something to the effect of if there were more like them, we would have run the Taliban out long ago.

ewok40k said...

Only one thing saved Germans from utter and crushing defeat in 1939, namely incomprehensible, suicidal passivity of the French. Germans have sent all their Panzer divisions, 70% of the aircraft including all the Stukas, against Poland, leaving some 20 reserve divisions to guard half-completed Siegfried line. A decisive push by French army, even half-mobilised would see Ruhrgebiet captured and Germany defeated.
Also a lesson to learn from this battle: no matter how better technologically and superior numerically you may be, well entrenched infantry is absolutely hard nut to crack. Proven again and again in Monte Cassino, Okinawa, and lately in Lebanon.

Outlaw Mike said...

Ewok, the French DID attack. In September 1939, they advanced with around 40 divisions (at least that's what the French High Command allocated for it, I seriously doubt whether all were committed) over a front 32 kloms wide, capturing roughly 200 square kloms of the Saar region, which is the part of Germany stretching from Luxembourg southeast towards Karslruhe.

When scrutinizing this operation, you find out how half-hearted it was, It was rather a face-saving gesture because the French had promised the Poles to attack from the West in the event of a German invasion in Poland. But the operation lacked clear strategic objectives and there were no tactical doctrines. The French did have the hardware, even better than the Germans', but...

Well, France simply wasn't 'in the mood'. France was lost from the outset. It did not have the will to fight.

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ewok40k said...

Well, in the hindsight Germans placed their strategic bets well, eliminating more dangerous opponent first... I doubt Poles would sit passively if the French were to be attacked first.
"French Malaise" aside, even the 1940 "dash to the sea" was risky on extreme, with flanks widely open to counterattacks like that of British  tanks near Arras, when reportedly Rommel himself commandeered some 88mm guns to stop a desperate situation (Matildas were immune to everything else Germans had!). One can only wonder how would the Battle of France end if a pincer movement with French units would be coordinated.

Outlaw Mike said...

hat the Germans unleashed in 40 was something so completely new that the Low Countries, France and England simply were not programmed mentally to deal with it. And apart from the major revolutions the Germans introduced - tank columns operating independently of infantry, parachutists, the introduction of FACs (platoons could call up Stukas to bomb a trench 100yds up in a heartbeat), it was just as much about psychology.
I tend to think the western allies almost needed the shock of Dunkirk to galvanize them and realize that a whole new era had begun. Of course, by the time that happened, the western allies were pretty much reduced to the UK.

That counterattack you write about, yes it happened, but compared to the scale of the battlefield it was something like, well, a minor skirmish. The very few allied bright spots in the 40 campaign were seeds of another and better approach, easy to overlook in the general melee.

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Anon said...

<span>Prior to the start of the battle, Captain Raginis swore that he would not leave his post alive and that the defence would continue. By September 10th when the last two bunkers remained, Heinz Guderian threatened that all Polish POWs would be shot if the defence of the bunker did not cease. Captain Raginis, at the very end in the last bunker, committed honorable suicide by throwing himself on a grenade to save the POWs and to keep his word.  
On May 13, 1970, Captain Raginis was posthumously awarded with the Virtuti Militari medal (equivalent to the US Medal of Honor). 

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