The Reich imposes the death penalty for anyone “endangering the defensive power of the German people.” That gives the Gestapo a handy legal tool to use against anyone who merely grumbles about the complexity of rationing.
The French begin the Third Republic’s only offensive of the Second World War, with the Fourth and Fifth Armies moving cautiously north of the Maginot Line, into areas abandoned by the Germans and the civil population near Saarbrucken.
The French cross at three points: near Saarlouis, Saarbrucken, and Zweibrucken.
There is very little serious fighting, only light skirmishing, and the seemingly endless de-fanging of the Germans’ favorite passive weapon…the booby-trap. While French propaganda trumpets the “offensive” as a major thrust, Marshal Maurice Gamelin, the Allied generalissimo, says the attack is just “a little test.” He has no intention of waging a major offensive until 1941.
However, Gamelin is misreading the situation. France has 85 fully-armed divisions deployed against 34 German outfits, and 20 of them are reserve units. All the German tanks and Stukas are in Poland. A French offensive in the Saar could cause serious damage. But the French only jab lightly at the German defenses.
Neither are the British heavily active. Their land army, the British Expeditionary Force, is crossing the English Channel. A mixture of conscripts and long-service veterans, it is a strong force, fully motorized, well-trained, and well-equipped by the standards of the time.
However, it has weaknesses by both the standards of the time and the higher standards the Germans are setting in Poland. The men have trained with flags instead of artillery, delivery trucks instead of tanks. Much of their equipment is stamped, “Not to be used in action. Mild steel only. Not armour plate.” The British lack anti-aircraft guns and wireless sets. Lt. Gen. Alan Brooke, who commands one of the BEF’s corps, draws the obvious conclusion that the BEF has gone to France not to fight, but to show the Poles the British are doing something.
In London, the Land Forces Committee of the War Cabinet holds its first meeting. Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, proposes the creation of an army of 20 divisions by March 1940. “We must take our place in the Line, if we are to hold the Alliance together and win the war.”
Neville Chamberlain reports on the progress of the war to the House of Commons for the first time, and praises Poland’s courageous and determined qualities, noting that despite severe losses, their morale and courage remain unaffected. There is a cool, if sympathetic detachment about his observation of what is happening to his allies, as if Britain’s war is in a separate dimension from theirs.
“The Germans appear to be endeavoring to force a decision in this theater (i.e. Poland), before they are compelled to transfer formations to the west to meet the threat of Allied intervention. With this object in view they have continued their relentless pressure on the Polish army, hoping thereby to break resistance and turn a hardly-contested withdrawal into a rout,” he says.
The same day sees the inauguration of convoys for trans-Atlantic crossings, with the first two headed for Canada, escorted by destroyers, one from the Thames Estuary, headed through the English Channel into the Atlantic, the other from Liverpool.
In Paris, Poland’s ambassador issues a call to the 800,000 Polish expatriates living in France to join a special legion that will fight for France under the Polish flag. Three recruiting stations are set up, but not many recruits turn up.
In Poland, the war continues with violence and ferocity. Near the western Polish industrial city of Lodz, the last members of the Polish 30th Division are seeking to bar the German advance. Their adversaries, Liebstandarte SS troops, pay tribute to the Polish defenders, discussing a counterattack at Pabianice. “The Poles launched yet another counterattack. They stormed over the bodies of their fallen comrades. They did not come forward with their heads down like men in heavy rain – and most attacking infantry come on like that – but they advanced with their heads held high like swimmers breasting the waves. They did not falter.”
The battle for Pabianice continues with the 23rd Panzer Regiment leading the initial assault at midmorning. Polish fire is intense and well-directed. The German tanks withdraw, leaving behind blazing wrecks. The Germans send in two Liebstandarte companies to pass through the tanks and take the Polish defenses on foot. The men head in to attack with heavy artillery and mortar backing. In smooth tactical formations, they sweep through the Polish defenses, flinging aside a hastily mounted counterattack as they reach the center of town. Units on the flank can’t keep up, and the SS spearhead has to leave small sections behind to shore up the walls of the salient being created. With all the “drop-offs” and casualties, the attack loses steam.
