Scenario Preview, Part Seven
By Mike Bennighof, PhD
I put a lot of effort into Panzer Grenadier: The Deluge, probably way too much. But now that I have the published book in my hands, I’m really happy with it. This is the kind of book we need to be making here. We wrap up The Deluge with two small chapters, one with two scenarios and the final one with just one. Neither had a battle game, since there aren’t many scenarios to link together. Let’s have a look at them.
The Polish defense plan in 1939 screened the entire border of both East Prussia, the detached German province forming a deep salient into Polish territory, and the small but anti-Polish state of Lithuania. The Lithuanians ultimately did not answer German requests to join the invasion of Poland, but the Poles could not remove their screening forces from their north-eastern border with East Prussia without leaving the right flank of Army Modlin unprotected.
The Germans attacked Army Modlin, as expected, but left only a single just-established division to hold their side of the north-eastern border. That proved too tempting a target for the Poles, who moved most of their forces away to more threatened sectors but could not resist the temptation of raiding into German territory. These operations could have no impact on Poland’s fate, yielding only propaganda “victories” that were soon forgotten amidst the cataclysm of the German invasion.
2-3 September 1939
On the eastern frontier of East Prussia, the Germans did not bother to cross the border. Unknown to the Poles, this part of Poland had been allotted to the Soviet Union in the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. If the Germans would not come to them, the local Polish commanders decided, it was only fitting to bring war into their land.
The Poles unexpectedly rode up on the German garrison. The Germans, local Landwehr mobilized only a few days earlier, ran about in panic while the Poles sabered them down and tossed grenades into random buildings. The victory made no impact on the overall military situation but did give Poland an important piece of propaganda of which they quickly made much use.
This is just a small scenario, with the Poles riding around causing havoc and the Germans trying not to perish from the havoc. The Poles actually have to cause a lot of havoc to win, so it’s not totally a lost cause for the German side.
5 September 1939
Encouraged by the cavalry raid into East Prussia, the Narew Operational Group decided to repeat the ride on a much larger scale with a full-blown invasion of German territory. This just might, the Polish corps-sized command reasoned, force the Germans to divert some of the mobile forces pressing southward from East Prussia toward Warsaw back to defend their own frontier.
This time the Germans were ready for the Polish invaders, and though the infantry remained relatively unsteady in the face of the Polish lancers they had considerable artillery support. The Poles could not make headway against the heavy shelling, and finally broke off the attack at a cost of 55 dead and wounded.
The Poles come on with a large force of mounted troops with great morale and some tank support. The Germans are dug in with some artillery to back them up, so it’s not going to be easy for the sons of Poland, who have to chew up the Germans in order to win - and if they do, they can run away and still win.
In July 1939, German staff officers informed the Slovaks of their intention to attack Poland at the end of August. The Slovaks were to allow German units to assemble on Slovak territory and operate from there against the Poles, and provide troops of their own for the operation as well. In exchange, border territories seized by the Poles in 1920 and 1938 would be annexed by Slovakia. With a grudge against Poland for the territorial seizures and for siding with the hated Hungarians, the Slovaks gladly agreed to join Hitler's war.
Mobilization began on 24 August, and eventually about 50,000 troops joined their units. The Slovaks went to the far right wing of the German advance, in three small infantry divisions and a battalion-sized mobile task force that formed a week after the war began. The infantry divisions crossed the border on 1 September alongside the Germans.
All three divisions advanced on a broad front, under the command of the Slovak “Army Group Bernolak” headquarters which in turn reported to the German 14th Army. The Slovak Defense Minister, Ferdinand Catlos, nominally led the "army group" but he appears to have relied heavily on his German liaison officer, Gen. Ernst von Engelbrecht.
Most of the Polish defenders had been drawn away by the rapid German advance on Lwow, but the Slovaks did fight a number of small actions. The mobile task force, with a company of tanks, a company of cyclists and a cavalry squadron, only entered Poland on 8 September and saw no combat.
On 9 September, with fighting still raging elsewhere between the Germans and the Poles, the Slovak 1st Division marched back to Slovakia to prepare for demobilization. On the 11th the Slovaks held a victory parade in Zakopane, the first Polish town captured by the Slovaks. The 2nd Division performed occupation duty for the rest of the month, but by 1 October all the Slovak formations had returned to their home stations.
Slovakia could claim a victory, but the Slovak Army had not entered combat until the war's outcome had already been decided. By participating on the side of the Nazis, the Slovaks had cast their lot with Hitler. The fate of Lithuania, occupied by the Soviet Union after refusing German offers to join the attack on Poland, caused many Slovaks to believe that their government had made the right choice. And for almost two years, Slovakia would be left in peace while the war moved on elsewhere.
4 September 1939
Poland’s military dictatorship had taken advantage of Czechoslovakia’s woes to seize several pieces of territory in 1938. When Germany planned to attack Poland the next year, the new Slovak government gladly agreed to allow the Germans to move through Slovakia and mobilized their own small army to assist in the invasion. The Slovaks followed the Germans across the border and several days after the offensive began they saw their only serious action of the campaign.
The Slovaks, still not really organized into an effective army, had the misfortune to run into one of the Polish army's best units fighting in its home district. The Slovaks reeled back without having taken any of their objectives, though their casualties were relatively light - too many of their formations broke and ran and the Poles did not deign to pursue them. The Slovak government declared victory and annexed the lost territories, but these had been won by German generosity rather than force of arms. And the Germans gave nothing without a price.
A very different version of this scenario appeared in the old First Axis book, but we didn’t include it in Slovakia’s War since at the time we had no Poles in print. The Slovaks have numbers and . . . well, they have numbers. The Poles have excellent morale, they have firepower on their side, too (though the Slovaks have artillery and the Poles do not). This is going to be a tough one for Hitler’s tiny sidekick.
And that’s all for The Deluge.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and NASA Journalist in Space finalist, he has published countless books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.
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