Scenario Preview, Part Five
By Mike Bennighof, PhD
Some projects fall together more easily than others. Panzer Grenadier: The Deluge came together the way I wanted it to fairly easily. I’d been over this ground once before with a Panzer Grenadier book many years ago, so I knew that the tactical action was clearly divided between the first days of the September Campaign, when the Poles fought the Germans on fairly even terms, and the final three weeks, when they struggled to keep up with German operational mobility.
The Deluge is set in just those first days of the war. The Polish Army is ready to fight, and does so very well. Let’s have a look at the next chapter.
The German Fourteenth Army invaded Poland on a very wide front, with four separate corps each making its own advance. The Poles had fortified stretches of the frontier, and the Germans intended to break through these positions or preferably outflank them and ultimately capture the ancient city of Krakow. German forces included two panzer divisions and one light division, with 672 tanks between them; the light division was seriously under-strength.
Opposing them, Army Krakow had three infantry divisions (one of them a reserve division of dubious fighting power), a mountain infantry division, a brigade of border guards, a cavalry brigade and a mechanized cavalry brigade. They did have newly-built fortifications, and several armored trains that provided very useful mobile artillery support. Outnumbered and covering a very wide sector, Army Krakow lacked the strategic reserves earmarked for its neighbor Army Lodz with just the one mechanized cavalry brigade as an operational mobile reserve.
But with the chance to fight a positional battle, at least in the war’s first days, Army Krakow was able to put up staunch resistance and give a very good account of itself. Then the panzers slipped past the fortifications, the flanks of the army’s two operational groups were turned, and the retreat soon became a rout.
1 September 1939
The German 5th Panzer Division surged across the Polish border and quickly overran a pair of Polish battalions attempting to slow its advance. But at the village of Brzezce, Brig. Gen. Bernard Mond’s 6th Infantry Division had built what he termed a “tank-killing zone” where the bulk of his forces awaited the panzers. Just as Polish intelligence reports predicted, the Germans roared up the road in the late afternoon of the war’s first day.
The German division commander, Lt. Gen. Heinrich von Viettinghoff, called off the attack as night fell. The Poles had claimed 30 panzers and a dozen armored cars at the price of one anti-tank gun knocked out. The Germans had been repulsed, but in exchange for their heavy losses they had determined the extent of the Polish positions, opening the way for a flanking move the next day.
Light tanks against 37mm anti-tank guns; the Germans are trying to bash their way through the Polish position with a very shaky battering ram. The Germans really have no choice; they have to come at the Poles somehow, and the Poles need to be ready to meet them.
The Slag Heap
1 September 1939
The Polish 55th Reserve Infantry Division had not completed its mobilization when it rushed into the OWS Fortified Zone protecting the industrial center of Katowice. One battalion of the 203rd Infantry Regiment occupied a forward position on what the Germans called Hill 341, a pile of industrial waste known to the local Poles as Halda Skalny. The hill offered a wide unobstructed view of the German approach routes.
Nothing grew in the environmentally-devastated area around the Slag Heap, giving the Germans little cover as they approached the Polish fortifications. The Polish National Guardsmen held out throughout the day, inflicting heavy casualties on the attacking Germans - a first-line division of the First Mobilization Wave - which eventually abandoned the attack and looked to outflank the hilltop.
Like the previous scenario (and 24 of the 40 in The Deluge) this is a brand-new scenario, and it’s tough on the Germans. They have to cross a whole lot of open ground only to find the Poles waiting for them, dug in on a hilltop and eager for a fight. The Poles aren’t very good, but the Germans have to accomplish a lot if they hope to win.
1 September 1939
Poland's military and political ties with France did not always translate to Polish adoption of French practices; many Polish generals resented French claims that the French observers took a direct hand and “won” the climactic Battle of Warsaw in 1920. Polish doctrine drew on many sources, chiefly their own experiences of the war with the Soviets and in the German, Austrian and Russian armies during World War One. As a result, the Poles did not place the same faith in fixed fortifications as did the French, only beginning widespread construction in the spring of 1939. One of the new fortified zones was along the southern border, made vulnerable by the German takeover of Czechoslovakia.
Fighting raged around the bunker positions for 24 hours, until the Germans had stormed them all and killed or driven off the defenders. Ordered to abandon the line and withdraw, the Poles instead stood their ground and fought with a berserk fury; most died at their posts. Parts of a National Guard battalion helped screen the retreat of the survivors.
The Germans have numbers, while the Poles have fortifications and, well, they’re Polish. The Germans are going to have to take most all of those emplacements if they want to win, and the Poles aren’t giving them up while Poles yet live.