The Poles counterattack with infantry and cavalry, and the SS have to give ground, retreating through the town, inflicting terrible casualties. The final Polish thrust puts the SS men in the field where they have set up their headquarters. Cooks, clerks, and drivers, along with every available NCO and officer, are pressed in to battle. The Poles come close to overrunning the LSSAH command post, but each time the SS men stand firm. After noon, the Poles withdraw to regroup and replace the losses sustained by their assault companies.
In the thick of the fighting is Kurt Meyer, pouring machine-gun fire into the relentlessly advancing Poles. “I jumped up and shot into the advancing ranks,” he says later. “To my right a Grenadier of 13th Company was shot through the neck while he fired…Suddenly I was on the ground again with a slug in my left shoulder.”
Meyer has been hit, a grazing wound, with plenty of blood but no damage. Kate Meyer, his wife, gets the news while still confined to bed after the birth of the Meyers’ third child.
At 2:30, the Poles launch one last desperate charge. “They came at us through the smoke with heads held high like missionaries seeing a vision,” Meyer says later. “They fell in hundreds until only a dozen or so were left. These two kept coming, looking neither left nor right. I hadn’t the heart to kill the last of them. But then they were down and it was all over.”
The Poles, out of men and ammunition, surrender Pabianice. Later that evening, the SS enter the town. Everywhere Poles are falling back. 10th Army tanks race through a gap in the line at Petrov left by the retreating forces, capturing the country’s best road leading to Warsaw. More motorized infantry are needed to support the tanks for the final assault, so the LSSAH is transferred to the 10th Army’s 4th Panzer Division. Forward elements race for Warsaw’s suburb of Ochota.
In Slovakia, the puppet government bars the conscription of the nation’s Jews into its armed forces. However, while the Germans do not conscript Jews either, they do draft “mischlinge,” persons of partial-Jewish descent. Some of them fight with distinction and earn medals, one of the more bizarre sides to the German nation.
Upon German occupation, Nazi troops burn down all the synagogues in the Polish town of Ropczyce.
Faced with continuing defeat, Marshal Edward Rydz-Smigly, the Army’s chief of staff, flees Warsaw with the rest of the government and moves his headquarters eastward. Much of the country is now without a government, and much of the military without a high command. British General Adrian Carton de Wiart, the Victoria Cross recipient who is Britain’s liaison to the Poles, fumes, “Smidly-Rydz will never be forgiven by the vast majority of Poles for his decision to desert his army…it had never occurred to me he would throw aside his responsibilities in a hysterical rush to save his own skin. His behavior was in direct contradiction to everything that I knew about the Poles…”
The Stockholm newspaper Social-Demokraten urges the Swedish government to take tough measures to combat Nazi hate propaganda in Sweden.
Gestapo chief Reinhard Heydrich tells the commanders of the special SS task forces, under Colonel Theodor Eicke, “The Polish ruling class is to be put out of harm’s way as far as possible. The lower classes that remain will not get special schools, but will be kept down in one way or another.” Eicke commands these SS units from Hitler’s personal train.
On that train, Hitler tells his Army chief, von Brauchitsch, that the army is “to abstain from interfering” in the SS operations.
Back in Berlin, the Nazis impose a new decree providing the death penalty for anyone “endangering the defensive power of the German people,” which is a handy catchall for nearly anything. Another decree forces workers to accept new jobs even if they pay lower wages than jobs already held.
The Polish air force is having an increasingly tough war. Its communications torn up by German bombing, its aircraft outdated, Polish pilots are having a hard time. The Polish army makes unrealistic demands on the airmen, expecting that lightly-armed fighters take on German tanks, for example.
Polish aircraft flying over Germany are at risk to their own guns – the Polish AA gunners lack recognition charts of Polish and German planes, and simply assume that anything flying is German, interfering in dogfights, with catastrophic results. One pilot recalls, “Everyone was shooting at us: Germans and Poles alike – the Poles often more accurately.”