Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The Bag

Kapitan Ignacy Grabowski spread his map out on the ground and beckoned his sergeants over to brief them on the plan.

"Command has set a trap for the Niemcy, we expect them to attack in this direction," he indicated on the map a path between two villages to the west of Pszczyna, "we have strong defenses to either flank and a blocking position here." again he pointed at the map.

"So, we're going to let the Niemcy attack into this trap, rather like a bag, eh Kapitan?" Sierzant¹ Olaf Jasiński commented.

"Exactly Sierzant, once they break through, we let them advance to the blocking position then open fire with everything we've got. Artillery should be available and is targeted on this area within the bag. With luck, we'll cripple the Niemcy attack and drive them back over the border. Any questions?"

Plutonowy² Michał Włodarczyk cleared his throat, he looked skeptical. "Sir, what if the Niemcy attack somewhere else?"

"I wouldn't worry about that, Plutonowy. The high command is certain that they can bait the Niemcy into attacking here. I've seen their plan, it is absolutely flawless." The captain seemed very proud of his presentation, as if he had created the plan himself.

"But Sir ..."

"Follow orders Włodarczyk, you're not paid to think. Gentlemen, dismissed."

With that, the orders group broke up and the NCOs returned to their squads and sections.

Oberleutnant Kurt Jaschke nodded as the Major pointed out to him the direction his tanks should take. "Begging your pardon Herr Major, but the Polish positions seem far weaker about 200 meters to the left of this line you want me to advance on. If we just moved ..."

"Kurt, a Storch³ flew over those positions earlier, the Poles want us to advance on that line. Look here on the map," Major Klaus Mannheim had laid his map on the bow of Jaschke's tank, "along this line and this line the Poles have dug in with machine guns and anti-tank weapons. If we advance along the path which seems easiest, we'll be cut to pieces. No doubt they also have artillery zeroed in on this area. So take your platoon in this direction, you'll have infantry support, a company from the 28th Infantry. Clear?"

"Jawohl Herr Major!"

Elżbieta awakened as the truck rolled to a stop. Lieutenant Gulczyński had insisted that she sit up front with the driver, rather than in the back with himself and a number of men who were either wounded or separated from their units. Gulczyński had commandeered the truck after talking with the corporal driving it. It seemed that he had no orders and was driving to Warszawa as he could think of nothing better to do.

"I tell you Captain, my sergeant told me to take as many wounded as I could and get them to hospital."

"Did you not think to drive to the hospital in Kraków?"

"Bombed out I was told at a roadblock leading into the city. I left the badly wounded men there, these guys I'm carrying now, light wounds. Most of these guys are reservists, just called up. They have no idea where they're supposed to be."

Gulczyński had nodded then told the driver to proceed, and that if they were stopped, he would do the talking. Now they were stopping, Elżbieta noted that there were military policemen ahead. She didn't know enough to be worried.

Włodarczyk watched as a group of German tanks came crawling forward, they were well spaced. He could see infantry behind them, lots of infantry. They weren't heading towards the high command's trap. Surprise, surprise. He wondered why some of the officers never listened.

As he pondered that question, which sergeants have asked since the earth cooled, he heard the thump of artillery in the distance, towards the German lines.

"Heads down lads, we're in for a blow!"

Jaschke was crouched down in his turret, already his battalion had lost a number of tank commanders to small arms fire. He saw a muzzle flash to his left, which was followed by the loud crash of steel on steel. Looking to his left he could see Feldwebel Wagner's Panzer slew to the left and roll to a stop. He had a sick feeling in his stomach as he could see smoke emanating from the hatches of Wagner's Panzer.

Snapping out of his state of shock, Jaschke slewed his own turret towards where he had seen the muzzle flash and opened fire with the coaxial machine gun. He didn't want to waste his 2 cm rounds until he had a solid target.

Jan Kołodziej had no choice but to follow the rest of his unit as the Germans broke through the company on their right flank. Though a number of the smaller German tanks could be seen knocked out on the battlefield, the preponderance of numbers had proven to be too much.

Jan had been told that the Germans were attacking in "the wrong place" and couldn't help but wonder at the stupidity of such a statement. Did the generals really expect the hated Niemcy to attack where the high command wanted them to attack?

Jan was with two of his squad mates, he had no idea where his sergeant was. But Jabłoński and Kalinowski had stuck with him. The two young men, both draftees, had been disoriented and ready to run when Jan had suggested they stick together. Both of the younger men readily agreed to follow Jan.

Now they were making their way carefully to the rear. One man providing covering fire while the other two moved a short distance. Gradually they were drawing away from the attacking Germans who were more focused on the few remaining pockets of organized resistance.

Slowly, yet surely, the Kraków Army was coming apart at the seams. There was no alternative but to withdraw to a more defensible line. Already the German aircraft were starting to hit the columns of withdrawing troops on the main roads.

"Best keep to the woods and fields, boys. We should be able to link up with the main army sometime tonight." Jan told the two boys.

"But Sir, when are we going to eat?" Kalinowski asked.

