Sunday, September 1, 2019

80th Anniversary of WWII, Hitler's Big Mistake & A GIVEAWAY

by Cindy K. Stewart


Today is the 80th anniversary of WWII - the day Germany invaded Poland. Six months prior to the invasion, Hitler had encouraged an event which he later came to regret. An event which saved tens of thousands of lives and aided the Allies in their future victory.

What big mistake did Hitler make in 1939 that contributed to his eventual defeat?

The map below illustrates the boundaries of European countries in early 1938 before Hitler began his conquests. Notice that Poland is sandwiched between Germany to the west and the USSR to the east. It was bordered by Czechoslovakia and Rumania in the south.

Author Dros Catalin. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


Before the end of 1938, Germany seized Austria and the mountainous area of western Czechoslovakia (Sudetenland) without opposition. Hitler then devised a way to take possession of the rest of Czechoslovakia and her iron works, armament factories, and huge supplies of modern military equipment. First, he encouraged the Hungarian government to invade the eastern tail of Czechoslovakia and reclaim the territory of Carpathian-Ruthenia lost after World War I.


So, in March of 1939, the Hungarians acted upon Hitler’s suggestion and repossessed their former lands in the Carpathian Mountains. This distraction allowed the Germans to march into Prague and seize the whole western half of Czechoslovakia unopposed. The middle of the divided country became "Slovakia" and a protectorate of Germany. The rest of the world responded with outrage but didn’t move to stop these advances. As seen on the map below, Hungary gained a common border with Poland.

Courtesy of Professor John L Heineman, Boston College

And then almost 6 months later . . . on September 1st . . .

      the Germans unleashed the German army, the Wehrmacht, on Poland, giving birth to the blitzkrieg, "lightning war." In the days leading up to the invasion, the English and French had urged the Polish government not to mobilize its troops so they wouldn't further enrage Hitler. The Poles had ignored the warnings and secretly mobilized half of their armed forces by August 31st. Unfortunately, the German air force, the Luftwaffe, bombed trains, train stations, and rail lines, preventing many of the remaining troops from reaching their battle stations. Refugees clogged the roads, making it even more difficult for defense forces to engage the enemy.


Polish Infantryman, 1939. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

What the Polish soldiers lacked in numbers and equipment they made up for in bravery and sheer determination. They held the enemy back longer than Hitler had expected. However, armed with the most modern equipment (including the newly acquired arsenal from Czechoslovakia), the German troops attacked from multiple points, broke through weak spots where the Polish Armies were spread out, and encircled hundreds of thousands of troops. The Poles tenaciously fought an army almost twice their size and an air force five times greater.

By September 9th Hitler was impatient to finish the Polish campaign. The Germans asked the Hungarian government for permission to transport soldiers to Poland on a rail line through Hungary. The Hungarians denied passage. Even though they had signed a trade agreement with Germany, the Hungarians considered Poland their friend. If German troops set foot in Hungary, the government would consider it an act of war.

Polish Prisoners of War. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Nevertheless, the Germans advanced across Poland, and on September 11th Polish Commander-in-Chief Marshal Rydz-Śmigły ordered his remaining troops to retreat to the Romanian border in southeast Poland. He expected new military equipment to arrive from France and England via Romania. He also planned to organize a counterattack from the east when France opened an offensive from the west as they had promised.

Then on September 17th, the unthinkable happened. . . .

The Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east and captured Polish troops. Upon hearing the news, Rydz-Śmigły ordered all remaining Polish units to cross the border into Hungary or Romania by any means possible. Although many soldiers, airmen, and civilians escaped into Romania, the Soviets quickly sealed the Polish-Romanian border, leaving Hungary as the only other escape route in the south.

The Hungarians officially opened their border with Poland on September 18th, and tens of thousands of Polish soldiers and civilians entered Hungary safely despite a lack of passports and visas. This allowed many military units and future soldiers to escape to fight another day.


Polish Soldiers. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Both Romania and Hungary followed the Geneva Convention and established refugee camps for civilian refugees and internment camps for soldiers. Refugees who could fend for themselves passed through Hungary and Yugoslavia to Italy and France. Hungarian citizens housed civilians in their homes and transported them to the Yugoslavian border where they found transportation further west. The Hungarian government didn’t stop "refugees" dressed in civilian clothing from leaving the country. In fact, the Hungarians sent civilian clothing to the Polish Embassy in Budapest, and this enabled tens of thousands of soldiers to make their way to France and rejoin the Polish Army and Air Force.


Graves of Polish Soldiers (1939)
By Сергей Семёнов (User:Stauffenberg (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

The Polish Armed Forces joined the Allies and became the fourth largest Allied military force to serve in World War II, and they served with distinction.
If the escape route through Hungary had not been available, how many more Poles would have been captured or killed? How much longer would the war in Europe have lasted? How many more civilian lives would have been lost?

Used by Permission from Budby via flikr

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Sources: 

No Greater Ally (Kenneth K. Koskodan)

Poland Betrayed (David G. Wiliamson)

Man of Steel and Honour: General Stanislaw Maczek (Evan McGilvray)

Hungarian History 
(http://www.hungarianhistory.com/lib/kapronczay/kapronczay2.pdf)


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Cindy Stewart, a high school social studies teacher, church pianist, and inspirational historical fiction author, placed second in the 2019 North Texas Romance Writers Great Expectations contest, semi-finaled in the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Genesis contest, and won ACFW’s First Impressions contest in the historical category. Cindy is passionate about revealing God’s handiwork in history. She resides in North Georgia with her college sweetheart and husband of thirty-eight years and near her married daughter, son-in-law, and four adorable grandchildren. She’s currently writing a fiction series set in WWII Europe.


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Giveaway: Leave a comment below to enter the drawing for a paperback copy of Cathy Gohlke's WWII novel, The Medallion. You may earn an extra entry by sharing this post on social media. Don't forget to leave your e-mail address and let me know if you shared. The giveaway ends on 9/3/16 at 8 PM EST.

5 comments:

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  3. Thanks for the history lesson. I am always amazed at how much I have forgotten. It is nice to be reminded.

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