Eighty-one years ago today, Germany invaded Poland, sparking what would be called World War II.
At 4:45 a.m., some 1.5 million German troops invade Poland all along its 1,750-mile border with German-controlled territory. Simultaneously, the German Luftwaffe bombed Polish airfields, and German warships and U-boats attacked Polish naval forces in the Baltic Sea.
The Polish army was able to mobilize one million men but was hopelessly outmatched in every respect. Rather than take a strong defensive position, troops were rushed to the front to confront the Germans and were systematically captured or annihilated. By September 8, German forces had reached the outskirts of Warsaw, having advanced 140 miles in the first week of the invasion.
The Polish armed forces hoped to hold out long enough so that an offensive could be mounted against Germany in the west, but on September 17 Soviet forces invaded from the east and all hope was lost. The next day, Poland’s government and military leaders fled the country. On September 28, the Warsaw garrison finally surrendered to a relentless German siege. That day, Germany and the USSR concluded an agreement outlining their zones of occupation. For the fourth time in its history, Poland was partitioned by its more powerful neighbors.
Three million Polish Jews were murdered by the Nazis – and the Soviets – during the occupation.