1 September 1939
Attacking along the railroad leading through one of the few passes in the Carpathians toward the key city of Krakow, the 2nd “Vienna” Panzer Division found its way barred by the tough Polish 1st Mountain Brigade. The tankers called up their own mountain troops to assist, and the Austrian units pushed forward while the Polish mountaineers called in the armored train “Pierwszy Marszalek” (“First Marshal”).
The Poles stopped the initial attack, but the arrival of German mountain troops tipped the balance and the brigade fell back in some disorder. Fighting would continue for the hilly valley for the next several days, as the best units of both armies were committed to a bitter struggle before the smaller Polish brigade gave way before the well-supported German divisions.
The Poles have mountain troops and an armored train, which is a pretty good combination. The Germans have mountain troops of their own, and some pretty crapulent panzers. It’s going to be another tough fight, but Polish mountaineer morale is tough to beat.
1 September 1939
In October 1938, Poland took advantage of Czech distress to annex the small region known as Teschen, sending in 40,000 troops and Poland’s only tank battalion to occupy the city and countryside. That force had dwindled to one reinforced battalion by the time of the German invasion, undertaken in this area by two divisions formed from units of the former Austrian Federal Army.
The Austrian 45th Infantry Division had been mustered from two divisions of the Austrian Federal Amy a year earlier, and still carried organizational traces of this origin such as horsed cavalry instead of a mechanized recon battalion. The German advanced with overwhelming force and reached the Olza River, where the Polish defense held. In the afternoon the Poles blew up the bridge and retreated, abandoning Teschen Silesia.
The Germans have overwhelming numbers, but the Poles have overwhelming morale and they get to fight from behind a river. This one’s going to be a bloody affair, one that the Germans will have to play well in order to win.
Seeking to expand their penetration into the Polish fortified line in front of Katowice, the German VIII Corps concentrated its artillery to pound the defenses in a bombardment more suited to 1918 than 1939. But Army Krakow had its difficult-to-redeploy heavy artillery in place behind this part of the front and responded in kind, shocking the Germans. Their surprise grew when the supposedly-beaten Poles rose from their trenches and foxholes to counter-attack the invaders.
With the help of Armored Train No. 51 Pierwszy Marszalek (“First Marshal”) and a curtain of artillery fire, the Polish attack made some progress, taking back most of the ground lost on the previous day and disrupting German plans for further advances. The success would ultimately mean little, as the Polish position had been unhinged from the south and the Poles would soon withdraw of their own volition.
This is a big scenario, a slugfest with lots of infantry and artillery on both sides - for once, the Poles can match German firepower. The Poles have the burden of attack, and they’re going to have to grind forward 1918-style to win this scenario.
2 September 1939
To the south-east of the Polish counter-attack at Mikolow, the 55th Reserve Infantry Division likewise struck back against the invaders at Tichy. The second-line Polish division lacked the howitzers of the neighboring 23rd Infantry Division, but they had the support of armored train Number 54 "Grozny" ("Sinister") and its full allotment of rail-capable tanks and assault troops.
The train's assault platoon suffered heavy casualties from enemy machine gun and mortar fire, but the assault itself was considered quite successful as the Germans were driven back from their forest positions around Tychy. The train's commander, Capt. Jan Rybczinski, was killed while commanding one of its rail-equipped tankettes, however, and Army command ordered the train to move into a reserve position out of the front lines.
The Poles are on the attack, with fairly weak National Guardsmen backed by an armored train and the train’s small complement of assault troops and rail-capable tanks. The Poles don’t have to accomplish a whole lot, which is a good thing since they don’t have much with which to accomplish it.
Weekend at Pless
2 September 1939
Imperial Germany’s last emperor had enjoyed visiting Pless Castle in Upper Silesia, home of his purported lover Princess Daisy, but in 1919 the region was annexed by Poland and re-named Pszczyna. When the Germans returned in 1939 the Poles met them with a stout defense in multiple layers — a very effective tactic in the First World War, but the German panzer troops moved much faster than their fathers had marched.
The Poles had chosen their positions carefully on a range of wooded hills, but in the end, it didn’t matter as the Germans used their mobility to shred the Polish lines and attack their artillery, destroying eighteen 75mm guns. Sixth Infantry Division suffered enormous losses extracting itself from the battlefield, and fell back in some disorder; by the 5th losses had reached 40 percent. The German panzers surged forward, unhinging the Polish line to the east. Polish valor would not be enough.
Those Polish anti-tank guns are deadly against Panzer I and II tanks, but once the tanks get past them it’s going to be hard for the Poles to react. German mobility is the key here, especially the tricky art of moving truck-borne infantry and support weapons past a determined enemy.
And that’s all for Chapter Five. Next time, we look at Chapter Six.
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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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