Jan looked at the boy, "Do you see a field kitchen anywhere? We have to keep moving, or we'll be eating German rations by nightfall."

Jabłoński cast a look back to the west, he was deathly afraid of the Germans. Jan saw that and said, "Don't worry Kornel, the Niemcy aren't supermen, just well-equipped and well-supplied. We haven't lost yet."

Though Jan was starting to doubt that himself. The Germans had broken through the line in just two days. He wondered how the rest of the army was faring. He also remembered the English and the French promising to come to the aid of Poland should the Germans attack.

Jan couldn't believe that they could be of any assistance here. No, the only way they could help would be to attack the Germans along the frontier with France.

"I wonder when that battle will start." Jan mused to himself as he and his two men slipped into the gathering dusk. The battle for Pszczyna seemed to be lost, but the war wasn't. At least not yet.

¹ Sergeant Major (Sierzant)
² Sergeant (Plutonowy)
³ Fieseler Fi 156 Storch (Stork), a light aircraft used for liaison and reconnaissance.


  1. "No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first encounter with the main enemy forces." - Helmuth von Moltke, 1871

    One thing that occurs to me that is going on in the background here is not only the fact that the Poles are outgunned, they are also facing a new kind of warfare which had not been seen before in the West (Blitzkrieg). And yes, even for civilians one can remember the frustration of setting an elaborate prank-trap or "war plan" that was primarily based on the target blundering through at precisely the right place and right time, only to have things completely go awry when they came up behind you and startled everyone by stating "What are you doing?"

    The other thing this brings to mind (for us spoiled children of the late 20th - early 21st Century) is the almost complete lack of up to date information. Communication is by radio or print at this point; there are no satellite images or real-time data assessments beyond what can be reported by radio or plane (There is are several chapters in Truppenfuhrung, the German General Army Manual, on communication, reconnaissance, and the use of planes).

    1. Excellent point regarding information, or the lack thereof.

    2. Crusty Old TV Tech here.

      You know it's a good story when it makes you think of a trail to follow in your own area of specialty, something you'd not considered before.

      Reminds me of something i overheard one of the Keesler comm school instructors saying in a dittybopper class. "Comm is not really necessary for a perfectly executed plan, only when it all starts to go to (fill in your favorite E-6 explative here). That's where YOU sorry (another expletive)s come in!". The Poles could have used some good company and platoon level comm it appears. I'm pretty familiar with what the USAR (and USAAF) had at the start of this mess, somewhat conversant in the Brits and Germans (and USN), but I know nothing of what sort of comm the Poles had at the start of the Blitzkreig. I'll bet it was primitive HF CW, packsets for mule/horse use or something like that, and only a Batt level and above most likely.

    3. Not even the Germans had great comms in the early going. Most tanks had radios, but only the company commander had a radio which could transmit. Flags were used a lot in signaling at the platoon level. The Germans never developed a good radio for the infantry which could be distributed down to the platoon level, let alone at the squad level. All German units had messengers as part of their TO&E, guys who would actually carry messages between units. I can't find any information (though I'm still looking) on Polish tactical communications, but I doubt they were any more advanced than the other European combatants.

      So your assumption is probably spot on!

    4. The Bundeswehr (spelling?) was using flags to direct vehicular traffic in 1983. Old Guns

    5. Not surprised, effective if somewhat dated.

  2. I read 'Case White - The Invasion of Poland 1939' last month, so this series provides some nice color to that. Thanks Sarge!


  3. Now the obvious way to bait a trap is to fake a weak spot and then fake a strong spot and have your troops and stuff in the 'weak spot' and mine the everliving dogsnot out of the 'strong spot' and the move your troops somewhere else because you know things will go to pot and shoot clever officers who aren't that clever and best to lure them into choke points like, well, the forest where you should have been all along. And when you've done shooting clever officers (in the arse, nonfatal, just a lucky sniper dontchaknow) you then proceed to shoot the politicians who screwed you over.

    The fog of war. It sucks. It especially sucks when you can't see through the fog and the enemy can.

    The Storch was an excellent recon plane, by the way. And with the ability to land just about anywhere anytime.

    1. At Pszczyna the Poles assumed that the Germans would do what they expected them to do, always a bad idea!

  4. (Don McCollor)...A minor nit. "Heads down lads, we're in for a blow". Sounds like a Brit. Is the (translated) Polish expression so similar?

    1. Artistic license, I'm sure there's a analogous expression in Polish.

  5. Is there any plausible evidence that the common man in Poland in 1939 knew of the 'promises' from England and France?

    1. Newspapers, radio, the late mobilization of the Polish Army at the request of their Western allies. In short, yes.

  6. Offtopic: UK sent some undisclosed antitank weapons to Ukraine, probably ATGMs. Apparently the planes had to circumnavigate Germany. Both sides afterwards did dementi about Germans not allowing overflight, but it does make you think...

    1. Perhaps the British, not wanting to repeat their failure in September of 1939, wish to be more proactive this time.


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